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In the Skies of China (DS7204) 1:72


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In the Skies of China (DS7204)

Ki-21-1a & 2 x Ki-27a

1:72 ICM via H G Hannants Ltd




Here in the West we generally consider the start of WWII to be in 1939 with the invasion of Poland by the Nazis that forced Britain and France to declare war on Germany, and the rest is history.  The Japanese Empire was already committed to expansion from the mid-30s onwards, and by 1937 it has set its heart on China, launching a brutal attack on their lands and people, giving no quarter to military or civilian personnel, with around 20 million casualties and many atrocities carried out by Japanese forces that get very little coverage in the West, even today.  In some ways it was a dress-rehearsal for Japan’s war with the West, fine-tuning their weapons and tactics before they awoke the sleeping giant that was the United States by their attack on Pearl Harbour on the 7th December 1941.  The Ki-21 and Ki-27 were in-service during the early part of the conflict, and were used extensively in bombardment of the Chinese.



Mitsubishi Ki-21-1a

The Sally, as she was known by the Allies during WWII was a heavy bomber designed by Mitsubishi as a replacement for the Ki-20, in competition with Nakajima, who although they lost out on the design of the aircraft, were given the contract for the power plants, as their HA-5 engines were found to be superior to Mitsubishi’s offering originally installed.  A small number of airframes were also built by Nakajima, with a total of just over 2,000 built between them.  It first flew in 1936 and was intended for long-range bombing missions against Soviet and Chinese opponents, first entering service in 1938 in operations against China.  Initial experience showed that the design was lacking in some respects, extending to the crucial oxygen system that was found to be unreliable.  The Ib was intended to address most of the issues, including the lack of armament and changes to the flying surfaces.  It also had a remote tail gun installation, and could mount an additional fuel tank for extreme range missions.


The type was pretty much obsolete by 1940, and mounting losses prompted the type’s withdrawal from front line service, and sale of some of the airframes to friendly nations.  Uses were still found for the type with the Japanese forces however, and the remaining aircraft were used until the end of the war as cargo transports, trainers, troop transports and communications hacks.  The later variants had improved engine performance with Mitsubishi units, some with alterations to the greenhouse behind the cockpit, which was changed to a turret on some, and removed entirely on transport variants.



The Set

This boxed set includes three kits in a standard sized ICM box, which is a top-opener with an additional captive flap on the lower tray, and inside are three kits, which are separately bagged.  They are all re-issues, the Ki-21 a recent kit while the two fighter escorts are of an earlier vintage.  The Ki-21 has its own instruction booklet printed on glossy paper in colour, while the Ki-27a instructions are in black and white, while both instruction sets have decals hidden inside, the Ki-27 having two sheets for both the fighter kits.



The Kit

This is a reboxing with an additional sprue of a recent tool from ICM, who continue to produce new kits despite the difficult circumstances in their home country.  Inside the bag are six sprues in grey styrene, a clear sprue in a separate bag, decal sheet and the instruction booklet, which is printed in colour with colour profiles on the back pages.  Detail is well up to modern standards, and extends to ribbing on the interior of the fuselage, full representation of the engines and a nice cockpit, plus a set of crystal-clear glazing parts.

















Construction begins with the fuselage halves, which have the tail added to the rear, a lozenge-shaped detail insert to make the wing root recess flush, and the side windows, plus an equipment insert in the cockpit area, and a line of trunking that extends from the trailing edge of the wing to the tail.  The cockpit floor is a long part, with a recessed front end for the flight crew, detailed by adding the rudder pedals for the pilot, and the two seats, which both have separate seat cushions.  The twin ‘bow tie’ control columns are inserted into the floor in front of the seats, and near the rear of the floor are two large tanks that attach on pins.  The assembly is inserted into the starboard side of the fuselage, and has a bulkhead fixed just in front of the crew steps under the mid-fuselage greenhouse.  The front bulkhead has a small circular seat glued to the side of the fuselage and additional details with instrument decals, a choice of two clear chin inserts with an instrument panel, gun mount and a rack of bottles added to it during installation, with a choice of two types of machine gun for the belly window that has two spare mags nearby.  The port fuselage is prepared with new (older) tail fin, wing insert and windows, plus ammo cans and forward fuselage details, more racks of oxygen bottles and a side-mounted machine gun.  The fuselage can be closed around the cockpit after adding the main instrument panel, which has a centre throttle quadrant and dial decals added beforehand.  The mid-upper gunner’s suspended seat is also inserted into holes, but can probably be inserted after gluing the fuselage halves together by flexing the support struts.  His twin machine guns are added to a mount on a bracket, with a pair of magazines on top, after which it is fitted into the insert that is then glued into the opening in the fuselage behind the main canopy.  The main canopy and greenhouse gunner’s canopy are fixed on top of the fuselage along with the nose glazing, which has a choice of two types of machine gun inserted from the inside.


Completion of the earlier tail begins by adding the elevator fins from the new sprue, which have separate flying surfaces and rudder panel, then the wings are prepared by inserting a two-part bay in each one before joining the upper and lower halves together, adding the ailerons and landing lights in the leading edges.  They are then glued onto the wing root fairings on the fuselage, which have a lip to improve fit and joint strength.  The wheels are installed under the wings before the engines and lower cowling are made up, starting with the tail-wheel in its yoke, and then adding the two-part wheels to the H-frame main gear, which has a support frame fitted to the front, and a long yoke with mudguard that links the strut lower to the back of the bay.  Four small parts are fixed to the wing inside the bays, and the lower cowlings are made up out of two halves plus a round bulkhead, and a pair of intakes top and bottom, then sliding the lower nacelle over the completed wheels and mating the edges with the recessed lip of the lower wing.  The engines are built-up on bulkheads with the cooling flaps moulded-in, a separate exhaust stack underneath, and a depiction of both cylinder banks, plus the front bell-housing with push-rods, hiding the prop axle inside without glue so that the props can spin later.  The finished engines are covered by two cowling halves and a separate lip, gluing them to the front of the nacelles and finishing them off by adding the three-bladed prop and separate spinner.  The model is completed by installing an antenna post and D/F loop over the canopy, and a curious-looking cranked pitot probe in the leading edge of the port wing.




There are four options on the decal sheet, three in light green-grey, differentiated by their unit markings, one with camo oversprayed, and the other in darker overall camouflage.  From the box you can build one of the following:


  • Ki-21-Ia Sally, 60th Sentai, China, Early 1939
  • Ki-21-Ia Sally, 58th Sentai, China, probably 1940
  • Ki-21-Ia Sally, 14th Sentai, China, late 1941
  • Ki-21-Ia Sally, 105 Hyoiku Hiko Sentai, China, presumably 1942






Decals are by ICM’s usual partners, which is a guarantee of good registration, sharpness and colour density, with a thin gloss carrier film cut close to the printed areas.



Ki-27a Japanese Army Fighter x 2

Designed as a replacement for the biplane Ki-10, it was the first monoplane fighter in service with the Japanese Army after winning the competition between Mitsubishi, Kawasaki and Nakajima.  It was a light agile fighter that the Allies called the type the Nate, first taking to the skies in 1936, entering service over China in 1938, and although it was slower than some of its competitors, its low wing loading gave it enviable agility and turning speed that gave it the edge over the Russian-built aircraft being flown by the Chinese.  Like the Zero that followed it, the pilot and internal structure of the aircraft were unprotected by armour or self-sealing fuel tanks, so when the Chinese began flying upgraded types that carried 20mm cannons, the Nate found any advantage it had previously enjoyed was obliterated, despite the superior training of its pilots and twin 7.7mm machine guns.  A further disadvantage was the apparent fixation of the Japanese pilots and tacticians with flying a turning battle, whereas their opponents, which latterly included the AVG, had changed their tactics to swoop down on their opponents from altitude where manoeuvrability would do the Japanese pilots no good.  Losses began to accumulate after these changes.


The Nate was used extensively over China, where it was used as bomber escort, serving widely in the Pacific area, but when it encountered allied aircraft in the Philippines, it fared badly against the Brewster Buffalo, which was a second-rate Allied aircraft that was itself quickly outclassed by newer designs from American and British manufacturers.  The Nate was clearly outclassed, and was withdrawn from front-line service by 1940 to be replaced by the Ki42 Hayabusa, but it continued in service as a trainer to the end of the war, at which point the remaining aircraft were loaded with explosives and converted for use in Kamikaze attacks, despite being outpaced by every Allied aircraft then in service.


The Kit

This kit was first released in 2006 and re-released a few times over the years, and although the detail is good with lapped panels on the surface, there is a little flash here and there, and what appears to be some mould-damage on the wings, which has introduced a few very fine raised lines that give the impression of hairs lying on the surface on first inspection.  The starboard upper wing tip also has a fine crack in the outer surface that might need a little filler, though the edges appear to be raised, which should make it easier.








Construction begins with the pilot’s seat base, which is a simple bucket with lightening holes to the rear, mounted on the seat back that has moulded-in rear legs.  The engine is then built from the cylinder bank, adding the intake spider, moulded-in ancillary package, and a two-part exhaust ring to the rear, trapping the prop shaft inside the assembly by fitting the bell-housing to the front.  The engine mount is made from a circular frame with four supports moulded-in, adding a V-shaped frame underneath, and two diagonal tubular cross-members to the sides, then setting it aside while the cockpit and wings are built.  The fuselage is joined around the instrument panel, bringing both halves together and gluing them and a cooling gill to the underside of the nose, remembering to paint the cockpit side walls, which have a few ribs moulded-into the interior of the fuselage halves.


The lower wings are full-span, and have the cockpit floor fitted into position in the centre, onto which the pilot’s seat, control column, rudder pedals and twin 7.7mm machine guns are fitted, painting everything before mating the fuselage over the cockpit and lower wing, then adding the upper wing halves.  At the rear the full-span elevators are slotted into the back of the tail, adding the rudder and tail fairing behind it.  The engine mount is inserted into the front of the fuselage, locking it in place with the upper nose panel that is inserted into the T-shaped opening along with lengths of cooling gills around the sides.  The engine has a pair of trumpet-style intakes fixed to the top at the rear, adding a ring to the front, and another ring with stators that slip over the bell-housing, finishing off the engine by sliding the cowling lip over the front of the engine.  The long ailerons are inserted into their cut-outs on the trailing edges of the wings plus twin actuators, fitting an optional fairing to the port wing, and the two bladed prop to the axle.  The canopy is in three parts, gluing the windscreen in position and sliding the tubular sight through a small hole moulded into the front pane, then fixing the opener and sloped rear over the rest of the opening.  The landing gear is fixed, and each leg is built from a strut that plugs into two choices of fairings, or ‘spats’ as they’re sometimes called.  The shorter spats have a yoke with hub fitted underneath, which fits onto a circular part that in turn locates on the back of the wheel, while the longer spats cover the yoke and most of the hub, so have the wheel trapped between the two halves.  The struts slip into the fairings moulded into the underside of the wings, taking care to align them with the direction of travel and each other.




There are four decal choices printed on a separate sheet in black and white, all wearing the same light grey/green shade that was common used in early war years, differentiated by their unit and theatre markings.  From the box you can build two of the following from the box:


  • 1. Sentai Commander Toshio Kato, Nomonhan, June 1939
  • 84 Dokuritsu, China, 1939
  • 10. Tutai, China, April 1940
  • 59. Sentai, 2. Tutai, Nomonham, June 1939






Decals are by ICM’s usual partners, which is a guarantee of good registration, sharpness and colour density, with a thin gloss carrier film cut close to the printed areas.




Three kits in a box the size of one is great for the size of the stash, and the Sally is an excellent new tool, while the two Ki-27as aren’t the newest kits on the block, but still have good detail, although a wee bit of work will be needed to fix the cracks on the upper surface of the wings.  Don’t let it put you off even slightly.


Highly recommended.


Available in the UK from importers H G Hannants Ltd.



Review sample courtesy of




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