RAF Tan Son Nhut

Saigon, January 1946

NH909 was a FR Mk.XIVe Spitfire of No.273 Squadron RAF based at RAF Tan Son Nhut in Saigon, Viet Nam in December through January 1946 as part of the British forces there to disarm and repatriate the Japanese former occupying forces.

Twenty years before the United States made Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut airport famous as its main point of entry to Viet Nam, the Royal Air Force’s No.273 Squadron found itself temporarily based there as an involuntary but active part of France’s attempt to reestablish its colonial control.

No.273 Squadron had spent the previous twelve months as part of 3TAF, No. 224 Group RAF fighting in the Arakan campaign. Their role was one of ground support as well was combat against the dwindling Japanese Air Force in the area. Having advanced with the flow of the campaign, the Squadron made their final move forward of the war in mid May 1945 to Mingaladon near Rangoon. From there they took part in the intense fighting in July to prevent Japanese forces crossing the Sittang River back towards Thailand. The Squadron lost a total of 14 pilots during the campaign.

The Arakan Campaign provided difficult conditions in abundance. This photo of No.607 Squadron pilots with their Mk.VIII Spitfires in the background shows some of the conditions under which they operated.

In mid-September, after the war against the Japanese had been won No.273 Squadron was transferred first to Don Muang in Thailand, and then at the end of that month to Tan Son Nhut, near Saigon in Viet Nam. A month later the squadron swapped their Mk.VIII Spitfires for new Spitfire Mk XIVs shipped over from Burma. The Squadron were there as part of the British force sent to help disarm and repatriate the formerly occupying Japanese forces.

A 273S FR Mk.XIVe Spitfire at Tan Son Nhut sometime in late 1945 or early 1946

The British commander Major General Douglas Gracey arrived on 13 September to receive the surrender of Japanese forces, disarm and repatriate them. However, he found that most administrative functioning Saigon had ceased, the Viet Minh had taken control and the Japanese forces were still fully armed. Fearing a further loss of control he allowed the French to rearm a thousand of their former POWs to help establish control, even though it exceeded his orders and was only peripheral to his main task.

The situation in Saigon remained more or less orderly through September until at the end of that month the French forces suddenly exceeded their mandate and forcibly removed the Viet Minh from their remaining positions and took complete control of Saigon. In response, the Viet Minh initiated guerrilla attacks on the French, and on British forces who now were becoming embroiled in the growing conflict.

Free French Commandos in Saigon being saluted by rearmed Japanese Surrendered Personnel in November 1945 (caption: Wikipedia)

Through the remainder of the year the situation further deteriorated. The British found themselves caught between the French and the Viet Minh as both parties sought the gain control of both Saigon and its surrounds. Incredibly, the remaining Japanese forces – POWs, technically – were rearmed and dragged into the conflict, too. At Tan Son Nhut , No.273 Squadron which had been largely idle was now pressed into reconnaissance missions for the ground forces, and on one occasion in December 1945 an offensive strafing sortie against Viet Minh ground forces.

The British, whose only exit from what was becoming a colonial war was the repatriation of the Japanese forces, accelerated that process and by the end of January had successfully completed that task and were able embark the vast majority of their force – including a now disbanded No.273 Squadron – on the SS Islami and leave Viet Nam. The subsequent tragedy that befell the nation of Viet Nam over the following thirty years is well known and beyond the scope of this piece.

Academy Spitfire FR Mk.XIVe

The much [justifiably] maligned Academy Mk.XIV is at once a well engineered, nicely detailed, crisply moulded and easy building model kit of something that looks like a Spitfire FR Mk.XIVe that’s had just a few too many jam doughnuts.

Such a shame.

I picked mine up in a stash clearing sale and it came with a KCM correction kit for the nose and spinner – the main area of inaccuracy – as well as a replacement cockpit and rudder. There were some other bits and pieces too, and I hoped that the additional effort required to use this set would produce a Mk.XIV-looking Spitfire.

The following pictorial is a visual storyboard of the build, if you are interested in reading the build as it unfolded, the full build diary is logged in the Britmodeller Aircraft WIP Section.


The KMC detail set was well made and relatively clear in its instructions. I used most of the cockpit parts and was pleased with the results. The gallery below illustrates the assembly well.

Of note was the engine cowling being slightly undersized which I corrected with hot water and gentle persuasion. I needed to add a piece of sheet plastic to the nose to contour it correctly but otherwise the corrected nose isn’t far off the actual as can be seen below.

The remainder of the airframe assembly was reasonably simple, one of the strengths of this kit.

Painting and Markings

My reference photo for this build was the one below.

My interpretation of it, and how I painted and marked my model is as follows;

  • The camouflage colours are Dark Green and Ocean Grey as painted at the factory. Despite the general rule that white codes and serial number (will come to that next) indicates a repaint to Green/Brown, I can’t see that in this case.
  • I don’t think the codes and serial number are white. Nor do I think they are grey. The white theatre markings are much brighter than the code letters, so that rules out white. But, they are brighter than the MSG undersides so that rules out grey. I believe the codes are actually light blue.
  • It is clear the original roundels have been carefully overpainted with both camouflage colours rather than the common single colour application.
  • The overall condition of the airframe is clean and unweathered except for a few of the engine cover fixings’ paint chipped off. There’s no visible exhaust staining, nor any wing root paint chipping visible.
  • The spinner is white. I had to take a guess at the stripes, I chose red and note that the rear stripe is slightly thicker than the front one.
  • Judging by the sheen on the port rocker cover the overall finish is a semi-gloss.
  • The camera ports appear to be uncovered on both sides because it appears we can see right through – it seems too bright to be an interior view.

Overall, I followed my usual process of preside, base coat, texture and finish. I mixed all the colours using artist acrylic paints thinned with Windex. As usual, I painted all of the markings and used decals only for the airframe stencils, such as they were. My first attempt at the light blue squadron codes was too blue and I needed to go over them again with a lighter shade.

If there’s one thing I’d do again it would be where the original roundels were overpainted; I’d make that darker than the surrounding paint, not lighter as it ended up.

Finishing Touches, Weathering

I chose to use the kit prop blades over the resin as the the latter were warped. The kit parts were a good shape, but a little thick. I noticed that there was a painted dashed line around the cockpit entry so I masked and painted that. The previously forgotten gunsight was installed with surprising ease. One of the final touches was a correction to the cannon barrel paint; I noticed that they weren’t white and painted them grey instead.

I kept the weathering to a minimum. The airframes themselves were relatively unused, both before and during the deployment to Tan Son Nhut. I added some maintenance stains and a hint of the red dust staining ubiquitous to Viet Nam but otherwise lefty it clean.

Finally, if you compare the angle of the undercarriage in the last photo in the gallery above to the photo below you’ll notice I corrected that too.

The purists will still – quite rightly – find fault in the overall shape of the Academy kit. It’s just a bit thick everywhere. But with the correction it’s not far off and in a way its faults further emphasis the brutish look of the Griffon Spitfire as compared to its Merlin predecessor. I’m quite happy with it.

In profile the finished Academy model looks very much like a Mk.XIV to me, though it’s also clear that it is just a little thick in almost all dimensions. It still captures the essence of the Griffon Spitfire for me though, and I expect I’ll build more.


References and Sources

For the model’s markings in particular, I was the beneficiary of some great advice and assistance from a few individuals on the forums at Britmodeller.com

If you are interested in following the build as it unfolded, the full build diary is logged in the Britmodeller Aircraft WIP Section.

Copyright ©2022

This article, its text, and photos of the model 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 and quoted content were sourced from the internet and are used here under protection of fair-use.  Any copyrighted content will be happily removed and/or credited forthwith upon request by its rightful owner.

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