Captain Richard E. Fleming,USMC, VMSB-241, Accurate Miniatures, Vought SB2U-3 Vindicator
I saved this for last of my builds for Midway. A Marine first and foremost, Capt Fleming was fully aware of the limitations of the Vindicator, facing a far more superior force in the Japanese Navy. Faster planes, ships bristling with anti-aircraft filling the ocean skies.
Born in St Paul, Minnesota, November 2, 1917, Richard Fleming attended the Saint Thomas Military Academy and graduated in the class of 1935. He was chosen as top student officer in his senior year. He then furthered his education by attending the University of Minnesota, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1939. After graduating he then enlisted in the USMC reserves and applied for flight training. He was sent to NAS Pensacola and finished at the top his class in 1940. He was then promoted to 1st lieutenant in April 1942 and then Captain soon afterward. Capt Fleming’s first duty station was at NAB San Diego, Ca. 10 days after Pearl Harbor he flew to Midway Island from Pearl Harbor. Assigned to VMSB-241 as a flight officer, then command of the squadron when CO Major Lofton Henderson was shot down on the initial attack of the Japanese carrier battle group on June 4th. The next attack Captain Fleming led his squadron to attack the Japanese fleet, he left his formation to dive perilously low to hit a ship. Next day out on June 5th, he led the 2nd division on a mass dive bombing assault on the battle cruiser Mikuma, he succeded on scoring a near miss on the Mikuma but also exposing himself to heavy anti-aircraft fire and got hit several times, he could not pull out of his dive and smashed into the sea, his gunner private first class George Albert Toms was also killed. For this action, beyond the call of duty Captain Fleming was awarded the Medal of Honor, here is the citation as presented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt:
CAPTAIN RICHARD E. FLEMING
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS RESERVE
for service as set forth in the following CITATION:
For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty as Flight Officer, Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron TWO FORTY-ONE during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Battle of Midway on June 4 and 5, 1942. When his squadron Commander was shot down during the initial attack upon an enemy aircraft carrier, Captain Fleming led the remainder of the division with such fearless determination that he dived his own plane to the perilously low altitude of four hundred feet before releasing his bomb. Although his craft was riddled by 179 hits in the blistering hail of fire that burst upon him from Japanese fighter guns and antiaircraft batteries, he pulled out with only two minor wounds inflicted upon himself. On the night of June 4, when the Squadron Commander lost his way and became separated from the others, Captain Fleming brought his own plane in for a safe landing at its base despite hazardous weather conditions and total darkness. The following day, after less than four hours’ sleep, he led the second division of his squadron in a coordinated glide-bombing and dive- bombing assault upon a Japanese battleship. Undeterred by a fateful approach glide, during which his ship was struck and set afire, he grimly pressed home his attack to an altitude of five hundred feet, released his bomb to score a near-miss on the stern of his target, then crashed to the sea in flames. His dauntless perseverance and unyielding devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Vought SB2U-3 Vindicator on Midway Island were long overdue for general maintenance when June rolled around in 1942. With word coming that the Japanese were sending a task force to invade Midway in early June, plans to send the Vindicators to Hawaii for depot level maintenance was belayed. Midway only had squadron level of maintenance available. No material to replace the ragged tearing fabric on the rear fuselage sections was available. So typical Marine fashion, taking the initiative,improvise, overcome and adapt! The stripes on the rear fuselage were not squadron markings but bandage tape wrapped around to keep the fabric in place. No two aircraft were alike. Then doped over to keep the airstream from peeling the tape off while in flight. Today we use 100 mph tape. The Vindicator first flown in 1936 was obsolete at the start of WWII, a 2 bladed prop plane facing experienced Japanese pilots with far superior aircraft at this time of the war. The young inexperienced naval aviators with no combat flying against seasoned veterans. Yet despite the odds and misfortune, the Marines fought as they were trained. Always seem with 2nd hand equipment and hand me downs from the Navy. Midway Naval Station had a ragtag of not only the Vindicators, but Buffalo’s mixed with the slightly more capable Wildcat and Dauntlesses. I believe the only one left intact in existence is in Pensacola Florida, a -2. The -3 was Marine specific flown with VMSB-241 and VMSB-131. This would be the last major battle the Vindicator would participate in. Despite the overwhelming odds the Marines who flew them, did so gallantly. Disrupting the Japanese carrier operations by keeping them maneuvering to avoid the constant attacks. Enough to allow the Navy ship borne aircraft to attack them at their most vulnerable moments.
It has been awhile since the last time I built an Accurate Miniatures kit, I do miss them once I started to work on the Vindicator, delicate detail that is very good. Still the at times vague instructions I would encounter at time during the build. This is the one kit that had it’s challenges. Careful to cut the small fragile bits off the sprues or your going to break it. Which I did on one occasion. But fortunately not destroy it. The kit can be built to represent any of the VMSB-241 aircraft, the decal set providing the side numbers to represent any of the planes that flew. The featured plane on the cover is side number 6. The 2nd is Capt Fleming’s side #2. I used the kit decals for Capt Flemings Vindicator, Eduard’s PE zoom set for this kit, and Montex canopy mask for the glazing. Which I didn’t have to as the kit provided masks which I didn’t notice until I was almost finished with the build. For the scheme of USN Blue Grey over Lt Grey, I used Aeromaster War bird color USN Blue/Grey lightened with light grey. And lightened even further for the fabric section of the fuselage. These planes were rough in appearance and worn out. I wasn’t aware of the stars on the wings being too large until reading Tom Cleaver’s Vindicator, I was already done when the article came out. I went with the blue under the wings though something told me (a little voice) that they may be overall lt grey since they were on the Island. And figures Tom’s article has the Vindicator overall Lt Grey undersurface. But I was going to leave the bandage stripes white as I couldn’t think of a way to represent a dirty dopey look. Until Tom’s article of using Tamiya Smoke. How simple of an idea that worked. So a little Smoke in the airbrush solved that even though I was done with the build at the time.
In conclusion it has been the most interesting Group Build I have ever participated in. Building 3 aircraft in three and 1/2 months is quite an achievement for me as normally I have a tough time building one in 6 months. But it was an honor to be among friends and colleagues in this endeavor. Learning a little bit more of the battle, the men on both sides, the circumstance of the whole scenario. Reading accounts first hand of the survivors. Amazing story on America’s desperate fight and Japanese resolve and determination. Thank you for viewing. May God continue to bless the United States of America.
38 additional images. Click to enlarge.