Fighting on the Night Shift

Fighting on the Night Shift

A screenshot from the development of the 1/48th scale Defiant

Welcome to this latest edition of Workbench and our regular look behind the scenes at the fascinating world of Airfix modelling. As Britain heads towards the 2017 Airshow season in earnest, modellers and enthusiasts will be looking forward to adding to their kit stash and viewing all the latest model releases in the flesh (or should that be plastic?) at events all over the country. As hobby traders will be present at many of the summers Airshow events, it is always interesting to see which of the latest releases are proving to be popular with fellow modellers and maybe even the chance of picking up a bargain or two.

One new kit that is not due to be available until the final few weeks of the 2017 Airshow season is the subject of our latest Workbench project update. Arguably one of the most impressive new 1/48th scale kits in the Airfix tooling inventory, the Boulton Paul Defiant shared the skies with RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes during the frantic aerial combat in the Battle of Britain and whilst it did not enjoy the same level of success or notoriety, was perhaps one of Britain’s most interesting aircraft of the war. Announced at the beginning of this year, A05132 presents the modeller with a version of the Defiant which helped to defend Britain against the Luftwaffe’s Night Blitz and we are pleased to bring you a full update from this exciting project – we have an exclusive artwork reveal, scheme detail options and a little more information behind each of the supplied decal options. In another feature packed edition we also mark 100 years of the tank by looking at some of the current armoured vehicles in our range and how Workbench readers have used their modelling skills to commemorate this significant anniversary. Finally, we look at an impending 1/72nd scale aviation release that is certain to become one of the most popular models of the year, as an aircraft in this livery will be thrilling Airshow audiences throughout the 2017 season.

Nocturnal Defiance

As far as Airfix box artwork goes, this has to be considered amongst the most dramatic

As far as aeroplanes are concerned, for many modellers and enthusiasts, beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder. One aircraft which certainly divides opinion is the unusual looking Boulton Paul Defiant turret fighter, which was one of the RAF’s main day fighters in the weeks leading up to the Battle of Britain. Whilst the Defiant may not possess the graceful curves and sleek lines of the Spitfire, it has to be considered as one of the more interesting aircraft of the Second World War, and as such is certainly worthy of further investigation. This was underlined with the 2016 release of the magnificent 1/48th scale Airfix kit, which brought the Defiant to the attention of many more people and renewed interest in this unusual looking aircraft. Thousands of modellers rushed to obtain their example of this impressive kit and found it to be a refreshing break from some of the more famous fighters of WWII, with the resultant model building into a really spectacular addition to any collection. Since its initial release, the Defiant has proved to be one of the most popular 1/48th scale kits in the Airfix range and the recent announcement of a nightfighter version of the kit has met with a similarly positive reaction.

There is no doubt that the Boulton Paul Defiant is both a popular subject with the modeller and also makes an interesting and unusual addition to any collection of model aircraft. Arguably, the black nightfighter version of the aircraft is even more striking than the earlier camouflaged machines of the RAF day fighter squadrons and certainly helps to tell the story of the night blitz and the establishment of an effective RAF nightfighter force.

After enjoying initial successes against Luftwaffe pilots unfamiliar with Britain’s new turret fighter, Defiant crews soon discovered the limitations of their aircraft. The significant additional weight of the powered multi-gun turret, combined with a relatively poor arc of defensive fire made the Defiant less manoeuvrable and more vulnerable than either the Spitfire or Hurricane. Its deficiencies were quickly uncovered by Messerschmitt pilots who were battle hardened and combat experienced and they soon learned the best way to attack these unusual aircraft - as combat losses began to mount, RAF Defiants were relegated to night fighting duties.

Computer rendered CAD image used to illustrate the new large scale Defiant

Heavy losses experienced during the Battle of Britain saw the Boulton Paul Defiant quickly withdrawn from daylight operations. Surviving Squadrons would be given a new task for which their aircraft proved to be much better suited - protecting Britain from increasing night bombing raids by the Luftwaffe. This switch did not come without its own problems, as crews had not been trained to fight at night and would have to develop interception techniques as they fought. They learned quickly and soon began to score victories against the Luftwaffe raiders, helping to establish a cohesive night defence system and rebuilding the reputation of the much maligned Defiant. These all black ‘nocturnal hunters’ were to become some of the most distinctive RAF aircraft of the Second World War.

The new 1/48th scale nightfighter version of the Defiant (A05132) is currently scheduled for an August 2017 release and we are pleased to bring you details of the decal options that will be included with the kit.

Boulton Paul Defiant Mk.I, N3328/DZ-Z, RAF No.151 Squadron, Royal Air Force Wittering, Cambridgeshire, England, February 1941.

Profile artwork for the A scheme included with the new kit

Full A scheme details

Without doubt, Defiant Mk.I N3328 is one of the most interesting aircraft to see service during the Second World War. It was unusual for home based RAF fighters to include any form of nose artwork, yet this Defiant was adorned with distinctive and elaborate sharkmouth decoration, which looks all the more impressive on the black scheme of the aircraft – this must have been a magnificent looking machine. Flying in the colours of No.151 Squadron, this aircraft was flown by future ace Henry Bodien, as well as Battle of Britain ace Warrant Officer James Hopewell, but despite the distinctive nature of its appearance, the origins of the artwork and why it was allowed to continue flying with these markings are still unclear.

For people in the North West of England, this Defiant has particular significance albeit not for anything other than tragic reasons. Having been sent for repair or upgrade in late 1941, N3328 was allocated to No.1 Air Armament School at Manby in Lincolnshire, and from there to No.10 Air Gunners School at Walney Island in Cumbria. On 23rd October 1942, Flight Sergeant John Leslie Goulter was flown as a passenger to Manby, with orders to pick up N3328 and fly it back to his home base at Walney Island the following day. The cross-country route should have taken the pilot around an hour in flight time, with the aircraft passing over Doncaster, Selby and Harrogate, before arriving in the circuit at RAF Walney for landing.

As the Defiant took off at 10.40am on 24th October, it appears the pilot had decided to take a more direct route to his home airfield and was flying over the Lancashire village of Barnoldswick when he entered a freak hailstorm. The storm was so severe that it caused the pilot to become disorientated and aware that there was high ground in the vicinity, he began to circle the town, obviously hoping for a break in the weather and trying to confirm his position. Unfortunately, there was no let-up in the conditions and it appears the pilot became disorientated in the storm and fearful of descending too low due to the nearby high ground, may have stalled his aircraft. Local people who witnessed the incident described how they could hear the aircraft flying above the storm, with the engine appearing to surge, but this sound may have been a result of the high winds and stormy conditions. As the hail gave way to driving rain, the engine sound became louder and the Defiant was seen to come out of low cloud at a 45-degree angle and at high speed – it impacted the ground without taking evasive action.

Due to the speed at which the aircraft impacted the ground it embedded itself deep into the wet earth, and as there were no signs the pilot managed to parachute from his stricken aircraft there were obviously concerns for his safety. It was reported that a large wing section at the crash site had impacted hailstones filling the gap between the extended flap and the wing, which may have been significant in causing the crash and certainly highlighted the severity of the storm. Later the same day, local Home Guard personnel found the body of the unfortunate pilot who had perished in the impact. Flight Sergeant John Leslie Goulter was from Queensland, Australia and was just 22 years old. He was just one of many pilots to lose their lives in a foreign land during the Second World War, far away from their homes and loved ones. This was his first time he had undertaken a cross-country aircraft ferry flight.

Boulton Paul Defiant Mk.I, N3313/PS-P, Aircraft flown by Squadron Leader Philip James Saunders, RAF No.264 Squadron, Royal Air Force Debden and Biggin Hill, England, December 1940/February 1941.

Profile artwork for the No.264 Squadron nightfighter

Full B scheme details

Early RAF nightfighter operations must have been extremely frustrating for Defiant crews attempting to intercept the latest German raid. Having scrambled from their home airfields and been vectored towards the approaching raid, they would often fail to locate any enemy aircraft, even though they could see the glow of fires from the bombs falling on nearby towns and cities. Also, due to their lack of experience in flying at night, they would be constantly scanning their instruments, trying to ensure that the aircraft was flying straight and level, as this type of flying could easily result in disorientation – this self-preservation would leave them little time to scan the night skies for signs of enemy aircraft.

As Britain struggled to establish an effective network of night defence, there were also tragic cases of friendly fire incidents as the melee of fighting at night made the identification of friendly aircraft incredibly difficult. In some cases, pilots would have no idea that they had engaged a friendly aircraft and it could actually be many years later before the true impact of these incidents would come to light. As Luftwaffe losses began to mount during daylight raids, they increasingly turned their attentions to bombing Britain by night and the fledgling nightfighter force had to quickly come together as a cohesive fighting force and meet this new challenge.

Stencil placement details for the new Defiant nightfighter

Defiant N3313 was the regular mount of Battle of Britain Spitfire ‘ace’ Squadron Leader Philip Sanders, who continued to fly operationally even though assigned to No.11 Group headquarters and an administrative post. Flying throughout the Battle of Britain with No.92 Squadron, Sanders was credited with 6 enemy aircraft confirmed destroyed, a further aircraft unconfirmed and two noted as probables. He was also involved in an unusual story that would result in him requiring a period of hospitalization for what could be described as self-inflicted injuries. Returning to Biggin Hill in his Spitfire which had been damaged during combat over Dover, a relieved Sanders lit a cigarette to help alleviate the stress of the situation and promptly burst into flames - his batman had recently removed a stain from the pilot’s tunic using 100 octane fuel! Thankfully, his injuries were not severe and Sanders would eventually go on to take command of No.264 Squadron and later spend time in the US as a test pilot.

This aircraft was also operated by successful Defiant partnership of Flying Officer Desmond Hughes and gunner Sergeant Fred Gash, who managed to master this unusual aircraft and claim several Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed. Unusually, this aircraft has a thin yellow surround to the toned-down fuselage roundels, but retained the white section on the fin flash.

This beautiful Airfix Defiant nightfighter has been expertly produced by Workbench reader Martin Wainwright

We featured this impressive Defiant nightfighter build in a previous edition of Workbench and showcased the modelling talents of Martin Wainwright. Martin has a particular interest in WWII RAF nightfighters and wanted to produce a model that represented an aircraft that had been used operationally and not just wheeled out of the paint shop. We think you will agree that he managed to achieve that aim spectacularly well and his efforts will certainly act as inspiration to modellers all over the world looking to work on a Defiant nightfighter project. Although the aircraft he modelled is not one of the two schemes to be included with the future release of the 1/48th scale Defiant nightfighter, the weathered finish he managed to achieve is superb and really does illustrate what can be accomplished. The customer images section of the Airfix website will be looking forward to receiving plenty of Defiant build pictures in the weeks following the release of this highly anticipated kit.

100 Years of the Land Ship

*The fearsome sight of British land ships approaching *

One section of every Airfix catalogue that continues to attract significant attention is the Military Vehicle range. Although this range has recently benefited from the addition of several newly tooled kits, most notably the WWII USAAF bomber re-supply set, we are going to focus on some of the more established kits and those which commemorate some of the world’s most famous tanks.

Developed to overcome the stalemate and attrition of trench warfare during the Great War, the first battlefield use of the tank came on 15th September 1916 during the battle of Flers-Courcelette, part of the great battle of the Somme. Originally designated ‘Land Ships’, these mighty vehicles were produced to give the British Army a decisive advantage in overrunning German defensive trenches and were intended to plough through the carnage of No man’s land, allowing British troops to consolidate the territorial gains. Slow moving and difficult to control, the first tanks were prone to breakdown and numerous mechanical failures, but if they did manage to successfully lead an attack into enemy territory, they were almost impervious to German machine-gun fire and must have made for a terrifying sight for defending troops.

Michael Collins has produced this magnificent example of an early British Tank, which made such an impact at the Battle of the Somme

Airfix graphic designer and accomplished modeller Michael Collins kindly allowed us to use these images of his recently completed WWI Male tank, which is a magnificent representation of this very early tank and illustrates how fearsome these mighty machines must have looked to German troops when they first encountered them at the Battle of the Somme. These early vehicles were deployed in two versions – the ‘Male’ tank was armed with two 6 pounder naval guns and between three or four Hotchkiss 0.303 machine-guns. These tanks had a greater punch to overcome fortified positions, or particularly strong enemy defensive positions, but still required a strong infantry support both for protection and to consolidate any territorial gains.

The ‘Female’ tank was an almost identical vehicle in profile, but dispensed with the larger 6 pounder guns and replaced them four 0.303 Vickers machine-guns and a single Hotchkiss gun. Although not having the same striking power of the ‘Male’ version, the machine-gun equipped tank proved to be particularly effective during the savage fighting in the wasteland between opposing lines of trenches. As an interesting aside, tank crews were always keen to have strong infantry support following in their wake, as they were needed to avoid them being exposed in contested territory and possibly becoming overrun by enemy troops. The early tanks were feared so much and their crews hated for the carnage they could wreak that they were shown no mercy if they fell into enemy hands.

1/32nd scale Airfix Crusader Mk.III on display at Telford

Beautiful Cromwell IV diorama produced by one of the talented members of the IPMS Cleveland group

Cromwell B

The Airfix military vehicle range currently includes a selection of classic WWII tanks, such as the German Tiger 1, which many enthusiasts would describe as arguably the most distinctive tank ever produced and the handsome British Cromwell Mk.IV Cruiser Tank, which whilst not capable of taking on the largest German designs, was fast and reliable, able to outflank less manoeuvrable enemy tanks. The images featured above show some of the impressive tank builds we have come across at model shows over the past twelve months.

New release to become a BBMF Spitfire Classic

The spectacular Spitfire box artwork depicts one of the clandestine high altitude flights over China

Some of the most popular kits in any Airfix model range are releases that present the modeller with examples of aircraft that can be seen at the many Air Displays held throughout the summer in Britain. For many, the aircraft of the much-loved Battle of Britain Memorial Flight are not only some of the most famous historic aircraft in the world, but also help to commemorate the huge contribution made by airmen and women during the Second World War. With six Spitfires, two Hurricanes, a Dakota and a Lancaster under their charge, the BBMF are a highlight act on any Airshow programme and are revered by young and old alike.

In order that the Flight continue to effectively commemorate the history of the Royal Air Force, they regularly repaint their aircraft to represent significant Squadrons, individual aircraft, or the exploits of famous pilots and the 2017 season will see several their aircraft wearing new colours. Supermarine Spitfire PR.XIX PS915 is one of the two Rolls-Royce Griffon powered fighters to be operated by the flight and it will be thrilling audiences throughout 2017 with a smart new silver scheme, which marks a significant RAF aircraft that flew at an incredible altitude of 51,500ft in February 1952. In the capable hands of Flight Lieutenant Edward ‘Ted’ Powles, Spitfire PR.XIX PS852 had been involved in flying high altitude clandestine reconnaissance missions over China for many weeks, relying on stealth, speed, altitude and airmanship to complete these missions effectively.

Profile artwork of the A scheme included with Spitfire release A02017A

On one particularly noteworthy mission, Powles managed to take his aircraft to an altitude of 51,500ft, which was the highest altitude ever attained by a Spitfire and for that matter any single engined piston fighter. This achievement is made all the more impressive by the fact that this record still stands to this day, making Spitfire PS852 one of the most significant aircraft in British aviation history. Some sources report that this was not the only record set by Powles during this eventful flight. During the descent from this record breaking altitude, it is claimed that the aircraft developed a depressurisation problem and dived out of control for a time. Falling earthwards under its own weight, PS852 is said to have indicated a speed of 691mph (Mach 0.96) before Powles was able to regain control, which if correct is the highest speed ever recorded for a piston engined aircraft. Potentially two records for this RAF pilot and his incredible machine on the same day.

BBMF Spitfire PS915 will be wearing this smart colour scheme for the 2017 Airshow season

Due for imminent release, 1/72nd scale Supermarine Spitfire PR.XIX (A02017A) comes complete with two finish options for this impressive kit, one of which is the aircraft Ted Powles used during his record breaking high altitude flight. This attractive scheme is destined to become extremely familiar over the coming few months as BBMF Spitfire PS915 will be wearing this scheme throughout the 2017 season and helping to tell the story of this most famous Spitfire. This model will hopefully inspire many first-time modellers to try their hand at our beloved hobby and will be an essential addition to any collection of BBMF aircraft. Due for imminent release, Spitfire A02017A will be widely available at all good hobby stores across the country and at many Airshow events throughout the summer months.

That’s all we have for you in this latest edition of Workbench, which we sincerely hope included something of interest to you. We are always interested to hear what our readers have to say and to receive any pictures or features you feel may inspire fellow modellers in a future edition of our blog. There are several ways in which you can contact us, including our dedicated e-mail address and of course the Workbench thread over on the Airfix Forum

If social media is more your style, you could access either the Airfix Facebook page or our Twitter channel, using #airfixworkbench where you will find plenty of modelling news, views and discussion.  Whichever medium you decide to use, please do get in touch with us, as it is always great to hear from fellow modelling enthusiasts.

Finally, the Airfix website is the destination to find out all the very latest model release information, with our New Arrivals and Coming Soon sections all accessed by clicking the Shop button at the top of the webpage. As work on the website is a constant process, a quick search through all the Airfix web pages will usually reveal new information and updated images in many of the product sections, so this is always a rewarding way to spend a few minutes.

We look forward to bringing you our next Airfix update on 9th June.
The Airfix Workbench Team

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