The A6M Zero in 1/72: Shigeru Itaya Leads the Zeros at Pearl Harbor, Part 2 – The Dragon Model

This is Part 2 of Shigeru Itaya Leads the Zeros at Pearl Harbor. It is a review of the Dragon Wings 50017 1/72 scale model of Itaya’s Zero at Pearl Harbor. For a brief biography of Shigeru Itaya, please refer to the previous post. Today, December 7, 2016, on the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, let us remember the men who died that day.

Itaya’s A6M2 Zero, Tail No. AI-155

As discussed in Part 1, Itaya led the 45 Zeros in the first wave of the attack on Pearl Harbor. In each wave the Zero planes were the first to take off in order to protect the slower, less maneuverable torpedo and dive bombers that followed. As the leader of the first wave, Itaya was the first Japanese pilot airborne during the attack.

As noted previously, there is precious little information available on Itaya. This dearth of information extends to Itaya’s plane at Pearl Harbor, a Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero, tail no. AI-155. Although there are some references on the internet that Itaya’s Zero’s tail no. may have been something other than AI-155, the books I consulted consistently use that number. To my knowledge, there are no existing photos of the AI-155, though there are enough photos of other planes from the Akagi aircraft carrier to give us a reasonably accurate understanding of its colors and markings.

Below is a color profile from what is probably the most comprehensive source of information on the colors and markings of WWII Japanese aircraft, Eduardo Cea’s eight-volume treatise entitled Japanese Military Aircraft. I scanned this particular profile from Volume 2, The Air Force of the Japanese Imperial Navy: Carrier-Based Aircraft, 1922-1945 (I). While I’m aware that there are a number of errors in the English translation of the Spanish text that are somewhat distracting, the series is beautifully illustrated, incredibly informative, and unarguably comprehensive, and, being fluent in Spanish, I blithely overlooked the errors. :-) The profile is reproduced here for discussion purposes under the fair use exception to the copyright laws.resized-itayas-plane-by-eduardo-ceaItaya’s Zero at Pearl Harbor has been released in 1/72 scale by three different manufacturers: Dragon Wings 50017; Forces of Valor 85032; and Witty Wings 72-012-001. This post concerns the Dragon Wings 50017. Reviews of the other two will follow shortly in separate posts, with equivalent photos of each of the three models for ease of comparison.

The Dragon Wings 50017 

Below is a portside view of the Dragon model. Immediately apparent is the beautiful caramel finish. Putting aside the continuing debate about whether the caramel color was the effect of a protective layer of varnish or the natural result of the aging of the pigments, the fact remains that the Zeros had an “ameiro” tone, which means “caramel-colored” in Japanese. Upon review of Zeros in my collection from a dozen different manufacturers, I’m convinced that Dragon is the only manufacturer that got it right (though Hobby Master produced some terrific “ameiro” D3A1 Vals). If nothing else, the Dragon finish matches the description and color plates in Cea’s eight-volume set on Japanese planes.1-dragon-port-001In the photo below, note the pronounced panel lines, which disappointed some collectors. In my view, however, it is not so much that the lines are significantly overscaled as the fact that Dragon inexplicably “inked” them — for lack of a better term — as one would highlight the crevices on a tank with an umber wash to make them stand out better. It is this combination of overscaling and “inking” that gives the impression that the panel lines are deeper and wider than they actually are.2-dragon-better-front-027

The photo below provides an excellent view of the tail no. “AI-155.” The “AI” code was the designation for the Akagi aircraft carrier. In the three-digit number after “AI”, the first digit (“1”) indicates that it is a fighter plane. The last two digits (“55”) are simply the aircraft number within the unit. The tail numbers on Japanese carrier aircraft were usually red except on two carriers (Zuiho and Hosho) whose tails were already red. The identification numbers on aircraft from those two carriers were white so as to make them stand out against the red tails. 

Note also the three horizontal yellow stripes on the tail that indicated command: three stripes for the group leader; two stripes for a squadron leader (9 aircraft); and one stripe for a flight leader (3 aircraft). Note also the “no step” rectangular area outlined in red at the rear of each wing next to the wing root.3-dragon-rear-second-026

The photo below provides an excellent view of the Hinomaru, which was carried on both sides of the fuselage aft of the wing and on both the upper surface and underside of each wing — six “circles of the sun” in total. The vertical red stripe is the identification mark for the aircraft carrier Akagi.

Note also the manufacturing plate stenciled just aft of the red stripe. The inset shows that the plate bears the number 7702, meaning it was the 7,702nd Zero built. The “2-3-30” means it was built in the Japanese year 2602, third month, thirtieth day = March 30, 1942. Incidentally, the A6M is called the “Zero” because it first entered service in the Japanese year 2600 (1940), the zero year of the new Japanese century. Please bear in mind that the entire plate is just 4mm wide (just over 1/8 inch). Again, Dragon’s attention to detail is is a shot of the starboard side. Note the absence of the manufacturing plate, which was only stenciled on the port side.5-dragon-star-007In the photo below, note the silver propeller with the two red warning stripes on the tips of the blades. As is the case with the vast majority of 1/72 scale prebuilt models, the propeller spins freely. Note the holes on the leading edges of the wings just above the landing struts for the 20mm cannons. Also on the leading edge of the portside wing, note the pitot tube.6-dragon-front-038The photo below shows the aircraft’s number “55” on the landing strut cover, which matches the last two digits of the tail number. Note the correct cowling for an A6M2, which had four oval-shaped fasteners on each side of the cowling, one on the front part of the cowling and three on the sides. Note also the drop tank that gave the Zero an extra 73 imperial gallons of fuel (87 US gallons), significantly increasing its range.7-dragon-best-057

The Rub (though some of us didn’t mind)

In the close-up below, note that the canopy slides back — an interesting feature of the Dragon model. While some collectors were critical of the noticeable gap on the rear bottom part of the canopy necessary to allow the front canopy to slide back, some of us applauded this precise feature as it opens up significant diorama possibilities. Quite obviously, the gap is overscaled. As I’ve pointed out in the past, added features often come at the expense of accuracy. Still, in this particular instance, the gap looks fine when the canopy is open. Please bear in mind that close-up photos greatly amplify defects.canopy-049-2

The Interior (even more redemption)

The lagniappe close-up photo below provides a good view of the interior of the canopy. Note the superbly detailed instrument panel and the handle of the control column. To my knowledge, Dragon is the only manufacturer that produced a prebuilt model with an opening cockpit and, therefore, with a detailed instrument panel. Unfortunately, Dragon did not include a pilot.006

The Upshot

The Dragon Wings 50017 Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero is a superb model that closely resembles the original. The excellent casting shows no perceptible problems in its proportions. The cowling, propeller, and undercarriage are all well executed, with no apparent accuracy issues. The “ameiro” finish is beautiful, though, admittedly, the “inked” panel lines detract from the overall effect. The markings are accurate and crisp throughout. The sliding canopy is a welcome feature, at least for those of us who build dioramas. All Dragon Zeros came with wheels up and wheels down options and, in addition, this particular Dragon Zero issue included a diorama deck and display case. In my humble opinion, it’s a terrific little model that compares favorably with Zero models of most other manufacturers. 

Again, thank you for your indulgence and I hope you enjoyed the post. If something looks amiss, please let me know. I would be delighted to correct inaccurate information so that this may be useful for other 1/72 scale collectors and wargamers. As always, comments, questions, corrections, and observations are welcome. Stay tuned for a review of the Forces of Valor model of the very same aircraft in the next post.

The A6M Zero in 1/72: Shigeru Itaya Leads the Zeros at Pearl Harbor, Part 1 – The Pilot

I had been contemplating doing a series on the A6M Zero, the Japanese Imperial Navy’s legendary fighter, for quite some time. However, I found the task daunting as there are several different versions of the Zero and, by my count, 15 different manufacturers who have tried their hand at producing prebuilt 1/72 scale models of Japan’s iconic fighter. Together, they have released more than 50 prebuilt Zeros in 1/72 scale. A6M2s, A6M3s, A6M5s, clipped wings, floatplanes, carrier-based, land-based — I was completely at a loss about where to begin. Then I had an epiphany: Start at the Beginning — literally.  :-)

The United States entered WWII following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. That attack occurred in two waves of aircraft taking off from Japanese carriers, each wave comprising Zero fighters, torpedo bombers, and dive bombers. In each wave, the Zeros were the first airborne, in order to protect the torpedo and dive bombers that followed. The pilot who led the Zeros in the first wave and the first to take off from a Japanese carrier was Shigeru Itaya, flying his A6M2 off the flagship carrier Akagi. Thus, one can reasonably argue that Itaya’s Zero was the first Japanese aircraft to take an aggressive action against the United States, in essence beginning the Pacific War.

Shigeru Itaya

This site is dedicated to 1/72 scale models and presumes general knowledge of WWII on the part of the reader. Thus, I’m ordinarily reticent to regurgitate historical information, as there are plenty of sources on the internet accessible to any reader. If I can readily find information, so can others. shigeru-itayaHowever, I found such precious little information on Lieutenant Commander Shigeru Itaya, other than the oft-repeated fact that he was the first airborne during the attack on Pearl Harbor, that I reasoned some readers would be interested in my amateur research. I found scant references to him in the books available to me and the dearth of information extended to the internet, where, despite diligent efforts, a search yielded only dribs and drabs of information.

On a hunch that Itaya might be better known in Japan, I searched Japanese sites and stumbled upon Japanese Wikipedia, where I found that Itaya had his own entry. Unfortunately, the entry was skeletal, with not much more information than that available in English. Still, it was more information than I had. Keeping in mind that I know no Japanese and had to resort to imperfect searches on Japanese websites using Google Translate, below is what little information I could gather from various sources. Itaya’s career highlights may prove somewhat tedious so the casual reader may want to skip to the next post, a review of the 1/72 scale models.

1. Beginnings

Itaya was born July 10, 1909, and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1929. He was a veteran of the China War and served on the Hiryu aircraft carrier from 1940 to early 1941. By April 1941, Itaya was a Lieutenant Commander on the Akagi, the flagship of the Japanese Imperial Navy’s First Fleet.

2. Pearl Harbor

According to Jim Rearden in Cracking the Zero Mystery, Itaya himself trained the Zero pilots for the Pearl Harbor raid. He was in overall command of the 45 Zero fighters in the first wave from all six carriers, including the nine from the Akagi, Itaya’s carrier. He was the first to take off, guiding the other 44 Zeros to their destination. Once in Hawaii, Itaya and the eight other pilots of the Akagi attacked Hickam Field, Ewa Air Control, and Ford Island, while the Zeros of the five other carriers had different assigned targets. According to Peter Smith in Mitsubishi Zero, Itaya and his two wingmen shot down an unsuspecting B-17 bomber at Hickam Field that had at that precise moment improvidentially flown in from California. The B-17 crew managed to land the crippled bomber and run for cover, though one unfortunate member was killed in the ensuing strafing by the Japanese Zeros.

3. Port Darwin

Two months later, on February 19, 1941, in an aerial surprise attack that has been called Australia’s “Pearl Harbor,” Itaya led the 36 Zero fighters — nine from each of four carriers — in the bombing of Port Darwin, according to Peter Smith in Mitshubishi Zero. Considered the single most destructive raid in Australian history by a foreign power, the raid on Port Darwin was massive, with more bombs dropped than at Pearl Harbor, though loss of life — at 236 — was one tenth that at Pearl Harbor. Incidentally, the four carriers at Port Darwin had all participated at Pearl Harbor and were the same four subsequently sunk at Midway.

4. Ceylon

Itaya appears again on April 5, 1942, during the surprise “Easter Sunday Raid” on Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). As at Pearl Harbor and Port Darwin, Itaya led Zero fighters — this time 36 — that escorted bombers from five Japanese carriers whose targets were British warships, harbor installations, and air bases in an attempt to destroy the British Easter Fleet. Although the day before a PBY Catalina pilot spotted the five Japanese carriers and radioed in their position before it was shot down, the Japanese still achieved surprise in yet another weekend Pearl Harbor-style attack. The attack resulted in the sinking of a British carrier and several other warships and cost the lives of 424 British subjects. However, as at Pearl Harbor, most of the British Eastern Fleet was away from the port, thereby reducing potential damage.

5. Midway

Volumes have been written about the Battle of Midway in June 1942 and anyone reading this is likely familiar with the battle. Thus, I will not repeat that information here. Suffice it to say that, according to Peter Smith in Mitshubishi Zero, Itaya once again was in charge of all the Zero fighters at Midway and, in particular, led the attack on the 15 ill-fated TBD Devastators from the USS Hornet, killing 29 men (only Ensign George Gay survived). Once the Akagi was sunk, Itaya and others pilots were rescued by the escorting ships.

6. Staff Officer

My admittedly faulty understanding of the Google translation of the Japanese Wikipedia indicates that Itaya became chief of staff for 23 Air Corps in October 1942 and chief of staff of 54 Air Corps in July 1944. Despite checking the indices of numerous books, I found no information on Itaya covering the two-year period between those two appointments. However, logic indicates that like many other highly skilled veteran pilots who survived Midway, he was used by the Japanese Navy to train the thousands of new pilots required to restore the staggering losses suffered during Midway and elsewhere as the tide turned against Japan. Still, if anyone has more information, please post a comment.

7. Kuril Islands

On July 24, 1944, just after his 35th birthday, while flying on a Mitsubishi G3M aircraft in the Kuril Islands, Itaya’s plane was mistakenly fired upon by a Japanese Army plane. The G3M bomber went down and Itaya was killed in the crash. It is an interesting coincidence and perhaps a fitting end that a man who had dedicated his entire career to serving Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy, who was also killed when his G3M aircraft was shot down, would die the same way.

8. Was Itaya an Ace?

I found a couple of references on the internet stating that Itaya had made ace during the China War but these statements were unsourced. On the other hand, I could not find Itaya on the lists of Japanese aces I consulted, including Osprey’s Imperial Japanese Navy Aces 1937-45 by Henry Sakaida and Stackpole’s Japanese Naval Fighter Aces: 1932-45 by Ikuhiko Hata et al. It is something of a conundrum that a fighter pilot who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1929 and died in 1944 would have failed to shoot down five planes during his 15-year career, particularly since Itaya was presumably a highly skilled pilot, as evidenced by his position and rank. It is even more perplexing when one considers that from 1937 to 1944 he witnessed seven years of continuous combat firsthand. Furthermore, Itaya would have had many opportunities available during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War, when the Zero reigned supreme over the inferior Russian-made aircraft used by the Chinese, and during the Battle of Midway, where 150 American aircraft were shot down. Perhaps more information will surface in the future that will confirm his status one way or the other.

9. Conclusion

To summarize, Itaya’s career paralleled that of the Akagi. The Akagi’s victories were essentially Itaya’s victories and the Akagi’s bitter loss at Midway effectively ended Itaya’s career as a pilot. While it is ironic that a pilot who survived countless aerial encounters was ultimately shot down by friendly fire, it is hardly surprising that Itaya did not survive the war, for only a handful of the elite Japanese Zero pilots at Pearl Harbor managed to do so. What is surprising is that there is no evidence that Itaya made ace during his 15-year career as a pilot during one of the most tumultuous periods in aerial warfare.

Again, thank you for your indulgence. I hope that if you didn’t enjoy the post, at least you found it informative. If something looks amiss, please let me know. I would be delighted to correct inaccurate information so that this may be useful for other 1/72 scale collectors and wargamers. As always, comments, questions, corrections, and observations are welcome, particularly in this case where so little information on Itaya is available. Please stay tuned for a comparison of 1/72 scale models of Itaya’s Zero in the next post.

The Sherman in 1/72: A Firefly Named “Carole” in Normandy, Part 2 – “Brewing Up”

This is Part 2 of A Firefly Named “Carole” in Normandy. For a description of  the actual tank and a review of the Dragon model, please refer to the previous post.

The Crew of the “Carole” in Normandy

I was intrigued by the photo of the four young members of “Carole’s” crew in front of their vehicle “brewing up” at Gosport just before leaving England on their way to Normandy. The human interest value of the photo is immense, as we know the fate of at least two of these young men — Commander Fred Scamp perished soon thereafter, while Gunner Douglas Kay survived into old age. This type of photo where you look into the faces of men who will soon face their fate is always touching to me, whether the soldiers are American, British, Russian, German, Japanese, or any other nationality.

At any rate, I wanted to recreate the aforementioned photo, or something that evinced its feel. However, the fact that the photo was taken while “Carole” still had the wading trunk made it a non-starter as the Dragon model is of “Carole” after the trunk was removed. In addition, recreating anything that even looked like the background in the scene was beyond my meager modeling capabilities. The only avenue available to me was to depict the scene after “Carole” and its crew arrived in Normandy.

The aforementioned photo is on the left in the triptych below. (See previous post for a larger, uncropped view of this photo.) The middle photo shows “Carole” in Normandy. Note the high grass, the stone wall behind the tank, and the destroyed buildings behind that wall. The photo on the right shows a similar scene of a British tank crew with their Sherman. An interesting feature of the photo is that it includes tankers wearing different clothing. Click on the photo to enlarge it.carole-triptych-blue-lineThe Diorama

The diorama below is a composite of those three photos. The modest effort depicts the crew taking a break in front of their tank somewhere in Normandy. Note the tall grass and stone fence present in some photos taken during the Normandy campaign. I’m not unaware that the stone fence is inexplicably intact while the building is in ruins and the tree next to it is completely charred. Still, I concluded that carving rocks out of the wall to simulate damage would not be worthwhile as it could not match the picture in my head anyway.1-008-best-bwBelow is the same photo in color. Ever the philistine, I’m convinced that color photos are infinitely better than black & white photos. To me, continuing to film in B&W in this day and age, as was done in The Good German, which is actually an excellent film, is as silly as would be continuing to film silent movies even though we’ve mastered sound.

Note that the six tankers sport different uniforms, with the 1st, 4th, and 6th (from left) wearing standard British battledress serge while the 2nd and 3rd figures wear denim overalls. The 5th figure is dressed more casually, reflecting the motley nature of clothing in units throughout the war. These Milicast figures are nothing short of cromulent*. Click on the photo to embiggen* it.1-008-bestNote that all the men wear a black beret, the hallmark of a WWII British tanker. According to Military Modelling Vol.30 No.11, the design of the distinctive black beret was inspired by French berets used during WWI. The unstiffened crown allowed it to be easily stowed in the tight spaces within the tank while the dark color helped hide grime and stains inherent in working inside a tank.

This is not an idle observation as knowing that Brit tankers wore a black beret and Brit paras a red one would greatly enhance the casual viewer’s enjoyment of a A Bridge Too Far, as a red beret would immediately signal that the action is taking place at Arnhem. :-) By the same token, recognizing the “Screaming Eagles” patch versus the “All American” patch immediately reveals whether the action is taking place at Eindhoven or Nijmegen.3-032Note that the animals move from photo to photo. The tan horse with a white blaze, in particular, had trouble staying on its four legs so every time it tipped over I placed it somewhere else. :-) The photo below is my favorite out of the dozens I took of this diorama, though I’m uncertain why.4-030

“Everyone has a backstory and deserves a guess in the absence of facts,” Ara Hagopian.

For the first time in writing these posts I had an urge to create a backstory for the cat I whimsically placed just behind the turret number. Do my fellow German bloggers, who seem to be cat lovers, or any other readers have any ideas? 5-015The cattle and horses are Preiser HO scale prepainted figures, which at first blush appeared to me to be the same size as the horses and cattle in the unpainted Preiser 1/72 scale 72511 Horses, Cows, and Sheep set. 

An indolent man at heart, I opted for the prepainted figures to avoid: 1) clipping the 72511 figures from the sprue; 2) cleaning the flash and seams; 3) gluing the two halves of each figure together; 4) priming them to ensure the paint adheres; 5) painting them; 6) detailing them; and 7) being disappointed with the results. I learned afterwards, upon actually placing the two sets side by side, that the 1/72 scale figures were proportionately larger than the HO scale figures. Alas, Preiser is a German company, after all.6-066Note the tarps and blanket rolls on the rear hull of the tank. These are Value Gear pieces and they are superb. The stone fence is a Pegasus product that surprisingly looked the part with a simple black wash. 7-060Below is a fairly clear shot of the ruined building, which I had trouble bringing into focus at the same time as the tank and crew. Again, a photographer I am not. The realistic building is from the PMA Stalingrad set. PMA diorama pieces are really quite nice, though difficult to find.8-067“Brewing Up”

Much has been written about the British soldier’s expectation of regular tea breaks to the detriment of achieving the objective. Some have offered explanations of this phenomenon cloaked in scholarly terms. Nonsense. The Brits may love their tea, but as their opponents have found out throughout history, they certainly achieve their objectives.british-drinking-teaFor those of us non-British subjects, the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far was in some respects a formative reference on the peculiarly British affinity for drinking tea. The star-studded film has two important tea-related scenes that left an indelible impression on this blogger. 

The first scene, with Sean Connery, perfectly encapsulates how the British perceive drinking tea:

Major General Urquhart:

“Hancock, I’ve got lunatics laughing at me from the woods. My original plan has been scuppered now that the jeeps haven’t arrived. My communications are completely broken down. Do you really believe any of that can be helped by a cup of tea?”

Corporal Hancock:

“Couldn’t hurt, sir,” as he hands Urquhart a cup of tea.

YouTube link: second — this time heated — exchange features Robert Redford, and is more a reflection of how Americans perceive the British love affair with tea:

American Officer:

“I don’t understand, why aren’t you moving, what’s the matter with you guys? Those are British troops at Arnhem. They’re hurt, bad. You’re not going to stop, not now.”

British Tank Officer:

“I’m sorry, we have our orders.”

American Officer:

“We busted our asses getting here. Half my men are killed. And you’re just gonna stop . . .  and . . . drink tea? “

YouTube link:

At the risk of belaboring the point, I believe ABTF was simply propagating an incorrect — yet widely held — belief among American soldiers that tea time was fairly important to the British. Still, at least in this case, let’s not blame Hollywood as this was a joint British/American production. ABTF was written by Cornelius Ryan, an Irishman; the screenplay was written by William Goldman, an American; and the film was directed by Richard Attenborough, an Englishman.

(Incidentally, what a cast! Laurence Olivier, Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neal, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Redford, Michael Caine, Gene Hackman, Dirk Bogarde, Edward Fox, Elliot Gould, and James Caan, just to name the Allies. Only Is Paris Burning?, Tora, Tora, Tora, and Midway come close. Also, those were real C-47 Skytrains/Dakotas in the film — eleven of them in total, borrowed from various countries, including Denmark, Djibouti, Finland, and Portugal. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. :-) )

Irrespective of how it came to be, or whether it’s a fair or accurate characterization, it is undeniable that tankers-teaBritish tankers are now firmly entrenched in the modeler’s psyche as soldiers with a strong love affair with tea. Thus, regardless of the scale, they are often depicted “brewing up” with a “cuppa” in hand. The photo triptych at left, showing tanker figures in different scales, makes the point clearly. At left is the Milicast 1/76 figure used in the diorama; at center is a Dartmoor 1/48 figure; and at right is a Dragon 1/6 figure. The first two photos are from their respective manufacturer’s websites; the third I scanned from an article in the French magazine Steel Masters #58.

List of Diorama Pieces

For those interested, below is the source of each piece:

  • Tank: Dragon 60250 Firefly Vc, 13th/18th Royal Hussars, 27th Armoured Brigade, Normandy 1944;
  • Tarp and Blanket rolls on hull: Value Gear Allied Tents, Tarps, and Crates;
  • Crew: Milicast 061 British Squaddies and Milicast 054 British Troops;
  • Animals: Various Preiser HO and 1/72 sets;
  • Trees: Various Woodland Scenics;
  • Building: Precision Model Art PMA P0204 Stalingrad;
  • Stone Fence: Pegasus Hobbies 5202 Stone Walls;
  • Spoked Wheel: Hat 8260 WWI German Field Wagon;
  • Meadow: Woodland Scenics Grass Mat;
  • Tufts of Grass: Noch Scenemaster, Spring Grass Tufts; and
  • Backdrop: Silk poster ordered on Amazon from China.

I hope you enjoyed this simple diorama of “Carole” and its crew. Again, if something looks amiss, please let me know. I would be delighted to correct inaccurate information so that this may be useful for other 1/72 scale collectors and wargamers. As always, comments, questions, corrections, observations, and backstories for the cat are welcome.


Once again, I’d like to thank my friend and fellow collector J. Buccellato of NY for his incredible skill and patience in painting the Milicast figures. He’s the sine qua non in creating these dioramas. His “therapy” is my joy. *For those not familiar with the two neologisms in this post, I highly recommend Season 7, Episode 16 of the Simpsons on the episode’s 20th anniversary. :-)

The Sherman in 1/72: A Firefly Named “Carole” in Normandy, Part 1 – The Tank

Tank enthusiasts frequently admire a tank and blissfully identify its markings as well as its physical features — the version or type of hull, turret, gun, running gear, or tracks. This tendency to focus on the vehicle, rather than what it represents, holds especially true for Sherman tanks, which carry dizzying combinations of  these various elements. We often forget, however, that each of these fighting vehicles was manned by five young men who had names and families and dreams, and many made the ultimate sacrifice inside those very vehicles. “Carole” stands out in that Douglas Kay, its gunner, survived the war and serves as a reminder of the human element we often ignore.

The Actual Tank

“Carole” was a Sherman Mark V Firefly belonging to the 13th/18th Royal Hussars Regiment of the 27th Armoured Brigade of the British Army. In its eight-month operational life, “Carole” participated in the D-Day invasion in Normandy in June 1944 and in Operation Market Garden in Holland in September 1944. It was destroyed in Germany in February 1945.

Below is the best known photo of “Carole” preparing to be loaded onto a Normandy-bound landing craft at the Port of Gosport in Southern England, on June 3, 1944. The photo is from the Imperial War Museum archives (IWM H38995) and is used here under their non-commercial license. Note the deep wading trunk at the rear of the hull, behind the gun, which itself has been traversed to face the rear for embarkation. THE BRITISH ARMY IN THE UNITED KINGDOM 1939-45 (H 38995) A Sherman Firefly and Sherman tanks of 'C' Squadron, 13th/18th Royal Hussars waiting to be loaded aboard landing ships at Gosport, 3 June 1944. The Firefly crew in the left foreground are Trooper Fred Shaw, Trooper Doug Kay, Sergeant Fred Scamp and Trooper Bill Humphries. Their vehicle was named 'Carole'. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:“Carole” and the 13th/18th Royal Hussars took part in the Normandy landings on Sword Beach on June 6, 1944, successfully spearheading the invasion force in support of  the British 3rd Infantry Division. Sword Beach, assigned to the British Army, was the easternmost Allied landing site. All told, almost 30,000 allied troops came ashore at Sword Beach, with losses of 683 men. The IWM photo below shows “Carole” still equipped with its wading trunk.carole-4-2Below is another IWM photo (B5471) of “Carole” in the village of Bréville-les-Monts, on June 13, 1944, a week after D-Day. The Germans had occupied the village in early June and from there had been attacking British positions at Sword Beach. “Carole’s” unit, Squadron C of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars, successfully supported the 6th Airborne Division in securing Bréville, thereby protecting the beachhead. Forgive the graininess of the photo, which has been enlarged from a shot taken at considerable distance. Note that by this time the trunk had been removed.carole-scan-1Once the landings were completed and secured, the British Army disbanded the 27th Armoured Brigade in July 1944, and “Carole” and the 13th/18th Royal Hussars were transferred to the 8th Armoured Brigade. During this time, “Carole” is credited with knocking out a Tiger and a Panther on August 11-12, 1944, towards the end of the Normandy campaign. As part of Operation Market Garden, “Carole” crossed the Nijmegen Bridge, a key Allied objective, on September 21, 1944. The fighting was so brutal at Nijmegen that it came to be known as “Little Omaha” and has been compared to Guam, Tarawa, and Omaha Beach.

“Carole” was destroyed on February 12, 1945, in Goch, Germany, by an 88mm round that entered through the mantle and lodged itself in the radio box at the rear of the turret. The round killed Sgt. Fred Scamp, the commander, and Trooper Wilson, a substitute gunner who was filling in for Douglas Kay, who was on leave that particular day. Kay refers to himself as the “luckiest man” in the world because of this tragic but fortuitous event.

The Model

The Dragon 60250 Sherman Firefly is a special Dragon release issued during the 2006 Dragon Expo in Europe. It is one of the most sought-after Dragon fireflies, and for good reason. A look at the photos below reveal a finely crafted model from Dragon’s heyday, when workmanship was at its apex. The model represents “Carole” after the landing at Normandy, once the wading trunk had been removed. “Carole” was assigned to “C” Squadron, necessitating that its name begin with that letter. Sgt. Fred Scamp, the tank commander, named “Carole” after his daughter, who was born in 1944. In the photo below, note the red circle indicating “C” Squadron, just aft of the name. A triangle would indicate “A” Squadron, while a rectangle would indicate “B” Squadron.1-port-3-047-3Below is a front view photo. Note that “Carole” has the early bolted three-piece transmission cover, as opposed to the cast one-piece cover. Note also that the model does not have the stowage box above the transmission cover visible in the first photo of the actual tank above. This is not a mistake. The stowage bin was temporarily moved from its permanent place at the rear of the hull to the front of the hull to allow the wading trunk to be installed. Once the tank landed and the trunk was removed, the stowage bin was reinstalled in its original place on the rear plate of the hull. Finally, note that while Dragon has often bungled the tracks on its Shermans, “Carole” is equipped with the correct T54E1 steel chevron tracks recognizable in the aforementioned photo.

Dragon faithfully rendered on the transmission cover the colorful and distinctive markings so characteristic of British tanks. Starting from the left, the “33” inside a yellow circle is a bridge classification number, indicating that the Firefly weighed 33 tons, as compared to a standard 30-ton Sherman. The “51” inside the red box identifies the regiment to which “Carole” belonged. The 27th Armoured Brigade had three regiments: the 13th/18th Royal Hussars were assigned “51”; the Staffordshire Yeomanry, “52”; and East Riding Yeomanry, “53.” The yellow seahorse on a blue shield, colloquially known as the “pregnant pilchard,” is the emblem of the 27th Armoured Brigade. The seahorse was a reference to the cavalry roots of its regiments. 2-front-043-3Below is a starboard profile photo of “Carole.” Note the cast surface on the cheek of the turret, which differs from the smooth surface of the metal on the hull — another example of Dragon’s outstanding attention to detail. The British Firefly wielded a 76.2mm gun and the length of the barrel was a whopping 13 ft. 9 in. Incidentally, each troop comprised four tanks — one 17-pounder Firefly and three 75mm Shermans. The other tanks in “Carole’s” 2nd Troop were “Charmer” (68), “Cameo” (69), and “Cavalier” (70).3-starboard-2-037-2Note the “71” on a square black oilcloth on the face of the blanket box in the photo below. The black square was intended to provide more contrast with the red number, making it more visible. As previously mentioned, the model represents “Carole” after it had landed and the wading trunk had been removed with the stowage box moved back to its original place on the rear plate of the hull. Finally, note Dragon’s signature drybrushing that highlights the edges throughout the tank, providing a “worn” look.5-back-039-2The semi-overhead shot below provides a view of the commander’s round hatch as well as the loader’s rectangular hatch on the top of the turret. Note the radio box attached to the back of the turret. In order to fit the huge 76.2mm gun in the 75mm turret, the British removed the radio from the interior and attached it to the rear of the turret. Attached behind the radio box is a blanket box. Note the War Department identification number “T 228789.” Of course, the “T” indicates “tank.” Among others, an “L” before the number would indicate a lorry, an “M” a car, and a “S” a self-propelled gun. 4-port-4-049-3Beyond the Call of Duty

Probably the most outstanding feature of the Dragon piece is the accuracy of the turret. The close-up photo below clearly shows that the turret of the “Carole” did not have a pistol port.carole-scan-biggest-2 Firefly turrets were converted 75mm turrets, which had a pistol port on the rear port side of the turret. In April 1943, the U.S. Ordnance Department determined that it was a ballistic hazard and ordered builders to eliminate it from the turret. The response from the field was so negative, however, that the Ordnance Department reversed the order in July 1943. Still, a number of 75mm turrets without the pistol port were produced during those three months, and “Carole” appears to be one of those. 

The side-by-side photos below from the Sherman Minutia Website show the two different Sherman 75mm turrets as regards the pistol port — the common one with a pistol port and the uncommon one without. 2-pistol-portsDragon brought us two terrific British Fireflies: the Dragon 60250 “Carole” (right) and the 60251 “Velikye Luki” (left) in the side-by-side photo below. Other than the markings and the addition of the blanket box on the “Carole,” the two are nearly identical. Obviously, the most important difference is the absence of the pistol port on the turret of the “Carole” – highlighted in yellow on the “Velikye Luki.” Dragon could have easily taken a short cut and simply used the same common turret on both. Instead Dragon was faithful to both tanks, and produced two different turrets — in my view, a commendable decision.004-2-paint-2In that same vein, note the siren on the front port side fender just above the tracks. If you click on the photo you will find that the siren has a “V” for victory grill used on the actual sirens — a minute detail but indicative of Dragon’s erstwhile zeal.

A Little Back Rub

Forgive the lame pun, but “Carole’s” only fault — the “rub” — is that Dragon failed to include markings on the rear plate of the tank hull. There are no clear photos of “Carole” from the rear, though barely visible on one of the photos above is the “51” regiment number on the port side of the rear plate. However, the photo below from British Tanks in Normandy by Ludovic Fortin clearly shows that other tanks of the 13th/18th Hussars — this is “Balaclava” — carried both the “51” regiment number and seahorse markings on the rear plate.balaclava-markings-scan-paintBelow is a corresponding rear view photo of “Carole” sans markings.003-2The Upshot

There is no question that the Dragon 60250 Firefly is a little gem — a rare combination that brings together human interest, historical significance, and accuracy in detail. From the transmission housing to the rear plate and from the steel tracks to the turret hatches, this piece is well crafted. The accuracy of the turret — with its cast surface, radio box, blanket bin, lack of a pistol port, and markings — makes for an outstanding model. The superb finish, light drybrushing, and crisp markings throughout the tank make this an exceptional piece.

The Profile

In 2005, Military Modelling magazine conducted a series of interviews with Douglas Kay, resulting in a terrific, well-illustrated article in its July 2005 issue that featured “Carole” on its cover. The beautiful color profile below comes from that article. It’s a sure bet that Dragon used this profile as its guide. 6-carole-profile-military-modelling-1024x378What little information there is about the actual “Carole” comes from that issue. Should the reader be interested in finding it, below is a photo of the magazine cover. The triptych also includes a photo of 19-year-old Kay in 1944 and Mr. Kay in his 80’s in 2005.

douglas-kay-tryptichThe Crew

Finally, so we can put faces to “Carole,” below is a lagniappe photo of the crew brewing up. From left to right: Fred Shaw (loader/radio operator), Douglas Kay (gunner), Fred Scamp (commander), and Bill Humphries (driver).


I hope you enjoyed the post. If something looks amiss, please let me know. I would be delighted to correct inaccurate information so that this may be useful for other 1/72 scale collectors and wargamers. As always, comments, questions, corrections, and observations are welcome. Stay tuned for a simple diorama of “Carole” in the next post.

The Filthy Thirteen of the 101st Airborne Division, Part 5: Preboarding Diorama

This is the fifth and final post of the Filthy Thirteen five-part series. For a synopsis of these colorful characters, creating the figures in 1/72 scale, selecting their weapons, and a look at the finished figures, please refer to the previous four posts, The Filthy Thirteen, Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, respectively.

The Group Photo

As previously mentioned, our 1/72 scale Filthy Thirteen are bareheaded — clearly not in combat. Thus, one of the few plausible diorama options was a scene taking place just prior to boarding the aircraft. Before embarking on a mission, it was customary for a stick of paratroopers to pose for a group photo with the pilot and crew of the aircraft. (A paratrooper stick typically numbered 15-18 men.) The reader is directed to the History Channel’s Dangerous Missions: Pathfinders episode, for example, wherein a paratrooper recalls sitting for the group photo. “They must be taking a photo for our obituary,” he quips. The photo below, for example, is of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment just before boarding for a mission. pathfinder-photo-506-pirThe Diorama

The diorama below depicting such a photo shoot at Upottery Airfield in East Devon, England, just before the Filthy Thirteen board their aircraft, is loosely based on this concept. A kneeling paratrooper, a sergeant, and a pilot stand directly facing the photographer, with the rest of the stick arranged in a semicircle in front of a Douglas C-47 Skytrain. A brief discussion and additional photos of the Skytrain appear in a separate section below.z-039-2Below is a close-up photo of the scene. The paratroopers have been discussed extensively in previous posts so I will not belabor them further. However, I point the reader’s attention to the pilot, who is also covered in a separate section below.014-2Below is a view from the right side. I was unable to locate a 1/72 scale U.S. photographer so I ended up using a Preiser HO scale figure. Note the three Jeeps, which were ubiquitous at Upottery Airfield.016-2Below is a view from the left side. Note the markings on the front bumper of the Willys Jeep on the right, which clearly identify it as belonging to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. (Click on the photo to zoom in on the bumper.)020-3Below is an overhead shot. Note the drybrushing on the pilot’s leather jacket, which came out better than I expected, once again proving the adage, particularly applicable to me, that “even a stopped clock is right twice a day.” 034-2For those skeptical that paratroopers would actually pose for photos, I direct you to the photo below of Jake McNiece, taken just before the Filthy Thirteen boarded their C-47 on D-Day.posed-photo

The Pilot

Given that group photos often included the aircraft crew, the scene cried out for a pilot. As shown in the composite photo below, there are several U.S. pilot options in 1/72 scale.

From left to right: Airfix 1748; CMK 72039; CMK 72221; Hasegawa 35008; and TQD-AA9.

While I considered the pilots from the Airfix 1748 U.S.A.F. Personnel, CMK 72039 US Army Pilots (resin), CMK 72221 USAAF Pilots (resin), and Hasegawa 35008 WWII Pilots sets, I ultimately opted for the pilot included in the white metal TQD-AA9 US Airborne Infantry & Pilot set, as I found it to have the quintessential WWII U.S. pilot “look.”

The TQD pilot wears the A-2 leather flying jacket so characteristic of WWII U.S. pilots. a-2-flying-leather-jacket-2The backs of these brown leather jackets were often decorated with squadron insignia, victory slogans, or pinup art, as seen in the illustration at left by Francis Chin taken from Osprey Publishing US Army Air Force. The TQD figure also wears the popular officer’s peaked cap that was often worn with the crown stiffener removed, both to get the stylish “crushed” look and, more importantly, to allow the headset to fit over the cap. Note also that these pilots are almost invariably depicted either smoking a cigarette, as in the illustration, or chomping on a cigar, as in the TQD figure. I rejected the Airfix and CMK figures because they appear to be wearing the winter B-3 jacket with fur collar. I note, however, that CMK resin figures are generally some of the most realistic 1/72 scale figures on the market. Similarly, I passed over the Hasegawa figure because it’s wearing the garrison side cap with earflaps, rather than the more distinctive peaked cap.

The Willys Jeep

Numerous sources of information on the jeep are readily available and the reader is directed to them. However, for the sake of completeness, below are several photos of the jeeps used in the diorama. To my knowledge, there are only two 1/72 scale jeeps that specifically represent the 101st Airborne Division. First, below is the Hobby Master HG4203, US Willys Jeep, 101st Airborne Div., 506th A.B. Regiment, Company “C,” Normandy, 6 June 1944 (2010).081-2Made of diecast, the Hobby Master’s heft is pleasing to the hand. Below is a portside view.094-2Below is a front view shot of the Hobby Master model. The markings of the 101st Airborne Division 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment are clearly visible on the bumper.099-2Pictured below is the only other 1/72 scale jeep specifically representing the 101st Infantry Division, the Dragon 60505, 1/4 Ton 4×4 Truck, U.S. Army Western Front 1944, 101st Airborne Division, 401st Glider Infantry Regiment, France 1944 (2011). 082-2Unlike the Hobby Master, the Dragon 60505 is all plastic and, like other Dragon jeep releases, comes bundled in a package of two. Below is a portside view.083-2Finally, below is a side-by-side photo of the Hobby Master and Dragon pieces. As is readily apparent from the photo, the Hobby Master (left) is slightly larger than the Dragon (right). I note that the proportions of the Hobby Master are identical to those of the Cararama and Zylmex 1/72 scale jeeps and there are reports that the Dragon jeep is underscaled — probably at 1/76 scale. While the Hobby Master model is diecast and the Dragon piece is plastic, a quick glance at the radiator grilles in the photo below immediately attests to Dragon’s redeeming quality — realism.079-3The C-47 Skytrain

The first thing one notices in the diorama is the fabulous Douglass C-47 Skytrain behind the paratroopers. While the versatile “Gooney Bird,” as the Skytrain was known to Air Force personnel, had various military uses, its primary role was as a transport plane, ferrying paratroopers to its targets and becoming the most widely used transport of World War II. Douglas built 10,700 C-47s and more than 1,000 of these participated in the D-Day invasion alone. Below is a portside view of the diecast Corgi  AA38207 used in the diorama.018-2Band of Brothers, the highly acclaimed TV Mini-Series (2001) depicting the travails of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, brought international fame to the 506th PIR and spawned a number of products specifically depicting that unit. The Corgi AA38207, for example, represents the transport for Richard “Dick” Winters, the leader of the first platoon of the 2nd Battalion, 506th PIR of the 101st AD. Below is a starboard shot.031-2Below is a shot taken from the front. The 95 ft. 6 in. wingspan of the Douglass C-47 Skytrain was virtually identical to its German counterpart, the Junkers Ju52 “Tante Ju,” which had a wingspan of 95 ft. 11 in. Note the realistic transparent lens of the landing lights on the leading edge of the wings.022-2As can be readily appreciated in the photo below, the Corgi AA38207 is a magnificent piece of diecast. It’s unfortunate that the model disappeared from the shelves long ago. Note the pilot and co-pilot figures through the windows.027-2Below is shot of the portside fuselage. I almost wish Corgi had designed the model with an opening cargo door but such features often come at the expense of accuracy, making the models look toyish. Still, an opening cargo door would provide additional diorama opportunities.025-2The Terrain 

Because of their small size, creating realistic braille scale dioramas is inherently challenging — at least for a novice like me. In addition, the bases of the figures significantly detract from any setting, no matter how realistic it is. Thus, I had two options to try to improve the diorama: Either clip the bases of the figures as I have done for previous posts, or find a way to hide them. I opted for the latter.

I began by cutting out the flat part of styrofoam paper plate. I proceeded to draw the outline of the bases of the figures on the plate and carefully carved them out. When I inserted the figures into the recessed slots in the flat base, I found to my surprise that they fit snugly and were neatly flush with the base. The photo below shows the figures already embedded in the base. (Click on the photo to zoom in on the base.)z-004-2I then enlarged the base with additional styrofoam plates, covered it with hydrocal plaster to create contoured terrain, and painted it with acrylic paints. Finally, I flocked it with Woodland Scenics green and yellow grass to resemble Upottery Airfield in East Devon, England, whence the flights for D-Day originated. The photo below shows the countours of the terrain.001-2The Meltdown

While taking photos of the diorama in my backyard, I realized that the sky backdrop had warped, completely ruining the photos — and an entire morning. :-( Following a couple of hours of frustration attempting to salvage the photos by digitally cutting out the background, I decided to photograph the scene again. I was fairly certain that when I glued the silk poster to the cardboard backing I had achieved a good bond and there had been no warping. Still, I carefully unglued the poster and reglued it, using Elmer’s spray adhesive.

Despite diligent efforts and newly acquired photographic lights, indoor illumination continues to confound me, resulting in my strong preference for outdoor photography with natural light. Thus, after ensuring that there was no warping and the glue had set, I again moved the pieces outside and began to photograph. Alas, within ten minutes, the poster began to warp again. I suddenly realized that the 90 degree heat outdoors was melting the glue. As with the warped deck of an aircraft carrier in a previous project, I was once again paying the price of my incompetence and inability to take adequate photos indoors. Nonetheless, the few photos I managed to take before the meltdown were sufficient for this post. The side-by-side photo below is worth a thousand words.contrast-5

List of Diorama Pieces

For those interested, below is the source of each piece:

  • Photographer: Preiser 28069, Photographer (HO Scale);
  • Pilot: TQD Castings, TQD-AA9, US Airborne Infantry & Pilot Boarding Aircraft;
  • Paratroopers: Various sets (see previous four posts);
  • Jeep (far right): Hobby Master HG4203, US Willys Jeep, 101st Airborne Div., 506th A.B. Regiment, Company “C,” Normandy, 6 June 1944 (2010);
  • Other Jeeps: Dragon 60505, 1/4 Ton 4×4 Truck, U.S. Army Western Front 1944, 101st Airborne Div., 401st Glider Infantry Rgt., France 1944 (2011);
  • Aircraft: Corgi AA38207, Douglas C-47 Skytrain, USAAF 439th TCG, 50th TCW, June 5th, Upottery, England (2014);
  • Meadow: Styrofoam plates painted with acrylic colors and flocked with Woodland Scenics grasses;
  • Backdrop: Silk poster ordered on Amazon from China.

This series of posts began with a wonderful painting of the Filthy Thirteen by Joel Iskowitz. It is only fitting, therefore, that it end with another beautiful painting. The lagniappe painting below, entitled We Were a Band of Brothers, is by John D. Shaw. It is reproduced here for discussion purposes under the fair use exception to the copyright laws. z-john-d-shaw-we-were-a-band-of-brothersI hope you enjoyed this simple diorama and the Filthy Thirteen series of posts. Again, if something looks amiss, please let me know. I would be delighted to correct inaccurate information so that this may be useful for other 1/72 scale collectors and wargamers. As always, comments, questions, corrections, and observations are welcome.

The Filthy Thirteen of the 101st Airborne Division, Part 4: The Finished Figures

This is the fourth of a five-part series on the Filthy Thirteen. For a synopsis of these colorful characters, creating the figures in 1/72 scale, and selecting their weapons, please refer to the three previous posts, The Filthy Thirteen, Parts 1, 2 & 3.

Although I generally paint my own figures, my skills are mediocre at best, and I was too excited about this particular set to ruin it with my efforts. I freely concede: I’m a dilettante — I dabble in everything and master nothing. Thus, I turned to a genuine hobbyist with real expertise for help. The awesome results of his skill, dedication, and patience follow.  

Before we start, let’s put things in perspective. I fully understand that most people reading this post are z 007 - Copy (2)familiar with 1/72 scale and know the height of a typical figure. However, for those casual internet browsers who happen upon this site, the average 1/72 scale figure is approximately 1 inch or 25 mm tall. Borrowing a practice from the terrific WW2 Germans in 1/72 website, the photo at left provides perspective to help us understand the significant painting challenges posed by this scale. I know hobbyists who use a one-bristle paint brush for detail work. In addition, anyone who has done this will understand the severe eye strain and occasional headache that results from concentrating on a figure. And yet, those of us who engage in this activity know the nirvana with which we’re rewarded. :-) Yes, I love doing it; I just stink at it.

The Painted Figures

The following pictures follow the order established in the Figure Chart of the two previous posts. Unless otherwise specified, comments always refer to the photo below the comments.

BELOW: Here are the first four figures. Note the warpaint on their mugs, bearing in mind that the width of their faces is about 2 mm. Note the patches used to reinforce the elbows and knees on the jackets and trousers, a distinct characteristic of paratrooper uniforms. The Revell BAR gunner (second from left) is wearing the BAR belt with six pockets, each for two 20-round magazines, giving him a total of 240 rounds. Note the magazine pouches on the belt of the ESCI figure with the M1A1 Thompson submachine gun (third from left).

From left to right: Revell, Revell, ESCI, and ESCI.

BELOW: Note the hand-painted U.S. flag patches on the right shoulder. Astute observers will immediately notice that the flag is seemingly facing in the wrong direction as the applicable U.S. Army regulation requires that the “star field face forward,” like a flag flying in the breeze as it is carried forward. In other words, the regulation requires the flag to be backwards when on the right shoulder.

However, U.S. paratroopers were allowed to use the regular U.S. flag patch, probably because they were dropped behind enemy lines and needed to be easily identified by advancing U.S. forces. (I found at least a dozen photos of WWII U.S. paratroopers wearing the regular U.S. flag patch on their right shoulders before I was convinced.) 025BELOW: Note the famed Screaming Eagle shoulder patches of the 101st Airborne Division on the left shoulder. Only the painter knows how much eye strain these patches are worth. Another U.S. Airborne characteristic is the M3 trench knife and scabbard attached to the lower leg, as can be seen in the picture above on the right leg of the two ESCI figures on the right. A peculiarity of the ESCI set is that 13 of the 14 figures in the set sport the knife in the same fashion — the prone machine gunner being the only exception. The other sets only have two or three figures carrying the trench knife.027BELOW: The ESCI figure on the far right has the 10-inch M1 Bayonet attached to the folding stock M1A1 Carbine. The M1 Bayonet became standard in 1943, replacing the earlier 16-inch bayonet. Note the “U.S.” designation on the covers of the entrenching tool and canteen on the same ESCI figure. 026BELOW: Here are the second four figures. Note that the head on the Caesar figure on the far left is disproportionately large — a melonhead if I ever saw one. Although the Revell figure (second from left) appeared to lack facial detail, paint really brought it out. Note the 10-inch bayonet attached to the M1 Garand rifle on the Caesar figure on the far right. 

7 028
From left to right: Caesar, Revell, ESCI, and Caesar.

BELOW: Note that the first three figures — the three original Pathfinders with Mohawk haircuts — have the M3 trench knife attached to the lower right leg, making them honest paratroopers. Created by three different sculptors, note the difference in the heads. This variety in heads is realistic and the welcome result of mixing figures from different companies. Note the first aid pouch on the right leg of the walking Caesar figure (far right), who also sports one of the Caesar melonheads. These first aid kits typically contained field dressing and morphine.

030BELOW: ESCI’s attention to detail is evident in the inclusion of a helmet attached to the back of its Pathfinder figure (third from left). Neither the Caesar nor the Revell bareheaded Pathfinders with Mohawk haircuts (first and second from left) thought to include a helmet.032BELOW: Note the M1936 Musette Field bag on the back of the Caesar figure on the far right. Though usually associated with paratroopers, this lightweight canvas backpack was also available to officers in the regular infantry.031BELOW: Here are the last four figures. Note the Imex figure (second from left) is tall but slim, lending greater variety to the figures. Note the yellow gloves on the Italeri figure holding the M9 Bazooka (far right), recommended to protect the hands in case of back-flash when the rocket left the muzzle.

From left to right: Caesar, Imex, Imex, and Italeri.

BELOW: Note that the Italeri bazooka gunner (far right) has the M3 trench knife on his lower right leg.


BELOW: I could not identify the bag on the left hip of the Caesar figure (far left). While it’s probably an M1936 Musette field bag, it’s missing the two straps and buckle to close the flap, as seen on the two Imex figures next to it.


BELOW: Of particular interest is the folded M1A1 Carbine on the back of the bazooka gunner (far right). This may be the only folding stock M1A1 Carbine that is actually folded in the various sets. On the same figure, note as well the superb rendition of the “U.S.” designation on his canteen. Note that both Imex figures in the middle have the M1936 Musette field bag. As with the ESCI sculptor who included the distinctive trench knife on virtually all his paratroopers, the Imex sculptor’s idiosyncrasy was to include the characteristic musette field bag on all but two of his 14 paratroopers.

035BELOW: Here are some photos of the TQD figure, completing the Filthy Thirteen. It bears mentioning again that TQD white metal figures are generally excellent, with realistic proportions, fine detail, and historical accuracy. 

Pathfinder (2)
TQD AA5 Pathfinder white metal figure

Comparison Chart

Finally, below is a lagniappe comparison chart that summarizes the project. It shows the original figures with helmets, the set they came from, the figures with the transplanted heads, and the finished figures, as well as the weapon each carries.Filthy Thirteen Final 2

The Upshot

I was pleasantly surprised by the results of this project, an honest and well-intentioned 1/72 scale tribute to the Filthy Thirteen, “the orneriest, meanest group of paratroopers” who ever lived. And it was loads of fun to boot. However, I do have two regrets, as discussed previously: 1) I wish I’d used an Airfix figure to represent all available U.S. paratrooper sets; and 2) I wish I’d used a figure with an M3 “grease gun” to better represent most of the small arms used by U.S. paratroopers.

I hope you enjoyed this Filthy Thirteen series of posts. If something looks amiss, please remember that I’m just an amateur enthusiast (redundancy intended) and let me know. I would be delighted — truly — to correct inaccurate information so that this may be useful for other 1/72 scale collectors and wargamers. Stay tuned next week or so for Part 5, a simple diorama featuring these characters. As always, comments, questions, corrections, and observations are welcome. 


I want to thank my friend and fellow collector Joe Buccellato, of NY, whose love of craft, workmanship, and patience far exceed mine — “therapy,” he calls it. He enthusiastically painted these figures and to the extent they succeed the credit is all his. I’m fortunate he’s a Civil War collector for I doubt he’d part with my WWII figures after he paints them. More of his outstanding work will be featured in future posts.

The Filthy Thirteen of the 101st Airborne Division, Part 3: Selecting the Weapons

This is the third of a five-part series on the Filthy Thirteen. For a synopsis of these colorful characters and creating the figures in 1/72 scale, please refer to the two previous posts, The Filthy Thirteen, Parts 1 & 2.

U.S. Army Airborne Weapons

The nature of U.S. Airborne troops in WWII was such that their weapons had to be specialized, usually to make them lighter or more portable. Because paratroopers were often dropped behind enemy lines where resupply was uncertain, they had to schlep loads of 100 lbs. or more on their backs, making lighter, more portable weapons a must.

As I mentioned in Part 2, one of my goals was for the 1/72 scale unit to reflect as many of the weapons used by U.S. paratroopers as possible. I compiled the weapons plate below from a number of illustrations contained in various Osprey books, including US Army Airborne 1940-1990, US Paratrooper 1941-1945, US Army Airborne and Paratroops; and US Army Paratrooper in the Pacific Theatre 1943-45. The Pathfinder illustration is by renowned military artist Ron Volstad. The plate summarizes the small arms — hand-held small caliber firearms, such as handguns, rifles, manual, semi-automatic, and fully automatic weapons — used by U.S. paratroopers. US Airborne Paratrooper Weapons 13

Figure and Weapons Chart

Below is a chart showing the weapons used by each of the selected figures. A discussion of each weapon follows. Where the options were limited for a particular weapon, I’ve included photos of the various alternatives.Weapons Chart

Weapons in 1/72 Scale

1. M1911A1 Colt .45 Pistol: The venerable seven-round, semi-automatic .45 caliber “Colt 45,” introduced prior to WWI, was issued to officers, non-commissioned officers, and machine gunners and was so effective that it wasn’t replaced until 1986, 75 years and several wars after its debut.

Left, Revell; right, Imex.

Every unit has an officer — always with binoculars and a pistol — and the various paratrooper sets offer different alternatives. However, only the Revell and Imex officers have a pistol in hand and the latter is clearly firing his in combat, leaving the Revell figure as the only choice. See photo inset at left. While it is impossible to determine at this scale what pistols the officers are really wielding, we must assume they’re the M1911A1 Colt .45 pistol, common with U.S. Airborne officers. 


2. M3 Submachine Gun “Grease Gun”: The .45 caliber M3 Submachine gun was designed to be a simplified, cheaper ($20) replacement for the Thompson submachine gun. Commonly known as

From left to right: Caesar, Imex, Italeri, and Revell.

the “grease gun” because of its visual similarity to an actual mechanic’s grease gun, it was unjustly perceived to be less reliable than a Thompson, though its lighter weight (8 lbs.) made it popular among paratroopers who had to schlep loads of 100 lbs. or more on their backs.

For the most part, I succeeded in representing all the standard weapons used by U.S. Airborne troops shown in the Weapons Plate above. However, I failed to use a figure with the M3 “grease gun,” though there were four available. See photo inset above. Note how well-defined the weapon is on the Imex figure (second from left; click on the photo to enlarge). The proportions, detail, and sculpting on the Imex figures are dead-on.

3. M1 Garand Rifle: The semi-automatic, 8-round .30 caliber M1 Garand rifle replaced the 1903 Springfield rifle as the standard issue for U.S. troops in 1938, giving U.S. soldiers a distinct advantage over the slower German K-98 bolt-action rifle, which had become standard Wehrmacht issue in 1935. General Patton considered it “the greatest battle implement ever devised” and many soldiers preferred the M1 Garand’s greater range and stopping power over the M1 Carbine that was supposed to replace it. By the end of the war, over five million M1 Garands had been produced.

The various U.S. paratrooper sets included many figures with the M1 Garand rifle, reflecting the fact that it was the most common weapon used by U.S. Airborne troops. Thus, there were a number of choices and four of the selected 13 figures are carrying one, including one with the 10-inch M1 Bayonet attached. (See the Figure and Weapons Chart above.) 

4. M1 Carbine w/ Wooden Stock: The semi-automatic, 30-round, .30 caliber M1 Carbine, which replaced the M1 Garand as the standard issue rifle in 1942, was intended to be smaller and lighter than the M1 Garand. At 35.5 in. and 5.5 lbs, it was, in fact, eight inches shorter and weighed four pounds less than the M1 Garand, making it well suited for paratroopers. With more than six million wood-stocked M1 Carbines produced, it was much more widely used by U.S. forces than its cousin, the folding stock M1A1 Carbine, of which only 150,000 were made. However, designed specifically for U.S. paratroopers, the M1A1 Carbine was more common among this group.

As with the M1 Garand rifle, the various U.S. Airborne sets offered a fair selection of figures equipped with the M1 Carbine. As noted, however, the folding stock M1A1 Carbine was more widely used by U.S. paratroopers so I selected only one figure carrying the M1 Carbine, the Revell figure (sixth from left), as can be seen on the Figure and Weapons Chart above.

5. M1A1 Carbine w/ Folding Stock: Identical to the M1 Carbine except for the folding metal stock, the M1A1 Carbine was 25 inches long when folded, fully 10 inches shorter than the M1 Carbine, making it an excellent weapon for the highly mobile paratroopers.

Given that the M1A1 Carbine was specifically designed for U.S. paratroopers, it is no surprise that at least 10 figures in the various U.S. paratrooper sets are equipped with it. The ESCI set alone includes five figures wielding this weapon. There are three figures with the M1A1 Carbine in the selected 13 — the ESCI (fourth from left) and Caesar (ninth from left) figures shown on the Figure and Weapons Chart above plus the Italeri figure (far right) with the M9 Bazooka, who carries the M1A1 Carbine on his back. 

6. M1A1 Thompson Submachine Gun: One of the most recognized weapons in history, the M1A1 Thompson submachine gun was a favorite among the troops. Though generally only issued to squad leaders and officers in the regular army, it was widely used among paratroopers. Accurate up to 50 yards, it could fire its large .45 caliber rounds at a rate of 650 per minute, giving it devastating “sweeping” power within that distance. Though heavier than the M3 “grease gun,” the M1 Thompson submachine gun was more widely used.

The various figure sets provided a fair selection of figures wielding the M1A1 Thompson submachine guns, reflecting its wide use among paratroopers.  As shown in the Figure and Weapons Chart above, I selected three — the ESCI figure (third from left), the kneeling Caesar figure (fifth from left), and the TQD Pathfinder figure, a picture of which appears in the previous post.

7. M1918A2 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR): The fully automatic .30 caliber M1918A2 BAR, which replaced the M1918 used in WWI, was designed to be fired from the hip as an automatic rifle while moving forward in support of riflemen or from a stationary position as a light machine gun.

13 002
Left, Imex; right, Revell.

However, its paltry 20-round magazines greatly limited its effectiveness as a machine gun. While used by U.S. paratroopers, the BAR’s 20-lb weight and need to be reassembled after a jump made it an inconvenient — and therefore uncommon — weapon for Airborne troops. To reduce the BAR’s weight, experienced paratroopers often ditched the bipod, buttplate, and carrying handle, lowering the weight to 15 lbs.

There are only two BAR gunners in the 69 paratrooper poses available — one in the Imex set and one in the Revell set, as seen in the photo inset above. Thus, the Revell figure (on the right) was an easy choice since the Imex figure is prone firing the weapon, clearly in combat. The Revell gunner, who has not removed the bipod or carrying handle from his BAR, is presumably a novice. :-) 

8. M9 Bazooka: The M9 Bazooka was a portable recoil-less, anti-tank rocket launcher that replaced the earlier M1 Bazooka in 1943. At 54 inches, the M1 Bazooka was unwieldy during jumps so the Airborne command specifically requested the M9 Bazooka, which could be broken down into two parts to make it more portable. Ironically, the modification allowed engineers to make it longer, increasing range and accuracy.

14 001
From left to right: Caesar, Imex, and Italeri.

Considered the perfect infantryman’s anti-tank weapon, it could immobilize a tank with a solid, accurate hit. According to the conventional wisdom, the much-feared German 88mm Panzershreck was copied from a captured American bazooka.

The M9 Bazooka was common with U.S. Airborne troops so the set would have been incomplete without a figure carrying one. There were three potential figures with a bazooka, as can be seen in the photo inset above. However, two of them are actually firing the weapon so the Italeri figure was the only non-combat choice. 

A passing glance at the Figure and Weapons Chart above quickly reveals that the Italeri figure (far right) is somewhat bulkier than the other 12, which gave me pause. In the end, I used it anyway. First, I rationalized that human height and girth varies significantly. It turned out that the figure is 26.4mm tall, which scales out to only 6’2”, totally within the acceptable range. He is crouching a bit, which means he’s actually taller. Secondly, the figure — huge as it is — represents the gentle but slow-witted giant often seen in Hollywood movies, including the one in the aforementioned Dirty Dozen. (To my mind, the all-time greatest Hollywood brute is Andre the Giant as the unforgettable Fezzik in The Princess Bride.) And finally, it makes sense that the biggest man in the unit would carry the M9 Bazooka, one of the heaviest weapons in the paratrooper arsenal, weighing 16 lbs — two pounds less than the slightly heavier BAR. 

Browning M1919A4 Light Machine Gun

I intentionally did not include the Browning M1919A4 light machine gun in the Weapons Plate or in the discussion, as there were no figures carrying it in non-combat. However, four of the six sets include such a weapon and, for the sake of completeness, I’ve included a lagniappe photo of those four below. Referring strictly to the weapon and not the paratrooper, the ESCI machine gun (far left) has the most detail and best proportions, with the Revell and Italeri weapons closely behind. The Caesar machine gun (far right) is underscaled and has very little detail, though the paratrooper figure itself is excellent.

BMG 004
From left to right: ESCI, Revell, Italeri, and Caesar.

This concludes our lightning-fast survey of U.S. Army Airborne small arms. I hope you found the post informative. Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 4: The Finished Figures, with lots of photos of the painted figures. As always, comments, questions, corrections, and observations are welcome.

The Filthy Thirteen of the 101st Airborne Division, Part 2: Creating the Unit in 1/72 Scale

This is a follow-up to the previous post, the Filthy Thirteen, Part 1. For a synopsis of these colorful characters, please refer to that post.

It is highly unlikely that any major plastic soldier manufacturer would create a 1/72 scale set of the Filthy Thirteen, as the set would lack wide enough appeal to make it financially viable. While compulsive collectors like me would welcome such figures, the wargamers who currently drive the market would probably not find sufficient uses for them to warrant their purchase. With their distinctive Mohawk haircuts, the only other possible use for such paratrooper figures would be as Pathfinders during the Normandy invasion. Thus, the subject is one more appropriate for the resin or white metal cottage industries.

U.S. Paratroopers in 1/72 Scale

So where are we to find our Filthy Thirteen in 1/72 scale? The group can be created with just a little work. As always, our point of departure is the Plastic Soldier Review (PSR) website to determine the universe of figures available. Six major plastic soldier manufacturers have produced WWII U.S. paratroopers in 1/72 scale, with various levels of success. In chronological order of release they are:

  1. Airfix 1751 U.S. Paratroops (1975) (14 poses);
  2. ESCI 209 U.S. Paratroopers “Screaming Eagles” (1983) (14 poses);
  3. Revell 2517 US Paratroopers (1995) (12 poses);
  4. Imex 527 Easy Company (2007) (14 poses);
  5. Italeri 6131 Anti Tank Teams (2009) (4 poses); and
  6. Caesar H076 US Paratroopers (2012) (11 poses). 

Of course, some of these have been re-released by other companies. Please visit the PSR website for an excellent analysis and photos of each of these six sets.

We are fortunate that five of the six sets are excellent, with high PSR ratings in both historical accuracy and sculpting — the two characteristics most important to me. The mediocre 41-year-old Airfix set is the Original 2only exception, lacking sharpness in detail, though still not a bad effort. The ESCI, Revell, and Caesar sets each include one Pathfinder pose, fortunately with 5, 4, and 3 samples in each set, respectively. See photo inset at left. Thus, we have a total of 12 figures: three different ready-made figures and nine extra copies of those figures. To create 12 different figures with Mohawk haircuts, we take the heads of the nine extra copies and transplant them on the torsos of U.S. Airborne figures from the different sets. 

Selecting the Bodies: The Lucky Twelve

The inspiration for this effort was Joel Iskowitz’ painting (see The Filthy Thirteen: Part 1), which depicts most of the Filthy Thirteen without their helmets preparing to board a C-47 Skytrain. Naturally, paratroopers always wore their helmets on their heads in combat, regardless of how sporting their haircuts were. Thus, if our boys were to be shown bareheaded, we needed to use paratroopers not in action. Secondly, paratroopers used a number of different weapons, some of which were specially suited to their jumps. I wanted the set to reflect that variety. I therefore had but two simple criteria for selecting donor bodies: 1) they should not be overtly in action, e.g., aiming their weapons, and 2) they should represent as many of the weapons used by U.S. Airborne troops as possible.

These two parameters greatly limited selection but after careful consideration I judged the twelve figures below — out of a combined total of 69 poses from all six sets — to be least in combat and to represent most of the weapons used by U.S. paratroopers:FT DonorsEvery unit needs an officer with a pistol and the Revell figure on the far left best fit the bill, though he’s more animated than I would have preferred. Similarly, every unit has a gentle giant — at least according to Hollywood — and the slightly oversized Italeri figure on the far right met that need. In retrospect, I regret not using at least one Airfix figure so that every figure set was represented. As an aside, one of the Airfix figures is “the spitting image of John Wayne,” according to a 1975 issue of Airfix Magazine — something of a redeeming quality of the Airfix set, at least for me. As a further aside, I’m partial to the Imex set, which, to my eye, looks the most natural and best sculpted. Unfortunately for this project, all its figures are clearly engaged in combat except the two I used. 

Transplanting the Heads

Head transplants are fairly straightforward:

  1. Lop off the helmeted head;
  2. Drill a hole on the neck of the torso;
  3. Drill a hole on the base of the donor head;
  4. Superglue a tiny metal pin in the torso hole; and
  5. Superglue the donor head in place.

Presto! You’ve got brand new figures. For an excellent, detailed how-to discussion of head-switch conversions, see this Figure Conversion article on the MiniatureZone website.

The photo below shows the selected figures before and after the head transplant.FT Donors w New Heads 2

Of course, I cleaned up the seams and, where necessary, I removed excess plastic from the figures, particularly where the piece was 045blind to the mold, which is common between the midsection of the figure and a weapon when held with both hands. See the excess plastic marked in red in the ESCI figure at left. Though Caesar’s modern multi-mold process allows its sculptors to be adventurous, crafting poses that are more three-dimensional, the downside is that their figures often have excess plastic in these blind spots.

The Thirteenth Samurai

The title is a thinly veiled reference to Eiichi Kudo’s 1963 film The Thirteen Assassins — one of the best Samurai movies not directed by Akira Kurosawa. (The 2010 remake of this classic is also pretty darn good.) Incidentally, any reader who has not seen Ran, Kurosawa’s 1985 masterpiece, is missing out on the best war movie ever made — bar none — in my not unbiased opinion.

TQD Pathfinder
TQD-AA5 1944-45 US Airborne

But forgive the digression. As I mentioned, the plastic figure sets yielded a total of 12 Mohawk heads but I still needed one more to make 13. I decided to use the Pathfinder figure from the TQD-AA5 1944-45 US Airborne white metal set — to my knowledge the only other 1/72 scale Pathfinder figure in production. The photo above is from the TQD website. TQD figures are somewhat pricey compared to plastic but are generally superb, and this set is no exception: realistic proportions, fine detail, historical accuracy, and metal content, which, unlike plastic, takes paint well.

There they are: 13 U.S. Airborne 1/72 scale figures to represent the Filthy Thirteen. I hope you enjoyed the post. Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 3: Selecting the Weapons, covering the most common weapons used by U.S. paratroopers. As always, comments, questions, corrections, and observations are welcome.

The Filthy Thirteen of the 101st Airborne Division, Part 1: The Misfits

Caveat Lector!  I had more fun with this series of posts than a novice blogger ought to have, which probably means you won’t, as the next five posts are somewhat self-indulgent.

The Painting

I recently came across this fabulous painting of the Filthy Thirteen by Joel Iskowitz. It depicts the 1st Demolition Unit of the 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment of the vaunted 101st Airborne Division (that of Band of Brothers fame) as they prepared to board a C-47 Skytrain in an airfield in England on June 6, 1944. It is based on a photo published in the Stars and Stripes on June 9, 1944 — just days after D-Day. Iskowitz’s painting is reproduced here for discussion purposes under the fair use exception to the copyright laws. 1/72, 101st Airborne, 506 Parachute, 506 PIR, Battle of the Bulge, C-47, Choctaw, D-Day, Dakota, Demolition Unit, Dirty Dozen, Filthy Thirteen, Hell's Highway, Iskowitz, Market Garden, McNiece, Mike Marquez, Mohawk, Normandy, Pathfinders, SkytrainI was smitten. This is a classic example of an artist brilliantly blending art and history to create something more beautiful than either: the historical importance of the scene; the seemingly relaxed poses of the men clearly fraught with tension; the introspected expressions on their faces, which actually look like those of the real subjects; the attention to accuracy in detail, such as the weapons and equipment; the workhorse C-47 Skytrain with its alternating white-black-white invasion stripes in the background, with all the power it evokes; and the absolutely stunning sky, which despite its beauty portends the furious storm that was D-Day.

The Unit

The Filthy Thirteen — actually, it was more like “the 20 unbathed misfits” — was an elite demolition unit created and trained to undertake difficult, suicidal missions, often behind enemy lines. They were led by then-25-year-old Jake McNiece, a sergeant from Oklahoma who was half-Choctaw. They became famous after the aforementioned Stars and Stripes article was published in 1944. While the article’s overall premise was mostly accurate, it resulted in a number of myths that became the basis for the 1965 novel The Dirty Dozen, which, in turn, was the basis for the 1967 film of the same name, a blockbuster of a movie that spawned several sequels and a TV series.

Yes, the Filthy Thirteen really existed, though their story has been extensively fictionalized by a movie that bears only a passing resemblance to the real unit. No, they weren’t convicts, though some often flirted with trouble. Yes, they were filthy, bathing only once a week. No, they weren’t Native American, though they did sport Mohawk haircuts and Indian war paint in honor of their half-Choctaw leader. And yes, above all, they were misfits — the type who deliberately disobey rules they find useless, like saluting officers, yet somehow manage to get the job done. (In taped interviews, McNiece actually refers to saluting officers as “malarkey” and standing retreat as “stupid.”)

This first — professional quality — photo is the one that appeared in the 1944 Stars and Stripes article.1/72, 101st Airborne, 506 Parachute, 506 PIR, Battle of the Bulge, C-47, Choctaw, D-Day, Dakota, Demolition Unit, Dirty Dozen, Filthy Thirteen, Hell's Highway, Iskowitz, Market Garden, McNiece, Mike Marquez, Mohawk, Normandy, Pathfinders, SkytrainThe Jumps

The Filthy Thirteen participated in three of the best known episodes of the war in the European Theatre — the Normandy Invasion in France, Operation Market Garden in Holland, and the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. During the Normandy Invasion in June 1944, the Filthy Thirteen parachuted behind enemy lines, destroying two bridges and securing a third on the Douve River, which marked the boundary between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach, to prevent the Germans from reinforcing the beach heads. Of those who jumped, more than half perished during the mission.

The group made their second jump in September 1944, during Operation Market Garden, in Eindhoven, Holland. Market Garden was dependent on Highway 69 as its only route of advance and supply and the Filthy Thirteen were tasked with holding bridges to ensure that this vital corridor, which came to be known as “Hell’s Highway” because of the carnage it witnessed, remained open. This they did —  for well over two months. (That does it: it’s time to endure A Bridge Too Far, for the umpteenth time. :-) )

Following those two missions, the Filthy Thirteen disbanded and the handful who survived — I believe it was six — joined the 101st Airborne Division Pathfinder Company – an elite group of specially trained paratroopers assigned to jump into enemy territory ahead of the main force to mark landing and drop zones to guide the main force. With the 101st Airborne encircled in Bastogne in December 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge, resupply became critical. Because of the heavy cloud cover, the Pathfinders were ordered to parachute in to set up electronic beacons for C-47 aircraft to follow when dropping their sorely-needed supplies. The Pathfinders completed their mission successfully and the 101st Airborne was effectively resupplied.1/72, 101st Airborne, 506 Parachute, 506 PIR, Battle of the Bulge, C-47, Choctaw, D-Day, Dakota, Demolition Unit, Dirty Dozen, Filthy Thirteen, Hell's Highway, Iskowitz, Market Garden, McNiece, Mike Marquez, Mohawk, Normandy, Pathfinders, SkytrainI captured the photo above from a widely available video clip of the 101st on June 6, 1944, just before the Filthy Thirteen took off from England. Forgive the bad quality.

This last lagniappe photo, also captured from the aforementioned video clip, shows Jack McNiece putting warpaint on someone who, to my eyes, appears to be Mike Marquez, a Texas native who was the only Hispanic member of the team, though some have identified him as Johnny Hale. Together, all three photos form the basis of Iskowitz’s painting and you can identify all three vignettes in various parts of the scene.Screenshot (3)The Books

In addition to The Dirty Dozen (1965) novel by E.M. Nathanson, at least three nonfiction books have been published about this colorful unit: The Filthy Thirteen (2003) by Richard E. Killblane; Fighting With The Filthy Thirteen: The World War II Story of Jack Womer – Ranger and Paratrooper (2012) by Stephen DeVito; and War Paint: The Filthy Thirteen Jump Into Normandy (2013) also by Richard E. Killblane. For a detailed history of the unit, the reader is directed to these books as this synopsis was intended merely as a predicate for Part 2.

I hope you enjoyed this simple post. For those who, like me, love figure conversions, stay tuned next week for Part 2: Creating the Unit in 1/72 ScaleAs always, comments, questions, corrections, and observations are welcome. 

The Doolittle Raid, April 1942, Part 4: B-25 Mitchell Insignias for 1/72 Scale Diecast

This is the last of a four-part series on the Doolittle Raid. For details of the actual raid, B-25 Mitchells in 1/72 scale, and diorama of the take-off in 1/72 scale, please refer to the three previous posts, The Doolittle Raid, Parts 1, 2, & 3

As discussed in Part 2, models of only two of the 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers that participated in the Doolittle Raid have been made into diecast — Col. James Doolittle’s “02344” and Lt. Ted Lawson’s “Ruptured Duck.” Given that Corgi’s two Doolittle Raid Mitchells have essentially disappeared from the market, Corgi would do collectors a great service by releasing another B-25 Doolittle Raider — one with a new livery (i.e., different markings).

Corgi and Air Force 1 would have interesting alternatives at their disposal, as some of the other 14 B-25 Mitchells also had memorable artwork. The following passage is from Lt. Ted Lawson’s Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, first published in 1943. The passage follows commentary regarding constant inspections of the aircraft for possible leaks. Presumably, Lawson’s plane was found to have sprung a leak.

One morning I came out to my plane and found that somebody had chalked the words “Ruptured Duck” on the side of the fuselage. I grabbed Corporal Lovelace, a gunner I knew, and asked him to paint some sort of design on the ship. He’s a good caricaturist. Lovelace got out his stuff and painted a funny Donald Duck, with a head-set and the earphone cords all twisted around his head.

Lovelace did a swell job in blue, yellow, white and red. Then he added something that gave all of us another laugh. Under Donald Duck he drew a couple of crossed crutches.

The other boys now got busy with insignias. In a couple of days a lot of hitherto anonymous B-25’s took on such names as Hari-Kari-er (a hefty hunch), Whiskey Pete, Anger Angel, Whirling Dervish, Fickle Finger of Fate and one fellow painted the chemical formula for TNT on the side of his ship.

It is clear from the passage that several of the aircraft had personalized markings and there is actually photographic support for some.

The table below summarizes what little information I could gather from various sources on the Doolittle Raid B-25 Mitchells and their names and markings, listed in the order in which they took off from the USS Hornet:

Position Number Name Markings Insignia
1 40-2344  None No Individual Markings  
2 40-2292  None No Individual Markings  
3 40-2270 “Whiskey Pete” Name Only  
4 40-2282  None No Individual Markings  
5 40-2283  None No Individual Markings  
6 40-2298 “Green Hornet” Name Only  
7 40-2261 “Ruptured Duck”   Donald Duck Cartoon
8 40-2242  None No Individual Markings  
9 40-2303 “Whirling Dervish”   Tornado Cartoon
10 40-2250  None No Individual Markings  
11 40-2249 “Hari Kari-er”   Angel with Bomb
12 40-2278 “Fickle Finger” Name Only  
13 40-2247 “Avenger” Name Only  
14 40-2297  None No Individual Markings  
15 40-2267 “TNT”   TNT Formula Design
16 40-2268 “Bat Out of Hell” Name Only  

As is readily evident from the table, nine of the 16 Mitchells had a moniker; seven did not. Of the nine with names, four had “insignias,” as Lawson called them. Thus, our choices of liveries are limited to those four and, given that the “Ruptured Duck” has already been produced, there remain only three choices: “Whirling Dervish,” “Hari Kari-er,” and “TNT.” It is interesting to note that all three of these Mitchells were specifically mentioned in the Lawson passage quoted above.

However, it is something of a mystery why “Anger Angel,” which Lawson mentions in the passage, is nowhere to be found. Is it plane #13 “Avenger”? Did Lawson simply misremember? Is the design for “Anger Angel” lost forever? I note that since Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo was published in 1943, while memories were still fresh, it is a contemporaneous account of the episode whose accuracy should be accorded significant probative weight.

Here are the three viable alternatives:

40-2249:  “Hari Kari-er”

Let’s begin with the “Hari Kari-er,” the 11th plane to take off from the Hornet, since there is ample photographic documentation for its livery. The “Hari Kari-er” is best known for downing two Japanese fighters during the mission. According to Chun in The Doolittle Raid 1942, Osprey Campaign 156, “Hari Kari-er,” piloted by Captain C. Ross Greening, was attacked by four Kawasaki Ki-61 Hiens, known as “Tonys” to Americans, on the way to Yokohama. The Hiens were still in the evaluation phase. The “Hari Kari-er” shot down two from its dorsal turret and managed to outrun the two others, subsequently dropping its bombs on an oil refinery. Please refer to the wonderful color illustration of this episode in The Doolittle Raid, Part 1.

Below is a portside photo of the “Hari Kari-er” on the Hornet, scanned from Chun’s Doolittle Raid 1942.1/72, AA35312, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling DervishAlso from Chun’s book, here’s a close-up of the insignia on the starboard side of the fuselage: the white outline of a curvaceous angel about to release a bomb. The irony of an angel ready to drop death and destruction from above should not be lost on us, biblical though it may be. Given that the Doolittle Raid occurred only four months after the U.S. entry into the war, this is likely one of the first examples of pin-up art on an American aircraft, if indeed a naked angel can be considered a pin-up. Note the dark smudge directly in front of the bomb in the angel’s hands where the name “Hari Kari-er” was overpainted in darker olive drab, though the reason is unclear. 1/72, AA35312, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling DervishFor those of us who love color profiles, here’s one from B-25 Mitchell, Walkaround #12, by Lou Drendel, illustrated by Don Greer, reproduced here for discussion purposes under the fair use exception to the copyright laws. 1/72, AA35312, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling DervishFinally, it’s noteworthy that the Battle 360: Season One, Call to Duty episode used the “Hari Kari-er” extensively in its computer-generated imagery video production of the Doolittle Raid. I captured the photo below from that episode. Forgive the poor quality of the capture. 1/72, AA35312, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling DervishInarguably, the “Hari Kari-er” has a terrific insignia that makes it a worthy candidate for Corgi or Air Force 1 to make it into a diecast model. The probability that it was the first American plane to down a Japanese Hien in addition to the possibility that it was the first American plane of the war to display pin-up art makes the “Hari Kari-er” irresistible. 

40-2267:  “TNT”

The penultimate Mitchell to take off from the Hornet, the “TNT,” piloted by Lt. Donald G. Smith, was assigned to drop its bombs on an aircraft factory and shipyard on the outskirts of Kobe. After completing its mission, the “TNT” barely managed to reach the coast of China, where it crash landed at sea, staying afloat long enough for the five-man crew to safely board their rubber raft before the plane sunk. Though the raft was subsequently punctured when it hit the tip of one of the plane’s broken flaps, all five were able to swim to shore.

It bears mentioning that one of the five crew members of the “TNT” was the flight surgeon for the entire mission, Lt. Thomas “Doc” White, a Caltech and Harvard Medical School graduate who was also trained as a pilot, navigator, and bombardier. Through divine providence, the “Ruptured Duck” had also crash landed at sea less than a mile from the “TNT” and three of its four surviving members required medical attention. Once on land, the two crews connected and “Doc” White was able to provide medical care to the three “Ruptured Duck” crew members, saving Lawson’s life, though he had to amputate his leg. 

The profile below comes from the Academy 13202 USAAF B-25B 1/48 scale plastic kit, whose decal sheet provides this option for the B-25 Mitchell among several others. 1/72, AA35312, Academy, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling Dervish1/72, AA35312, Academy, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling Dervish

Although the design appears to be widely accepted by plastic model and decal manufacturers, I’m at a loss about its origin. Lawson clearly states in the passage cited above from Thirty Seconds that “one fellow painted the chemical formula for TNT on the side of the ship.” 

The design above is not the “chemical formula for TNT” mentioned by Lawson and, as far as I know, there is no photographic support for it, though I’d be delighted to be proven wrong. 1/72, AA35312, Academy, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling Dervish

Thus, in the absence of photographic documentation, I think a reasonable and more accurate design, based strictly on Lawson’s quote in Thirty Seconds, would be the one at left, which I drew from scratch.

Ok, I get it, I’m not an artist by any stretch of the imagination. Nonetheless, this notional design, crude as it is, is more faithful to Lawson’s description than the others currently available.

40-2303:  “Whirling Dervish”

The 9th plane to take off from the Hornet, the “Whirling Dervish” is credited with shooting down a Japanese fighter while completing its mission to bomb a tank factory in the south of Tokyo, where it dropped its entire load. In a famous newsreel clip, Pilot Lt. Harold F. Watson comments that he “had the satisfaction of seeing two of the bombs score direct hits.” Like all other Doolittle Raiders except the one that headed to Russia, the “Whirling Dervish” crash landed in China.

I’m unaware of any photos of the actual “Whirling Dervish,” but there appears to be a consensus that the design consisted of a stylized tornado wedged between the two words of the name.1/72, AA35312, Academy, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling Dervish

The profile at left comes from the aforementioned Academy 13202 USAAF B-25B Doolittle Raid plastic kit, whose decal sheet provides this option among several others. Other companies have produced very similar versions of the “Whirling Dervish” design so I have no reason to doubt it. 

It is also interesting to note that the 2001 film Pearl Harbor, the Touchstone Pictures $140 million extravaganza, shows this same insignia on the “Whirling Dervish” during the Doolittle Raid scene. It is unclear to me where the design originated but presumably Touchstone must have had a reference. I captured the photo below from Pearl Harbor.1/72, AA35312, Academy, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Pearl Harbor, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling DervishIncidentally, the details of the Doolittle Raid sequence in Pearl Harbor are about as accurate as those in a Disney movie. Still, a flawed war history movie — even accounting for the gratuitous romantic nonsense — is better than no movie, particularly in this case where the film actually follows the general outlines of the real raid.

The “Whirling Dervish” design won’t set the world spinning faster (lame pun intended) but it’s interesting and worthy of consideration.

Other Options

The blockbuster movie Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, released by MGM in 1944, provides some tantalizing possibilities. Bearing in mind that all 16 bombers were lost during the raid, including the one captured and later destroyed by the Russians, it’s patently obvious that those used in the movie were not the actual bombers. Still, the movie is not a frivolous reference as it was released in 1944, when memories were still fresh, and employed Ted Lawson, upon whose book the movie was based, as a consultant. Coincidentally, Dalton Trumbo, the subject of a recent movie himself, wrote the screenplay for Thirty Seconds. As an aside, Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, written just before the war, probably left a greater impression on me as a kid than any other anti-war novel. At any rate, I captured the photos below from the movie.


At 31:17, one gets an excellent view of the “Turkey,” referenced in the movie. To be clear, those are 500 lb. bombs falling out of the bird’s behind. :-)  Lawson did not mention this “insignia” in Thirty Seconds, so one wonders if it was conjured up specifically for the movie. Still, it’s a terrific design, in my view, and I would not be averse to seeing it in diecast.1/72, AA35312, Academy, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling Dervish“Our Little Nell”

At 55:31, one can see “Our Little Nell.” This design, too, was probably created specifically for the movie but would still look cracking on a B-25 diecast model.1/72, AA35312, Academy, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling Dervish“Ruptured Duck”

At 31:47, one gets a similar view of the “Ruptured Duck.” This last lagniappe photo is included for the sake of completeness and to point out that the Donald Duck design is identical to the one on the Corgi model. The one on the actual “Ruptured Duck,” however, may have been just slightly different, with Donald Duck wearing a sidecap.1/72, AA35312, Academy, B-25, Corgi, diecast, Doolittle, Hari Carrier, Hari Kari-er, Japan, Lawson, Mitchell, Ruptured Duck, Thirty Seconds, TNT, Tokyo, TSOT, USS Hornet, Whirling DervishThe Upshot

Diecast companies reportedly visit internet collector forums for information to improve their products. Thus, the goal of this post is to persuade Corgi and Air Force 1 that it’s high time to release another Doolittle Raid B-25 Mitchell with a new livery. My unequivocal choice would be the “Hari Kari-er.” In addition to the beautiful curvaceous angel design, the “Hari Kari-er” was probably the first American plane to down a Japanese Hien and possibly the first American plane to carry a pin-up on its fuselage during the war. Furthermore — and perhaps more importantly — there is ample photographic documentation for it.

I hope you enjoyed these four Doolittle Raid posts. Thank you for your indulgence and, as always, comments, questions, corrections, and observations are welcome.