The RAF go Buccaneering
Welcome to this latest edition of Workbench and all the news, updates and exclusive announcements from the fascinating world of Airfix modelling.
It hardly seems possible that we currently find ourselves only about eight weeks away from announcing the 2021 Airfix model range and providing Workbench readers with an overview of all the new and returning models which will be gracing our workstations over the coming year. Clearly, that also means that we should now be coming towards the end of this current schedule of project updates, however, with just two more editions of the blog to go before our Christmas break, we still have lots of exclusive information to bring you.
With that in mind, we will be starting with something of an Airfix bang this time, as we bring you a major update from a new model tooling which was only added to the range last year, and with this latest impending release presenting a different version of the aircraft, also introducing a new frame of parts. We will have exclusive pictures of the part frame, stunning box artwork and a look at the decal scheme options which will accompany the first release from our Royal Air Force Blackburn Buccaneer S Mk.2 tooling, a kit which is already shaping up to be an incredibly popular addition to the range.
In addition to this, we provide final updates on a further two new tooling projects for this year, as we bring you built sample model images of both the Tiger I and Sherman Firefly in 1/72nd scale, before returning to the beautiful Eagle Squadron Spitfire Vb featured in the previous edition of our blog and again showing stunning built images of a kit which is scheduled to be available in time for Christmas. We will be ending by looking at the work of one of our extremely talented readers and his imaginative take on an English Electric Lightning model build he recently finished. We begin though with the BANAna bomber and a new kit which helps to tell the story of this amazing aeroplane.
Much more than just a TSR.2 substitute
Magnificent new box artwork imagery which shows the RAF Buccaneer doing want it did more proficiently than any other aircraft for many years, during its long service career
As one of the highest profile new model tooling projects announced at the beginning of last year, it seems as if we spent much of 2019 either talking about or bringing readers various update images from our new 1/72nd scale Blackburn Buccaneer S. Mk.2C tooling and for one good reason - you simply couldn’t get enough of it. A proud achievement for the British aviation industry, the Buccaneer was a superb aeroplane and one which incorporated many design ‘firsts’ on a British built aircraft, one which was initially developed to equip the Royal Navy with an effective airborne Sverdlov Class Cruiser killer. With the country in a period of austerity at the time and funding for a massive naval expansion being out of the question, the British response to the significant threat of the Soviet Navy’s new vessels was to develop an aircraft which was designed specifically to destroy them, basically removing the threat in the most cost effective manner possible.
The new naval strike jet would be the first of its type to be developed from the outset as an ‘under radar’ design and would need to provide excellent performance at low altitudes, as well as the capability to deliver nuclear munitions on their target, should that be required. Clearly, these parameters would place extreme demands on any aircraft, however, the new jet would need to achieve all this whilst operating from one of Britain’s diminutive aircraft carriers and it was clear from the outset that this would have to be a very special aeroplane indeed - as tough as they come and a fast, stable, subsonic weapons platform. Due to the sensitive nature of its intended operational profile, the new jet was developed under a cloak or secrecy, with the favoured design being one submitted by famous British naval aircraft manufacturer Blackburn Aircraft Limited and was initially referred to as the Blackburn Advanced Naval Aircraft (BANA), an acronym which would stay with the aircraft throughout its life. Extending the acronym slightly, the aircraft which later went on to be christened Buccaneer, would also be referred to colloquially as the ‘Banana bomber’, a name which is solely linked to its development acronym and not to its fuselage shape, as is often incorrectly quoted.
Although possessing plenty of experience in the production of naval aeroplanes, this new design would be the Company’s first jet aircraft type and the particular demands placed on its operating and performance criteria would pose plenty of manufacturing problems for the design team at Blackburn. As it would need to be an incredibly strong and durable design, components for the new aircraft would have to be worked from solid blocks of metal and this manufacturing expertise was not available in the UK at that time. Under normal circumstances, this work would be subcontracted to a US manufacturer, but in this case, it would have delayed the development of the aircraft by an unacceptably long three years, so the only alternative was for Blackburn to produce their own bespoke manufacturing machinery.
Clearly, producing an aircraft capable of withstanding the rigors of carrier operation and the stresses associated with fast, low level operations dictated that their new aircraft would have to be tough, but this strength would come at a cost. Building in the necessary levels of strength and durability into the design resulted in an aerodynamic penalty and the performance of the aircraft would therefore be compromised, nevertheless, what they eventually produced was a truly exceptional aeroplane. Their Buccaneer may not have been supersonic, but it was manoeuvrable, built like a brick outhouse and the most capable aircraft of its kind to be found anywhere the world – it also just happened to be the heaviest aircraft the Royal Navy had ever operated.
The Royal Navy were delighted with their new Buccaneer, especially when the upgraded S.2 variant came with two 11,100 lb Rolls Royce Spey RB168-1A Mk 101 turbojets and an extremely welcome 40 percent thrust boost - now the Buccaneer could really begin to cement its status as a legendary naval aeroplane.
Its development as a naval jet is definitely one of the reasons why the Royal Air Force were initially uninterested in taking the Buccaneer and it would probably even be accurate to say that they actually dismissed its procurement out of hand. Offered the aircraft as a possible replacement for their ageing Canberra’s in the low level strike and reconnaissance roles, the RAF could see no further than the incredibly exciting prospect of the British Aircraft Corporation TSR.2, which appeared to be the aircraft which presented them with everything they were looking for and forcing them to see the situation through TSR2 tinted flying goggles. The high profile cancellation of the TSR.2 programme forced the RAF to look in the direction of the American General Dynamics F-111, but as this programme continued to have problems of its own, the British Government would also decide to end their interest in this option as well. With no other viable option in place and a proven British built type ready to go, it was decided that the RAF would take the Buccaneer as their Canberra replacement, an aircraft they initially felt was forced upon them.
Artwork produced for the first release from this magnificent new tooling. With an aircraft looking this good, how could the RAF not have been interested in the Buccaneer, especially when they found out it performed even better than it looked?
Entering RAF squadron service some seven years after it entered service with the Royal Navy, an initial order for 26 new aircraft was placed with Blackburn, with the RAF machines having a number of differences from their seaborne counterparts and designated S.Mk.2B. It was also decided that with the retirement of the Navy’s last big carriers, the RAF would inherit former Royal Navy Buccaneers, aircraft which would constantly remind their new owners of their naval heritage. It is interesting to note that the new aircraft ordered for the RAF would retain the folding wings and arrester hook of the original naval Buccaneers, as these features did not detract from the performance of the aircraft and they were extremely keen to avoid the expense of unnecessary re-development.
For an aircraft the Royal Air Force didn’t really want, the Buccaneer proved to be an exceptionally capable machine and by the time it was eventually scheduled for retirement, they were extremely reluctant to let it go. Although in truth they did end up with the naval aircraft they had originally dismissed, it didn’t take long before the camouflaged Buccaneers of the RAF began to show why this was definitely not a second choice aircraft type.
From an Airfix perspective, the Buccaneer in 1/72nd scale kit form, or to be more accurate the Blackburn NA 39, has been in the range since 1960 and as this represented a British aircraft design which was the envy of every navy in the world at the time of its introduction, it is not difficult to see why it proved to be such a popular kit. Telling the continuing story of Blackburn’s first jet powered strike aircraft design, the RAF variant of the Buccaneer joined the range in 1989 and over the next twenty-one years, this kit was released on several different occasions, with the final incarnation benefitting from the addition of some new parts.
An exclusive first look at the additional frame of parts which will allow the modeller to build the Royal Air Force variant of the mighty Buccaneer
The popularity of the Buccaneer as a modelling subject always ensured that when modellers let us know what they would like to see added to future Airfix kit ranges in the form of new tooling projects, a new Buccaneer developed using all the latest design and manufacturing techniques always appeared high on any list. For that reason, when this fantastic new model was announced in 2019, it was a cause for great excitement and modellers were desperate to get their hands on one. In order to keep pace with the incredible demand, several production runs of this new kit have had to be placed since the launch of this initial Navy variant and as of the start of this year, this first kit now has high profile company. Although it couldn’t have come as a huge surprise to Workbench readers, the announcement of the Royal Air Force S.Mk.2B variant was certainly one of the kit highlights of the current range, but what has been a little surprising, is that it has yet to feature in any detail in a blog update - we are delighted to be putting that situation right now.
As you can see from the exclusive images featured above and below, when you eventually received your RAF Buccaneer update, it arrived in some style. Standing majestically at the head of this section, we are delighted to be able to show you the stunning box artwork which has been produced in support of this release and in addition to this, we are also showing the extra frame components produced to allow the S.2B variant of the Buccaneer to be produced. These additions include the bulged bomb bay door, altered airbrake section and wing slipper tank, and enhanced self-defence capability with the addition of An/ALQ-101 ECM pod, AIM-9 Sidewinder and chaff dispenser. On the offensive side, the extra parts include an AN/AVQ-23E ‘Pave Spike’ laser designator pod and Paveway II bomb, a capability addition which would see this magnificent aircraft called into action during the Gulf War of 1991.
Bringing this Buccaneer project review right up to date, let’s now take a look at the two appealing scheme options which accompany this release, to hopefully help you select yours in advance of the kits release.
Scheme A - Blackburn Buccaneer S.2B XV361, RAF No.208 Squadron, Lossiemouth, Moray, Scotland, June 1990. Aircraft is currently preserved at the Ulster Aviation Society, Lisburn, Northern Ireland
With the original Royal Navy Buccaneer S.1 aircraft entering service back in 1962, it would probably now be fair to say that today’s most famous examples of this magnificent machine are the ones preserved in museums around the UK, with several different variants available to be admired. One of the most impressive of these is Buccaneer S.2B XV361, the prized possession of the Ulster Aviation Society at their Maze Long Kesh site, Lisburn, Northern Ireland, an aircraft which possesses a particularly interesting history. The aircraft was delivered to the Fleet Air Arm in 1968 and went on to serve with Nos.809 and 800 Naval Air Squadrons in both the strike and airborne tanking roles, with spells based on both HMS Eagle and HMS Ark Royal. Later upgraded to S.2B standard, the aircraft was transferred to the Royal Air Force, where she would provide a further 16 years of exceptional service, which ended with her becoming one of the six airframes selected to commemorate Buccaneer operations on the eve of the aircraft’s retirement.
This collection of aircraft were repainted in the colours of all six of the Royal Air Force squadrons to have had operated the Buccaneer during its service life and XV361 was presented as a No.15 Squadron aircraft for the tribute. Following the Buccaneers service withdrawal in 1994, she was put up for disposal by the Ministry of Defence and purchased by the Ulster Aviation Society, with plans immediately being drawn up to fly the aircraft to RAF Aldergrove. Once there, that’s where the Buccaneer fun really started to happen. Northern Ireland may now have its example of a Buccaneer, but how would they transport the aircraft from Aldergrove to their original museum site at nearby Langford Lodge, a satellite station of the wartime RAF Aldergrove?
Despite the rigidity of the Buccaneer’s impressive undercarriage, it was deemed impractical to transport the aircraft by road, which left just one viable option – to fly it one final time. In April 1994, Buccaneer S.2B XV361 made a record breaking flight for the Buccaneer, when it took off from Aldergrove and landed at the Langford Lodge site, a flight which lasted just 92 seconds - this even included the crew making a flyover of the intended landing site. It will not surprise you to learn that this was the shortest ever flight for a Buccaneer and one which was so short that the crew didn’t even bother retracting the undercarriage. On landing, the aircraft was finally passed to the care of the Ulster Aviation Society.
Buccaneer XV361 was moved one final time to the society’s new site at Long Kesh in 2005 and is now housed in a former WWII hangar, part of an impressive and extremely historic collection of aircraft and artefacts which celebrate the significant aviation heritage of Northern Ireland. When the museum is open to the public, you have the opportunity to get really close to their Buccaneer, which gives you a real appreciation of just how huge this aeroplane actually is and leaves you wondering how on earth they managed to land these monsters on the decks of Britain’s relatively small aircraft carriers. It is also interesting to note that this aircraft was the one scanned by our lead researcher when he was preparing his files for this impressive new Airfix model tooling project.
Scheme B - Blackburn Buccaneer S.2B XX885, RAF No.12 Squadron, Lossiemouth, Moray, Scotland, September 1993
One of the last Buccaneer airframes to be completed, XX885 was delivered straight to the Royal Air Force when built in 1974, so whilst still retaining the navalised attributes of this famous aircraft, never actually spent time with the Fleet Air Arm - its naval heritage would, however, be acknowledged at an important point during her service career. During a busy service life with the RAF, XX885 would spend time representing Nos 12, 15, 16 and 208 Squadrons, in addition to working on No.237 Operational Conversion Unit, but perhaps the most significant period of her service life occurred in 1991, as this aircraft, which was scheduled for imminent service withdrawal, was required to underpin the operational performance of the RAF’s latest strike jets.
As coalition forces began air operations at the start of the Gulf War in 1991, RAF Tornados were forced to move their low level strike sorties to higher altitudes, as a result of the effective Iraqi anti-aircraft fire they were encountering. The problem was that in order for the aircraft to deliver their ‘smart’ munitions effectively, they would need their targets to be illuminated by TIALD laser designator equipped Buccaneers and these aircraft were back home in Scotland. The race was on to get these aircraft in theatre and in an exercise which highlighted the resourcefulness of the Royal Air Force in a crisis, within days, six Buccaneers wearing freshly applied Desert Sand AFTF (Alkaline Removable Temporary Finish) camouflage were on their way to the Middle East, to be joined a few days later by six more.
Blackburn Buccaneer S.2B XX885 was one of these famous twelve Gulf War Buccaneers, aircraft which would not only prove crucial to the success of RAF operations during this conflict, but ones which also posted an exceptional serviceability record during their time in the Gulf. She was also one of the aircraft to receive distinctive nose artwork during this deployment, where she sported the painting of a pin up on the port side front fuselage, along with the wording ‘Hello Sailor’ and ‘Caroline’. In recognition of their aircraft’s naval heritage, the Buccaneer force in the Gulf christened themselves ‘The Sky Pirates’ and painted representations of the ‘Jolly Roger’ flag on the starboard side of their aircraft’s noses. Also proudly acknowledging their association with Scotland, each of the twelve aircraft were named after a Scotch whiskey, with XX885 carrying the name ‘Famous Grouse’. During her time serving in the Gulf, this famous aircraft flew on seven operations and was credited with the ground destruction of an Iraqi Antonov AN-12 Cub transport aircraft and later displaying the mission markings to prove it!
Continuing the fascinating story of this aircraft, she also happened to be the final Buccaneer to pass through the British Aerospace factory facility at Woodford, where she received her mid-life upgrade and as a consequence, is considered probably the most ‘modification complete’ RAF Buccaneer in existence.
Following the Buccaneer’s withdrawal from RAF service, XX885 was sold at auction on 16th March 2000 and was purchased by the Hawker Hunter Aviation company. She was inhibited and transported by road and sea to their facility at RAF Scampton, given the registration G-HHAA and instantly becoming one of the most interesting aircraft on the British civilian register. The aircraft was acquired with the intention of securing specific advanced low level, high speed threat simulation contracts with the MOD and has been maintained in what is essentially airworthy condition since then. At this current time, the Buccaneer is still maintained in such a condition as to allow it to be re-activated for flight at relatively short notice, but a return to flight bid will only take place once a definite contractual arrangement for its unique services is in place.
Marking the RAF’s long term use of the Buccaneer, both of these scheme options would make for interesting build projects, particularly as both aircraft have such rich histories and are still maintained in exceptional condition to this day. Also, for anyone who has the Navy variant already in their display cabinets, surely you have to have an example of its RAF brother sitting alongside it. Our new Royal Air Force Buccaneer S.2B kit A06022 is sure to be a popular addition to the range and is still scheduled for a Winter, possibly very early 2021 release, but we will endeavour to provide readers with a definitive release update on this situation in our next blog.
Taming the Tiger
Rumbling into a model shop near you soon, these two sample builds feature both scheme options which will accompany the initial release of this fantastic new kit
Over the course of the past few months, our Workbench blog has brought readers details of a fascinating little subject diversion for two of our extremely talented product designers, as they each turned their hands to designing a completely new 1/72nd scale WWII tank. As far as subject matter goes, they couldn’t have inherited two more high profile projects, as the vehicles they were handed just happened to be two of the most famous armoured fighting vehicles of all time, the fearsome Tiger I and the extremely effective Sherman Firefly. Following each project from the initial research stage right through to bringing you exclusive shots of the first test frames and confirmation of each kit’s scheme options, we are delighted to confirm that both kits have moved to the final stage of their Workbench update schedule and must therefore be fast approaching release.
This final update represents the stage where each designer is given the opportunity to inspect the final production frames from the tooling they have been responsible for designing and to undertake full builds of both scheme options to be included with each model. With thanks as always to our photographer David, you will also see how our fantastic people even go the extra mile when it comes to building test kits and presenting them for blog photography purposes, and aren’t we thankful that they do. Taking each kit and scheme option in turn, we will once again include the detail behind each one, particularly as they are all so interesting and there is a particularly important link between one of the Tiger and one of the Firefly schemes - we hope you enjoy these fantastic pictures.
Scheme A - Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger I Ausf E, Commanded by Michael Wittmann, Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 101, Normandy, France 1944
More built sample views of the Michael Wittman ‘Tiger Ace’ scheme which will no doubt prove to be a popular choice with modellers
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 still 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 one of its crew members being a young gunner who was fast 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 without too much trouble. 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
Looking absolutely stunning on this diorama scene, this is the sight all Allied tank commanders would have been hoping to avoid on the battlefields of Europe, especially during the Battle of the Bulge
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.
A further selection of built Tiger goodness, this time featuring a machine prepared for combat on the Eastern Front
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.
Sherman Firefly - An effective Tiger killer
The Sherman Firefly proved such a threat to German tank commanders in Normandy that they were trained to take out the long barrelled Shermans first during any engagement
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 war machines of 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
More magnificent built sample images, this time featuring the first of two appealing options included with the Sherman Firefly release
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
This is a representation of the Sherman Firefly which reputedly fired the shot which ended the reign of Panzer ace Michael Wittmann in his Tiger I turret number 007
With the new British Sherman Firefly proving to be the hard-hitting equal of the heavy German tanks in terms of range and destructive capability, it did not take long before Wehrmacht 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 with this scheme 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.
Both the new 1/72nd scale Sherman Firefly and Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger I are due for release over the next few weeks and if the beautiful build images above are anything to go by, both are going to be incredibly popular additions to the Airfix range, with the track and running gear innovation possibly encouraging us to explore the possibility of dual tank builds for both of these famous tanks.
‘The Don’s’ Eagle Squadron Spitfire
Always a favourite with modellers, this latest Spitfire Vb presents a really beautiful aircraft, which was flown by one of the real characters of the Second World War, American former Eagle Squadron pilot Don Gentile
Another recently published model update which is now fast approaching its release date, 1/48th scale Supermarine Spitfire Vb A05125A also happened to be amongst the latest after work build projects undertaken by our prolific modeller/product designer Paramjit Sembhi over the past few days. Once again providing a final update on a new kit which is scheduled for imminent release, Paramjit chose to finish his example of the Spitfire Vb in the markings of volunteer US airman Don Gentile, a man who was to earned quite a reputation during his wartime stay in Britain. The pictures we are including of this beautifully made mode kit help to illustrate a particular problem shared by all modelling enthusiasts, that being the difficulty of deciding which of a kit’s scheme options to finish your model in. When you accept that most of us will probably indulge in a little additional subject research before embarking on our latest build project and that there will probably be a great many additional aftermarket decal options also available for our chosen kit, it is no wonder that this pre-build period can prove to be quite a headache.
In the case of this new 1/48th scale Spitfire, Paramjit may have just made all our lives a little bit easier in this regard, as Gentile’s magnificent USAAF Spitfire is an absolute stunner and one many Workbench readers will be looking forward to tackling over the coming winter months.
Scheme A - Supermarine Spitfire Vb, ‘Buckeye Don’ flown by 2nd Lieutenant Don Gentile, 336th Fighter Squadron, United States Army Air Force, RAF Debden, North Essex, England 1942
The young Dominic Salvatore Gentile had always been fascinated by flight, but as he did not have the necessary college requirements for entry into the US military, he headed to Canada to undergo his military flying training. On successfully gaining his wings, he was posted to Britain, where he would join No.133 ‘Eagle Squadron’, the third and last of the famed US manned squadrons in the Royal Air Force. Flying the Supermarine Spitfire Mk.V out of RAF Biggin Hill, Gentile would score his first aerial victories on 19th August 1942, when he claimed a Ju88 and Focke Wulf Fw190 whilst flying operations covering the unsuccessful Dieppe Raid. It is also interesting to note that Operation Jubilee (the Dieppe Raid) was the only time that all three of the RAF’s Eagle Squadrons saw action on the same operation.
In September 1942, the pilots of the three RAF Eagle Squadrons transferred to the USAAF, with the former RAF No.133 Squadron becoming the 336th Fighter Squadron, part of the 4th Fighter Group based at Debden. Initially retaining their Spitfires, Gentile’s machine was called ‘Buckeye Don’ and featured rather distinctive nose artwork (based on the 4th FG badge), something which clearly illustrated his confident attitude to aerial combat. After only retaining their Spitfires for a few weeks, the pilots of the 4th FG were required to convert to the mighty P-47 Thunderbolt, a massive aeroplane in comparison to their diminutive Spitfires. Initially having serious misgivings about a fighter they referred to as the ‘Juggernaut’, the Thunderbolt may have been a bit of a heavyweight when compared to the Spitfire, but certainly possessed many impressive fighting qualities of its own.
More magnificent products of the amazing Paramjit modelling build schedule - they are all so good, where does he find the time?
Gentile would go on to be a celebrated aviation hero and became the leading USAAF ace in the ETO after scoring a ‘triple victory’ on 8th April 1944. Amongst his fellow pilots, he would also be known as the ‘Ace of Aces’, by virtue of the fact his victory tally had overtaken that of Great War US Ace Eddie Rickenbacker (ground victories were also counted). Ultimately though, his tour of duty would end in inglorious fashion, as he simply could not suppress his urge to show off. Whilst performing a demonstration flight at Debden for a crowd of dignitaries and members of the press, Gentile flew his Mustang ‘Shangri-La’ in a series of ever faster and ever lower passes and it was almost inevitable what was going to happen. Striking the ground, the fighter came to rest in a heap, but thankfully with the pilot miraculously emerging unhurt, other than his bruised ego. Furious, his commanding officer grounded him and sent him back stateside to work the war bond circuit.
Supermarine Spitfire Vb A05125A is scheduled for release early next month and will make a fantastic gift for the Spitfire loving modeller in your life - actually, that reminds us that this is the time of year when we should all start thinking about leaving all those strategically placed kit gift hints around the house for our family members. Just remember, we are being really considerate in taking away all those worries they could potentially have when thinking about what to buy us - we really are such considerate souls.
An Unusual Lightning tribute
For anyone who has ever seen the A1 Lightning, this imaginative build by Australian Workbench reader Robert Heath will be of great interest
As modelling hobbyists, when we are not chained to the workbench engaged in the production of our latest scale masterpiece, many of us will probably spend a pleasant few minutes scouring the internet admiring the latest build successes of our brothers and sisters in plastic (that was supposed to be an attempt at a modelling equivalent of brothers in arms). During one such recent search, we came across an unusual model build which really did arouse our interest and had us attempting to make contact with a modeller who lives on the other side of the world. We never fail to be amazed by the impressive levels creativity and ingenuity we find within the modelling community, as they often take the model kits we produce and do something totally unexpected with them and that certainly proved to be the case with this recent build by self-professed English Electric Lightning fanatic Robert Heath from Brisbane. What makes this all the more interesting is that his Robert’s subject aircraft will probably be familiar to many thousands of people in Britain, but not because it is beautifully preserved in a museum, but because it used to reside in a scrap yard at the side of the A1 motorway.
With several previous Airfix Lightning builds under his belt, Robert decided that he was going to do something a little different with his Lightning F.2A starter set and started scouring the internet for inspiration. He was surprised to find that the images which appealed to him most didn’t feature an RAF Lightning blasting into the air on another QRA shout, but one which was looking particularly forlorn and unloved sitting in a scrap yard off the A1. When looking into the subject a little further, he discovered that after acting as an iconic aviation landmark for so many years, this famous Lightning was no longer at the scrap yard and had finally (apart from its cockpit section) gone to that former RAF airfield in the sky - this proved to be all the build inspiration he needed.
English Electric Lightning F.2A XN728 had served with RAF No.92 Squadron in Germany for many years, only to return to the UK in 1977 to serve as a ground decoy airframe at RAF Coningsby. When eventually disposed of in late 1983, it was purchased by a scrap company, but rather than simply scrap the aircraft as you might expect, they chose to use it as an unusual business attracting aviation billboard, placing it in their yard near Balderton, Newark, in a high profile position right at the side of the major A1 motorway. Over the years, tens of thousands, if not millions of people saw the aircraft and would often look for it on their journey, using it as a reference point for how far they had to go before reaching their destination. For this reason, many enthusiasts would probably describe XN728 as perhaps Britain’s most famous Lightning.
With the yard site appearing to be rather remote and for many years not seemingly deemed worthy of being secured, the Lightning quickly began to fall into even further disrepair, with thieves helping themselves to anything they could remove from the aircraft. With its centre of gravity compromised, the Lightning reared up in a nose high attitude, which only helped to add to the appeal of the aircraft every time you were lucky enough to see it, even though with each passing visit it seemed to be in ever worse condition.
A really interesting build project, Robert managed to do something really interesting with his latest Airfix Lightning build
Looking forward to a change from making his Lightning builds as pristine as possible, Robert set about ‘distressing’ his model and had great fun putting in all the additional holes and cutting bits of the model away, trying to make it appear as close to his reference images as possible. He also had the challenge of trying to make a suitable bespoke display stand, which would allow the model to be angled in the same iconic nose high attitude as the real aircraft. Another particularly challenging aspect of this build project was the fact that it was quite difficult to find continuity with the different photographic views he needed of the Lightning, as these were invariably all taken at different times and the graffiti seemed to have a nasty habit of changing regularly - it seemed as if everyone with a can of spray paint in the vicinity was making it their rite of passage to leave their personal mark on this famous Lightning.
In the end, Robert decided that he was going to attempt to replicate the larger, more distinctive graffiti and for the smaller scribbles, would use the names of his family and pets for ease. He also decided to leave the canopy on (even though it was missing on the real aircraft) so that he could have a go at trying to ‘frost’ the clear parts with glue, to give a further impression of neglect. Thankfully, Robert is of the opinion that modelling does allow him a certain amount of poetic licence when it comes to replicating most subjects, particularly if that subject happens to be a neglected former RAF Lightning at the side of the A1.
Robert told us that he probably spent the least amount of time on this project than he had done with any of his previous Lightning builds, but it has turned out to be the one he is most pleased with. Becoming strangely attached to his scrapyard Lightning, it now has pride of place in his display cabinet and when it comes to showing off his Lightning obsession to friends and family, it is always the ‘scrapper’ which grabs their attention. Sticking with famous aviation products of the English Electric Company, Robert’s next build is going to be a 1/72nd scale Canberra, but probably replicated in slightly better condition than his A1 Lightning.
Perfect in its imperfection, Robert’s fantastic A1 scrapyard Lightning build is a really imaginative modelling interpretation of arguably Britain’s most famous example of this magnificent aeroplane
We would like to thank Robert for kindly spending the time discussing this fascinating build with us and for allowing us to share these fantastic pictures with fellow Workbench readers. We feel sure that the sight of them will bring back plenty of memories for people who remember seeing this aircraft over the years and we bet that most still have a quick look, just to check, when passing that certain spot on the A1 - journeys have never been quite the same since our Lightning has gone.
That’s all we have for you in this latest edition of Workbench, however, we will be back as usual in two weeks’ time with a further selection of Airfix modelling delights for your enjoyment. If you have any suggestions for subjects you would like to see covered in a future edition, please use this email@example.com link to contact us.
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The next edition of Workbench is due to be published on Friday 27th November, when we will have more interesting features from the world of modelling.
On behalf of the entire Workbench team, thank you for your continued support our Airfix blog.
The Airfix Workbench Team
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