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Academy 1/72 P-40M: VVS "Silver 23," 191 IAP, December, 1943

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Academy 1/72 P-40M: VVS "Silver 23," 191 IAP, December, 1943
Posted by suomi39 on Tuesday, May 7, 2024 5:20 PM

After spending the last year and more building and painting Warhammer 40K miniatures and vehicles, I had a hankering to do something a little more historic, and dug through my stash to find this kit — a Hobby Lobby impulse buy that fits nicely within my growing "72nd scale Finnish-service warbirds" collection. One note: I didn’t intend to do a full WIP post for this build, so I apologize for the lack of sprue shots and intermediate-step photos.

But wait, you might say, doesn't the title of the post indicate a Soviet lend-lease bird? You are correct; read on. 

When modeling these more obscure liveries, it seems like my biggest expense isn't the kit itself, or even the aftermarket parts — it's the reference materials. Luckily this ebay book came in quickly, and gave me the starting info I needed, with one color plate and two pages of period photos. 

The Finns only ever operated a single P-40, which they "acquired" on 27 December, 1943, after its Soviet pilot made a forced landing on Lake Valkjärvi in southern Finland. The Finns overhauled the plane — a P-40M-10-CU, Curtiss serial number 43-5925 — and it bounced around between different flying units, never being used for missions, before being scrapped in 1950.  Perhaps due to its uniqueness in Finnish hands, it is a surprisingly well-documented airframe. 

First steps, as always, are the cockpit. When I opened the box I found a nice set of Eduard photo-etch parts for this kit that I'd forgot about, and with a standard amount of fiddly effort, it actually worked up into a nicely detailed, if hard to see, 'pit. This was my first time using CA glue accelerator while doing PE work, and I highly recommend it. 

For painting, pretty standard procedure here: primed black, airbrushed green, painted details, drybrushed with a lighter version of the base colors, glossed, acrylic grime/shade wash, sponge and pencil chipping, flat coat. 

Note: I painted it in a Curtiss "interior green" color but later reading suggested I maybe should have gone with a much blue-er RAF cockpit color, since all lend-lease P-40Ms that went to the USSR came from canceled RAF contracts. Oh well... too late!

Then this showed up in the mail! While hunting online for a set of decals for this bird, I found that Special Hobby had released a new kit that had decals for both the Soviet and Finnish version. The kit only cost about twice what a set of decals cost, so it was an easy choice. There are two Finnish paint jobs in my reference book, so if someday I wanted to do the other… I’d have the kit ready to go. 

From there, assembly was more or less straightforward. Fuselage seam lines did require some filling, especially right behind the canopy where you’d use a different part for the P-40N (that this kit also builds). Wing joins were okay-enough that I decided to not fight with filling them. While test-fitting the aerial mast in that giant hole behind the canopy, I dropped it inside where it remains to this day. Easy-enough to scratch build one of those at least…

 

Other photo-etch parts went into the landing gear bays (but not the doors, oddly) and were probably not worth the effort due to limited visibility. The cowl flaps are also PE and look good. 

Once major assembly was done, it got a spray of Vallejo’s acrylic poly primer, which I’ve come to enjoy working with on wargaming miniatures — but not so much on aircraft, as it turns out. It lays down very, very smooth even if sprayed wet and heavy, it’s forgiving in an airbrush with a couple drops of thinner (especially with a .05 needle), it’s after a day or two to cure, it’s very durable and subsequent paint colors REALLy stick to it well. But, it’s a little soft for sanding and tends to roll/peel instead of sand cleanly, leaving ugly lines that are hard to feather out. I’ll keep using it — but not as a guide coat. Plain paint for that from here on out. 

Then I decided to try something totally new — always good to try one new thing per build, right? — and went with some heavy mottling over the black primer. This technique really helps you develop your precision airbrushing! Used a light grey first, and then some ochre yellow to vary things just a bit. Proper air pressure and proper thinning are key, as is regular cleaning of the tip to avoid dry-tip and spattering. Not hard but you do have to pay attention, and set aside a good 20-30 minutes per side on an aircraft of this scale. 

 

Next up — and the real trick — was to lay the base color down thinly enough to not obscure the mottling/modulation, and to leave a LITTLE more of the modulation showing than my instincts tell me, because there will be weathering, fading, grime, etc. yet to come that will hide it completely if I go too subtle.

It was at this moment that I realized I’d made my error. First, I’d used Vallejo’s USAAF Light Grey for the underside, which is pretty close to the light grey I’ve used on my other Finnish birds. But all those, so far, have been 1939-1941 paint schemes. By 1943 the Finns had standardized their “warpaint” (as they call it) to more closely align with the Luftwaffe’s, and I probably should have gone with a light blue or a silver dope color. It’s hard to say for sure since this airframe wasn’t in regular service, but still... The grey wasn’t right.  

Just painting over the grey would, of course, totally obscure my mottling work, and going back to black and re-mottling would have been two days of delay. And those sharp red stars kept tempting me from the Special Hobby decal sheet on the desk. So instead of the Finnish P-40M, I decided to paint it up as the same airframe, but in the Soviet colors that it had on the day that Second Lieutenant V.A. Revin of 191 IAP put it down on Lake Valkjärvi. Then, someday, I can build the Special Hobby kit up as the Finnish version! Problem solved!

Interestingly, even in its VVS livery this particular aircraft is well-photographed. I won’t post them all here but there are pictures of it in the snow at its Soviet airfield, and then again “in situ” on the lake ice as the Finns give it an initial once-over. My Suomen Ilmavoimien Historia book even has a full page photo of the latter. 

‘Course these photos don’t help much with colors, and it was time to play with greens. From everything I could find to read, VVS green colors were not very standardized and/or not well documented, so I went with what looked “right” to me — a 50-50 mix of Vallejo’s Game Air Goblin Green and Model Air Forest Green. The rudder and spinner got a shot of 50-50 Model Air USAAF Light Grey and Vallejo Metal Color Aluminum for a pretty convincing “aluminum dope”.

Then a blast of Future (yes, I still have two nearly-full bottles of the stuff, though it’s starting to yellow a bit), and on to the decals! The Special Hobby transfers are a joy to work with, as long as you’re quick — they release from the backing paper after 5 seconds or less in the water. The Special Hobby kit also came with a giant sheet of tiny stencils, and I started applying them — the trim tabs, access panels, gun panels, etc. — until I noticed that none were visible in the period photos at all. My guess is they’re Curtiss-applied stencils, and the Soviet paint went right over the top of them. A second coat of future locked the decals in place, and then an extremely thin filter layer of sprayed Vallejo tan helped subdue the bright red stars a bit. 

This was my first time trying the Abteilung 502 weathering oils, after fighting with a set of very cheap Hobby Lobby oils for years. What a difference! It’s hard to describe, but the pigment density must be three or four times higher than what I was using. I could thin them right down to almost nothing with odorless mineral spirits, and the color would shoot along the panel lines in a flash. I used “Engine Grease” for panel lining and griming up the undercarriage a bit, and after a day to dry, and a Vallejo satin clearcoat, I used “Light Mud'' as an overall filter — my first time trying a light-colored panel line accent and color modulator. The effect was shockingly cool, I thought, and really matched the faded/dusty look of the period photos. This photo is mid-process, before I wiped some off with a damp paper towel. 

Then I almost stalled out on the build — the canopy was last to do, and man, I really struggle with these. No matter what I do, they always look out of scale on 72nd aircraft. Given the detailed cockpit I wanted to model the canopy open, and the Academy parts suggest that you can do this, but they don’t actually fit this way. After some careful sanding and polishing and a Future dip, I was able to get it to fit, sorta. I freehanded the frame, rather than spend two evenings masking, and I’m mostly happy with it. But the canopy, the PE “dashboard”, and the rear “windows” are my least favorite part of this build. But they’re done, and that’s something!

Lastly was some final chipping, done with a fine sponge and aluminum paint and a Prismacolor pencil, and then some exhaust staining — a risky maneuver with the airbrush at this late stage, but it worked out okay I think — a mix of black and brown, with a grayish center stripe seems to match the period photos I could find. I touched the navigation lights with some bright silver paint followed by a drop of clear red/green as appropriate. Then I glued the landing gear and the spinner on, stretched an aerial wire into place (noticing too late that the mast is a slight bit canted to port), repaired the pitot tube for the 10th time, and gingerly set the thing down into my airbrush/photo booth for some glamor shots. 

Background is a panorama photo I took from the ice of a northern Minnesota lake, expressly to use as the background of my aircraft display cabinet. Works well for photos too!

Thanks for checking in on this build — and for the help along the way, by means of inspiration and for showing up in google searches such as “how to paint exhaust stubs” and “green colors for Soviet aircraft”! 

P.S. As a final note, it didn’t occur to me until I was writing up this post to check the Finnish armed forces WWII photo archive for photos of this aircraft. By narrowing the search down to the date it was recovered, I found a full set of period photos of the aircraft as-found. Would have been pretty cool in terms of getting my chipping and weathering and some other details “just right.” Too late! Maybe I’ll have to build another one, maybe in a bigger scale next time! 

Interesting to note in this photo, that they’ve attempted to paint over the red star, probably to prevent friendly aircraft from opportunistic strafing? Also, you can see the heavy frost on the skin that someone wiped off on the tail and wing, and the black anti-skid paint on the wing root I neglected to paint on my model…

For anyone interested, here’s an album with the rest of the period photos of this P-40M, courtesy of the SA-KUVA: https://imgur.com/a/dDWjyrf

 

Tags: 1/72 , Finnish , p-40 , Soviet , VVS

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