Tuesday 6 October 2020

Holy Humbrol, Batman! - or A Whiter Shade of Pale (Grey)


Aviation of Japan's Texas correspondent Mark Smith has very kindly contributed his remembrance of building the classic Tamiya 1/48 scale Mitsubishi A6M2 Model 21 kit of 1973 with its mei hai hakushoku (明灰白色) - light/bright ash white colour following the convention of the time. Sadly the ameiro wars are still with us but more happily the adage 'It's your model!' prevails and whether butternut or whitewash battledress is chosen a Zero model is a Zero for all that. And in this case a very fine model which belies its 40 odd years of survival. Over to Mark then:


'The Tamiya 1/48 scale A6M2 Model 21 Zero released in 1973 was a real revelation for its day.  It would be over twenty years before Hasegawa attempted  a better one, and even then . . . not by much.   I remember how much I enjoyed making it, and especially trying to re-create the cockpit.  This happened after college, when life had settled down and I’d just returned to model-building.  The wonderful Monogram T-6 had lured me back around 1978; I could build it as an SNJ in Navy Yellow, and make it as a gift to my Dad.  Halfway through that build, though, I was already itching to get started on that Tamiya Zero.  The particular subject was never in doubt, having (probably like every other reader of this blog) read 'Samurai' by Saburo Sakai in high school, and then there was that dramatic box art of V-103 (shown above) straining at the leash among its Tainan Ku brothers-in-arms - still inspiring. 

'Most of the extra work invested in this model was inspired by Japanese Cockpit Interiors Part 1 by Bob Mikesh (Monogram Close-Up 14, Monogram Aviation Publications, 1976) and a couple of Bunrin-do FAOW (Famous Aircraft of the World) titles on the Zero.  This was 1979, and resin and photoetch details for models weren’t on the horizon yet.  The Tamiya cockpit detail was very good to start with; a few items I added look better for the need to make them from scratch, but most look crude by comparison with what is available now – or for that matter, what Tamiya provides the modeler in the box with their newer tool 1/48 Zeros.  

'I’ve also moved seven times since building this model.  Things got gradually crooked or missing, and I was better at building them than repairing them.  (Aileron mass balances?  Uh, V-103 didn’t have those – or it doesn’t anymore).  Well, none of us liked (or will) turning forty.  Also, even models ‘protected’ against dust all their lives . . . weren’t.  It had suffered for my insistence then on a flat finish, which besides absorbing the dust has betrayed the fuselage seams, as the putty I had depended on then expanded, shrank, or cracked.  Somehow, though, the original sprue aerial for the antenna made it through all those moves.    

'This was the first model I airbrushed, and for dedicated Japanese colors, there were a few Humbrol and Pactra paints; I used Humbrol A/N2 from their Authentics range for the overall colour.  For you youngsters A/N meant Army and Navy.  I don’t remember the Pactra Authentic paint being much different. As the next couple of decades unfolded, it would take a lot to convince me – a lot of everything: time, rationale, photographs, arguments, common sense, colorimetry, relics - how different the familiar Humbrol and Pactra shades were from IJN standards and factory applications. To be fair, though, it was like trying to convince a man raised on the Texas Plains that the earth is round.  The late Jim Lansdale’s work on j.aircraft.com, and the Japanese researchers whose work he presented, was so well-documented and wide-ranging that it couldn’t be dismissed.   This blog was a big help in further explaining early Zero colors, subsequently well presented in Nick's 2010 pdf 'Painting the Early Zero-Sen: A Primer for Modellers & Artists'* and his 2017 Guideline Publications Combat Colours 9: 'The Mitsubishi Zero'.    

'Several years ago I heard that Nick was looking for tins of Humbrol A/N2. As paint, the Humbrol was superb then, and regardless of changing paradigms, I wish I still had some as well.  This is all I have left of mine, though, besides what is on the bottom of a Mania B5N2 Kate.  So I’m resurrecting it in these images, if a few years late.  At least the cockpit colour is close!

Above, in its natural habitat - incandescent light

'This blog is also a place where old models are still welcome, however, and where no kit is discounted because it might have been supplanted by a slightly better one.  More than forty years on, this one is still very much worth buying and building, and a bargain to boot.  But please, Mr. Tamiya . . . doesn’t that sparkling new 1/48 P-38 kit need a new-tool Model 21 counterpart?'   

With special thanks to Mark for this trip down memory lane - with excellent visual aids - and I wholeheartedly endorse his comment about old kits being welcome. I used the Pactra IJ21 Grey paint on the first Hasegawa Zero model I built - from their first generation 1/72 kit. It is slightly lighter than Humbrol's HJ2 Grey but both were matched to the A/N.2 grey in the 1964 IPMS 'Color Guide for Japanese Aircraft 1941-45'.  The whiteness of the colour surprised me but accorded with most of the depictions available then including the evocative Keith Ferris painting - 'Wounded Samurai' - which adorned the Ballantine Bantam books 'Samurai!' paperback cover in 1977. Somewhat surprisingly both paints measure as Munsell Yellows - albeit of very low saturation - and are not pure neutral greys of black and white only. The compiler of the IPMS guide Charles "Chuck" Graham had based them on artifacts assumed to be from IJN aircraft in junk piles at or around Chinhai, Korea during 1946-47 so they probably represented faded or chalked examples of the original paint. To match the HJ2 paint which is no longer in the Humbrol range requires mixing 94 (!) drops of 34 Matt White with five parts of 27 Matt Sea Grey and one part 186 Matt Brown. With foresight Humbrol's Deck Bleached Teak from their Naval Vessels set might have been a better choice but that is no longer part of the range either! The original issue of the Tamiya 1/48 kit preceded their own paint range - at least the instructions simply called out 'light grey' and did not give a hobby paint reference.   

The Tamiya kit had much to commend it including sharply moulded detail, an optional open cockpit with very clear trasparencies, nicely moulded sitting and standard pilot figures and a well-chosen decal sheet offering five markings options. In addition to the Saburo Sakai Tainan Ku machine expertly modelled by Mark decals were also provided for Yoshiro Hashiguchi's 3 Ku 'X-183', Tetsuzo Iwamoto's 253 Ku '253-102' with its plethora of cherry blossom victory tallies, -110 (Tora-110) of 261 Ku (which featured on the cover of Don Thorpe's 'Japanese Naval Air Force Camouflage and Markings World War II'), and Shigeru Itaya's classic Pearl Harbor attack 'A1-101' from the carrier Akagi.  

* Now expanded to 43 pages with additional information and available to previously registered purchasers free of charge. A Nakajima supplement is in progress and will be available shortly.

 Image credits:- All model photos © 2020 Mark Smith; Box Art © Tamiya Inc., 1973; Book Cover Art © 1977 Keith Ferris via Bantam Books



Alex said...

The "White Zero" of forty years old...
Like a good old wine.
Thanks for sharing.

Jim Anderson said...

Nice Mark:

You'll have to show me this model one day. Great back story from the Super Bad 70s and all I can say is great work and long live Humbrol & Pactra!! The build still looks great and what a history; thanks for the descriptive story and cresting the horizon with your life long interest in this hobby.



Baronvonrob said...

You can't go home again according to Thomas Wolfe but this article took me there for a short while ...and for that a sincere Thanks

Dan Salamone said...

This is wonderful. Love the work that you did in the cockpit, Mark. I recall having a set of Pactra paints many years ago that had Japanese colors, IIRC the paints had dried up in their bottles. I also recall the cover of a paperback novel version of the film "Midway", with Zeroes, Kates and Vals resplendent in their off-white colors, mixing it up with F4F's. Thanks as always for sharing your work, and thanks to Nick for welcoming such contributions.


Ernest Pazmany said...

Your Reisen 21 is plain fabulous. Love that Humbrol finish. I built all three of the original Tamiya Zeke offerings-I still have them and they hold up very well to the latest releases.
Many cheers to you!
PS I finished my ‘21’ version in a spurious Luftwaffe test scheme, LOL.

Mark Smith said...

Thanks to all of you for your kind comments, very encouraging. It's ironic that such words seem both easier to offer and more frequent to receive than decades before. Maybe age has humbled us! When I built this one, the 'modeling community' was strictly local of course - no Internet yet. Many have passed or drifted away from the hobby. It included a few I'm still thankfully in touch with. But we were young back then, and full of spit and opinions. (The more times I painted something a certain way, the surer I got about it). Sometimes we could have, should have been nicer to each other. And less sure about things. Looking at that model, a lot of those opinions were wrong! The dark Hinomaru, for instance, was de rigeur then. Maybe it will make a comeback...

Jim, we should break out the masks and get together anyway. I want to try my new camera on some of your builds. I'll stay six feet away from them.

baronvonrob, thanks for bringing Thomas Wolfe into the picture here. Maybe he wouldn't have been as depressed if he'd been a modeler. You can't go home again, but since the newer kits are so expensive, you can still build the old ones.

Ernest, I would like to see some pics of that Luftwaffe Test Zero.

In the Don't Throw Those Vintage Kits Away category, personal favorites lately include Iskender Mailibayev's 1/72 Hasegawa J2M3 Raiden just seen here, and Chad Akins' build of the 1/48 Otaki Hayabusa. Keep sending!

Dan, I had the same problem with Pactra Japanese colors, as all mine quickly solidified into different color strata, and I saw this a lot even at stores. The regular Pactra colors didn't have this problem. Wish I could still find their old formula Flat Black, Roof Brown, and other colors.

Michael Thurow said...

Who of us 'seasoned' Japanese airplane modellers hasn't built this wonderful model, and in exactly the colour shade that you used? I got the Tamiya A6M2 and A6M3, the Fujimi A6M2, and a Nichimo E13A - all built in this light grey colour in the 70s and 80s. If my time doesn't run out beforehand they will all get a well-deserved overhaul and the latest dressing one day...

Thanks for sharing your happy memories of easier modelling days!

Straggler 脱走兵 said...

Hi Dan

Thank you for kindly mentioning my very small part in presenting Mark's excellent piece which included scanning the original box art from my own collection as well as the usual editorial formatting struggle with Google's horrible new interface (Blogger wasn't broke but they insisted on 'fixing' it) and adding the introductory top and concluding tail commentary.


Ken Glass said...

Very nice build, Mark & thanks to you & Nick for sharing it with us.