None More Black

A Fairey Swordfish, and not as you usually see these famous old planes.
I bought this kit a very long time ago; on my very long to-do list is a vague project of making a group of the planes a certain uncle flew. I never met him, he was killed in WWII. Basil was a pilot and an observer in the Fleet Air Arm from around 1929 onwards, serving principally in HMS Glorious, whose aircraft sported distinctive yellow stripes in peacetime. Although the Swordfish is very well known, the others aren't, and ideally I'd still like to pick up kits of two other aircraft. One, the Fairey IIIF, doesn't seem to have ever been kitted by anybody. A shame, because it was a very elegant looking machine. But it never went to war, and that's what attracts kitmakers.

So. My uncle left behind a number of photos, some taken by himself, and the Swordfish featured in them all have the classic silver dope, and the Glorious' yellow markings. A very different appearance to this one. I've built it because time has moved on, and Airfix has brought out a very nice new tooling, including the exact same markings seen on one of my uncle's pictures. Which means this MPM kit either gets built or binned.

It really isn't a great kit. In fact my impression is that it may have started life as someone else's moulding, many years ago, and has then had at least two 'upgrades', firstly with some photo-etch parts courtesy of Czech firm Eduard (They're kings of what is known as the 'aftermarket', producing a huge variety of sets of small detail parts in photo-etch and resin, designed to up the quality of the basic kit), and then with a bag of resin replacement parts. The result is that there are different options for many of the parts, eg. both PE and resin control sticks. Sounds great so far, doesn't it? Unfortunately, the basic kit is now in a terrible state. Moulds don't properly align, and there's 'flash' everywhere. The basic kit by itself is quite a challenge; each wing consists of six parts, namely starboard centre and port, in each case top and bottom. Biplanes are hard enough anyway, with that crisis point when one tries to fit the top wing.

Even when new, the parts would have looked pretty crude by today's standards. So trying to pretty it up with all those detail parts is a lost cause, especially given the small scale of 1:72. I barely considered using the resin parts, they just wouldn't have been worth the trouble. A few of the PE parts looked pleasingly delicate, like the strut-mounted aerials, so I used those; and also the instrument panel, which you can see if you look carefully. Eduard do those very well. By the way, despite what it says on the box, about being produced in Russia, this definitely is a Czech kit. They're currently quite big in this hobby.

I had a couple of reasons for going ahead with the kit. One was that I have this one wall cabinet - I'll write about that some time, it includes models going way back to school days - which I use for this kind of thing, 'abstracts' if you like - no rigging or decals, mostly simple, mostly biplanes, and all in 1:72. This one adds another colour to the mix, in the shape of the none more black Swordfish Mk.III. The story of the Mk.III is the other reason, a slice of history I wasn't aware of. The thing is, the Swordfish is indeed well known; there are a couple which still fly at air displays, and as the torpedo bomber it was originally designed, it took part in some celebrated actions, like the sinking of the Bismarck, and the Battle of Taranto. But those were relatively early in WWII. And although it was a brilliant naval aircraft, it was wanting in combat performance, what with its very slow speed.

The ironic thing is that what extended its useful service to the end of the war, with amazing success, actually made it even slower. You've already spotted it, that massive drag inducing radome between its legs. It turns out that the Swordfish Mk.III, as this version was known, was responsible for sinking loads of U-Boats. What's missing from the kit are the depth charges the plane would have carried under its wings. It was an unwelcome shock for the Germans, when they found they could no longer assume they were safe following their established practice of running on the surface at night. The Mk.III could find them; stealthy in black, it would steal up on them unawares and attack. The context for this is the Navy's use of escort carriers. These were small converted merchant vessels, carrying maybe 10-20 aircraft, protecting vital convoys. Imagine their flight decks, pitching and heaving; you want a steady, reliable plane capable of lifting off that tiny deck in miserable conditions, carrying radar and weaponry and the crew to operate them. I can't think of any other aircraft which could have done the job.

PS - Just in case anyone is wondering about the title; yes, I have seen, and love, Spinal Tap.