Tuesday 17 May 2016

Curtiss Hawks, China and French Gray

Back in 2013 I blogged a two-parter on Curtiss Hawk monoplanes for China, here and here. I had not planned to blog about the earlier biplane Curtiss Hawks operated in China because there is already "so much out there" but a little serendipity came into play when Mark Smith kindly emailed me a snippet from Dana Bell posted at Hyperscale:-

" . . . the colors applied to Hawk IIIs being exported to China in 1936. A few weeks back I tripped across Curtiss' export application, which included notes that the finish was to match Berry Brothers French Gray 1258. The blue for the insignia was to match Berry Curtiss Blue 1263."

In Ref 2. it is asserted that all the Hawk IIIs were originally destined for the Cantonese Air Force and subsequently taken over by the Republic of China Air Force (RoCAF). The aircraft of the Cantonese Air Force were painted grey, usually depicted as a cool light grey as with the Old Man's excellent model of a Cantonese Curtiss Hawk I here, whose build report also usefully explains the confusing relationship between the Republic of China and the semi-independent enclave of Canton.

Dana Bell suggested that the aircraft were probably re-painted green in China with, presumably, the under surfaces remaining in the French Gray - or not! Photographs of the Hawk III in Chinese service show a very dark - and quite glossy - overall colour (see heading image) or a lighter, duller colour with a lighter painted undersurface. Tonal effects in monochrome photographs can vary and be quite confusing as these images of the same Curtiss Hawk III 'Ningbo Special' demonstrate. Therefore where exactly that French Gray comes in - or doesn't - is puzzling.

Berryloid 1258 French Gray

Thanks to Michael McMurtrey who kindly passed on these images via Mark Smith and to Ed Seay Jr. of M-A-L Hobby Shop in Irving, Texas who kindly gave permission for the original chips to be examined and photographed we now have some idea of what Berryloid French Gray 1258 might have looked like. And it appears a distinctly greenish grey! That this is not just age related yellowing distorting blue into green is suggested by delving into the history of the colour 'French Grey' and the fact that the current BS381c 630 French Grey is quite similar to the Berryloid colour, being a distinctly greenish grey. 630 is a Munsell Green Yellow and very close to FS 16376 in appearance.

Like the Zero's amber grey in monochrome photographs this colour might appear either quite light or more mid-toned and could even be described by some as "khaki". It is not far off the light greenish-grey colour of Royal Hong Kong Police summer uniforms which were always described as "khaki" in official documentation.

Berryloid Curtiss Blue 1263

Berryloid Curtiss Blue 1263 for the national insignia is less surprising but is a rather lighter and greyer blue than the expected standard for RoCAF insignia.

Serials, Deliveries and Units

There is disparity in the designation of the first Chinese Hawk biplanes with Ref.2 insisting on Curtiss Hawk I whilst Refs.3 and 4 use Curtiss Hawk II. According to Ref.1 the Chinese Nationalist government placed an order for 17 Curtiss Hawk Type 1 (Landplane Design 35-A) with Curtiss manufacturer serial numbers 11733 to 11749 and series serials H-47 to H-63 which were delivered in June and July 1933. Another 14 aircraft were delivered in August 1933 with the s/n 11770 to 11783 and H-66 to H-79. In addition to those Ref.3 attributes the delivery of another 18 aircraft without engines and manufacturer or series numbers from 15 March 1933 to 8 May 1933.

The Curtiss Hawk III (design 68-C) "China Demonstrator" was delivered in March 1936 with the manufacturer serial number 12095. This aircraft was reportedly painted overall olive drab with an aluminium interior and Chinese insignia on upper and lower wings, each side of the forward fuselage and rudder. This was followed by an order for 59 s/n 12096-12154 (Ref.1) or 60 s/n 12096-12155 (Ref.3) aircraft delivered from 16 May to 7 August 1936. Those aircraft were described as being painted overall 'khaki' with aluminium interiors and standard Chinese insignia. In addition 11 aircraft s/n 12175-12185 were delivered to Canton, according to Ref.3 from 1 May to 17 July 1936. The Canton aircraft were painted 'French Gray' with aluminium interiors and 'semi-standard' Chinese insignia (presumably incorporating the outer red ring).

According to Ref.3 a further 30 Hawk III were delivered from 12 April to 7 June 1938 with the s/n 12726 to 12755. According to Ref.1 this was an order for 29 sets of parts to build the Hawk III at the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation (CAMCO).  The "missing" aircraft was probably another demonstrator aircraft delivered to Canton in May, 1936.

The Hawk IIIs were assigned to the 7th Fighter Squadron at Sinsiang, 4th Air Group's 21st, 22nd and 23rd Fighter Squadrons based respectively at Chih Chiachwang, Taming and Tsinan, and to the 5th Air Group's 24th and 25th Fighter Squadrons based at Tsinan. The 5th Air Group's 28th Fighter Squadron operated the Hawk I from Nanchang and the Canton Hawk IIIs were taken over as the 29th Fighter Squadron at that city. At first the aircraft were identified by large white four-digit numbers painted on the fuselage sides, the first two digits identifying the squadron and the last two the individual aircraft number. By the end of September 1937 six of the Canton Hawk IIIs had been shot down and only one of the three surviving aircraft was serviceable. In addition to assembling the Hawk aircraft from parts a number of crashed aircraft were salvaged and re-built by CAMCO and at Shiuchow.  

The Duality of French Gray  

Originally French Gray was the description used for a distinctly light blue grey colour, evidenced by early recipes for the paint colour. In the 18th Century the pigments used were a lead white base to which were added Prussian blue, vermilion (red) and charcoal black to the lead white base, resulting in a very slightly purplish light blue-grey. The 19th century edition of John Smith’s 'The Art of Painting', an English housepainting manual, suggests that French Grey could be created as follows:-

“Take white lead and Prussian blue, or blue verditer; and, to make a more beautiful and pleasant colour, take a small quantity of Lake or Vermilion”

By way of a slight digression, in 'Chromatography; or, a Treatise on Colours and Pigments, and of their Powers in Painting' (1835) the chemist George Field had made a distinction between grey and gray, now largely reduced to a matter of transatlantic spelling. Whilst grey was asserted to be a simple mixture of black and white, the presence of a third subsidiary pigment resulted in a gray. In the case of French Gray it was held that a small amount of red or ultramarine pigment made the grey 'warm' and more attractive. This distinction has been effectively lost by common usage and British or American conventional spelling.

Samples in various early publications show a cool light grey, only very slightly blueish, and nothing like the greenish-grey Berry or BSi colour. At what stage perception transitioned to include a greenish grey is unknown but BS381 of 1930 includes # 30 French Grey which is also a greenish grey closely similar to the Berryloid and current BS381 colour. However the uniform facings of the British Army's 21st Lancers were also officially 'French Grey' and the light blue-grey hue attributed to the term is apparent from their extant uniform artifacts and imagery.

French Grey facings for the 21st Lancers

The duality in the perception of this colour is therefore problematic, especially when it comes to the prototype Spitfire, happily OT for this blog*, also reported to have been painted in 'French Grey'. An earlier incarnation was reportedly finished in a greenish-grey primer. Does the description of French Grey refer to that or to the supposed light blue-grey Supermarine seaplane colour in which it later appeared?

No answers here I'm afraid, just more stuff to ponder about. My suggestion for a Chinese Curtiss Hawk III model would be to apply the French Gray first as a primer coat and then reveal it selectively through wear of the overall dark olive green camouflage. For two tone subjects whether the under surface should be represented as the French Gray or painted in the Chinese sky blue is a matter of personal choice.

* The Republic of China had attempted unsuccessfully to purchase Spitfire I from the British. If sold those would probably have been the earliest models with flat canopies and two-bladed props but it is interesting to speculate what the outcome might have been had Chinese Spitfires faced the appearance of the Mitsubishi Zero over Chungking in the summer of 1940.


Ref 1. 'Curtiss Fighter Aircraft - A Photographic History 1917-1948', Dean F H & Hagedorn D, (Schiffer 2007)
Ref 2. 'A History of Chinese Aviation - Encyclopedia of Aircraft and Aviation in China until 1949', Andersson L, (AHS of ROC 2008)
Ref 3. 'The Curtiss Hawks', Shamburger P & Christy J, (Wolverine Press 1972)
Ref 4. 'The American Fighter', Angelucci E with Bowers P (Orion 1987)

Monday 9 May 2016

New RS Models Ki-61-I Ko in 1/72

Following on from their 1/72 Hien Otsu, Hei and Tei kits, RS Models are showing a new Ki-61-I Ko with splendid box art at their website, release date TBC. This looks to include the retractable tailwheel and doors of this first operational Hien variant as extra resin parts and presuming they get the wing gun panel fairings correct it will be the first true Ko to be represented in this scale since the somewhat iffy Revell kit of 1963.

The decal sheet provides markings for three subjects:-
  • Ki-61-I Ko of Akeno Flying School, Japan, 1943 in plain natural metal finish  
  • Ki-61-I Ko of 2nd Chutai, 68th Hiko Sentai, New Guinea, 1944 in a dark green disruptive camouflage over natural metal
  • Ki-61-I Ko of Sgt Matsumi Nakano of the 244th Hiko Sentai air-to-air ramming unit in dark green with a red painted tail- see attached comment from Ronnie Olsthoorn re aerial mast and armament if planning to build this subject!

Hasegawa Tei vs RS Models Tei

I haven't built the RS Models Tei kit yet but I have compared it to the older Hasegawa Tei kit, noticing the following differences: 
  • The RS kit is better detailed and broken down into more parts, having approximately twice as many parts as the Hasegawa kit, for example the radiator and the distinctive fairing behind the pilot's sear are separate and more detailed, multi-part components in the RS kit
  • The RS cockpit is more detailed with the cowling guns represented and with fuselage halves having sidewall detail whereas the Hasegawa kit has no sidewall detail. The gunsight is not represented at all in the Hasegawa kit but is a separate part in the RS kit
  • The RS kit has more panel line detail with rivets represented on wing and tailplane fairings
  • The RS kit has a separate upper cowling panel with a finer representation of the gun troughs
  • The RS kit has deeper and more accurate wheel wells
  • The RS main wheel covers have correct details on the inner faces and the small inboard doors have separate retraction yokes whereas the Hasegawa parts are plain. However the undercarriage legs in the RS kit are chunkier and less well defined than in the Hasegawa kit.
  • The RS kit has separate drop tank racks on the wings whereas the Hasegawa kit has them moulded integrally to the wings - the RS drop tanks are also a better shape and more detailed
  • The RS spinner has a backplate whereas the apertures in the Hasegawa kit spinner for the propeller blades are open to the rear; prop blades in the Hasegawa kit are a bit on the weedy side
  • The Hasegawa canopy has better defined frames
  • Both kits have engraved surface detail and the same unrealistic "Hasegawa-type" representation of fabric surfaces with fine raised lines to represent ribs and rib tapes
  • Both kits require clean up and the RS kit has no locating pins
  • RS decals are ok with well chosen, nicely saturated colours
Generally the Hasegawa kit is a simpler proposition reflecting its age and FWIW I think the forward cowling "pinch-in" and spinner are slightly better shaped than on the RS kit which has a slightly more slender and pointed nose. However the RS kit is the correct length forward of the wings whereas the Hasegawa kit is slightly under length. The shortness in the Hasegawa kit is in the section between the wing leading edge and the rear panel line for the swing down lower cowling. The Hasegawa kit is missing the long, slim fairings just above the wing roots which are represented in the RS kit and distinctive on the Tei. The RS kit also has provision for the venturi sometimes seen on the left side of the cowling. 

Having compared the RS Models Tei to both the Hasegawa and Fine Molds kits I can confirm that it is not a copy of either. It is differently engineered, has different dimensions, different moulding and different surface detail.

Swings and roundabouts for the Hien builder. The Hasegawa kit is an easy, straightforward build and still results in a good looking model if you are not too bothered about all the small details. The RS kit has more detail but will probably be the more challenging build. Both have minor nose issues.

With Aoshima set to release a new Ki-61-I series and a future AZ Models Ki-61 family announced last year it looks like the Hien modeller is going to be spolit for choice!

Image credits: All images of RS Models Ki-61 series © 2015/16 RS Models; Hasegawa Ki-61 box art © circa 1982 Hasegawa Seisakusho Co., Ltd.

Saturday 7 May 2016

Sean's 1/72 Ki-84 Hayate

Britmodeller Sean has very kindly shared these images of his straight from the box build of the classic Hasegawa Nakajima Ki-84 Hayate in 1/72nd scale.

Sean painted some of the red, yellow and blue markings as the kit decals other than the Hinomaru were not useable but otherwise reports that the kit was a pleasure to build, fitted together nicely and without the need for any filler.

The scheme represents an aircraft of the 2nd Chutai of the 29th Hiko Sentai, on Taiwan in 1945. The spectacular blue 'wave arrow' marking, once the subject of controversy and scepticism, was confirmed by a photograph clearly showing it on a derelict Ki-44 in the Philippines.  

1978 Hasegawa Catalogue Image
 1982 Release as B18
This kit was first announced as 'N1' in Hasegawa's 1978 kit catalogue with a photograph of the surviving Hayate in flight, but like its companion Ki-43-II in the same scale was not released until 1982 as kit # B18 in the "blue flash" box. Box art by Shigeo Koike depicted the 29th Hiko Sentai example but alternative decals were included for '327' of the 73rd Hiko Sentai in 1944 in the factory-applied olive drab scheme with a colour profile of that aircraft on the side of the box.

 1987 Release as 504

 1994 release as SP132 with Aeromaster Decals

The kit was re-issued in a new style box in 1987 as Kit # 504 with the same Shigeo Koike art but re-sized and presented. The parts were still in dark green plastic but the alternative markings were now for aircraft '40' of the 1st Chutai, 47th Hiko Sentai at Narimasu, Japan in 1945, also in the olive drab scheme. In 1994 the kit was released again in both the standard 'orange' AT series and as a special edition SP132, this time moulded  in grey plastic with the addition of a set of Aeromaster Decals (the 1987 issue decal sheet was still included). This provided markings (shown below), including Hinomaru, for two special attack Hayate of the 57th and 182nd Shinbutai, as flown respectively by Lt Yoshitoku Itoh from Shimodate on 17 May 1945 and 1Lt Takeshi Imoto from Tatebayashi in August 1945, the latter aircraft reported to have been painted dark purplish blue on the upper surfaces. Both aircraft had large lightning flash emblems on their fuselages. The kit has been re-issued several times since in special editions with new box art and decal sheets, of which more anon. There are no mainstream competitors to this classic kit in 1/72nd scale.

With special thanks to Sean for sharing these images of his classic model.

Image credits: Model photos © 2016 Britmodeller Sean; Box art © 1982, 1987, 1994 Hasegawa Seisakusho Co., Ltd.; Decal sheet & instructions © 1994 Aeromaster Decals via Hasegawa Seisakusho Co., Ltd.

Sunday 1 May 2016

Matt Lund's 1/48 Ki-10

Matt Lund has kindly given permission to showcase his out-of-the-box build of Fine Molds excellent 1/48th scale Kawasaki Ki-10 (Army Type 95 Fighter) here. The model is finished in the striking markings of an aircraft flown by 1Lt Iori Sakai of the 2nd Chutai, 2nd Hiko Daitai (Flying Battalion) from Changtse (aka Changte and 'Shotoku'?) landing ground near Anyang, China during 1938. This was Aikoku (Patriotism) presentation aircraft 138. 1Lt Sakai claimed five victories in three combats flying with the 2nd Hiko Daitai, later claimed eight victories flying the Ki-27 in the 64th Sentai over Nomonhan and became the 2nd Chutai leader. After a period as an instructor at the Akeno flying school he was promoted to the rank of Major and assigned to the Army Flight Testing Centre where he first tested and flew the Ki-61 on home defence sorties, claiming a single B-29, and then the Ki-100.

The 2nd Hiko Daitai had been formed at Tachikawa in July, 1937 from the 5th Hiko Rentai (Flying Regiment) and was commanded by Major Saburo Kondo, a non-flying officer. Its two Chutai were commanded by Captains Tateo Kato and Kazue Sato respectively. At the end of July the 2nd Hiko Daitai moved to Tientsin, China where it was joined by the 9th Dokurutsu Hiko Chutai (Independent Flying Squadron). The role of these units was to support Army ground operations pushing south-west from the Peiping-Tsientsin area towards Paoting and Shihkiachwan. During these operations the Ki-10's radiator unsurprisingly proved vulnerable to ground fire, causing a number of losses.

By September 1937 Paoting had fallen and Captain Tateo Kato's 1st Chutai moved there. The 1st Chutai had engaged in more air combat than the 2nd Chutai, which had been flying ground attack sorties, but at Paoting the 1st Chutai's aircraft were also fitted with bomb racks beneath the fuselage as Chinese air activity had abated. Towards the end of October the unit was at Shihkiachwan and operating from 'secret' landing grounds created very close to the front lines. During this period the unit continued ground support operations but also engaged Chinese reconnaissance and patrol aircraft operating over the front.

 Map showing area of 2nd Hiko Daitai air operations from Tsientsin towards Sian (Xian) during 1937-38 (Circles signify major airbases, squares signify secondary airfields and triangles signify landing grounds or forward airfields)

In December, 1937 the Hiko Datai HQ and 2nd Chutai moved to Taiyuan and in January 1938 the whole unit moved on to Anyang to support operations against Sian (Xian), flying ground attack sorties against Chinese airfields to the south and west as well as engaging, amongst other types, Chinese flown Gloster Gladiators. In March 1938 Major Tamiya Teranishi, who was a flying officer, was appointed to command the unit, as Major Kondo was posted to Akeno Flying School. There began a period of air combat in support of the Army's Suchow operation where the first 'aces' emerged. The 2nd Hiko Daitai went on become the nucleus of the 64th Hiko Sentai with its 1st Chutai leader Tateo Kato winning fame as its commander.

The Ki-10 was finished overall in the standard Army grey-green colour (灰緑色) applied as a topcoat over a primer coat of ash-indigo colour ( 灰藍色 - dark grey blue) and an intermediate coat of light blue colour (淡青色), then sanded and polished for smoothness.  There was probably some minor variation in the appearance of the finish on metal and fabric components. Notwithstanding Fine Molds instructions the interior was probably painted in the ash indigo colour in accordance with prevailing Army practice - certainly photographs of the cockpit show a dark coloured paint.

With special thanks to Matt Lund for kindly sharing the images of his excellent model and to Ken Glass for additional background information, discussion and pointers about the 2nd Hiko Daitai and Ki-10 aircraft.

  • Part One of '64th Flying Sentai' trilogy by Dr Yasuho Izawa, Aero Album. Volume 9, Spring 1970.
  • 'Japanese Army Air Force Fighter Units and their Aces', by Ikuhiko Hata, Yasuho Izawa & Christopher Shores, Grub Street, 2002
  • 'Kawasaki Ki 10 Perry' by Tadeusz Januszewski & Zygmunt Szeremeta, Tenzan, 2007

Image credits: All model photographs © 2016 Matt Lund; Map extract from 'Airfields in Occupied and Unoccupied China', American Embassy, Chungking, February 1943.