Sunday 17 July 2016

Avia Ba-33 in Japanese Army Service

For those looking for something unusual, in 2013 AZ Model released a rather neat little 1/72nd kit of the attractive Avia Ba-33 biplane fighter in Japanese Army markings. This aircraft was actually a BH-33L powered by a Skoda 450-500hp engine. In March 1930 one example of the 80 BH-33L aircraft built, s/n 1020, was sent to Manchuria as a demonstration aircraft sponsored by the Skoda Works, Shanghai, which represented the Czech Avia company in China.  Manchuria at that time was under the control of Chang Hsüeh-liang, the son of the warlord Chang Tso-lin and known as "the Young Marshal". In 1928 Chang had joined with the nationalist Kuomintang government of China and his nascent air force became the North-Eastern Air Force.

The BH-33L was assembled at Mukden (Fentien, re-named Shenyang in 1929) by Avia mechanic Vacek and then on 12 June test flown by Avia company pilot Cestmir Hanus. In October 1930 it was flown in trials for the benefit of the Headquarters of the North-Eastern Air Force with a Dewoitine D.27 and Letov S.131. Although the Avia aircraft proved superior in the trials it was disassembled and put into bonded storage in a Mukden hangar. 

On 18 September 1931 Japanese Army troops occupied Mukden and seized the airfield together with all the aircraft stored there. In October the Avia was re-assembled and re-painted with Japanese markings. It was reportedly used by the Japanese for air observation and ground attack sorties in the Qiqihar area of operations in China. Avia petitioned the Japanese government that the aircraft was Czech property and requested payment of US$30,000. Even though Marshal Chang confirmed the ownership of the aircraft the Japanese at first refused to return it or pay for it. Avia petitioned the Japanese Army command in Mukden, the Japanese Army General Staff in Tokyo, the Czech consulate in Harbin and the Czech Embassy in Japan and eventually on 17 March 1933 the Japanese Kwangtung Army accepted the claim and paid for the aircraft. Its ultimate fate is unknown.

The Ba-33/BH-33L demonstrator was reported to have been originally finished in the standard Czech air force colours of khaki on the upper surfaces and aluminium dope underneath. The AZ instructions show an unusual demarcation of colours around the nose which appears slightly different to that shown by the only known photograph of the aircraft at Mukden, published in the Czech magazine HPM of November 1994 (above). The Avia applied khaki appears to have been a little lighter than the usual Czech Air Force colour and is available from Agama in both enamel and acrylic paints. Whether the aircraft was really re-painted by the Japanese in the 'Japan Dark Green' suggested by AZ is uncertain but the application of the large Hinomaru to the tail surfaces was not a standard presentation and appears to be based on the Czech air force markings. In addition to the Japanese markings the kit provides two alternate schemes for a Czech and Slovak machine.

The kit is injection moulded in grey plastic with an alternative resin prop for use with this version and injection moulded clear parts for the windscreen and what appears to be some kind of gunsight in front of the windscreen (?). The moulding is sharp but the rib tapes on the wings and tail are rather prominent and would benefit from a light sanding. Armament consisted of two cowling mounted 7.7mm synchronised machine guns. Images of the sprue frame and a built-up example of the kit in its Japanese markings may be found here.

Update: Gary Lai has kindly sent a link to his blog here where he has published an old magazine image of another photograph of the assembled Avia in the hangar at Mukden. The dark tone of the image may have suggested the idea that the aircraft had been re-painted.

With special thanks to Mirek Kárník for his assistance with this article, to Gary Lai for sending the link to his blog and also acknowledging Lennart Andersson's 'A History of Chinese Aviation' (AHS of ROC 2008) as an invaluable reference source.

Image credits: Box art and profile © 2014 AZ Model; Photo © 1994 HPM magazine via Mirek Kárník; Postcard and plan images via net.      

Thursday 14 July 2016

Love of Plastic Models - Ki-44 Models

The blog owner of プラモデルが好きだ!」のホームページです。 ('Love of Plastic Models! Homepage') has very kindly given permission to showcase some of his classic and very beautiful Ki-44 Shoki models built from the Hasegawa and Otaki/Arii kits to 1/48th scale. The love shines through and at the blog there is a very nice build of the UPC 1/50th 'Kamikaze' Ki-15 kit as well as other gems including a super collection of P-40s.

Aircraft modelling is a broad church but the trend in recent years has been towards the replica - a miniaturisation of the real thing where art often exceeds life - rather than the model which possesses such charm for being what it is and no more. The temptation is always to improve and superdetail kits, which often contibutes more to the unbuilt stash than to the display case and is one of the main factors in inducing 'AMS' - Advanced Modelling Syndrome - where enthusiasm is replaced with angst, production efficiency with trepidation, a sense of achievement with dissatisfaction and the works eventually get gummed up. Modelling forums where new kits now get picked over to the enth degree for their inevitable flaws and old kits, often respectable enough, get panned as not worth bothering with, can intimidate as much as inspire. And so the pure art of modelling gets somewhat lost in a kind of competitive technocracy of detail. 

I built aircraft models throughout the 1960s but they were by no means 'clean' models. Although my efforts gradually improved, at first there were no filled seams, canopy frames remained unpainted and the horrid printers ink RAF roundels in Airfix kits were accepted in all their bright blue and vermilion lack of splendour. There was something seriously discouraging about matt brown and green paint slapped on with a brush, with the sky blue plastic grinning through and those lacklustre roundels. Although I subscribed to Airfix magazine the tiny monochrome and often fuzzy images of made up models served as no benchmark to my own lack of skill. I  used to wonder at the Frog models built by a neighbour's Dad with their gloss Extra Dark Sea Grey and Sky paint so carefully applied but could not discern what it was that made such a difference. My own first attempt at painting canopy frames freehand on a model was on the LS Ki-67 'Hiryu' bomber kit, a circa 1968 Christmas present from my Grandmother, substantially aided by the moulding.

It was not until the mid-1970s when I discovered the American 'Scale Aircraft Modeler' magazines with their full page colour images of professionally photographed and largely built out of the box models that the charm and inspiration of 'clean' models became apparent. It was like a re-awakening of enthusiasm where skills within reach and focussed on care in finishing brought immense satisfaction and a sense of achievement. Those magazines took me straight back to the model shop with a new found determination to enjoy modelling again in the most simplest of ways. An Otaki Hayabusa took shape on the table, built and painted more carefully than ever before but with no "added ingedients". In my humble opinion the pure form of the airframe is presented and celebrated by such models such that one can still admire the beauty of a Frog Sea Fury, say, without getting hung up on its wheel hub detail.       

With special thanks to the 'Plamo' blog owner for allowing me to share these images of such splendid Ki-44 models.

Saturday 2 July 2016

The Somme 2nd July 1916

There were 202,567 French casualties during the Somme battle, their ordeal sometimes overlooked. The candid photograph above was taken by my paternal grandfather, whom I never knew. He served in the Automobile Service of the French Army. He was not French but spoke fluent French and was an automobile engineer specialising in early motor transport. By a strange coincidence he had dealings with Japanese Army liaison officers who appear in one of his photographs. His eldest son, my uncle, whom I also never knew, served alongside him. This is one of just a handful of photographs saved from a bonfire where they had been consigned by my aunt as memories too painful to look at.  Note the German medical orderlies working alongside the French, making the pity of war even more poignant.

My grandfather is at left in the photograph above, with his left leg raised and resting on the vehicle wreckage. His uniform is of the British Army but bears the horizon blue collar tabs and flaming grenade insignia of the French Army. Below that is the haunting image of his eldest son, Gordon. Apart from a few photographs the only tangible memories of my uncle Gordon are a presentation copy of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey awarded to him in the Preparatory Form of Raneleigh School, Bracknell, Berkshire in December 1912 and a wooden biscuit barrel with a silver escutcheon engraved "To Mother from Gordon, Xmas 1915", testimony to his very young age when he went to France to accompany his father.  My own late father, two years old when the war began, had fleeting memories of my grandfather returning on leave from France and the gift of a French Army 'Adrian' helmet, now sadly lost.

Forgive the indulgence here at the blog but the past few days, as the Somme commemorations kindle family memories of the Great War, the albums are brought out to wonder at and so many people seem to presume that Anglo-French co-operation and friendship can only exist within the confines of the EU, I have been thinking of these two men, my grandfather and my uncle.

Image credits: All personal 

Friday 1 July 2016

The Somme 1st July 1916

One hundred years ago today, on 1st July 1916, 600,000 British, Empire and Commonwealth soldiers went "over the top" for the Somme offensive. 19,240 were killed and 57,740 wounded.

HAVE you forgotten yet?...   
For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,   
Like traffic checked a while at the crossing of city ways:   
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow   
Like clouds in the lit heavens of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,         
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.   
But the past is just the same,—and War's a bloody game....   
Have you forgotten yet?...   
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.   
Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz,—   
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?   
Do you remember the rats; and the stench   
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench,—   
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?   
Do you ever stop and ask, "Is it all going to happen again?" 
Do you remember that hour of din before the attack,—   
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then   
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?   
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back   
With dying eyes and lolling heads, those ashen-grey     
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?   
Have you forgotten yet?...   
Look up, and swear by the green of the Spring that you'll never forget.  

('Aftermath' by Siegfried Sassoon, 1919)