Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Gremlin Task Force Part 1 ~ A Contemporary Visual Record

Regular correspondent Jacob Terlouw has very kindly sent me these rare images of the SEAC (South-East Asia Command) Gremlin Task Force Ki-21 named "Doc" (GTF No. 19) as photographed at Seletar in Singapore circa 1945/46.  

The RAF administered but Japanese operated aircraft of the Gremlin Task Force are a fascinating but little documented by-way of the post-war political complexities and humanitarian turmoil that existed in French Indo-China and indeed throughout SE Asia. Back in January I described some of LAC Morton's valuable observations of 'Tabby' aircraft he had explored in Burma and Thailand and which were published in the British magazine The Aeroplane Spotter in 1946. This astute chronicler also made a record of some of the Gremlin Task Force aircraft he encountered. Most of the aircraft were named after characters in the "PO Prune" cartoons in the RAF Tee-Em magazine (of which more anon) or Snow White's Seven Dwarfs from the iconic Walt Disney cartoon film of 1937. The image below is scanned from the Aeroplane Spotter ('Japanese Notes' - Vol.VII No.160 April 20 1946) and appears to be of the same aircraft or one of the others as described.

The colour scheme is white on the upper surfaces (see below) with large blue and white SEAC roundels covering the positions of the original Hinomaru. The name 'Doc' is painted in large letters on the nose and there is a crudely painted two-digit number on the rudder. But I'll let LAC Morton take over with his wonderfully detailed descriptions of the various aircraft, exactly as published in the Aeroplane Spotter Vol. VII No. 156 February 21 1946. As usual some of the minor colour details he records fly in the face of what we think we know about Japanese aircraft...

Sally 1 (No. 14, no name) - One of the later production series. Armament removed, large open mounting for 7.7mm m/g in extreme tail. Field of fire probably 10-15 degrees in all directions. "Old type" dorsal enclosure. View from pilot's position poor. Very well streamlined motors. No spinners fitted. Camouflage - (a) Upper surfaces (including fin and rudder). White. (b) Under surfaces polished metal finish merging into upper surface camouflage. (c) Markings, small RAF blue and white roundels on under surface of wings and on each side of fuselage (standard SWPA type), very faint red crosses on top and bottom surfaces of wings on a white disc. The number '14' in blue on base of rudder (both sides).

Sally 2 (No. 10, "F/Lt Lyne Chute") - Armament removed and fitted with the tail gun position. Space for dorsal turret faired in. Very well streamlined motors, not shown in recent silhouettes in The Aeroplane Spotter. No spinners. Three bladed black metal airscrews with white tips. Both Sally 1 and Sally 2 appear to be well liked by the Japanese pilots. Handling characteristics, both in the air and on the ground, are very good. "F/Lt Lyne Chute" made the shortest twin-motor landing I have ever seen. Camouflage - (a) Upper surfaces (including fin and rudder) as for Sally 1. (b) Under surfaces. As for Sally 1. (c) Markings. As for Sally 1 but with no crosses visible. The number '10' in large blue figures on each side of the fin and rudder. "F/Lt Lyne Chute" in blue block letters on each side of the nose.

Sally 2 (No. 19 "Doc") - Details for Sally 2, described above, apply. "Doc" in blue on each side of the nose and the number '19' on rudder. White spinners fitted to this machine. Surrender markings visible below roundels. See Photographs. (Aviation of Japan Note: Alas, although reproduced here as published the quality of the images is not clear enough for these details to be seen. What happened to LAC Morton's original photographs remains a mystery).

Sally 2 (No. 17 "Happy") - Details for "Doc" apply. The numbers '17' in small blue figures on each side of base of rudder. "Happy" on both sides of nose. Surrender markings visible beneath roundels. Yellow leading edge to wing extending half way out from roots.

Tabby 3-2 (No. 27 "Fanny's Frolic") - This model 3-2 makes an interesting comparison with the earlier 2-2 described in my letter of January 10. The differences between this aircraft and its Allied counterpart are fairly well known by this time - extra windows on cabin, well streamlined motors with spinners, etc., etc. A fact not mentioned before is that the landing light is fitted on the port wing only. This particular version of the Model 3-2 had a large double loading door and although I was not able to inspect the interior, I presume it was fitted out in similar manner to the Dakota. Probably long padded seats extended down each side of the fuselage instead of the usual "ash trays" installed in the RAF version. An open D/F ring and long radio mast were fixed on top of the fuselage above crews' position. Two large hatches appeared on each side of the mast. Camouflage - (a) Upper surface (including fin and rudder). White. (b) Under surfaces polished metal finish merging into upper surface camouflage. (c) Markings, RAF blue and white roundels on wings and fuselage. Green surrender crosses could be seen faintly underneath. "Fanny's Frolic" in black on each side of nose. The number '27' in black figures on both sides of rudder. Black spinners and airscrews with white tips. Large dark olive green anti-glare panel immediately in front of cabin.

Tabby 3-2 (No. 26 "Sub/Lt Swingit") - Remarks for "Fanny's Frolic" apply. The number '26' in small black figures appeared on the rudder, while "Sub/Lt Swingit" was painted on both sides of the nose, also in black. The number '23' (in black) showed very faintly on each side of fin.

LAC Morton we who are about to model salute you!  Of interest is his emphasis on the streamlined design of the closely cowled Japanese engines, a feature that with hindsight and the familiarity of modelling we tend to take for granted but in the context of the aeronautics of that time perhaps worth appreciating a little more.  In Part 2 we'll explore a little more of the background, circumstances and surprising activities of the Gremlin Task Force and the real PO Prune with more details of the 'Topsy' (Ki-57) and 'Lily' (Ki-48) aircraft in use. Reading these evocative descriptions is a wistful reminder that a mainstream Ki-21 kit in the divine scale is still so badly needed. I'm not holding my breath but for the sake of our wallets and the potential of all those fascinating schemes let's hope it is Airfix... 

Image credits:- First two © 2013 @jacobscoll; Remaining © 1946 The Aeroplane Spotter (Temple Press Ltd.).

Saturday, 25 May 2013

William Nichols Zero

William Nichols superb build of the excellent Tamiya 1/48th scale A6M3a Type 22 Zero deservedly won first place in both the Single Engined Axis 1/48 and Best World War II Non-Armor Subject classes at his modelling club's annual show. It is a popular subject lending itself to some of the more interesting Zero colour schemes, including the original factory finish with wing IFF strips, field camouflaged examples and the later standard camouflage scheme. He has very kindly shared details of his build together with photographs of the project under way and the finished model. The model was photographed by David Geldmacher, a fellow member of William's modelling club.

On the general construction of this kit William notes the following points:
  • Align the tail pieces to the fuselage halves for best fit
  • Attach the wingtips in this order:-
  1. Glue parts G8 & G9 to the top of the wing
  2.  Align the wingtips to the upper wing
  3. Attach the lower wingtips after the bottom wing half is in place
  • Align the gun ports to the top of the wing and fair in the bottoms

The kit has a number of inaccurate details due to the use of parts common to the Tamiya Model 52 Zero. To correct these William advises the following steps :-
  • Remove the back panel from kit part A41.  This is the fire extinguisher control found on the Type 52.
  • The right side wall is also for a type 52’s radio configuration.  Follow the diagrams found in Greg Springer's article here to modify and scratch build the correct radio kit.
  • Either fill in or sand off the tread on the kit tires.  Once again this originates in the common mouldings of the Type 52 kit.

William built the kit with a couple of further modifications:-
  • The right side wall was modified to represent a plane with its radio kit removed.  Empty brackets were made from plastic card to show this.
  • Seat belts were made from layers of painters masking tape
The rest of the kit was built out-of-the-box.


The interior was painted with White Ensign Colorcoats enamel ACJ18 Mitsubishi Interior Green with the details picked out in various Citadel, Reaper and Vallejo colors. The model was primed with Gunze (GSI Creos) Mr. Surfacer from a spray can.  William notes that once upon a time this shade of primer gray would have been acceptable for the finished colour… A 50/50 mix of Gunze acrylic paints  H70 RLM 02 and H336 Hemp was applied to the exterior metal parts.  The fabric control surfaces - rudder, elevator and ailerons - were painted using Greg Springer’s Tamiya acrylic mix of: 105 drops of XF-19 Sky Grey, 15 drops of XF-25 Light Sea Grey and 20 drops XF-49 Khaki. William chose White Ensign Colourcoats enamel ACJ19 I.D. Yellow for the wing leading edge IFF strips. The cowling was painted Tamiya XF-69 NATO Black and the same colour was used for the rear decking under the canopy, the landing gear and tail code. Tamiya X-7 Red was chosen for the Hinomaru.

Once basic painting was completed the model was weathered as follows:-
  • Pro-Modeller (Flory’s) Dark Dirt wash in the panel lines
  • Faber Castell Pitt Sepia & Gray tone artist brush pens for streaks & staining
  • A highly thinned mix of Tamiya XF-64 Red Brown & XF-69 NATO Black (thinned about 2-3 drops of paint to around 10 drops of 91% isopropyl alcohol) was airbrushed along certain panel lines.  This was done by placing a piece of Tamiya tape ahead of the panel line, and airbrushing along the tape, leaving a small amount to the back of the line.
  • Tamiya Weathering Powders were used for stains exhausts
  • Light chipping was done by dipping a piece of torn sponge in Citadel Mithril Silver, daubing off the majority, then daubing the paint along wear areas, mainly along the separation lines of the cowl halves


William rated this as by far one of the most enjoyable model kits he had ever built and concludes that with a little patience and attention to detail, it can be built as an excellent representation of a mid-war Zero with only a modest effort. He has four more on the shelf waiting to be built, and plans to add more in future.  The Type 22 is his favorite incarnation of the Zero and he recommends this kit to modelers of all skill sets.

Image credits: All photographs © 2013 William Nichols

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Dan Salamone's Isuzu TX 40 Airfield Tractor Project

Dan Salamone's interest in Japanese airfield vehicles motivated him to embark on a challenging project to replicate a 1/48th scale Isuzu TX 40 airfield tug from a single image showing two such vehicles on the tarmac at Hamamatsu towing Mitsubishi Ki-21 "Sally" bombers. Using the Hasegawa kit the project was conducted in tandem with a TX-40 fuel truck with the intention of scratch-building canvas cab roofs for both.

The images show the amount of work needed to turn the basic TX 40 kit into this tug. The chassis has been severely chopped, the cab has been "sectioned" to narrow it, and all the white items are totally scratch built using Evergreen sheet plastic, strips and rods. The same approach could be taken in 1/72nd scale using the intermittently available Hasegawa kit in that scale and hopefully Dan's images will serve as an inspiration to have a go.

The fenders were made two years ago, but just finally attached. Heat formed around a wooden dowel, then cooled. The tool boxes were created over the past few days. The large rear tool bin was a tedious process as it has quite a bit of internal structure to maintain it's shape.

Dan's favorite parts are the tow hitch and rear frame member. These parts were also made two years ago, and for reference he used images of other period truck frames. In his words - Shep Paine's "creative gizmology"!

There are gaps to fill and some detail work still awaits, but Dan is happy at getting the project to this point. It is apparent how much has gone into the work and the excellent results are apparent even before completion. Dan is now awaiting an injection moulded 1/48th Ki-21 to tow behind it . . . In fact a decent Ki-21 is needed in both scales and it is a mystery why this most important of Army bombers continues to be avoided by mainstream kit manufacturers. 

With thanks to Dan for the images and details of the project and for kindly allowing me to share them here.

Image credits: All © 2013 Dan Salamone


Tuesday, 7 May 2013

What a Thing of Beauty!

This is a teaser image of the new-tool Airfix Gloster Gladiator due out at the end of this month. But what is it doing here?  In a word - or three words actually - Chinese Gladiator Aces!

Image credit: © 2013 Kaburaya, posted at 72nd Aircraft