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Book Review
Monograph 20 - F6F Hellcat

by: Rowan Baylis [ MERLIN ]

Originally published on:

Hardbound, with 296 pages.
Authors - Adam Jarski and Waldemar Pajdosz
14 pages of drawings
36 original colour photos, plus 4 colour photos of a preserved Hellcat
100s of B&W photos
19 pages of colour profiles
8 pages of Hellcat tail codes and unit markings
A full-colour cutaway of the F6F-5

The text is very well translated from the original Polish and, despite the unavoidable depth and technical nature of some of the topics, provides a very "readable" insight into the development and service use of the Hellcat. The text is profusely illustrated with original B&W photos. I haven't tried to count them but, with usually two or more per page, there must be hundreds. The photos obviously vary in quality depending on the source - some are professionally posed Grumman or Navy shots, while others are hastily taken "action" shots, which take you to the heart of the drama of day to day life on a carrier in wartime - but they are all very well printed on the high quality paper. The size seems just about right too, making them ideal as a modelling reference.

The book is broken down into six basic sections:
Scale Plans
Camouflage & Markings
Operational Use
Technical Description
Colour Section

Development, Plans & Colours
The Development section gives a concise look at the background behind the design and construction of the Hellcat, followed by a brief look at the major variants and some of the interesting offshoots such as the G-61 mixed power fighter (shades of the Ryan Fireball) and G-69 fighter bomber which were not developed further. For anyone looking for a change from the usual fare of wartime Hellcats, there's coverage of the aircraft used postwar as drones and testing Sparrow missiles and, if anyone fancies a conversion project, the section rounds off with a a set of original Grumman plans for an unbuilt Hellcat floatplane intended for use in "island hopping" across the Pacific.

Modellers will pounce upon the plans section. 14 sheets of 1/72 and 1/48 scale drawings of all the major variants, backed up by a multitude of scrap views of details such as the F6F-5N radar pod and a variety of wingtip fuel tanks added to the F6F-5K drones. The drawings aren't restricted to external views, as there is a superb 1/48 scale cutaway view showing the structure and interior details of the F6F-5. The major plans include fuselage sections and wing aerofoils and, importantly, the rivet patterns - because if one thing stands out in the book's wartime photos, it's the prominent riveting on the Hellcat. Of course, that's something of a mixed blessing - with Hasegawa's 1/48 scale kit sat by the workbench for some time, I now have no excuse for not making the extra effort to reach for the riveting tool and template...

Surprisingly, the Camouflage & Markings section isn't in colour. Rather, it's a description of the various painting schemes used during the Hellcat's career, complete with ANA references and their FS equivalents, and some well chosen original photos to illustrate each scheme. The changing size and style of national markings is discussed in some detail, and there's a rather basic overview of the interior colours used. This is perhaps the weakest section as, by it's nature, it only gives a broad idea of the overall internal colours and not really sufficient detail for anyone tackling a model - for that, you realy need colour photos, although these carry with them the danger that they are usually of restored and repainted machines.

The section continues with an overview of the identification symbols carried in the Pacific, along with a list of the letter codes which replaced them when the plethora of geometric shapes grew too confusing, and then a description of the markings worn by the Hellcat in postwar use in reserve squadrons and the colourful schemes used on target drones. The section finishes off with a look at the Hellcat in foreign service, along with FS equivalents of the British colours used. A description of Royal Navy Hellcats wearing overall Extra Dark Sea Grey in early 1945 (before the adoption of the US standard Glossy Sea Blue) is intriguing, so it's a little frustrating that there are no accompanying photos to back it up.

In Service
The bulk of the book - 15 chapters - is devoted to the operational career of the Hellcat, from its début with VF-9 in January 1943 through to the end of fighting in the Pacific. Each chapter contains quite a detailed account of the combat and personnel involved in major campaigns, with many individual actions described in detail. The anomaly among these chapters is the final one, supposedly dealing with the postwar service. Strangely, the text stops short with the end of WW2, although the pictures illustrate the Hellcat in use with reserve squadrons, as a flying bomb in Korea and, finally, in service with the Aéronavale in 1954.

Elsewhere, the photos are well chosen and matched closely to the text. The captions are well written and very informative, with plenty of information on the dates and units depicted. Along the way there are some great detail shots of items like the British underwing rocket packs, personal markings and excellent views of life on a carrier (and ashore on captured airfields littered with wrecked Japanese aircraft) which will give masses of inspiration for dioramas. Of course, no pictorial account of carriers in wartime would be complete without crashes and some of the ones shown here are really quite appalling, with the aircraft literally being torn apart in some misjudged landings and exploding into flames in others. Testimony to the toughness of the Hellcat comes in the revelation that a surprising number of the pilots managed to walk away from horrendous crashes... but all too many were less fortunate.

Technical Description
The book doesn't include a "walkaround" as such and, with photos of restored aircraft widely available in other publications, it may have been a wise move not to duplicate such coverage. Instead, AJ-Press have gone back to source and have reproduced over 70 original photos and diagrams from the archives of Grumman and Pratt & Whitney. Along with the photos, the text describes the dimensions and construction of each area of the Hellcat and the equipment fitted, but it's the photos which will be the greatest boon to modellers. For instance, the cockpit of the F6F-3 is shown from every angle (even looking back with the seat remove) and, although they are B&W, the beauty of these photos is that they show the original installations - not repainted and otherwise changed by later restorers. The only real curse is that a mistake has crept in with the captioning - the numbering doesn't match that in the original photos, which is a really annoying slip (but not neccessarily crucial for modellers, who are usually more concerned with depicting, rather than identifying, the items of equipment).

Colour Section
The back of the book is devoted to an excellent colour section, including about twenty pages of (mostly) period colour shots of the Hellcat in service. The quality of some of these early colour photos is superb and careful study helps answer a lot of question about the wide variations apparent in what you'd otherwise assume to be very uniform standard paint schemes.

Following the photos is a very nice series of colour profiles with a good variety of schemes depicted. The Sky undersides on the British aircraft looks rather blue, but this opens up the possibility of the aircraft being painted by Grumman in the Dupont colours which apparently included an almost "pastel blue". Leaping out among the profiles is an F6F-5 wearing Hinomarus but, before you get too excited at the idea of modelling a captured Hellcat, it's actually a postwar aircraft operated by the Japanese Self Defence Forces in the 1950s.

Rounding everything off is an excellent set of 1/72 scale colour illustrations for all the various geometric unit markings carried in the Pacific theatre until mid-1945. It's no wonder they were dropped in favour of letter codes, because they are quite bewildering, but they make for some great modelling subjects on the plain canvas of overall Sea Blue.

AJ-Press have produced an excellent book on the Hellcat and it deserves a place on the shelves of both modellers and historians alike. The excellent scale drawings and detailed technical and colour sections make it an ideal reference for anyone modelling a Hellcat and the hundreds of wartime photos will provide plenty of inspiration for carrier dioramas and vignettes. Recommended.

Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE.
AJ-Press have released a very comprehensive book on the Grumman Hellcat, which provides an excellent all-in-one reference on the perennial WW2 favourite.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: Other
  Mfg. ID: 83-7237-176-8
  Suggested Retail: 34.50 Euro
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Jan 06, 2007
  NATIONALITY: United States

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About Rowan Baylis (Merlin)

I've been modelling for about 40 years, on and off. While I'm happy to build anything, my interests lie primarily in 1/48 scale aircraft. I mostly concentrate on WW2 subjects, although I'm also interested in WW1, Golden Age aviation and the early Jet Age - and have even been known to build the occas...

Copyright ©2021 text by Rowan Baylis [ MERLIN ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of ModelGeek. All rights reserved.


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