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Tom Cleaver
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Airfix 1/48 Seafire F.R.47

August 21, 2015 · in Aviation · · 15 · 3.1K

65 years ago this summer...

On 25 June 1950, the North Korean invasion of South Korea found the United States in a greater state of military unpreparedness than had the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor nine and a half years earlier. In the wake of the creation of the Department of Defense in 1948, a decision meant to unify the armed forces, the unification arguments of the preceding year, combined with President Truman's desire to cut military spending to levels not seen since before 1941, had the military service in disarray. President Truman's decision to intervene in Korea caught the U.S. Navy even more unprepared for combat in the Far East than the other services. In the years following the end of the Second World War, the Navy and Marine Corps had been drastically reduced. In the aftermath of the creation of the Air Force as an independent co-equal service, and the creation of the Department of Defense to unify the armed forces, there had been a series of political battles over the dominance of the Air Force as the prime delivery force of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Following the cancellation of the new aircraft carrier USS United States in 1949, there had been a real fear that Naval Aviation would be transferred to the Air Force, while the Marine Corps was inducted into the Army.

The Navy was so reduced by budget constraints that before January 1950, no U.S. aircraft carrier had operated west of Hawaii since 1947. USS Boxer (CV-21) had deployed to the Far East on 11 January, returning to the United States on 13 June when she was relieved by USS Valley Forge (CV-47). Additionally, since there were no major operating facilities for naval ships in Japan, the Seventh Fleet was based at Subic Bay in the Philippines, distant from Korea. Fortunately, Air Group 5 aboard Valley force was the most modern naval air group, with two squadrons of F9F-2 Panthers, two squadrons of F4U-4B Corsairs, and a squadron of new AD-4 Skyraiders.

The only other naval force in the Far East was the Royal Navy squadron at Hong Kong. The Royal Navy had been subject to even greater post-war economies than had the U.S. Navy. A single light carrier, HMS Triumph, had operated in the Far East since the preceding December and was preparing to return to Britain. Triumph's Carrier Air Wing 13 consisted of 800 Squadron's 12 obsolescent F.R. 47 fighters and 827 Squadron's 12 obsolete Firefly F.R. I light attack bombers.

Acting on his own on 26 June, Rear Admiral Sir William G. Andrewes, RN, commander of the Royal Navy's Far Eastern Fleet, departed Hong Kong at 0130 hours, directing his ships to concentrate in Southern Japanese ports. HMS Triumph was nearing Hong Kong after flying missions in support of Operation Firedog, the battle with communist guerillas in Malaya. The two formations met at sea, Triumph joining the heavy cruisers HMS Jamaica and Belfast, flying Admiral Andrewes' flag, destroyers Cossack and Consort, and frigates Black Swan, Alacrity, Hart and Shoalhaven, with the Australian HMAS Bataan. The Commonwealth fleet arrived at the Royal Australian Navy base in Kure, Japan, on 28 June. By 29 June, all Commonwealth forces in the Far East as well as Canada had been ordered to participate in the UN force. Task Force 77 (the official designation of the Seventh Fleet Striking Force) had departed Subic Bay on 27 June, and arrived at Buckner Bay, Okinawa, on 30 June, where it was joined the next day by the Commonwealth fleet.

The morning of 29 June, four days after the outbreak of war, Republican Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, leader of the conservative, Midwestern, isolationist wing of the party, rose in the Senate and attacked the President for not seeking congressional approval to go to war, stating further that the North Korean invasion revealed the flaws of the Acheson foreign policy that had led to a policy that was “soft on communism” and called for Acheson's resignation. Later that afternoon, President Truman met reporters at Blair House and attempted to downplay events in Korea because he was intent on limiting any sense that there was a growing confrontation with the Soviet Union, as Republicans had been claiming. One reporter asked if the United States was actually at war, to which Truman replied it was not. A second reporter asked “Would it be possible to call this a police action under the United Nations?” “Yes,” the President answered. “That is exactly what it amounts to.” Out of a question casually asked and answered would a war and its policies be defined. Following the press conference, Truman learned that North Korean forces were close to Seoul. General MacArthur called shortly thereafter and stated his belief that the situation could not be stabilized without the introduction of American ground combat forces.

At 0130 hours on the morning of 30 June, Ambassador Muccio notified Acheson that “things were desperate on the peninsula,” and that MacArthur was going to formally request the authority to commit ground troops. The General's cable to the Joint Chiefs arrived 90 minutes later. His words were fateful: “The only assurance for holding of the present line, and the ability to regain the lost ground, is through the introduction of U.S. ground forces into the Korean battle area. To continue to utilize the forces of our Air and Navy without an effective ground element cannot be decisive.”

With the President's approval, the 24th Infantry Division was ordered to establish a Regimental Combat Team for transfer to Korea. On 1 July, the two squadrons of B-29s in the Far East flew from Guam to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, where they prepared to commence bombing operations in North Korea as soon as possible.

The combined fleet sortied from Okinawa on 1 July, with the British cruisers and frigates, now designated Task Group 96.8, the West Korean Support Group, departing to reinforce the American fire support group off the coast of South Korea. Task Force 77 was ordered to strike the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

By dawn on 3 July, Task Force 77 had reached the middle of the Yellow Sea, 150 miles from their North Korean target, but only 100 miles from Chinese airfields on the Shantung Peninsula and less than 200 miles from the Soviet air base at Port Arthur. At 0500 hours, USS Valley Forge launched combat air and anti-submarine patrols. At 0545 hours, HMS Triumph launched nine Seafires and twelve Fireflies to attack the airfield at Haeju. At 0600 hours, Valley Forge launched sixteen Corsairs from VF-53 and VF-54, and twelve Skyraiders from VA-55 against Pyongyang airfield. When the propeller planes had gained a suitable head start, Valley Forge catapulted eight F9F‑2 Panthers of VF-51 that would be the first aircraft over the target. When the American jets swept over the North Korean capital, two airborne Yak-9s were spotted and destroyed, with another damaged, while nine aircraft were reported destroyed on the ground by strafing attacks. The Corsairs and Skyraiders followed the Panthers, bombing hangars and fuel storage at Pyongyang airfield while the British force hit nearby Haeju. Anti-aircraft opposition was negligible, and the attackers suffered no damage or loss. That afternoon, aircraft from Triumph flew a second strike against railroad lines, while Valley Forge launched a second strike against the rail marshaling yards in Pyongyang and the bridges over the Taedong River. Considerable damage was inflicted on locomotives and rolling stock, but the bridges survived. In view of the “rapidly deteriorating Korean situation,” as General MacArthur reported it, additional strikes were flown on 4 July, with further damage inflicted on railroads while one bridge over the Taedong was knocked down. Four Skyraiders were damaged in these final strikes.

The sudden appearance of U.S. and British aircraft more than 400 miles from the nearest American airfield was a rude awakening for the North Koreans. Indeed, the attacks may have deterred a sizable commitment of Soviet aircraft to North Korean bases that week, for which the North Koreans had been negotiating since the outbreak of war. In addition to deterring immediate Soviet participation in the war, the value of carrier striking forces had been proven once again and would never again be seriously questioned. The U.S. Navy had won the political argument over service integration; there would never again be any proposals to abolish naval aviation.

For the rest of the month of July, the short-ranged Seafires were used for air defense of the fleet, while the Fireflies operated as spotter aircraft for the surface fleet gunfire support units as they attacked the North Korean transport system. Following the stabilization of the front at the Pusan Perimeter, the Fleet Air Arm aircraft participated fully in support of UN ground forces in the desperate fight to hold off the North Korean Army. Over the course of August and early September, all Firefly I aircraft in the Far East were used up in operations, along with the nine Seafire 47s available for replacement. By the time HMS Triumph departed the Far East to return to Britain following the successful invasion of Inchon that changed the nature of the war, 800 Squadron had only five Seafires that could be flown under relaxed safety rules; all of the Seafires had been so badly damaged structurally by their hard use aboard the carrier that they were written off and junked upon arrival home. Carrier Air Wing 13 had performed “above and beyond” in preventing catastrophe in the opening months of the Korean War.

released the Seapfire 46/47 and 22/24 kits in 1996. These Spitfire and Seafire sub-types had long been wanted by modelers and the kits represented a real boost to Airfix's line of kits as regards production quality and accuracy. The only real complaint modelers had was that the decal sheets were not up to the quality of the rest of the kit. Last fall, Airfix re-released the Seafire 46/47 kit, with high-quality new decals printed by Cartograf.

There are minor glitches to the kits in terms of accuracy, most of which most modelers can live with. The one thing that is really needed, however, is a corrected canopy, since what is there is incorrect in shape and results in an off-putting “sit” with the model completed. Fortunately, Falcon made a vacuform canopy for the Seafire that is completely correct. This is also avalable as a Squadron Canopy from Squadron Hobbies.

The kit goes together with little problem. I advise that if you are going to do the Seafire 47 with the wings unfolded that you use a strip of sheet plastic inside the joint between inner and outer wing, and glue upper and lower surfaces together before further assembly of the wing subassembly. Everything will fit right if you do that. The portholes for the cameras in the rear fuselage are not a good fit. I used Micro Krystal-Klear glue for these. In Korea, the Seafires of 800 Squadron used the “combat” slipper tanks on the outer wing to provide necessary range, with only one set of rocket rails mounting two rockets under each wing, so assemble accordingly.

The kit provides the black and white ID stripes as decals, which fit perfectly and greatly ease the problems of getting the stripes right. In my research for the new book I have recently written for Osprey about the first year of the Korean War, I found that these stripes were not applied until after the Pyongyang strikes on 3-4 July 1950, so I left them off because I wanted to memorialize that event with this model. Most modelers will elect to use the decals, which make for a colorful model as a result.

I painted the Extra Dark Sea Grey upper surfaces first, then masked them off and painted the rest of the model with Sky, using Xtracrylix paints. I then gave the model a coat of Xtracrylix Gloss varnish and applied the decals. The new kit decals go one without problem and melt down into the surface under a coat of Micro-Sol. After the decals set, I washed off the model and applied a coat of Xtracrylix Satin varnish, which looks better as a ‘gloss” finish in scale. The prop blades were given a coat of Xtracrylix Flat varnish.

I unmasked the canopy and installed it in the open position, attaching the side flap open. I attached the counter-rotating prop and the underwing ordnance and drop tanks.

One can see building this model just how much Airfix has improved things with their recent Hurricane I and Spitfire I releases as compared with the last time they created a world-class kit with this Seafire 46-47. That said, this is still a good kit that makes up into a beautiful model. The kit can be found at many distributors, both the LHS and online. Highly recommended.

Reader reactions:
3  Awesome

14 additional images. Click to enlarge.

15 responses

  1. Nice!
    47 in RN service .

  2. The Seafire is one of those 'last gasp' types that offered superb piston engine performance in an age where such performance was considered a minimum standard for the jets of the period. It was like announcing a new, magnificent breed of thoroughbred on the day Henry Ford opened his car factory in Detroit; its time had passed. That said, it is one great looking aircraft.

  3. That's a good lookin' bird Tom! And of course, as usual, I loved the backstory. As a history teacher, I just can't resist that! Thanks!

  4. Tom, really nice build. One thing I really like is you off set the props, instead of lining them up like some modelers do. Have them off set like this gives it that busy look a counter rotating prop should have.

  5. Yet another magazine article worthy of printed media and some great sharp.clear photos of another Spitfire legend in Korea. Kind of like shark week with all the different Spitfires that have the graced the sky's above.

    Two thumbs up TC.

  6. very nice to see this...well done

  7. Great looking model Tom, looks sharp in FAA colours.

  8. Great looking build !

  9. Nice looking bird, great paint application, very different.

  10. Tom, really looks the part, she does.Fitting end to a lovely line. Looks like a thoroughbred, dare I say the earlier ones seem stumpy in comparison? (heresy!)
    Thanks for the "word" on the rockets, I'd have loaded her up. Like them leading edge tanks, too. No centerline tank?
    Agree she looks better without the Korea/don't shoot me down stripes.IMHO.

    • Yeah, and even with the "don't shoot me" stripes, the only aerial loss was on 28 July when four Seafires on CAP were vectored to an unknown bogey where they discovered four B-29s. When one flew close, it got shot by a B-29, hit the rear fuel tank and set it on fire. Pilot rolled over and bailed out but was still burned. To top it off the sea was to heavy for the Sea Otter to come get him, Valley Forge's HO3S-1 had been lost to engine failure, so he had to swim for an hour till a destroyer got to him. Fortunately it was summer so he was only a chilled mackerel when they pulled him out. In answer to the British complaint, the AF said "Don't fly so close next time."

      • The reason for no centerline tank is the combat tanks didn't have to be dropped, while the centerline did, and they didn't have that many of them on the carrier.

  11. Really nice looking Seafire Tom. Always enjoy your Spitfire builds and appreciate the history and kit reviews you provide.

  12. Thanks Tom for the very informative text on the Seafires in Korea. You mentioned writing a book for Osprey on the first year of the Korean War. Can't wait to read it. Great build !

  13. To get a comparison with the earlier Seafire XVII from the Airfix range, I set up a photo call with two of the XVIIs already in my collection. The earlier elliptical wing form with a different folding system.

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