Kit No. 633
Decals: Two versions – Imperial German Air Service
Comments: Limited run injection molded kit; Windsock Data File and scratchbuilding skill required; white metal detail parts for cockpit (internal frame), engine, rear machine gun, support struts, and Scarff ring; highly detailed painting instructions
The Halberstadt CI.II was a potent German two-seat escort fighter and ground attack aircraft of World War I, serving in large numbers with the German Luftstreitkräfte (Imperial German Army Air Service) in 1917-18. Specifically designed to provide air support for ground troops, the Halberstadt CI.II was well-armed with two Spandau LMG 08/15 machine-guns, or one Spandau and one Parabellum machine gun, along with four to eight 22-pound (10 kg) anti-personnel bombs. It would emerge as one of the best ground attack fighters of the war.
The late-war Halberstadt was a response to an Idflieg (Inspectorate of Aviation Troops) specification issued in August 1916 for a new “light C-type” escort fighter with an engine of 160 to 180 horsepower, carrying a crew of two and able to protect heavier, slower observation aircraft from Allied fighters. The prototype flew for the first time in April 1917 and by August, deliveries to front-line units had begun. The new CI.II aircraft were mostly supplied to Schutzstaffeln (Protection flights), and Schlachtstaffeln (battle flights — assigned to ground duties). The CI.II’s climb rate and maneuverability were excellent and it was regarded by its crews as very close in performance to such single-seat fighters as the Albatros D.III and D.V.
Due to its agility and rapid climb rate, it was able to avoid enemy ground fire and was successfully employed to attack enemy troop formations and other front-line installations. The CI.II was particularly effective while supporting infantry in both offensive and defensive roles, and was a major factor in the strong German counter-attack at the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917. Since it could hold its own against enemy single-seat fighters, it was popular with aircrews and served alongside other late-war German single-seaters such as the Fokker D.VII. The type remained in service until the end of the war, by which time an estimated 1200 aircraft had been built.
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The first thing to note about Blue Max kits is that they require three things if you are to finish the build without undue frustration: 1) awareness that you are dealing with a limited run kit; 2) the patience to do your research; and 3) a bit of scratchbuilding skill. While the major injection-molded parts for the wings and fuselage are quite well done and could almost rival Tamiya in their level of detail, there is a great deal more to this kit that can put a modeler through his paces. Unless you have access to a rare cache of original Halberstadt CI.II photos, I strongly recommend acquiring a copy of Windsock Data File No. 157. I found it an invaluable resource that rewarded careful study and allowed me to finish this kit with a measure of accuracy.
The multi-media aspect of the kit comes to the fore right away with the white metal parts for the cockpit, two of which simultaneously form the sidewall detail and the internal cockpit framing. They will require clean-up with a metal file, and for smaller bits of flash, an Xacto blade. These framing parts are cemented to the fairly detailed injection molded cockpit floor with cyanoacrylate (the recommended glue throughout the build, with just two exceptions), as are the forward and rear bulkheads. At
this point the simple part is over, and we come to a note about the cockpit that speaks to the nature of Blue Max kits: in the instruction sheet, the modeler’s only guide to construction is a single exploded drawing, which is not sufficiently detailed to convey where the other cockpit components (seats, rudder pedals, control stick, and what I later discovered was a fuel tank), and a number of other parts at later stages, should go.
Compounding the challenge was the fact that the Halberstadt’s cockpit did not have a traditional layout, i.e. there were no separate bays for the pilot and rear gunner. Both aircrew sat in one big bay that formed the entire cockpit, and the rear gunner’s seat does not face the rear of the aircraft. When operating the machine gun to protect the rear of the aircraft or strafe ground targets, the gunner was either standing on the cockpit floor, or kneeling on the rear seat, which attaches to the rear bulkhead and faces forward.
It was not until after careful study of the cockpit photos and schematics to be found in Windsock Datafile No. 157, which I bought after I had begun construction, that I realized all this and had a reasonable clue as to how the cockpit components were arranged. To begin with, the pilot’s seat is situated directly atop the fuel tank (a white metal part), underscoring what wicked contraptions these early combat aircraft were. The precise location of the instrument panel in relation to the pilot’s seat is not clear either in the kit drawings or even the Windsock, and I positioned it a bit too far forward in the cockpit. Also, although the kit provides a control stick, it is not accurate based on the photos in the Windsock, which show a kind of boomerang-style handlebars atop the control column, so I scratchbuilt my own. I also added Eduard seat straps from a set for WWI German aircraft.
Fuselage and Tail Assembly
An important note about the fuselage, which has very good exterior detail, is that a significant amount of sanding of the completed cockpit assembly (both the plastic and white metal parts, which will require a metal file) will be required to get the fuselage to close up properly, and even then, there will be a significant gap along the center line, along both the ventral and dorsal seams. I filled these gaps with Milliput and sanded them smooth. The parts for the tail and elevators are fairly detailed and assemble easily – but great care should be taken when fitting the elevators to the fuselage to ensure they are on a horizontal plane.
The upper wing consists of three parts and while they are nicely detailed, there will be a gap between the center section and the two outboard sections, which must be filled with putty. Care must be taken with sanding so as not to obscure the wing’s surface detail, including the radiator. The lower wing consists of two parts cemented to the fuselage without the aid of slots or locator pins. Again, there will be slight gaps which must be puttied. A significant flaw with this kit is that the length of spindly plastic rod allegedly provided to form the interplane struts (once cut to specifications) is too thin and light to have a snowball’s chance of supporting the upper wing. Interplane struts will therefore have to be scratch-built.
After studying the Windsock photos, I cut four lengths from sheet plastic, then sanded and hand-painted them (as I did all other struts) with RLM 02, a Vallejo acrylic. These hand-crafted struts were far from perfect, but got the job done. There are also two inverted cabane or “V” struts which connect the upper wing to the fuselage. It is best to connect the upper and lower wings first by the load-bearing interplane struts, then cement the two cabane struts on afterwards, since these latter parts are soft white metal and cannot hold much weight at all. Finally, there are two more single struts attaching the forward fuselage, at a point along the engine bay, to points just aft of the leading edge of the upper wing, where the center section meets the two outboard sections. The somewhat flimsy plastic rod provided for these struts is sufficient to the task.
The two main “V” struts for the landing gear were thin, white metal parts which bent too easily for comfort. Their best feature were small stubs protruding from both ends of the struts, and are intended to be inserted into holes drilled in the underside of the fuselage to help secure the struts in place. First, I bent the V struts into the desired shape, referring to the Windsock, marked the ends of the stubs with black paint, and touched them to the Halberstadt’s belly where I knew the struts would need to be attached. This served to mark the appropriate spots on the Halberstadt’s underside where I drilled four small holes using a pin vise.
I then painted the V struts and set them aside. Once they dried, I cemented them to the fuselage using four very small dabs of JB Weld two-part expoxy, and let it dry overnight. The main axle for the landing gear is not provided in the kit. I used a section of hollow plastic tubing, cut and then sanded at each end, then cemented it into the crook of the V struts. It was just wide enough to allow the wheels, which were cemented on later, sufficient clearance in relation to the struts. Two more supporting rods, fashioned from toothpicks cut and sanded to fit snugly between the V struts on points along the fore and aft arms of the V, were then painted and cemented on.
I decided midway through the build to replace the machine guns provided in the kit with aftermarket guns offering greater detail, (although the rear gun provided in the kit was appealing since it featured a telescopic sight, which was seen on the rear guns of a fair number of Halberstadts). The forward Spandau gun is an all-metal version by Master Model (Product No. AM-48-035). The rear gun is a Parabellum LMG 14 by Karaya (Product No. B05), and consists of resin parts for the stock and receiver section and the drum magazine, and metal parts for the barrel, barrel jacket, gun site, and ammunition.
I puzzled for some time over precisely where the forward firing Spandau machine gun should go; here the kit’s exploded drawing was no help whatsoever. Some WWI fighters, notably the British S.E.5a, had at least one machine gun arranged so that the rear of the breech protruded into the cockpit, but the cockpit photos in the Windsock for the Halberstadt did not corroborate this. I bought an aftermarket Spandau from Master Models, airbrushed it in acrylic gun metal, and was very close to cementing it to the upper decking of the fuselage just above and behind the engine, an arrangement I’d seen on many a Fokker and Pfalz aircraft, when something told me to look at the Windsock photos again; none showed a gun on the upper decking forward of the cockpit.
The photos did not have sufficient resolution to be much help beyond that. I then turned to the color plates, which at last gave me the answer: the machine gun was in the engine bay, fitted along the upper left side of the engine, and indeed the strange assymetical opening in the engine bay (which I had also puzzled over earlier) is specifically designed to accomodate it. Since the engine is first cemented inside one of the fuselage halves before it is closed up, it is best to cement the machine gun to the engine cylinders before glueing the fuselage halves together; I did it much later, and owing to the difficult angle of insertion at that point it took several attempts, a pair of fine tweezers, and incredible patience.
The ring at the rear of the cockpit for the Parabellum machine gun is a white metal part, one of whose supporting arms, which attach it to the fuselage, broke off. I made a new arm from stretched sprue, then cemented it to the ring with JB Weld two-part epoxy, jury rigging a support for it while it dried, since it had to be at a particular angle to rest on the fuselage properly. Once dry, I painted it with a dark grey primer, then Humbrol Natural Wood, finally treating it with a coat of Gunze Sango Clear Yellow.
The Halberstadt is depicted in a scheme highlighting the great variety of camouflage employed in combination with the four-color lozenge fabric found on the upper surfaces of the wings of many German fighters of World War I. The nose is painted Imperial Red, or “Kaiserrot,” an Akan acrylic from Russia (No. 71092). This is a German but not a WWI color officially, and according to the manufacturer was used on the lower half of Wehrmacht locomotives during WWII, but it provided just the rich
shade of red I wanted for the Halberstadt. Besides, with a name like Imperial Red, it seemed only natural for a fighter in the Kaiser’s Air Force. The remainder of the fuselage is a “scumble” camouflage pattern using Afrika Grunbraun, a Testors enamel and another German color from WWII as a base coat — I did not hesitate to use “out of period” colors if I felt they were right, after studying color plates of several Halberstadts.
The Grunbraun was augmented with airbrushed patches of German Mauve, a Polly Scale acrylic and a confirmed German WWI color, and Faded Olive Drab, another Testors enamel. For the undersurfaces, the fuselage is painted Matt Cream, a Humbrol enamel (No. 103), and the wings and tail surfaces are airbrushed in Doped Linen , another Polly Scale acrylic (No. 505029). Both the Matt Cream and the Doped Linen are a pale yellow, but the Doped Linen, employed on the fabric-covered wings and tail, is a somewhat lighter shade intended to duplicate the different look an identical paint would have had on fabric, compared to the Halberstadt’s plywood covered fuselage. This scheme is heavily based on a color plate found in the Windsock Datafile publication on the Halberstadt.
The propeller is painted in enamels consisting of Model Master Rust, streaked with Humbrol Natural Wood while drying, then coated with Gunze Sangyo Clear Yellow. A day later, I applied decals from an LF Models set of German WWI Producer’s Propeller Labels, Product No. C4859. These are decals of propeller manufacturer logos, one on each blade, for a little added realism. The Halberstadt’s propeller features the logo of Wolff Luftschrauben-Werk, or the Wolff Propeller Factory. The spinner is painted the same color as the nose of the plane, Kaiserrot. Once these decals had set in, I sealed them with a clear gloss varnish.
The kit decals are of good quality, fully in register with a nice glossy sheen and inclined to adhere well to the model’s surface. However, the examples in my kit were never sealed in their own plastic envelope, nor were they covered with translucent foolscap paper, and Blue Max kits do not typically come sealed in clear plastic. The result was that the decals had unfortunately oxidized somewhat in the years between manufacture and use. They must be handled with extreme care, as some of the them had a tendency to fracture not upon contact with water, but upon sliding them from the paper to the model’s surface. The flame decals in particular broke up and had to be extensively painted over, which had the beneficial effect of curing the difference in shade between the red paint on the nose and that of the decal. Parts of the Maltese crosses also had to be repainted, and the number “5” marking on the starboard side of the fuselage was visibly damaged — cured by overpainting a part of it, which sometimes happened in the field.
Not included in the kit decals are the lozenze decals seen on this kit, which are aftermarket examples from Eagle Strike (German Lozenge Set No. 48012). These were quite thin and remarkably strong, fitting over the wing upper surfaces like a glove. These decals come in broad strips, and will have to be measured and cut to conform to the shape of the wing, and in the case of the upper wing unfortunately are not large enough to cover the area with a single piece. The inevitable touch-up painting had to be done, but it was not too extensive, the main challenge here finding colors that match those in the lozenge pattern. The key here is sometimes to ensure the decal is fully bonded to the surface of the wing before embarking on any painting or repair of the decal. Gentle pressure with a Q-tip to squeeze-roll the water from between the surface of the model and the decal is followed by treatment with a decal setting solution. Then, airbrushing on a clear gloss coat and allowing it to dry before any re-painting is recommended. While Eagle Strike’s lozenge decals are quite good, even after initial airbrush treatment with a coat of Future, they had a strange tendency to crack and curl up in places — possibly because they were left near a window where they were exposed to too much sunlight. I cured this by a liberal repeat application of decal setting solution, followed by multiple thin coats of Future.
While pleased with the finished product, I found this kit to be a bit of a monster. It did not fall together by any means. If you want a nice, smooth model building experience, stick with Hasegawa or Tamiya — with my enthusiastic blessing! So far as I know, the only other kit of this mark of Halberstadt in 1/48 scale is by Mirage, and I would be interested to build it for comparison. The Blue Max Halberstadt CI.II is for intermediate to advanced modelers who are both persistent and undaunted by the prospect of extra work, including research and scratchbuilding. The final result was very satisying, but I did not anticipate having to make my own interplane struts, or to invest in a Windsock Data File just to complete the kit. With these caveats, it is highly recommended to intermediate modelers of intrepid spirit. But this modeler is ready for a change of pace, so my next kit will be something EASY.
- Halberstadt CL. II: Windsock Datafile No. 157 by J.S. Alcorn