Kit No. JT 30
Decals: Three versions – all U.S. Army Air Force, WWII
Comments: Highly detailed cockpit; engraved panel lines; excellent wheel well detail; multiple options for underwing ordnance
The North American P-51 Mustang originated with a June 1940 design proposal submitted to Britain’s Royal Air Force for a fighter to replace the Curtiss P-40. The prototype aircraft, NA-73X, was a low-wing monoplane powered by the Allison V-1710 engine, featuring a new ram air intake in the belly which would increase its top speed. The NA-73X flew for the first time on October 26, 1940 at Mines Field, what is now known as Los Angeles International Airport. Ironically, it was the British who gave this classic American fighter its name — after the successful first flight, the British Purchasing Commission authorized putting the type into production, with the first model dubbed Mustang Mk. I.
Victory at Dieppe
The Mustang I went into production with a longer carburetor intake scoop above the nose (extending all the way to the prop spinner) and bristling with eight guns — two .50 caliber machine guns in the lower nose just beneath and aft of the prop spinner, and one .50 caliber and two .30 caliber guns in each wing. The RAF intended using it for low-level ground attack and photo reconnaissance, so there was no requirement for high altitude performance. From the outset, the Mustang had relatively long range. On July 27, 1942, Mustangs of RAF No. 2 Squadron became the first fighters to hit a target inside Germany from bases in England. In North Africa, there were instances of the RAF borrowing the American F-6 reconnaissance planes for missions for which their own photo recon Spitfires did not have the range. An American pilot, Flying Officer Hollis Hills flying a Mustang IA, scored the first Mustang victory over the Luftwaffe when he shot down an Fw 190 near Dieppe on August 19, 1942 — while flying air support for that ill-fated raid.
Enter the Americans
The United States Army Air Force “discovered” the Mustang when a decision was made to pull two Mk. I’s from the North American production line and send them to Wright Field in Ohio for evaluation. The planes were designated XP-51, and the Wright test pilots raved about them. Only then did the AAF order 150 of the type in July 1941, giving birth to the P-51. Most USAAF P-51’s were employed in the armed photo reconnaissance role in North Africa following Operation Torch, the U.S. invasion of Morroco in November 1942. Using K-24 cameras and officially designated F-6A, they were commonly referred to as P-51’s or Mustangs. A dive bomber version, the A-36 Apache, had dive flaps installed in its wings and retained the .50 caliber nose guns of the British version. But the P-51’s saw the nose guns deleted. The first Mustang lost was shot down by friendly fire — anti-aircraft crews had trouble telling the early P-51’s from the Messerschmitt Bf109.
When the Mustang’s Allison engine was replaced with the Spitfire’s Rolls Royce Merlin powerplant, license-built by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, an outstanding fighter was born. With the Merlin installed, the Allies had a superb fighter equal to anything the Axis Powers had in the sky — capable of both high altitude interception and long range escort, with the firepower and maneuverability to excel at both.
The Mount of the Tuskegee Airmen
One of the units achieving its greatest fame while operating the P-51 was the 332nd Fighter Group, which operated from North Africa, Sicily and Italy from 1943 to 1945. The 332nd, consisting entirely of African-American fighter pilots and ground crew, included four fighter squadrons, the 99th, 100th, 301st and 302nd. Called the “Tuskegee Experiment” by the War Department, the point of the all-black unit was to prove whether or not blacks could cope with the rigors of front-line combat and still perform well. The 332nd was an historic unit, for although blacks had served with distinction in various branches of the U.S. military dating back to the Revolutionary War, the prevalent attitude in government and military circles in the 1940s was that blacks had neither the fortitude nor the intellectual capability to withstand the pressure of combat in advanced fighter aircraft. Initially the 332nd was tasked only with fighter-bomber sorties, such as those supporting the July 1943 invasion of Sicily, but air-to-air combat began in earnest when the 332nd, still flying aging P-39’s and P-40’s, was assigned to provide air support for the Anzio beachhead on the Italian mainland during January 27-28, 1944.
The two days of action resulted in 13 kills for only one loss, 2nd Lt. Sam “Lizard” Bruce, who was forced to bail out during a melee with two Fw 190’s and was later found dead on the ground. After flying P-39’s and P-40’s for the first ten months overseas, the 332nd began transitioning to the P-47 Thunderbolt on April 25, 1944. The group flew its first bomber escort mission on June 8, 1944, covering B -17’s of the 5th Bomb Wing in an attack near the Italian city of Pola. While this first escort mission was uneventful, those which followed were not. In rapid succession, the 332nd was dispatched to escort strategic bombing missions to Munich (June 10 and June 13), Budapest (June 14). Bratislava, Czechoslovakia (June 16 and June 27), Sofia, Bulgaria (June 23), and Vienna, Austria on June 30, 1944 — the last mission the group flew in the P-47. There were additional targets in Hungary and Italy during the month of June.
The Legend of the 332nd
During this period, the legend evolved that the 332nd never lost a bomber to enemy action during its escort missions. It is not known conclusively if this is true; what is confirmed is that there is no documented case of a bomber being lost to an enemy fighter during a 332nd escort mission — many bombers were lost to flak. This is due in large part to the rigid philosophy of group commander Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., who stressed to his pilots that they must protect the bombers at all costs — fighters of the 332nd held their bombers close, staying with them all the way through their bomb run and back out of the target area, and on repeated ocassions, detaching two or more fighters to shepherd stragglers, damaged bombers that had fallen out of formation and were limping home. These were not the uniform practices of other fighter groups at the time, many of whom would peel off from escort once the bombers reached their target, and go off in search of targets of opportunity. Bomber crews grew to appreciate the 332nd’s tactics.
The Red Tails
In late June, P-51 B’s and C’s began to arrive at the 332nd airfield at Capodichino, Italy. The group moved to a larger base at Ramitelli on July 3rd, and on July 4, 1944 flew its first escort mission in the P-51, when 40 Mustangs led by Col. Davis escorted bombers of the 5th and 47th Bomb Wings. For fighter escort duty, the Mustang with its greater range and fuel efficiency was superior to the admittedly more rugged P-47. The P-51 had comparable firepower, with -B and -C versions carrying four .50 caliber machine guns, and the -D carrying six, to the Thunderbolt’s eight. The Mustang’s only drawback was its liquid-cooled Merlin engine; if one of its glycol coolant lines was hit, it was a matter of moments before the engine would seize. The P-47 did not have this weakness, but with its big, gas-guzzling 18-cylinder Pratt & Whitney radial engine, it did not have the Mustang’s range, either. With the conversion to the P-51, ground crews made a concerted effort to paint the tails of all aircraft red.
The pace of bomber escort missions continued, with the 332nd escorting bombers to the strategic target of the Ploesti oil fields in Rumania no less than six times during the summer of 1944. As the reputation of the Red Tails spread, bomber groups began to specifically request the 332nd to provide fighter escort — and Ploesti was known as a “hairy” target. There were still more targets in Germany, Hungary, Austria, Greece and France, most notably escort missions in support of Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of southern France in August 1944. The 332nd Mustangs also frequently provided escort for reconnaissance flights by P-38 Lightnings (in F-5 photo recon configuration) and British Mosquitos.
The 332nd Fighter Group ended the war with 119 confirmed kills and 8.5 probables. 25 of its pilots had multiple kills, in large part due to the extended combat tours the African-American flyers had to endure, since there was only one facility in the entire United States, Tuskegee Army Air Field, that was training black pilots during the war. Many pilots flew up to 70 missions before rotating home, when the average AAF tour for fighter pilots was 50 missions. Manpower problems plagued the 332nd throughout its time overseas, so much so that one of its squadrons, the 302nd, stood down as of February 1944 and had its personnel absorbed into the other three remaining groups. A total of 66 Tuskegee Airmen were killed in combat or accidents during the war. This group of flyers and ground crew overcame overt racism from the moment of their unit’s creation to become one of the elite fighter units of the war. The 1945 War Department report on the “Tuskegee Experiment,” which reflected how well the 332nd accredited itself in combat, did not see the light of day for 18 years, being suppressed until it was ordered declassified by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in 1963.
Having built the older Arii/Otaki P-51D in back 2009, I can say this newer Hasegawa version is far superior in the overall quality of engraved detail, cockpit and wheel wells, canopy fit, and variety of underwing ordnance. Hasegawa’s P-51D is injection molded in gray and is well detailed, consisting of 127 parts. There will be plenty of left-overs for the spares box, as there are two different types of propeller blades, two types of engine exhausts, two versions of the bubbletop canopy, and a variety of underwing stores, including a pair of 75-gallon “teardrop” drop tanks, a pair of 108-gallon paper tanks, two sets of rocket tubes, and a pair of 500 lb. bombs. This kit was well-researched, as the cockpit closely matches the best reference photos available, and the wheel wells are the most detailed to be found in this scale. There is a two-piece canopy and crisply detailed landing gear.
I enhanced the P-51 with aftermarket machine gun barrels and engine exhausts by Quickboost, and resin wheels by True Details. The machine guns are from Quickboost’s P-47 set.
This kit absolutely fell together. There were no construction headaches, save for a minor problem in that the inner landing gear doors did not quite hang symmetrically once cemented in place — one of them is ever so slightly off. Also it was a bit of effort to get the canopy to fit properly, but that was only because it had been glued in place once before (perfectly) to protect the cockpit interior during painting.
I replaced the kit machine gun barrels (no more than tiny plastic stubs) with Quickboost’s longer and more detailed .50 caliber machine gun barrels for the P-47 Thunderbolt. The P-51’s wings had mere depressions in the leading edges into which the kit stubs were to be cemented — no easy task, given their diminutive size. The kit-supplied barrel stubs were very short, too small for effective handling and very easy to lose once dropped. The Quickboost gun barrels were superior in that they were longer, easier to handle, but also had precision-machined holes for the barrel openings. The leading edge openings for the machine gun barrels to protrude from had to be filed down a bit to allow the Quickboost barrels to be properly dryfitted and then cemented in.
Although they do not appear on the kit, the kit offers three decal options, each of them being a variation of the overall natural metal scheme. The first is for “Jumpin’ Jacques” of the 3rd Fighter Squadron, 3rd Fighter Group (depicted in the kit box art) and features just beneath the cockpit a cartoon figure of a rabbit holding what can best be described as a blunderbuss. This scheme involves a blue spinner, and blue tail with broad black bands on the wings and fuselage. The second is for a machine of the 487th Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group, and sports a cartoon figure of an aviator in cap and scarf on a blue
background outlined in red with a yellow lightning bolt from upper left to lower right; the figure is holding a .30 caliber water cooled machine gun in one hand, and what appears to be a riding crop in the other. The third verision is for an aircraft of the 353rd Fighter Squadron, 354th Fighter Group and features a yellow spinner and a large image of an eagle on the nose, swooping down to seize its prey.
The decals appearing on the kit are from the Tuskegee Airmen in Italy sheet produced by Three Guys Replicas, TGR48017. They depict the markings for “Duchess Arlene, ” P-51D-15-NA, serial number 44-15648, flown by First Lieutenant Robert W. Williams of the 100th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group based at Ramitelli, Italy in March 1945.
An excellent kit, perhaps the best Mustang available in 1/48 scale.
- 332nd Fighter Group – Tuskegee Airmen by Chris Bucholtz; Osprey Publishing Limited, New York, 2007
- P-51 Mustang in Action by Larry Davis; Squadron Signal Publications, 2008
- “The All-Black 332nd Fighter Group,” World War II Magazine, Vol 8, No. 1, pp. 30-37; January 1980