Saturday, May 10, 2014

F4U-1 Birdcage Corsairs Part 1 - White 126 Research

F4U-1 Corsair. Bu no. unknown. “Tojo Eats Shit!” VMF-222. Pilot unknown. Munda Airfield, New Georgia. Solomon Islands. The inscription was carried on the starboard side. Port side inscription is speculative.

Hi Guys.

I will spare you the explanations for the lack of blogging on my part. Same reasons as listed before! :-)

Last week saw the release of the new sheet from BarracudaCals featuring 6 Birdcage Corsairs. Fans of our decals and the Corsair will recognize that 2 of the schemes, White 126 and White 13, have been revived from the now out of print BarracudaCals sheet F4U-1 Corsairs part 1. This sheet was only released in 1/72 and 1/48 scale. It has since sold out in both scales.

The release of the incredible 1/32nd Birdcage Corsair kit by Tamiya precipitated a new birdcage decal sheet and it only seems natural to release it in all 3 scales as Tamiya has a superb Birdcage kit in each.

When we first released White 126, we had no idea as to where it was based, or from what squadron. Quite a while after its release, a sharp eyed customer emailed me, and through some clever sleuthing, gave us the location and squadron. It had been speculated by some that this may have been a Stateside training squadron aircraft. To me, that seemed unlikely, as the nose inscription seemed a bit risque for an aircraft that could be seen by high ranking personnel.

I think you will be hard pressed to come up with a more dirty, weather beaten Corsair than White 126. Note mismatched tires. Makes a great modelling subject, don't you think?

The modeller who emailed me identified the base and squadron by the Island and the derrick visible in the background. The base was Munda Airfield in the Solomon Islands. Very exciting, as this put White 126 in the front lines. Study of other aircraft from this Squadron show the national markings in all six positions and with the field applied bars.

An interesting story about the inscription. When my friend Kerry Carlyle from New Zealand sent me the image of this aircraft, we could not read the name. it was too blurry. I blew it up in Photoshop and tried a number of tricks to allow it to be read. I increased the contrast, sharpened it, inverted it (to look like a negative), but all to no avail. I sent out the enlarged image cropped and sharpened to a number of friends. No one could read it.  See below:

Cropped, sharpened and with blown out contrast, the name seems easily readable. But before we figured it out, it stumped six sharp eyed modelers!

Kerry emailed me back a few days later to tell me that he showed it to a friend who took one look and said "It says TOJO EATS SHIT!" Of course, as soon as you know what it says, it becomes immediately apparent that that is exactly what it says. But there were six of us staring at that image trying to figure it out. Now it seems hard to imagine that we couldn't decipher it.

Now, the color scheme was a bit of a puzzle at first. It certainly seems to be a early two tone scheme of Blue Gray (FS35189) over Light Gray (FS36440). The timing of the markings also point to this scheme. But then there is the outer wing undersurfaces, which are clearly Blue Grey. Then what is the dark color on the leading edge of the wings? This led to speculation of it being a very dirty 3 tone scheme. 

Plan view, showing the application of repair paint. Click on images for a larger version.

The answer came a few months ago in a online discussion. At about this time of the war, the Birdcages were having problem with the leaking fuel tanks in the leading edge of the outer wings. The tanks were removed and sealed and the repaired areas were repainted in the new darker blue color of Non Specular Sea Blue, or a field mixed equivalent version of this color. The crew obviously also took the opportunity to repaint the now coral blasted wing and tailplane leading edges with the fresh paint. This repair is seen in photos of other Birdcage Corsairs of the time. what is interesting also is that the fin appears to be light grey. Certainly non-standard for the time.

What is also apparent is that this scheme is an extremely war weary paintjob. This can only be a two tone scheme, as there would not have been time for a three tone scheme to get this badly worn and faded on a frontline Birdcage. This makes "Tojo" and extremely interesting subject to model. Its almost impossible to weather this one up too much! 

Hope you found this article to be useful. Part 2 of this reference series will be coming tomorrow.

Happy modelling!  Roy

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