Douglas A-20B Havoc by MPM

1/72 scale
Kit No. 72557
Cost: $30 – 35.00
Decals: Two versions- both US Army Air Force
Comments: Engraved panel lines; detailed cockpit, radial engines and wheel wells

History

The Douglas A-20 Havoc served Allied forces through most of World War II, serving with the British, American and Soviet air arms. The type saw extensive use, proving itself capable of withstanding a great deal of punishment but living up to its namesake in turn thanks to its speed and inherent firepower. Her crews put the aircraft through its paces with production topping over 7,000 units and several major production variants. Built as a light bomber but operated more or less as a heavy fighter (early versions had a top speed of close to 300 mph, nearly in the speed class of contemporary fighters, so the A-20 was initially considered somewhat “hot”), the Havoc proved a successful addition to the Douglas company line and the Allied war effort as a whole before being eventually replaced by the more capable Douglas A-26 Invader in the attack/light bombing role and Northrop P-61 Black Widow in the night-fighter role. The A-20 saw its greatest success as a fast attack aircraft.

The A-20 series began life as the Douglas Model 7B design, a light bomber attempt originally designed as early as 1936. The United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) showed enough interest after a design review in 1938 that it ordered an operational prototype to be constructed under contract. The prototype first flew on October 26th, 1938, and displayed extremely promising potential. The twin-engined aircraft was fast, and responsive to the controls with very few negative aspects to her overall design.  Considered a “pilot’s airplane,” it represented an advance in flight control systems, requiring only light handling, even during high speed flight, and it was popular with flyers, who quickly mastered it.

Despite glowing reports from the first flight trials, with the United States still strongly isolationist despite the worsening situation in Europe and Asia, the Air Corps backed off and shelved the Model 7B for the time being. It would be another year before the Air Corps ordered development of the type, on the eve of what looked like an increasingly likely war in Europe. Initially ordering 243 A-20A’s, armed with four 7.62mm forward-firing machine guns in fuselage blisters, two 7.62mm machine guns in the rear dorsal position, one 7.62mm machine gun in a ventral position and even two 7.62mm rear-firing machine guns in fixed engine nacelle positions. 1,600 lbs. of internal ordnance could be carried. The was still a crew of four as in the initial A-20 design. Performance allowed for a top speed of 347 miles per hour, a ceiling of 28,175 feet and an operating range of 1,000 miles.

Before long the French and Belgium governments came calling, and ordered several hundred Model 7B’s for immediate production in February of 1940. These were assigned the official designation of DB-7 and construction covered two distinct production models, the DB-7A and the DB-7B. An initial batch of 100 DB-7’s were built and work quickly began on 270 more. Despite the best efforts of Douglas Aircraft, only 115 DB-7’s were delivered to the French before the precipitous collapse of France under the German blitzkrieg in June 1940. Some 95 French-operated DB-7’s escaped to North Africa, while the remaining models in American hands were diverted to the British, who gladly commenced operations with the type as the “Boston.” The British Boston series covered three distinct marks as the Boston Mk.I (DB-7), Boston Mk.II (DB-7A) and Boston Mk.III (DB-7B).

RAF Bostons were fielded as daylight bombers initially, though these raids met with disastrous results. The type was found to be unsuitable for such a dangerous role and therefore modified into a dedicated night-fighter form. The RAF selected roughly 100 of these Boston light bombers and produced the converted “Havoc” intruder aircraft fitted with the AI (air intercept) Mk IV series of radar in the nose housing and as many as 12 x 7.7mm machine guns to handle the offensive dirty work. Additionally, these converted Bostons were given increased armor protection for the crew and specialized exhaust piping to dampen the flame effects of the engines at night (ironically, the Americans would later strip much of the armor from their nightfighter version of the A-20, the P-70 Nighthawk, in pursuit of more speed). Essentially, the British RAF gave birth to the “Havoc” series by default, despite its origins as an American airplane. Havocs were first fielded by No. 23 Squadron.

By October 1940, the USAAC ordered more Havocs, these being in the newer A-20B form based on the DB-7A. The A-20B retained its twin engine light attack bomber role along with the A-model’s R-2600-11 series radial engines and framed plexiglas nose. A slight variation in the design of the plexiglas nose was the distinguishing factor between the A-20A and A-20B models. Armament was reduced somewhat, with the A-20B mounting just two 12.7mm nose-mounted (lower fuselage) machine guns, but otherwise retaining the same armament configuration as the A-20A.

To compensate for the reduced offensive firepower, the internal bombload was increased to 2,400 lbs. Performance remained comparable with the top speed reported at 350 miles per hour, a range of 2,300 miles and a ceiling of 28,500 feet. The U.S. Navy received eight such aircraft but used them in the target towing role as BD-2’s. The Soviet Union became a large operator of the A-20B series under the Lend-Lease program, receiving 665 of the 999 production examples under the agreement.

A-20’s served in both the Pacific and European Theaters of War. The 3rd, 312th and 417th Bomb Groups operated the Havoc in the Pacific, while the 47th, 409th, 410th and 416th Bomb Groups flew the type in an early limited role in Europe. Operations in the latter were held by the 9th Air Force with the 9th Bomber Command. On July 4th, 1942, twelve A-20 Havocs (6 with American airmen and 6 with British airmen) launched a low-altitude daylight bombing raid on four airfields in Holland, including an aerodrome at Alkmaar, marking the first American raid in the European Theater. These American-flown Havocs were part of the 15th Bombardment Squadron.

The A-20 proved a little aircraft of large worth. Its ability to adapt to various armament configurations allowed the type to reach further and deeper into the war than it would have otherwise. The Havoc provided its operators with a sturdy and powerful attack platform capable of undertaking a variety of specialized roles from ground attack to light bombing and strafing to nightfighting, as needed. In any form, A-20 Havocs proved that the fast, twin-engine attack bomber had a definite role to play in helping win the war.

The Kit
MPM’s A-20B Havoc is injection molded in grey plastic and consists of 164 parts, including 8 clear plastic parts offering a choice of glazed noses.  Released in 2010, this kit is part of a series of MPM offerings in the A-20 family, and shares common parts with MPM’s Boston Mk. IV (the A-20J) of 2008, and the P-70 Nighthawk of 2013, which was re-released by Revell in late 2016. The A-20B features engraved panel lines and a detailed cockpit and cabin interior (although the seats lack seat straps or decals to represent them). The cockpit features separate sidewall panels with raised detail, separate rudder pedals, a two-piece control yoke, a seat and a main instrument panel with ample raised detail.

The engine nacelles feature internal bulkheads for the wheel wells, and separate parts to blank off cooling intakes. In an unusual bit of engineering, the detailed main landing gear must be cemented directly to the under surface of each wing, and the nacelles positioned around them when they are cemented on. The main gear doors have good internal detail, as does the kit’s slender dorsal hatch for the cockpit. The A-20’s powerplant of two Double Wright Cyclone R-2600 radial engines are faithfully recreated.

There are two interesting notes regarding the rear machine guns provided for defensive armament. The first thing is that the rear plexiglas part is a single piece of clear plastic which completely encloses what would be the rear gunner’s station, so if you want to depict the gun as deployed, it will be necessary to cut this part down a bit. On the actual plane, the rear plexiglas consisted of two parts, one of which was a kind of clamshell that could be slid out of the way when the rear gun was in use — unfortunately MPM did not provide two parts to allow the gun to be easily displayed in this way.

The second thing is that there are three different machine guns to choose from. The most realistic looking appears to be a single American .30 caliber Browning air-cooled version, which is remarkably detailed for 1/72 scale. The second is a pair of .30 caliber Brownings on a twin mount (all one piece) but these guns are noticeably less detailed at a glance. The last appears to be a .303 Vickers aerial machine gun, with a separately mounted drum magazine of rather soft detail, with two spares — likely for any of the British versions called the Boston. Whichever weapon you choose, be aware that while Step 19 of the instructions clearly directs the modeler to cement on both his or her choice of machine gun on a rear pedestal, and the rear plexiglas, the gun cannot be deployed unless about half of the plexiglas is cut off. Finally, although the box art shows a ventral machine gun protruding from the under side fuselage aft of the bomb bay, no such parts are provided.

Care will have to be taken with the nose section, for the floor comprising the bombardier’s station and a seat are cemented to a rear bulkhead that is already attached to the airframe, as it is part of the cockpit assembly, and the bomb sight is then attached up front. The clear plastic part forming the entire nose is then cemented on over these parts. The challenge here will be the need to paint the interior of the nose prior to cementing it onto the airframe, deciding whether to paint the exterior nose prior to attaching it to the fuselage, and how to perform what may be a delicate operation of subsequent seam-hiding, if necessary.

Paint Guide and Decals
The paint guide provided in the instructions references Gunze Sangyo paints only. The kit decals are by Aviprint and are of excellent quality. They provide markings for any one of three American A-20’s: the first is an A-20B of the 84th Bomber Squadron, 47th Bombardment Group, based in North Africa in 1943 — this is the plane depicted in the box art and has olive drab upper surfaces that have been overpainted by blotches of sand, giving the plane an almost reptilian appearance, all over neutral grey. This aircraft, with Yellow 17 on the nose, features a logo of a red devil carrying a bomb but has no other name or nose art.

The second version is an A-20B, “Lady Jean” of the 47th Bombardment Group, based in Algeria, North Africa in December 1942. It features a standard paint scheme of olive drab over neutral grey, with the addition of irregular patches of medium green on the leading and trailing edges of the wings and vertical tail surface.

The last version is of an A-20B, “Miss Burma” of the 86th Bomber Squadron, 47th Bombardment Group, based in Italy in 1943. Its paint scheme is identical to that of “Lady Jean.” The curious thing about this plane is its name, given that it served in the Mediterranean rather than the China-Burma-India theatre.

Conclusion
An excellent rendition of an early version of the A-20 attack bomber, but it may not be a completely trouble-free build, as it looks like it will require some extra care to fit the nose on properly, and to deploy the rear machine gun.

Reference

  • www.militaryfactory.com
  • The Aviation History Online Museum ~ www.aviation-history.com
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