VINTAGE KITS ANNEX 5
A diminutive but comprehensive Friend or Foe? Museum of Aircraft Recognition was located in Santa Barbara, California. The museum was dedicated to the exhibit of teaching materials used by the armed forces during World War II to train gunners and aircrew in the identification of aircraft, ships and ground vehicles. The ability of servicemen to identify "friend or foe" in an instant was crucial to combat survival and the subject of recognition was taught in just about every World War II service school. The museum exhibits were closed in November 2014 and the complete collection has been relocated to a major museum venue. This Friend or Foe? museum shown in photos below is unlikely to be replicated in this comprehensive form at any site in the future.
The charge of the Friend or Foe? museum was typical for museums of all types: To provide safe custody for the artifacts, and to provide preservation, recording and display of items of interest from the past for the benefit of scholars and others interested enough to visit. To this end, the museum exhibits are to be relocated to a venue which offers significantly greater public access.
The photos and descriptions below show the museum when it was located in Santa Barbara. Although no longer open, these photos will guide you through the museum experience; enjoy your experience.
For those of you who seek more information about the aircraft recognition program or desire to communicate with other enthusiasts and possibly contribute pictures and data concerning your own collection or experiences, you are invited to join the new Yahoo interest group formed by Bill Larkins, an acknowledged aviation photographer, historian, author, AAHS founder, and a participant in the WWII training aids program. Just go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AircraftRecognition and join up.
The museum is organized into two sections. An exhibit area contains displays of recognition training material covering periods of conflict from World War I through the "Cold War" of the 1950s, each display centering on a specific theme, period or artifact. A representational World War II training room completes the second half of the museum display. This room represents a typical military training setting in a barracks-style environment. The packed training room is equipped with original WWII artifacts such as scale recognition models, manuals, posters, magazines, projectors, cards, and all the paraphernalia that would be familiar to any graduate of pre-flight or gunnery training. Care has been taken to assure that the museum's collection is exhibited in an authentic, although condensed, manner to impart the feeling of the WWII period, complete to furnishings, construction materials, color, and general ambiance, even to a scene of a 1943 NAS flightline, painted by Bay Area artist Skip Rains, viewed through one of the classroom's "windows". Visitors to the training room are "invited" into the exhibit itself and become part of the "class", integrating with the sights and sounds of a classroom in action as would be expected on a busy airbase. Scale recognition models are suspended from the ceiling and provide an excellent test of one's spotting ability; ship and tank recognition models (such as the 1:36 scale metal model of the U.S. M3A1 tank pictured at left)add to the quizzing possibilities. The array of training pamphlets, models, books, film strips and other devices leave the impression that a cadet or gunner of WWII was faced with a formidable task when trying to retain "friend or foe" information in the brief 30 hours or so typically allocated to initial recognition training.
The photos above were taken by professional photographer Kanoa Zimmerman; Kanoa also provided the black and white at the top of this page. High resolution versions may be seen at the shutterfly.com site mentioned elsewhere. The flight gear is mostly U.S. Navy issue.
A wide variety of training artifacts is presented in a multi-exhibit area which the visitor experiences upon entry to the museum. The various materials used to manufacture government contracted models during WWII are represented in a wall display of 1:72 scale aircraft. An adjacent exhibit presents the civilian side of aircraft recognition with displays honoring the volunteers of both the WWII Aircraft Warning Service and the 1950's "Cold War" Ground Observer Corps, each group consisting of hundreds of thousands of volunteer spotters and workers operating out of thousands of observation posts and filter centers.
1950s GROUND OBSERVER CORPS
A 1956 book, Operation Watchdog, by C.B. Colby, covers the national defense system and it has several pages devoted to the 1950's GOC. The following paragraphs and photos are from the book.
A short article on the 1950s GOC appeared in the Air & Space magazine, Vol 26 No 2. You can access this article by clicking here. Use the back arrow to return.
WORLD WAR 2
The American youth during WWII were attracted to aviation careers in the Air Force with countless toys, models, books, stamps and other youth-oriented material which was sold or distributed to high school age youths. A packed display case shows off a sampling of these fun aviation things, many of which relate to aircraft recognition; a youngster in WWII was subtly taught recognition through model building, games and reading long before he became inducted into the Army Air Forces or Navy. Notice in the photos below that most WWII toys were constructed from non-strategic materials such as cardboard and wood.
The wartime puzzle, shown below, is on exhibit at the Tennessee Museum of Aviation in Sevierville, Tennessee which has a number of flying warbirds including two P-47Ds and Tennessee's Official Aviation Hall of Fame. A CollectAir photo, May 2011.
You can download the directions for the 1942 game, Spot-A-Plane, by clicking here. Use the back arrow to return.
The need for recognizing aircraft by means other than national insignia became necessary in WWI. The use of manuals, silhouettes, photos and descriptions to distinguish friend from foe originated during the Great War to end all wars. Some WWI manuals are in the museum's collection. It is evident that the genesis of the silhouette stems from the need for the fledling combat pilot over the front to know a Fokker D-VII from a Nieuport or the anti-aircraft gunner to determine whether to shoot or not. The first two pictures below show a U.S. Signal Corps manual O.B. 1102 from November, 1917. In the "General Instructions" on page 1, mention is made, "Even a moderately trained observer should be able to distinguish between a hostile and a friendly machine at a distance of not less than 5,000 yards. If an observer is not able to do this, machine gun detachments will continually be having to 'stand to' only to dismiss a minute later when it is realized that the 'plane is friendly: whilst for anti-aircraft artillery work it is essential that on a clear day 'planes should be identified at ranges of not less than 10,000 yards." The manual further states that "Aeroplanes can be divided into two main classes: those designed for reconnaissance, artillery observation and bombing work, and those designed aas chasers and scouts."
Manuals were issued by governments for the military or were privately printed for use by both military and civilian personnel. The following French manuals shown below were sold to the public. The first manual, Silhouettes d'Avions is interesting in that all views of the airplanes are done in a constant scale of 1:200, the only manual that I've ever seen like that. Note that the 1:200 scale was used by Wiking for Luftwaffe training models in WWII.
The first photo below shows silhouettes from the British manual entitled, Silhouettes of Aeroplanes; this recognition guide is not marked as military and contains both silhouettes and photos. The national insignias are also from this manual. The third photo of the F.2.A. Flying Boat is from the British military manual D.A.I.6 (A.I.4.), F.S. Publication 60, dated August, 1918, and entitled Types of British Seaplanes - Flying Boats and Ship's Aeroplanes. A note on the manual's cover enjoins the user that the manual is "Not to be Carried in Aircraft".
A group of Air Force photos from the Smithsonian collection show 1942-43 gunnery students at Laredo Army Air Field, Texas engaged in airplane recognition training as they use some of the early types of models constructed from wood, plaster and cardboard. The museum visitor is transported back to August, 1940 to become an RAF Spitfire pilot tracking a "bogie" airplane as the reticule of an authentic Mk II Reflector Gunsight lights up and a twin-engine warplane at 200 yards appears in the sights. Is this a friend or foe? Should I fire at a Messerschmitt Me 110 or dip my wings at a friendly Beaufort?
Aerial target kite Mark 1, Device 3-C-29, developed by the late Paul Garber of the Smithsonian Institution and others. Paul kindly provided me with rigging instructions. This particular kite was originally donated to a V.F.W. post in Spring Valley, New York soon after WWII. More on the kite program below.
Touring further, the WWII National School Model Building Program is highlighted with an exhibit of a group of the original schoolboy-built wood models, along with plans, books, memos and other ephemera associated with the program which began in early 1942 to provide hand-built, 1:72 scale wood recognition models to the armed forces until such time that mass production, plastic models became available for training purposes. Click here for a wartime Comet Model Airplane ad for their "Official Identification Kits." Another Comet ad for identification model kits from May 1942 can be viewed by clicking here.
The magazine of the Air Force Museum Foundation, Friends Journal, has an interesting identification model story entitled "Building Spotter Models for the War" in the Winter 2012-2013 issue. You can view this article by clicking here. Use the back arrow to return.
WHY 1:72 SCALE? Lore has it that navy Commander Louis de Florez, head of the U.S. Bureau of Aeronautics Special Devices Division, visited England in late 1941and saw some of the models that were being used for recognition training; he was impressed by the Skybird kits in 1:72 scale and took some back to the U.S. A convenient size, the 1:72 scale was adopted for U.S. recognition models. But why did Skybird adopt the 1:72 scale in the first place?
The Skybird kits were the result of A.J. Holladay, a toy manufacturer, meeting James Hay Stevens, a model-maker and writer; the Skybird range of kits developed from that meeting around 1930 with the first kit appearing in 1932. Stevens had built a collection of fine 1:36 scale airplane models and they elected to start a kit business building on Stevens' qualifications as a designer, writer and as an artist.
J.H. Stevens wrote a book on model building, SCALE MODEL AIRCRAFT published in 1933. The book covers solid model building in 1:72 scale with many 3-views drawn by Stevens. In the Introduction, Stevens explains the source of his use of 1:72 scale for aircraft models which explains why Skybird kits were in that scale and consequently U.S. recognition models.
What would have happened if J.H. Stevens had had more space for his 1:36 models?
Many of the model kit manufacturers used the Navy's model building plans as a basis for simple kits in the 1:72 scale and capitalized on the identification model building program to market their product in 1942. Comet, the designer of the plans under contract to the Navy, was the first on the market with "Official Identification Model Kit - Build for Victory Series" kits; the Navy had encouraged the use of the official plans (without the official title block) in kits. Megow turned out spotter model kits in 1942 and advertised them in large ads; the September 1942 ad in Model Airplane News can be viewed by clicking here. StromBecKer made six deluxe identification kits featuring pre-carved parts - the Strombeck-Becker history page covers these models. Frequent photo and article contributor, Jim Larsen, authored a delightful one-page story, "Forgotten Spotter Models of World War Two," in the Volume 45 Number 6 issue of Air Classics, which spotlights the spotter model kits made by StromBecKer during the Second World War. You can enjoy reading this tribute to StromBecKer's wartime kits by by clicking here.
An example of the StromBecKer S100 wartime kit is pictured below.
Three examples of spotter kits are shown below: the Megow SA-13 DC-3 kit, the Ace Whitman Hawker Hurricane kit no. 3836, and the Testors B-17E. The Testors kit is pre-carved. The Megow kits made a shortcut by eliminating the template sheet and merely printing it on the plan (wing and tail surface outlines stamped on block) . The Ace Whitman kit has a nice cardstock template sheet and a handsome two-sided plan with the notation:
Testors manufactured a B-17E kit in 1:72 scale, designed to the Navy plans. Similar to the StromBecKer B-17, the Testors kit was made from pre-carved pine though the carving was not quite as elegant as the StromBecKer kit. The kit box and wood parts are pictured below.
The Tru-Vue Stereoscope viewer was manufactured in Rock Island, Illinois by Tru-Vue, Inc. During WW2, a stereo film Number 231, "Keep 'Em Flying," featured black & white stereo photos of models which were to be used for recognition training purposes by civilians. The Tru-Vue film strips were basically 35 mm film about 32 inches in length with each picture duplicated for stereo viewing purposes; the film was tightly rolled and could be easily inserted into the viewer. Each film strip was sold for $1.00 in an individual box marked with the title. Although hundreds of films were produced, this was the only film dedicated to recognition. It has been estimated that Tru-Vue sold over one million reels in 1949.
Tru-Vue, Inc. was founded in 1931 and made a showing at the 1933 Chicago "Century of Progress Exposition," the same fair that sparked StromBecKer's interest in railroad models. The company flourished up to 1952 at which time the company was acquired by Sawyers View-Master of Beaverton, Oregon. Color was introduced by Tru-Vue in 1950 to compete with the Sawyer's View-Master reels. The Stereoscope was continued by Sawyer but changed from film strip to cards featuring 7 stereo views instead of the 14 on the original film. The last cards were made in the 1960s.
Why this one reel of recognition models and how did StromBecKer get incolved? We may never know but a few things point the way. Rock Island, Illinois and Moline, Illinois (home of StromBecKer) are sister cities, so it is entirely likely that contact between the two companies occurred. StromBecKer may have offered the models in exchange for the publicity. The models featured on the film are the P-39, Boeing 307 Stratoliner, Hudson, B-17, Sikorsky S-43, Martin B-26, Boeing 314 Clipper, SB2C-4 Helldiver, PBY-5 Catalina, Douglas A20A, and inexplicably, the Brewster SB2A-1. Although the reel states that these are all StromBecKer models, the Brewster was never offered by StromBecKer, so it may have been a test model or one that they elected to not produce - or possibly one built to the Navy wood model program just to fill out the reel. Some of the models have plastic discs to replace the propellers and most have a camouflage finish.
Pardon the quality of the following photos from the film reel; they were taken through one lens of the Stereoscope.
The high school model building program enjoyed a rapid beginning, springing from a January 1942 idea, to plans drawn by Comet Model Airplane & Supply Co. and distribution to schools all over the country by March 1942, making the cover of an edition of Life magazine in that month. The pattern drawings, sets A through G, for the U.S. Navy aircraft recognition model program for high schools are available from the Smithsonian by clicking Here. Rear Admiral John H. Towers, U.S.N., Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, Navy Division, wrote the following letter to Air Trails magazine:
Jim Alaback, a modelling historian associated with the San Diego Air&Space Museum, wrote an interesting article on the school model building program in the September 1996 KAPA newsletter, "The KAPA Kollector". This issue may be obtained for $3.50 from KAPA, 269 Concord Road, Bedford, MA 10730.
I received interesting comments from a wartime recognition model builder, Royce Childress, who constructed the wood models in Huntington Park, California. Royce states that, "I made several of these (recognition models) during WW2. I would go to the Post Office and they had a list of the models wanted. I'd pick one and they would give me the plans and suitable pine or fir wood blocks to build it. When finished, I'd take the model back to the Post Ofice and get another one." Does anyone else remember using the Post Office for this purpose?
The following personal experiences with the model building program were culled from a July 2003 issue of Model Aviation.
Correspondent Fred Dorris has added his personal experience with recognition model building: "In 1942 I was making aircraft recognition models in my high school shop. This program was expanded to Canadian schools and several South American countries with the instructions being translated into Spanish and Portuguese. The following is from an article written by Ward P. Beard, U. S. Office of Education, in the American Vocational Journal of May 8, 1945."
The AMA National Model Aviation Museum in Muncie, Indiana has a small exhibit devoted to wartime building of spotter models by students. The photos below show portions of this display as presented in June 2012 (CollectAir photos).
Georges Grod provided the outstanding photo shown below of Pearl Harbor students constructing recognition models in their shop class. Quite an assembly line! This government photo is marked as NARA 196477-1.
Model aviation magazines, in particular, carried many articles concerning the model building program during 1942 and 1943. A typical one-page photo article from the August 1943 issue of Flying Aces is presented below.
Dr. Garber also devised a controllable Target Kite which was used for gunnery practice; a fully rigged example of his Mk 1 kite, made by Spaulding, is on exhibit with a Mitsubishi "Zero" screened on the kite fabric. Paul Garber became aware that Admiral John H. Towers reported that the Navy required some sort of airborne moving gunnery target; Garber believed that a kite might solve the problem. He worked after hours along with two kite flying buddies, Lloyd Reichert and Stanley Potter, and also with Paul Gwillow, to come up with a rough target kite which had a keel and rudder and could be controlled by two lines. Work on a prototype target kite leading to production began in earnest in the Fall of 1942. Firing tests were conducted in January, 1943 and the first production units from a trial order with Comet Models reached the field for test by May, 1943.
American recognition training didn't begin in ernest until our entry into World War II. Well over a year later, the Life magazine-style publication, U.S. Army-Navy Journal of Recognition, was first published in September, 1943. It's mission was stated in a foreword, "No Margin for Error" in issue number 1; a portion of that statement is reprinted below. The magazine changed its name to Recognition Journal with issue 9 and ceased publication following the August, 1945 issue.
Issue number 3 of the Journal is shown above.
The Journal information also appeared as part of the "Recognition Instructor's Information Letter" - for interest, five silhouettes from a 1945 "Letter", all jets, can be viewed as a PDF file by Clicking Here.
The Axis forces during WWII were also engaged in recognition training using models, manuals and films similar to the Allied equipment. The museum displays examples of German-made 1:50 scale wood, classroom training models as well as a cased grouping of German Wiking 1:200 scale plastic aircraft models (examples of both types shown further down this page) as used for Luftwaffe crewmen and flak crew training in the field. These rare models are seldom seen and represent some of the earliest and best injection-molded plastic products of the period, beginning as early as 1939. Made in Berlin by Friedrich Peltzer, the innovative factory restarted production in the Western Zone following WWII and the Wiking company exists today manufacturing plastic models such as vehicles and HO and N gage model railroad products; Mr. Peltzer died in 1981. Grouped by country, the 1:200 scale Wiking models also present an excellent recognition "test".
Wall display at left of the civilian Aircraft Warning Service Observer program during WWII and the Ground Observer Corps similar program during the cold war period of the early to mid-1950s. Background shows part of cabinet display of German Wiking WWII, 1:200 scale recognition models.
Hundreds of Observation Posts ringed the U.S. manned with civilian volunteers from the Ground Observer Corps serving with the Aircraft Warning Service. Round-the-clock air-defense service as observers or in the Filter Centers or Information Centers, these volunteers spanned age groups, from Boy Scouts to grandmothers. In the early, uncertain days of World War II, the fear of enemy attack gained a foothold with the civilian population of coastal areas - indeed, there was an actual West Coast enemy nuisance shelling near Santa Barbara and many false alarms and on the entire East Coast, beachgoers witnessed countless sinking ships just off the coast in sea lanes, the victims of free roaming German U-boats in 1942. Rumors of attacks and the capture of German spies landing from subs fueled the alarm. Volunteer observers felt that they were doing "something" about the threat - neighbors of observers were then "safer" because there was someone that they knew watching the skies. Coastal cities were eventually blacked out but this took almost a year to institute. The museum has many documents, manuals, magazines and other GOC information from this interesting era.
The black cardstock identification models were issued to the AWS observers. The January 1944 issue of the Aircraft Warning Volunteer carried a full page discussion, with photos, of this program. To view a PDF of this page, click here.
Notice that the above article on cardstock recognition models for the Ground Observer Corps mentions that the observers are to receive 50 card models. The photos below show the box used to ship the 50 models to the Scranton (PA) Observer Section, Scranton Filter Center in 1943; the box fits the largest of the model sheets. Obviously, the USAF doesn't anticipate many foreign aircraft flying over observer posts as 29 of the 50 models are U.S. and 9 British; the remaining Jap and German models were probably included just to keep the observers on their toes. It was important for spotters to learn the U.S. aircraft as these were the models that observers would see on a daily basis - the USAF used the observer reports to fine tune the filter centers and to do practice scrambles of fighters to intercept the "enemy." Some sample model envelopes are also shown below to enable comparison of the smallest fighter models to the large, 4-engine bombers. Note that this box was carton 89 of 170 - that's a lot of models!
The threat of an enemy attack soon waned as the war progressed. At first the posts went on a reduced schedule, but by 1944, it was evident that they were not needed and that some of their essential services could be wrapped into Air Forces installations at training bases. Consequently, on May 16, 1944, the Secretary of War announced that the Aircraft Warning Centers would be closed and that the observers should transfer to some other voluntary war service. That letter, along with a letter to "All Volunteers of the Aircraft Warning Service" from Headquarters, First Fighter Command, Mitchel Field which commends the volunteers may be viewed by clicking here. Return to this page with the back-arrow.
The cartoon above is from "Male Call", a wartime strip for military publications drawn by "Terry and the Pirates" creator, Milton Caniff. This box is taken from the 2/21//43 "Zest in OTS".) Many of the production recognition models had elaborate configurations that required many detailed parts such as bi-planes, struts, floats, fixed gear, tailwheels etc. About a hundred of these are displayed in a single case to demonstrate the complexity and degree of production sophistication used for such a mundane war effort product as a training aid. Several models of aircraft that never existed are on exhibit, pointing out the inadequacy of some WWII intelligence. Miniature recognition models in 1:432 scale, used for hand held personal use, are also shown.
Looking skyward in the display area, the visitor is exposed to post-WWII recognition models, both U.S. made (1:72 and 1:144 scale for aircraft with wingspans of 100 ft. or greater)and British wood 1:72 models from the Korean War era. Many more models are stored because of the limited exhibit space.
Recognition training remained a critical issue through the 1950s. The Bureau of Naval Personnel, in NAVPERS 16138-C dated 1955, Naval Orientation, has a section devoted to recognition. A portion of that section may be viewed by clicking here. Use the back arrow to return.
Models used for photographic recognition purposes: The U.S. lacked photographs of many of the Japanese, German and Italian aircraft as we entered WWII. The Special Devices Division of the U.S. Navy handcrafted a series of realistic models which were then photograhed in a studio to simulate flight conditions. A rear screen projection gave a realistic looking sky as the models were held in place by a stinger - propellers were rotated by blowing on them. Training films, manuals and other study devices used these Navy-built models. Similar models of Axis planes for photographic purposes (recognition manuals and film) were constructed in England by V.J.G. Woodason of Woodason Aircraft Models in Heston; further information on these models is provided in the British section on this page. These superb Navy models eventually found their way to the Smithsonian and have been on display at NASM in Washington. Examples of the Nakajima B5N2 and the Mitsubishi G4M2 are shown below; these CollectAir photos are from 1990.
The August 1945 edition of Popular Science has an excellent article covering the Navy's photographic model program entitled, "Navy Modelmakers Build Enemy Planes." This article indicates that the model shop was in Washington whereas the NASM exhibit states that most were made in Orlando. Capt. Luis de Florez, director of the Special Devices Division, appointed Naval Reserve Lieutenant Jim Barry to be in charge of the model program; Barry was an experienced modeler with many models on exhibit at fairs, expositions and at the Smithsonian. The photo below is from the article.
The complete article, with photos, from Popular Science can be viewed in PDF form by clicking here.
Recognition training aids were used throughout the military for ongoing instruction. As an example, the S-2 Intelligence Section of the 390th Bombardment Group used posters for training in the recognition of the newest German jet fighters. The photos below are from the 390th BG book (see on Aviation Books page)showing wartime briefing.
Click on the photo for an enlarged version and use the enlargement click.
The photo below shows servicemen undergoing training by viewing recognition models of aircraft likely to be encountered over Europe.
Georges Grod of France is an enthusiastic collector of WWII recognition material as well as a masterful builder of the wartime school-built wood models from the U.S. Navy plans. His delightful collection may be viewed by clicking on the scene below which shows some of his Cruver plastic recognition models.
Some of the other 1943 posters are presented below along with their "answers." At least 18 different posters were printed (that is the highest poster number I've seen) - perhaps more.
The photos below show a WWII boxed set from Sawyer's which is displayed in the Estrella Warbirds Museum in Paso Robles, CA.
A company by the name of Craven built some models in 1:72 scale in Bakelite but they were not sufficiently accurate. 1:72 scale models made of rubber and also models constructed from plaster dipped in cellulose acetate were made by Darling. Hand fabricated wood models in 1:72 scale were made by General Displays, Project 5-B-2. The V.R. Short firm made some 1:72 scale models in rubber and in plaster sprayed with metal. Project 5-B-6 involved Niagara Insul-bake who made some 1:72 scale cellulose actetate models but the contract was terminated. The Leominster company made 1:72 scale models from hollow-blown cellulose nitrate (celluloid); the contract was terminated following several models (see Lysander photo this page). Cellulose acetate models were also attempted by Metal Associates, Project 5-B-8. The SDD Model Shop made wood models in several scales for photographic purposes. The Kelley Lime & Transport firm, Project 5-BB-8 made ceramic aircraft models in 1:216 scale for use in a gunnery device. McFarland made 1:125 scale wood aircraft models for use in recognition and gunnery devices. The impregnated cardboard silhouette models were manufactured by Cooperative Displays - examples are shown on this page. Garber made some plaster models of Naval officers and civilians to use with displays and photographs to indicate relative size. The Navy's Target Kite Mk I project, as described on this page, used the services of Comet, Spalding, Spalding (Menihan) and Ballard for production. The firm, Cominch Readiness, developed a metal, sinkable target kite frame but it was decided not to produce them. The Photo Science Lab made a Target Kite Motion Picture, Project MN-9048. The Comet Model Airplane & Supply Co. is listed as being the source for the engineering and printing of the National Model Building Program plans for Series "A" through "G." Notice that ship recognition models were not procured by Paul Garber.
Of interest, Garber's brief (put together in November 1945) mentions Project 5-E-2 which was a game called, "Slap the Jap." Garber writes, "Recognition training game, played with cards showing views of combat aairplanes. Engineering and art work completed, but production not approved by Recognition Office due to policy against use of games for this purpose. Art work and samples in office." Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe computer "games" are currently being used by the military for training.
The Special Devices Division (SDD) had a display at Rockefeller Center in NYC, Project NATEX. This exhibit probably ran immediately following Japan's surrender. I would appreciate a photograph of this exhibit if anyone has one. Garber writes of this exhibit, "Exhibits of Target Kite, Insignia, comparison of models of Navy's first aeroplane with current 'F-6F', models showing types of World War I, and display of 1:72 plastic models showing Navy types of World War 2, with descriptive texts, prepared by Unit Head (Paul Garber). Transferred to exhibit at Franklin Institute. Certain of these models and insignia were loaned by the Smithsonian Institution in custody of Unit Head and are to be returned through him when the exhibit closes. Suggest that the insignia made by SDD and added to those borrowed from the Smithsonian be transferred to that Institution."
Lt. Cmdr. Garber mentions at the end of his brief that he transferred custody of a Remington Noiseless typewriter and a U.S.N. Jeep 46240 to the Section Head of the Visual Design Section.
LOCALLY ISSUED RECOGNITION MANUALS Many of the recognition manuals in the museum collection were put together and printed by single military units and not intended for wide distribution outside the local jurisdiction of the particular unit, such as an air base. Some examples of these are shown below, all of which are part of the National Museum of the United States Air Force Library in Dayton and which were photographed by CollectAir about 20 years ago.
The major aircraft museums in the U.S. each offer some exhibits oriented to WWII training and to recognition training specifically; however, no major museum provides a comprehensive presentation of the training environment or a single exhibit of the wide range of artifacts associated with recognition education during the war years of the early 1940s. A few large collections exist in private hands but are not normally available to the public nor on permanent exhibit. The Friend or Foe? Museum of Aircraft Recognition was established to fill this void and properly honor the thousands of servicemen and women who devised and built training aids and taught recognition subjects in countless schools and units during WWII. The 1:72 scale models used for training during WWII were the advent of today's popular U.S. plastic model kits which still retain this scale.
A Douglas B-23 in 1:72 scale molded in plaster of paris, reportedly by a manniken manufacturer. The model is marked "B-23". These plaster types are quite rare and, as can be expected, were not satisfactory as they would easily break.
A 1:72 scale Lysander reportedly made by the Leominster Plastics Co., 45 Spruce Street, Leominster, Mass. It is a nice model made by a blow-molding process using celluloid (hollow); has a paste-on sticker which has "England Lysander I. 5/43". This company also made a C-47.
The Cruver Japanese 1:432 set is shown below along with a detail of the Mitsubishi F1M2 Pete.
The photos below show a more modern tank recognition model, in this case a Russian T55, an advanced version of the WW2 T54. Used by the Soviet Union for many years, the T55 is now a main battle tank for dozens and dozens of third world countries. This model is around the 1:36 scale used for WW2 recognition tank models; it is constructed from molded hard rubber and was obviously made at Fort Knox, Kentucky, which, until recently, was the Army's tank training center. Date of this model is unknown but would estimate around 1960 to 1980
"I say old chap, isn't that a rather odd flock?" German Wiking recognition models in 1:200 scale molded plastic. Shown are the "ME 109" which is a Me 109E, and an "E 18" which is a British Fulmar. It is hoped to have a page on this site devoted to the Wiking company history in the future.
German paper-constructed training models
The original NSFK paper models are rare collector items. The Friend or Foe? Museum has a fine example of the NSFK model of the Blackburn Skua II in the original, uncut heavy paper sheet which is printed in color along with information on assembly and specs of the airplane. This NSFK model (No. 16 of the series) survived the war but postwar restrictions banned any display of the Nazi swastika so the owner marked out the swastika on the NSFK emblem. Photos of the model are shown below.
The Ju 88A-1 shown below was found in an antique store about 30 years ago by my friend Bill Clark and is now part of the CollectAir exhibit. This model is in excellent condition with no breakage. The model was made by the company Friedr.Allimin Eingetr. and is in 1:75 scale. The stamped inscription on the bottom of the model (see photo) states "Berlin" which suggests that the model dates from the late 1930s or early 1940 at the latest. Powered by Jumo 211B engines, the A-1 had a wingspan of 59"10 ¾".
Small ceramic German tank and vehicle models were manufactured by the German porcelain company, W.Goebel Porzellanfabrik. Goebel is well known for the Hummel product line. These diminuitive models were about 1:100 scale and weren't used for recognition training but were sent into battle on sand tables to train Panzer units in field tactics. Correspondent Christopher Gribben has kindly provided several photos of the ceramic tank models, shown below.
A "Shipboard Eyeshooting and Recognition Trainer", U.S. Navy Device 3-D23, Serial No. 672, by the Special Devices Division Office of Research and Inventions. The two projectors are typical of those used throughout the military in WW2 for film strips and slides; they were made by Society for Visual Education, Inc. in Chicago, Illinois. No military marking or government identification was used on these widely employed items. This particular box includes film strip canisters in the lower drawer; one unit projected a gunner's reticle which the student then adjusted to the correct postion for firing on an incoming airplane projected by the second unit.
The museum collection includes many ship recognition models in scales ranging from a minute 1:5000 to 1:500; most of these models were issued in cased sets grouped by country. Several examples are shown below. The first is a U.S. Navy Identification Model in 1:500 scale of the OAKLAND, an ATLANTA CLASS CL made by H.A. Framburg & Co. of Chicago and dated 12-44. The model has a wooden hull and the rest is cast metal. The chart is an Army Air Forces Chart No. 18, July 1943, of Guadalcanal Island and Solomon Islands.
A 1:500 scale Identification Model of the MAHAN CLASS Destroyer, made by Comet Metal Products Co. A wood hull with cast metal structures.
The model shown below was made by Comet; it is labeled as "SOUTH DAKOTA CLASS US BB" and has "COMET" inscribed on the bottom. The 1:1200 scale models came in boxed sets organized by country; the museum has many of these sets in the collection.
Some ship models were constructed by the Navy for training purposes unrelated to recognition training. The photo below is from the August 1945 issue of Popular Science showing a 1/8" to 1 foot scale model of the Cleveland Class cruiser. Paul Garber is the gentleman observing the model.
Ship identification models were also mounted on "paddles" for use in various projection and viewing machines. A typical set is pictured below which is in the museum collection. Note that the scale is given as 1"-110' for a scale of 1:1320 although the models are actually 1:1200. The set of paddle-mounted models was put together by Kay Displays of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The set, as displayed below, originally was encased in a cardboard slip box for storage and shipping.
Two superb boxed sets of the Momiyama recognition ship models were "rescued" by a Marine officer at the end of the Pacific war in 1945 and have been in his possession since the war. These models were liberated by Lt.W.R. Lucas in September 1945 near Tokyo, Japan. The photo below shows Lt. Lucas as he exhibits the two boxed sets to his uncle in June 1946 upon his return to the U.S.
Momiyama Naval Identification models. The story of how these models came into Lt. Lucas' hands is told in the following discussion as told by Lt. Col. W.R. Lucas (USMC, Ret.)in May, 2013.
"A brief history of the two boxes of American and British ship models used by Japanese pilots to recognize Allied warships from the air: Our squadron was stationed on Okinawa at the end of World War II. The squadron received orders to relocate to the Naval Air Station at Yokosuka, Japan. We arrived in late August or early September of 1945 and immediately commenced flight operations to locate camps in the area around Tokyo. We were housed in a concrete, two-story building previously used by the Japanese military pilots. Having some free time between flights, three of us young, Marine Lieutenants decided to explore the surrounding area around the airstation. Lt. Red Truex, Lt. Robert Roberts, and I took off to explore for souvenirs (my guess is that it was sometime in September of 1945). We discovered a metal door on the side of a dirt hill. Upon examination, we were able to get inside this hill and found that it was an underground storage area. We did not penetrate too far inside the cave for fear of explosive devices. However, with the door open, there was sufficient light to find six wooden boxes. Upon opening the boxes, we discovered that they contained U.S. and British naval ship models that were being used by the Japanese pilots to recognize type and country for identification. Each of us took two boxes of ship models. I took my two boxes, removed the pins holding the model ships and used small screws to hold the ship models in the box. A foot locker was used for shipment of the boxes to the US, when I was transferred back to the continental US. My uncle, Ed Dasing, worked for Commonwealth Edison Electric Company, and he asked me to bring the models to the office for viewing by fellow employees. Several 8x10 official pictures were taken by the company on June 11, 1946. The two boxes have been in my possession since September, 1945."
Mr. Lucas served with the Marines until 1967; he served in three major conflicts: WW2, Korea and Vietnam. He retired as a Lt. Col. and in 2013, he celebrated his 90th birthday in good health.
The following photos show the two boxed sets, "A" and "B", as they appear in Mr. Lucas' storage; these photos were taken in 2013. Although not of high quality, these photos will give you an idea of this fantastic collection of ship models. Note that the set "B" is similar to the Momiyama set described previously. Any information that a viewer may have concerning the wartime Momiyama models would be appreciated.
Some information on the Momiyama company will be added here in the future.
The USS Maryland battleship was commissioned in 1921 and survived two bomb hits at Pearl Harbor. Heavily armed with eight 16-inch guns, the Maryland represents a good example of the between-the-wars Navy. The photos below show what is believed to be a Japanese recognition model of the USS Maryland (or USS Colorado - note the "CO"), perhaps originating prior to Pearl Harbor. The aft cage structure was removed in a retrofit during WW2. This large model is probably in 1:300 scale. Because of the lack of good reference material concerning Japanese recognition models, this model must be judged on what you see. The markings have not been translated - if you can add information on the model, please contact CollectAir. Could Japanese pilots have trained on this model for preparation for the Pearl Harbor attack? This model sold at auction for over $3200 in July, 2007.
More photos of the museum are available at www.collectair.shutterfly.com. You can view CollectAir albums by clicking here.
The Friend or Foe? Museum of Aircraft Recognition has a nice collection of British-made recognition models from both WWII and the postwar, 1950s era. Information on the manufacturers of these models is rather sparce, however, so the following is presented in an attempt to garner more information on the British ID model efforts as well as entertain. If you can provide any further insight, please contact CollectAir. Additionally, I'm certain that you will enjoy seeing some of the not-too-common recognition models made in England. The He 115 shown below is an example of a British 1:72 scale, Bakelite plastic ID, manufacturer unknown. An advertisement was carried in one of the postwar British magazines offering "60,000 R.A.F. Recognition Models" for sale" and this model is from that particular group. The ad stated that they were 1/72 scale and "beautifully detailed jobs" and that there were 50 different models. Pictured are six models with the entreat "Get them now - cannot repeat." The company running the ad, Astral Aero Model Co., Dixon Lane Road, Leeds 12., is probably not the manufacturer.
The model has the aircraft type, He 115, in raised letters on the bottom of the fuselage - no other markings. It is solid with a heavy feel, has no details of canopy, control surfaces etc. and is very smoothly molded.
The British have always been obsessed with "spotting", railway spotting coming immediately to mind. Aircraft spotting, as outlined in this article, occupied the civilian sector in the 1930s more than the military and the civilian, para-military Observer Corps was a "clubby" and patriotic endeavour. Actual recognition training wasn't initiated until war clouds appeared and each branch of the service attempted some sort of training, though not co-ordinated nor effective, and the civilian program was sort of incorporated under military guidance but couldn't use classified material. Commercial aviation magazines provided the largest impetus toward recognition methods, coming up with the best silhouette information and general specifications for European airplanes.
The following brief overview of British recognition training programs is culled from various British magazines, books and manuals of the WWII period and from the very excellent book, Identification Friend or Foe, by Tim Hamilton. This book was published in 1994. In it, Tim Hamilton covers the complete spectrum of British recognition efforts, civilian and military, from the beginnings in WWI through the end of WWII plus a brief comment on postwar efforts. I doubt whether this book experienced many sales in the U.S. but copies may be found from British sources. Two other books have been published which are dedicated to the Royal Observer Corps; Derek Wood's Attack Warning Red (1979) and Forewarned is Forearmed by T.E. Winslow, published in 1948 (see below for further discussion concerning this book).
The British first experienced enemy aircraft overhead in December 1914 as the Isles were attacked by a German Taube monoplane. In January 1915, two German Navy Zeppelins dropped bombs on the Norfolk coast. Aircraft drawings and silhouettes began to circulate as the military recognized the need to familiarize forces with the aircraft seen flying overhead in greater numbers, particularly their own. RFC Observer aircraft were equipped with machine guns in the spring of 1915 and aerial warfare was born. The French produced the first recognition manual incorporating three-position silhouettes. In the early stages of WWI, pilots were to identify other airplanes they encountered by markings and paint schemes, an entirely unsatisfactory method of identification for many and obvious reasons. The British were shooting down French airplanes, proving that recognition training was necessary - at least the French thought so. By mid-1918, the British issued a series of recognition manuals as Air Council Field Service publications. These were the first British manuals devoted to recognizing aircraft. CollectAir has several of the British, French and American manuals from WWI in the museum collection.
During the inter-war period, aviation hit a high point in the public's eye with record setting flights and milestones during the 1920s but began a lull as the thirties approached. The Air League of the British Empire began an aggressive campaign to develop airmindedness with its Empire Air Day program following the example of the 1932 National Aviation Day Campaign. A Junior Air League section was formed by A.J. Holladay, called the "Skybird League" in 1933 and the decision was made to market commercial solid-scale model kits of current model airplanes in 1:72 scale. Many "Skybird" members who crafted models from these kits and drawings later became RAF pilots such as Neville Duke. This was a civilian commercial endeavour, nevertheless it was the progenitor of the government recognition model program for the British and for the U.S., both of which would come belatedly.
The British Observer Corps became more active by the mid-1930s, patriotic volunteers working for home defense by spotting airplane movements, sort of an "early warning" system. Recognition training was not requisite for the volunteers and the only information furnished was an Air Ministry silhouette book, AP.1480, which was inadaquate at best. The pastime of airplane spotting became popular and civilian enthusiasts were keeping detailed journals and specification sheets on countless airplanes throughout Great Britain.
The Air Ministry's AP.1480 silhouettes were the primary recognition training tool in 1937 even though the quality of the silhouettes was poor as was pointed out by critics working for major aviation magazines. A new recognition manual, AP.1764, with the same silhouettes, was issued to pilots and air gunners as Great Britain approached war with Germany. Several fatal military incidents occurred in 1939 as a result of mis-identification of RAF aircraft as enemy units, bring home the need for recognition training. The major British magazines, The Aeroplane and Flight started printing aircraft identification material in their publications and The Aeroplane published the first non-government identification book. The technical editor, Peter Masefield, known as PGM to his cohorts, promoted accurate aircraft recognition vigorously and became a patron of the newly formed "The Hearkers Club", a group devoted to recognition training within the Observer Corps. (NOTE: Sir Peter Masefield died on February 14, 2006, living to the age of 91.) Model airplanes entered the scene in 1940 as The Aeroplane kept expanding its recognition pages; as suitable photos were not always available, models from V.J.G. Woodason of Heston were photographed for the recognition charts. The Woodason models were being produced for the Air Ministry in the 1939-1943 period for use in filming and manuals. Some Woodason models were used in movies of the period. The July 16, 1942 The Aeroplane Spotter magazine has a picture of a Woodason Ju 88A6 at the factory in a rather large scale and is decorated with paint scheme and insignia. A history of the Woodason Aircraft Models company and Victor Woodason can be accessed at Woodason Aircraft Models History page on this website.
The FROG Penguin plastic model kits in 1:72 scale were on the market in the late 1930s and mention is made in Tim Hamilton's book, Identification Friend or Foe, (p.84) that the FROG models were purchased as part of the models used in the new Army AA Aircraft Recognition Wing training program in 1940 at Biggin Hill for anti-aircraft batteries. The model kit shown here is the Penguin Blackburn Skua II, kit #57P, in the original type A1 box released by FROG in 1939; these kits are quite rare. Wartime ads by FROG mention that they are "Ideal for Identification Purposes" (The Aero-Modeller, February, 1940).
International Model Aircraft Ltd. (FROG and PENGUIN) also made wood recognition models in 1:72 scale (see photo of Bermuda in this section) and additionally made wood recognition/display models in 1:48 scale. An example of such a rare model is shown below - this Blenheim I is equipped with a nifty adjustable base; the model is in the collection of FROG collector/historian Peter van Lune.
The museum collection includes a nice example of the IMA 1:48 models - a Beaufighter.
Lines Bros., the maker of Tri-Ang models, was a major shareholder of the International Model Aircraft LTD. (IMA), or FROG. Most models associated with the FROG name made during the war carried the label of International Model Aircraft at Merton. The use of the names "FROG", "Lines Bros." and "IMA" can be considered interchangeable as all showed up in literature. Some interesting wartime, IMA labeled aircraft models are in the hands of collectors - several shown on this page. Bryan Brown of California has several large scale wood IMA models which were wired for small light bulbs positioned at each gun position on the aircraft; it is assumed that these models were made for gunnery training. If anyone has information on the use of these models, please contact CollectAir. The power came into the base of the fuselage and was distributed to the bulbs through internal wiring. Shown below are three of these IMA wood models; a Me 110, a Do 18 and a Wellington.
"Friendly fire" problems during the Battle of Britain were just one of many recognition snafus that eventually forced the RAF to form their own Aircraft Recognition Wing in late 1940. The RAF then established their own recognition school on the Isle of Man. Concurrently, a new civilian publication by Peter Masefield, The Aeroplane Spotter, mentioned above, came on the scene in January 1941. Air raids on Britain gave birth to "Raid Spotters" who alerted factory workers when enemy aircraft were approaching. The Raid Spotters formed into a new "Spotters Clubs" exclusive of the Observer Corps. Modelling clubs allied themselves with the spotters, and civilian-made solid models, in various scales, became part of the overall scheme. Controversy over how silhouettes should be drawn erupted when Penguin Books published a paperback, Aircraft Recognition, by R A Saville-Sneath using the AP.1480 silhouettes which had thick white lines showing minimal detail. PGM of The Aeroplane Spotter and The Aeroplane advocated thinner lines to outline greater detail within the silhouette and had been using this improved technique in his magazines and booklets.
The Air Ministry, by the end of 1941, started using thinner detail lines in their AP.1480 silhouettes, thereby ending the controversial issue. Another civilian spotters book was published in January 1941, The Spotter's Handbook authored by a man destined to become famous, Sir Francis Chichester.
Silhouette from The Royal Observer Corps Club flash card, Card Number (A)31A, Courtesy of The Aeroplane. FAIREY FULMAR I
Silhouette from M.A.P. flash card, Card Number 74(S), Issue 1. BOEING 314A
Identification Friend or Foe states on page 106 that by mid-1941 there were contractural requirements for 200,000 models for use as recognition teaching aids. Materials mentioned are wood, "Bakelite", and "buckram". Model manufacturers listed are Lines Brothers (FROG Penguin), and cabinet makers and boat builders such as Jack Holt. The firm of James Walker (JW) is reported have made 1:72 models. An example exists of a boxed Grumman F8F in 1:72 scale made by the British firm of Woodware Construction Limited. The material "Bakelite" shows up in many discussions of recognition models and, in some cases, it may be used as a generic term for plastic. Some of the British, and most American, plastic models were manufactured from cellulose-acetate which had many brand names during that period. Photographic models were made by V.J.G. Woodason of Woodason Aircraft Models at Heston. Training films were produced using both models and later real, captured aircraft for air-to-air, realistic scenes for recognition purposes.
The Royal Observer Corps (ROC) started publishing its own magazineThe Journal of the Royal Observer Corps in the fall of 1941. Not being a government publication, this magazine could not use classified material. By 1942, the Air Ministry was faced with the growing problem of co-ordinating recognition training for the three services, particularly as U.S. forces began to arrive in Great Britain. An Inter-Service Recognition Committee report spurred the RAF to form a new Visual Aircraft Recognition Training Committee. The Inter-Service Recognition Committee launched a new official publication, Aircraft Recognition, in September 1942 under the MAP and headed by Peter Masefield. This new publication doomed the ROC's journal and it lasted only until December 1942.
The history of the ROC, beginning in 1914, is covered in the 1948 book, Forewarned is Forearmed by T.E. Winslow, as pictured at left. WWI, the in-between war period, the first year of WWII, the Battle of Britain, 1942-1943, reorganization, 1944-1945, and stories and details of the many ROC operational areas fill the book. I particularly enjoyed the story of how the coastal Post No. 30 Royal Observer Corps Group (Durham Centre), on the night of May 10, 1941, picked up an aircraft and a subsequent track was kept at the Group's Operations Table; seven minutes later the Chatton Post reported the airplane and correctly identified it as a Me 110 at 50 feet. Two minutes later the Galashiels Observer Group No.31 started tracking the airplane, lost it and then it was reported by Jedburgh and Ashkirk Posts in the Forest of Ettrick area. The No. 34 Observers Group in the Glasgow area picked up the aircraft by sound and tracked until the Observer Post at West Kilbride identified the aircraft as hostile. The aircraft turned toward Glasgow and a report came from the Eaglesham Post that the aircraft was seen to crash in flames near Bonnyton Moor. Because of the speed of the aircraft, the Glasgow Centre believed the aircraft to be the Me 110 and dispatched a vehicle to the crash site. The pilot had been taken prisoner by the Home Guard where it is was eventually discovered that he was Rudolf Hess, the culmination of one of the most sensational events in Great Britain during WWII. A fold-out chart of Hess' flight and each ROC reporting Post is included. This book outlines the ROC activity and organization but only glosses over the subject of how aircraft recognition was taught. As described elsewhere herein this article, the author corroborates the fact that recognition was not a duty early in WWII. He mentions that "Curiously enough, at the outbreak of war it was not one of the functions of the Observer Corps to recognize the various types of aircraft. It was merely their duty to report and tell every aircraft that they saw or heard, irrespective of its type, although provision was made for distinguishing between bombers and fighters regardless of nationality. (Same for the U.S. system early in WWII.) It was soon realized that better use could be made of the Corps, and that it was essential that Observers should not only be able to distinguish friend from foe, but that one of their most valuable qualifications was the art of recognition of different types."
The author also states in the section on 1942 reorganization that "At the commencement of the war, as we have seen, the Posts had merely to report the postion of aircraft continously to their Centres, and to co-operate in that duty with other Posts on the same telephone circuit, while aircraft recognition, as understood in 1942, was not the official duty of the Observers at the Posts at the time of the outbreak of war." Later, however, proficiency in Aircraft Recognition became one of the list of Post duties. Anyone wishing to further study the ROC should read Forewarned is Forearmed.
Sentinels of Britain - The Wartime Story of the Royal Observer Corps is a 155 minute DVD recently issued by Air Supply in Yeadon. Sixteen men and women who served during WW2 with the ROC tell their stories of duty as observers and spotters and each, in his own way, impart the great sense of duty, enthusiasm and dedication that these lonely sentinels felt. The individual tales are mixed with scenes of wartime England and the ROC activity. This is a fine effort to capture the way these individuals put the ROC in the forefront of their daily lives as they, along with their fellow post crew, manned observer posts or centres around the clock, reporting or plotting air movements with accuracy and diligence. The following photos are stills from the DVD and give just a hint of the stories that these wonderful people tell in their recollections of WW2 and the ROC.
Recognition model production centered both on government contract requirements for the three services and models for the civilian spotter groups. The Aeroplane Spotter of July 16, 1942, in its ROC column states that "A growing interest in models as an aid to recognition of aircraft is becoming evident. The increasing supply of the official models combined with the use of the Hunt Trainer have brought about a closer liason between the allied arts of recognition and aero-modelling. Mr. C.P. Dixon, who has long been associated with the production of models for recognition, has been supplying the Services and the Spotters' Clubs under special terms with his well-known series of Scalecraft kits." These kits were from the Adastra Works in Southport. The Spotters' Clubs held national contests for solid scale models. This is being pointed out because in-so-far-as I can determine, the recognition models which were built under government contract were probably not issued to the para-military ROC or to Spotters' Clubs, both of which diligently built their own models, in many scales, usually decorated and many with landing gear, clear canopies, propellers and such - pictures of ROC gatherings substantiate this. These models may have been from kits "officially" provided. Again, the March 26, 1942 issue of The Aeroplane Spotter has a complete page on "Models for Spotting" which is devoted to amateur building because, "The value of solid scale models to aircraft recognition at last appears to be receiving the attention it merits." and "Few attempts have been made in the past to promote scale modelling and to associate it with spotting..." In this article, several model manufacturers are mentioned; FROG "penguin" plastic models of course along with kits by Chingford Model Aerodrome, Model Aero Supplies of Halifax, Model Aircraft Stores of Bournemouth, Scalecraft of Southport, the Skybird League, and Skyleada Models of Croydon. A letter in a June 1942 issue from "Cockpit Models" states that "...it is a great pity that the importance of models was not recognized years ago, as in this we are a long way behind Germany." A September 1942 issue, on the ROC page, states that "Model Aircraft are now appearing more and more at Branches, Posts and in Observer's personal collections. Official and unofficial supplies are becoming easier." By November 1942, the ROC page confirms that there was a "battle" between advocates of 1:72 scale and 1:48 scale and that the 1:72 will win because "...this has been officially adopted." The Aero Modeller magazine of July, 1943 has an ad for Skyleada and Skyrova models which are called "The Spotters Aid, Aircraft Recognition Made Easy" and that these kits "contain Balsa wood and are for sale only to members of the R.A.F., A.T.C., R.O.C., Spotters' Clubs, A.A. Units, or Official Schools of Training in Aircraft Recognition." Other companies making models were The Authentic Model Co. Ltd. of Warrington and Aeromodels Ltd. of Liverpool.
Author and master modeler, V.J.G.Woodason, mentioned previously in connection with photographic models, wrote a thorough exposition of wood model airplane construction during the war, entitled The Art of Scale Model Aircraft Building. Anyone interested in solid scale models is directed to obtain this wonderful book published in 1943. Woodason devotes several chapters to models as recognition training aids; "Aircraft Recognition - The Use of Scale Models" and "Use of Models by Direct Observation" cover some of the British training methods in recognition at the time of his writing. Quote Mr. Woodason, "An accurate scale model aeroplane contains all the essential features necessary for the study if aircraft recognition. Being solid it may be examined in perspective and, being to scale, its appearance is identical to the appearance of the actual machine seen at a correspondingly greater distance.
"Even today (1943) this latter point is not fully appreciated. More often than not models issued to service and other units are stored away like museum pieces or, at the most, are festooned from the ceiling of a room which is out of bounds to the rank and file."
Woodason cites a R.O.C. Club Journal article describing a device for viewing a model at a distance and adjusting the orientation. A spotter's box, used on the H.M.S. Excellent, is specified as is the R.A.F.'s well known Hunt Trainer using mirrors and reflection methods; all of these devices used 1:72 scale models.
He also suggests, in the chapter entitled, "Why Build Scale Model Aircraft," that the maker of model airplanes can donate them to the local Observer Corps, Air Training Corps and Anti-Aircraft posts for training in recognition.
Woodason's motto is "Watch And Make", WAM, or Woodason Aircraft Models. An ad for his activity at the Heston Airport in Middlesex reads, in part, "When Aircraft Manufacturers, Air Line Operators, Exhibition Committees and the Museums require aeroplane models of high quality they consult Woodason Aircraft Models, the firm whose specialised experience and workmanship is unsurpassed - Remember the Name!" Woodason Aircraft Models History page gives additional information on the Woodason models.
Available government furnished, official recognition models were listed in the first issue of Aircraft Recognition with the statement by editor, PGM, that "...silhouettes and models that have been issued in the past have been inaccurate, and replacements are now in hand and will shortly be available." Forty-seven models were listed in issue No. 1 followed up by an additional nineteen models in issue No. 5. Probably the largest collection of British recognition models in England has been amassed by collector George Cox (museum collections are sparse). In addition to his collection, George has listed all the models that he and several fellow collectors have run across, both wartime and postwar, and this list runs to something like 210 models. I will be happy to send you a copy of this list if you send CollectAir a SASE. George asks that if you can add to this list, please let us know. George has contributed his knowledge of the subject to this article.
Ron Crawford, a 1:200 scale airplane guru, undoubtedly knows more about 1:200 models than anyone else in the world; Ron both manufacturers and collects 1:200 scale models and has researched and documented the history of Wiking Modellbau and other 1:200 manufacturers throughout the 20th century. Ron has added some information to the British aspect of 1:200 aircraft recognition models in use during WWII. 1:200 scale aircraft models were made for the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy, most likely by two different manufacturers. These models were designed for use by anti-aircraft personnel and aerial gunners. The Royal navy models were grey metal castings with very limited detail and were issued in small sets of about twenty models that varied in type based on the theater of operations. The Merchant Navy models were limited to the few types most likely to be encountered at sea. Ron says that he has encountered both types, some in raw casting and some airbrushed. Recently, a British WWII, 1:200 scale recognition and aiming trainer set was offered at auction. This boxed set was a "Portable Aiming Teacher Mk.II Pat. No. 10698". The box measured 21 inches by 15 inches and housed about sixteen metal 1:200 models, each on a rod extending from the tail section. Each model has a clear plastic disc representing a rotating propeller, similar to the Wiking models. A hand-held device fastened the model in such a way that is was viewed through a peep-hole and a cross-hair was positioned to teach how to aim correctly. Two pictures of this trainer are shown below; the manufacturer's label can be seen on the bottom of the box, AEROSTYLE LTD., London, E.C.I.
British collector George Cox has kindly provided photos of another example of the Portable Aiming Teacher Pattn. No. 1069SA; this is not a Mk II so I have no idea whether there are any differences when compared to the unit shown above.
Oddly, although the Bassett-Lowke book is profusely illustrated with photos, and has hundreds of ship model illustrations, including some larger scale Admiralty models, there are no recognition models pictured and only the brief mention quoted above. I have found it difficult to obtain much information concerning the British recognition ship model program. Ron Crawford mentions that a number of wood shops made recognition models but that the Bassett-Lowke models were works of art in scales of 1:1200, 1:500 and 1:300. I would appreciate any information and pictures which could be included in this discussion of the British wartime program; a 1996 book by Derek Head has cast light on the wartime programs and covers all of the Bassett-Lowke waterline ship models (see below).
A small booklet, Progress of Transport by Water by W.J. Bassett-Lowke, is a text of a talk that Mr. Bassett-Lowke made to civic organizations in 1949. He used a set of hand-made 1/1200 actual size waterline ship models, primarily commercial vessels, to demonstrate his lecture. Included in this booklet is a catalog of 1:1200 commercial ship models, but there are two pages devoted to wartime models. A quote from Chief of Naval Air Service, Rear-Admiral AL. St. G. Lyster, C.B., C.V.O., D.S.O. is given: "...I wonder if those who make these models really understand the great part their models play in the training of the Royal Navy in their work at sea.
"Ship recognition plays such a vital part in all sea warfare, and as far as my own branch of service is concerned, that is, the Fleet Air Arm, an early appreciation by the aircrews and recognition of what they see during their reconnaissance flights over the ocean is invaluable and I do not think we should be able to reach the high state of training which we get, without the assistance of the Bassett-Lowke models.
"During my extensive experience at sea in this war, it has been very rare for the Fleet Air Arm to make a mistake in the recognition of enemy ships, ships which they could not actually have seen before, but have been able to recognize by being trained on your models..."
The two pictures below are from this booklet. Shown are a set of 1:1200 waterline models, a destroyer, cruiser, battleship and aircraft carrier (I'll leave it up to you to identify each!). The second picture is a 1:300 scale model of the H.M.S. King George in camouflage. Of interest, the 1949 booklet lists twenty-two 1:1200 warship models for sale, the most expensive being the H.M.S. Illustrious at 61/-.
The model shown below is a Bassett-Lowke 1:1200 scale waterline identification model of the H.M.S. Nelson which is in the museum's collection.
An excellent, limited edition book, Bassett-Lowke Waterline Ship Models, by Derek Head, was published in 1996. This book gives a comprehensive history of the Bassett-Lowke waterline models, from the WWI era to the modern day. Photos are included for most of the models produced and the above mentioned booklet, Progress of Transport by Water, is mentioned and photos from it are reproduced. The photo below from page 27 shows the HMS Nelson model - typical of the photos contained in this book.
Recognition training became emphasized in the Services in 1942 with a vigorous effort by the RAF and the Inter-Service Recognition Committee. Recognition training underwent a major change in early 1943 as Americans began arriving in Great Britain. The American "Flash Recognition Trainer", a projection device with variable shutter speeds, was introduced. The visual recognition method of split second identification set to rest the method of carefully analyzing each and every detail of a silhouette or model as had previously been advocated. Models were continued to be used extensively. In 1944, the ROC was to provide hundreds of recognition trained "Seaborne Aircraft Identifiers" to serve with the U.S. and British navy during the "Overlord" invasion.
The Inter-Services journal, Aircraft Recognition, suspended production with the September 1945 issue. In July 1946, a new Inter-Services 'Aircraft Recognition' Journal began, published by HMSO. In the 1950s, the problem of aircraft identification was thought to be resolved and the publication changed to Joint Services Recognition Journal which now covered all aspects of recognition including ships and fighting vehicles (December 1952 issue shown above).
The October 2009 issue of the superb British periodical, Aeroplane, has an excellent article by Peter Davison on the recognition program in England, from WWI to today's Air-Britain recognition contest. It is gratifying to see this subject covered. You can view this article by clicking here. Use the back arrow to return.
Here is a selection of official recognition models covering different materials and manufacturers, both from WWII and postwar (Korean War) era. All are in 1:72 scale. Some of the WWII models were generously donated to the museum by Tom Harkenrider whose father brought them back from England after serving in the 8th Air Force so their provenance is unquestioned. I welcome any additional information that you can offer.
A bakelite plastic, solid model with raised letters "HE. 111.MK V." on fuselage bottom. Model is heavy and is "slick" with no indications of control surfaces, cockpit etc. This is the same manufacturer as the He 115 shown at the beginning of this article.
The British Bakelite models have taken on a cachet from the decorative Bakelite jewelry and household items of the 1920s and 30s which became quite popular. A good example is shown below in a feature, "Discoveries by Designers", in a 2008 Architectural Digest magazine. Shown below is a British Bakelite recognition model of a very early version of the German Do-17 - who would expect to see this in a decorator magazine?
The Brewster F2A Buffalo was used by the British in Burma, Malaya and Singapore and even by the Fleet Air Arm. This British 1:72 scale model is marked "Buffalo"; the U.S. did not make a plastic recognition model of the F2A, but it was represented in the Navy's high school model building program and in the early cardstock model lineup.
A cellulose-acetate plastic, hollow-feeling model by a different manufacturer than the He 111. This model has the raised lettering, "SAVOIA S.M. 84" on the fuelage bottom and lettering under the stabilizer, "STORES REF NR 52/417". Has raised details and a parting line that runs from the wing T.E. to the stabilizer L.E. Fins are glue attached.
An unusual model in shell-molded plastic with clear plastic for turrets, windows, nose etc. (There is also an example without clear plastic windows). This model has been painted and has raised lettering on bottom, "FORTRESS II". This model does not correspond to any plastic kit manufactured by FROG Penguin.
This is a Lines Bros. FROG model produced from "buckram" which I understand is a cloth-like material molded with a binder (sort of like a water-based version of a modern glass fiber reinforced resin). Walt Grigg, an extraordinary wood model kit collector and author of many articles on the subject, advises that buckram was a starched fabric used to manufacture ladies hats and it was molded under heat and pressure. Not detailed and the model has no really thin surfaces. Sort of crude but satisfactory for recognition purposes. Buckram was not exclusively used by the British; the American model company, Ideal, offered a ready-to-fly model, the "Victory", with a 16 1/2" wingspan in 1940 which had a "non-breakable buckram fuselage" according to the ads. Selley-Tex also used buckram for model kit parts such as fuselage, cowl, wheel pants etc. The decal "ALBEMARLE" appears as shown above.
A wood model, nicely made with some detail. A decal, "BERMUDA", is affixed to bottom. The outstanding book on FROG models, FROG Model Aircraft, by Richard Lines and Leif Hellström, has a single paragraph on wartime FROG recognition models and it is stated that some wood models were made but most were buckram. This decal would suggest that FROG also made this wood model. What do you think?
Another wood model, a B24J with no markings. Nicely constructed but the finish is a different texture than the "Bermuda". Also have several other wood models that have differences so not sure how many different WWII wood model manufacturers are represented in the museum collection. Perhaps as many as four or five. George Cox suggested that probably the markings or labels have been removed or come off because all British models were marked. Additionally, George says that the British wood models are probably scarce because following WWII, the British citizens faced economic hardship and privations including the lack of fuel so that surplus wood products such as the models would have been used for firewood. Socialism in Britain with the Labour Party in power following WW2 resulted in harsh economic damage to the British economy. For example, bread rationing in Britain didn't end until late 1951 while defeated Germany ceased all rationing in early 1950!
The following models are 1:72 scale postwar wood identification models. Markings are different on all shown here so could be from different sources.
This wood model was manufactured by the Rowley Workshops. The label on the underwing reads, "52/914 MARTIN 2-0-2 Sc. 1/72 Rowley Workshops". I have some information that they may still exist as a special effects company in Rodley, Leeds, West Yorkshire. Anyone know? The museum has a number of Rowley Workshops models, all very nice. These are smooth with no detail scribing.
This model is marked with a rubber stamp as "WAW 1"; is this an inspection stamp or the manufacturer? Also marked, "VICTOR II MK I 6092 1/72 SCALE". Have a Valiant with "PATT NO. 6078" with a stamp reading "I.W.A.D."
This nice model of the Lockheed "Connie" has a rubber stamp, "L.B.B.LTD.11". Also is marked, "STORES REF 52/882 CONSTELLATION E.B.B.". A model of the B-50, 6039, has an oval decal, red letters on black background which reads "E.B.B." Collector Bryan Brown has provided the information that these initials stand for Earnshaw Bros. & Booth LTD. If you have any input on this firm, please contact CollectAir.
A large 1:72 model of the Boeing B-52. This model was obtained, along with several others, from the Island of Malta.
That's my selection of British recognition models to present you with a few mysteries. Any Sherlock's out there? For more information on the Royal Observer Corps you can go to http://freespace.virgin.net/richard.wordsmith/roc/rochist.htm.
The following article has been taken from the October, 1944 edition of Flying magazine, a special "U.S. Naval Aviation at War...1944" issue. The article begins on page 166 of the 328 page magazine. Imagine getting a 328 page aviation magazine today; although an excellent magazine, Flypast, for instance, currently has 98 pages.
Recognition is all-important when unidentified planes approach a task force at 300-plus m.p.h.
A squadron of planes appears heading toward a U.S. task force in the Pacific. There is no radio contact. If the planes are ours they are probably in trouble and lost; preparations must be made to help them. If they are enemy, a few seconds delay may mean the difference between voctory and defeat.
The admiral of the task force hesitates and turns to his recognition officer.
"What do you advise?" he asks.
"They're Kates, sir," says the recognition officer.
"Are you sure?"
The recognition officer has another look through his glasses. Behind him are months of training and a new but fine tradition that has been built up since the war began by Yankee ingenuity, college psychologists and a collection of practical recognition experts, which includes an ex-hotel executive and the manager of the baseball farms of the Cincinnati Reds. In a few seconds, the man on the battleship lowers his glasses.
"Fixed landing gear - never mind the details - they're enemy torpedo planes," he says.
The ack-acks swing into action. One Kate blows up in midair from a direct hit, another crashes in the sea and explodes. Those that survive miss their targets and fly off in ragged formation.
The Navy's recognition system, made in the U.S.A. and a bellwether for systems used by the Air Forces and ground troops around the world, has scored another victory.
This true story of recognition-in-action today is the rule rather than the exception. But the happy ending often failed to come off early in the war. Recognition was one of the least-known quantities in the entire panorama of war problems when the Japs struck at Pearl Harbor. In other wars it had not been an important factor. Soldiers in the War Between the States had only to recognize the color of the enemy's uniform and begin shooting. A vague knowledge of what the speed of the airplane was introducing into modern warfare was picked up by recognition experts in World War I and a few pamphlets were published. But until the shooting began in World War II nothing of importance was done about the recognition problem and nobody considered it important.
The British were the first to change their minds. They quickly learned the vital need for recognizing an enemy plane instantly and opening fire - or seeking an air raid shelter. Intensive recognition education resulted. Models, movies and instructors were used, with the emphasis on aviation, and civilians were organized under the Royal Observer Corps. Everybody from children through service men to old men and women participated in the training program, which one U.S. Naval officer officially described recently as a "whale of a job."
U.S. work in the same field, spiced by some typical Yankee innovations, picked up where the British left off. Because the Navy usually had first and most frequent contact with the enemy, especially in the Pacific theater, it was the first to realize the seriousness of the recognition problem and to do something about it. By spring of 1942, the Naval Aviation Training Division in the Bureau of Aeronautics had completed plans for training recognition officers.
Up to this time, recognition had been taught by the so-called WEFT System - the letters representing wings, engine, fuselage and tail - but difficulties were discovered almost immediately. It took too long to teach instructors and they, in turn, found difficulty in getting their knowledge across quickly to men in the field. Some of the latter, in typical GI style, thought up a new set of words for WEFT that were neither complimentary nor printable.
An equally uncomplimentary opinion of WEFT was voiced by Dr. Samuel Renshaw, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University, who for a number of years had made a hobby of optics, carrying his studies to the point where he even tested the deterioration of the optic nerves under the influences of alcohol. Dr. Renshaw, co-operating with Navy, favored discarding the WEFT system for a system of psychological recognition of planes. He pointed out that a small boy can tell you it's a Thunderbolt when the plane is a speck on the horizon even though he cannot tell you why he knows it's a Thunderbolt. The WEFT system, said Dr. Renshaw, involved too many opportunites for mistakes and too many delays in hair-trigger recognition. He proposed the "perception of total form" system - designed to enable you to recognize a plane as you'd recognize a friend, without realizing exactly why.
Implementing the educational work which resulted from the Renshaw theory was the use of flash exposures, which gave the student only time to see the total form. Silhouettes were flashed on a screen at a speed up to 1/100th of a second.
Incidentally, the Renshaw theorists toyed with the idea that, bersides training a student in recognition, they would also improve his sight. There are two schools of thought on the subject, the other believing that eye-sight is not actually improved but that the student learns to use his eyes more efficiently, broadening his "cone of vision." Whatever the truth, recognition training was speeded up tremendously and became progressively effective in the field.
This is not to say that progress was steady. As was the case in almost every other aspect of the war effort, time became thhe chief ally of setbacks and failures. There wasn't enough time left in a world war to train all the necessary personnel quickly enough to supply the immediate combat needs. Although every available recognition officer worked until he dropped to sleep on his feet, there was not enough time to train enough men to carry the colossal recognition load during the invasion of Italy - and a tragic number of our paratroop transports were shot down by allied surface craft who mistook them for enemy dive bombers. Recognition of ground and surface equipment, as well as aircraft, had to be taught. And it was found by recognition officers that while the basic psychology of the total form system was excellent, practical application in the field called for a number of changes.
Typical revisions were those made following the return from fighting areas of such men as Lieut. Friedrich Fleig, former baseball farm manager for the Cincinnati Reds. Fleig joined up for action and got it as a recognition officer at Guadalcanal. There he discovered he did not know enough about planes and especially new enemy models. Hating desk work, he nevertheless asked for transfer to Washington to set the informational material aright.
Gradually the werinkles have been ironed out and typical American mass production methods installed. In May, 1942, a two weeks course for 25 A-V(S) officers brought in from Naval pre-flight schools was established at Ohio State University. An index to the lack of emphasis placed on recognition at the time was that this school was to be discontinued at the end of four months. But so many requests for recognition officers came in from the fleet that the work was continued.
Recruitment of civilians was required to meet the demands. By November, 1942, the first indoctrination class of 75 ex-civilians was opened, a 60-day course which eventually was taken by 550 men who are today serving on ships and at air bases of the Navy's far-flung battlefront. Men back from the fleet also continued to receive training.
By January, 1943, the quota of recognition officers was more than doubled, to 1,200 officers - training to go forward at the rate of 170 per month. On graduation these men went to all Naval activities other than aviation, the plan being to have recognition officers assigned to the ship's company of all units of the fleet from capital ships to destroyer escorts, and in shore-based activities.
Another sea-duty bug in the program was that the recognition officer often found time hanging heavily on his hands. Not infrequently his total contribution was a few seconds' work similar to that recounted at the beginning of this article. Beginning in March, 1943, this was offset by sending all officers at Ohio State on graduation to Purcell, Okla. where they had 30 days' training at the Naval air gunners school. A few men were sent to air combat information school at Quonset Point, R.I.
By August, all recognition training for A-V(S) officers was completed after about 800 men had been trained. Refresher training is, of course, continuing.
As time went by a fleet commands recognized the the value of recognition officers, duties at sea were increased according to the ideas of the command. There are more than 400 men aboard a capital ship who at one time or another must do look-out work. Recognition officers have been put in charge of intensive courses for these men. Lectures on the up-to-the-minute intelligence on enemy equipment are frequent. Many recognition officers have graduated into intelligence work or added it to their schedule.
On the receiving end of the information, Naval aviators, of course, are at the top of the list. From the day a cadet pilot starts training until he goes into combat, he gets approximately 175 hours of recognition training. Refreshers when on active duty are numerous and detailed. Surface craft, both friendly and enemy, get almost as much attention as friendly and enemy planes.
In addition to cadet training, recognition instruction is given to enlisted personnel in technical training commands, Naval air gunners' schools, and operational training commands. For keeping these men up to date recognition officers also serve at Naval air stations, aviation free-gun units and Naval air transport squadrons. Groups are, as noted, assigned to fleet commands, including Comairlant, Comairpac, Confair West Coast, Alameda and Seattle. Recognition officers are also attached to the staffs of the Naval air training command, Naval air primary training command, Naval air technical training command, and the free gunnery standardization committee.
The over-all program is under the recognition sub-section of the aviation training division, headed by Lieut. C.D. Coffman, former officer in charge of the recognition courses at Ohio State - and an assistant manager of the Mayflower Hotel, Washington, D.C., before he went into uniform. The program was organized in the spring of 1942 by then Captain, now Rear Adm. A.W. Radford, then director of Naval Aviation Training. At that time the work was supervised by Lieut. Comdr. W.W. Agnew.
Aiding in co-ordinating and disseminating information to the field is a committee meeting bi-weekly whose membership includes RAF and Army ground and air force officers as well as Navy leadership in the recognition field.
Even today the program is far from static. Fraction-of-a-second slides of planes are still "required reading" in refresher courses and to supplement lectures in the field and at sea, but a number of somethings new have been added. Among them are the shadowgraph, moving pictures and balopticans, not to mention a device that only American brains could have adapted to the uses of war - the pin-ball machine.
And daily from the battle areas come comminiques testifying how the program has paid huge dividends by saving U.S. lives and personnel and by helping to destroy the enemy.
Despite the much-publicized transport tragedy dury the Sicilian invasion and the fact that only 22 recognition officers participated, Adm. R.E. Ingersoll reported after the fighting was over that "the efficiency of the identification officers in the operation was extremely gratifying." As a result of the Sicily incident, Rear Adm. Alan G. Kirk, in charge of amp hibious operations then as well as against France, recommended that a recognition officer be stationed on all battleships, cruisers, destroyers, transports and cargo ships in amphibious operations. This recommendation has since been adopted and there are today more than 2,000 recognition officers on active duty.
Scores of anecdotes spice the reports from battle areas. Ther is the one of the U.S. dive bomber squadron leader who peeled off in a contested area in the Pacific which he thought was patrolled by enemy ships only. His target was a battleship. And then he remembered its lines - it was one of our own fleet. Had he continued his dive, death to himself and his companions or destruction of a $100,000,000 battlewagon and los of its crew might have resulted.
Fleig, teaching in a grass hut in Guadalcanal, had one of his students come back from his first combat with a Jap Hamp to his credit. The Hamp had come upon him suddenly but the young American pilot had immediately opened fire. Why?
"It was a Zeke with square wings," said the victor. "I recognized it immediately from the slides we used to study."
Recognition - or lack of it - works both ways. A Jap pilot who apparently hadn't studied up recently sidled up to a Liberator in a "Jake," Jap single-engine float observation plane sometimes used as a dive bomber. He thought he was among friends - until it was too late for him to get away.
One of the most enthusiastic partisams for recognition training is Vice Adm. Marc Mitscher, skipper of the now famous Task Force 58. Admiral Halsey is another.
But perhaps the best example involves a carpenter's mate on a destroyer in the Atlantic fleet. With a battle station below decks, he began to study under his recognition officer as a hobby. He proved to be an expert in short order and today, when the shooting begins, his station is on the bridge beside the skipper.
"Why do I smell vinegar at the crime scene?"
Most U.S. military World War II recognition models were made of injection molded cellulose acetate plastic; the Cruver Manufacturing Company in Chicago, Illinois was the prime manufacturer of the 1:72 scale models. The Design Center, Inc. in New York City made about a dozen models during WWII and the Leominster Plastics Co. is reported to have made at least two models under contract although they were constructed of blow-molded plastic. The slightly bendable models, most molded in black color, have been incorrectly identified as being produced from "hard rubber" by many observers. This faulty belief is not the only myth associated with the plastic recognition models.
Major collectors of these models, museums which have recognition model collections, dealers in models, auction houses, writers, and countless owners of a few models purloined by their relatives during WWII can all testify to the mysterious "melting" models which just shrink or liquify as they eventually disappear into a black dust or a pool of gooey, inky fluid. Some collectors have assumed that all models will wind up shrinking so have sold off collections or nervously watch over their plastic air force expecting it to vanish one day.
A whole folklore has been spawned by the disappearing recognition model syndrome. Home remedies of all sorts, myriad reasons for the melt, and expert opinions abound. As a collector, I became more than just interested in this phenomenon as I witnessed the transformation of a perfectly nice model into worthless dross, unable to arrest this culprit or pinpoint the actual criminal. Can this crime be stopped? Investigation of the misdeed led me to a University of California chemistry professor who offered only his condolences. Why is this chemical felony being perpetrated on recognition models and not on other plastic gizmos? Is it storage conditions, atmospheric anamolies, the ozone layer, or some conspiracy? Should we panic?
As in any endeavor, first we must establish the basics. Unless we know something about cellulose acetate plastic, there is no way an intelligent approach to this "melting" problem of decompostion can be found.
The earliest plastic, celluloid, is well known for its use in early film and is notorious for its flammability. It was first manufactured around 1872 and is still used today for table tennis balls. A substitute for celluloid and its attendant fire hazard was sought by chemists for many years. The reference book, Pioneer Plastic - The Making and Selling of Celluloid, by Robert Friedel, describes the measures taken to find a better plastic. "The first succesful acetylization of cellulose was achieved ...in 1869. Despite the efforts of numerous chemists over the next decades, the acetyl derivitives of cellulose remained purely of laboratory interest until the early twentieth century, when the Dreyfus brothers and others succeeded in solving numerous production problems. Cellulose acetate was also widely used as a fiber (known as 'celanese' or rayon), but it quickly gained a reputation as a nonflammable substitute for celluloid. Its high price, however, prevented it from replacing the older material very widely until the 1930s." The first injection molding machines were introduced in 1934. Note also that another different plastic, the first of the artificial resins, Bakelite, first appeared for commercial use in 1909.
The following background information is from Plastics, by J.H. Dubois, reprinted 1946. Cellulose acetate is first produced as a flake; cotton or wood cellulose is disolved in acetic acid and acetic anhydride with a catalyst such as sulphuric acid (Note that acetic acid can be made by repeatedly distilling vinegar). This "syrup", following ripening in huge jars, is poured into cold water which precipitates small flakes of cellulose acetate; the flakes are washed and dried to become the basis for the plastic. A compound must then be produced. Quoting from the book, "The flake cellulose acetate is worked in kneading machines where the plasticizers are introduced. Acetone is added at this time, and the mass is kneaded until it is worked into a jell-like mass. The plasticizers serve to bring the small flakes into a homogeneous or uniform mass. They also lower the melting point to a workable temperature. These plasticizers are blended to introduce certain desirable properties such as hardness, toughness, water resistance and increased dimensional stability. No one plasticizer introduces all the desired elements, so a mixture of the various plasticizers is selected to give the best balance of the properties that are desired. The acetone which is added serves to dissolve the flake and make the mass soft and easily mixed. This acetone content is kept as low as possible, since it is later removed by evaporation...."
Note the following concerning chemical resistance of cellulose acetate. "Cellulose acetate is unaffected by hydrocarbons products such as gasoline, benzol, toluol or by mineral and vegetable oils. Weak acids and alkalis affect this material slightly, and it must not be used in the presence of strong acids or alkalis. It is resistant to alcohol and ether. Acetone is a solvent and is often used to weld two pieces of acetate together. Best results (This works good for repairing recognition models) are obtained by dissolving a small amount of the material in acetone and using this solution as a cement to produce a firm and lasting bond."
Cellulose acetate is the material used in nitrate dope and even the old 78 rpm records I believe - use them with acetone to make your own adhesive.
All of this brings us closer to a solution, or at least an understanding, to the crime of "melting". The final clue can be found in the voluminous wartime publication, Plastics Catalog - The 1944 Encyclopedia of Plastics. The Hercules Powder Company, Inc. was a producer of basic cellulose compounds including cellulose acetate. Keep this fact in mind as you read the following selected quotes from page 145 of this catalog. "Both chemical and physical processes are involved in the manufacture of cellulose acetate plastics. They are not pure chemical compounds, but rather solid or colloidal solutions of cellulose acetate in plasticizers. For the conversion or colloidalization of cellulose acetate, plasticizers are required. These are generally liquids of high boiling point and low vapor pressure which, in most cases, have a solvent or gelling action on the cellulose acetate. Several types are used, either singly or in combination, the amount and type depending upon the characteristics desired in the finished plastic. Common plasticizers normally used in cellulose acetate plastics include: diethyl phthalate, dimethyl phthalate, methyl phthalyl ethyl glycolate, dimethoxy ethyl phthalate. Triphenyl phosphate, although not as active an agent as the others, is often used because it imparts fire resistance. Now here is the importatnt part. The impact of war has forced a change in the supply of these materials, because of the need for phthalic anhydride for glyptal resins and smokeless powder ingredients. The small amounts of phthalic esters made available to molding powder manufacturers are being extended with glycerol esters, such as the acetins or tripropionin, tartrates, higher glycols, certain substituted phenols, sulfonamides such as ethyl para-toluenesulfonamide, citric and carballylic esters and acetyl triethyl citrate... It takes ingenuity for the supplier to keep his products uniform in behavior, in the face of shifting materials supply." A section on plasticizers further states that, "The regular grades of cellulose acetate, containging 52.5 to 53.5 percent acetic acid, are generally plasticized with mixtures of methyl and ethyl phthalates." Note that the phthalates are on the priority list. All of the plasticizers evaporate - some more than others. A flexible plastic requires that the plasticizer remain serviceable for a longer time; in some cases more than half the plasticizer will escape, affecting rigidity.
Cruver (and the Design Center) was dependent upon suppliers to furnish the cellulose acetate powder (granular) used in their injection molding machines. It is doubtful that any real quality control was used on the incoming powder in that it was being primarily used for a product that was basically expendable - the recognition models. Cruver also made many other plastic products during WWII; see the four-page ad below which is in the above catalog.
I have seen many WWII cellulose acetate plastic items curl up and die from exposure to heat (leave a time-distance computer on your airplane's instrument panel shield, for example) but I haven't seen items such as telephones, flashlight cases, gas mask parts, spectacle frames, computers, radio panels, combs, flare cases, etc. "liquify", even to this day, yet they are all made from cellulose acetate. Model collectors have seen examples of Cruver models which appear to be made from old toothbrush handles, displaying striated color material when the black lacquer is removed. It would appear that Cruver used whatever raw plastic material was on hand without regard to the applicability of certain plasticizers. One nice thing about cellulose acetate is that, once shot, it can be reground and reused - a version of a modern recyclable. Cruver airplane were not alone in the disappearing business. I had a box of 1:500, "Teacher Type Merchant Vessels", Army Air Forces Property, Stock No. 5300-717798-7, which were all made of solid, gray cellulose acetate plastic. The entire box of models disintegrated, warped, shrank and otherwise self-destructed. These models were also made by Cruver.
My theory on the whole "melting" situation is that Cruver used various batches of cellulose acetate granules and some of those batches used a plasticizer that was less than adequate to last over 60 years! It is obvious that the best plasticizers were not available to the industryso you had to take what you could get. All collectors are familiar with the phenomenon of just part of a model melting. Many of the larger Cruver models were constructed from several parts, each of which would have gone through an individual manufacturing cycle, not necessarily at the same time or using the same batch of granules. A good example is the PBY Catalina; it's rare to find a PBY wing that hasn't begun to shrink or melt but I've never seen a bad PBY fuselage. Certainly a heated environment can warp IDs but I don't believe it materially contributes to melting unless the plastic already has a propensity to shrink. I have a perfectly good PBM Mariner hanging from my museum's classroom ceiling; I got that particular model from a Sunnyvale, California garage where it hung from the ceiling for about 30 years - a hostile environment yet it didn't bother this flying boat. Certain model types have exhibited a much greater propensity to melt. To my knowledge, information on specifications, number of models manufactured (or even how many runs were made of a particular model) was not kept so we have nothing today to check against. We are pretty much stuck with conjecture coupled with some science. Of interest is the fact that the dozen Design Center models (a molder's mark of a square with an interlocking "DC" inside) seem to hold up better with few experiencing "melting" - perhaps the Design Center had a better supplier.
There's only one thing you can do with a shrinking model - toss it out when it gets too ugly! No home remedy is going to restore a melter or shrinker. It's not catching like a virus nor treatable. Many models will exhibit a slight vinegary smell even though they're not shrinking or "wet". Wetness is a sure incipient sign of a deteriorating model and is absolutely non-reversible. If purchasing a genuine WWII recognition model, be certain that it is in perfect material condition; broken parts, even warps, can be fixed, but not shrinking. I'm convinced that a good percentage (75%?)of the Cruver models will continue to last well into this century and are excellent collectibles. Many of us have learned the expensive way that deteriorating cellulose acetate airplanes are heading for the boneyard. Replacing a shrinker is a gamble that one should take only if willing to take the risk. Several pictures of "shrinking" models are presented below; some of these are not from my own collection (I've had plenty of melters) but are pictures taken right off of eBay of models for sale! So, watch it out there. The B-17 appears as if it was severely blasted by flak but be assured that this is not a battle scar but spontaneous "melting." For a real B-17 photo showing real damage, click here.
The Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum is perhaps the prime repository and exhibit of "melting" recognition models, although I'm certain the exhibit curators wouldn't want that honor bestowed on the museum. The World War 2 gallery, with the marvelous, 75-foot B-17 mural of the "Thunderbird" by Keith Ferris, was one of the initial galleries to be installed for the 1976 opening of the museum. I have numerous photos of this gallery dating back to 1978 and, aside from the canopy on the Bf 109G-6 being closed from the initial open position, not much of anything has been changed, or taken care of, since then. At the opening, a large display of recognition models was elegantly displayed behind glass on the mezzanine wall, each model mounted on a peg extending vertically from the wall and arranged by country. Over the years, this display, which is open top and bottom for ventilation, appears to have never been cared for - dust and deterioration has taken its toll to the point where I would be embarassed to have anything to do with such a miserable exhibit. I have photos showing the gradual deterioration of many of these models since 1978 - some have crumbled to the point that there is nothing remaining save an unidentifiable chunk of useless cellulose acetate left on the peg. The first photo shown below is a 1978 or 1980 shot of the Japanese "Emily," obviously in fine condition at this point. The next photo shows this model, amongst many which have melted, as of May 2007 - notice the sad state of this model. Several other deteriorated models are also shown in May 2007 photos. It is not unusual for some recognition models to slowly disintegrate, as has been described on this page, but I believe it is incumbant upon the museum to take care of their exhibit and not let it dissolve into this sorry state. Am I being too hard on the museum exhibit curators of this prestigious museum? - you decide. UPDATE The NASM curators removed the recognition model exhibit in August 2011 because of the deteriorating condition; investigation is underway to determine whether any conservation techniques can keep existing, intact models from future deterioration. This will be an interesting study because, as mentioned above, the plasticizers are expected to gradually evaporate over time, so the big question is, how much time? Apparently some plasticizers break down fster than others.
Oddly, the Cruver 1:432 scale "pocket" models, also made in cellulose acetate plastic, don't have a "melting" problem. Maybe because the green plastic was a better formula? Or is it because they are all thin sections?
Postwar recognition models, made in much smaller quantities, by many other companies, weren't hampered by strategic material priorities and are made from a much more stable plastic, cellulose acetate butyrate, although even some of these can exhibit problems. Contrary to a widely held belief that the cellulose acetate butyrate plastic models of the postwar era are immune to "plastic fatigue", I have recently discovered two grey models which have experienced plastic deterioration or "melting". During an inventory of several hundred, stored postwar recognition models, I ran across the first bad "grey" models that I've seen. An AD-5W Aug 57 and a P6M-1 Seamaster June 1957 both having significant decomposition in the fuselage/wing area. Still, a very small percentage loss.
Please use the Feedback Link if you have anything to add to this discussion or would like to comment on the mystery of the Disappearing Recognition Models.
The Eighth Air Force was founded in Savannah, Georgia in 1942. An unusual museum now commemorates the people who made the 8th. Located in Pooler, just outside Savannah near the airport, this museum doesn't dwell on the aircraft of the 8th, but the courageous crews who serviced and flew the warplanes from England. A quick overview of the museum, as presented in the museum's brochure, can be viewed by clicking here. Use the back arrow to return. The museum has a wonderful library with dedicated researchers who provide aid to family members trying to trace the WW2 military backgrounds of relatives. The photos below (2009) show a few scenes involving recognition models, taken of museum displays or library documents. The bronze figure of General Ira C. Eaker shows Eaker holding a 1:72 recognition model of the B-17.
How did the collectible recognition models get into civilian hands? Numerous avenues. Some were "liberated" during the war, many were sold surplus at military surplus stores (25 cents each in a barrel), and many were sold by model shops through the wholesale source, Polk's Model Craft Hobbies in New York and Chicago, who called the surplus Cruver models the "Aristo-Craft" line. Ads for these models began appearing in model airplane magazines in 1944 and continued for about three years. Initially the models were quite expensive for the time, particularly for a marketplace that was inexperienced with all-plastic models of any kind. The models must not have sold well as the price kept dropping the ads into 1947.
Obviously Polk's had a glut of the Aristo-Craft models by the 1947-48 period and tried to move them out of inventory by having an "auction" for dealers. A wholesale flyer was sent out with the details of the "By-Mail Auction" for lots of the Aristo-Craft plastic models (Cruver IDs). One page of the flyer is shown below.
The following pitch appears on the reverse side: "Your chance to name your price for America's leading line of finished scale models, 100% complete - need no sanding or shaping. Die cast in durable, non-shrinking (?!?) plastic from precision molds, 1/72 scale, hairline exactness. Every minute detail of the full size aircraft is faithfully reproduced. Each model is identified by name embossed on bottom of fuselage. Each model has small hole at point of balance so it can be suspended properly and invisibly. For permanent, eye-catching displays in your store window...to build solid kit sales, dress up your cases with completed scale models...acclaimed for educational exhibits in schools, institutions, theatres, civic centers...in de3mand by war memorials, museums, aviation and model clubs...for private industrial and specialized aircraft collections. They last a lifetime and are a never-ending source of delight to the proud owner. For those who wish to camouflage the models or apply official insignia and paint jobs, each model is specially treated to take a high gloss finish with a single application of colored dope."
It is also stated that, "Retailed at fraction of true-production costs because charge for fabulously costly molds were written off during the war-production period when military authorities were buying these in enormous quantities! Now, you can establish almost any price AND ASSURE YOURSELF A HANDSOME PROFIT!"
I wonder how many of these lots were sold? And, what happened to the surplus Aristo-Craft models when Polk's couldn't peddle any more? Please contact CollectAir if you can shed any light on this subject.
Something to ponder: I have no idea whether Polks actually had models manufactured strictly for their retail business or whether these were "remainders". If post-war runs were made for Polks, what was the plastic mix? Better or worse than the wartime formula? It doesn't seem likely that Cruver would have made runs for the quantities that Polks could have reasonably sold - does anyone have information?
Another source of recognition models in the immediate postwar period. Now and then you'll see a nicely decorated model and conclude that a hobbyist painted it - not necessarily so. Several Chicago companies sold "Beautifully painted plastic planes" in 1946. The ad shown below is for The Hobby Bureau from the March 1946 issue of Model Airplane News. Another Chicago firm, Finished Models, also advertised in this same era.
The June 1942 issue of Flying Aces magazine, pictured above, for some reason, has the most complete exposition of any publication concerning the Model Building Program organized by the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics in January 1942. Written by George T. Weider, this nine-page article covers the program in exacting detail; the article reads as if much of it was borrowed from government manuals. A portion of the title page above is just an example of the nature of the article. The magazine pages have yellowed with age but are readable.
If you would like to read or printout this 1942 Flying Aces account, I have put it on Adobe PDF files which can be accessed here. Note that the first page is blank so you will have to scroll down to Page 2 to start reading. If you want to learn everything there is to know about building 1:72 scale pine recognition models for the Navy, then proceed to CLICK HERE FOR "BUILD MODEL PLANES FOR DEFENSE" ARTICLE.
The May 2004 issue of Fine Scale Modeler magazine has an article on the model building program entitled "Pre-Plastic Modeling - How it was - making wood aircraft ID models in high school for the U.S. military during WWII." You can order back issues.
Email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to chat about the museum, call me on cell 408 828-2810.