P-40E -Tex Hill P-40E at the Salween River

Part 3 of a six part historical survey of Text Hill and his aircrafts

 

Historical Background: AVG goes into Action

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fter the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Thailand surrendered. Chennault feared that the AVG position in Toungoo was too precarious so he ordered the 3rd Squadron to Mingaladon in Rangoon to support the British, while the 1st and 2nd Squadron was to pull back to Kunming, China.

Kunming had been subjected to Japanese bombings for over two years now with no effective Chinese opposition. Two days after arriving on Dec 20th, the air raid siren sounded. 24 AVG pilots took to the air to intercept 10 incoming unescorted Japanese Kawasaki Ki-48 bombers (US codename Lily) of the 21st Hikotai from Hanoi - led by Captain Fujii. Tex missed out on the raid when another pilot took his assigned plane. The AVG was credited with downing 4 of the 10 bombers. The Japanese record shows 3 bombers destroyed, and the remaining seven all damaged and some crash landing.

The 2nd Squadron was sent down to Rangoon relieve the 1st Squadron and in Jan 1942, Tex flew his first offensive mission with Newkirk, Christman, and Jim Howard. Christman had developed engine trouble and had to turn back. Their mission was to strafe 77th Santai’s Raheng airfield in the Thai-Burma border near the village of Tak. As they came down out of the sun toward six Ki-27s (US codename Nates) – 3 parked and 3 just coming in for a landing, Tex noticed a Japanese plane on Howard’s tail that was doing a good job chewing up Howard’s tail. Tex immediately shot the plane off. Simultaneously, another Japanese fighter made a pass and shot at Tex’s plane before being shot down by Newkirk. Yet another Japanese fighter was flying head-on toward Tex, Tex shot that plane down but in turn had hits on his prop – putting it out of balance. Luckily, he was able to make it back to Rangoon. Howard was not even aware that he was shot at until Tex showed him the 11 holes in his aircraft. Then Tex had a look at his own plane and counted 33 holes, commenting later on that “I begin learning fast from that time on”.

By this time, the Japanese Burma campaign was well on its way, pushing aside the Allied ground opposition. It was during this period that the AVG were continuously intercepting Japanese bombers and fighter sweeps. Tex’s friend from Pensacola, Christman was killed during one of those interceptions.

Tex was flying a two man patrol with Bob Neale when Tex became an ace, credited with downing two bombers and one fighter.  By March, Tex had been credited with 7 Japanese aircrafts. However, the AVG was forced to leave Burma in the wake of the Japanese successful ground campaign. The AVG flew their planes to Loiwing, China while the ground crews went up the Burma Road by truck. The AVG was now running low on serviceable aircrafts. Members of the 3rd Squadron made a trip to India to deliver 12 P-40E’s back to China.

While the P-4OE’s was successfully delivered, the AVG was saddened by the lost of Newkirk, killed by antiaircraft fire while on a strafing mission over Chiang Mai, Thailand. Chennault made Tex the new 2nd Squadron commander, as Newkirk had recommended if anything happened to him.

As the Japanese advanced, the allies were falling back. At one point, over 150,000 Allied soldiers were threatened to be trapped by a pincer movement. The AVG would evacuate from Loiwing back to Kunming. By May, the British had retreated into India and the Chinese had 30,000 troops captured. Major General Sakaguchi Shizuo, regimental commander from the 56th Division was charged with chasing the retreating Chinese to the Salween River Gorge. From the Allies’ perspective, if the Japanese crossed the Salween and captured Kunming, it could put China out of the war. The Chinese had already blown part of the Salween suspension bridge (known as the Huitung Bridge for the Chinese), but the Japanese engineers were building a pontoon bridge for the river crossing. On May 6, Chennault sent the Chinese Air Force’s Tupelov SB bombers to bomb the Japanese columns giving chase to the retreating Chinese 36th Division. The next day, Tex flew in a P-40E with 3 other Panda Bears loaded with 570lb Russian bombs that were rigged to the center fuel tank shackles and smaller 35lb bombs on the wings. While four 3rd squadron Tomahawks flew top cover. To Tex, this was the most important he would fly for the AVG.

As planned, Tex initially dive bombed to cut off the Japanese escape route, this was followed by the rest of the 2nd Squadron’s bombs. They continued to strafe until they were out of ammunition, then the 3rd Squadron came down for their turn. The next day, the AVG returned with 12 planes and dropped fragmentation bombs on the Japanese. They estimated 50 trucks destroyed and 200 Japanese casualties. The AVG’s action delayed the Japanese long enough for the General Li Chih-peng’ Chinese 36 Division to regrouped and re-crossed the river toward the north of the Japanese. Unable to complete the pontoon bridge to go forward and threatened to be cut off by the Chinese advance, General Sakaguchi had no choice be to retreat back into Burma.

Tex Hill’s P-40E KittyHawk- #108

The P-40E, known as the KittyHawk to the British and Warhawk to the Americans, had a bigger engine – 1,150hp Allison liquid cooled in-line and air scoop than the P-40B. It had larger caliber wing guns (.50 cal) in addition to an extra gun per wing – brining a total of six guns. The Kittyhawk also had bomb racks on the wings and as described previously, the AVG armorers were able to field modify the field tank attachment points to hold a single 250kg bomb.

The Kittyhawks received by the AVG were replacement aircraft from the US Army in Africa. AVG pilots had flown them back from Accra in West Africa. They had the standard Army Air Corp Dark Olive Drab (#41) on top and Neutral Gray (#43) on the bottom. The National Insignia on the fuselage were painted out by the AVG, but you can distinctly see where the insignia were as shade of green was different or due to weathering of the original Olive Drab. New squadron fuselage numbers were added – these were all numbers between 100 and 134. Chinese insignias were used on the top and bottom wing, but note that decals replaced paint by this time. Oddly, ‘US Army’ was left on both the wings bottoms by the AVG. The Disney Flying Tiger decals had arrived by this time and were applied to the Kittyhawks. Of course, the now famous Shark mouths were painted on, but these were simpler than those applied to the Tomahawks.

On the Salween mission, Tex and the Panda Bears were still flying the P-40Bs. Since only the P-40E’s had bomb racks, they were flying those assigned to the 3rd Squadron. Hence the plane he flew that day, #108, had the 3rd Squadron’s red fuselage band.

 

P-40 Tomahawk IIB- the Model:

Amtech had previously issued a P-40E kit based on an AMT kit that was never produced. They have reissued the kit here as a "Tex" Hill limited edition. What's 'limited' about it? First, it has a decal sheet to cover 3 of the aircraft that participated in the Salween River missions. Being the "Tex" Hill edition, it of course has #108 to cover the plane that he was in. In addition, there is a signed print with Gen. Hill's picture and the story in his own words. There's also a signed and numbered print of the raid by aviation artist Terrill Clements.

When initially released, this kit was plagued by a bad mold where the fuselage rear is misaligned, Amtech thus includes in the kit, a second duplicate sprue (left-most) with the problem corrected.

Starting with the cockpit, I've decided to spurge a bit with the Cutting Edge Resin cockpit set. The set's detail is wonderfully molded. Unlike the Revell P-40B, this kit's actual cockpit isn't too bad, this set is just much, much better - especially in the seat and panel area. The construction starts with this set. After a washing with soapy water to remove release agent residual, I painted the side walls and seat with Model Master Acryl Interior green followed by a wash of thinned Tamiya smoke which helped pop out the great details. Adding some miscellaneous pieces, careful painting, dry brushing, and finally a silver pencil around the edges will really bring the pieces to life.

The instrument panel consists of 3 pieces, a blank backing piece that is to be painted white. A clear acetate film with printed instrument faces is glued on top of this back panel. The front panel with molded details is then sanded down from behind until the instrument holes are opened up. This is then glued to on top of the acetate. Finally some picking out the details is done with a 000 brush, the lower panel was added and electrical wiring used for the map light's stem.

 

The finished cockpit was installed after gluing the two halves of the aircraft body. Before closing up and installing the wings, I decided to add a little detail to the wheel well. I repoduced some of the piping from references with wiring, plastic card, electrical components and solder. This was inserted into holes drilled through the side walls. The kit provides only 3 sidewalls, so I glued a plastic card to the wing root area to blank off the 4th side.

 

After the wings were and cowling plates were attached, major filler and sanding work ensued as fairly large gaps were at all the joints. In addition, the soft plastic created several bumps due to the pressure of the ejection points, these needed to be sanded down. Before I closed the nose up completely, I realized that the cowl flaps are molded as open on this kit, allowing a significant gap to be seen into the engine area. I could have just painted the whole area black and that would pretty much hide everything. Based on reference photos, it was clear that the coolers tubes were plainly visible through the flaps. I contemplated scratch building those when I noticed the spare sprue with the 'deformed' fuselage and an extra cooler plate. Since these were meant to be installed in the front of the air scoop, their 3 coolers protruded just a bit over a plate, in the back, you should be able to see 3 round cylinders. However, it is dark enough in the back opening that I just painted over the plating with black and highlighted the 3 heads with silver. Once installed, it was convincing enough and sure was a lot less work.

 

At this point, the model was ready for some Tamiya gray primer from an aerosol can. After which Testors Model Master Light Gray was airbrushed on the bottom, followed by Olive Drab on top. The kit supplied a dark green decal for the sides where the AVG over painted the US stars, I elected to paint that in using masking tape as a template. I also selectively used a lighter shade of the OD on the moving surfaces to denote different fading. This was kept to a minimum as these planes were in use for less than a year before being repainted for the 23rd Fighters Group when the AVG were disbanded. A coat of future was then applied and the plane was ready for an oil wash. I use black on the bottom and Burnt sienna on top.

At this point, decals were added followed by more oil wash. This was followed by a coat of PollyS flat to even everything out. At this point, details like landing gears and brake wiring from fishing wire were added. The exhaust was painted using a mix of silver, brown, and tan followed by a black oil wash. Flat black were painted at the end to simulate their hollowness, quite effective at this scale and a lot cheaper than a set of aftermarket resin exhausts!


The landing gear doors were a bit of a problem as the small doors had no visible support for installing it in the open position, so I scratched built a support using sprue. The clear parts were then unmasked. I used some dry brushing with silver paint to add fine scratches; again this was done sparingly to show a used but not worn plane. I used a sharpie marker to quickly 'paint' some fishing wire black, and was attached into holes drilled into the plane using CA glue. Finally the fuel tanks were added and weathered with sienna oil to simulate spilled stains. The plane was now finished


 
Click on the thumbnails for a detailed view