‘Smiley’ Spitfire on parade and a clash of armour
Welcome to this latest edition of Workbench and all the news, updates and exclusive announcements from the fascinating world of Airfix modelling.
We have yet another edition packed full of the latest Airfix project updates for you this time, including our usual selection of image exclusives, all of which are being made available to Workbench readers before anyone else gets to see them. Our headline feature is the latest update from our new 1/72nd scale Spitfire project, a kit we have reviewed extensively over the past few months, but this time we will be focussing on the first built and decorated samples from the latest test frame components and featuring both of the scheme options which will be included with the kit once it is released. We will move on to feature a particularly rugged looking Quickbuild model release, one which will no doubt appeal to our army of younger modellers, in addition to anyone who has an interest in go-anywhere muscle vehicles. Flying ‘top cover’ over this, we review the latest release from our popular Bristol Beaufighter TF.X tooling, looking at both scheme options which will be included with this kit, one iconic, the other slightly more unusual.
A feature which must certainly be vying for equal top billing in this edition, we also take a fascinating look at our two new 1/72nd scale Sherman Firefly and Tiger I tank kits, this time looking at the premium release models and exclusively revealing pictures of the test frame components from each model. Not content with this, we also have details of the scheme options which will accompany the release of each new kit, before delighting readers with the exclusive unveiling of the spectacular box artwork which will be gracing the packaging of these newly designed models. With quite a cross section of modelling subjects covered in this update, we hope we have managed to include at least one of the projects you have been following throughout the year.
A pair of ‘fair weather’ Spitfires
Having designed the new 1/72nd scale Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc kit for Airfix, Paramjit Sembhi had the honour of being the first person in the world to fully build and finish one
Making a pleasant departure from the more usual Spitfire model kit fare, the launch of the current 2020 Airfix range back in January marked the announcement of a new Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc in 1/72nd scale, a new kit which continues the enduring link between Airfix and Britain’s most famous fighting aeroplane. Having charted its development journey throughout the year, readers will also be aware that this kit was the first aeroplane project undertaken by product designer Paramjit Sembhi, a young man who has already made quite a mark in his relatively short time with the company. Now with several new tooling projects to his name, it will still no doubt be a special moment when this first aircraft kit project hits model stores and will be built by thousands of modellers all over the world. That memorable occasion moves one step closer, as we now reveal a series of images featuring the latest kit frame samples which have been fully finished in the two scheme options which will accompany the initial release of this new kit.
With Paramjit already having experienced the thrill of opening the first box of test frame components delivered to the Airfix office from his newly designed Spitfire and completed the first test build of the parts, the next major stage in the development of this new kit was to take the latest test frames and build the model as a complete project. This also involves finishing the kit in one, or in this case both of the scheme options which will be included with the model on first release. A representation of two Spitfire’s which would see service in warmer climates than those plying their trade from bases in the UK, the desert colours applied to these two aircraft are an attractive deviation from the more common Spitfire presentation and prove that this beautiful aeroplane would have looked good in whatever colours you decided to paint it in.
The Supermarine Spitfire Mk.V variant has been described as perhaps the most effective ‘stop-gap’ aircraft type ever introduced by the Royal Air Force and one which proved to be more than a match for any Luftwaffe fighter flying at that time. The constant search for additional speed saw the original Mk.I/II airframe (plus a number of design improvements which had already been developed for the proposed future Mk.III) married with the greater power output of the Rolls Royce Merlin 45 engine, producing a fighter which gave the RAF a combat edge at a vital stage in the war. With the new Castle Bromwich shadow production factory able to turn out new Spitfires at an astonishing rate, the Mk.V variant would become the most produced version of this famous fighter, with almost 6,500 aircraft manufactured. Going on to see service in every theatre of war the Allies contested, Spitfire Mk.Vs could be seen in the skies above the green fields of Britain, over the deserts of North Africa and over the jungles of the Far East.
This variant of Spitfire also saw the introduction of the fighter’s ‘C’ or ‘Universal Wing’, which proved to be something of an engineering triumph. Not only did this provide the fighter with a wing capable of supporting several different weapons configurations, it also cut down on labour and manufacturing time. Importantly for squadron pilots, the new wing also strengthened the relatively narrow undercarriage, angling the main gear slightly further forward and making the notoriously challenging ground handling of the Spitfire just a little more manageable. A thoroughbred fighting aeroplane, even the addition of an engine protecting Vokes Air Filter under the front cowling of the Spitfire could not alter its aesthetic appeal, even though it may have reduced its performance by around 20 mph.
Scheme A – Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc, 307th Fighter Squadron, Twelfth Air Force, USAAF, La Sénia, Algeria, November/December 1942
When the pilots of the 307th Fighter Squadron of the USAAF arrived in Britain in June 1942, the Bell P-39 Airacobra fighters they had been assigned to fly in combat had not yet arrived, so they began training on British Spitfire Vb fighters provided by the RAF at Atcham, in Shropshire. Fortunately for them, the time difference between them arriving in Britain and their assigned aircraft arriving by sea, allowed military officials the time to lobby the unsuitability of the P-39 for combat operations over Europe and the 307th would end up keeping their Spitfires. Following completion of their training and type conversion, the squadron were moved to RAF Biggin Hill in preparation for action, with their first mission being a Circus raid 17th August.
Seeing plenty of action over the next few weeks, which included operations in support of the Dieppe Raid, the 307th would be declared non-operational in the middle of October in preparation for their shipping out to North Africa with the rest of the US 31st Fighter Group, which was now part of the 12th Air Force. Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa, began on 8th November and the Spitfires of the US 31st Fighter Group would be heavily involved in the fighting. They had initially flown their aircraft from Gibraltar, landing at new bases in Algeria on 9th in preparation for what they expected would be a hectic period of operations. After pounding French positions the following day, it was not long before the French surrendered and the expected heavy fighting would descend into weeks of flying relatively uneventful patrols.
The 307th Fighter Squadron arrived at the Algerian airfield at La Sénia on 12th November and although they didn’t know it at the time, the next five weeks or so would be spent flying relatively uneventful patrols and escort missions, where the only real perils they faced were the possibility of suffering technical issues whilst flying over vast expanses of desert. It is presumably during this relatively quiet period that Spitfire Vc ER180 (MX-P) was to receive a rather unique piece of additional artwork on its front cowling, something which must have made it one of the most distinctive aircraft in theatre.
Surely, the idea behind applying shark mouth artwork to an aircraft was to make it look more sinister during combat engagements, a high profile warning to your adversaries that you were coming to get them and you were confident of success. If that was the intention when this type of marking was applied to tropical Spitfire ER180, it sort of fell a little wide of the mark – it looks more happy than angry!
The application of shark mouth type markings were first seen on a handful of aircraft during the First World War, although some of these artworks had a decidedly more macabre appearance than a menacing one. More widespread adoption of the markings occurred during the Second World War, appearing first on early variants of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and more famously on the twin engined Bf 110 Destroyers during 1939/40, but then famously on the Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks of RAF No.112 Squadron. It appears that pilots in this squadron had encountered shark mouthed Messerschmitt Bf 110s in combat over Crete and were so impressed with the markings that they decided to adopt the artwork on their own aircraft. With regard to the application of the markings, some aircraft served as a much more suitable canvas than others and in the case of the P-40, it was absolutely made for shark mouths.
Starting with the early Allison engined variants of the fighter, the shark-like appearance of the aircraft encouraged RAF No.112 Squadron to widely adopt shark mouth markings during their time with the Desert Air Force, applying them to the radiator air inlet housing, beneath the propeller and at the front of the engine. When combined with the desert camouflage colours the fighters wore, these Tomahawks would become some of the most photographed aircraft of the Second World War and their appearance in a British magazine would lead to another famous unit adopting similar markings. The P-40 Warhawks of the American Volunteer Group would become known as ‘The Flying Tigers’, with their fearsome looking fighters earning the respect of their Japanese adversaries and the admiration of the American nation.
The shark mouth markings on all of these aircraft were intended to strike fear into the hearts of the enemy and inspire fellow pilots heading into combat, so what was the idea behind the markings applied to this Spitfire Mk.Vc (ER180) from the USAAF 307th Fighter Squadron? It is clear that the deep Vokes air filter was just crying out to have a fearsome tooth laden mouth applied, but this particular interpretation is a little light on the aggression, seemingly favouring a much more mellow attitude. Whether viewing the magnificent box artwork produced for this release, or looking at the actual aircraft as pictured by members of the 307th Fighter Squadron during WWII, you are obviously left admiring this beautiful scheme, but can’t help smiling at how happy this Spitfire appears to be – it almost looks to be smiling.
Scheme B – Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc, No.2 Squadron, South African Air Force, Gioia del Colle, Italy, October 1943
One of five SAAF squadrons assigned to support the invasion of Sicily, No.2 Squadron SAAF ‘The Flying Cheetahs’ re-equipped with Spitfire Mk.Vc fighters in July 1943 and were tasked with providing fighter bomber support to ground troops involved in driving Wehrmacht troops from their positions. Often loitering in the vicinity of offensive ground operations, the Spitfires were called in to dislodge areas of stubborn resistance by highly trained forward air controllers installed with ground units. Following the success of these operations, the Spitfires of the ‘Flying Cheetahs’ moved to bases on the island and prepared to play their part in the next big offensive, Operation Avalanche and the invasion of the Italian Mainland. This time, the Spitfires were tasked with flying bomber escort missions, protecting SAAF bombers against stubborn, if diminishing Luftwaffe opposition.
As Allied forces slowly began to push Wehrmacht forces back towards their homeland, No.2 Squadron were on the move once more, this time taking up residence at Gioia del Colle, in the heel of Italy. Although they would continue flying the Spitfire until the end of the war, they would not trade their Mk.Vc aircraft for the more capable Mk.IX variant until March 1944.
‘The Flying Cheetahs’ received their first Spitfire Mk.Vc fighters in July 1943, with JL115 DB-V being amongst the first batch to arrive. With the North African campaign turning in favour of the Allies, it was not long before the squadron re-located to Sicily and with the diminishing Luftwaffe threat in the skies above Italy, they turned their hand to providing fighter bomber support to troops fighting on the ground. The mark V variant of the Spitfire saw the introduction of the aircraft’s ‘C’ or ‘Universal’ wing, something which proved to be quite a technical innovation. The wing would allow the aircraft to be offensively configured in several different ways, including the ability to install four powerful 20mm cannon and to carry two 250lb bombs, one under each wing. This offensive upgrade was exploited to the full by the pilots of No.2 Squadron SAAF, as they engaged in their ground support fighter bomber missions.
New Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc A02108 helps the tell the fascinating wartime story of this famous British aircraft and how it not only flew in combat all over the world, but also in the colours of several different air forces. As our latest Spitfire new tooling release, this will be an incredibly accurate and extremely attractive representation of this most heavily produced variant of arguably the world’s most famous aeroplane. This fabulous new kit is scheduled for a winter 2020/21 release.
Work hard, play rough
The interesting marketing slogan displayed above could easily be attributed to our rugged Quickbuild series of models, but is actually associated with the subject of this next feature, the purposeful Ford Ranger Raptor. A range of vehicles which began as a series of successful compact pickup trucks, the Raptor is as its name suggests, a little more ‘exciting’ than your average pickup truck and one which people of a more adventurous nature may be hoping to own.
A quick look through the promotional material supporting the current range of Ford Ranger vehicles leaves you in absolutely no doubt that this muscular vehicle is targeted at multiple market opportunities. Clearly, businesses which require the lugging of heavy loads, often in off-road conditions, will be the main target for Ford here, whether that be as a hard-working agricultural vehicle with endless applications, or as a go-anywhere mode of transport for people working in more rural locations. Having said that, once cleaned up, this stylish pick-up would certainly not look out of place in any city centre, as it takes its driver to their latest business meeting, with its stylish exterior matched by interior fittings which make this as luxurious as any executive car.
And then there is the Raptor - all of that and so much more! A top of the range vehicle, the Raptor is a real head-turner and one which you could imagine being driven by ‘cool people’, or those wishing to appear so. Owning a Raptor is a real statement of style and adventurous nature, people who don’t necessarily like to conform, or have interests which may be a little more active than most - even if you are not a rock climber or former SAS soldier, if you own a Raptor, people will think you might be. The ultimate incarnation of the Ford Ranger line, the Raptor is aimed at those who are looking to combine the ability to take their lives ‘off the beaten track’, without having to compromise on either luxury or performance.
Side profile showing the distinctive Ford F-150 Raptor, a vehicle which makes an appealing cross-over between rugged off-road performance and eye-catching style
Even though our new Quickbuild Ford Raptor will look fantastic when fully constructed, it has been designed to be built, taken apart and built time and time again
With the ability to go where other forms of transport wouldn’t dream of venturing, the Raptor has been designed to perform in these challenging environments and is described as a street legal derivative of an off-road competition vehicle - how could you not want one of those? Even though it possesses all the credentials to be an off-road winner, it is surly on our normal roads where this vehicle will find its strongest sales support, as it is the very embodiment of a ‘don’t mess with me’ vehicle. With its stunning good looks and purposeful styling, you would expect to see footballers, athletes and aspiring boxers behind the wheel of a Raptor, because just like them, this beast has been bred to perform.
Everything described above could easily translate into how the unique attributes of the Quickbuild model range plays a slightly different, yet no less important role in the overall Airfix product range (ok, we might struggle with the footballer and boxer bit). A robust and rugged range of model kits, a Quickbuild model has to go together in a logical, relatively simple manner, using a brick type construction, without the need for glue, but once completed, has to produce a faithful representation of the vehicle, aircraft or tank on which it is based. Quite a tall order for our product designers, in many cases, a Quickbuild project can be more challenging for them than a ‘traditional’ Airfix kit.
Although hardly featuring in Workbench prior to this year, 2020 has seen our Quickbuild range come under the spotlight on several previous occasions, as we have taken readers on the development journey of a new kit from initial design, right through to release. As the new Quickbuild Ford F-150 Raptor has already been released, we don’t intend to cover the same development ground as we have already done with projects such as the Jaguar I-PACE and F-35 Lightning II, but as this is such a distinctive addition to the range, we certainly wanted to give it some blog airtime.
Having had the opportunity to speak to several of our designers who have Quickbuild experience on their CV’s, we now know that designing a Quickbuild kit can in most cases, actually be more challenging and time consuming that working on a ‘traditional’ Airfix kit. With a very specific set of design criteria to adhere to and with these products intended for a particular target market, these kits have to build into an attractive display model, but have the ability to be taken apart and built all over again, time after time - everything about a Quickbuild has to be tough.
Product images featuring the new Quickbuild Ford F-150 Raptor, the latest addition to this incredibly popular range
The tooling moulds themselves are another interesting feature of Quickbuild model development, particularly as most Airfix enthusiasts would probably think that there is no way these kits would cost as much to produce as a regular Airfix kit. In fact, we would all be quite wrong in this assumption, as Quickbuild moulds are usually quite complex, incorporating additional side actions to create the push together components which are such a feature of these kits. Indeed, with each model requiring four or five separate moulds, including one for each different coloured part used on the model, tooling costs associated with Quickbuild can be significant.
With our designers ensuring each kit is as enjoyable to build as it is robust to play with afterwards, our new Quickbuild models are better than ever and serve to introduce young and first time modellers to the joys of our hobby, all without the need for glue or paints. With youngsters having a particular fascination for robust, chunky vehicles, the recently released Ford F-150 Raptor will be right up their street and as we all begin to think about suitable gifts for a date in the not too distant future, this latest Quickbuild kit could be the ideal stocking filler. Something tells us that there will be many a Raptor Quickbuild speed build challenge taking place in living rooms up and down the country on December 25th this year.
Bristol’s airborne battering ram
For many modellers, the sight of the magnificent box artwork which graces the packaging of our latest model releases has become almost as iconic as the model kits themselves and looking at the exclusive Beaufighter artwork reveal above, it is not difficult to see why. In many cases, the appeal of this artwork is the only encouragement we need in selecting our next build project and it certainly acts as inspiration throughout the process. Effectively bringing to life the stories and poor quality black and white pictures we all find in our reference books, modellers know that if we manage to make our models look something like the image on the front of the box, we will have another successful build under our belts.
The subject of this latest artwork reveal is one of the most successful twin engined strike aircraft of the Second World War and one which would excel in the role of long range maritime strike fighter, the magnificent Bristol Beaufighter. It is strange to think that an aircraft which possesses such WWII pedigree and is so familiar with aviation enthusiasts actually started its development as a private venture, with Britain’s Air Ministry not seeing a need for such an aircraft. The concept of a ‘Heavy Fighter’ was not seen as a priority for the Royal Air Force as the clouds of war gathered at the end of the 1930s, with the production of Spitfires and Hurricanes being their most pressing priority. Thankfully, designers at the Bristol Aeroplane Company had a little more foresight and pressed ahead with the development of a heavy fighter variant of the Beaufort torpedo bomber already in production for the RAF.
The prototype Beaufighter started life as a partially built Beaufort fuselage, which was taken straight from the production line, with the intention being that the new aircraft would utilise many of the same components produced for this existing design. As it was, it soon became apparent that the fuselage would have to be completely re-designed for the new fighter, something which inevitably caused delays - thankfully, these delays also brought about a change of heart in British military thinking. With war in Europe now looking increasingly certain, the Air Ministry placed an order for the new Beaufighter even before the prototype aircraft had flown, a decision which was fully vindicated in the years which followed.
Although the first Beaufighter’s would actually enter Royal Air Force service in the late summer of 1940, perhaps the most famous variant of this aircraft and certainly the most familiar to enthusiasts was the TF Mk.X, the final major production variant of this magnificent aeroplane. Armed with a combination of rockets, cannon and often an air launched torpedo, the Beaufighters TF Mk.X strike fighters of Coastal Command took a heavy toll of Axis shipping from the summer of 1943. Operating in large formations and developing aggressive tactics which proved so effective, that enemy shipping movements were restricted to night sailings only, as they hoped to avoid the attentions of the RAF’s Beaufighters.
An aircraft type which has always been popular with Airfix modellers, the current Beaufighter tooling was introduced back in 2015 and has proved to be a stunning success. With this latest release from the tooling due to arrive later this year and in celebration of the spectacular box artwork featured above, let’s take a closer look at the two scheme options which will be included with the kit.
Scheme A - Bristol Beaufighter TF Mk.X, No.404 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, RAF Davidstow, Cornwall, England, June 1944
The maritime strike Beaufighters of Coastal Command may have been some of the most famous fighting aeroplanes of the Second World War, but their long-range sorties were undoubtedly some of the war’s most hazardous for their crews. Regularly flying over large expanses of open ocean, patrols could last for many hours and were often flown at low altitude, sometimes even at wavetop heights. Once a target had been located and an attack commenced, they knew that most enemy shipping could put up effective anti-aircraft defensive fire and if an aircraft sustained damage or was involved in a collision, there was little hope of rescue by friendly forces should they be forced to ditch in the icy waters. Such perils did not distract crews from their onslaught against Axis shipping.
Putting their skills to very good use in support of the D-Day landings, the Beaufighters of No.404 ‘Buffalo’ Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force were tasked with protecting the English Channel against enemy submarine and destroyer incursions which could potentially challenge the invasion fleet. Relocating to RAF Davidstow Moor in Cornwall during May 1944, their Beaufighter’s only received their AEAF identification markings on the eve of D-Day itself, in an attempt to prevent twitchy Allied gunners from targeting friendly Allied aircraft in the crowded airspace around the invasion beaches.
On D-Day itself, the unit was tasked with providing a single aircraft to mount an anti-submarine patrol, with the rest of the squadron’s aircraft remaining at base, but on high alert. In the late afternoon, reports that three German destroyers were heading for the Channel had all serviceable aircraft taking to the air, each one fully laden with fuel, cannon shells and rockets. They would form part of a coordinated attack force which included more Beaufighters and Mosquitoes, with some aircraft providing fighter cover and engaging enemy anti-aircraft gunners, leaving 404’s Beaufighters to press home their attacks against the ships. Unleashing a savage attack against the ships, once their rockets had been fired, the Beaufighters made repeated attack runs using their cannon armament, only breaking off when their ammunition had been expended. Indeed, some aircraft returned to Davidstow Moor to be re-fuelled and re-armed, only to head back to the combat area and continue the fight.
Successfully carrying out their mission, all three of the German destroyers suffered varying degrees of damage and were unable to challenge the D-Day armada further along the coast.
The rest of June and all of July would prove to be an extremely busy time for the Beaufighters of No.404 Squadron, as they would undertake longer ranging patrols, targeting shipping and coastal targets all along the northern and western coast of France, disrupting any re-supply attempts for the beleaguered German troops facing Allied ground units in Normandy. By September, the squadron had returned to its North Sea strike operations as part of the famous Banff Strike Wing, flying from RAF Dallachy.
Built at the Weston Super Mare shadow factory, Bristol Beaufighter TF Mk.X was a particularly hard working example of this aircraft and at a time when Beaufighter losses were relatively high, this machine appears to have survived a hectic period of operational flying relatively unscathed. The subject of several famous wartime photographs, NE355 is a fine example of this famous aeroplane type and one which certainly helped to prove the effectiveness of the heavy fighter concept.
Scheme B - Bristol Beaufighter TF Mk.X, Squadrilia B, Aviacao Maritima, Portela de Sacavem, Lisbon. Portugal, 1946
With the war over and the need for large numbers of Beaufighter squadrons based around the UK now gone, many aircraft were simply deemed surplus to requirements and as war weary airframes were sent for scrap. A small number of aircraft were retained for home duties, whilst others were sent to operate in the Far East, but in the main, the days of the Beaufighter in RAF service were already numbered. Despite the fact that the world was now very much preoccupied with perfecting jet propulsion technology, the exceptional wartime service of the Beaufighter did attract several overseas suitors and some surplus new build aircraft did find new owners in Turkey and the Dominican Republic.
A little closer to home, Portugal were to take 17 Beaufighters to serve in a maritime patrol role, with the aircraft being flown to their new bases during March 1945. Based at Portela de Sacavem near Lisbon, the Portuguese Beaufighters were operated by Squadrilia B of the Aviacao Maritima, but only for a relatively short period - due to a lack of spare parts and engineering expertise, poor maintenance ensured that their Beaufighters were rarely in the air and operations in the skies above Portugal were sporadic to say the least. After only a few months of operation, it was already clear that these Beaufighters were not going to be a long term solution, as a lack of serviceability was becoming a serious issue. By 1949, all of the Beaufighters had been replaced with twelve US Curtiss Helldivers and many of the aircraft were scrapped. One former Portuguese Beaufighter is now one of the prized exhibits in the collection of the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon, an extremely rare example of this magnificent maritime strike fighter.
Due for release in early December, Bristol Beaufighter TF MK.X A04019A will definitely be a popular addition to the range and is destined to be a late year/ early 2021 build project for many.
Battle of the ‘Big Hitters’
In the 134th edition of Workbench, we looked at an exciting pair of new tooling projects which pitted the talents of two of our most recent product design recruits with two of the Second World War’s most famous armoured fighting vehicles. We are delighted to now be in a position to quickly provide an update on both projects, but with something of a difference - once again looking at each project in turn, we will see how each kit has been developed with an unusual twist, presenting the modeller with a simple, or more complex build option. With the benefit of yet another selection of exclusive images for your viewing pleasure, we can now take a first look at the model part frames themselves, marvel at the beautiful box artwork produced for each model and review the two scheme options which will accompany the release of both kits.
As his third new tooling project since joining Airfix as a product designer, Tom had already built up a wealth of experience by the time he embarked on his Sherman Firefly VC project and was determined that he was going to do this iconic tank justice. Based on the ubiquitous American M4A(4) hull, the Firefly was a British attempt to ‘up gun’ the Sherman, making it much more capable when facing the heavy German armour it would be facing during the battles for Normandy, whilst using existing gun and ammunition technology. Redesigning the tank’s turret to reposition the radio gear, the Firefly equipped the Sherman with the powerful British 17 pounder anti-tank gun, turning it through 90 degrees so that it could be loaded from the side. Although the tank retained the relatively weak armour protection of the Sherman series, the new gun was at least capable of taking on and destroying the feared German Tiger and Panther tanks which were roaming the battlefields of Europe.
An exclusive first look at the part frames produced by the new 1/72nd scale Sherman Firefly VC tooling, clearly showing how this highly detailed new kit will have two options when it comes to modelling the tracks and running gear
As one of the most capable Allied tanks of the Second World War, Tom was determined to make this new kit a much loved addition to the Airfix armour range and embraced the opportunity to innovate with his design. When looking at the part frame image above, we can certainly see that he managed to achieve his aim on both counts. As well as incorporating plenty of detail into the kit and replicating the iconic turret shape of the Sherman Firefly, Tom has also managed to incorporate two track options into his design. For those looking for an easier build, the new kit includes a single running gear option where the wheels, bogies and track come as a single unit, locating in to the same position on the hull as the alternative option. This second option is the more usual kit representation of tank running gear, where the bogies wheels and tracks all come as separate parts and require construction by the modeller. The tank tracks are also a break away from the rubberised parts from years past and will allow for a much more accurate representation of these distinctive, and in real life extremely heavy items - it was always difficult to get the rubber tracks to sit correctly.
At the same time as Tom was perfecting his Sherman masterpiece, his colleague across the Airfix design office was tackling arguably the most famous tank in the history of warfare. Having only recently joined the company, Paramjit was handed the iconic German Tiger I as his first Airfix new tooling project, something which must have been a daunting undertaking for him. As iconic to military vehicles as the Spitfire is to aircraft, the Tiger may be quite an angular, almost box like design, but it is so familiar to so many people that there is absolutely no margin for error.
With the same ‘be innovative’ design brief as Tom was handed, Paramjit thought long and hard before actually making a start on his first Airfix project, already knowing from his own extensive modelling experience that he wanted to try something a little different with the kit’s track representation. He designed a system which allowed the sprocket and road wheel assembly to be constructed separately from the hull and joined together as a completed unit later in the build. This definitely helps when it comes to painting the model, whilst at the same time improving the overall appearance of the finished model. In addition to this, innovative plastic track sections are not only a significant improvement from earlier tank model designs, but also allow the correct ‘track sink’ to be represented.
The new 1/72nd scale Tiger I tooling has yielded an impressive number of parts for the modeller to unitise and again features the two alternative methods of constructing the tracks and running gear
Paramjit described in our initial review how in CAD, he used the skeleton model to produce a single track section (with its own separate sub skeleton workings), before patterning this across the rest of the drive and road wheels. Although he makes this sound quite a simple task, it is actually incredibly difficult to achieve and required real talent and understanding of the design software. As you can see from the new Tiger I test frames shown above, there are an impressive number of parts with this new kit, including the option to either paint and construct the road wheel and track assemblies separately as you traditionally would do, or to take a slightly easier route and go with pre-moulded running gear and tracks.
As you can clearly see from the image above, the combat track width of a Tiger I was significantly wider than on the Allied Sherman, with a complicated system of interleaved road wheels needed to bear the significant 50 ton weight of this battlefield behemoth. This has resulted in the necessity to adopt a two piece track and wheel system even on the simplified construction version of the Tiger, which makes its design even more impressive. It is also clear to see that whichever version you decide to go with, either easy, or traditional track construction, the representation of the track lying on the top of the roadwheels has been accurately replicated.
As with the Sherman kit featured earlier, each of these kits is supplied with both track options, leaving the construction choice up to the individual modeller - whilst you will be lining your spares box with at least one set of unwanted wheels and tracks, there are still only enough parts to make one complete tank, just as you would expect. Using the exclusive unveiling of the box artwork produced for each or these impressive new model kits as our inspiration, let’s now take a look at them individually and at the scheme options which will be available with our new Sherman Firefly and Tiger I.
A02341 - Sherman Firefly VC
As Allied forces began to move off the D-Day beaches and into the Normandy countryside, they knew they would be facing strong opposition from German Panzer units, including the feared Heavy Tank Battalions. Fortunately, they now had a tank which was capable of taking on the Tigers and Panthers, in the form of the Sherman Firefly, a British designed marriage of the M4 Sherman hull and their famous 17-pounder anti-tank gun. Usually deployed in a ratio of one Firefly to four standard Shermans, German tank commanders soon learned to look for the longer barrel of the Firefly and attempt to knock these tanks out first. In order to make identification more difficult, British crews would camouflage the front of their guns with light coloured paint, giving their tank the appearance a standard 75mm equipped Sherman, hoping this deception would give them enough time to get in the first shot during any engagement.
Scheme A - Sherman Firefly VC, Staffordshire Yeomanry, 27th Armoured Brigade, Operation Goodwood, Normandy, France, June 1944
With the Germans adding additional armour protection to their older Panzer IV tanks and with the newer Tiger and Panther tanks utilising thicker armour as standard, the 75mm gun which featured on most British tanks at the end of 1943 was proving to be less than adequate. Having just introduced the powerful 17-pdr anti-tank gun into service, which was proving incredibly successful, the question was ‘Could they fit this new gun into an existing tank design?’ The answer proved to be a re-designed turret for the ubiquitous American built Sherman V (M4A4), a tank which was in widespread service with the British Army and one which could be fitted with the new gun.
With the Normandy landings in the advanced stages of planning and with the new British Sherman Firefly due to play a significant role, the race was on not only to produce enough converted tanks, but also to train the crews selected to operate them. The gun’s additional hitting power was going to be desperately needed if a successful breakout from the beachheads was going to be achieved, so many were scheduled to be delivered to the landing beaches on the day of the landings themselves, or over the days which followed. They would have to be in Normandy and ready to fight, if the expected German counterattack was to be repulsed.
Operation Goodwood was a major post D-Day British led armoured offensive to secure the town of Caen and a series of vital bridges over the river Orne. Allowing the Allies to push deeper into France, the operation was also intended to force the Germans to commit their armoured reserves into battle, which it was feared were being massed to facilitate a devasting counterattack against the Allies in Normandy. Commencing on 18th July 1944, the offensive was backed up by strong air support which kept German armour pinned down during daylight hours and whilst the original objectives of Goodwood may not all have been achieved, it did keep many German division fully committed around Caen and unable to strengthen other sectors of the front line. As a consequence, American units were later able to break out from the Cherbourg peninsula, as the German forces they faced could not be reinforced.
The Sherman Firefly VC featured here was one of the machines deployed during Goodwood and is noteworthy as it carries the name Belvedere on both sides of its hull. Some sources claim that the Firefly got its name due to the bright muzzle flash it created when firing its gun, something which would certainly draw attention to itself during combat. With only limited numbers available during its combat debut in Normandy, Fireflies were usually deployed as part of small armoured squadrons, which mainly consisted of the standard 75mm gunned Shermans. The scheme applied to this machine actually does quite an effective job of disguising the longer barrel of the Firefly’s 17-pdr gun.
Scheme B - Sherman Firefly VC, 3 Troop, A Squadron, Northamptonshire Yeomanry, Normandy, France 1944
With German armoured units becoming accustomed to picking off Allied tanks at relatively long ranges and without the fear of being struck by return fire, the combat introduction of the new Sherman Firefly on the Normandy battlefields must have come as an unpleasant surprise for them. With most Allied tanks only able to effectively target Tiger and Panther tanks as ranges between a dangerously close 250 and 600 metres, the 17-pdr gun of the Firefly could take out these mighty armoured beasts at ranges approaching 2000 metres. In contrast, the powerful guns of the German heavy panzers could take out the majority of Allied tanks at ranges of 2000 metres, with just the heavily armoured Churchill tank having to be engaged at a slightly closer 1500 metre range.
With the new Firefly proving to be the hard-hitting equal of the latest German tanks in terms of range and destructive capability, it did not take long before German tank commanders worked out that the less common, longer barrelled Shermans were the ones which were causing them all the problems and an order to destroy these tanks first in any engagement was quickly issued. As the combat performance of the tank continued to impress, captured Wehrmacht troops under interrogation confirmed that the power of the new longer barrelled Shermans had been identified by the Germans and that tank commanders were looking to destroy these tanks early in any engagement. This information was relayed back to divisions fighting in Normandy and Firefly commanders were instructed to disguise the length of their guns by any means possible. This was initially achieved using local foliage or spare camouflage netting and later, by the clever application of paint to create the illusion of the standard 75mm gun - in a combat situation, the valuable seconds gained by this misidentification could prove the difference between life and death.
The Firefly presented here carried the hull name ‘VELIKYE LUKI’ and is reported to have been the tank which fired the shot which brought the reign of feared Panzer ace Michael Wittmann to an end on 8th August 1944. A massive Allied offensive to capture high ground on the outskirts of the French town of Falaise had to be countered by German forces and expert panzer commander Michael Wittmann was dispatched to re-take the position. Leading a small combat unit consisting of four Tiger I tanks, Wittmann led his tanks to a position where he could target Allied armour at range, completely unaware that their every move was being watched by a squadron of concealed Sherman tanks. Taking up a position in an orchard, the Shermans of A Squadron, Northamptonshire Yeomanry included a single Sherman Firefly which was more than capable of dealing with a Tiger.
As their enemy had not fired on them, they were confident that the Tigers were unaware of their presence, so they held their nerve and allowed them to come closer. Coming as close as 800 metres away and exposing their more lightly armoured flanks, the Firefly opened fire on the rear tank, hoping the other three would not notice where the shots were coming from - reloading and firing again, the Tiger was knocked out. A firefight ensued and the Firefly withdrew to take up a new firing position. The second Tiger in the Firefly’s sights displayed the turret number 007 and as the Sherman gunner targeted the tank, he could see its massive 88mm gun moving to target him - with seconds to spare, he fire his gun and made a direct hit. Penetrating the hull of the Tiger, the round set off the stored ammunition in the tank, causing a huge explosion and blowing the massive turret off the tank. Although they didn’t know it at the time, they had just destroyed the Tiger commanded by Michael Wittmann, the most feared German tank ace in the Normandy region.
A02342 - Tiger I
When the mighty German Tiger I entered service during the Autumn of 1942, it was the most advanced tank in the world and one designed specifically to dominate the battlefield. Capable of destroying anything the Allies had in service, the Tiger possessed a stand-off advantage where it could ‘kill without being killed’, picking off enemy tanks before they could even think about returning fire. Unfortunately for the Wehrmacht, the awesome potential of the Tiger was never fully realised, as it was over engineered, extremely complex and expensive to produce, ensuring that there were never enough Tigers on the battlefield at any one time. Between 1942 and 1944, only 1,347 Tiger 1s were manufactured and whilst it was undoubtedly one of the finest tanks ever produced, it could not hold back the ever increasing numbers of Allied armour. Highlighting this numerical disparity, American factories were able to produce over 49,000 Sherman Tanks during WWII.
Scheme A - Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger I Ausf E, Commanded by Michael Wittmann, Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 101, Normandy, France 1944
A celebrated panzer ace with reputedly around 135 tank victories to his name, Michael Wittman combined his undoubted tactical skill with the awesome power of the mighty Tiger I tank to devastating effect on the battlefields of Europe. Perhaps his most famous action was the ambush of elements of the British 7th Armoured Division at Villers-Bocage on 13th June 1944, when during the space of a frenetic 15 minutes of combat, he destroyed 14 tanks and at least the same number of armoured personnel carriers. Unfortunately for Wittmann and the rest of Schwere Panzer Abteilung 101, the Allies were now flooding Normandy with troops and armour and his undoubted skills would be required in multiple locations at the same time. Wherever he found himself in combat, he would usually be at a significant numerical disadvantage.
On the morning of 8th August 1944, the Germans were coming to terms with strategic losses as a result of a massive Allied offensive ‘Operation Totalize’ in and around the Caen area. With his Tiger concealed in a wood, Wittmann was attempting to assess the situation and plan where best to direct a counterattack. Knowing he would be facing much greater numbers of Allied armour, he still had great faith in the fighting qualities of the Tiger I and backed himself to better any armoured unit who dared to oppose him. The Germans were still coming to terms with news of the combat introduction of a powerful new Allied tank, the Sherman Firefly, however, reports were that they were in very short supply and were being deployed sparingly.
On that fateful day, Wittmann was unable to use his own assigned Tiger I (Turret number 205), so he and his crew were using the machine belonging to Battalion Commander Heinz von Westerhagen, a machine which had the turret number 007 and one which would soon be forever linked with Germany’s most famous panzer ace. The plan was to attack and destroy Allied units occupying high ground near the town of Cintheaux, south of Caen, claiming the position for themselves and holding it until support units could arrive. Wittmann led a force of 4 Tigers across the perilous Normandy countryside, concealing their progress from air attack wherever possible. As they passed an orchard on the way to their objective, near the town of Saint-Aignan-de-Cramesnil, the battle group were completely unaware that their progress was being watched and that they were heading into a planned armoured killing zone.
Amongst the Allied tanks concealed in the orchard was a single Sherman Firefly, with its crew including a young gunner who was gaining a reputation as being something of a crack shot. Waiting until the Tigers were at relatively close range, the Firefly opened fire at the last Tiger, getting off two quick rounds before the enemy tank could react, knocking it out. Withdrawing to take up a new firing position and to avoid being fired upon by the remaining Tigers, the Sherman next targeted a Tiger displaying the turret number 007, letting off a round before they themselves could be fired upon. The round penetrated the hull of the German tank, setting off an explosive chain reaction which ignited its stored ammunition with such force that it blew the turret off the tank.
Clearly, the explosion would have instantly killed the Tiger’s crew, including Germany’s famous Tiger ‘Ace’ Michael Wittmann, although this was unknown at the time. Even the mighty Tiger tank could not hold back the overwhelming armoured superiority enjoyed by Allied armoured units in the wake of the D-Day landings.
Scheme B - Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger I Ausf E, 2. Kompanie, Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 501, Byelorussia 1943-44
For many with an interest in military history, the German Tiger I is still widely regarded as the epitome of tank design, beautifully conceived and manufactured, whilst at the same time proving deadly on the battlefield. Unrivalled by any opposing tank when it saw its combat introduction on the Eastern Front during September 1942, the Tiger I soon began to show its potential, using its highly effective sighting optics and accurate 88mm KwK 36 tank gun to take a heavy toll of Soviet armour. Capable of destroying enemy tanks at ranges which made it almost impervious to return fire, it was not uncommon to hear reports of small units of German Tigers destroying more than ten times their number in Soviet armour during engagements, as their opposition rushed headlong towards the German tanks in a deadly hail of armour piercing shells, with only the amount of ammunition held limiting the effectiveness of the Tigers killing spree. Indeed, if a Soviet tank did manage to get close enough to fire on its capable adversary, their shells would invariably ricochet off the thick frontal armour of these German beasts, whilst at the same time attracting the attention of the enemy tank commander in the process.
The second heavy panzer battalion to receive the mighty Tiger I tank, the 501st Schwere Panzer-Abteilung was initially promised to the Afrika Korps and was sent to Tunisia following the Allied landings in French North Africa. Outnumbered and with these early Tigers suffering from mechanical problems, the unit surrendered all remaining forces in May 1943, with most of their tanks having already been destroyed in combat.
Reformed in September 1943, the 501st were sent to fight on the Eastern Front, where these powerful tanks took a heavy toll of Russian armour. Despite the fact that each Tiger could account for many times its number in enemy tanks destroyed, the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Red Army dictated that German Tiger numbers steadily dwindled to a point where they failed to be an effective combat proposition.
For operations in the vast snow covered tundra of the Eastern Front, Tiger tanks were given a field applied coat of whitewash to provide crews with a modicum of camouflage protection in this flat, white landscape. The Tigers would have arrived in theatre by train and finished in the usual factory applied Dunkelgelb (dark yellow) overall scheme - field units were supplied with dark green and red-brown paint stocks, so that individual units could camouflage their tanks appropriately for the conditions in which they would be fighting. Applied with spray guns, this autonomy does provide the modeller with a little creative licence when attempting to replicate these schemes in scale.
Clearly, the most important colour for this particular Tiger was white and it would seem unlikely that the field maintenance unit would go to the bother of first applying green and red-brown camouflage markings, only to then cover them with whitewash once they were dry. It is much more likely that they simply painted the whitewash over the original dunkelgelb in which the new tank had arrived on the Eastern Front. In any case, the relatively thin whitewash would soon begin to deteriorate once the tank entered combat, changing the shade of white and eventually revealing the base colour beneath. The subject of camouflage and paint colour usage during WWII really can be something of a minefield.
With two of our youngest designers going head to head on this 1/72nd scale armour new tooling project, it seems somehow fitting that both kits should also face each other on the scale battlefield - which one of these new kits will you take on first?
Both the new Sherman Firefly VC A02341 and Tiger I Ausf E A02342 are scheduled for release early next month, so we will not have to wait long before we can inspect these fantastic new kits for ourselves.
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