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Old Man

Curtiss Hawk I, Canton Air Force, 1933

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The Curtiss company sold aircraft all over the world in the twenties and thirties of the last century, but its greatest export success came in China, and was attended by intrigue and skullduggery which would not have been out of place in the 'Yellow Peril' tales so common in the pulp magazines of the day. Curtiss' first large sale to China, booked in spring of 1932, set the tone: 18 export Hawk I fighters sold, through an intermediary company, to a body in open rebellion against the internationally recognized central government of China.

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How there came to exist in 1932 two governments, one at Canton and one at Nanking, each claiming to be the Nationalist Party government of the Republic of China, is, I hope you will agree, worth some small digression. I assure you what follows is brutally compressed....

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Dr. Sun Yat-sen and his Nationalist Party (Koumintang/KMT) made the revolution in 1911 that established the Republic of China, but were expelled from any share in governing it by Yuan Shi-kai, the premier general of the day. The good Doctor and his Party survived only by the patronage of local generals in the south who resented the dominance of the northerner Yuan Shi-kai. When Yuan died in 1916, and China entered the War Lord Period of conflict between generals for hegemony over the land, Dr. Sun Yat-sen and his Nationalists remained little more than pawns of military figures at Canton.

To provide the Nationalist Party an army of its own, Dr. Sun sought assistance from the Soviet Union in 1924. Part of the price was alliance with the fledgling Chinese Communist Party. While the Communists focused on organizing laborers and peasants, the new National Revolutionary Army came into being, led by Gen. Chiang Kai-shek, a young revolutionary activist who had become Dr. Sun's counsel on military affairs. Dr. Sun Yat-sen died in 1925, and leadership of the Nationalist Party devolved on his old comrade Hu Han-min, with Chiang Kai-shek directing military affairs from his base at the Whampoa Military Academy near Canton.

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In the summer of 1926 Gen. Chiang Kai-shek led the new National Revolutionary Army on the epic Northern Expedition, engaging in turn and defeating (or co-opting) the various war lords controlling eastern and northern China. In the course of this open hostilities broke out between Chiang Kai-shek and the Communists, with much of the political and intellectual leadership of the Nationalist Party caught in the middle. Chiang's final victory in the north was greatly assisted by a populist war lord, Gen. Feng Yu-hsiang, but once Chiang had secured allegiance to his government at Nanking from his last remaining opponents in Manchuria, in 1930 he turned on Feng with assistance of troops from Manchuria.

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When Chiang Kai-shek placed Dr. Sun's old comrade Hu Han-min under house arrest early in 1931, generals in Kwangtung and Kwangsi provinces joined remaining leftist Nationalist political leaders in opposing Chiang's dominance of the Party and the country, led by the commander of the Canton garrison, Gen. Chen Chi-tang. He declared a new 'National Government' existed at Canton in June. Chiang at Nanking was unable to move immediately against this combination of Kwangtung and Kwangsi, as his forces were deeply involved against Communist guerrillas, but that summer it was clear civil war impended. Japan's invasion and occupation of Manchuria, begun with the Mukden Incident of September 18, 1931, made it politically impossible for Nanking and Canton to come to open blows, and Chiang's decision not to resist Japan militarily gave the Canton government grounds to assail him in the name of national patriotism.

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The purchase of 18 Hawk I pursuit ships by the Canton government was no trifle: when the order was placed in May, 1932, these were greatly superior to any aircraft the Nanking government possessed, though by the time delivery to Canton commenced in July, 1933, Nanking had placed an order with Curtiss for some 32 similar Hawk II pursuits. The radial engined export Hawks were broadly similar to the F11C-2 'Goshawk' going into service with the U.S. Navy early in 1933, but differed appreciably in detail, being little more than P-6Es with a radial motor replacing the glycol-cooled Conqueror V-12 employed by the U.S.A.A.C. pursuit already in service some years.

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The Curtiss Co.'s operations in China from the start of 1933 were in the hands of an extraordinarily lithe and ruthless fellow, one William Pawley. It was he who sold the Nanking government its first Hawk pursuits, and the following year, even as that order was still being completed, he was negotiating with the Canton government to build an aircraft factory on its territory, to assemble both Vultee and Curtiss designs. He went on to sell new Curtiss machines to both Canton and Nanking, with Canton beginning to receive parts for assembly at its new factory early in 1936.

By then Gen. Chiang Kai-shek, having driven the Communists to the northwest fringes of China, was concentrating troops in the south. In May, 1936, the old revolutionary Hu Han-min died, and with him went most of the political legitimacy of the Canton government. Gen. Chen Chi-tang at Canton re-christened his forces as 'The Anti-Japanese Salvation Army' and set out in June marching northwards. Little enthusiasm was displayed, and the matter was brought to an end by the defection en masse on July 18 of the Canton Air Force, whose pilots flew their equipment, including fourteen or fifteen Hawk I pursuits remaining serviceable, to fields controlled by Nanking loyalists. Two days latter Gen. Chiang Kai-shek's soldiers were in Canton itself.

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The aircraft and personnel of the Canton Air Force were incorporated into the Chinese Nationalist Air Force, maintained as a separate unit. Its men were never completely trusted by Chiang --- after all, they had show themselves capable of turning on their leader, and for all the use Chiang made of suborning betrayal, he himself valued loyalty above all else, even competence. The Hawk pursuits purchased by Canton which still survived when open war commenced between Imperial Japan and Nationalist China in July, 1937, were expended in combat over northern China, mostly against Japanese Army fighters.

The visible differences between the radial engined export Hawk and the Navy F11C-2 are considerable. The Goshawk had extended landing gear legs, a turtle-back behind the cockpit incorporating the headrest, and a tail-wheel at the stern-post with a cut-out in the rudder to accommodate a shock absorber. The export Hawk I (and Hawk II) retained the original landing gear, separate head-rest, and rudder of the P-6E, though it did employ a simple tail-skid rather than a tail-wheel.

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Accordingly, this model is a blend of several kits. It is basically an old 1/72 Monogram Goshawk kit, but it has grafted onto it the rear fuselage of a Monogram P-6E kit (remains of an Accurate Miniatures re-issued 'double'), while the motor, landing gear, slipper tank, rudder, and decals, as well as much cockpit detail, comes from an RS Models Hawk kit.

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That I have chosen to treat the RS kit as a sort of 'detail pack' in this build should not be taken to indicate I think the RS kit is a poor one; it most definitely is not. Among its virtues is that it is the only kit I have yet seen that does a decent job of replicating the general arrangements of a Curtiss biplane cockpit. It does, however, have some noticeable differences in dimension from the Monogram kit, in wing chord and fuselage height; I do not know which is right, mind, but I have built up several of the Monograms, and prefer their leaner look.

One thing the RS people definitely do get wrong, however, is attributing the plane they provide Chinese decals for to the Kwangsi Air Force. Kwangsi never bought any Curtiss machines, and the markings they provide definitely are for a Canton machine. The red ring around the 'sun in the sky' was the original Nationalist marking, which the Canton and Kwangsi aircraft maintained down the several years of independence. I also think it is incorrect to indicate the machine is painted in aluminum dope. Photographs of Canton Hawks show a deeper grey tone than usually associated with aluminum finishes, and Boeing 281 pursuits delivered not long after the Hawks were painted an overall pale grey. I have finished this model accordingly. I have been informed that 'the characters on the side read (in standard Mandarin pronunciation) Guangzhou Shi Xiao Hao, which is ambiguously 'School [of] Guangzhou City' or 'City School [of] Guangzhou', so their meaning would seem to be that the machine was paid for by funds collected from or by a university or university students in Canton.

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On edit, 25/8/15:

I feel rather dim; I called this done before it actually was. The project had sat on the shelf a good while, hovering just short of completion, and I guess I lost the thread a bit. When wife got back from hospital last month, after an extended stay (long story...), and I could relax and start at least a little modelling, I picked this as one to finish. But I noticed looking back at these pictures I had neglected a few wires on the tail assembly. They are on now, and here are a few fresh shots to repair the omission....

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Edited by Old Man

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Very nice model and a great condensed history of something I knew absolutely nothing about!

Thanks for sharing.

Regards

Jim

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That is beautiful.

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Thanks for posting. That's nice work on both the build and the research. I really appreciate it. Bob H.

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Even if one didn't appreciate the considerable artistry and care you put into your builds, they would still be hard-pressed not to be in awe of the research behind them.

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Very nice work and interesting topic :)

Cogratulations!

Jerzy-Wojtek

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Amazing work in such a small scale and the history behind it was very insightful. Thank you so much for sharing. Lovely build!

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Thanks for sharing this with us. A superb piece of modelling and a welcome history lesson.

Mike

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Superb modelling and an excellent piece of historical information to back it up. Many thanks for sharing this with us.

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Very nice model and a great condensed history of something I knew absolutely nothing about!

Thanks for sharing.

Regards

Jim

Thank you, Sir. Chinese history in the first half of the last century is as strange and obscure as it is important.

That is beautiful.

Thank you, Sir. It is a good-looking aeroplane.

Thanks for posting. That's nice work on both the build and the research. I really appreciate it. Bob H.

Glad you like it, Sir. Thank you.

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Even if one didn't appreciate the considerable artistry and care you put into your builds, they would still be hard-pressed not to be in awe of the research behind them.

Thank you for the kind words, Sir. This is one I have wanted to do for a long time, and I was very happy to discover decals were available for it in the RS Models boxing. I want to do another of these, in service in north China in September '37....

Nice effort!

Martin

Thank you very much, Sir. Radical as the surgery was, the thing really was not that difficult to make work.

Very nice work and interesting topic :)

Cogratulations!

Jerzy-Wojtek

Thank you, Sir. I was very pleased to see you Gamma build recently.

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Superb! :thumbsup:

Thank you, Sir.

Very nice.

Both the kit, and the history lesson.

Thank you, Sir. I have been fascinated by the intricate history of China in this period. Very strange.

Looks great. Very nice finish with the camo scheme and I like the display base.

Thank you, Sir. I am not sure is was a camouflage scheme rather than a protective paint obtainable more cheaply than those containing aluminum powder.

What I have found makes excellent dirt for 1/72 bases is colored grout powder --- my local hobby shop (local no more, alas...) sold small packets for the doll-house trade, and I bougt a number in various browns and greys and buffs.

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Amazing work in such a small scale and the history behind it was very insightful. Thank you so much for sharing. Lovely build!

Thank you, Sir. Some of what went on in China in that period is hard to believe, but it is worth trying to sort it out. It still influences events today.

Thanks for sharing this with us. A superb piece of modelling and a welcome history lesson.

Mike

Thank you very much, Sir. I tried to think of other ways to get the fuselage right, but radical measures seemed most promising.

Superb modelling and an excellent piece of historical information to back it up. Many thanks for sharing this with us.

Thank you, Sir. I generally like to have a good story behind any model I make, and this one has always seemed a real doozy of a tale....

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Really nice Hawk, looks great in those markings too

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I like it a lot. I love those thirties biplanes.

Thank you, Sir. That was a great period for aviation, and one that sometimes seems neglected. You could still get a good argument among trained engineers then regarding what a machine ought to look like....

Really nice Hawk, looks great in those markings too

Thank you, Sir. I agree the grey suits the thing well.

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