Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Mitsubishi Ki-51 "Sonia" - modelling options #1 - 44 Sentai

If you care about historical accuracy and you don't paint markings yourself but rely on decals, here's what's out there on the Mitsubishi Ki-51 "Sonia".
Let's start with the 44 Sentai
The unit was organized in July 1939 with elements from the 3rd Daitai, 18 Dokuritsu Chutai and the 45 Sentai. In September 1940, the unit was reorganized, the 18 Dokuritsu Chutai was reassigned and the 17 Dokuritsu Chutai joined in. The unit came to be organized with the 1 chutai being equipped with "Sonia", and 3 chutai with Tachikawa Ki-36 "Ida".
During the Battle of Changsha, in 1942 the unit was equipped with one chutai with eight "Sonias" and two "Ida" chutai with five aircraft each. So, in general the unit never had many aircraft in its strength. 

The 44 Sentai used a small hinomaru with a white surround as its tail marking and various combinations of fuselage bands and tail curved lines and bands indicating different shotai and personal aircraft. The following illustration by Nohara Shigeru featured in Maru Mechanic shows one such aircraft from the unit.

There are a few videos featuring 44 Sentai "Sonias".
The first one is dated September 1941 and shows 44 Sentai "Sonia" attacking supply barges and shipping on the Yangtze River.
Although not of the best quality, we can make out the unit marking, the band(s) on the fuselage and on the tail. 
The aircraft below in the foreground seems to have no band on the tail and a white and possibly yellow band on the fuselage.
While this time the aircraft in the foreground has a white band on the fuselage and a curved red line on the tail. Note that all "Sonia" have the older shorter spinner. 

Another video dated October 1941, features "Sonia" and "Ida" attacking enemy positions during the Battle of West Hubei.
The "Sonia" in the begining of the clip taking off, has a thick yellow band on the tail and a white band on the fuselage.

A third video of th unit can be seen in an older post, here.  
A still shows two "Sonias" in the background, one with a red and a white band on the fuselage and a red band on the tail and the other with a red band on the tail and one white band on the fuselage.

There are a small number of very high quality photos featuring 44 Sentai "Sonias". Let's see some close-ups.
Probably yellow (or red) bands on the tail, one red band on the fuselage of the plane in the foreground, two red one white on the plane in the background. 

Yellow and white band on the tail, white band on the fuselage.

White and red band on the tail, white on the fuselage.

This aircraft is the subject of the Nohara illustration above.

Yellow and red band on the tail, but also notice the aikoku insrciption separating the white fuselage band.

No tail bands, only one white on the fuselage.

In the photos below there are two different aircraft. One with a yellow and white band on the tail, the other with a red and white band. Note that none of the aircraft in the clips or in the photos have fuselage hinomaru.

Based on the above photos, and most probably not having access to the news clips, Akimoto-sensei proposed in Maru Mechanic that the cowlings of the above "Sonias" had this curious paint job. You can find artwork on the net showing 44 Sentai "Sonias" with such cowlings, sometimes in red or black.
He also asserted that the some top areas of the wings were in white. Here's a photo showing the darker areas on the cowling and the white wing as well as the artwork.
Unfortunately the cowling darker areas are just shadows. As for the white wings I'd like to present the following two very short clips.
Here's a still showing two 60 Sentai "Sally" bombers with white on their wings. Notice how uneven the white areas are on the port and starboard wings.
And the second clip.
The "Sallys" fly over Tokyo and they are from the Kumagaya school.
In this case all the top surfaces of both wings look white, but not the front of the cowling.
Based on the evidence presented in the above clips, I believe that unfortunately the 44 Sentai "Sonias" did not have any wings painted white but sleet or ice or something similar has turned these wings areas to look white. 

As we saw in the previous post, Wingsy and Hasegawa have provided kits and decals for 44 Sentai "Sonias" with the above schemes and recommend the wings to be painted white. I leave it to the modeller to decide.

Ofcourse all these hairyokushoku "Sonias" with the multi-color bands were gone when the unit started applying camouflage on their aircraft. Below is an example from Model Art #533.

Below is a classic 44 Sentai "Sonia" with an aikoku inscription.
Rising Decals provide decals for this aircraft in their 1/48 set and recommend some short of a two-tone camouflage.
The particular aircraft is the subject of the box art of the much older Hasegawa kit in 1/72.
And is included as an option with accompanying decals.
Here's a close-up of the above photo, of much higher quality and resolution.
Call me conservative, but I do not see any major differences in tonality. It looks to me that the same paint has been applied with only a small variation here and there, very common to all Japanese aircraft that had seen combat. At best, perhaps the areas around the cockpit where the rear machine gunner climbed into the cockpit or were more weathered, were repainted with fresh paint and as a result they look a bit darker. But nothing as dramatic as Hasegawa suggests in the instructions above. Interestingly the nose of the aircraft is very weathered...
...which I think supports my suggestion that the darker areas on  the fuselage and tail are just patches of fresh paint.
There is also this classic photo with blothes, a model of which you can build by using the tail marking of the Rising Decals set for the above aircraft. Let's remember that "Sonias" left the Mitsubishi factories always in overall hairyokushoku; never unpainted like the Kawasaki "Hien".
Note also that all the cowlings have not been painted with dark anti-glare paint, even the aircraft in the photo above. I have seen "Sonia" models with black cowlings and, unfortunately, this detail is not correct. 

Friday, 16 October 2020

Mitsubishi Ki-51 "Sonia" - Wingsy pt. 3

The third and latest release by Wingsy has the title "D5-06 IJA Type 99 Ki-51 “Sonia” at other services 1/48" and is the following.
It seems to have decals for 10 (!!!) aircraft.
Let's start with the "Sonias" of the Manchukuoan Air Force (MAF).
Neither is historically accurate. They are more like what-ifs. Yes, the MAF used these tail markings, but the top was on a gokoku (the Manchukuo version of aikoku/hokoku) Tachikawa Ki-9 "Spruce" and the bottom on a Kawasaki Ki-32 "Mary". 
Why did that happen? Because "Kora models" purchased a copy of our "The Eagles of Manchukuo" book (thank you Kora for the support), and decided to put it into use. 
Good for them, but there are zero historical records, of any kind, to support the suggestion that MAF was equipped with "Sonia". Zero. Would help to build nice, unusual what-if models though. 

"Sonia" in Nationalist Chinese service. 
Personally I have not seen any photos of "Sonia" in these markings. I have seen Mitsubishi Ki-30 "Ann" (check "Broken Wings" p.149) but "Sonia...no. I don't know if any new photos have surfaced. If you do, leave a comment.

"Sonia" in Communist Chinese service.  
Again I have not seen any photos of "Sonias" with such markings. If you have, leave a comment. Did the communists operate "Sonias"? Well...

It seems the idea behind the above schemes is that if they had "Marys", "Anns" and "Idas", then they should probably have had "Sonias" too. A suggestion that makes sense, but without any form of historical documentation it falls into the what-if category.  

French "Sonias"
Yes, at least the bottom one is correct but the real aircraft would be nowhere as clean as depicted in the illustrations.

Indonesian "Sonias"
These two are the only 100% historically accurate schemes but they need a lot of weathering.

Mitsubishi Ki-51 "Sonia" - Wingsy pt. 2

The second "Sonia" kit released by Wingsy has this beautiful box illustration.
It depicts an aircraft flown by the 44 Sentai.

It has been released by Hasegawa in 1/72 in a limited edition kit with aeromaster decals.

The second scheme option is of an aircraft flown by the 83 Independent Chutai.

The third option is of one of the aircraft of the 64th Shimbu-tai. I built a model of this aircraft with details about the unit, HERE.

And the final option is an aircraft of the 6th Sekicho-tai.

All the above options are mostly accurate.

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Mitsubishi Ki-51 "Sonia" - Wingsy pt. 1

Our good friend Jan Kanov sent over a heads-up on a new release of their Mitsubishi Ki-51 "Sonia" in 1/48, by the Ukranian company Wingsy Kits, so I think it's a good chance to take a closer look at the markings and color schemes they offer. I have not owned a kit from this company so I will not comment on the quality of the plastic parts, their fit etc.
Although I have not communicated with them to confirm my suspicions, it is my general impression that Wingsy simply copied and tried to improve past "Sonia" kit releases without making any actual real research and, ofcourse, without having first consulted our Eagle Eye publication. Check HERE.
All Wingsy images are from their site.

Their first release was in 2019.
The box art is really stunning...
...but unfortunately is incorrect.
It depicts an aircraft of the 27 Sentai, 1 Chutai which used a tsubame (swallow) as their chutai marking. Here's the artwork from the Wingsy site.

Arawasi was the first to feature this particular aircraft in issue #8, Jan-Mar 2008, of our magazine.
Mark Rolfe had created artwork depicting the aircraft like this.

Hasegawa obviously got hold of our magazine and released this kit
In the very next issue of our magazine we apologized for the mistake and included a rough illustration of how the camouflage should look like.
From the first publication of our Eagle Eye, we featured artwork by Watanabe Rikyu, no less, with the correct depiction
The late Watanabe-san was particularly happy to create this side view especially for our publication. He had said: "I've created a lot of artwork of Navy planes for Bunrindo, so I'm happy to do this for you guys since it's a plane of the branch I served with".

The second option in the first Wingsy kit is the following...
...depicting an aircraft serving with the 28 Sentai.
Although Akimoto mentions that the 2nd Chutai unit was equipped with "Sonia" as well as Ki-4s and Ki-30s he explains that the marking was red with a white surround.

The third scheme is the following...
...depicting an aircraft of the 6 Sentai.
According to Akimoto the unit was indeed equipped with "Sonia" but changed markings at least 4 times in their history. The particular marking was used from around 1943.

The last one is an aircraft flown by the Hokota Army Flying School, not the "Flying School Ibaraki".
There are many photos of Hokota "Sonias" and therefore this particular scheme is perfectly correct although rather basic.

A more interesting Hokota "Sonia", and other interesting schemes and markings, can be found in the Rising Sun decal set 48-029 "Guntei" Japanese Army Assault/Reconnaissance Aircraft Ki-51 "Sonia" in 1/48.