Airfix | Classic Aircraft No. 2: Messerschmitt Bf 109 Versions B-E

Reviewed by Tony Oliver

The Airfix superkits of the 1970's are possibly the pinnacle of Airfix's achievement in plastic model production. At a time when Tamiya and Hasegawa were yet to make their mark on the injection moulded hobby, these kits were the last word in accuracy, detail and of course size!

The series of books published by PSL and in the main co-authored by Roy Cross and Gerald Scarborough were an innovation in their own right at a time when the modelling press was at best 'basic'. The idea of a whole book devoted to your new kit was a superb idea. Of course in recent years the idea has been resurrected and publishers such as Osprey are now producing books that tell you everything you'll ever need to know on such aircraft as the Fw 190, Bf 110 etc.

The series roughly follows the chronological release of the Airfix kits and this title is No.2 in a series which never quite managed to cover all of the 'superkit' releases.

Covering the Bf 109 versions B to E, it follows the format laid out by the first title (Spitfire, reviewed by Mark Proulx on LSP) in that there is a detailed development and technological description in part one by Roy Cross, followed by the aspects of modelling the 109 by Gerald Scarborough. Hans Ebert provided the technical expertise and as stated in the introduction, corrected quite a few of the mistakes and misconceptions about the 109, many from existing publications of the era.

The first part looks into the political climate surrounding the design of the Bf 108 and how it provided data to Messerschmitt for the production of the 109. The Berta is covered in quite some detail, enough in fact to allow the modeller to convert the Airfix E to a B, C or Dora model with the help of Scarborough's later chapters. (Its in this chapter that an explanation as to why the Bf 109 series ceased to have wing gun armament after the Emil is given). Moving through the development of the 109 and how the Jumo 610D wasn't capable of providing the performance necessary to keep the 109 ahead of the competition. Indeed the early models were actually outperformed by the Hawker Hurricane even when the 'outmoded' Hurricane was equipped with a fixed pitch Watts two blade prop.

Technically the book is very descriptive and you really do need to know your Fottinger double sided hydraulic couplings from your silumin gamma! (supercharger variable speed hydraulic drive and the crankcase-casting alloy…apparently)

There is a whole chapter devoted to BoB camouflage and tactical markings, which at the time was the definitive article on this minefield of Luftwaffe colours. However, this reviewer is no Luftwaffe 'experten' and it's more than likely that up to date publications will refute the information published here. Something that makes the whole subject so enduring/frustrating to modellers and historians.
All photographs in the book are mono original images or factory illustrations having that superb airbrushed retouching so characteristic of the German aircraft industry's technical illustrations of this time.

Part two deals with the kit and follows the kit's construction sequence with added detail or alterations called out. Bear in mind this is 1972, aftermarket details were yet to be thought of as a lucrative source of income for enterprising modellers and many of the techniques that are taken for granted today were non existent. So there are no chapters on how to use resin or etched brass, likewise there are no drybrushing technique tips or post shading hints. Actually the skills used are wholly 'home baked' and the subject is non-the worse for this. In fact the 109 design is characteristically 'teutonic' in its minimalist cockpit layout and finding detail to scratchbuild is a difficult task.

What is interesting from a timescale point of view is that these kits have never had the attention of aftermarket commercial details. Whether this is an indication of how good the initial kits were or possibly that it isn't commercially viable to produce for these huge kits is a point for discussion. It would be interesting to perhaps have the viewpoint of a commercial manufacturer on this. Even decals are scarce and although with the advent of recent releases by others in this scale, there are more aftermarket decals available from the likes of Eagle Editions who hopefully will cover these older kits in the future.

From a personal point of view, I'd love to see the series brought back to life and with the new releases from such manufacturers as Trumpeter in this scale, plus Airfix's swansong the Fw 190A, and more recently their Mk Vb Spitfire and Harrier variants, maybe the time is right for some more of these superb books. As a trip down memory lane, obtaining and reading a copy was nearly as much fun as building one of the huge kits again, but saying that, the information contained is still valuable and a worthwhile addition to any reference collection.

Sadly out of print for some years now, they are still to be found on e-bay and in second hand bookshops. Cover prices reflect the condition and expect to pay anything from £5 to £12.00 ($8 - $20.00) for a copy in good condition. (the original cover price was £1.80!) The Spitfire and Bf109 editions (No.1 and 2) seem to be easier to find than the Mustang (No.3) and Hurricane (No.4) reflecting price differences. I paid £6 for the Bf 109 book recently on eBay, but paid a massive £11.00 for the Hurricane title from a specialist aviation book supplier.

Recommended for sentimental '70s kids' everywhere.

© Tony Oliver 2004

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This review was published on Saturday, July 02 2011; Last modified on Wednesday, May 18 2016