Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Oh bugger!

I hosted most (nearly all) of my photos with Photobucket and they have now disallowed '3rd party linking', causing loss of photos in this blog (and elsewhere in the cyberspace). I'm now in the process of transferring the photos elsewhere. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Samurai Cavalry Mount


Historical Background
In the 1930s, the Imperial Japanese Army began experimenting with the concept of combined arms formation. However they found out that the Type 89 I-Go, designed as an infantry support tank, cannot keep up with truck-borne infantry. The Imperial General Staff then issued a requirement for a fast, lightweight tank which can be used for infantry support and also spearheading assaults on their own. In 1933, the Army Technical Bureau proposed a 7-ton tank, capable of 40km/h speed. A technical delegation was sent abroad to study French cavalry tanks and also Christie tanks and Carden-Lloyd tankettes. The prototype was completed in 1934 and was tested in Manchuria during the winter of 1934/35. In 1935, at a meeting in the Army Technical Bureau, the Type 95 was proposed as the main tank for mechanised infantry units. The infantry had concerns that the tank was insufficiently protected but the cavalry arm insisted that the improved speed and armament compensated for the thin armour. The cavalry won the argument as the infantry arm conceded that the new tank was better than the alternative - armoured cars. Production was started by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in 1936.

The Type 95, whose full designation was Type 95 kyugo-shiki kei-shensha Ha-Go, weighed 7.5 tons and was powered by a Mitsubishi A6120VD  air-cooled diesel engine allowing it a road speed of 45km/h. The complement was 3 crewmen : commander, hull machinegunner and driver. Like many light tank commanders of the period, the commander sat alone in the turret and he was responsible for observation, loading, aiming and firing the main gun, as well as commanding the vehicle. He also operated the turret machinegun (which was in the five o'clock position, rather than mounted co-axially with the main gun). The main gun was a 37mm Type 98 gun with elevation of -15˚ to +20˚. The armour-piercing round can penetrate 25mm of armour at 500 meters, although the majority of the rounds carried are of the HE type. Secondary armament was two 7.7mm Type 97 machineguns, one at the hull front and the other at the aforementioned turret. The suspension is of the simple bell-crank type but it had a tendency to pitch badly in off-road movement so that the Type 95 had to slow down to negotiate rough terrain. The interior was lined with asbestos in order to insulate the crew from outside heat and also to protect the crew from injury resulting from being bounced around when moving through rough terrain.

The Type 95 entered service in 1937 and were first used in China.  Although not designed for tank vs tank combat, it proved more than capable to deal with the Vickers, Panzerkampfwagen I and CV33 tanks/tankettes of the Chinese National Revolutionary Army. The first true test however came in June 1939 during the Battle of Khalkin Gol (the Nomonhan Incident) where Type 89 I-Go medium tanks, Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks and Type 94 TK tankettes faced Soviet BT-5 and BT-7 fast tanks. Although the Soviet tank armour was no thicker than their Japanese adversaries, their 45mm gun could penetrate Japanese armour at up to 1,000 meters while the 37mm gun of the Type 95 have a maximum range of 700 meters. When the Pacific War broke out in December 1941, Japanese armour was used in the jungle terrain of Malaya, smashing the British belief that tanks cannot operate in the jungle. The success of the Japanese stemmed from proper tactical deployment of their tanks, surprising the defenders where they least expecting them. In this instance, the relatively light weight of Japanese armour certainly helped. The Type 95 was also used during the invasion of the Philippines where they fought against American M3 Stuart light tanks. While both tanks have the same calibre of main armament, the Stuart have the advantage of thicker armour. However, the Japanese were more experienced and have better training (at the time), enabling them to overcome the American resistance. Later in the war, the Type 95 were outclassed by the Matilda, M3 Lee/Grant, M4 Sherman and even the M5 Stuart; when the Soviets entered the Pacific War in August 1945, it was totally vulnerable to T-34 and IS tanks. In fact, the Type 95 was vulnerable to any weapon larger than rifle calibre, especially in its hindquarters.  

2,300 Ha-Gos were built by Mitsubishi and also by Sagami Arsenal, Kokura Arsenal, Hitachi, Niigata Tekkosho and Kobe Tekkosho. Apart from the Japanese Army, the Type 95 were also used by the Imperial Japanese Navy's Special Naval Landing Force and the Thai Army. Captured examples were used by both sides in the Chinese Civil War and also by the French during the earliest stages of the First Indochina War. The Type 95 was also used as the basis for the Type 95 Ki-Ri engineering vehicle, Type 2 Ka-Mi amphibious tank and Type 4 Ke-Nu conversion (using the turret of the Type 97 Chi-Ha medium tank). The chassis was also used for the Type 3 ke-Ri tank prototype, Type 2 Ho-To self-propelled gun/tank destroyer prototype and the Type 5 Ho-Ru tank destroyer.

The Kit
While there are numerous kits of German, Soviet, US and to a smaller extent, British, armour, there are practically no kits of Japanese World War 2 armour by the major manufacturers. The only kits I can think of (before being acquainted with Fine Molds) were the Type 97 Chi-Has and Type 1 Ho-Ni from Tamiya. Then in 1990s, Fine Molds came up with a whole lot of Japanese armour kits, starting with the Type 95 Ha-Go in 1993. According to online reviews, Fine Molds did not do themselves any favours by pricing the kit at ¥9,800 (the average 1/35 kit costs between ¥3,000 to ¥4,000). In 2001, Fine Molds reboxed the kit with a new box art and at the same time reducing the RRP to be more competitive (I got mine from Hobbylink Japan for ¥3,200). The kit came in 145 olive-coloured styrene parts, a pair of vinyl tracks, a small PE fret and five white metal parts. The parts are well-moulded although the white metal tow cable (or whatever it was) have some flash in my example. A form for bending the PE (for the exhaust screen) is also included. 

Decals provide markings for eight vehicles:
1. #203, 8th Tank Regiment,  August 1945, Manchuria
2. #755,  8th Tank Regiment, June 1942, Manchuria
3. #244, Army Youth Tank School, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan
4. #20, 1st Tank Regiment, 3rd Company, Malaya 1942
5. 13th Tank Regiment, 2nd Company, Changsha, China
6. 6th Tank Regiment, Manchuria 1944
7. #1556, 7th Tank Regiment, 3rd Company, Philippines 1942
8. 14th Infantry Division Tank Company, Peleliu 1944

The instructions are almost entirely in Japanese and may cause some confusion especially for the painting and marking schemes, but otherwise have excellent illustrations.

Construction
As usual with AFV kits, construction starts with the suspension/lower hull. The halves for the idler and sprocket wheels were mated and the wheel bogies assembled. I however did not assemble the return rollers as instructed at this stage. Unlike many Japanese model kits with one-piece hull, the hull was made up of seven pieces with part A10 acting as a stand for a crew figure (sourced elsewhere) and part A9 acting a stiffener for the hull assembly (and sort of a bulkhead). As usual with multi-part hull, care need to be taken in order to ensure good fit. Afterwards the external fittings of the lower hull were cemented, including the bell-crank suspension. The instructions mention something about Parts B15, B18, C1 and C2, which I guess have something to do with gluing parts C1 and C2 to B15 first and cementing them onto the hull before cementing Part B18. To ease painting, the wheels were left off at this time (and apparently Fine Molds thought so, as the instructions placed the fitting of the wheels somewhere towards the end of the build). 


The upper hull was then mated to the lower half. Before that happened, dry-fitting showed a bad fit especially between the final drive housing and the forward mudguards. After removing away locating tabs on the upper hull, the gap was merely reduced so out with the putty, Various smaller portions of the upper hull was then cemented to the main part, such as the driver's hatch, the hull MG sponson and the engine grilles. These larger parts were followed by smaller parts such as the driver's vision hatch, latches, towing eyes and lights. The tools and the jack were temporarily left off although the instructions instructed you to place them at this time. More stuff were added to the rear of the hull including what look like hinges. The exhaust was assembled and the muffler painted XF-64 Red Brown. Using the included PE former, the exhaust muffler guard was formed and superglued to the fender. Again, external items such as the vehicle ID plate and the 'tow cable' were left off. And although meant for later, I cemented the headlights and also the hull MG fairing/mount, leaving only the barrel for later.

Finally it was time for turret assembly. The turret was a simple affair with nothing inside, not even a rudimentary breech for the main gun or the machine gun. The turret shell was mated with the bottom. I left the interior unpainted because I wanted to have the hatch in the closed position (there are no interior to speak of and there are no figures to be placed in an open hatch). The two-part commander's cupola was assembled, taking care to avoid seams. The hatch covers were then cemented to the commander's cupola. The gun assembly consists of four parts and was meant to be moveable. Being a 1990s kit, the muzzle is solid and had to be drilled out. The assembly was then cemented to the turret and it was off to the painting stage. 



Painting and Decalling

Maybe it's just me but I find Fine Molds' painting directions rather confusing. So to clear things a bit, I referred to the Tamiya painting instructions for their Type 97 Chi-Ha. Despite a number of interesting markings including the one in Saipan (the photo of which showing its turret blown off the tank), I decided to paint my Type 95 as an early war example, specifically as one of the Ha-Gos that took part in the invasion of Malaya. The model was painted the same colours as my Type 97 Chi-Ha: Khaki (XF-49), Dark Red Brown (XF-10) and Dark Green (XF-13 IJA Green). The lightest colour (Khaki) was painted first with the Dark Green last. The yellow line was painted using Tamiya XF-3. While the embossed star on the glacis plate is instructed to be painted in Gold, I used Gunze Brass as it looks more to scale. The decals were then applied. While thin and not having registry problems (they are just white anyway, with the exception of the Hinomaru on the front hull plate), they are quite translucent, revealing the colour underneath. I had to paint over the decals to overcome this problem. 

Finishing
I started by adding the few uncemented items such as the registration plate and the towing cables. The model then received a wash. Minor streaking was then done using AK Interactive products. I got lazy by this time and decided just to add Earth Effects wash on the lower hull and the wheels. Dirt was added into the track cleats using Mig Productions Russian Earth pigment and washed with AK Interactive Earth Effects solution. The tracks were then mounted onto the model. Fit is OK although it would be better if separate-link track links were provided as Type 95s usually display saggy tracks. The machine gun barrels were then cemented into place followed by the turret, finishing the build.  


Conclusion

Up until the time this post was written, Fine Molds is basically the only manufacturer with a fairly wide range of Japanese World War 2 vehicles (Tamiya only has the two Type 97s and the Type 1 SPG while Dragon has the Type 2 and Type 95). While generally very good in terms of surface detail, the Type 95 kit has a rather poor fit for the hull parts. The tracks while good, did not reflect the 'dead' tracks of the real vehicle unless you add retainers or invest in aftermarket tracks. The decal selection is good although the decal itself was rather disappointing. Nevertheless, it was still a good value for money.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

21st Century Desert Rat



Historical Background
The British FV4034 Challenger 2 was built and designed by the Vickers Defence Systems plc as a successor to the Challenger 1 MBT. The design was originally a Vickers private venture in 1986. Following the issue of a Staff Requirement for a next-generation MBT, Vickers submitted its Challenger 2 proposal to the British Ministry Of Defence (MoD), following the issue of a Staff Requirement for a next-generation tank. In January 1989, Vickers received a £90 million contract for a demonstrator vehicle. The demo phase ended in September 1990 with the tank meeting 11 key criteria for the design. This was followed by a competition from other designs, including General Dynamics' M1A2 Abrams and Leopard 2 (Improved) from Krauss-Maffei. Finally in June 1991, the Challenger 2 was declared the winner and orders for 127 MBTs and 13 driver training vehicles were placed. A further order for 259 MBTs and 9 driver training vehicles was placed in 1994. Production began in 1993 at Elswick, Tyne and Wear and Barnbow, Leeds with the first tanks delivered in July 1994.

The main armament of the Challenger 2 was the 120mm/L55 L30A1 rifled tank gun, the successor to the L11 gun arming the Challenger 1 and Chieftain. Unique among currently operating Western-designed tanks, the Challenger 2 retained the rifled barrel as the British Army continued to use the High Explosive Squash Head (HESH) rounds in addition to armour-piercing APFSDS rounds. The HESH rounds have a longer range than APFSDS and are more effective against buildings and soft-skinned vehicles. The Challenger 2 can carry up to 49 120mm rounds, usually a mix of L27A1/CHARM 3 APFSDS, L31 HESH and L34 white phosphorus rounds. The ammunition have separately bagged charge, ensuring a lower risk of ammunition explosion. The Challenger 2 was also armed with a co-axially mounted L94A1 (Hughes EX-34) 7.62mm chain gun, mounted to the left of the main armament, and a 7.62mm L37A2 GPMG mounted on a pintle on the loader's hatch ring. 4,200 rounds of 7.62 x 51mm NATO rounds were carried for the machine guns. Fire control unit was from Computing Devices Co. utilising two 32-bit processors with MIL STD1553B databus. The commander was provided with a panoramic SAGEM VS 580-10 panoramic sight allowing 360 vision in addition to the eight periscopes on the commander's station. The gunner's and commander's sight were also served by the Thales Thermal Observation and Gunnery Sight II (TOGS II), providing night vision.

For protection, Challenger 2 was clad in second generation Chobham armour known as 'Dorchester'. Details are classified but it was said that it was more than double the strength of steel. Additional explosive reactive armour blocks and bar armour can be fitted as necessary. The Challenger 2 is powered by a Perkins 26.6 liter CV12 diesel engine delivering 1,200 hp. Maximum speed was 60km/h (road) and 40km/h cross-country. Range was 450 km (road) and 250 km (cross-country). Crew was four as the British Army felt that usage of automatic loader reduces battlefield survivability (as the autoloader is actually slower than human reflexes). And unique to the British Army, the Challenger 2, like other  British Army tanks and AFVs since the Centurion, was equipped with a boiling vessel, allowing the crew to brew up tea or to re-heat their field rations within the safety of the vehicle. In 2014, some of the surviving 227 Challenger 2s are to be upgraded to Challenger Life Extension Programme (CLEP) standard. The Challenger 2 chassis was also used as the basis for other combat support vehicles such as the Titan armoured bridgelayer, Trojan Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) combat engineering vehicle and Challenger Armoured Repair and Recovery Vehicle (CRARRV) armoured recovery vehicle. Although Vickers developed an export version designated Challenger 2E, it did not find overseas customers. The only export customer was Oman, which bought 38.

Challenger 2 entered service in 1998 with the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) in Germany. Besides the 2nd RTR, it serves with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the Royal Dragoon Guards, the Queen's Royal Hussars, the King's Royal Hussars and a squadron of the 1st RTR. The tank was used during peacekeeping missions such as around the Balkans but its first combat use was in 2003 during Operation Telic in Iraq. 120 Challenger 2s of the 7th Armoured Brigade, 1st Armoured Division were in action around Basra, mainly fighting against old T-55s. No Challengers were lost to enemy fire although one Challenger 2 of the Queen's Royal Lancers was destroyed in a blue-on-blue incident, being mistaken for an Iraqi tank by another Challenger from the 2nd RTR. In another incident, a Challenger was attacked by insurgents armed with machine guns and RPGs. The driver's sight was damaged and while backing away, more sights were damaged and the tank threw its track in the ditch. Now a stationary target, it was hit by 14 RPG rounds and a MILAN missile. However the most serious damage was done to the sights and it was back in action just six hours after repairs have been completed. In another incident, a Challenger 2 survived being hit by 70 RPG projectiles.  A further 'Chally 2' was damaged by RPG-29 in August 2006 and another one by IEDs in April 2007.      

The Kit
Hot on the heels of their M1A2 Abrams, Tamiya released the other main combatant during the 2003 invasion of Iraq - the British FV4034 Challenger 2 tank. The 'Desertised' in the kit title reflects the application of the full-length skirting to combat the dust of the Iraqi desert. The kit consists of 345 parts moulded in light tan plastic and 17 in clear. The quality of the moulding and detail was as usually expected of Tamiya. Also included were a small clear sheet for the commander's cupola periscopes, a sheet of thin white plastic for the turret front CIP, a length of twine for the towing cable and copper wire for the cable reel. The kit is basically based on Tamiya's earlier Challenger 1 and Challenger 1 Mk.3 kits but with suitable changes to depict a Challenger 2; the Chally 2 kit also boasted a greater level of detail on parts supposedly similar on the real Challengers 1 and 2. While many parts are well-moulded and have excellent detail, Tamiya missed the non-slip coating texture on the relevant surfaces. Also engine grill cover was not included and have to be bought separately. Decals provide markings for three Challenger 2s serving in Iraq.

Construction
As usual with AFV model kits, construction started at the bottom of the vehicle. However, Tamiya's instructions is slightly unusual by having the modeller attach the skirt mountings first. The idler mounts were not cemented to the hull but secured using the provided 1.5mm screws which allow adjustments to be made during track fitting. All the wheels were the painted while still on the sprue trees and was then cut and the scar retouched. Also out of the ordinary is the way the road wheels are placed: usually the arms were cemented to the hull first and the followed by the wheels. The Chally kit have them the other way round. The instructions also specifically orders the modeller to place the wheels rear to front. As I was not going to tempt fate, I dutifully followed the instructions! The rear panel was next where all the fittings there were cemented to it. The exceptions at his time were the rear lights brush guards and the jerry can rack. The latter was assembled but would be separate from the rear panel for the time being. The same was done to the external fuel tanks and the cable reel.

I figured that the upper hull cannot be finished without being joined to the lower half. The hull area behind the wheels (and the wheels themselves of course) were painted and the track joined. Although plastic cement can be used, I stick to cyano glue to loop the tracks. After the tracks have been fitted, the upper hull shell was slotted into place - poly caps secured the forward part of the joint. The ROMOR applique armour panels were then assembled and cemented into place. Almost all other fittings on the hull, like stowage boxes, exhausts, gun travel lock, mudguards and headlight mountings were then cemented. As the side mirrors were moulded in the stowed position, they were also cemented at this time. The fire extinguishers were not cemented at this tome to facilitate painting. Also, there are no engine grille covers provided with the kit - they are only available separately.

Work on the turret started with the assembly of the gun mantlet / TOGS fairing. The cover for the sight and an opening on the right-hand side can be posed in the opened position but I chose to have it closed. The barrel halves were joined together and as usual care has to be taken to avoid visible seams. By the way, the barrel look a bit anaemic to my eyes. It was then joined to the mantlet and set aside for a while. The turret shell was then assembled with two of the antenna bases being cemented from below the roof. The poly cap to secure the Commander's panoramic sight was also inserted. But before the turret was assembled, holes were drilled into the relevant panels in order to accommodate the CIP panels later on. While most of the clear parts were made of clear styrene, the vision blocks need to be cut from the supplied sheet of clear acetate using the template provided..sheesh! The smaller bits on the turret like the commander's sight and the loader's machine gun were assembled but set aside at this time the others were cemented. The hatches were left off as I intended to use the figures.

And now, a lesson in planning your builds : plan beforehand and only make small adjustments as you go along, not major ones unless it was unforeseen. I was referring to my decision to add the anti-slip coating sported on Challengers which Tamiya did not provide. At the start of the build, I was trying to look for methods to re-create the coating, specifically using Rust-Oleum textured paint whuch have the best texture. Unfortunately none of the local hardware stores have them and I proceeded with the build. And then I remembered I have a bottle of Tamiya Grit Effect Diorama Texture Paint. After browsing the internet, looking for ways to apply it as anti-slip coating, I summoned my courage and dived in. The effect is rather coarse and may be more suitable for the Merkava. I tried 'watering' it down by diluting the thick paint with acrylic thinner and then applying it in thin layers. The coarser bits were sanded down. As this was my first attempt, results were mixed - the turret looked rather OK while the those on the hull were coarser, resembling the coating on the Merkava. And as many of the smaller (and uncoated) parts were already on the model, clean-up work need to be done. Thankfully they can be easily scraped off using a hobby knife and/or removed using thinner.

Painting and Decalling
The Tamiya instructions call for TS-46 Light Sand as the overall colour. I felt however that that particular colour is more suited towards American vehicles and that the British modern desert colour has a more yellowish tinge to it. As it was named Light Stone, I was thinking of using the mixture used for my Grant Mk. I. The problem is that photos show bewildering shades depending on the lighting conditions but most of the time showing a darker shade than the WW2-era Light Stone. After again searching the internet, modellers mention that a more suitable mixture, taken from Osprey's Modelling The Challenger 1 and 2 book, is 3 parts XF-59 Desert Yellow to 1 part XF-3 Flat Yellow. I duly used this mixture although I added a bit more XF-2 Flat White. Even so, it still show different hues under different lighting conditions (maybe the modeller got it right then). The dust skirting was painted XF-57 Buff as many photos show them having a different colour from the vehicle itself.

As for the markings, Tamiya provided decals for three vehicles, all from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys), 7th Armoured Brigade. I am a sucker for the more colourful markings so naturally I'm attracted to Option A (Tank No.1, 2nd Troop, B Company) with a small St. Andrew's flag on either side of the turret and a Union Jack atop the TOGS. However I was more interested in the plainer, but with a lion (or is it a griffin?) crouchant of the B option (HQ Squadron, Command Troop). The model was then given a red brown pin wash to highlight details. Although many real Chally 2s suffer from flaking paints (which some modellers replicate) I decided not to add any.

Finishing
To tell the truth there aren't many things to do by this time, and mainly it was concerned with further weathering. The loader's machine gun mount was assembled and finally put in place and followed by the towing cables. Things at the rear of the hull such as the external fuel tanks and the jerry can rack were then cemented onto the model. The crew figures were painted but I deviated a bit by painting the disruptive pattern in XF-49 Khaki instead of XF-52 Flat Earth. Also, while looking at photographs, the crew helmets are mostly in a lighter colour (some are even wearing the infantry Mark 6 / Mark 7 helmets). The loader's helmet was painted XF-57 with the earphones in X-18 while the commander's helmet remain in X-18. Photographs also show that Challys carry their camouflage / thermal blanket in a U-shaped roll along the sides and the front upper glacis plate. I'm interested in adding this feature although knowing the rate I work, the putty might harden before I can add the surface features. 

After examining more photos, some show the roll being placed on the glacis plate atop the ROMOR bricks. This would have a smaller footprint, easing handling. I kneaded some two-part putty and then adding strips of Tamiya tapes and lengths of sewing threads. The still-soft putty was then pressed on the model. This resulted in elongated 'dough', the excess of which was cut. The placement was not not centred but I guess tank crews don't bother much if the roll is straight or not under combat conditions! Surface features were then added using a toothpick, a hobby knife and a nail file. Not sure about the colour of the roll, I painted it a mixture of XF-57 Buff and XF-49 Khaki. A water carton was placed between the loader's and commander's hatches while a ration carton was placed on the glacis plate (it is of the 10-person pack for infantry squads and not really suitable for a 4-person tank but what the heck). Guitar strings were cut and were then superglued to simulate radio aerials. Sand-coloured pigment powder was then applied to the lower hull and tracks.

Conclusion
After rather disappointing releases of American vehicles in the post-Cold War era (the M1A2 using the 1980s-vintage M1 kit as base and the M113A2 using the ancient 1970s M113), Tamiya released a wonderful kit of the Challenger 2. Although the lower hull is still based on their earlier Challenger 1 kit, most of the parts are new and well-moulded (case in point are the applique side armours - on the real vehicles, they are similar for both Challengers but the one in the Chally 2 kit has more detail than the earlier release). The only shortcomings with this kit are concerned with the lack of anti-slip surface and the engine deck grilles. Yet they still do not detract from the fact that this Chally is a very good kit.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Spitfire Part III : Most Numerous Of Them All



Historical Background
In 1931, Reginald J. Mitchell, the aeronautical engineer for Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers) Ltd (later Vickers-Armstrong (Aircraft) Ltd) began working on a monoplane aircraft designed Type 300. The proposal was submitted to the British Air Ministry in July 1934 but was not accepted. Mitchell then revised the design, incorporating a faired, enclosed cockpit, oxygen-breathing apparatus, smaller, thinner wings and a new engine, Rolls-Royce PV-XII inline engine, soon to be known as the Merlin. In November 1934, detailed design work for the improved Type 300 was begun and in January 1935, the Air Ministry formalised the contract with Vickers-Armstrong and Specification F10/35 was issued around the aircraft. In April 1935, the original two 7.7mm Vickers machine guns in each wing was increased to four upon recommendation by Squadron Leader Ralph Sorley of the Operational Requirement section at the Air Ministry.

On 5 March 1936, the prototype, registered K5054 flew for the first time. The subsequent test flights found that the aircraft was good, but suffered from over-sensitive rudder and with a top speed of just 330mph. The latter was cured by using a better-shaped propeller, allowing K5054 to reach 348mph during its delivery flight to the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down in mid-May 1936. Based on raw reports by test pilots, the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 aircraft on 3 June 1936. The aircraft was named 'Spitfire' by Vickers-Armstrong's chairman, Sir Robert McLean after the affectionate name he gave to his spirited elder daughter, Annie Penrose. The name was actually opposed by the Air Ministry and Mitchell himself, who favoured the name 'Shrew' but eventually Sir Robert's choice prevail. The first production Spitfire however only left the production line at Woolston, Southampton in mid-1938,as the Supermarine factory was working at full capacity producing Walrus amphibians and Stanraer flying-boats.

The Spitfire's fuselage was of streamlined, semi-monocoque design. The skins were secured by rivets: flush headed where uninterrupted airflow was required, and dome-headed elsewhere. But the most distinctive part of the Spitfire was its elliptical wings. The shape was chosen as it offered the best compromise between thinness (to avoid creating excessive drag) and the need to house a retractable undercarriage and armament and its ammunition. The wing tips were detachable, allowing it to be fitted with extended wingtips for the high-altitude fighter role (such as the Mark VI and VII) or fitted with fairings to create the 'clipped wing' versions for low-altitude work. Armament was eight .303 Browning machine guns, four in each wing. While they worked perfectly at low altitudes, they tended to freeze higher up, especially the outer two guns. The problem was not solved until 1938 when Supermarine added hot air ducts from the engine radiators to gun bays. Fabric patches were also doped on the gun ports to protect them from the cold, moisture and dirt until they were fired. Despite their numbers, the .303 machine guns were really too light to destroy enemy aircraft, especially larger bomber-type aircraft. Power for the Spitfire was provided by a Rolls-Royce Merlin V12 inline engine delivering 1,030 hp at 5,500 ft (Merlin II) or 1,310 hp at 9,000 ft (Merlin III). Subsequent variants of the Spitfire were fitted with more powerful versions of the Merlin and were then replaced with a Rolls-Royce Griffon for the later marks.

In late 1940, the RAF predicted the start of a new high-altitude bombing campaign by the Luftwaffe using pressurised Junkers Ju 86P bombers. As the high-altitude variant (the Mk VI) would take some time to be developed, an emergency measure was needed. Thus the Mark V was conceived. The Mk V was basically a Mk. I powered by a Merlin 45 engine incorporating a single-stage  supercharger. Power was rated at 1,440 hp at take-off. Improvements to the carburettor allowed the Mk V to make zero g maneuvers without any problems with the fuel flow which plagued the Mk. I.  Several Mk. Vs were converted Marks I and II airframes and they started joining line squadrons in early 1941. The Mk. VB with Merlin 45 and 'B' wing (one Hispano 20mm cannon replacing two inner .303 machineguns in each wing while retaining the outer two .303s) was the main production version. The round section exhaust stacks were replaced with the 'fishtail' type, allowing marginal increase in thrust. 

With the receding threat of invasion, the RAF decided to go on the offensive (or as Air Vice-Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory put it 'leaning forward into France'). The new policy entailed fighter sweeps (called 'Rhubarbs') and bomber escort missions ('Circuses') over France and other occupied territories. The Spitfires used for these missions found themselves having the same tactical disadvantages as the Bf 109 units faced during the Battle of Britain, namely their rather short range. The 'F' versions now equipping Jagdwaffe units on the Channel coast have performance closely matching the Mark V of the Spitfire. The introduction of the Fw 190 gave further shocks to the RAF, being 25-30 mph faster while having better acceleration and rate of climb and not to mention more powerful armament, making the Fw 190 the highest scoring Spitfire killers. This hastened the introduction of the 'interim' Mark IX but in the meantime, some Mark Vs received 'clipped' wingtips (being the first Spitfire variant to have this option). The clipped wingtips allowed a greater rate of roll and airspeed at low altitudes.

The Kit
Hot on the heels of their Spitfire Mk.I, Tamiya came up with VB variant in 1994. The parts are spread among two light grey and one clear sprues and feature nicely engraved details. The clear parts include both armoured and non-armoured windscreens and two styles of the sliding portion of the canopy. The one problem I see with the kit engineering is that the cannon barrels were moulded together with the upper wings, increasing the risk of breakage. The wingtips are separate allowing modellers to chose between the normal and the clipped wingtips. While cockpit details are reasonable, there are no seat belts included, not even in decal form. Also, while the separate cockpit door (to depict it in the open position) has better details than the one moulded with the fuselage. The decal sheet includes the wing leading edge ID strip together with the machinegun muzzle patches (separate patches for the third option as it does not have the ID strip). Three marking options were provided:
1. SN-M/EN821, No.243 Squadron
2. SZ-X/BL479, No.316 Squadron*
3. AGM, Fighter Command, Wing Commander A.G Malan

*No.316 was a Polish Squadron (with squadron ID 'SZ'). Most if not all aircraft in the unit featured the Polish checkerboard pattern on the nose while this particular aircraft did not. It was actually the personal mount of Group Captain M.W.S. Robinson, Station Commander of RAF Northolt where No.316 was stationed at the time.

Construction
Before assembling the cockpit interior, I first painted the parts and the cockpit sidewalls British Interior Green using XF-71 Cockpit Green. Yes, it's a Japanese colour but to my eyes it looks similar to British Cockpit Green. The details were painted X-18 Semi-Gloss Black with instrument dials in XF-2 Flat White. Although Tamiya has the modeller paint the seat in the same green (with the cushion in X-18), photos show that the seat is actually red brown in colour (it was made of bakelite) and the cushion looks like Buff. hey were therefore painted XF-64 and XF-57 respectively. The pilot's office was then assembled and the scars were cleaned up and retouched. Things on the cockpit sidewalls were cemented and the fuselage halves were mated. As Tamiya expected the included pilot figure be used by everyone, no seat belts, even in the shape of decals, were included. The cockpit assembly and a bulkhead was then inserted from below. Although the tailwheel are to be inserted at this time according to the instructions, I chose not to. The tailplanes were then cemented onto the fuselage.

Rather than continuing with canopy assembly and exhaust manifolds as per the instructions, I jumped to wing assembly first. The two separate upper wing halves were cemented to the one-piece lower half. Decision has to be made here as to whether to finish the model as a regular or a clipped-wing variant. Fit was again excellent. The engine radiator, oil cooler and carburettor intake were then cemented. There is a bit of a fit problem however with the carburettor intake inlet and the main body. The wing assembly was then mated to the fuselage. Oops! I almost forgot - the wing reinforcement ribs on each upper wings need to be removed (they were museum additions). The lower nose cowling was then cemented into place, finishing the initial build.

Painting and Decalling
The camouflage pattern for all three marking schemes are the same so that simplify things. The Medium Sea Grey, Ocean Grey and Dark Green colours were done using Tamiya XF-83, XF-82 and XF-81 respectively. Only then I have to make up my mind as to which markings to do. With the clipped-wing option out of the picture (as I used the original rounded wing tips), that left me with either the anonymous No.243 Squadron machine or the one belonging to ace 'Sailor' Malan. It was rather obvious that I would choose Malan's plane. Adolph Gysbert 'Sailor' Malan was a South African who joined the RAF in 1935 and was confirmed as a pilot in 1937. he was posted to No.74 Squadron at RAF Hornchurch.At the outbreak of war, Malan was involved in the so-called Battle of Barking Creek, a 'blue-on-blue' incident on 6 September 1939. As leader of 'A' Flight which attacked the unfortunate Hurricanes of No.56 Squadron, Malan denied responsibility and instead blamed pilys under his command. The court eventually dismissed the case and acquitted all pilots involved.  

During Operation Dynamo, No.74 was one of the squadrons giving cover to the evacuation and on 28 June 1940, Malan was awarded a DFC, having achieved the ace status. On 5 July he rose to the rank of Flight Lieutenant and on 8 August, he was promoted to acting Squadron Leader and took charge of No.74 Squadron. It was around this time that Malan and other senior pilots decided to abandon the RAF's 'vic' formation and adopted the looser finger-four formation. On 13 August, he was awarded a Bar to his DFC. Malan commanded No.74 with strict discipline and also reluctant to hand out decorations. Apart from being a force to change the RAF's tactical fighter formation, Malan also developed a set of simple rules for fighter and was disseminated throughout Fighter Command.On 24 December he received a DSO and in July 1941 received a Bar to the Order. On 10 March 1941, he was appointed as the leader of the Biggin Hill Wing - one of the first persons so appointed. He was rested from active fighter duties in August of the same year by which he has amassed 27 solo kills, 7 shared kills, 2 unconfirmed, 3 probables and 16 damaged, becoming the highest scoring RAF pilot at that time. He was transferred to reserve on 6 January 1942.

After tours to the United States and the Central Gunnery School, Malan was promoted to temporary Wing Commander on 1 September 1942. He was later appointed as the station commander for Biggin Hill and receiving promotion to war substantive Wing Commander on 1 July 1943. Malan however was keen to fly on combat operations, often ignoring the standing order for station commanders not to risk getting shot down. In October 1943, he became the CO for 19 Fighter Wing of the RAF Second Tactical Air Force. Later he became the commander of No.145 (Free French) Squadron and led a section of the squadron during the afternoon of 6 June 1944 over the Normandy beaches. Malan resigned his commission in the RAF on 5 April 1946 while retaining the rank of Group Captain. He returned to South Africa and joined the anti-apartheid movement. Malan passed away on 17 September 1963 of Parkinson's Disease.

Although no specific time was mentioned, I believed the markings in the Tamiya kit is for during his tenure as Biggin Hill Wing commander (or maybe later, when he was the Biggin Hill base commander as this option lack the wing leading edge ID strip and the armoured windscreen as base commanders were not expected to fly combat missions). The decals are fairly thick, causing visible bumps where the wing roundels overlap the walkway decals. I think that the fin flashes were too wide and need trimming to fit properly (which I did). I also believe that the instructions for the starboard wing walkway is wrong as it doesn't show the chordwise strip (the decal is on the sheet by the way) while the lengthwise strip goes all the way to the wing root (it was cut to the appropriate length before application). All decals then received an AK Interactive Decal Softener treatment. Ak Interactive Paneliner was the applied to the panel lines.

Finishing
The rest of the parts can now be cemented onto the model. I started by assembling the landing gear and then cementing them onto the model and was followed by the tailwheel to allow the model to stand on its own. This was followed by the exhausts, aerial, pitot and ID lights on the top and the bottom of the fuselage. The gunsight was cemented into place before the canopy was added. Speaking of the canopy, Malan's plane used the 'regular' rather than the armoured windscreen (probably for the reasons I mentioned above). As luck would have it, my old friend Murphy came back for a visit during this build - I managed to smear the windscreen with cement! While it can be sanded back, I left it as it was as a lesson to myself. Finally, the propeller assembly was fitted. A final coating of Flat Clear finishes the build.

Conclusion
Another 'easy' Tamiya Spitfire kit to build, just like their Mark I. Almost everything falls in place together with no fuss. Some modellers point out the inaccuracies of this kit (and also the Mark I) such as the fuselage being 'fat' around the cockpit and also a bit short. The wing is too wide at the middle and some issues with the wing curves. To my eyes the model still looks like a Spitfire V. Short of shooting a shrinking ray at an actual Spitfire, these mistakes which virtually all kits have, would still be around  and most of us would still be happy (save a small percentage who suffered from acute and incurable level of AMS).  

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Hail To The Chief



Historical Background
The Centurion tank, despite being one of the most successful post-war tank designs, was not seen to have an ideal firepower to deal with the heavy IS-3 and T-10 tanks, armed with a 122mm gun. In 1955, the British fielded the 64-ton Conqueror heavy tank armed with a long 120mm gun but its mobility left something to be desired. A more mobile tank, with similar or heavier armament as the Conqueror was needed. In 1956, Leyland Motors built their prototypes of a new tank design which led to a request by the War Office for a Centurion replacement, known as Medium Tank No.2. The specification drew on the experience of the Centurions tanks during the Korean War as well as the operation of the Conqueror. It was expected to engage the enemy at long range from defensive position and proof against medium artillery. The gun therefore need to have a depression angle of more than 8 degrees, achieve a firing rate of 10 rounds per minute in the first minute of an engagement and 6 rounds per minute in the next four. It also needed to have a new, thicker, sloped frontal armour.

Design of FV 4201, as the vehicle is now designated, started in 1958 and the first prototype was ready in 1959. From 1961 to 1963, a further six prototypes and 40 pre-production vehicles were built. These were extensively used in troop trials, identifying changes needed for full-service vehicles. To assist in engine cooling and reducing engine vibrations, the rear deck was redesigned. This however increased the vehicle's weight, so that the suspension had to be strengthened. Track pads were also added to reduce damage to roads while increasing ground clearance. During the later stages of development, Israel was invited to join the programme with an eye for an Israeli purchase and licence-building the Chieftain (as the FV 4201 was named). The British decision of not to sell the Chieftain to Israel resulted in the latter leaving and pursuing their own tank development programme (eventually emerging as the Merkava). The Mk. 1 of the Chieftain was accepted for service in May 1963 with operational units receiving the Mark 3 in 1966.

The original Mark 1 was powered by a Leyland L60 two-stroke diesel engine designed for multi-fuel use but it proved unreliable and underpowered. Issues with the engine and the overall weight resulted in a high rate of breakdowns of the Mark 1 during exercises. In 1967, the power rating was increased but never fully resolved the problem. In 1974, the so-called 'Belzona' variant of the engine increased power output to 850 hp, improving the road, but not cross-country speed. The main armament was the 120 mm Royal Ordnance L11A5 rifled gun firing separate-loading ammunition. The propellant charges were encased in combustible bags, stored in 'wet' storages. 64 rounds were carried, comprising of HESH (High Explosive Squash Head) and APDS (Armour Piercing Discarding Sabot) rounds. Secondary armament consisted of a co-axial L8A1 7.62 mm machine gun and an L7 7.62 mm AA machine gun in the commander's cupola.

The initial fire-control system consisted of a Marconi FV/GCE Mk.4 12.7 mm ranging machine gun mounted above the main gun. The ranging gun was ballistically matched to the main armament and have a maximum practical range of 1,800 meters. On the left side of the turret was a large searchlight which can be fitted with an infra-red filter. The ranging machine gun was replaced with Barr and Stroud LF-2 laser rangefinder from Mark 3/3 onwards. This was later replaced with a Marconi Improved Fire Control using a digital ballistic computer. The Chieftain also introduced the supine driving position which lowers the overall height while allowing a more sloped front hull, improving protection. In the 1990s, in addition to the IFCS, the Chieftain received the 'Stillbrew' armour package (named after a Colonel Still and Mr. John Brewer of Military Vehicles and Engineering Establishment) while the searchlight was replaced with a TOGS (Thermal Observation Gunnery Sight). The Chieftain was produced in several variants. Marks 1 through 5 were original versions with the later marks being rebuilds and upgrades of the original versions. Mark 11 was the last operational version of the Chieftain, incorporating the changes mentioned.

The Chieftain, like the Centurion before it, enjoyed considerable sales in the Middle East but unlike the Centurion, was not adopted by NATO (who mainly bought German Leopards) and Commonwealth countries. Chieftain users in the Middle East were Iran (the largest), Iraq (who operated captured Iranian examples during the Iran-Iraq War), Jordan (who designated their Chieftains as Khalid Shir - they were ex-Iranian order for an upgraded Chieftain variant, basically a cross between the Chieftain and its successor, the Challenger), Oman and Kuwait. Iranian Chieftains were used against Iraq with mixed results due to chronic engine problems and lack of spare parts. Kuwaiti Chieftains saw action during the Battle Of The Bridges against elements of the Iraqi Hammurabi and Medina Guards Divisions on 2 August 1990.

The Kit
Takom was a new company, being established in 2013 with the Soviet Obyekt 279 heavy tank being their first kit. After a number of World War 1 and unusual / less kitted vehicles, they came up with three Chieftain kits in 2015 - Mk. 5/5P, Mk.10 and this kit. The medium grey-moulded parts were spread among seven sprues, upper and lower hulls, one-piece turret and shell and turret bottom, separate track pads, brown-moulded separate (and loose) track links, a PE fret, two poly caps and a vinyl mantlet cover. All the parts are very well-moulded featuring sharp and intricate details. The diagram in the instructions are CAD drawings but looks clear and not confusing. A small addendum sheet is also included. The decal sheet provide markings for five vehicles:

1. 5th Iniskilling Dragoon Guards, British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS), Canada (2 vehicles)
2. That famous 'Unknown Unit', BATUS
3. Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, Germany
4. A Sqn, 1 Royal Tank Regiment, Tofrek Barracks, Hildesheim, Germany 1992

As with the Marks 5 and 10 kits, the majority of British Army markings option were from BATUS. I just wish there were more BAOR marking options.

Construction
Before I start, I must mention that the kit's sprue gates are quite thick and square, requiring a bit more care. As with many other vehicle kits, construction started with the suspension units. The thick sprue gates almost made me broke the shock absorber arms on the front pairs of the Horstmann suspension. On other thing, I might be just me but Tamiya cement took a bit of time than usual to weld the parts together so I resorted to superglue for certain parts. The diagrams are also printed downside up so might want to have it well, upside down so that the images were oriented 'correctly'. Apart from that, there wasn't any problems with the lower hull and the suspension. Some might have an issue with the moulded springs as they look way simplified. The outer wheels was a multi-part affair to maximise details. The inner wheel on the other hand was a one-piece affair with less detail. Well, they would be mostly hidden from view, so why bother?

The instructions have you attach the rear hull plate to the lower hull after the tracks were put in place and after dry-fitting, I decided to do so as there won't be a good enough space to work the tracks if the rear plate is in place prior to the tracks. Takom has the track links already removed from the sprue a la Dragon's Magic Track. The track pads were however separately moulded. I took the route of least resistance by leaving the top run altogether as the side skirting would be in place, hiding the area from view. The tracks were not cemented to the wheels at this time in order to paint them and they were also separated into three segments to ease handling. In the meantime the wheels were removed and I painted the lower hull. When the tracks have cured, I painted them XF-64 and later washed them using AK Interactive Track Wash. The track pads were painted Tamiya XF-63 German Grey and were then then cemented into place. The cut scar was then retouched. The three segments for each track run was then cemented together and fitted to the wheels.

The upper hull was then cemented to the lower hull assembly. Logically, the rear plate was cemented first to make a stronger assembly before further work. The engine air filter(?) / exhaust system box on the rear plate was next and here the first PE part was encountered. The exhaust pipes themselves are of a split design with seam problems but the seams were mostly hidden from view by the stowage boxes on the mud guards. The spare tracks were left off at this time. Moving to the front of the hull, holes were drilled as indicated. The raised details on either side of the driver's vision block need to be removed but since my hobby chisel is too wide for this particular area, the cut wasn't clean. It actually didn't matter as the area was later covered by the add-on armour. Storage boxes were assembled but the fit was not great. The headlight brush guards were split into three parts and the best way to assemble them is by cementing the posts onto the hull first followed by the central bars, aligning them as you go. Oh, add the splash guard support strut before you do anything with the light guards - it was easier that way.

As for the turret, Takom has you add all the details first before joining the turret halves together. From past experiences, this may lead to broken parts. So the turret main body was assembled first. But before that the gun mount was assembled and put into place. I found that it was quite hard to get the turret shell to fit through the soft vinyl gun mask (but as usual, it might just be me) but in the end it was all OK. Nevertheless there was a sizeable gap around the gun mantlet which was quite fiddly to fill and sand. The well-detailed gun barrel is a two-piece affair and needed care in assembly to avoid ugly seam lines (and I took time admiring the details!). Before doing anything else (and hence forget about it later on), the addendum sheet was consulted and the not-needed detail was removed. After consulting various photos on the internet, I also removed the mounting for the rotating beacon on the turret roof (I believe the beacon was part of the 'laser tag' system used in maneuvers only and I wanted to have the model in 'combat-ready' posture...but the I might be wrong). The rest of the turret assembly went on without a problem, except for the stowage bins, which are a bit fiddly.

Painting and Decalling
I have decided early in the build not to finish this model in the BATUS scheme and leaves me with just the two BAOR schemes. Both schemes have NATO Green as the base colour and so Tamiya's XF-67 was used. I originally wanted to finish the model in the Royal Scots marking scheme, as it was single-colour and faster to finish. But I was having second thoughts about it, as most of my post-WW2 tank models are of single-colour schemes and adding another monotonous vehicle might not really a good idea. And so, the 1 RTR Chieftain it will be. The disruptive pattern was painted using Tamiya XF-69 NATO Black. However, during painting, I found that the pattern on the side and top elevations did not match. Turning to the internet, I found the build log of a modeller building the same kit and I copied the pattern he used on his Chieftain. The thermal sleeve was painted a mixture of XF-57 Buff and XF-49 Buff while the straps were painted straight XF-49.

The few decals were applied. They adhere with no problems although I still apply AK Interactive's decal setting solution, just in case. I deviated a bit from the instructions by placing a Union Jack on the front left fender. It wasn't on this particular tank but I have seen photos of other 1 RTR Chieftains sporting them. It might not be accurate per se but it was possible.  

Finishing
To tell the truth there aren't many things to do by this time, and mainly it was concerned with further weathering. The commander's machine gun mount was assembled and finally put in place and followed by the towing cables. As many photos, and also mentioned by the said modeller above (who was a Chieftain tank commander) showed the absence of the side-view mirrors, they were left off permanently. No other accessories were provided with the kit and I have run out of British accessories in my stash. I however managed to try some other methods to create camouflage nets. I tried to replicate the type usually used by the NATO armies by using the regular bandage gauze as base and adding tea leaves from used teabags. However the brand I drink has been using granulated leaves without me realising it. The gauze was soaked in white glue and the contents of teabag was poured onto it. Since the tea leaves are granulated rather than pieces of broken leaves, they look weird, to say the least. Nevertheless I used them.It was painted XF-49 Khaki , and then folded and placed onto the left-hand side turret bin.

No paint chippings were done as the same modeller said that these tanks were regularly repainted and that tank crews were not wearing hobnailed boots. I however made the model look dusty by applying thinned XF-55 Deck Tan all over it (I have run out of the usually used XF-57 Buff but found Deck Tan to be a very good substitute).  The lower glacis plate and part of the forward portion of the RPG skirt was then washed with AK Interactive Mud Wash. The exhaust nozzles receive a rather thick wash of X-19 Smoke. Finally guitar string was used as radio aerials although I manged to cut the one shorter than the other. The shorter one was used on the turret roof while the other was used on the turret side. As the model has already looked as flat as it is, I did not finish the build by spraying a final layer of flat finish.



Conclusion
This was my first Takom kit and frankly speaking I was quite impressed with it. While originally buying the kit with some reservations, having images of 1000+ parts a la Hobby Boss and Meng kits dancing in my mind, the build process was more akin to a Tamiya. In general the parts fitted nicely while having fairly respectable details. Painting directions however was a bit 'off' and I wish Takom had more BAOR markings. Well, at least it was better than their Mark 10 kit which featured an Abrams stand-in for a popular TV show and a static target at BATUS (yes, a static target waiting to be blasted by Challys, what was Takom thinking?).