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Lend-Lease Aircraft in the Fleet Air Arm

Part 1

n by Raul Hrubisko

Formally created in 1937 under the Admiralty control, British Fleet Air Arm had a chequered history. At the onset of World War II the FAA consisted of 20 Squadrons with only 232 aircraft. By the end of the war their strength grew to 3700 aircraft, 72000 officers and men 59 aircraft carriers and 56 air stations all over the world. However, the problem that FAA came to cope with throughout the war was lack of modern carrier-borne combat aircraft.

In domestic aircraft production,  vast majority of resources for the development and production of new and better aircraft was given to the Royal Air Force and not to the FAA. This situation was apparent already before the war: despite all-out rearmament programme changing the face of the RAF during the years 1936-1939, the FAA entered the war having only  the antique Fairey Swordfish torpedo aircraft and the Blackburn Skua as fighter and dive-bomber.

While both the Hawker Hurricane and the Supermarine Spitfire were eventually developed to into hooked fighters, they arrived late and were at best stop-gap measures that were never available in sufficient numbers. On some occasions during the first war years the Royal Navy acquired batches of aircraft that were originally purchased by other countries like France, Greece, etc. which had never reached their buyers due to German advances. Most notably, Grumman Martlet entered the FAA service this way.

It wasn't before the implementation of Lend-Lease program, approved by the US Congress on March 11th 1941, that the FAA could do something about equipment shortages by acquiring and operating large numbers of American aircraft.

My Lend-Lease FAA Collection

Readers will remember that I'm in the process of modelling all aircraft flown by RAF and FAA during World War II. The previously shown parts of my work include:

The aim of this sub-collection is showing all types of American aircraft which were tested and used by the Fleet Air Arm including the Commonwealth (Australia and New Zeeland), from the beginning to the end of the conflict. The series includes 63 models, all in 1/72 scale. Some of the models were made together with my son as teamwork.

Listed chronologically in order of FAA acquisition, the models are:

As always I tried to show all the different marks, significant colour schemes and markings for each type. In some particular cases some of the aircraft were also modified in the UK to perform special trials, making them unique that way.

Click to enlarge images

Planning for the Project

Most of the aforementioned aircraft are available as 1/72 plastic kits. This made it relatively easy to produce the models and the building pace could be kept at the high level. Fortunately there was also plenty of reference information regarding these aircraft, for example in the Warpaint series, Squadron/Signal In Action, old trusty Profiles and other books on FAA. Of the latter,  Lend Lease aircraft in WWII by Arthur Parcey guided me throughout this adventure.

Here is a brief description of each model. We'll start in chronological order meaning that first to follow are a few odd and rather unsuccessful birds, followed by the first undisputed import success in the FAA service, the Grumman Martlet/Wildcat.

Curtiss Cw77 Cleveland

Curtiss SBC-4 Helldiver was originally purchased by France but the fall of this country, five aircraft of the original order went to UK where they were designated Cleveland Mk. I and marked with serial numbers AS467-471. The aircraft were found  unsuitable for combat use and became training and instructional airframes.

Brewster Buffalo model 339B

Buffalos arrived in the UK delivered to ex-Belgian contract (USA designation F2A-3). The aircraft went to Royal Navy in September 1941 and underwent service trails on HMS Eagle.

Vought-Sikorsky Chesapeake

This was another aircraft to come to Britain in the wake of the fall of France. The take-off performance of the Chesapeake was found to be too poor for carrier operations so the Chesapeakes were distributed among several FAA training and support units.

Brewster Bermuda model 340

The first examples of Bermuda arrived in Britain in July 1942, and underwent evaluation at A&AEE. The plane was unsuitable for combat operations and similarly to the US Navy, the FAA used their Bermudas as target tugs.

Of all the models shown on this page, this was easily the most difficult to make. I could obtain only a vac-form kit from Contrail. I had to make many modifications and corrections in order to obtain acceptable result.

Grumman Wildcat

The Martlet/Wildcat series is the largest group in this collection featuring 16 models. I made all the different versions of the Martlet from Mk I to Mk VI with all the different camouflage schemes that could I find in my records.

Martlet Mk I
I modelled the first Royal Navy Martlet Mk I (another ex-French contract) as it appeared before delivery. The civil registration on the wing's top surface was applied only during manufacturer's trials.

A Wildcat from 840 Sqn was the first US fighter in British service to shoot down a German aircraft on December 25th, 1940. I tried to show the different tones of the Extra Dark Sea Grey colours depending on where the paint was manufactured (US or UK).

Martlet Mk II
Martlet Mk. II was the first version with the folding wing and it is so I modelled one one of the models, using Dragon conversion. Another Mk. II represents aircraft from 888 Sqn in La Senia, Italy, 1943.

Click to enlarge images

Martlet Mk III
Martlets Mk III were produced to ex-Greek contract and they didn’t have folding wing. All these aircraft were used in the Western Desert, first with the original camouflage of overall light grey and then with the standard desert camouflage.

Click to enlarge images

Martlet Mk IV
The Martlet Mk. IV had folding wings and was armed six 0.5" machine guns, and was otherwise similar to the Mk. II and Mk V. The Mk IV that I made was modified by Blackburn Aircraft at Brough in order to carry three unguided rockets beneath each wing.

Martlet Mk V
I built one Martlet Mk. V which participated in D-Day operations with 846 Squadron, carrying standard black and white invasion stripes. The other two Mk. Vs corresponding to the American FM-1 both saw combat in the Far East theatre.

Click to enlarge images

Martlet Mk VI
The Marlet Mk. VI (FM-2) had different engine and an extended fin. The different camouflages on these models were typical for the finals months of the conflict.

Click to enlarge images

Comments on Wildcat Kits

The Hasegawa’s kit is the only one which builds to an acceptable model regarding shapes and dimensions. The  competing Academy kit has the fuselage which is completely out of scale (too wide).

Altogether could only obtain six Hasegawa kits on my local market with the remained being Academy. However, I cloned (moulded in resin) ten additional fuselages with their corresponding canopies based on Hasegawa components, and married them with wings, undercarriages etc from the Academy kit, which brought entirely satisfactory results.,

The Euro Decals from Fantasy Printshop provided markings for many of the Mk I and Mk VI models.

This article will continue next month with Hellcats, Avengers, Helldivers, Corsairs, and more!

Continue to the second part of this article


Additional images, click to enlarge



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