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JG1 “Checkernose”

The Fw-190A-6 was the last version of the “mid-range” Fw-190A series. As with the A-2, A-3, A-4 and A-5 sub-types, it had two 7.62mm machine guns mounted in the fuselage, for primary use as “sighting weapons.” Unlike the earlier versions, it dropped the outer-wing 20mm MG-FF drum-fed cannon – which had presented problems from the outset with its slower rate of fire and differing range and trajectory from the excellent 20mm MG 151 mounted in the wing roots – and provided an all-MG 151 armament. Still comparatively light weight, the Fw-190A-6 was the “last of the dog fighters,” and would be used on the Eastern Front in the air superiority role till the end of the war.

However, the main use of the Fw-190A-6 – and the reason for its existence with its heavy armament – was on the Western Front, where the USAAF’s 8th Air Force was gathering strength and reaching out across Western Europe and into Germany in the spring and summer of 1943 when the A-6 made its appearance.

While the Fw-190A was always the German fighter with the best armament for opposing heavy bombers, it was at a disadvantage against the Americans, since the Wurger’s best altitude performance was at approximately 23,000 feet, and the American bombers were coming in at 25,000-27,000 feet. Thus, by the time the Fw-190-equipped units struggled up to 28,000 to 29,000 feet to make their famous “twelve o’clock high” head-on attacks against the bombers, they were at a serious disadvantage if they ran across any opposing P-47s – which would be operating at their best height at that altitude.

Thus, the Jagdgeschwadern opposing the Americans – JG 2 over the Cotentin Peninsula in western France, JG 26 in northern France and southern Belgium, and JG 1 in northern Belgium and Holland – were forced in the spring of 1943 to change from being solely equipped with Fw-190s in all Gruppen to having two Gruppen on the Fw-190 and the third flying the Bf-109G-2 and later Bf-109G-4, which could fly and fight at altitudes above 30,000 feet. The responsibility of the 109s was to cover the 190s and keep the fighters away while the 190s concentrated on the bombers. Unfortunately, the Germans were about as successful with this tactic as the RAF had been assigning Spitfires to cover Hurricanes and take on the Luftwaffe’s 109s while the Hurricanes took on the Heinkels and Dorniers during the Battle of Britain. As the summer of 1943 wore on and the P-47s of the 8th Air Force acquired the ability to reach out further from England to the west German border, the Fw-190s found themselves more and more frequently fighting off Thunderbolts while trying to set up for a “company front” attack on the bomber screen. It was in these early battles that the Luftwaffe began hemorrhaging the one commodity they couldn’t afford to lose: experienced pilots. Within six months of the first Schweinfurt mission in August 1943, the Jagdwaffe would be a shadow of its former self after fighting off the deep-penetration missions in February and March 1944.

But so long as the Americans lacked the ability to escort the bombers all the way to their distant targets and back, the Luftwaffe exacted such a toll on the bombers than a B-17 or B-24 crewman on his sixth mission was statistically flying another man’s time, since the life expectancy of a bomber crewman in 1943 was five missions – with 25 required to complete a tour. Anyone today who has ever been inside “9-0-9″ or “Aluminum Overcast” or “Sentimental Journey” or “All American” and seen how small they are, how vulnerable they are, can only come away with a sense of awe at the thought of facing a German fighter with four 20mm cannons, each capable of firing 600 rounds a minute, at a frigid 25,000 feet over Europe.

For the Germans, fighting the Americans was unlike anything they had done before on the Channel Front. Previously, the incoming formations were relatively small, and could be opposed by individual Staffeln. But going up against 200 or 300 heavy bombers, with their escorts, meant sending up units in full Gruppe strength, if not the entire Geschwader. Aerial recognition of friend and foe became as important for the Germans as it was for the Americans, since the Fw-190 and the P-47 looked so much alike at a distance. While the 8th Air Force was painting white recognition bands on the nose and tail of their P-47s, the German units were experimenting with markings that were even more obvious. Psychologically, the Germans in 1943 considered themselves to have the upper hand over the Americans (which was quite often the case) and so they could decide that more radical markings, more obvious markings, could be used since they were also a morale factor for everyone – German and American – involved. For I/JG 1 in 1943 and early 1944, this resulted in what were probably the most spectacular markings carried by any German fighters in the war – a checker board on the cowlings – with the individual Staffeln in the Gruppe identified by different colors in the field – white for the 1st Staffel, yellow for the 2nd, and red for the 3rd – each with black checkers. The result was that I Gruppe could easily identify each other, and psychologically the enemy knew who they were up against.

These markings lasted through the winter of 1943-44, while losses were comparatively low. In fact, after “Black Thursday,” the second Schweinfurt mission of October 14, 1943, when the Jagdwaffe brought down 60 of 290 American bombers and damaged another 100, 70 of them so badly they never flew after regaining their bases, the 8th Air Force was unable to mount an offensive mission. The Luftwaffe had won almost as decisively as had the RAF on September 15, 1940. The Americans were able to hide this defeat by the luck of the weather – the skies over Western Europe closed in the week following the Schweinfurt disaster and didn’t clear sufficiently for another deep-penetration mission until early December. By then the P-47s were carrying two drop tanks on underwing pylons and a third under the fuselage, there were now two long range P-38 units and the first P-51 unit was about to go operational. Within two months, the shoe was on the other foot.

With the losses in pilots and planes sustained in the missions of February and March 1944, the Germans no longer had the time to spend painting an airplane with elaborate markings, not to mention the Luftwaffe now needed to hide from their hunters. Bright markings became a thing of the past among the Jagdwaffe, with pilots even ceasing to paint victory markings on their rudders.

Americans remembered these Fw-190s for their spectacular “Twelve O’Clock High” head-on attacks against the bombers. In 1984, German ace Walter Krupinski, who commanded III/JG 26 against the 8th Air Force, told me that just before he would order his pilots to advance their throttles to make such an attack, “My entire life would flash before me, because one knew that at least five or six of us would likely score our victory by a fatal collision.” Several years earlier, I had heard from an 8th AF veteran the story of the mission he could never forget: his second mission, flying as co-pilot. As the formation crossed the coast, the warning “Twelve O’Clock High” came over the radio. He looked out at the plane on their wing, in which his childhood friend was the co-pilot, just as an Fw-190 collided nose-to-nose with the B-17. The engine then separated from the fighter and continued through the bomber, “coring it” until it fell out the tail. “No one got out,” he said, before telling me that at least two or three times a week in the 30 years since, he would awake from the nightmare of re-living that moment.

The air war over Germany was far tougher and more terrible than most histories recount.

The Kit

The Dragon Fw-190s were, when they first appeared in 1990, the best Fw-190s ever, and set a new standard for plastic kits. Today, the kits still stand up and with care one can make a very presentable model. Over the years, the plastic has been licensed by other model companies and released in many versions. This is Italerei’s “German Aces” release of the Fw-190A-5, with markings for five aircraft. The kit decals are acceptable, but any set of aftermarket decals is superior.

In the box, the kit is not really an Fw-190A-5, since it has the later wheel well without inner gear doors over the wheels. It does, however, have the proper lower gun bay cover for an Fw-190A armed with MG151 cannon in the outer position. Thus, it is a good candidate for becoming an Fw-190A-6 of the sub-type used over western Europe carrying a drop tank. Since I had the Aeromaster JG1 Butcher Birds sheet for Fw-190s with the spectacular black-white cowling, I decided to put that to use with this kit.

Construction

The main thing to be sure of with the Dragon kit is that the fuselage sub-assembly is going to fit to the wing sub-assembly without a gap where the upper wing attaches to the fuselage. It seems to depend on the molding of each individual kit as to whether this will happen without help. I always test-fit, and when I find the fuselage needs to be widened so all surfaces touch properly, I cut a piece of sprue and wedge it in below the cockpit to spread the fuselage sufficiently to get proper fit. If you do this, the kit will always be problem-free assembly.

The other “gotcha” to worry about with the Dragon kit is the alignment of the main gear. Fw-190s do not have gear that sticks straight down! This is the single most common mistake modelers make with their Fw-190s. The proper position of the Fw-190s gear is aligned forward so that, when you stare straight down at the model, the axle of the main gear is just ahead of the leading edge of the wing. I usually glue the main gear with Tamiya Extra-Thin cement, then align it, then apply a drop of C-A glue to fix it in position.

With this kit, I also used the “extra’ set of elevators from the new Eduard kit, and cut the elevators off the kit horizontal stabilizer, so that I could droop the elevators. I also used the centerline rack and drop tank from the Eduard kit, since the Italerei kit did not include a drop tank.

I airbrushed Tamiya “Flat White” on the cowling, then masked that off and airbrushed the yellow ID panel on the lower cowling. I also painted the armored ring with Tamiya Gloss Black. The cowling was masked off and a traditional camouflage of RLM 74/75/76 was applied freehand, using my mix of Tamiya paints for RLM 74/75/76. When all that was dry, I unmasked the cowling and gave the model a coat of clear gloss.

The Aeromaster sheet was a bit old, and I was very happy that there were two sets of markings for “checkerboard” airplanes, since it took both sets of decals to get the cowling marked. I used national markings and stencils from an Eduard Fw-190 sheet for the rest. I chose “White 11″ for the fact that the pilot’s personal insignia was a black cat. Those who know me and my cats will understand.

I applied a coat of clear flat to the airframe and clear satin to the cowling, then attached the landing gear, drop tank, and prop. I attached the canopy in the open position.

The Dragon kits have been completely superceded by the new Eduard kits for fidelity of detail and overall ease of assembly. However, if you take you time they still make up into a very nice model that can “hold its own” sitting next to a new Eduard kit. The Wurger is my favorite German fighter (even if 109s beat it for the variety of markings). Nowadays these kits can be found for very reasonable prices.

10 additional images. Click to enlarge.


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13 responses to JG1 “Checkernose”

  1. Looks fine!
    Thanks for the interesting informations!

  2. As usual a great background story and an excellent Wurger. The engine/ fuselage joint and the UC legs are spot-on, and if memory serves me right, these were some fiddly areas of Dragon’s kit

  3. Looks like you have killed two birds with one stone TC. With the Cat emblem your now a member of the “Year of the Cat” club.

    Reading the part about how small and cramped a B-17 or B-24 was when going up against Fw-190’s with cannon…I recall Andy Rooney (60 mins) speaking about Aircrew falling through the sky after bailing out of their doomed aircraft only to find themselves going through bomber formations and dropping bombs.
    To add to that,I met a B-17 pilot who was recalling his first mission in Italy and he started to cry…his plane while on the mission had managed to loose every engine …all four engines at one time stopped working at some point in the flight and they managed to restart and keep enough of them going to return home. The thought of having to do 24 missions must have been mind numbing …

    Loved the article and build. Its always good to see a oldie do good in the plastic.

  4. Your excellent “Checkertail” looks more like a Checker-“nose” to ME… 🙂 (nice presentation).

  5. Great 190! and story.

  6. Really well done Tom. Great pictures, history, and build review! Nice looking airplane in all respects!

  7. Hello Tom,
    In the first place my compliments on the extensive text going with your model. It makes the model come to live.
    The model itself looks great. especially noting your work on the cowling.
    Regards, Dirk

  8. Very nice Tom, as usual! Love the checker nose – I’ve got a P-47 with checker nose and may need to pair it with a 190 like this for comparison.

  9. Gotta love that chequered finish
    Wow

  10. Beauty Tom. I’m about to embark in a Dragon 190 myself. It’s actually the Ta154 Mistel version but I’ll use your tips if I run into trouble

  11. Beautiful build, I love the cat marking! Checkerboard decals always really intimidated me – I wonder if a large round cowling makes things easier than applying them on a P-51 like “Big Beautiful Doll”, my sole experience so far. I hit those decals with so much Micro Sol that at some point the “film” got loose (although the “art” stayed glued to the model). The stuff of nightmares!
    A more flamboyant marking such as this one goes really well on the 190 – they don’t look as anonymous as the ones on the closing days of the war. And the backstory really makes the build pop into our imagination. Thanks for all that!

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