Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Empire Strikes Back

30 years ago this year, Argentinia invaded the small and sparsely populated islands of the Falklands in the South Atlantic.  For years this had been a British colony but the Argentines had always disputed its rule and on Friday 2 April 1982 a task group landed on Falklands soil with the aim of 're-patronising' them for Argentina.  The then ruler, General Galtieri (as acting President of the military junta) thought the attack would win him more favour in response to the poor favour the Argentines held him in at the time.  For the fist few weeks this seemed to be going the way he wanted but this was all to change with the arrival of a large Task Force from the North.

The Task Force was assembled within a few days of the invasion and set sail initialy for Ascension Island in the Mid Atlantic.  This was to be a staging post for the force to equip for war and the journey down was utilised to 'cross ship' stores, ships had joined the task force from all over Europe, some even brought out of retirement, so training rounds were replaced with Live ammunition and food was stashed wherever it could fit.  Ascension was also home to Wideawake airfield which the RAF was to use as a stepping stone to launch its 'Black Buck' missions with Vulcan bombers and Victor tankers making huge journeys south to bomb targets of importance as a 'show-of-force' to the Argentine aggressors.

Part of the Task Force which sailed consisted of the two Aircraft Carriers, 'Invincible' and 'Hermes'.  Both had a flight of the Navy's new 'Sea Harrier' FRS.1 aircraft and just before arrival at the Falklands 'Hermes' received a small number of RAF GR3 Harriers from the ill-fated 'Atlantic Conveyor'.  These too had to be modified on the journey south as there was no current air-to-air capability but the technicians came up with a modification for both types before arrival in theatre.

The two Navy air groups were 800 NAS on HMS Hermes and 801 NAS on HMS Invincible.  899 NAS was also used but it was split between the 2 ships, as were the crews, and merged into the respective air groups.  The Navy 'SHARS' were used to provide air defence for the fleet against the Argentine A4, Dagger, Pucara and Mirage attack aircraft as well as limited strike rolls against grounded air targets (such as Pucara aircraft at Stanley field).

The RAF GR3's made their way first to Ascension and then on to the Atlantic Conveyor container ship to be transported down to the Task Force.  This was due to most of the 1(F) Sqdr crews being on leave and space on the carriers limited until  lot of 'cross-decking' was completed.  There were also 4 GR3's which made it from Ascension to Hermes in one trip, escorted by Victor tankers in a huge journey. The GR3's were needed to operate in the ground attack roll supporting the ground assault as well as 'softening up' any targets of opportunity.

The Harriers were put to good use in suppressing the Argentines both on the land and in the Air (there was not much of a sea presence after HMS Conqueror succeeded in sinking the ARA General Belgrano, the Argentines instead choosing to withdraw most of the fleet to defend Argentinian mainland coastal waters).  There were some casualties but these were not as bad as first predicted and certainly were a lot lighter than the casualties suffered by the Argentinian Air Force and Navy aircraft.  All in all, 10 Harriers were lost (4 GR3 and 6 FRS.1 but one (ZA174) was lost when it slid off the deck of HMS Invincible!) compared to 75 aircraft lost by the Argentines, although a lot of these will have been destroyed on the ground or by Naval ships.

Tamiya 1:48 Harrier FRS.1 61026

Tamiya's Sea Harrier is one of the oldest moulds still in the Japanese manufacturers range and on initial inspection can be a little disappointing, but don't let that put you off!

The first thing that you notice is that the panel lines are raised.  This is a very poor detail by modern standards but they are not the huge ridges kits of this age sometimes show.  They are a lot more refined and, as we will see later, can be hidden rather well.  One can always sand off these or even re-scribe the panel lines but I think this would be a step too far.

The kit starts where most do, in the cockpit, and I must say it is not too bad.  There is plenty of raised detail and there is a transfer included so meticulous painting of gauges is not required here.  The side panels are slightly different though, they show relief but do not have the same transfers to make life easy.  A small amount of black paint on a few gauges will make them stand out more.

Now the most important fitting in the 'office', the Ejector Seat.  This leaves more than a lot to be desired, it is truly pitiful!  I have seen more meat on a whippets thigh, there is no depth to the headrest or seats and no sides at all! But all is far from lost.  There are a lot of aftermarket manufacturers offering details and seats are one of the best catered for parts.  There are numerous seats on offer but I only discovered the anorexic seat during construction so opted for a bit of scratch building.  I added a wedge of plasticard for the headrest and filed it vertically to create a shallow channel as on the real thing.  I also added thin plasticard cushions chamfered at the edges to soften the look of them.  Seat belts were added from cut down Tamiya masking tape which was then painted and glued on.

Another feature of the model is the fact a basic Pegasus engine is included inside the aircraft.  As it is it is far too basic to display but with a bit of wok with some plasticard and fuse wire I'm certain it can have the 'wow' factor.  The access hatches above the engine are also a separate part and this helps if you would like to use these to show the engine.  I opted to show the hatches closed but I think I will re-visit this kit soon and another build will include a fully detailed Pegasus and open hatches.

The rest of the build is as it is in the instructions, there are no real traps or pit-falls to mention, which is to be expected from a Tamiya kit, even one of this age.  I finished the aircraft in Humbrol Acrylic 123 Extra Dark Sea Grey (EDSG) with black nosecone.   The transfers included are for pre-Falklands schemes with white undersides and tri-colour roundels.  I opted to use third party decals instead as I wanted a Falklands Veteran.  The decals I chose were the Xtradecal Falklands Harrier set from Hannants.  This sheet includes every Harrier used in the South Atlantic and also has a lot of useful stencils to replace the Kit ones.  The Harrier represented in my model is 006 of 801 (899) NAS (XZ451) which was the first Harrier delivered to the Royal Navy and shot down 4 Argentine aircraft including a C-130 by Lt Cdr Nigel 'Sharkey' Ward.  The thing about these decals is that the roundels correctly have the light blue ring between the dark blue and red, this was where the white ring was overpainted and so showed up lighter.

I would suggest this kit for anyone and is a very good entry level kit for starting in 1:48 and with a little work in the cockpit and the Xtradecal set a great model can be created.

Italeri 1:72 RAF Harrier GR3 'Falklands' 1278

Being a newer kit, this GR3 features the correctly engraved panel lines.  These are very fine but I think they may be almost too fine, I like to see them hen painted and I highlight this with washes but it is almost impossible to do on this kit as they are so fine.

Again starting on the cockpit the detail is a lot better but the seat is still slightly lacking.  I chose to live with this as it is such a small part and is hidden lower than in the FRS.1, the usual Tamiya seat belts appear here.  There are transfers for the panels (all 3) but they are very basic.  Again in this small scale I chose to keep them as I couldn't see myself picking out individual parts in the panel!

As with the Tamiya kit there is no problems with the build, it goes together really well and very easily.  There is a small range of ordnance, I chose the 1000 bombs and the tanks but there is also AIM-9's and BL755 cluster bombs.

I used the kit transfers for this one as they are good and the colours are spot on.  They represent XZ988, a GR3 which was lost a Goose Green from AAA fire with Sqdr Ldr Bob Iveson at the controls.  He ejected safely and evaded capture for 3 days before getting back to friendly lines.  The other schemes cover a 4 Sqdr aircraft from 1982 that did not make the Falklands and a 1 Sqdr aircraft from Norway in 1986.

This kit fits in nicely with Airfix's 1:72 Harriers and is a great addition to the  fleet.

The Falklands ended in the Argentine surrender on 14th June 1982, the Sea Harriers had shown how effective they were as a fighter but also showed the weakness of the Radar, the lessons learned though went into creating the FA.2, a truly superb aircraft which went on to serve in the Royal Navy and Joint Harrier Force until premature retirement in 2010.

The GR3 was replaced by the GR5 which was updated to GR7 and GR9 standards and retired in 2011 to much disappointment.  A once great force of the most useful fighters in the world for fast deployment is now no more and the remaining airframes are to be shipped to the USA for further use, another pointer to the life the airframes still have.

I will update the hostory of the GR9 and FA.2 when I complete them.

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