What colour is your Spitfire?
Welcome to this latest edition of Workbench and all the news, updates and exclusive announcements from the fascinating world of Airfix modelling.
Although this year’s 80th Anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Britain may have turned out to be very different from what aviation enthusiasts and Airshow organisers had been hoping for at the beginning of 2020, this significant occasion is still deserving of recognition, even if it is in modelling form. Eighty years ago this weekend, Fighter Command had just endured its heaviest losses of the battle, however, in a development which would eventually dictate the outcome of the conflict, the inadvertent bombing of London by a disorientated Luftwaffe crew would result in an unexpected change of tactics from the Germans. Incensed by the RAF’s reprisal bombing of Berlin, Hitler directed his aircraft to hit London, leaving Fighter Command’s embattled airfields alone and with it, allowing the Few to finally wrestle a hard fought, but decisive superiority in the skies above Britain.
As we have previously featured 1/48th scale kits of the single engined fighters which represented Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain in Workbench this year, we won’t be covering this same ground again in this 133rd edition, however, we can still promise you Spitfires and lots of them. With yet another collection of blog exclusive imagery, we will actually be looking past the Battle of Britain and a little further into the development of Britain’s most famous fighting aeroplane, whilst at the same time featuring both Merlin and Griffon powered variants. With box artwork and scheme detail information to bring you, we will also have sections devoted to an unfortunate day for one of Europe’s most impressive sailing warships and the release of a model kit which is a 1/48th scale representation of arguably Britain’s most distinctive Cold War interceptor fighter.
Let’s begin by looking at an example of Britain’s most famous fighter in one of its most distinctive liveries, an aircraft which was a real Airshow superstar during the 1980s.
Spitfire’s reared for racing
Has a Spitfire ever looked more beautiful than this? Spencer Flack’s G-FIRE was a regular on the UK Airshow circuit during the 1980s and if you were ever lucky enough to see it, it will have no doubt left a lasting impression
We are delving into some rather dangerous aviation territory with the lead feature of our latest blog, that of Spitfires wearing non-military schemes. A subject which is fascinating to some and an anathema for others, is it any wonder that an aircraft which possesses the international pedigree of the Spitfire would go on to see use long after the end of the Second World War and in roles for which it was never originally intended, including that of a racing aeroplane? Taking this a step further, could it even be argued that the Spitfire was too handsome an aircraft for war, with its beautifully clean lines and famous elliptical wing being much better suited to a racing aeroplane in the first place. Whichever side of this contentious aviation fence you may find yourself on, there is probably widespread consensus when saying that no matter what scheme it is wearing, the Spitfire always looks magnificent.
A development of the Spitfire which most definitely lends itself to the application of non-military ‘racing schemes’, the Rolls Royce Griffon powered Mk.XIV proved to be a continuation of the Spitfire’s thoroughbred reputation, whilst at the same time providing the aircraft with a significant performance boost which placed it above the latest Luftwaffe fighters in service at the time of its introduction. The Mk.XIV may not have been the first mark of Spitfire to have been paired with the Griffon engine, but by the time the series 65 engine was developed and married with the Spitfire airframe, it had matured to such a point that it produced a truly potent fighting aeroplane.
Griffon engine or not, the usual presentation of a Spitfire is wearing a military camouflage scheme, like this finished example of our previous 1/48th scale release from this tooling
Although the adoption of the Griffon engine was vindication of a long standing programme to provide the Spitfire with significantly more power, the transition from Merlin to Griffon was not without its challenges for both designers and pilots alike. Fitting the new engine into the existing Spitfire airframe required a redesign of both the front and rear sections of the aircraft, in addition to using a distinctive and rather large five bladed Rotol propeller. Pilots used to flying Merlin engined versions of the aircraft had to be aware that the Griffon engine turned the propeller in the opposite direction to its predecessor and whilst Merlin powered Spitfires naturally tended to veer to the left on take-off, these latest Griffon powered machines would try to veer in the opposite direction. The enormous amount of torque generated by the engine needed to be managed by the pilot and if he inadvertently reacted in the same way he would when flying earlier variants of the Spitfire, his first Mk.XIV flight could be quite a hair-raising experience.
Nevertheless, the Griffin engine allowed the Spitfire to remain at the forefront of world fighter development, increasing the performance of the aircraft by more than 80mph over the fighters which had contested the Battle of Britain – the cultured purr of the Merlin had been replaced by the frightening growl of the Griffon. The Spitfire was now a very different beast indeed.
As an Airshow favourite, the Spitfire is unquestionably without equal and since the end of the Second World War, large numbers of former military Spitfires have undergone restoration to airworthy condition, allowing millions of people to experience something of what it must have been like to see these fighters in operation during the 1940s. Whilst most are finished wearing representations of the camouflage markings so familiar with wartime Spitfires, just a handful of owners have been a little more adventurous with their presentation, none more so than the magnificent aircraft owned and operated during the 70s and 80s by British warbird enthusiast Spencer Flack. For many people who were lucky enough to see this aircraft in the flesh, they would probably describe G-FIRE as the most beautiful Spitfire that had ever seen and one which certainly stood out from the crowd.
The latest release from our incredibly popular 1/48th scale Supermarine Spitfire Mk.XIV tooling is a real racing Spitfire delight and one which is unquestionably amongst the highlight releases of the 2020 range. Before we go on to look at both of the two attractive scheme options included with this beautiful kit, we would like to spend some time discussing the stunning box artwork which has been produced to grace this release, how it came together and how slightly different versions have been created. Significantly, these box artwork images are being shown for the very first time, as the latest Workbench exclusive for our readers.
Spitfire heaven, the culmination of many hours work, this rendered image shows G-FIRE in all her glory, but without any background detail at this stage
Expertly conveying a real impression of speed, this image shows G-FIRE as she routes to her latest display appointment. Adding this countryside backdrop scene really does show off the beauty of this stunning scheme
One of the many delights associated with becoming afflicted with the Airfix bug is how the beautiful box artwork which has graced our kit boxes over the years is now almost as iconic as the models themselves, with some very talented people putting their names to these instantly recognisable artworks. The images we have been using for the past few years have all been created by Mr Adam Tooby, a man who quite literally brings history to life, with his imaginative and incredibly accurate works. Using the very latest digital technologies and techniques which are not too dissimilar to how our product designers create their files when developing a new kit, Adam uses multiple layers to build up each image, from the background, to detail layers on the main subject itself. As Adam is clearly the expert on these matters, we will leave details of this fascinating process to him to explain, devoting a full blog to the subject in the near future – definitely something for us all to look forward to.
One of the huge benefits of having Adam produce our box artwork is not only the fact that he is an expert in this field of work, with many years of experience behind him, but also the fact that he is an aviation/military enthusiast himself and loves bringing these design briefs to life, just as much as we love seeing them. Using his knowledge and experience to ensure the images are an accurate representation of an aircraft or action, down to the smallest detail, it is the Airfix modeller who is the ultimate beneficiary, as this artwork is often the reason why we select a particular kit as our latest build project, whilst at the same time providing lots of build inspiration.
Working closely with our Development Manager who knows how the finished artwork needs to interact with brand presentation, it was felt that the artwork should be tweaked slightly to show slightly less countryside and a little more sky and cloud – it still looks great though!
The final iteration, G-FIRE at a slightly different angle and banking to starboard, revealing a little more underwing detail. Such a beautiful aeroplane, this stunning artwork will bring back happy memories for many and introduce others to a quite unique Spitfire
The artwork projects themselves do take quite some time to come to fruition and are often something of a collaboration between Adam and our Development Manager. Working closely together, ‘The Boss’ will often have a clear vision of the image he thinks will work best as a piece of box artwork and works closely with Adam to make this vision become an artwork reality. To illustrate this point more effectively, the four images featured above show the beautiful box artwork which will soon have modellers clamouring for the latest release from our 1/48th scale Supermarine Spitfire Mk.XIV tooling in their droves and more importantly, how it was felt that a slightly different background for the image might work better from an Airfix box presentation perspective. Clearly, each image is appealing in its own right and fascinating for us to see, but there is no disputing the fact that the final image works better from an overall Airfix brand presentation perspective.
Racing Spitfire scheme details
This latest release from our 1/48th scale Supermarine Spitfire Mk.XIV tooling (A05139) is a really appealing divergence from the usual Spitfire theme and will add a welcome splash of colour (as well as being a real conversation starter) to any display of camouflaged Spitfire models. Already assured of being an incredibly popular release, let’s take a closer look at the two aircraft which served as inspiration for the two scheme options to be included with this kit.
Scheme A – Supermarine Spitfire FR Mk.XIV G-FIRE, Duxford, Cambridgeshire, England, 1988
Constructed as a Rolls Royce Griffon 65 powered Spitfire Mk FR.XIVe at RAF Aldermaston in 1945, NH904 would only go on to complete one operational sortie as an RAF aircraft during WWII, before a broken throttle lever resulted in a wheels up landing and a lengthy period in the repair shop. It is interesting to note that the facility at Aldermaston was one of the Supermarine dispersal sites for the production of Spitfires, with the intention being to minimise the potential impact of German bombing raids on Spitfire production. Manufactured components were transported from Southampton to the RAF base at Aldermaston, where assembly and flight testing of the aircraft could take place. At that time, the airfield was also home to several USAAF units.
Following repair, this Spitfire was allocated to No.610 (County of Chester) Royal Auxiliary Air Force at Hooton Park in Cheshire, where it would remain in service until May 1949. Categorized as non-effective stock the following year, the aircraft was returned to Vickers Armstrong for overhaul, before embarking on a new career in the Belgian Air Force. Serving in the roles of standard fighter and fighter training school aircraft, NH904 would later have to bear the ignominy of being sold to a scrap dealer, who placed the aircraft on the roof of his premises in Belgium. She was later bought by a British car dealer, who brought it back to the UK and displayed it for some time on the forecourt of his garage (wonder if he was selling Triumph Spitfires?). Interestingly, this garage was in Cheshire and not far from where the aircraft had operated during the final months of her RAF career.
From here, the Spitfire was acquired by Hamish Mahaddie and earmarked for possible use during the filming of the movie classic ‘Battle of Britain’, although not in a flying capacity. During the 1970s, this Spitfire passed through the hands of several different owners, before ending up as part of the famous Strathallan Collection in 1977, from where it was to make its most significant move since retirement from military service. Bought by warbird enthusiast Spencer Flack in January 1979, the aircraft was moved to his base in Hertfordshire, where it embarked on a restoration programme to flying condition. After the completion of much work and at significant expense, Spitfire NH904, now sporting the new civilian registration G-FIRE, made its first post restoration flight from Elstree Airfield on 14th March 1981, in the capable hands of former Red Arrows leader and warbird pilot extraordinaire Ray Hanna.
Profile artwork featuring one of the most distinctive Spitfires to have ever graced Britain’s skies, Spencer Flack’s magnificent Mk.XIV G-FIRE
Later repainted in a striking red livery, G-FIRE would go on to become a firm favourite on the UK Airshow circuit during the 1980s, not only due to its stunning appearance, but also due to the fact that Mr Flack fitted flashing lights in the cannon openings and during a head on pass, it actually appeared as if the Spitfire was firing on the crowds. For those lucky enough to have seen this aircraft up close and in the metal, it will always be remembered as arguably the most attractively presented Spitfire of the post war era – nobody could ever argue that G-FIRE didn’t stand out!
As this was such a radical departure from the usual presentation of a restored Spitfire on the UK display circuit, it will come as no surprise to hear that Mr Flack was always being asked ‘why did you paint it red?’, not only by Airshow enthusiasts, but also by fellow Warbird owners. It has been reported on a number of occasions that his reply would often be along the lines of, “I like it …. when you get a Spitfire, you can paint it any colour you like!” Not content with just owning this beautiful Spitfire, Spencer Flack went on to own several other aircraft, including a P-51D Mustang, and both a Hawker Sea Fury and Hawker Hunter which were painted in similar markings to the Spitfire. It was not uncommon to see the Spitfire either arriving at a show venue, or displaying with one of the other red painted aircraft.
Spitfire FR Mk.XIV G-FIRE is most definitely an aviation case of once seen, never forgotten and this impending kit release will no doubt bring back pleasant memories for many thousands of Airshow enthusiasts and modellers.
Scheme B – Supermarine Spitfire FR Mk.XIV, CF-GMZ ‘Edmonton Canada, The Crossroads of the World’, Canada, 1949
Supermarine Spitfire FR Mk.XIVe TZ138 was another product of the shadow production facility at Aldermaston, making its first flight from the airfield in early 1945. Initially allocated to the RAF, the aircraft was flown to the Rolls Royce airfield at Hucknall in June 1945, where it was prepared for cold weather testing overseas – its immediate future would see it in service with the Royal Canadian Air Force in a test capacity. The Spitfire arrived in Canada by boat at the end of 1945.
After quite a busy few years serving as a test aircraft, TZ138 was put up for disposal by the RCAF and was purchased by one of the airmen who had flown her during her time with the Winter Experimental Establishment, former RAF fighter ‘Ace’ James ‘Butch’ McArthur. In conjunction with his Canadian partner, the former Dambusters pilot Ken Brown, they secured the Spitfire as they were looking for an aircraft with which they could enter the 1949 National Air Races in Cleveland Ohio. In almost ‘as new’ condition, TZ138 was purchased from the Canadian Surplus War Assets Dept for the princely sum of $1250.00.
Later given the civilian registration CF-GMZ, the aircraft’s proud new owners secured sponsorship for their forthcoming racing adventures from Canada’s Imperial Oil Ltd and finished the Spitfire in this smart natural metal livery, sporting the racing number 80. Attracting huge crowds, the 1949 National Air Race would be the last time the event would take place in Cleveland, partly due to an accident that occurred during the race. The Canadian Spitfire was the only aircraft taking part which was basically in standard military configuration and had not been modified for air racing participation. It would perform well during the race and managed to secure third place in this prestigious event, posting an average speed of just under 360mph.
A racing success, despite being in military configuration, Spitfire CF-GMZ still managed third place at the 1949 Cleveland Air Race, despite racing against some heavily modified Warbirds
Despite the teams relative success, the Spitfire’s Cleveland Air Race exploits would end in unusual circumstances. Whilst fellow members of the team were still recovering from the celebrations of the night before, Butch McArthur took off in the Spitfire at 6am without filing a flight plan and with the race prize money on board. The aircraft turned up in Miami, where it was sold to a new owner for $1000, with the proceeds allegedly being used to satisfy debts the team had incurred prior to their racing appearance in Cleveland. The aircraft would spend the next 15-20 years in South America, slowly deteriorating and a pale shadow of the aircraft which cut such a dashing profile at the 1949 air race.
Undergoing restoration to flying condition in the late 1960s and most recently in 2000, it is thought that this Spitfire is now back in Canada with its current owner and whilst described as being in airworthy condition, there are no reports that it has taken to the air in many a year. Despite this, knowing that some former RAF Spitfires have been presented in rather dubious markings once arriving with US owners, it is unlikely that TZ138 has ever looked as good as she did when competing for the Thompson Trophy at the 1949 Cleveland National Air Races, where she went up against an impressive list of American aviation hardware.
Making a fascinating addition to the 2020 kit range and offering two uniquely different ways in which to finish a model Spitfire, this magnificent kit should be available by the end of the month, so if you have yet to reserve one, you need to act now – this one is a Spitfire classic not to be missed.
Return of the Flying Flat Iron
As we announced the contents of the 2020 Airfix range at the beginning of January, many modellers would have been delighted to see the return of a kit which is a firm favourite, one which when complete is a spectacular representation of arguably the RAF’s most distinctive post war jet, the Gloster Javelin. An aircraft which was designed to fulfil a demanding requirement for a capable high performance interceptor which could operate by day and night and in all weather conditions, the Gloster Javelin is arguably the most distinctive jet fighter ever produced by the British aviation industry, but one which would have a relatively short service life.
Just one of many British aviation projects which would be forced to endure constant official requirement changes during its development stage, resulting in significant delays, the Gloster Javelin eventually entered Royal Air Force service in early 1956, the last aircraft design to carry the famous Gloster name and the first delta fighter to enter service anywhere in the world. Indeed amongst its many claims to aviation fame, the Javelin was actually the first production delta design to enter service, a forerunner even of the mighty Vulcan.
A sight to behold, built sample models featuring all three scheme options included in this fabulous kit – long live the Flying Flat Iron
Resembling something of a slightly smaller Vulcan, the Gloster Javelin was a beast of an aeroplane, with its revolutionary design attracting ‘Super Priority’ status for the RAF, their first purpose built all weather interceptor. At the time, this was the largest fighter aircraft ever to enter Royal Air Force service and looking at this monster of an aeroplane, it isn’t difficult to see why, everything about it is on the large side. From the high T tail to the thick wing profile, the Javelin was a bit of a monster and needed every ounce of power the two Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire engines could produce. An extremely stable weapons platform, the Javelin was well liked by aircrews, partly because of its general stability and the variety of offensive weapons it could carry, but also because of its large and spacious cockpit, which made it a very pleasant aircraft to operate.
The final and most capable variant of the Gloster Javelin was the FAW.9 (and FAW.9R), with all 116 aircraft being upgrade conversions from the existing FAW.7 aircraft. Retaining the four wing mounted 30mm Aden cannon and up to four Firestreak air to air missile armament configuration, the FAW.9 featured an ‘afterburning’ version of the Sapphire Sa7 engine, with the pair capable of generating 12,300Ib of thrust with afterburners engaged. The work to convert the FAW.7s was quite a complex undertaking and not only involved the engine upgrade, but also the introduction of variable position engine nozzles and modifications to the wing leading edge. The FAW.9(R) was the same aircraft but with the addition of a large and somewhat unsightly inflight refuelling spear, fitted to the front starboard side of the aircraft. This came into its own when aircraft were sent to operate from RAF Tengah in Southeast Asia.
Let’s now take a closer look at the three appealing scheme options included with this fantastic kit, with the benefit of built model options for each to illustrate them in more detail.
Scheme A – Gloster Javelin FAW.9R XH893, RAF No.64 Squadron, Tengah, Singapore, 1960s
Royal Air Force No.64 Squadron began their association with the mighty Gloster Javelin in September 1958, when they converted to this all weather interceptor from the Meteor at RAF Duxford. At that time, they shared the base with the Hunters of No.65 Squadron and when both aircraft occupied the operations ramp at the same time, the size and profile difference between the two aircraft must have looked almost comical. Whilst both were operating in the fighter role, it was definitely a case of aviation little and large when the RAF Javelin was in town!
In late 1963, four No.64 Squadron Javelins which had been participating in a huge exercise in India did not return to Duxford, but were ordered to RAF Tengah in Singapore, in a move to help bolster the Javelins of No.60 Squadron who were actively engaged in attempting to prevent an escalation of hostilities between Indonesia and Malaya. Serving as a high-profile deterrent threat to conflict, the Javelins at Tengah were required to provide QRA cover against unidentified aircraft incursions in this volatile region.
Quite a historic aircraft in its own right, the Gloster Javelin was the RAF’s largest ever fighter when it entered service and must have needed quite a bit of paint to cover its generous frame
These four Javelins were eventually joined by the rest of No.64 Squadron, with this combined 60 and 64 Squadron Javelin force working hard to challenge Indonesian air incursions and to prevent the escalation to what would have been a damaging war. At one period during this significant deployment, No.60 Squadron could boast no fewer than 26 Javelins on strength, making this the largest fighter squadron in the entire Royal Air Force. The Squadron’s badge which appears on the mighty tail of this Javelin, features a Scarab Beetle and was adopted following the time No.64 Squadron spent in Egypt during the Abyssinian Crisis of the mid 1930s.
Scheme B – Gloster Javelin FAW.9 XH898, Personal aircraft of Squadron Leader George H. Beaton, Commanding Officer No.228 Operational Conversion Unit, Royal Air Force Leuchars & Binbrook, 1966
This is an absolute beauty of a scheme and a truly unique presentation for this massive aeroplane. Javelin FAW.9 XH898 was the personal aircraft of Squadron Leader George Harold Beaton, Commanding Officer of No.228 Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Leuchars in Scotland. Research has shown this stunning aeroplane to be the only Javelin to have flown operationally in a natural metal finish and to make it even more unique, it also sported the initials of the pilot on its sizeable tail. This beautiful aircraft must have looked magnificent whilst turning onto finals at Leuchars, a sight once seen, never forgotten. Adding to the mystique of this particular Javelin, a few enigmatic photographs of this aircraft can be found on-line, some actually in colour, which not only prove its existence and details of the scheme, but also showing just how spectacular it looked. Appearing at a number of events during 1966, including open days at both Leuchars and Lossiemouth, this aircraft is so unusual that it simply has to be the subject of our attentions, should we decide to tackle this new kit.
This edition seems to be dominated by uniquely presented British aircraft – you would be hard pressed to find a more distinctive post war RAF jet than this magnificent 228 OCU Gloster Javelin
No.228 Operational Conversion Unit of the Royal Air Force was responsible for providing crew conversion and refresher training on the Javelin fighter, particularly in the role of operational night fighting. Flying from the relatively remote location of Leuchars in Fife, these mighty fighting aeroplanes, would have had plenty of ocean and sparsely populated countryside over which to carry out their training, in preparation for imminent posting overseas and the Javelin Squadrons stationed in Southeast Asia. Although providing vital support for the Javelin force, the unit would only operate in this capacity for a relatively short 18 month period during 1965 and 1966. Nevertheless, Gloster Javelin FAW.9 XH898 made sure that this period is remembered as a particularly flamboyant one for Gloster’s last jet fighter.
Scheme C – Gloster Javelin FAW.9/9R XH903, RAF No.33 Squadron, Middleton St George, County Durham, England 1962 – Aircraft now preserved at the Jet Age Museum, Gloucestershire Airport, Staverton, UK
Now a much loved preserved example of Gloster’s last fighting aeroplane, XH903 was the 65th of 85 Javelin FAW.7s built by the Gloster Aircraft Company at their Hucclecote factory during 1958/59. After delivery to the RAF at St Athan and service acceptance gained through No.19 MU, the aircraft was assigned to No.23 Squadron at RAF Coltishall in the role of all weather interceptor, but later spending time operating from RAF Horsham St Faith. In June 1960, the aircraft was flown back to her manufacturers to undergo upgrade to FAW.9 configuration, work which would take six months to complete. Following a first post upgrade test flight, the aircraft was assigned to No.33 Squadron at Middleton St George.
During its service career, the aircraft would spend a short time on loan to No.29 Squadron, before preparing for a stint serving with RAF Germany. With No.5 Squadron converting to the Javelin FAW.9 variant in 1962, they would inherit most of No.33 Squadron’s aircraft, including XH903 and once this process had been completed, the unit re-located to RAF Geilenkirchen and a Cold War front line posting. The aircraft would suffer a Cat3 accident whilst based in Germany, causing damage which would result in a lengthy period in the service hangar, only returning to the line in April the following year.
This magnificent aircraft can be seen at Gloucestershire Airport, Staverton, if you want to see a preserved example of this most distinctive Cold War fighter
No.5 Squadron eventually disbanded as a Javelin Squadron in October 1965 and XH903 was flown to No.27 MU at Shawbury for storage and something of an uncertain future. It was struck off charge the following year and released for display, having been allocated an RAF maintenance serial number, with its next posting being service as the gate guardian at RAF Innsworth from 1967. This would be her home until May 1993, when she made the short journey to the Gloucestershire Aviation Collection (Jet Age Museum) at Staverton and hopefully the care and attention she had been lacking for the previous 28 years. She would undergo a concerted period of restoration at RAF St Athan during 2002, in preparation for her display at RIAT 2003’s ‘100 Years of Flight’ exhibition, but is now back looking rather majestic at Gloucestershire Airport, Staverton.
When looking at the built model images featured above, it is no wonder that news of this models re-issue was met with some excitement amongst modellers, as this truly is a spectacular model and one which has real presence in any model display. A beautiful scale presentation of an aircraft which possesses significant British aviation history in its own right, the unique profile of the Gloster Javelin makes for an appealing modelling subject and a real conversation point for people who may be discovering the delights of this interceptor beast for the first time. Most of us will find it difficult to look past the natural metal finish of XH898, if taking this kit on, simply because it just looks so good.
Gloster Javelin FAW.9/9R A12007 is due for imminent release and will definitely not stick around for long – make sure you don’t miss out on this Airfix classic.
Sweden’s magnificent 17th century flagship
In many people’s opinion, the age of sail was responsible for creating some of the most beautiful ships ever produced by man, using the technologies and materials available to them at that time to make vessels which allowed worldwide voyages of discovery, as well as military domination of the seas. Some of these ships were also an extension of the ambitions of the nations who built them, a manifestation of power and influence which demanded the world pay attention. Such a ship was the Wasa, a warship which possessed awesome power and reflected the increasing influence of Sweden on an international stage. One of four warships ordered by Sweden’s King Gustav II Adolf, ‘The Lion of the North’ in January 1625, two were to be the more traditional small, fast vessels used by the Swedish Navy at that time, but two were to be much larger - one of these larger ships was to be named Wasa and was to be the most powerful warship in the Baltic, if not the entire world. A floating piece of military propaganda intended to inspire the Swedish people and make the rest of the world take notice.
Unfortunately, the project was troubled from the start, not only with the chief designer having to relinquish responsibility for the build to his deputy due to ill heath, but by the fact that the larger ship inherited the same basic design as the smaller vessels already under construction, just increased in length. Surely all the additional weight added to this ship would make it top heavy and of unstable design. As the ship neared completion, a roll test was undertaken, where men ran from side to side on the deck of the ship, trying to make it list, to check its general stability. This test had to be stopped because the ship was incredibly unstable and was listing at an alarming rate – it hadn’t been fully fitted out yet and more weight would soon be added to the ship. Tragically, nobody was brave enough to tell the King about this design flaw, who was now demanding the ship be finished as soon as possible, as he was keen to realise his military aspirations.
On 10th August 1628, with huge crowds lining the Stockholm waterfront, this beautiful vessel prepared to make its maiden voyage, the pride of an entire nation. 69 metres long and 50 metres tall from keel to crown of the main mast, this magnificent ship was decorated with sculptures and painted in gold, a brightly coloured warship which was announcing itself as the flagship of the powerful Swedish Navy. With 10 mighty sails and no fewer than 64 of the latest bronze cannons laid out across two decks, this was indeed a sight to behold and something the king had been looking forward to for three long years.
Instruction artwork which details some of the ornate decoration which adorned this beautiful warship
As the ship left its mooring, the cannon doors were open, so a salute could be fired as the ship passed the royal palace. As it moved into deeper water, a strong gust of wind was funnelled down the harbour straights by the hills surrounding the city and the Wasa started to list violently in the crosswind. Initially righting itself, a second, stronger gust sent the ship over again and with the lower gun doors now under water, the icy waters began to rush into the lower decks, causing a catastrophe from which the ship could not recover. Within 20 minutes, the pride of Sweden and one of the most powerful ships in the world was at the bottom of Stockholm harbour, only 1,300 metres from where it had been moored and within sight of the shipyard which had built her.
In the years which followed and after an acrimonious inquest looked for a reason for the tragedy, most of the valuable bronze cannons were recovered, but the wreck of Wasa itself was left on the sea bed, where it would remain for the next 333 years. In 1956, divers discovered the wreck of the ship and over the course of the next few years, plans were drawn up to attempt an ambitious recovery of Wasa, which was found to be surprisingly well preserved. The salvage project began in 1961 and would be the start of a long 30 year programme of painstaking recovery and preservation of this magnificent vessel, as they successfully raised a significant piece of European history from over three centuries ago. In 1990, a museum was opened to house the Wasa and following 30 years of preservation and restoration, this mighty ship is now on public display and is described as being around 98% original to her configuration on that fateful launch date back in 1628. Wasa is also undoubtedly a fascinating link to the past and a triumph of salvage and preservation expertise.
The latest incarnation of this magnificent artwork, this 1/144th scale WASA kit is a true Airfix Vintage Classis which immortalises one of the world’s most famous ships in model form
The magnificent Wasa Museum is one of Scandinavia’s most visited museums, attracting people from all around the world desperate to gaze upon this unique link to Sweden’s powerful seafaring past. Although the ship endured the ignominy of one of the shortest and publicly disastrous maiden voyages in history, perhaps it could be argued that it still managed to achieve everything King Gustav II Adolf had originally intended for his flagship, raising the international profile of the Swedish nation.
With such an incredible story as this behind it, perhaps the impending release of our 1/144th scale WASA kit deserves to be a winter project for many Workbench readers, as we all try to re-create the opulent majesty of this beautiful warship which ultimately turned tragedy into a restoration triumph. Attracting many millions of visitors since she went on display, it could still be argued that WASA remains the maritime pride of Sweden to this day.
Smiley Spitfire Finale
At the beginning of this latest blog, we did promise you examples of scale versions of both Griffon and Merlin powered Spitfires in this edition and we are nothing if not true to our word. We had originally intended to include a full scheme detail review of the first options to be made available with the release of our newly tooled 1/72nd scale Spitfire Vc kit A02108, but things seem to have run away with us somewhat this week. As we have become engrossed in all things racing Spitfire, Gloster Javelin and WASA warship, we appear to have run out of both space and time, so we will now carry over the Spitfire Vc schemes to the next edition. We will, however, be leaving you with yet another Workbench exclusive and the unveiling of the magnificent artwork which has been produced in support of this new Spitfire Vc kit release – doesn’t it look fantastic!
Featuring a desert Spitfire which looks to be particularly pleased with itself, having just wreaked havoc on a Wehrmacht convoy which it caught in a mountain pass, this is just another example of why Airfix box artwork is still such an important part of our kit experience. To find out all the details behind this scheme and for a full project update from our new 1/48th scale Canadair Sabre F.4, make sure you don’t miss the next edition of Workbench, which will be published on 18th September.
We are afraid 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 firstname.lastname@example.org link to contact us.
In between new editions of our blog, the Airfix conversation continues over on our Airfix Forum Worbench thread, with further discussions taking place on both the official Airfix Facebook page and the Airfix Twitter channel - please do get involved in the discussions and let us know what you think about Workbench.
Whenever you decide to visit, the Airfix website is always the place to be for all the latest model availability information, previous editions of our blog, a selection of modelling tips and much more.
The next edition of Workbench is due to be published on Friday 18th September, 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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