At the end of my previous post in this build log, I’d got the main body of the aircraft ready for final weathering and the placement of details like the propeller, external fuel tanks, undercarriage and guns.
The propeller is the Hamilton propeller (and associated decals) that comes with the kit, despite the fact it’s not required for either of the aircraft the kit instructions depict. (Thanks for that, Tamiya.) It has a red hub, because the aircraft belonged to ‘A’ Flight of 135 Sq. RAF, who gave their ‘A’ Flight aircraft red hubs, and their ‘B’ Flight aircraft blue hubs.
The external fuel tanks were filched from another kit, Tamiya’s P-47M—I wanted the big 150-gallon (US), rather than the smaller options available with the P-47D kit. The undercarriage was detailed with more Eduard photoetch parts and placards, and a set of resin wheels from Squadron.
They ended up looking like this:
I went on to weather the propeller slightly, with gentle metallic dry-brushing along the leading edges to simulate paint wear, and some pale LifeColor Liquid Pigment to the rear surfaces. (Real propellers are counter-intuitively dirtier on the back than on the front—the low pressure airflow across the front surface keeps dirt away from the propeller blade, while the high pressure behind concentrates the airflow and grime.)
I used the Tamiya decals for the fuel cap and label on the external tanks, and immediately regretted the label—it’s quite clearly marked as being for a 75-gallon tank. I went on to dull down the bright metal of the tanks a little—the real items were stored in heaps, sometimes outdoors, so they wouldn’t retain that factory-fresh look for long. And, during the weathering process, I decided I rather not have the labels than have the wrong labels, so they ended up in the bin.
With the tanks fitted to the wing pylons, I had one last detail to add to them. Because of worries about a dropped tank flipping in the airflow and striking the rear edge of the wing, the wing pylons were equipped with spring-loaded fork arms. These were deployed to pressed down on the rear of the tanks, and then they snapped up to a stowed position along the back of the pylon after the tank was released. The Tamiya kit provides these in the stowed position, as part of the pylon moulding. I’d previously removed these, and now I was able to add an Eduard photoetch part to depict the fork arms in their deployed positions. (I’m not convinced the Eduard arms are the right length, when compared to photographs of the real thing, but they were acceptable.)
The guns mounted in the wings fired through metal blast tubes. While a photo of 135 Squadron Thunderbolts exists showing the blast tubes painted white to match the SEAC white stripe on the wing, this seems to have been taken very soon after the SEAC markings were first applied.
I have photographs from later in the war, like the one below from my father’s photo album, which show bare metal tubes—I suspect the paint flaked off the stainless steel tubes fairly quickly.
Once the blast tubes were in place, I added a little smoke staining to the white SEAC stripe. I concentrated this on the underside, streaming back from the cartridge ejection chutes, and around the muzzles of the two outermost guns, which open almost flush with the wing edge. Some modellers depict four matched, parallel streams of smoke-staining on the upper wing, behind the guns, but this makes little sense when the gun muzzles protrude beyond the wing leading edge. The air stream crossing the upper wing is ascending as it crosses the gun muzzles, and will carry smoke in an arc above the wing, rather than across its surface. Photographs of the real thing generally show minimal staining of the upper wing, for the same reason the front of the propeller tends to stay clean.
Then a little weathering to the wing roots and the fuselage on either side of the cockpit, again with some metallic dry brushing to simulate paint damage. A few flecks of silver around the edges of panels that would be frequently removed (engine cowling, guns) and along the wing leading edges behind the propeller. And then some pale grubbiness at the wing roots and behind the gun panels, where the ground crew would have walked most frequently.
The last touch was to add a strand of stretched sprue to simulate the radio antenna.
The final model is as close as I can get to the appearance of HB981 on the morning of 2nd May 1945, when she took off from Akyab Main to perform “cab rank” duties for the Operation Dracula landings at Rangoon. (That is, the aircraft would loiter above the landing zone, using fuel from their external tanks, so that they could be called in at short notice to strafe any Japanese positions resisting the landing.) But instead of carrying on south with the rest of the 135 Squadron aircraft deployed that morning, HB981 lost power on take-off and ground-looped off the end of the runway, tearing off both wings in the process. The pilot (my father) hopped out of the cockpit unscathed, and then hopped back in again to retrieve his parachute (it was a chargeable offence to lose a parachute), before walking back to the end of the runway and having a seat (on the parachute) while he waited for a vehicle to come and get him.
Soon afterwards, he was photographed standing on the wreckage. The photograph then had a hectic life of its own, sustaining a lot of surface damage before being accidentally torn in half. My father then seems to have rephotographed the torn halves, before adding the picture to his wartime photo album, marked “My Crash”.
His crash even made it into the textbooks. In Thunderbolt: A Documentary History Of The Republic P-47, Roger Freeman narrates the story with some amusement (p.77):
The squadron number is wrong (135 didn’t renumber to 615 until later in the war), my father’s name is spelt wrongly (a common error) and the story has grown a little in the telling.
But here’s what HB981 would have looked like, I think, before it got so dramatically bent.
And finally, a comparison with the Hurricane IIC I built earlier, showing what a brute the Thunderbolt was in comparison, and why RAF pilots, used to Hurricanes and Spitfires, claimed that the easiest way to avoid enemy fire in a Thunderbolt was to get out of your harness and run around the cockpit: