NEW FROM AIRFIX A1373 1/35 Cruiser Tank Mk.VIII A27M Cromwell Mk.IV-Expected: Winter 2020-2021

With our popular range of 1/35th scale armoured fighting vehicles now boasting an impressive selection of many of the most iconic tanks, tank destroyers and mobile artillery pieces from the Second World War, any new addition to this range is obviously going to receive quite a bit of attention from military modellers. That certainly proved to be the case at the beginning of the year, when the launch of our 2020 model range included details of a newly tooled British Cruiser Tank Mk.VIII A27M Cromwell kit to join the range later in the year. As we are now unveiling of the dramatic box artwork which will grace the release of A1373 Cromwell Mk.IV (featured above), we are pleased to report that these two kit variations on the Cromwell theme are well on the way towards their early 2021 release date.

One of a series of fast and relatively well armed cruiser tanks developed by the British during the Second World War, the Cromwell can trace its history back to late 1940 and the decision to find a replacement for the widely used Crusader tank. Unfortunately, a relatively protracted development has dictated that there is generally some confusion with different variants of these tanks, as similar looking machines could both be named Centaur or various marks of Cromwell. They were all derived from the A24 Cruiser Mark VII Cavalier, the name given to the original intended Crusader replacement programme. The main reason for the different names revolves around three different engine types used to power the different vehicles, different manufacturers and several different hull types.

The A27M Cromwell Mk.IV was the most heavily produced version of the new Cruiser Tank Mk.VIII and matched the Centaur hull with the highly effective Rolls Royce Meteor engine (A27Meteor), a development of the Merlin engine which famously powered the Spitfires and Hurricanes of the Battle of Britain to victory. This powerful and extremely reliable engine allowed the tank to travel at impressively high speeds, which is just as well, as in operation, these relatively lightly armed tanks would be required to get rather close to their targets, using stealth and speed to outflank them.

The tank also featured a quick firing 75mm gun, which was a re-bored version of the ubiquitous British 6 pounder gun and allowed the commander to have the option of using American produced armour piercing or high explosive rounds. Further underlining the strategic effectiveness of the tank, its turret could traverse through 360 degrees in just 15 seconds, thanks to the impressive hydraulic system it employed.

During the final few months of the Second World War, when the Allies were slowly pushing German forces back towards their homeland and their enemy were finding it increasingly difficult to mount strong, sustainable counter offensives, the speed and agility of the British Cromwell tank would come into its own. Deployed in large numbers in the wake of the Normandy landings, the Cromwell was perhaps not as numerous as the ubiquitous Sherman and certainly didn’t possess the hitting power of the new Firefly, but when situations required the speed and initiative of an armoured cavalry thrust, the Cromwell was ideally suited to this dangerous task. As with all armoured units involved in combat throughout the European Theatre, tank crews were allowed a certain amount of discretion when it came to applying camouflage to their machines and were free to utilise foliage and netting to give them as much protection as possible in the combat locations in which they were operating. The addition of field applied paint was a different matter and in most cases, only the use of a water based whitewash during periods of heavy snowfall would be allowed.

Compared to the Sherman tanks which fought along side the Cromwell in Europe, the British tank had a much lower profile, something which may have sometimes been a disadvantage for the commander when attempting to assess the battlefield situation, but something which could prove extremely beneficial when units were being targeted by Wehrmacht guns. It appears as if the crew of this particular Cromwell only elected to whitewash the turret of their tank, presumably deciding not to bother spending time painting the hull due to its extremely low profile. The 7th Armoured Division ‘The Desert Rats’ would be heavy users of the Cromwell and following the Normandy landings, would use the tank during many actions throughout France, then into Belgium and Germany itself.

During the savage fighting in the narrow hedgerow lined lanes of the Normandy battlefield, the excellent mobility of the Cromwell was somewhat nullified, even though its low profile would allow it to pass relatively unnoticed by watching German armour. When a situation required a Cromwell commander to move from the protection of the narrow lanes and into the surrounding fields, the initial climb up the steeply banked hedgerows could prove fatal. Exposing the lightly armoured lower hull of the vehicle during the manoeuvre , they were at risk of being destroyed by either an enemy tank of by Wehrmacht infantry equipped with one of the plentiful Panzerfaust hand-held anti-tank weapons. An ingenious and rather simple solution to this problem was to attach a steel ‘hedge cutter’ blade to the front of the tank, which allowed the commander to scythe through the foliage obstacle, keeping his tank level and still able to bring his guns to bear on any potential target. This addition even provided some welcome natural foliage camouflage for the tank as it passed through the hedgerows, just so long as the trees and bushes it collected didn’t obstruct his gun aiming sights – if this did happen, it would require a crew member to leave the safety of his armoured chariot to clear it.

The armoured units of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry would also see heavy action following the Allied landings in Normandy, but as their role was to provide armoured support for infantry units engaged in combat, they would usually be deployed in smaller numbers and spread across several locations at the same time. A gunner from the Northamptonshire Yeomanry was thought to have been responsible for firing the shot which ended the fearsome reign of German Tiger tank commander Michael Wittmann on 8th August 1944, although he was assigned to an up-gunned Sherman Firefly at the time.

The majority of the 11th Armoured Division landed on Juno Beach on 13th June 1944, but would be thrust straight into the action, where they would be involved heavily with most of the British Second Army operations in northern France. They would continue fighting as the push moved to Belgium, Holland and eventually into Germany itself. It is interesting to note that like many other British Army tanks of the period, other than the single Allied star on the rear of its turret, this Cromwell has very little decoration or markings on its hull, other than its relatively inconspicuous unit markings.

NEW FROM AIRFIX A1374 1/35 Cruiser Tank Mk.VIII A27M Cromwell Mk.VI-Expected: Winter 2020-2021

As with the Polish airmen who fought during the Battle of Britain, Polish infantry and armoured units during the Second World War proved to be extremely proficient fighters and would earn the respect of their enemies. With troops fighting their way across Europe in the wake of the German invasion of their homeland at the start of the Second World War, it would be four long years before they would return to Europe and help to finally defeat their enemy. The well trained 1st Polish Armoured Division arrived on the Normandy beachheads at the beginning of August 1944, they would be pressed into service during the savage fighting around Falaise, With significant German units trapped by a massive Allied onslaught, the troops of the 1st Polish Armoured Division were asked to close the pocket, containing the concentrated German attempts to break out. In 48 hours of savage fighting, the unit repelled multiple German breakout attempts, inflicting heavy casualties and destroying large numbers of tanks and armoured vehicles in the process. Despite facing incessant assaults and running low on ammunition, the Polish troops held firm and were eventually relieved, but not before earning the admiration of General Montgomery and all their Allied comrades.

Proud fighters, Polish troops would happily describe how they were 'fighting for the freedom of all nations, but would only give their lives for Poland'. Following rest and refitting, the 1st Polish Armoured Division pursued the retreating Germans along the French coast, through Belgium and into Holland, liberating many towns as they went. The fighting moved into Germany during the spring of 1945, with the division famously taking the naval town of Wilhelmshaven, where Polish General Stanislaw Maczek accepted the surrender of this significant prize.

As a Cromwell Mk.VI operated by the 1st Polish Armoured Division, this tank displays the famous winged helmet adopted by the unit, something enemy forces would come to fear, following their combat introduction during the battles of Normandy.

These two new 1/35th scale kit versions of the Cruiser Tank Mk.VIII, Cromwell Mk.IV (A1373) and Cruiser Tank Mk.VIII, Cromwell Mk.VI (A1374) are now advancing ominously towards their early 2021 release date and will certainly be popular additions to this growing range of WWII armour kits – we will have fully decorated samples to show you next!

Even though the new British A27M Cromwell Tank would not make its combat introduction until the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, the speed and mobility of this excellent new tank would soon earn it an enviable reputation amongst Allied troops, who came to rely on the support they provided. The majority of Cromwell Tanks were armed with the standard 75mm ROQF gun, however, the less numerous Mk.VI variant would provide specialist infantry close support with its 95mm Howitzer and were consequently never too far away from the action. Firing a high explosive hollow charge shell, the tank was used to overcome fortified positions, such as concrete bunkers and pillboxes which stood in the way of the infantry’s advance and could even lay smoke-screens if required.

With its distinctively short barrel, the Mk.VI also featured a large counterweight on its main armament, which was necessary in helping to balance the gun. Approximately 340 of these specialist tanks were eventually produced, which would prove to be extremely effective as Allied ground units pushed German forces back towards their homeland. Despite their impressive speed, the Cromwells were no match for the firepower of the German heavy tanks and would have to rely on speed and stealth for their battlefield survival.

An army unit made up of expatriate Czechoslovak troops equipped and under the command of the British Army, the 1st Czechoslovak Armoured Brigade landed in Normandy during August 1944 and would be handed the essential task of containing and weakening the beleaguered German garrison occupying the port town of Dunkirk. Allowing the Allies to concentrate on operations across wider Normandy without fear of a German breakout, the Czech unit would actually be involved in heavy fighting, as both sides repelled enemy advances, before launching their own counter offensives. The brigade were equipped mainly with Sherman and Cromwell tanks, including a number of the specialist Cromwell Mk.VI variants with their 95mm Mk.I Howitzers, tanks which were ideally suited to dislodging particularly stubborn areas of enemy troop resistance. A real asset to troops fighting these aggressive skirmishes, often at close quarters, the support nature of these tanks dictated that they would never be found too far from the action, with their legendary speed allowing them to confuse and outflank the enemy.

Without doubt, the most impressive attributes of the Cromwell were within its hull, all of which endowed the tank with excellent battlefield performance. The powerful Meteor engine combined with the tried and trusted Christie suspension allowed the Cromwell to travel at speeds in excess of 40mph on roads and not much slower than this when operating cross-country. It also had a much lower profile than the Sherman and possessed an impressive turret traverse rate which outclassed most of its opponents on the battlefield – adopting a shoot and scoot approach to armoured engagements, the Cromwell was an effective addition to the Allied inventory, especially when they eventually had Wehrmacht units on the run.

NEW FROM AIRFIX 1/48 Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vb A05125A – Expected: Winter 2020-2021

Throughout the air battles which raged across the world’s skies during the Second World War, the desire to gain air superiority was something of a preoccupation for military planners and when one side gained an advantage with a new upgraded aircraft variant or introduction of a completely new type, their adversaries would undoubtedly counter the move before too long. Perhaps the most enduring wartime aerial duels were fought between the British Supermarine Spitfire and the German Messerschmitt Bf 109, each a classic fighting aeroplanes in its own right and both relatively evenly matched for the majority of the war. That was especially true throughout the Battle of Britain and during the first tentative fighter sweeps over occupied northern France in the months which followed. The RAF needed a more capable Spitfire to clear the skies of Messerschmitts and they had an idea what it would take.

Their preferred option was to radically redevelop the existing Spitfire airframe, incorporating a new wing design and harnessing the power of the new Rolls Royce Merlin XX powerplant. Known as the Spitfire III, this new aircraft would take some time to develop and manufacture, but they desperately needed better Spitfires now, so whilst the development of the new fighter continued, Rolls Royce were asked to produce a ‘stop-gap Spitfire’, one powered by their new Merlin 45 engine – thank goodness they had this foresight.

The new interim Spitfire was known as the Mk.V and combined the additional power of the Rolls Royce Merlin 45 engine with the original Mk.I/II airframe, whilst at the same time including a number of design improvements already developed for the proposed future Mk.III. This new Spitfire was an excellent performer and proved to be more than a match for the latest Luftwaffe fighters in service. With the much increased production capacity offered by the new Castle Bromwich shadow factory in the Midlands, Spitfire Mk.V fighters would be produced at a spectacular rate, with this interim variant actually going on to be the most produced version of this famous fighter, with almost 6,500 aircraft manufactured. Seeing service in every theatre the Allies contested the war, the Spitfire Mk.V fought in the home defence and offensive fighter sweep roles, above the deserts of North Africa and over the jungles of the Far East. What started as a temporary measure produced the most effective ‘stop-gap’ aircraft the RAF would ever introduce – one aircraft they didn’t go on to introduce was the proposed Mk.III!

The magnificent box artwork featured above is being exclusively revealed to Workbench readers and has been produced in support of the forthcoming release from our 1/48th scale Spitfire Mk.Vb tooling. The kit will be supplied with two appealing scheme options, which we will take a closer look at now.

Initially joining the Royal Air Force in 1936, Eric Hugh Thomas was initially posted to No.19 Squadron Duxford, flying the beautiful Gloster Gauntlet fighter. After a short stint as a flight instructor at Cranwell, he would later to squadron flying with his parent unit, only to be posted away again, this time to No.222 Squadron at Hornchurch during the height of the Battle of Britain. September 1940 would prove to be a productive month for Thomas, as he managed to destroy three Bf 109 fighters and damage or share in the destruction of a further two Luftwaffe aircraft.

On 17th November 1941, he took command of No.133 ‘Eagle Squadron’ at Eglinton, where he would help to oversee the ongoing integration of American pilots into Royal Air Force service, following the unit’s establishment just four months earlier. He would personally lead the squadron’s first fighter sweep over France in April 1942 and oversee their conversion to the Spitfire Mk.Vb, before changing base ones more, this time moving to Biggin Hill. Now promoted to Wing Commander, he would take part in air operations in support of Operation Jubilee and the Dieppe raid, a maximum effort which would involve all three of the RAF Eagle Squadrons in providing air cover for the landing forces. He would relinquish his command of No 133 Squadron in September 1942 when all three of the RAF ‘Eagle Squadrons’ transferred to USAAF control, with his former No.133 Squadron becoming the 336th Fighter Squadron, part of the 4th Fighter Group based at Debden.

Supermarine Spitfire Vb BM260 was built at the Castle Bromwich factory and delivered to the Royal Air Force in March 1942. It was allocated to No.133 ‘Eagle Squadron’ the following month, becoming the personal aircraft of Squadron Leader Eric Hugh Thomas and later benefitting from some rather distinctive note artwork – at a time when few RAF fighters carried personal markings, Thomas decorated his aircraft with a jousting knight on the port side fuselage, just in front of the cockpit. It is also interesting to note that this Spitfire wears the revised RAF day fighter scheme adopted from mid-August 1941, a scheme which just very different from the aircraft which fought during the Battle of Britain.

Possessing an exemplary service record and having been awarded several decorations for his flying skill, Eric Hugh Thomas eventually left the Royal Air Force in September 1944 due to continuing health problems, with at least five aerial victories to his name and officially an ‘Ace’ pilot.

With the Spitfire continuing to prove such a popular modelling subject, the two fascinating scheme options included with this impending kit release will not only help to tell the story of this heavily produced ‘stop-gap’ variant of Britain’s most famous fighting aeroplane, but also how it was used by two airmen connected with one of America’s celebrated ‘Eagle Squadrons’. Scheduled for release early in the new year, this 1/48th scale kit (A05125A) is something that little bit different for your latest Spitfire build project.

The young Dominic Salvatore Gentile had always been fascinated by flight, but as he did not have the necessary college requirements for entry into the US military, he headed to Canada to undergo his military flying training. On successfully gaining his wings, he was posted to Britain, where he would join No.133 ‘Eagle Squadron’, the third and last of the famed US manned squadrons in the Royal Air Force. Flying the Supermarine Spitfire Mk.V out of RAF Biggin Hill, Gentile would score his first aerial victories on 19th August 1942, when he claimed a Ju88 and Focke Wulf Fw190 whilst flying operations covering the unsuccessful Dieppe Raid. It is also interesting to note that Operation Jubilee (the Dieppe Raid) was the only time that all three of the RAF’s Eagle Squadrons saw action on the same operation.

In September 1942, the pilots of the three RAF Eagle Squadrons transferred to the USAAF, with the former RAF No.133 Squadron becoming the 336th Fighter Squadron, part of the 4th Fighter Group based at Debden. Initially retaining their Spitfires, Gentile’s machine was called ‘Buckeye Don’ and featured rather distinctive nose artwork (based on the 4th FG badge), something which clearly illustrated his confident attitude to aerial combat. After only retaining their Spitfires for a few weeks, the pilots of the 4th FG were required to convert to the mighty P-47 Thunderbolt, a massive aeroplane in comparison to their diminutive Spitfires. Initially having serious misgivings about a fighter they referred to as the ‘Juggernaut’, the Thunderbolt may have been a bit of a heavyweight when compared to the Spitfire, but certainly possessed many impressive fighting qualities of its own.

Gentile would go on to be a celebrated aviation hero and became the leading USAAF ace in the ETO after scoring a ‘triple victory’ on 8th April 1944. Amongst his fellow pilots, he would also be known as the ‘Ace of Aces’, by virtue of the fact his victory tally had overtaken that of Great War US Ace Eddie Rickenbacker (ground victories were also counted). Ultimately though, his tour of duty would end in inglorious fashion, as he simply could not suppress his urge to show off. Whilst performing a demonstration flight at Debden for a crowd of dignitaries and members of the press, Gentile flew his Mustang ‘Shangri-La’ in a series of ever faster and ever lower passes and it was almost inevitable what was going to happen. Striking the ground, the fighter came to rest in a heap, but thankfully with the pilot miraculously emerging unhurt, other than his bruised ego. Furious, his commanding officer grounded him and sent him back stateside to work the war bond circuit.

NEW FROM AIRFIX 1/72 Avro Lancaster BII A08001-New Arrival

Looking at wartime pictures of this particular aircraft, it can be rather confusing to see the unmistakable nose and gaping bomb bay of an Avro Lancaster, only to look across to the engines and see the four strange radial engines which power it. Although something doesn’t seem quite right, there is definitely something rather appealing about this unusual Lancaster and one which is worthy of further investigation. The radial engined Lancaster Mk.II entered RAF service in late 1942, where it was welcomed with open arms by squadrons converting from twin engined Wellingtons. With only 300 aircraft of this type being produced, operational losses would invariably be replaced with standard Merlin engined Lancasters, which meant that by the time of D-Day, only two squadrons were still operating the type, No.514 Squadron and No.408 (Goose) Squadron RCAF.

No.408 (Goose) Squadron RCAF began the war operating Handley Page Hampden bombers from RAF Lindholme, but would later convert to the Halifax and then the Lancaster B.II. Whilst based at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, it is unusual to note that whilst they began the summer flying the radial engined variant of the Avro Lancaster, they would go back to flying the Halifax before the summer was out. Making a significant contribution to Bomber Command’s war effort, the squadron would mount 4,610 sorties during WWII, tragically losing 170 aircraft during that time – the squadron’s code letters were EQ.

This particular Lancaster certainly lived up to its nickname and sported some rather spectacular nose artwork to advertise the fact – known as Avro Lancaster B.II LL725 ‘Z for Zombie’, this Lancaster carried a rather imaginative representation of a bomb carrying ghoul on its port side nose, along with a meticulously applied mission scoreboard. Unfortunately, the aircraft would be lost over Hamburg on the night of 28th/29th July 1944, just before No.408 Squadron reverted back to operating Halifax bombers.

n interesting feature of some of the early Lancaster Mk.I and Mk.II aircraft was the inclusion of a rear facing FN-64 ventral turret, an attempt to provide the aircraft with better defensive armament against attack from behind and below. In operation, the gun proved difficult to use and was largely ineffective, other than providing reassurance for bomber crews and was subsequently removed, however modifications required to install the turret would result in the radial engined B.II variant of the Lancaster featuring no fewer than three different versions of the aircraft’s iconic bomb bay.

Avro Lancaster B.II DS842 ‘Fanny Ferkin II’ was delivered to RAF No.514 Squadron in December 1943 and would spend its entire service career with this unit. Another aircraft which benefitted from rather elaborate nose artwork, this Lancaster is worthy of particular note as it embarked on a lecture tour of USAAF bases in Britain during May 1944, allowing American air and ground crews to take a closer look at Britain’s most famous bomber and to find out what it was like to operate. It would be interesting to find out if any of these American onlookers thought that this particular Lancaster appeared a little strange to their eyes as well and why it was different. The aircraft would eventually be scrapped in March 1945, although this is not known if it was as a result of combat damage sustained, an accident or being cannibalised to keep other aircraft flying.

With the Avro Lancaster B.II occupying such an unusual and fascinating position in the story of Britain’s most famous wartime bomber, every time this particular kit is released, it always disappears almost immediately, as modellers stock up on this rather odd looking variant. As the kit also includes the two appealing nose art schemes detailed above, it makes this an almost irresistible Bomber Command build project for the dark winter months ahead. Importantly, we are pleased to report that this fabulous kit is now available once more.