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World War II. The year is 1943. Early morning on 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 a few miles off the coast. With little warning, many of the 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 in 1/72nd scale using the 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 burnt and bent, 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, using the old photograph above as a reference point, itty-bitty holes were drilled in the four corners of each the panels and skeletal sections I planned on opening. Threading the saw blade through one of the holes, I then cut through to all four corners. 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, then cleaned up again with an Exacto knife. The canopy was handled in the same way.

The interior of the cockpit and engine compartment were detailed with bits of plastic and wire for added realism.

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 weather beaten aircraft. Initially, various large panels were masked off and a lighter mix of the green base coat was sprayed on. The tape was removed, and then 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, first a circle of red, then masking the center to spray the white surround. The cowling was sprayed black with a touch of navy blue, while leading edge ID bands are deep yellow.

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 plastic 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 figure with the cigarette, which stands a little under an inch tall, was 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 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 sand.

The perforated landing strip, or "Marsden Matting" is a product from Verlinden and was added over a gray area on the base that was sprayed the same color as the sand, which in turn is made up of fine rairoad ballast.

Palm trees which further add a tropical atmosphere to the scene were added as a final step. In spite of the fact that pre-made palm trees in plastic, thin etched metal and natural materials were available commercially, I decided to make my own for added realism. Thin branches were sanded smooth, lightly scribed with an Exacto blade then painted light gray began the process. Then, fronds were formed from thin paper ovals that were folded, carefully sliced in thin strips, and then each alternating strip was removed. A thin wire was glued along the center of each, and then the frond was formed through gentle bending into a somewhat realistic leaf. These were then sprayed green (with a darker green underside) and gloss overall. Finally, these were glued to the top of the trunk into a drilled hole for the wire from each palm frond.

The base is a basswood plaque measuring 12"x12" that is stained a dark walnut color.

This diorama project took over 250 hours to complete. The result is quite a convincing three-dimensional photograph of what the Marines witnessed across many islands of the Pacific during World War II.

Diorama by Dennis Nowicki


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