Picture this: 1944. Early morning. A distant, lonely Pacific isle, home to a few squadrons of fighters and reconnaissance aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Suddenly, shells begin to explode along the coral sand airfield, launched by dozens of U.S. ships hovering off the coast a few miles. With little warning, much of the squadrons of planes parked along the makeshift runway lay broken and burning, while Japanese soldiers and airmen race into the jungles and hills to fight another day. The invasion has begun. Soon, countless numbers of U.S. Marines will land and sweep through the island, followed by the ubiquitous SeaBees (Construction Battalion) and their thousands of tons of equipment. The smoldering hulks are pushed aside, as scores of men begin the laborious work of assembling the Marsden Matting runway. Soon, the Allied bombers will arrive to call the base their own. Such was the island-hopping strategy that largely brought the Pacific War to a close the following year.

The scene has been set, and was accomplished with the newly-retooled 1/72nd scale Hasegawa A6M2 Zero, their Willys Jeep, Preisser Luftwaffe figures, the spares box, and a little ingenuity.

The most challenging aspect of putting this diorama together was portraying the thin sheet metal of the aircraft in a fairly convincing manner. A Dremel Moto Tool with a grinding tip and tiny drill bits, a jeweler's saw with extra fine, eensy-weensy-toothed blades, Exacto knives and files, not to mention about a half-gallon of Maalox were all it took.

First, itty-bitty holes were drilled in the four corners of the panels and skeletal sections intended to be opened. Threading the saw blade through one of the holes, then cutting through to all four corners was the next step. After doing some clean-up and squaring of the panels with files, the Moto Tool was carefully used to grind the plastic to paper thinness. The canopy was handled in the same way.

Painting was the next challenge, and the results were quite unexpected. Spraying it the base color of Humbrol's N1 Green mixed with British Dark Green gave a generally pleasing result, but didn't possess the realism of scale I wanted to achieve. I decided to try to portray separate panels that were pronounced in photos of weatherbeaten aircraft. Initially, various large panels were masked off and a lighter mix of the base coat was sprayed on. The tape was removed, and very thin strips of tape were applied across and along the wings, as though a fine net was being applied. Various other panels were then masked off and a very light coat of heavily-thinned light gray was wisped over the unmasked areas. The subtle differences in the various panels added a significant amount of authenticity to the finished display. The National Insignia (Hinomaru) were also masked and sprayed on.

Small, simple vignettes within a diorama add character and holds a viewer's interest. Two were added to this diorama because of the stark nature of the white sand and fire-damaged palm trees. The first, containing the Willys Jeep was pretty straightforward in construction and painting. The roof was fashioned from Kleenex tissue that was cut to shape, moistened with a mixture of water and white glue, then placed over a makeshift frame constructed from stretched sprue that had been glued in place. A side view mirror was also made from stretched sprue and added to the driver's side. The smoking figure, which stands a little under an inch tall, is made up of eight different parts that were cut from various Preisser Luftwaffe figures, glued in place, filled and sanded smooth, and then carefully hand-painted. The perforated landing strip, or "Marsden Matting" is from Verlinden.

The second vignette shows a soldier leaning on the remains of an engine from another unfortunate A6M2 Zero. The figure required little modification, but the engine was a different matter. It was taken from the earlier Hasegawa A6M2 Zero release (a bit cruder but still quite attractive.) The engine was detailed with bits of plastic, wire, and model railroading parts to mimic the complexities of these machines. It was then placed in the cowling that was cut along the hinge lines and slightly opened for added realism. The lower propeller blades were bent using a carefully-applied match flame, then sanding them down to their original thinness, but are now hidden under the "ever-shifting sands."

What continues to attract me to this hobby is the great sense of accomplishment one gets after a diorama is completed. Putting one together takes a lot of planning, skill, patience and determination to achieve the expected result. We all can develop these necessary traits if we only choose to.

Choose to.

 

Copyright 2001 Dennel · All Rights Relinquished
dennis@studium.com