Airfix 1/72 Fairey Swordfish I
KIT #: A04053
PRICE: $15.99 SRP
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Bill Michaels
NOTES: First release, with decals for pre-war and Taranto Raid


On the night of November 11-12, 1940, the Royal Navy attacked the Italian Battlefleet which was moored in the harbor of Taranto.  The strike, launched from HMS Illustrious, was the first ship-to-ship attack conducted solely by aircraft.  The attack was even more notable for its environs—conventional wisdom said that air-dropped torpedoes couldn’t be used in a shallow harbour.  (It is said that the Japanese studied this attack extensively, using it as inspiration for the attack on Pearl Harbor almost 13 months later.)

The night attack was very successful.   The first wave consisted of 12 Swordfish, while the second wave consisted of nine planes.  For a loss of two planes shot down, the British disabled three of the six Battleships, which was a huge swing in the naval balance of power, giving the British Mediterranean Fleet the upper hand for the next six months. 

The Swordfish on the Taranto raid carried one of two armament fits.  Eleven of the planes carried torpedoes to strike the ships at anchor,  while the other ten carried bombs and flares to attack smaller ships, port facilities and to light the way.  The aircraft armed with torpedoes carried an extra fuel tank instead of the Observer in the center cockpit.  The planes armed with bombs and flares had an underwing fuel tank instead of a torpedo, so the Observer didn’t have to be left behind. 

Charles Lamb served in the FAA from the start of the war until the end.  He flew all sorts of missions against the Germans and Italians, spent time in an Italian POW camp, and ended the war flying against the Japanese as part of the British Pacific Fleet. In addition to “typical” missions, he also flew strikes from a secret airstrip high in the Albanian mountains, and, while based on Malta, dropped spies in Italian-occupied Libya.  He described his adventures in his autobiography, “To War in a Stringbag”.  

Ever since I read his autobiography, I’ve wanted to do one of Lamb’s aircraft.  According to the book, he flew “Q for Queenie” as a member of 815 Sqdn off of HMS Illustrious during the Taranto raid. I went looking through the decal stash to see if I had any suitable markings, and found a copy of the Eagle Strike “Fleet Air Arm Part 1”, which includes a Swordfish from 815 Squadron.  According to that sheet, the 815 Sqdn planes received a quick coat of black paint on the undersides for the Taranto raid.  This made doing Lamb’s plane even easier, as I didn’t have to cobble together a set of serial numbers.


Scott’s preview of the kit, published here on MM several months ago, covers the basics of the kit. Read Scott’s preview of the kit here.

Scott’s preview does a great job of describing this nice kit--  but there are a couple of other things that came to light once I built the model. First off, the kit gives you more than the instructions suggest.  If you build the kit OOB, and use the markings provided,  you can build a pre-war (all silver) torpedo-armed plane, or a bomb/flare laden plane from the Taranto raid.  But. As they say on late-night Television commercials, “Wait!  There’s more!!”

 While not mentioned in the instructions, the kit also includes the parts for the cockpit extra fuel tank – I’m pretty sure this is the first Swordfish kit in any scale to include this. This means that you can build any plane from the Taranto raid--  bombs and flares or torpedo and fuel tank.  

 The preview mentions the clever way the wing struts fit, but there’s other clever engineering, too:

·        Scott mentioned that you can build the kit with the wings folded, but I discovered that the kit also includes a set of special jigs to make sure the center section of the top wing is properly aligned, if you pick this option.

·        The wheels are molded with weighted tires, and the axles are keyed so the flat spot lines up at the right angle.

·        There are little dimples molded in the wings to mark the locations for the rigging- it makes it easy to drill them out with a #80 bit.


The instructions include over 40 well-illustrated steps.   Before you start, however, you should decide which version of the aircraft you’re building, and whether or not you’ll be folding the wings.  I went through and marked off all the sections that didn’t apply.

 Construction starts in the cockpit.  The cockpit is assembled as a separate unit, with a floor and side frames. Once the frame is assembled, it is attached to one of the fuselage sides. I found the kit’s instructions on painting the interior to be pretty accurate, so I just followed them in the cockpit, and throughout the build. 

 The fuselage is made up from three main pieces— left, right, and bottom. The completed cockpit is trapped inside as the fuselage is assembled.  Be careful and do some test fitting- you need to get it in the right place so that the fuselage pieces fit properly.  One trick here—mask the little fuselage windows now, before the bottom wing and its struts are installed.  It is much easier to trim the mask before the lower wing braces are in place!

 In many ways, the kit reminded me of the Tamiya 1/48 scale Swordfish I built a few years ago.   But keep in mind that it is Airfix, and not Tamiya, so the fit and engineering isn’t quite up to Tamiya standards.  (But then again, neither is the price!)  This means you need to do more test-fitting, and some minor sanding to make sure it all lines up.

 Following the instructions, the kit goes together in a logical sequence. But there are places where I left things off until later, to make painting easier.   I got in the habit of marking off each part as I installed them, and circling the ones that I was leaving for later. 

 The wings are assembled from top and bottom parts.  Before assembling, you need to drill out the dimples for the rigging lines.   I tried something new on this model—I “pre-rigged” it.  (I use “smoke” colored invisible nylon mending thread.)   Before I glued the top wing panels together, I threaded a long piece (about 15 inches) through the underside wing part—in one hole, across the wing, and out the other hole.   I then tied the two ends together, and coiled up the excess.  The idea was that, after the model was painted, I’d pull the thread through the wing, getting rid of the part that got overspray on it during the finishing process, replacing it with some clean line.   The process worked very well—when the time came to rig the model, one end of each line was already perfectly anchored in the wing.  (This is a little hard to describe, but hopefully will make sense if you’ve got the kit in front of you.)

Like most biplane projects, I painted the model before the top wing was installed.


 As mentioned early,  I wanted to finish my Stringbag as Lft Lamb’s. I found the markings I needed, with one exception— the fin’s marking should have been in light grey.  I couldn’t find a suitable “2Q” in my stash, so I decided to use the white “2Q” from the decal sheet (intended for the Bismarck attacker).  I figured that, under a coat flat clear, it will be close enough…

To do Lamb’s plane, I painted it in the standard colors as called out by Airfix for a Taranto raid aircraft.  I used PollyScale acrylics throughout. The aircraft had light gray undersides, with dark gray (PS Extra Dark Sea Gray)  and dark green (PS Dark Slate Gray) camouflage.  Note that the lower wing is “counter shaded”—it was painted with lighter versions of the grey and green used on the rest of the upper surfaces.   I used PS Ocean Gray for the gray, but had to mix up a custom green.   

After the main colors were painted,  I went back and masked the model, and then used “Night Black” to overpaint the light gray on the underside.   According to the decal sheet instructions,  this was a temporary paint job, and likely had gaps and missed spots.  (A bad paint job—now that’s right up my alley!)

Installing the Top Wing

Sometimes, I find it easier to decal a biplane before installing the top wing.  But in this case, it found it easier to leave them for the end, after the wing was installed. (If you’re building the model with the wings folded, you’ll need to do your decaling and flat coating before installing the wings.)  When building the “wings out” version, it is pretty easy to install the top wing.   The way the struts are engineered, the wing is easy to install and align properly. 

I let the wing dry overnight, and then it was time to apply the decals.  I didn’t need any of the kit decals, but I’m sure they would have been fine if I had.  I’ve built a few of Airfix’s recent releases, and found the decals to be of uniformly good quality. 

I brushed on a coat of Future to prepare for decaling.  Doing the model as Lamb’s plane made it an easy model to decal—there are no markings on the underside, and the serial number was covered by the black paint.  The Eagle Strike decals I did use went down well, reacting well to MicroSet and MicroSol as needed.   


Once the decals were applied,  it was time to rig the model.  While I had had to deal with the extra line while assembling and painting,  their presence really paid off at rigging time.  Rigging was definitely made easier by having the wing lines pre-installed, as described earlier. 

Once the rigging was done, I went ahead and airbrushed the flat coat.  By waiting until now, I was able to get a flat coat over the base paint and the little touch up spots that every model seems to need, all in one even coat.   The final step was to mount the last of the details, such as the rear gun, prop, wheels, etc.


Highly recommended.  

This is another winner from Airfix—a very nicely engineered kit at a reasonable price.  The kit isn’t perfect- but it is nicely done. Also, it is so much nicer than any of the old kits available in this scale—I think it makes the others essentially obsolete.    

Review kit courtesy of my wallet. When the kit first hit the market, it was hard to find here in the USA. I ended up getting mine thanks to a friend who was traveling to the UK—he was able to pick one up for about 14 pounds.   Since then,  I understand it has pretty much sold out,  but do not despair.   The kit is now available in two new boxings—first came one with some acrylic paints, and now currently you can also get it as a floatplane. 

Special thanks to Pip Moss of the IPMS Patriot Chapter in Bedford, Massachusetts for taking all the great pictures.


 There is a lot of great information on the Swordfish online.

 Charles Lambs’ biography is a great read, and can typically be found from used book dealers for a reasonable price.  I highly recommend it!  

To War in a Stringbag by Commander Charles Lamb US Edition:  © 1980,  Nelson Doubleday and Bantam Books, Inc.  Originally published in the UK in 1977, as “War in a Stringbag”.

Bill Michaels

November, 2012

Correction to information regarding Charles Lamb’s Swordfish on the Taranto raid:

 Recently, I’ve become aware of  some more info  about the aircraft used on the Taranto raid.  Steve “Modeldad” Eisenman sent me the following information:

“According to my references (The Swordfish Story, by Sturtivant and Fleet Air Arm Camouflage and Markings by Lloyd), at Taranto, C. B. Lamb flew aircraft L5B, of 819 Squadron (L5). It was a replacement aircraft, and he had a substitute observer from Eagle.

It appears that the first and second wave were not made up of squadron specific aircraft, but rather a mixed lot due to replacement aircraft, as many others were out due to mechanical problems. So while Lamb may have been in 815 Squadron, he flew a replacement aircraft from 819 Squadron. According to Lloyd, there is a good deal of confusion as to the exact aircraft flown, as latter corrections and notations were made to the official records. It is quite possible that Lamb may have flown L4B, in which case a black underside would be on the aircraft.

Only the aircraft in 815 Squadron (L4) had the underside painted black, all others had the standard S1E scheme with counter shading on the lower wings. The Sky Grey would have been carried about 3/4 up the fuselage. Note that the full codes were not carried at the time. L5B aircraft had "5B" on the fin in black with full height narrow flash on the fin. If the aircraft was L4B, then the 4B was carried on the fin in white, as it appears that the black was applied to the fin and rudder, which would have been Sky Gray, as in the case of 819 Squadron. The black was applied prior to Taranto when 815 Squadron was flying night duties.

The bomb load on Lamb's aircraft was 4x250lb and 16 parachute flairs.”

My thanks to Steve for providing this info.

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