Friday 17 May 2024

Babs Kitography - 1/72 scale Part 2 Hasegawa

Hasegawa re-released the Mania Ki-15-I kit as A31 in the 'red flash' box shown above, titled in English 'Mitsubishi BABS Ki-15-I Japanese Reconnaissance Plane'. There is a block of small Japanese text  about the aircraft which mentions the counter sunk rivets followed by a Japanese title 'Type 97 Headquarters Reconnaissance Aircraft Type 1 - Japanese Army Headquarters Reconnaissance Aircraft'.

Scalemates gives the year as 1977 whilst Burns* lists 1978 to 1980 which seems more probable. The box does not display a copyright date. The Mania box art was reprised by Shigeo Koike for the Hasegawa release with a closer look at the anonymous kumogata camouflaged Babs, this time being chased by sharkmouth P-40Es in Chinese markings. An anachronism as the aircraft is again identified as being from the Aoki Butai in 1938. Two other options are provided on the decal sheet, both overall light grey, an aircraft of Hiko Dai 28 Sentai's 1st Chutai and an aircraft of Dokuritsu Hiko Dai 17 Chutai, illustrated on the side of the box with a colour profile. The instruction sheet shows a photograph of the model (below) with the red fuselage flash of Dokuritsu Hiko Dai 16 Chutai, but this is not presented as a markings option. It also reveals the curious canopy framing of the Mania kit.

The green and brown kumogata camouflage is referenced to Gunze Mr Color # 16 IJA Green described as 'dark green' and the brown a mixture of # 7 Brown and # 33 Flat Black but no proportions are given.  Under surface, described as 'light grey', is referenced to # 56 IJA Gray - # 56 is now IJN Grey Green (Nakajima)! Colour call outs for the interior were given in the instructions, also referenced to Gunze Sangyo paint numbers of the time. Note that the colours of joystick and bulkheads are not cited but the fuselage half interior is cited as 'blue bamboo colour' - aotake. More about Babs colours in due course.

The Ki-15-I kit was re-released from 1982 to 1988 in a new box as B3 with blue flash, shown above, but the box art and contents were unchanged.

In 1989 the kit was re-issued in a plain box of flecked pale green card with inset monochrome box art and numbers 51511 and SP11:600, shown above. The reasoning behind this style of box, also used for other kits such as the Ki-48 'Lily', is uncertain but might have been inspired by the plainer brown 'cardboard' boxes in which Nitto and others were marketing the Maschinen Krieger SF3D armoured fighting suit kits in the mid-1980s. For the first time the box displayed prominent Japanese script for 97 Shi-tei (九七司偵). The instructions and decal options were unchanged from A31 and B3.

In 1995 the kit box reverted to colour with new art by Shigeo Koike, shown above, reflecting the development of his artistic style since 1978. This edition boasted the inclusion of a sheet of Aeromaster decals for a camouflaged  Ki-15-I of 'Flight Company 18th Squadron, 1939-41' with tiger motif as depicted on the box art, and an overall gray aircraft of 'Flight Company 50th Squadron, 1941-42'. The kit itself was unchanged and a photograph of a completed model on the side of the box again showed the strange canopy framing. There were revised suggestions for interior painting with Gunze 126 Cockpit Color (Mitsubishi) for the sidewalls and bulkheads, but continuing with 43 Wood Brown for the cockpit floor and 41Red Brown for the pilot's seat.

The 18th's distinctive tiger insignia was first adopted by Captain Yoshitsugu Aramaki in April 1939, painted in the Chinese style on the rear fuselage. In 1942 a member of the ground staff Mamoru Tanaka painted an enlarged version of the tiger on the tail of the aircraft as a 'tiger running in the skies', alluding to a Chinese myth where the tiger could roam 1,000 miles in a day and return home. Later the tigers were painted by artist Hidekuni Takagi, who was living in Hankow at the time and was the son of Major General Shigeru Takagi.  Each tiger was slightly different and although usually associated with the Ki-46 aircraft operated by the unit a photograph (below) shows Takagi painting the tiger on the tail of an elaborately camouflaged Ki-15 - a dark painted aircraft with darker 'rings' of mottle similar to the 'smoke rings' of Italian camouflage and possibly with a lighter colour in the centre of each ring.

Following that release another 12 years passed before the kit was again issued by Hasegawa in 2007, this time in a two kit combo as Mitsubishi Karigane Type 1 Communication-Plane 'Kamikaze & Asakaze' to commemorate the 1937 flight of 'Kamikaze' from Tokyo to London, as shown above. Two versions of markings for J-BAAI were included plus markings for 'Asakaze' J-BAAL at Nanyûan airfield, Peking in August 1937. Suggested interior colours were unchanged from the previous release.

The most recent re-release of the kit from Hasegawa in 2017 was another two kit combo boxed together with a Ki-46-II/III  and featuring aircraft of Dokuritsu Hiko Dai 16 Chutai, reprising the red flashed 'first generation' Ki-15-I shown on the original instruction sheet. An alternative Ki-15 subject  from the Kumagaya Army Flying School was also provided on the decal sheet, both aircraft depicted in overall grey green with black cowlings. Will we see it again? If we do let's hope, probably vainly, that Hasegawa will rectify that canopy!

With special thanks to Keishiro Nagao of Lifelike Decals for his kind assistance in interpreting old Japanese script characters.

* In Plastic WW2 Aircraft Kits by John W Burns (Kit Collector's Clearinghouse, 1993)

Image credit: All box art, instructions sheet images, etc., © 1978-2017 Hasegawa Corporation; Photograph via net 

Monday 13 May 2024

Sabre Kits Tupolev Tu-2 Post-War Service

Of some relevance to this blog Sabre Kits have just released the 1/72  ICM Tupolev Tu-2 in a limited edition of 100 kits featuring post-war decals for China's PLAAF in 1952, an Indonesian example from the early 1960s and a North Korean aircraft from the 1950s. The kit retails at £22.50 from Hannant's in the UK and contains a 3D printed four bladed propeller for the Chinese and Indonesian subjects.

In 1949 the Soviet Union had supplied China with 40 Tu-2 bombers, sending 120 personnel to each bomber school. In 1958 the PLAAF requested an additional 198 Tu-2 bombers. The Tu-2 saw service during China's intervention in the Korean War equipping two bomber division. The PLAAF 10th Division were trained in night flying by a RoCAF B-24 pilot Liu Shanben who had defected to the communists in 1946. But it was the 8th Division which embarked on the first daylight bombing raid on Taehwa-do Island on 6 November 1951 when six Tu-2's sortied from Yuhongtun led by Han Ming-yang and escorted by 16 La-11 fighters with 24  MiG-15s conducting covering sorties to prevent UN interceptions from the south. The raid was successful, destroying command posts and stores, including ammunition and the only opposition was anti-aircraft fire. There were no losses which encouraged the PLAAF to continue the attacks. However the second daylight raid on the island by the 8th Division, led by Gao Yue-ming on 30 November with nine Tu-2's, proved disastrous. Reaching the rendezvous location too early and missing the planned MiG-15 cover, they ran into 24 F-86's of the 4th FW, prepped for a repeat performance by the PLAAF. After losing two aircraft in the rearmost vee of his formation Gao continued towards the target, pulling it in a tighter formation and relying on his gunners and the close escort of 16 La-11s. They were harried by the F-86's all the way, with the La-11s engaged in attempted defence too. La-11 pilot Wang Tian-bao claimed the destruction of an F-86 in the slashing dogfights between jet and piston and although no Sabres were reported lost a 335th aircraft did return with severe damage to its left wing and rear fuselage from Wang's La-11, with a cannon shell striking the pilot's headrest rendering him temporarily unconscious and putting the Sabre into a spin which Wang believed to be fatal. Despite five of the remaining Tu-2 bombers being damaged during the F-86 attacks Gao pressed on and his formation dropped their bombs on Taehwa-do, albeit prematurely and without results. Four Tu-2's were lost on the mission with only a single navigator surviving from those, but the F-86 pilots claimed eight bombers destroyed from a reported formation of 12. Gao survived but the PLAAF mounted no more daylight bombing raids. 

Details of the PLAAF Tu-2 raids in November 1951 are from  'Red Wings Over The Yalu - China, the Soviet Union, and the Air War in Korea' by Xiaoming Zhang, published by Texas A & M University Press in 2002, a fascinating, detailed account and highly recommended.

Image credit: © 2024 Sabre Kits via Hannant's.   

Wednesday 1 May 2024

Babs Kitography - 1/72 scale Part 1 Mania

The Mania 1/72 kits of 'Kamikaze' and the Ki-15-I were released in the same year, recorded as 1973 by Burns*. The Scalemates website lists the 'Kamikaze' kit as issued in 1974 and the Ki-15-I kit in 1977, with the combo kit containing both 'Kamikaze' and the Ki-15-I also released in 1974. That is surely incorrect as it was the combo kit which was released in 1977, after the two separate kits and in the same year that Mania was reportedly taken over by Hasegawa.

The 'Kamikaze' kit  (AT-NO C-3001) had beautiful artwork on the box top, without any text or logo, as shown in the heading image. The Ki-15-I kit (AT-NO R-2001) was similarly presented, depicting an anonymous Babs in green and brown kumogata camouflage being approached by a Chinese Curtiss Hawk 75 amongst sunlit clouds, shown above. Although the box top artist is not identified both kits contain cards with four-view colour schematics attributed to Rikyû Watanabe as shown below and the style of the box art is certainly similar to his work. The 'Kamikaze' card is entitled Mitsubishi Ki-15-I Asahi Shimbun ‘Kamikaze’. On the Ki-15-I card, entitled Mitsubishi Ki-15-I Army Type 97 Headquarters Reconnaissance Aircraft, the aircraft is speculatively attributed to the 'Aoki Butai' (for its leader Capt Takeo Aoki) operating from central China in 1938. However the camouflage pattern as depicted on the card does not match those shown for 'Kamikaze' or 'Azikaze' in Joe Picarella's first Babs volume and is perhaps meant to represent the early production aircraft c/n 106? Rather plain as a subject without insignia or even the white senchi hiyoshiki war front fuselage band, but undoubtedly historic.

Well known for his aircraft profiles and kit box art Rikyû Watanabe was born in Osaka in 1927. In 1943 at age 16 he enrolled in the Army air 'boy airman' training programme as a technical student, later serving as a signaller and ending the war with an army unit in China. After returning to Japan he majored in painting at the Bunka Gakuin vocational school (文化学院), graduating in 1950. From 1966 he began specialising in aviation art with first hand knowledge of the appearance of wartime Army aircraft.

The 'Kamikaze' kit includes decals for the eponymous subject as well as for 'Asakaze' c/n 1503 J-BAAL, the latter with both delivery and post-military service legends, although there are no indications for placement. The Ki-15-I kit decal sheet includes insignia for the following units, although they are not referred to or shown in the instructions.  

  • Dokuritsu Hiko Dai 16 Chutai (red fuselage flash)
  • Dokuritsu Hiko Dai 16 Chutai (kikusui emblem - not usually attributed to the Ki-15-I)
  • Dai 17 Hikodan Shireibu Teisatsu Chutai (Divisional Headquarters Reconnaissance Squadron)
  • Dokuritsu Hiko Dai 18 Chutai (tiger)
  • Hiko Dai 28 Sentai, 1st Chutai
  • Hiko Dai 29 Sentai, 1st Chutai (reportedly representing the characters for a stylised '29')
The 29 Sentai insignia is reported as being painted in 'gold' but that may just mean a golden yellow colour. The Mania decal is printed in yellow. 

The two kits are identical and moulded in a light grey plastic of similar hue to the Army grey-green colour. They feature detailed interiors for the time, with floor, instrument panel, joystick, pilot seat, camera and bulkheads together with some sidewall detail such as the throttle quadrant and an equipment panel. Also included are separate compasses for pilot and observer and spurious RDF loops to be mounted on the coamings under the canopy. There is no provision for the observer operated armament  and no suggestions for interior colour(s).  A shortcoming of the kit is the curious single piece canopy with overly deep lower frames which rather spoil the appearance of the finished model. Some modellers sand out the frames and re-paint them correctly - not always an easy proposition. But not to worry, vacform replacements aside, the LS/Arii Ki-15-I kit, which will be examined later, includes  early and late pattern canopies which both fit the Mania/Hasegawa kit almost perfectly so the spare can be used.  The Mania kit has step by step instructions together with an exploded view where all parts are numbered and named, shown below.

The 1977 combo kit (No. 04-800) shown above repeats the original Ki-15-I box art but with the image re-angled to permit title and logo with the scale shown and a red flash boasting '2 types in one!'. In this kit 'Kamikaze' is moulded in silver plastic. The instruction sheet has the front and back in colour, repeating the box art and with additional profiles for aircraft of Hiko Dai 28 Sentai, Dai 17 Hikodan Shireibu Teisatsu Chutai, and Hiko Dai 29 Sentai, all in overall grey as shown below, but again not all the insignia included on the decal sheet is depicted. Note that whilst the Hiko Dai 28 Sentai insignia on the decal sheet is for the 1st Chutai the insignia depicted on the instruction sheet profile is for the 2nd Chutai!

The combo kit decals sheets shown above are identical to those in the earlier separate kits

Mania was a relatively short lived company, in business in Tokyo from circa 1970 to 1977, which is a pity as their six 1/72 kits and single 1/48 kit were of exceptional quality for their time. There is a suspicion that the Hasegawa 1/72 Ki-44 and Ki-61 kits may have somehow benefited from Mania expertise, perhaps planned and even produced from moulds begun before Hasegawa took over. The better detailed Ki-61 interior is not typical of the contemporary and crude Hasegawa-type 'bathtub' in the Ki-44 kit but both have delicate surface detail similar to the Mania type. However those kits were released by Hasegawa in 1972 and 1973 respectively, years before their takeover of Mania. Mania's planned but not produced 1/48 Kawanishi N1K2 Shiden-kai 'George' kit was released by Hasegawa in 1981 as kit no. U002 from the unused Mania mould, but their planned Mitsubishi A5M4 'Claude' in the same scale was never produced  It is fortunate that Hasegawa have continued to re-release the complete range of Mania 1/72 kits, together with the 1/48 Ki-27 'Nate'. That kit and the 1/72 Ki-48 'Lily' light bomber kit are still not surpassed. 

Part 2 will examine the Hasegawa re-releases of the Mania Babs kit from 1977 to 2007 together with exploring interior colours.

* In Plastic WW2 Aircraft Kits by John W Burns (Kit Collector's Clearinghouse, 1993)

Image credit: All © 1973-1977 Mania Co.Ltd. All scans from kits in author's collection.