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Tamiya P-38H review

Herewith a review strictly for iModeler:

History:

The summer of 1943 finally saw the Fifth Air Force begin to receive the desperately-needed reinforcement and expansion that General Kenney had argued for since his arrival in Australia.

General Kenney was thrilled to discover that the Fifth’s new reputation after the Battle of the Bismarck Sea meant his trip to Washington had paid off with a shipment of 100 of the 350 P-38Hs that had been produced as “stopgaps” when production of the P-38J was slowed by lack of engines, to bring the three existing P-38-equipped squadrons, the 80th squadron of the 8th Fighter Group, the 39th squadron of the 35th Group, and the 9th squadron of the 49th Group back to full strength, and to achieve his goal of one group fully-equipped with the Lightning, which the general considered the best fighter available for conditions in New Guinea.

Kenney called the 475th Fighter Group into existence on May 14, 1943, as only the second fighter group to be completely created overseas after the American volunteers of the RAF Eagle Squadrons had become the 4th Fighter Group in England the previous September. The P-38H had a reputation for engine cooling problems, but Kenney was happy to get any P-38s he could; in the meantime, he kept his plans for a completely new fighter group secret since other P-38-equipped fighter groups already in combat in North Africa and the Mediterranean were screaming for replacement aircraft and the leaders of the Eighth Air Force were begging for P-38s to provide long-range escort in England. Originally, the unit – composed of the 431st, 432nd, and 433rd Squadrons — was to be activated at Charters Towers in Queensland, but instead was established at Amberley Field outside Brisbane, located close to the supply depots.

Kenney had to find pilots and ground crews for the group within Fifth Fighter Command, and put out word to the commanders of the other fighter groups when he ordered them to send six pilots from each of their squadrons to the new group that he wanted no “deadheads” and would hold each group commander personally responsible if the order was not followed to the letter. Thus, the 475th was well on its way to becoming the premier fighter group of the Fifth Air Force from the beginning.

Among the other newcomers who reported to the group was 1st Lieutenant Thomas Buchanan “Tommy” McGuire, Jr., who was transferred from the 49th Fighter Group’s 9th squadron on July 20, a bit less than two weeks before his 23rd birthday. Five feet seven inches tall, he sported a big black mustache in an attempt to appear older. In McGuire’s case, the 49ers were both following General Kenney’s directive to send excellent pilots, and ridding themselves of a pilot they considered a misfit. By the time he came to the 475th, McGuire had acquired a reputation for being prickly and difficult to know, a man whose reputation was based on his skill in the cockpit of a P-38, not for his interpersonal skills. Many years later, one of his 431st squadron mates would remember him thus: “Tommy McGuire was a complete failure, socially. But he knew more about the P-38 and how to get the most out of it, of anyone. He could talk for hours about that airplane in great detail, to the point of driving everyone else nuts.”

Once in the 431st, McGuire got a reputation in the squadron as a “brown-noser,” when his enthusiasm for the P-38 resulted in his appointment as squadron maintenance officer. This attitude quickly changed when aircraft availability moved up from 50 percent to over 80 percent with the ground crews’ morale rising from the inspirational leadership of a young officer who didn’t pay attention to military propriety and wasn’t afraid to get his fingernails dirty working on the airplanes with them.

The 475th group flew their first mission to Wewak on August 17, flying with the B-25s of the 38th group and completely surprising the enemy, who put up no aerial opposition. The next day saw a second mission to escort B-25s of the 38th group on a strafing mission to hit Dagua airdrome outside Wewak. Lieutenant McGuire, who had missed engaging the enemy during the fight at Tsili Tsili was among those assigned to the mission, flying a P-38H-5 he had named “Pudgy.” When seven Ki.43 Oscars from the 24th Sentai, nine Oscars of the 59th Sentai, five Ki.61 Tony fighters of the 68th Sentai and two Ki. 45 Nick fighters from the 13th Sentai rose to contest the American attackers this time, McGuire demonstrated his flying and gunnery skills when he attacked five Ki.43s he mistakenly identified as Zeros, shooting down four. Back at base, his wingman 2nd Lieutenant Fran Lent, also put in a claim for the fourth victory. There were no shared kills in the 475th, a coin-toss would determine who received full credit. McGuire lost, and was given credit for three, which was quite a way to lose one’s “virginity.” He was in the group’s forefront now and would never lose that status.

On August 21, leading the 431st’s Blue Flight, he shot down two more Ki.43s and a twin engine Ki. 45, to become the first pilot to be credited as an ace completely within the group. On August 29, on the group’s 14th mission to Wewak, this time escorting B-24 bombers in a high-altitude attack, McGuire shot down a Ki. 43 and a Ki. 61 to bring his score to seven, tying him with 1st Lieutenant David Allen for leading ace of the group.

As he turned away from his second victory, McGuire came under fire from another enemy fighter and his left engine caught fire. He coolly shut down the engine and let the propeller windmill while he dropped to 9,000 feet, which put out the fire. Two enemy fighters followed him and he finally shook them by diving into clouds at 4,000 feet. With the engine out, he didn’t feel able to make it back to Moresby and so landed at the forward airstrip at Marilinan, where he successfully landed single-engine. Future mayor of Los Angeles 1st Lieutenant Sam Yorty, at the time intelligence officer for the 41st Fighter Squadron of the 35th Fighter Group, took down McGuire’s account of his fight with enemy pilots he termed “both experienced and eager.” Yorty wrote a final remark in the report to describe McGuire: “this pilot remained calm in spite of the fire in his engine, and thereby successfully brought himself and his airplane safely to this base.” McGuire caught a ride on a C-47 the next morning and returned to his squadron, where he was given another P-38H, which he also named “Pudgy;” this time he had the name painted on the nose, above a scoreboard of Japanese flags. On September 28, he christened the second “Pudgy” by shooting down two more Ki. 43s over Wewak, to bring his score to nine and put him at the top of the group’s list of aces.

The Kit:

According to the tale my mother always told, I have apparently had a love affair with the P-38 since a very young age, ever since at age ten and a half months when I was in a park with her as a P-38 flew overhead, which I pointed at and screamed “O-pane! O-pane!” – my first intelligible word. I have liked the P-38 ever since.

Tamiya wowed the modeling world a year ago when they released their F-38F/G kit. The kit is a marvel of production design, since it deals successfully with the two biggest bugaboos modelers have had with P-38s since the first kits came out: getting everything aligned, and insuring the model is a nose-sitter. The kit has a skillful design with an internal structure that insures the two booms fit similarly, and that the horizontal stabilizer is, indeed, horizontal. Additionally, there is a clever design to place kit-supplied weights in the nose of the central nacelle and the engine compartments of the booms. There is never going to be any doubt that the model will sit properly.

When the kit first came out, I saw a YouTube video in which a modeler completely assembled the kit (other than the cockpit parts) without use of glue and had it sitting on its gear. That’s how close the parts fit. In fact, the design of this kit is such that anyone, from someone new to the hobby to someone with more hours invested than even I have, who takes their time and follows the instructions (they’re not “somebody’s opinion”), will have what each will call “the best model in my collection!” The design of this kit is so modeler-friendly that one would have to develop a detailed plan in advance in order to mess things up. Parts fit in such a way that they ONLY fit where they’re supposed to be, the way they’re supposed to.

This P-38H kit, which is a limited one-time-only release, adds a sprue – Sprue J – of specific parts for a P-38H, including the air intakes for the turbochargers, the nose gear leg, the main gear legs, the interior to the nosewheel door and the door retraction mechanism, the machine gun barrels (a different pattern than the earlier versions) and the “acorn shaped” oil coolers that mount on the booms. Sprue H, the clear sprue, has the correct one-piece rear clear part for the P-38H, as opposed to the multiple parts of the P-38F/G.

Tamiya gets everything right except the painting instructions for the landing gear. The kit instructions call for the interior of the wheel wells, the interior of the gear doors, and the gear legs to be painted aluminum. While this is correct for the P-38F/G, it is incorrect for the P-38H. All of the P-38Hs and the P-38J to the P-38J-15 sub-type, had the landing gear, gear wells and gear door interiors painted the aircraft underside camouflage color, Neutral Grey. With the P-38J-15 and subsequent, and the P-38L, which were all delivered in unpainted aluminum, the gear was left unpainted. This is admittedly “obscure knowledge,” so Tamiya shouldn’t be faulted for getting wrong what lots of other people and all other kit manufacturers, have also boo-booed.

Construction:

This kit is complex, but it is not complicated. It is the most “modeler-friendly” kit design I have encountered in any model I have ever built. Regarding the instructions, they are not “someone’s opinion,” and you really should follow them (other than where I deviated for convenience). As with any CAD-designed kit, you must be absolutely certain to trim away every tiniest bit of sprue nib residue on the parts, and it’s a good idea not to paint the surfaces of the parts to be glued together. The parts fit is that precise and tight.

My only deviation from the assembly sequence was to perform the assembly of the cockpit in one complete process, combining the first part of the assembly at the outset with the second part of assembly shown at close to the end, because I wanted to get all those parts into the cockpit and under the protection of the canopy early on, in the expectation that otherwise something irreplaceable might get knocked off. I also cut away the sun shade, because it was not used that frequently; as Steve Hinton, the highest-time P-38 pilot in the world, pointed out to me, it’s a lot easier to glance at the instruments if you don’t have to lean over to look under the shade. Doing this also opens up more of the nicely-detailed cockpit to be seen once the model is finished. The fact it’s provided as a separate part makes this bit of surgery very easy. I sued Eduard photo-etch seatbelts here, the one nod to aftermarket items other than the decal sheet I used.

The attachment of the armor glass and the gunsight to the forward windscreen part is a little tricky, and the slightest slip will have you putting glue into the clear area of the windscreen, which happened to me here. The solution is to attach these parts with Micro Krystal Kleer and let them set up. If you miss perfect alignment there, the glue will dry clear and no one will be any the wiser.

Some researchers have said that early P-38 cockpits were painted “Olive Drab.” If so, it almost certainly would have been the “RAF Dark Green” color that is analogous to green-base OD-41. I opted here to go with an Interior Green mix, with semi-gloss black for the various “black boxes.”

The provision of steel balls for weights is really ingenious, and the manner in which the cockpit tub is attached to the upper part of the central nacelle is guaranteed to get everything located precisely where it should be. The provision of the wing spar that also has the attachment for the weight in the nose insures that the alignment of this sub-assembly will be completely problem-free.

The booms are similarly precise in design. Unlike the Hasegawa kit, where the different radiator intakes do not attach on a panel line, and thus have to be puttied and sanded smooth with the panel lines rescribed, every separate part on these booms – which are separate because they will be replaced in different subsequent releases – are attached on a panel line.

The wheel wells are far more detailed even than the 1/32 Trumpeter kit I built, and far moreso than the Hasegawa kits, without being complicated to assemble. The method of attaching the gear doors is another ingenious little detail, in which it is impossible to get the wrong door on the wrong side, with a strong attachment that completely solves the problem of the most annoying part of assembling a Hasegawa kit.

The booms attach to the wing/center nacelle sub assembly by “clicking” (listen for it) into place. The piece de resistance is the one-piece horizontal stabilizer that slides into position in such a way that it guarantees alignment between the two booms (something you have to fiddle with when assembling a Hasegawa P-38). I assembled the entire model other than the wheels and the turbochargers.

Painting:

Since I was modeling Tommy McGuire’s second (named) P-38H “Pudgy,” I considered what the airplane likely looked like (there are no full-airplane photos) at a point in time. I chose to do the airplane as it would have likely appeared at the end of September, 1943, after he shot down victories 8 and 9 on September 28.

The airplane was a replacement, which meant it was one of the original 100, and remained behind at Amberly. Most likely, it sat there in the winter sun of Australia, with the upper surfaces fading, while the lower surfaces remained their original shade. It wouldn’t have had a lot of use, so there wouldn’t have been a lot of “wear” from people walking on it, “dings” from maintenace people pulling panels, and from general operation. In other words, for the Southwest Pacific, “Pudgy” was at this time a pretty clean P-38, other than for the tape residue over the nose compartment and engine compartments that had been sealed for overseas shipment.

Thus, I did two different kinds of pre-shading. On the lower surfaces, I did the traditional flat black along panel lines, while the upper surface was first painted overall black, then “marbled” with white.

I painted the lower surfaces with Tamiya XF-53 “Neutral Grey,” thinned 50-50 to allow the preshading to show through a bit as color was deepened with repeated passes.

The upper surfaces were first painted with my mixture of brown-base OD-41 (which started being used in late spring 1943). This is a mixture of Tamiya “Khaki Drab,” “Olive Drab” and “Flat Earth,” about 60% Khaki Drab, 25% Olive Drab and 15% Flat Earth. This was thinned 50-50 and applied over the upper surfaces. I then mixed in a few brushfulls of Tamiya XF-19 “Sky Grey” and after thinning it to about 60 (thinner) 40 (paint) I went over the whole upper sufaces, repeating in various areas to get an inconsistent finish, thinking about the areas most exposed to strong sunlight. I then applied a little more Sky Grey and went over the wings and upper booms and horizontal stab to lighten a bit more. A final coat saw a brushful of Tamiya “Desert Yellow” and thinned it down to around 65-35 and misted it on over the rest.

After all that was dry, I used some Tamiya “Masking Tape for curves” and “sealed” the nose and engine compartments. I then brush painted thinned Tamiya “Smoke” along their edges, to replicate the sealer that was liberally brushed over the tape once the plane had been sealed, as a departed friend who worked for Lockheed during the war told me they did to prepare the planes for overseas shipment. When I pulled off the tape, it looked close to what photos showed the airplanes looking like after they were unsealed.

I then applied a coat of Future to prepare for decaling.

Decals:

I used the Aeromaster “Early Lightnings” 48-058 that I found at the “estate sale” at the Local Hobby Shop, which has “Pudgy”.It also has the tail tip markings, which makes things easy. I modified the scoreboard, which has the full 14.5 victories he had when he moved on to “Pudgy III” in the spring of 1944, back to the 9 as of the end of September 1943.

Final Finish and Assembly:

I gave the model several coats of clear flat varnish, then made some very slight “dings” near the cockpit. I trimmed the side panels a bit more than Tamiya had them, since I have noticed with the P-38s seen out at Chino that those side panels are wound down to insure no damage climbing in and out of the cockpit. I attached the “lid” in the open position. I attached the turbochargers, then applied the turbo exhaust staining with Tamiya “Sky Grey” thinned 50-50. I drybrushed the wheels with Tamiya “Buff” enough to see the tread pattern.

Overall:

Tamiya has definitely “aced”the P-38 in terms of kit design and buildability. However, remember that “buildability” and “accuracy” are two different words. Do your research about how to paint the model.

Recommended for any modeler willing to follow the instructions. If you do, the result is guaranteed that you will have a great model on the shelf when done.

Review kit courtesy of a timely royalty payment.

8 additional images. Click to enlarge.


25 responses to Tamiya P-38H review

  1. Tom, you have a long line of fine models present in these pages and elsewhere, but this one has to be one of the most visually interesting you’ve made so far. The details on the weathering are a match for the description of that second “Pudgy” you describe.
    Without a photo to guide, your artist view about how it could look is entirely credible. A great piece for a nice background story. Now if only Tamiya would consider a J version also

  2. Good job on the tape. Always wanted to try and reproduce that but never get roundtoit.

  3. Agreed with Pedro.. Tom, your OD looks great! This is wonderful work. I’ve just recently finished Race of Aces (a work for which I’m sure you are familiar) so it’s neat to see another Pudgy from you. Thanks for sharing with us iModelers, liked!

  4. Now I may have to move the P-38H higher on the to do list. Tamiya did a wonderful job making a traditionally difficult model (much like the F-14 Tomcat) into a shake and bake.

  5. Looks great. I think I may have learned more by reading your post than I did in my entire 8th grade year last year. The P-38 is my favorite plane.

  6. Nice work on this Tom and I agree with Pedro this one has a lot of moxy!

  7. Very well used looking Tom. Just like I imagine Pacific fighters looked in that climate.

  8. Fantastic. Love the weathering; something I’m going to strive for on future builds

  9. Superb build on this P38, Tom.
    A P38 is still on my todo list and seeing your result makes it to be one of the first to be done.

  10. Excellent build allaround, Tom.
    And, “of course”, excellent historical covering!

  11. Another fine example of research and modelling skill, Tom. Your color notes have been committed to file.

  12. Beautiful work, Tom. This article has perfect timing for me, because I am reading “Operation Vengeance” by author, Dan Hampton; this book is about the famous shootdown of Admiral Yamamoto, which utilized the tremendous capabilities of the P-38, without which the operation could not have occurred.
    Your model is spectacular. Thanks for showing it.

  13. Ditto all of the above – I especially like the look you got with the OD topside, with the fading/weathering. I’m going to use your Tamiya mix recipe and duplicate that on a P-38 soon! And I didn’t know about the tape sealing for transport – that’s also another nice touch I will have to attempt! I think I have the Pudgy decals set for 1/72, so now all I need is the mojo…

  14. Killer looking fork-tailed devil! I’m going to try your OD recipe and marbling technique as soon as I receive my F series decals from Hannants.

    • No! The P-38F used green=base pre-war OD41, for which Tamiya XF-81, RAF Dark Green, is a perfect match. The two colors (RAF and USAAC) were based on the official formula for WW1 PC10. Remember a P-38F also has aluminum lacquer legs, wheels, gear door interiors and wheel wells. Very likely the cockpit was done with this green-base OD41,

      • I’ve narrowed my F down to two color scheme choices both calling out for olive drab. Both subjects are from mid to late 1943 Based n Sicily and North Africa. Xtradecal P38 F/G/H collection Pt.1. Thoughts?

        • They’d have come out of the factory in the green-base OD41, but by 1943 in N. Africa and Sicily, they’d be well sun-faded. Follow my writing about doing fading, but you don’t have to mix brown-base OD41 if you have the Tamiya XF-81, but still use a light grey for fading.

  15. Sweet build and paintwork, she looks ready to take off and fight.

  16. Great build with lovely weathering Tom.
    Are the H specific parts mods that were made for the later J model, or are they unique to the H?

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