Victory and defeat are each of the same priceThomas Jefferson
1st May 1945
On 1st of May 1945 three Royal Navy aircraft carriers, HMShips Queen, Trumpeter and Searcher escorted by the heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk, the light cruiser HMS Diadem and seven escorting destroyers sailed from Scapa Flow towards the coast of Norway on what would be the Royal Navy’s final offensive action against the Germans.
Their target was Kilbotn U-Boat harbour in the Lofoten Islands where they expected to find a U-Boat depot ship the “Black Watch“, a torpedo support ship the “Senja”, both protected by an ex Norwegian cruiser “Harald Haarflager” now converted to a flak ship and renamed “Thetis“.
The task force knew well that the target area was well defended, in addition to Thetis, there were at least two other flak barges moored in the harbour, and multiple anti-aircraft gun emplacements in the harbour’s surrounding hills.
Their offensive force totalled forty four aircraft and was comprised of Grumman Avengers and Wildcats from three squadrons, RNAS 846 off Trumpeter contributing eight Avengers and four Wildcats, 853 Squadron off Queen with another eight Avengers and four Wildcats, and 882 Squadron flying off Searcher contributing twenty Wildcats.
To counter the expected resistance the plan of attack tasked four of the Wildcats to maintain a CAP whose job it was to protect the attacking aircraft against enemy fighters based in Bardufoss, 80km to the east. Meanwhile, the remaining Wildcats, all of which were armed with 250lb bombs would arrive at the target area ahead of the Avengers and once there were to bomb the the Haarfarge. They were then to maintain a continuous strafing attack on it and the flak barges moored in the harbour to eliminate or suppress their fire as much as possible. The Avengers would arrive soon after the Wildcats, each would be armed with four 500lb bombs for glide bombing attacks on the two target ships. Number 846 squadron was to attack the Black Watch and 853 Squadron the Senja.
4th May 1945
The weather was perfect on the late afternoon of 4th May over Kilbotn. Although still cool, the sun was shining and spring was beginning its melt of the late season snow. Although the task force didn’t launch until 1600hrs the sun wouldn’t set until 2204hrs and conditions were perfect when the airborne force arrived from the west at 1700hrs and began their attack.
It began badly however. An 882 Squadron Wildcat piloted by a New Zealander, Lieutenant Hugh ‘Hughie’ Morrison was almost immediately hit by flak and crashed into the water. Local fishermen managed to bring him ashore alive but he died soon afterwards. After this poor start though, the attack went to exactly to plan.
As the Wildcats strafed the flak on land and water the Avengers peeled off in rapid succession to bomb the Black Watch and Senja. 853’s attack on the Senja was so effective that the target was rapidly obscured by smoke and spray. One of its aircraft, Q-F piloted by S/Lieutenant Gall suffered an electrical fault preventing it from releasing its bombs properly. One bomb overshot the target landing near a fisherman’s homestead; fortunately none of the occupants were injured when it exploded in the soft ground. The last of 853’s Avengers was unable to see Senja but saw Black Watch through the smoke and attacked it instead, scoring a direct hit.
846 Squadron’s attack on the Black Watch was equally successful with hits scored in successive attacks by its aircraft. However, one of 846’s Avengers (JZ217 “C”) was hit by ground fire and crashed in a field, all three crew members were killed. After the action the local population recovered the bodies of Lt. Francis John Gahan (22), S/Lt. Alasdair Donald Hay Elder(20) and L/A Peter Bernard Mansfield (22.) and buried them at Sørvik Church yard where they remain.
Photos taken from the last Avenger to leave the scene (the photos above) showed the Senja and Black Watch on fire with the latter down by the stern. Reconnaissance later showed both had eventually sunk. It was learned later still that a U-Boat, U-711 had been moored between the two depot ships at the time of the attack and had also been sunk.
The entire action lasted seven minutes from the arrival at 1700hrs of the first Wildcats to the final Avenger departing at 1707hrs. In those seven minutes three German vessels were damaged so severely they had, or were about to sink and approximately 150 German servicemen were either killed or wounded; two of the attacking aircraft were shot down with the loss of their four crew members.
Elsewhere in Europe in that late afternoon of 4th May 1945 – and well known by Operation Judgement’s planners – the German forces in northwest Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark had already surrendered to the British at Lüneburg Heath. The Battle of Berlin had ended two days earlier; Hitler had been dead for almost a week, and only sporadic fighting continued in Berlin, the Reichstag, the Chancellery and even the Bunker having already been taken by the Russians. To the south, the US Seventh Army coming from Austria, and US Fifth Army coming from Italy met at Vipiteno on Italian side of Brenner Pass in the Alps and thereby completed the southwestern link of the Allied armies’ encirclement of the now defeated Third Reich.
There is nothing glamorous or romantic about war. It’s mostly about random pointless death and misery.John Krakeuer
Hobby Boss 1/48 Scale Fleet Air Arm Avenger Mk.1
There are two conversions required to properly represent an FAA Avenger, the Observer’s station behind the pilot and the round windows in the lower fuselage. I began with the round windows.
To start, I needed to make the windows themselves. I did this by smash-moulding some packaging plastic over a suitable shape and then trimming and sanding to size. Next, I made a mistake (as it turned out…). What I did was make a round hole in the fuselage and use some stretched sprue to make a flange that the window would sit on. What I should have done is left the opening as a rounded rectangle and placed the round window directly over it as was the case on the real aircraft.
To correct my error, I rebuilt some internal structure to create a rounded rectangle again. This wasn’t a perfect solution of course, but it created sufficient visual misdirection of the real thing.
The other conversion required a little more work, that of creating the observer’s station behind the pilot. I needed to remove the radio gear that occupied that area on the US versions and had been moulded in the kit. With that done, I rummaged through the spares to come up with a seat and some bits and pieces to busy the area up. There aren’t a lot of references for this so I used some educated guesswork in putting the station together.
With the conversions done, I set to on the rest of the interior. As I had decided to build a Grumman-built Avenger the interior colours were Bronze Green for the Pilot and Observer stations, and Interior Green for the remainder. I painted and installed the instrument panel and made a small one for the observer’s station (but in the end did not use it).
Some detail painting and dry brushing picked out some of the black boxes.
The final additions were some spare PE seatbelts for both the Pilot and Observer seats. I weathered with the usual mix of wash and dry brushing.
The turret itself was a small kit-within-a-kit…
The remainder of the assembly went without issue. The fit and engineering of this kit is user friendly and I only used a wipe or two of Vallejo’s Plastic Putty on the horizontal stabiliser joins.
I decided to leave the bomb bay closed (though in hindsight I regret that now) and pose the port wing folded. Some of the tasks required to complete the airframe were to drill holes in the wing framing around the fold, insert the wing fold itself, fill the holes for the rocket launch posts as this aircraft didn’t carry them, and check my seams with a bit of random paint (green, in this case). A little filler was required around the port side of the windscreen. After next attaching the greenhouse and masking it, the model was ready for the next step.
Having checked the fit and finding it to be clean enough, I decided to paint the wings and fuselage separately.
As is now my standard practice I began with a pre-shade, though this time I used green instead of dark grey or black in an attempt at making the tonal shift less stark.
My subject aircraft is a Fleet Air Arm Avenger belonging to No. 846 NAS off H.M.S. Trumpeter. Originally painted in Temperate Sea Scheme (TSS) they wore a camouflage of Dark Slate Grey and Extra Dark Sea Grey over Sky Type S as shown to nice advantage in the photo below.
By late 1944 and into 1945 however the North Sea squadrons had made a couple of changes, most notably to overpaint the Sky with White, in a similar manner to that of the North Atlantic squadrons, which extended up the fuselage sides (to varying degrees, there was little consistency across different squadrons). The other change made was to paint much of the forward fuselage and wing leading edges black as an anti-glare measure. This scheme is well displayed in the photo below of an 846 NAS Avenger in 1945.
I decided to continue with my use of artists’ acrylic paints on this project. I began with the undersides, being careful leave sufficient pre-shade visible base the weathering on without going too far either side of that. Once I was happy with the wings and my colour density I completed the base white by painting the fuselage. Pictured below is the base white completed, and the paint I used.
After mixing the paints to match the TSS colours I was able to start work on the uppers, starting with the wings. I freehanded the camouflage pattern more for aesthetic reasons than accuracy – there’s some debate on whether the original paint was hard of soft edged. It largely depended on the factory the airframe came out of and anyway, the photos of my subject are inconclusive.
The wings “proved” the TSS colours to my eye so I then moved on to the fuselage. I used blutack to mask the white to get a tight but slightly soft edge.
Finally, I painted the black anti-glare.
When the paint was nicely dry (which with these paints is only 10 minutes or so) I applied a light sealing coat of clear gloss in preparation for the markings.
The photo below is a close up of my chosen aircraft during the attack. The markings are quite clear in terms of its fuselage codes being J-P, a C1 roundel on the fuselage and standard fin flash. What I didn’t know was whether the codes on the port side were J-P or P-J.
Several internet image searches finally revealed the photo below, purportedly taken in 1944 and showing the J-P’s starboard side, and with more clarity than the first picture. So, now I had the correct placement of the code letters for both sides, and a clear view of the font, too.
There are however several things quite interesting about this photo. It was taken at RNAS Hatston in the Orkney Islands. The shadows indicate that sun is high in the sky, so around midday and also, crucially, mid-year. The Orkneys are so far north that at any other time of year the sun is quite low in the sky, even at midday.
The aircraft at the left is wearing a Type C roundel which wasn’t introduced on the upper wing until after the war in Europe was over, in 1945. Still thinking the photo was a 1944 picture I wondered whether these roundels were introduced early for 846 Squadron. A subsequent search on the IWM photo archives however dug up a series of photos taken of 846’s departure from Hatston in June 1945 and I came to believe the photo above was taken at the same time.
So, my markings were clear; standard Type C1 on the fuselage, Type B on the upper wing, no roundels on the lower wing, letter code J-P on both sides. As I didn’t have the required letters in decals I [finally, having considered it for some time] purchased a Silhouette Portrait cutter to make my own masks.
I found the included software fairly intuitive and an evening’s work had the above design completed. The machine was similarly simple to set up and use and from start to finish I had the masks designed and printed in around 90 minutes. With the masks in hand, I set to on painting them
I was very happy with how they turned out. None of them bled through, and they all worked very well. While the serial number was painted, the only mask that failed was the ROYAL NAVY on the tail fillet. As a consequence I had to use a decal for that. Painted markings are so much more realistic that I’m sure I’ll use decals only in the rarest cases and of course for the stencils. Speaking of stencils, after applying a sealing clear coat I used the kit decals for the stencils.
Keen eyed readers will also note that I changed the anti-glare to sweep it up to the rear of the pilot’s station – I couldn’t find a single photo that showed it any other way.
The Wing Fold Mechanism
Having found a bunch of photos of Avenger wing folds through Google I set to in one of my rare forays into scratch building. It’s not something I am very comfortable with but nonetheless the kit part which was absolutely bereft of any detail needed something.
I used some random wire, plastic, and brass rod and tube. In the end, I was really pleased with what I produced. It’s not in the same class as far more accomplished modellers but I think it does the job in representing the the real thing if not replicating it
I masked up and painted , sealed and weathered (including a little overspray from when the white undersides were painted). I subsequently changed the colour as can be seen in later images below but a this point I was satisfied with the wing fold and moved on to the finishing stages.
The Finishing Stages
There were a few tasks remaining, and instead of boring you with a longwinded description, perhaps a photo gallery in its place? The tasks covered here are;
- Painting the walkways
- Fabricating and weathering the wing where the fold would make it visible
- Assembly, paint, weather and install the undercarriage
- Final weathering with a panel wash to access panels and control surfaces
- Remove masking, clean and install the canopy parts
- Repaint and re-weather the wing fold mechanism as I wasn’t happy with it
- Fit the exhausts, the radar and the other small bits and pieces including the propeller
- Install the wings – this was quite easy as I’d ensured the fit prior to painting. There was a little filler required in the folded wing where the bulkhead didn’t quite meet the wing structure.
- Install the antenna wire
I left weathering to an absolute minimum on this one as these aircraft were well looked after by this stage in the war. I applied some minor staining with my airbrush but on’t enough to represent the airframe as I might have looked following its “Judgement” sortie.
And then, as is the way of these things, the model was finished.
I very much enjoyed this one and found the kit to be very user-friendly. Would I build another? Yes, I have one in the stash to build as another FAA Avenger in action on 4th May 1945, on the other side of the world in the Pacific Theatre.
- A Brief History of 853 Squadron
- IWM Search Function
- Wikipedia Operation Judgment (1945)
This article, its text, and photos of the model(s) is my original work and is protected by copyright in its entirety, except where noted. All research sources are listed in the References and Credits section above, including photos from official sources. All other images were sourced from the internet and are used here under protection of fair-use. Any copyrighted images will be removed or credited forthwith upon request by its rightful owner.
You gotta love an Avenger in FAA colours. Great build. One wonders at the folly- you could almost call it vindictiveness – of launching a raid in the final days of the war, knowing it would serve no real purpose .
If you have not already read it, may I suggest “The Kamikaze Hunters” by Will Iredale, an FAA Corsair pilot.
A highly readable and very poignant book about the BPF air campaign to attack the kamikaze airfields. A forgotten campaign that Im sure you could immortalise with a couple of models!!
Thanks Bruce. I’ve thought about that raid and despite everything I’ve read I cannot come up with a justification for it.
I’ll definitely check out that book, sounds like an important story.