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sroubos

A Personal Project - Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina MLD - Academy 1/72

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This is a report of a very personal project I started on about a year ago, and which I recently finished. It is a tribute to my great-uncle, Willem Pieter Adriaan Ditmar, and a gift to his nephew, my father, Eric Willem Roubos.

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Historical background
In the very early morning of 26th of February 1942, Catalina Y-63 was flying over the Banka Strait, north of Sumatra. The PBY had been flying through the night on a recon of the area and its commander, Willem Ditmar, had to decide to turn back to base or continue the patrol and risk an almost certain encounter with Japanese forces. Ditmar chose the latter. The PBY was part of the forces of the MLD (Marine Luchtvaart Dienst) the Air Force of the Royal Dutch East-Indies Navy which had been involved in a struggle with the Japanese for a number of months now, since a Japanese invasion of the Dutch colony was imminent.

At 6:40 in the morning, while the plane was flying just under low cloud cover to avoid detection, the PBY was jumped by two groups of three Ki-27 'Nate's' of the JAAFs 12th Air Brigade. A fight ensued, during which the gunners on Y-63 succeeded to shoot down two Ki-27s. However, the numerical superiority of the Japanese proved too much. Co-pilot Noë was hit, the plane went into a dive and was only with great difficulty brought back under control. Severely damaged the plane landed on the water, where Ditmar ordered his crew of 6 into the life boats. Y-63 sinks within seven minutes, raked with bullet holes from continued strafing.

The Japanese fighters disappear and Ditmar and his crew, with the injured pilot, manage to reach the Noordelijke Gebroeders Island and eventually, on March 3, Sumatra. From there, with canoes rented from the locals, they reach Anjer on Java on the 6th. To their dismay they learn that the Japanese have landed on Java and control most of Java, including the area they have just arrived at. Ditmar and his men leave the injured pilot with a local official for treatment and continue their journey to Batavia, hoping to avoid the Japanese troops. The remaining six men split into two groups. One group is captured by locals and all three men are murdered. Ditmar's group is spared this fate but is betrayed by locals and handed over to the Japanese.

Willem Ditmar was sent to a POW camp in Siam (Thailand) to work on the infamous Burma railroad. He survived the war and rejoined with his wife and his two daughters, who had been detained in Surabaya not knowing for more than three years if Willem was still alive. After the war he became the most decorated Dutch officer in the East-Indies theatre and returned to work for the Royal Dutch Navy and later for the Dutch government in South East Asia in various capacities. He died in Bangkok in a traffic accident in 1982, remaining a legend in our family. This story is based on several post-WWII publications, especially the report by mariner Gerard A. van Schooten, crew member of the Y-63, and on personal communications from family members.

The Kit
Academy’s PBY-5 has been around for quite some time. I think it’s still a fine kit and the only serious option if you want a PBY-5 (Revell has an antique molding which is out of production). The lines of the PBY-5 are captured well, the fit is generally excellent and the recessed detail is quite good, if a bit soft in places. The fuselage is covered in rivets, but they are quite restrained and look good under a coat of paint. The kit does disappoint when it comes to the finer details, a general issue with Academy kits of this vintage: Interior detail is minimal, the engines are very basic and the propellers are nothing like the real thing. As this was to be a special project I decided to shell out the extra cash on some aftermarket parts to correct these areas. I acquired the QuickBoost replacement engines, props and cowlings, Eduard’s photo-etch (for PBY-5A, but many items are of use) and MiniWorld brass .50 machine guns for the blisters.

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Construction
Yes, it starts with the cockpit! Eduard’s photo-etch really improves this area as it really is quite bland. The cockpit floor requires carving up to make the parts fit and the I substituted the horizontal bar on which the yokes sit by an n-shaped piece of wire that more accurately represents the real thing. There is a gap behind the bulkhead which allows you to see into the void of the fuselage, but nothing can be seen with the cockpit window in place so I left it. The observer position has a few PE parts to spruce up the machine gun supports. After installing the six small side windows I closed up the fuselage. Fit is pretty good with the exception of the area behind the cockpit. I had to use some Mr. Surfacer 500 here and rescribe the lost detail in the area.

The wing assembly consists of six pieces which form a middle segment containing the engine nacelles and two outer segments. They go together very well with just a hint of Mr Surfacer 500 required to remove the seams between the segments. I taped off the area to avoid losing the fabric detail while sanding the seams. The nacelles require a bit of filler as well and a few swipes with a sanding stick. The triangular pieces that form part of the float areas on the wing tips were another matter: They left huge gaps with the wing tips and needed quite a bit of filler to get a smooth result.

At this point I had to start considering the build sequence. I usually put as much of the model together before I start painting, but the floats and wing supports were rather fragile pieces and I estimated their chance of snapping off at some point during later construction work was 100%. They also got in the way of masking, so I decided to paint the wings and fuselage separately and put them together only after decaling. I drilled some holes for the antennas and aerial wires ( I always forget to do this and end up having to do it after painting – the pine vice will slip and…), then added the PE corrugated ‘shield’ in the nose. After some fettling I pushed it in a it just stuck – no glue required. To the paint shop!

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Painting
First step was to do the preshading. I have only used this technique a few times and I find it a very easy way to add some interest to a model. On a big kit like the Catalina it is a great way to break the large surfaces, so I set to work and an hour later I had a rather patchy and fearsome looking amphibious creature (I know, the PBY-5 is not amphibious…)! On towards the real painting then. All my references on the Catalina indicated that the MLD planes had ‘milky white’ undersurfaces. Unfortunately, this is not a color any brand carries in their range, so I made my own by taking a fresh bottle of Gunze flat white and adding a few drops of yellow to it (my thanks to FlevoDecals for suggesting this). My milky white needed about three thin layers to cover the preshading just enough to shine through (I’m afraid it doesn't show up very well in the photos). This was followed by masking off the white, and it was at this point that my references started to fail me. Although there are many photographs available of MLD PBY-5s, I have been unable to find a picture of my subject, Y-63. This wouldn't be such a problem if the MLD had been consistent in painting its Catalinas, but my references showed they were anything but. Among the differences are the demarcation between white and grey, the color used to overpaint the orange triangles, the color of the prop hubs, the exhausts, the antennas and the painting demarcations on the floats and surrounding areas. Almost no MLD Catalina is exactly the same, and without photographs it is impossible to know which combination of options Y-63 featured. However, it also meant nobody could prove me wrong if I were to guess, so that’s what I did. Undoubtedly someone will sent me a photograph of Y-63 after reading this and prove me wrong on all counts!

After making my choices, it was on to painting the upper surfaces. My references told me to use ‘Dark blue-grey’, the MLD description of the color. I hit the internet and the consensus was that Dark Blue-grey was actually identical to the well-known Dark Sea Gray, so that’s what I used. On removing the masking I was unhappy with the demarcations on the fuselage to I spent quite a bit of time remasking and respraying, but the end result was very satisfying. I left the finish slightly patchy to allow for the fact that these planes were used in tough conditions. Next up was masking the overpainted orange triangles on the upper wing surfaces and the orange rudder. I sprayed these with Dark Sea Gray with some black in it (yes, I’m aware this is cheating – I should have used lightened DSG on the whole plane and ‘fresh’ DSG on the triangles…). The little V-shapes on the fabric area of the wing were masked and sprayed yellow. On Revell’s PBY-5 kit these are supplied as decals in red but on a number of my photographs they very clearly have a light color that really contrasts with the dark color of the wing, so I decided on yellow. I think it looks goods, it adds some color to the plane but at the same time blends in pretty well.

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I polished the surface with a 6000 grit micro mesh cloth, then applied a few light coats of Future on the areas that would receive decals, which are few. Both Dutch Decal and FlevoDecals have sets that include the PBY-5, but FlevoDecals very importantly adds a full set of serial numbers, so it was easy to go beyond the included versions and create Y-63. These are some of the best decals I have worked with; there is virtually no carrier film around them. I only used some MicroSol and they settled beautifully into the panel lines and rivets.

The horizontal stabilizers were also painted in this stage. Test fitting had shown they fit very well, and as they are large I decided to leave them off until the end of the build so they would not get in the way.

I neglected to attach the cowlings before painting the wing assembly. Silly, as I had to respray the demarcation a few times to get it to line up exactly with the nacelle that is attached to the wing. While I had acquired QuickBoost’s cowlings, I ended up not using them as their diameter is about 2mm smaller than the nacelle! Photographs clearly show they are the same width. I don’t know how an aftermarket part can get it so wrong. I ended up using the kit parts, rescribing the very soft detail on them and they ended up looking perfectly fine. In future I will do a bit more research before buying what is supposedly a ‘direct replacement’ upgrade part…

Construction continued
With the main assemblies completed I returned to the smaller parts. Still lots to do! The floats required a lot of clean up: The idea is that you insert the thin supports before you glue them together, catching them between the float halves. This I felt was a recipe for disaster, and in addition would make cleaning up the very obvious seam a major pain. However, my solution was far from perfect! I cut off the vertical main support from the floats themselves. This allowed me to clean up the seam on the floats, as well as the sink marks on the supports. So far so good, but it did leave me with a nasty butt joint to attach the two together again. They would break a number of times throughout masking and attaching them to the wing in the days ahead…

On studying a movie I found of the PBY-5s in use with the MLD I noticed that they carried not the rather standard single .50 cal in each blister (which I had acquired already) but a dual .303 Browning setup. The .50 cals went in to the spares box. It was an opportunity to reuse some of the PE Eduard had kindly provided to spruce up the kit parts (in combination with plastic card), and I got some Master brass .303 barrels to make the dual setup more convincing. I used a similar combination of Eduard PE, card and Master brass for the front gun. The Eduard PE for the blisters is really meant to represent .50 cals but no one will know. Right? Right.

Ok – there is no way around it – you are gonna have to attach that wing to that fuselage! I’ve never been lucky with models that feature spindly supports, and this kit would be no exception. It started off fairly well – the fuselage fits perfectly into the central recess in the wing. Pleased with myself, I forgot to do the obvious (can you guess what it is?) and went on towards the part I dreaded most: The supports. I started on the starboard side. Not a problem – perfect fit! Port side then, and that’s where it all went wrong: Both supports were too short by over 2mm. I slapped myself for not checking alignment after gluing the wing on top of the fuselage. I checked, corrected, checked, corrected, checked, measured, corrected, in the process breaking off all four of the supports again. After finally getting the right alignment I decided that it would be a good idea to let the glue set for a night before continuing. The next day I attached the supports again. Starboard, again, not a problem. Port? Would you believe it? Still a 2mm gap! I checked alignment again, and, satisfied that that was not the problem, proceeded to flood the gap between the supports and wings with a mix of superglue, Mr Surfacer and Tamiya liquid cement. My concoction created a permanent bond (probably the strongest on the entire model!), and after two days of sanding, cleaning, respraying, and more sanding, cleaning and respraying, I was very proud and happy with my now winged Catalina!

Final Construction
Quite a lot of this really. Main challenge were the cowlings – the use of the resin engine means you can’t use the mating surface on the nacelles as they are too deep and I had to rely on gluing the circumference of the cowlings instead. This, it turned out, was a lousy idea as the weight of the resin engines meant the thin mating surface did not provide enough strength to glue them properly to the nacelles. I decided to create a new mating surface using the back of the resin engine blocks. For this I had to remove the half-circle shaped areas on the nacelles, and by building up the layers using thin plastic sheet I finally got a nice, big, smooth mating surface. All my efforts had resulted in some spilled glue so some more respraying was required.

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A final piece of aftermarket I used were Red Roo’s fishtail exhausts. These are cast in resin and look quite good, although they are not as crisp as some Czech items of this kind. I had to sand the attachment points quite a bit to get a good fit to the engine nacelle. The fishtails are a bit of conjecture from my side again; I know from photos that some MLD PBYs had them, and they make the plane look a bit different, so there we go. Other bits and bobs went on quite easily; stabilizers, antennas, wires, machine guns, blisters, turret, fuel ejection pipes. I sprayed the entire kit with a mixture of 80/20 Vallejo matt and Future, and removed the Montex masking (great item, no-brainer on a kit like this) on the clear parts. The final items on the to do list were the PE wind shield wipers (attached with Future) and some Little Cars lights to represent the landing lights. They were taped over with clear cellotape to represent the glass. After some touch up I had a completed PBY!

Conclusion
Academy’s PBY-5 is still an excellent kit. With a bit of aftermarket it can be turned into a great kit, and it really has no significant vices to speak of. I really enjoyed this build from start to finish. After a long car and boat journey from Norfolk to The Netherlands, the revived Y-63 made it to my parents' house where it currently has a place of honor in the living room. I'm very happy with the result and so is my dad!



References
Bosscher, P.M. (1990) De koninklijke mariene in de tweede wereldoorlog. Part 3. Van Wijnen, Franeker, 490 pp.

Geneste, W.J. J. (1992) MLD-er met twee bronzen kruizen. Mars et Historia 26(3): 57-61

Meijer, H. (2008) Voor dapperheid onderscheiden. Nieuwsbrief Vrienden Legermuseum 16(1): 12-13

Postma, T, Visser, G., Van Schooten, G.A. (????) De Catalina Y 63 door de Jappen neergeschoten. http://www.visser-maritiem.nl/Catalina%20Y%2063%20%20(1).html

Womack, T. (2006) The Dutch naval air force against Japan: the defense of the Netherlands East Indies, 1941-1942. McFarland & Company, Jefferson, NC, 207 pp.

Edited by sroubos

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A very fine model and an extremely interesting back story,..thanks for sharing them both with us,

Cheers

Tony

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Crackin build and a great background, thanks for sharing.

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More than a mere model, tremendous project and tribute!

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Nice build. I enjoyed reading your post, and the video was fascinating.

Cheers.

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I love the history to this build!

Great build, I do like the Catilina in continental European colours.

Ben

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Superb build with a great and intresting story,very fitting peice, great job

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An excellent build and a very splendid tribute.

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I love the story, the model and the fact that you got it from Norfolk, Virginia to the Netherlands by boat. That's impressive :P

What I liked most though is the video. That was absolutely splendid !!

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superb build,made that little bit better by the story that goes with it

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As others have said the history really adds the value. I think it looks simply amazing. It looks quite a size, just how big is it?

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Very nice job, but an equally impressive and fascinating post!

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I find these posts incredible, humbling and inspiring......all at the same time

Thank you so much.

Amazing story.....wonderful model. Bravo

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Fantastic story, great to hear the personal side of a build - and a fabulous build to go with it too!

That looks wonderful - I'd love to see some more photos of it to be honest.

Top work...

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Baie interessant geschiedenis, it made for a very enjoyable read.

Thank you for sharing.

Cheers,

Mike

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Thanks for the reactions folks! It was a lot of fun to build this model for obvious reasons. I appreciate the kind words!

As others have said the history really adds the value. I think it looks simply amazing. It looks quite a size, just how big is it?

It is quite big, I usually build single-engined fighters and small twins. It's 30cm by 45cm wide I'd say.

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Outstanding work, the kit itself is a cracker especially in a colour scheme I was unaware of the story, is wonderful a very fitting tribute to the whole crew

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