P-51B -Tex Hill 23rd Fighter Squadron

Part 5 of a six part historical survey of Text Hill and his aircrafts

 

Historical Background: 23rd Fighter Squadron

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fter the entry of the US into war, plans were made to disband the AVG and incorporate them into the Army Air Force. Since the AVG were technically civilians, the USAAF attempted to use strong arm tatics to force the men to join the USAAF voluntarily. This went off badly and resulted in most of the men leaving to return to the United States or joining up with the CNAC to fly supplies in C-47s from India to China. A handful choose to remain in China, only five pilots choose to stay and Tex Hill was among them he was personally asked to do so by Chennault.

The AVG was deactivated in July, 1942. In its place was the new 23rd Fighter Group commanded by Robert Scott – who later wrote the best seller “God is My Copilot”. Hill was promoted to major and given command of the 75th Fighter Squadron. Along with his fellow veteran AVG pilots, he helped train the new USAAF pilots on how to fight the Japanese. This is how Don Lopez, a young pilot assigned to the 23rd FG, described a typical briefing Tex Hill style:

“You’ve seen in the film, Twelve O’Clock High, when the Eighth Air Force was going to have a big thousand-plane raid, all of the maps and pointers and different people giving briefings. Well, our briefing consisted of Tex Hill getting up and saying, “Y’all follow me.”

That was the whole briefing, and we did: and it worked very well.” By December 1942, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and returned to the US to command the Proving Ground Group at Elgin Field, Florida. However, it was long before Chennault requested Hill to come back to China. It was an offer that Hill was eager to accept. In October of 1943, he returned to China, now as commander of the 23rd Fighter Group. In the same month, old P-51A Mustangs started to arrive from India to replace the old AVG P-40s.

On November of that year, the Mustangs were put to use in a raid on the Japanese Shinchiku airfield located at Formosa (present day Taiwan). The airfield had already been under aerial observation by the previous commander of the 23rd FG - Bruce Holloway. He related his plans to Hill, who was anxious to execute it. On the 24th, a F-5 reconnaissance flight over Shinchiku showed a large concentration of Japanese aircraft – they estimated at the time there was over 200 aircraft in total. The 23rd FG had already amassed eight P-51As, Fourteen B-25s from the Chinese American Composite Wing, and eight P-38s for just the right opportunity, and this was it.
As mission leader, Hill led the P-51’s from Kweilin to a forward base at Suichuan that morning, by the afternoon, P-38s and B-25s arrived. The mission was on for Thanksgiving day, and at a briefing that morning, the plan was laid out to the pilots. The planes would fly over 400 miles to Formosa, drop down to tree level to avoid detection and then climb to 1000 feet right before reaching the Japanese airfield. The P-38s would fly cover while the Mustangs will stay with the B-25s. Once the B-25s dropped their bombs, the fighters will take turns strafing the airfield.


The Japanese airfield in Formosa after the 23rd fighter squadron’s raid (US Air Force)

As they approached the airfield, Japanese bombers were just coming in for a landing. The B-25s immediately started their bombing run while the P-38s zone in on the Japanese bombers. Some Ki-43s were able to take off to challenge the Americans, but most were shot down, including one credited to Hill. He then proceeded to strafe Japanese bombers on the ground and as ammunition ran low, he shot at some troops in a nearby river. As Hill turned for home, a loud bang startled him, thinking he just got hit from an enemy plane he immediately jerked his plane into a dive. As he recovered, there was no enemy in sight and Hill realized it was his overheated guns that ‘cooked off’ an unspent shell. Based on a reconnaissance flight after the mission, he was credited with another Japanese aircraft destroyed on the ground and a probable. Tex became the first American to shoot down a Japanese plane in a Mustang.

Tex Hill speaking with General Chou of the Chinese Air Force and T. Bennet, who would be in the future commander of the Chinese-American Composite wing, in 1943.

Tex Hill looks on as Chennault awards the Distinguished Cross to Rector, Colonel Robert Scott is standing behind Hill. (Associated Press)

Tex Hill’s P-51B Mustang "BullFrog" (Serial #267)

Tex was already familiar with the Mustang when he was in the US, having flown both the A and B model in Florida. The 76th Fighter Squadron was one of the first to receive P-51As. These old mustangs were excess inventory from the 311th Fighter Bomber Group assigned to India. The 311th kept the best planes and sent the rejects off to China. By March of 1944, the Merlin engine P-51B’s arrived and were distributed to the 23rd Fighter Group

Tex Hill standing on the wings of a P-51B for an US Army Air Force publicity shot. Note the well worn condition of the aircraft. (Tex Hill)

These Mustangs were left in their original Olive Drab scheme, with identifying yellow serial numbers on the rudder.  There has been some confusion regarding Hill’s mustang “BullFrog”, as one his most famous photograph of this period is on top of a P-51B with 267 painted white on the rudder. The serial #43-6769 is often also associated with this plane, even though I don’t have any photographic evidence of this. The nose cone is often depicted a red and a double yellow band was painted on the rudder. Based on my research, the serial number does not match up with any assigned to the 23rd Fighter Group, and the double yellow band was only painted in 1944 for the 51st Fighter Group.

A color picture of the same aircraft in China. (Tex Hill)

Tex actually was assigned to at least two different P-51Bs. The first was the just mentioned no 267 with an Olive drab nose cone. At some later point, this plane or different P-51B was assigned to Hill with a blue nose cone for the 76th Fighter Squadron’s color. This was the Mustang he took on the Formosa raid. His final P-51B had the nose painted red, white, and blue for the colors of the 3 different squadrons that Tex was now in charge of as the Commander of the Fighter Group. The rudder has white Roman numeral 11 and underneath in yellow, the serial 312405. “Bullfrog” was painted on the sides of the nose above the exhaust, “Bullfrog” was a nickname he had give to his wife, Maize. Some sources indicate the name was painted only on the port side – as seen in a picture included in Carl Molesworth’s book 23rd Fighter Group. However, I’ve included another picture in this article of the same plane showing “Bullfrog” on the starboard side also from Tex Hill.

A rare picture of Tex’s “Bull Frog” with the tri-color spinner and the name clearly over the starboard side (Tex Hill)

P-51B the Model – ICM

If you wanted to build the P-51B in 1/48, choices abound including the Tamiya and Accurate Miniatures version. I already had ICM’s version of the Mustang, so while the details are a bit softer and the details are lacking or just incorrect in some areas, I decided to use this kit as the basis for Tex Hill’s Bullfrog. As it seems that I’ve been alternating between after-market and scratching building between planes for this series, this one will be almost straight out of the box.

 


As usual, the build starts with the cockpit. ICM’s cockpit while not extremely detailed, are more than serviceable as long as you don’t mind some inaccuracies. This is more the case in that I decided to have the cockpit closed. The kit does not offer a choice an open or close cockpit and while I’ve sliced open my share of clear parts, the P-51B would have required me to make at least 3 cuts to the one piece canopy. A bit more than I was willing to chance, so in keeping the theme of no aftermarkets, the cockpit stays closed.

The instrument panel was finished with Tamiya Dark Gray followed by the flat black for the dials. A silver artist pencil was used to bring out the details – while some may object to this old school technique as real panels do not have silver bezels, artistic license is claimed here for this scale. The odd yellow or red paint were used to pick out details. The cockpit was then sprayed with Model Master Aircraft Interior green and the side radios and switches were finished in the same manner as the instrument panel. Some additional wiring was added with solder. Cockpit placards were added with an old Reheat decal sheet, a detail that I think adds much to look of aircraft cockpits even if you were already using the best resin interiors.
Eduard PE belts were then added from my stash. Keeping in mind that the P-51Bs delivered to the 23rd FG were already well worn, I used silver pencil to add scratches to the metal floor plate. The Mustang’s floor was made from plywood, so make sure you add scratches only very appropriate. My sources deferred as to whether the floor was left natural or painted, so I went ahead with more aircraft interior green as that was certainly easier than replicating a wood surface. A generous wash of mineral spirit diluted brown oil paint was applied to ‘age’ this area. This is especially important for the PE seatbelts, as I often see models of otherwise well worn aircraft with immaculate seatbelts installed. The final bit of detail was adding wiring to the radio stack behind the seat. At this point, I felt there were enough details added for a closed cockpit and the cockpit was ready to be closed up.


The ICM’s choice of plastic is rather soft and a bit warped, so it required some clamps to keep everything together while the glue dried. At this point, you realize that you are almost half way done with the building as the parts count is not particularly high. The Wings and stabilizers fit were rather good with just a bit of filler required. The kit provides separate flaps, so I decided to pose them in a done position to add some interest. There is a rather large seam in the belly exhaust area that would have been rather difficult to fill and sand. Instead I simply cut a thin plastic card to fit and glued it over the seam. A liberal dose of Tamiya thin cement to soften the plastic area followed by light sanding easily covered this area.
Now a word regarding the wheel well area - be warned that it is not accurate in this kit. The rear wall is shown as boxed in while it was opened in the real plane. To correct this, you will have to cut the rear wall, add a spar in that area that runs parallel to the length of the wing, and then fix up the details. The easiest way may simply to cut the entire area out and use a resin replacement. In any case, it’s one more flaw I was willing to live with this kit.


After some minor seam cleanup, the clear parts were installed, sealing in the cockpit. Using Tamiya tape and a sharp No. 11 knife, these were masked off for the primer coat. I like to use Tamiya primer right from the spray can - wonderful stuff but has a tremendous odor, good ventilation and a mask is a must. This was allowed to cure overnight and the wheel wells were finished with interior green. The wells were masked and Tamiya IJN gray was used on the underside. While the wells are incorrect and a bit shallow, it does come with fairly good detail. A wash of diluted black and brown oil mixture was applied to make all this detail standout. Finally, a bit of silver was added to certain conduits and wiring to variety to this area. I then use Tamiya smoke to lightly emphasize panel lines and add gun port exhausts stains.

 
Silly putty was then used to mask the bottom to get ready the top color, in this case a faded application of Model Masters olive drab. Instead of using post or pre-shading, I was able to achieve the same effect by lightly spraying the initial coat and then going back over with more color along panel lines. Since the undercoat was a light gray, this area with less paint will naturally be lighter. Being generally lazy and impatient, I find this technique to be a tremendous time saver.


A coat of future was applied undiluted from the airbrush in preparation for the oil wash. Since the actual aircraft was quite worn, I liberally flow the wash into panel lines - brown oil wash on the bottom and black on top. I wait a bit and then use a cotton swab to drag the wash back, simulating the air flow. This will both emphasize the panel lines and create a dirty used effect on the aircraft surface. At his point, the effect may seem exaggerated, but after a flat top coat, it will be diminished nicely.


After allowing everything to dry overnight, I applied the decals. The decals were from AeroMaster sheet #AMD48430 – SE Asian Mustangs Pt 2. They went of fine and did a fine job conforming to the surface with a little Microsol – even on the compound curve area where the shark teeth is applied. Just to add a bit more details, holes were drilled out into both sides beneath the exhausts using a pin vise. This is a very easy step that adds much to the overall finished product. A final flat coat ties everything together.


The spinner of Hill’s final P-51 consisted of bands of red, blue, and white, representing the colors of the 3 different squadrons under his command in the 23rd Fighter Group. I accomplished this by first spraying the spinner with PollyScale Reefer white, then using a template meant to measure drill bits, I pushed the spinner through so that only the bottom was exposed and sprayed blue. I then repeated the process with a smaller opening to paint the red.


Final weathering was applied using the silver artist pencil again to add chips and worn areas. You have to apply this after the flat coat is done as the Future would have been too slippery. The formation lights were undercoated with silver, and then Tamiya clear red, blue, and yellow as used to finish them off. Once the bombs and antenna mast was added, fishing line was used to add the aerial and the plane was finished.
 

Please click on the thumbnails below for larger images