Friday, February 12, 2010

The Other Half of That P-40 Thing

When last we met, a mere day ago give or take, we were discussing the 1/48th scale Hasegawa P-40E as built for the 49th FG during their Darwin period. During the course of that discussion I somewhat foolishly promised to discuss the camouflage and markings in a later edition of this effort, so without further ado:

The 49th is one of the more famous fighter groups from the SW Pacific, and served with distinction throughout the Second World War. Their initial combat aircraft was the Curtiss P-40E, and their equipment ended up being a real dogs and cats sort of thing, with two squadrons (the 7th and 8th) receiving Olive Drab over Neutral Gray aircraft from USAAF stocks. The third squadron (the 9th) had a few of those too, but a number of their aircraft came from British contract (you can tell by the RAF serial numbers but watch out, because they also received similarly painted aircraft that had never been on British contract but simply painted that way to make things a little easier at the Curtiss factory during a period of what could only be described as frenzied production in order to build enough airplanes). The end result was a colorful mishmash of airplanes in the 49th.

We could discuss the history of the group, but this ain't the place. If you're interested in that, or in an overall view of the 49th's camouflage and markings, I strongly suggest you obtain copies of the following:

Curtiss Fighter Aircraft, a Photographic History; Dean and Hagedorn, Schiffer, 2007. This is an excellent history of the Curtiss fighters in general, with a strong P-40 section. A must-have if you're interested in the subject.

Protect and Avenge, The 49th Fighter Group in World War II; Ferguson and Pascalis, Schiffer, 1996. The best history of the 49th that's presently available. Excellent photos and a day-by-day account of the Group's operations. Another must-have.

49th Fighter Group; McDowell, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1989. Ernie McDowell loved the P-40 and authored several books on the subject. This pictorial history is inexpensive and provides photographic coverage of the group. The color profiles need to be taken with a great many grains of salt, but the book itself is extremely worthwhile and was, for a great many years, the best thing going on the 49th during the war. It may still be in print and is well worth buying.

P-40 Camouflage Special; Ian K. Baker's Aviation History Colouring Book, Baker, 2003. This tiny missive is a gold mine of P-40 camouflage and markings in general, and covers Reynold's "Stardust" in considerable detail.

So, now you've got the references, or at least know what they are. Yesterday we discussed the kit, so we don't need to cover that ground again. It's probably time to paint the model instead, and get some markings on it too, but first let's remember that the subject of this ramble is P-40E ET603 of the 9th FS, 49th FG, nicknamed "Stardust/Oklahoma Kid" and only that. This is important to remember, because it seems that no two of the 9th's P-40s were alike, even though they should have been. Even "normal" P-40 paint jobs have caused ongoing controversy within the world of scale modeling, and the 49th's birds weren't normal. Let's accept that as a premise and proceed.

First, there's the paint, or more specifically the paint as it applies to a model. Curtiss was trying to fulfil an RAF contract when "Stardust's" airframe was painted, but they were using American paints and, apparently, American color standards in an attempt to match the British specifications of the contract. The result was a fairly dark green over a strong pinkish-tan, with light blue-gray (or maybe just light gray) undersurfaces. The model you see on this page was painted in Testor ModelMaster 34079 (the green), 30219 (the tan), and 36118 (the "light" gray), with an interior done with Floquil "Pullman Green" slightly tinted with black. The fuselage camouflage goes through the areas of the quarter-panel windows, so don't go painting that area in the interior color, please! You might also note that Curtiss didn't spray these colors free-hand; photos exist of them painting over pre-shaped hard rubber masks. That means a fairly hard demarcation between colors.

There are a couple of other things we should note regarding the paintwork of this airplane. First, that undersurface gray. It should've been light gray, and may well have been, but the surviving photographs of "Stardust" all show her with dark undersurfaces. Since at least one of these photos shows the aircraft beside another P-40 in the same scheme but with significantly lighter undersurfaces, it's possible that her airframe was done in Neutral Gray down there, even though it shouldn't have been. There's no definitive proof either way, but I liked the look that darker gray gave the model and I think it's accurate. You be the judge if you decide to do the scheme yourself.

There are other anomalies as well, and they serve to make ET603 an extremely interesting aircraft. When AmTech did their P-40E kit they included decals for "Stardust", and they're far better than the previously existing aftermarket decals for this airplane. The instruction sheet accompanying those decals also gave a fascinating discussion of ET603's colors, and published a murky (darn the luck!) photo of the right side of the nose that appears to show a dark area of camouflage where the approved "RAF" scheme should be the lighter tan color. AmTech speculated this color to be Olive Drab and the tonal values look about right. There's also a similar patch of paint under the orange background to the diving eagle found on "Stardust's" left fuselage, and at the base of the port wing root. Finally, there's a rectangular patch under the tail number that is very dark and appears to be black, and there's also a black (?) area painted at the wingroot. As for the spinner, it could have been the tan color, but seems more likely to have been dark green. As a wild shot, it could also have been red (the 9th's "Java Flight" color) but I think that's doubtful. My interpretation of all this is represented in the model shown. I can't prove it's 100% right, but I can't prove it's wrong either, and I spent quite a bit of time trying to do both before I painted the thing. What you do on yours is pretty obviously your call, but I think this treatment is fairly close to reality. Anybody out there got a genuine WW2-vintage color photo of ET603?

As for the markings, there are a few things to note. The diving eagle is probably found on the port side only, and it's highly likely that the background was orange or orange-yellow rather than yellow. (The AmTech decals, which used to be available separately from the kit, give the orange interpretation.) There's a command stripe on the aft fuselage, but it stops just shy of the gray undersurfaces, and the fuselage national insignia is placed higher than we're used to seeing it; that seems to be the way Curtiss did things on the British-camouflaged aircraft, because it shows up in a lot of photographs of AAF P-40s from this era.

Finally, "Stardust" was a dirty airplane. The photos of her show lots of smudging and streaking, which adds a lot of character to the model.

So, there you have it. I think the scheme, and the model, are pretty close. Are they spot on? I dunno. There are folks out there who would claim to know, although that's a stretch in my world. This is a best-effort, but your interpretation (and I strongly encourage you to make one) may vary from my opinion. That's what makes this hobby fun!

Until next time,

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