ICM 1/72 Tupolev SB 2M-100A Kit Review

Tupolev SB 2M-100A
Tupolev SB 2M-100A

Kit: ICM 72162 1/72 SB 2M-100A

Price: £15.41 Available from Amazon UK (Model Hobbies)

Decals: Four Options

Reviewer: Richard Reynolds.

History:

 The Tupolev ANT-40 was a high-speed three seat twin engine bomber developed in 1934. It was known in Russia by its service name Tupolev SB (Russian: Скоростной бомбардировщик – Skorostnoi Bombardirovschik – “high speed bomber”).

The design, despite being very advanced at the time lacked refinement, much to the dismay of the crews. Josef Stalin commented of the bomber that “there are no trivialities in aviation”.

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Numerically the SB was the most numerous Soviet bomber during the 1930’s the type saw combat service during the Spanish Civil War, China, Mongolia and Finland and during the initial stages of conflict with Germany.

By 1939 the Tupolev SB was becoming obsolete. Despite this on the 30th November 1939 it took part in the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union. Losses were heavy with bomber formations frequently unescorted and forced to operate at low level where they were vulnerable to Finnish fighters and anti-aircraft fire. The Tupolev SB 2 was a relatively slow aircraft. During the Winter War they were fitted with skis making them even slower. By the end of the 15 week war, at least 100 SBs had been lost with the Finns claiming nearly 200 shot down, 92 of them to fighters.

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In addition to this, the Red Air Force command structure was disastrous. A ‘Dual Command’ or ‘Collegiate’ control system was introduced in 1937. Each fighter or bomber regiment was assigned a ‘Political Commissar’ with equal rank to the Regiment Commander, each tactical plan and decision had to be approved by the Commissar before it could be implemented.

These problems were further compounded by the fact that each Air Regiment operated as an autonomous ‘Air Army’. Air Regiments would regularly operate independently of each other, not share strategic information and in some cases not communicate with each other in the operational area at all.

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Furthermore, the Soviets did not commit their best bombers in the initial stages of the campaign. Perhaps in the belief that the war would be quickly won by the USSR. The principal bombers of the Winter War were the Tupolev SB and the Ilyushin DB-3. Both aircraft were relatively fast during the 1930’s but by 1939 were outpaced by newer designs. The Tupolev SB possessed only two 7.62 mm ShKAS light machine guns covering the rear of the aircraft, in the dorsal and ventral positions and one 7.62 mm ShKAS machine gun in the the nose. Moreover, there was only one gunner covering the rear positions whose job it was to scramble between the guns whilst attempting to anticipate from which direction the attacking fighter would come.

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Finnish fighter tactics against Soviet bombers were relentless. They would tend to close to well within 100ft of the bomber concentrating on the single rear gunner first. Then they would attack the engines, then the fuel tanks.

To increase accuracy of bomber interceptions, the Finns harmonised their guns to approximately 150 yards. By harmonising their weapons the Finnish fighters tended to tightly group their hits increasing the effectiveness and the power of the attack. In addition, the Finns would load the right-hand cowl or wing machine gun entirely with tracers to assist in correcting the bullet stream, the remaining weapons were loaded with a mixture of incendiary and armour piercing ammunition to maximize the probability of success.

The extraordinary success of the Finns against the Soviets can also be explained in the good quality of the well trained Finnish pilots. The comparable performance of Soviet aircraft to the Fokker D.XXI was off-set in favour of the Finns by the adoption of Luftwaffe-style fighter tactics with the use of Schwarms. 4 aircraft in formation each sub-divided into 2 pairs called ‘elements’ with a flight leader covered by a wingman. Inexperienced pilots were paired with experienced pilots as opposed to Soviet air combat tactics being predictable with en-masse air regiments being deployed in ridged formations, allowing the Finns the opportunity to range above their opponents and choose their targets before attacking and disengaging.

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Much as the Royal Air Force did in the Battle of Britain, the Finns dispersed their aircraft to auxiliary camouflaged airfields which regularly changed or rotated, enabling the Finns to effectively manage their smaller force. The units flew between 6-8 sorties per day, their aircraft were covered and kept warm with the use of electric radiators when not flying and maintained on ‘alert’ status for rapid deployment in the event of an attack. Similarly, they were operating over home territory, thus a damaged aircraft or downed pilot could be retrieved to fight another day.

The Soviets were also disadvantaged in having to waste time transiting to and from the combat area. Finnish Anti-Aircraft batteries shot down 300 Soviet aircraft; Finnish fighters claimed 200 confirmed kills, whilst losing only 62 of their own.

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The ‘Molotov Cocktail’ improvised petrol bomb was developed as a direct result of the bombing of Finland by Tupolev SB 2 and Ilyushin DB 3 bombers. The term was coined by the Finns as an insult to Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, who was responsible for the partitioning of Finland with Nazi Germany under the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in August 1939.

The pact explicitly stated Soviet intentions to invade Finland and was mocked widely by the Finns, as was the propaganda that Molotov employed declaring on Soviet state radio that the bombing raids over Finland were actually humanitarian aid missions where bombers were supplying food to their starving neighbours and not bombing Finnish cities.

Soviet cluster bombs delivered by the Tupolev SB’s and Ilyushin DB 3’s were derisively referred to as ‘Molotov Bread Baskets’. When the improvised Molotov cocktail petrol bomb was first devised it was dubbed ‘The drink to go with the food’ that Molotov was delivering to Finland.

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Molotov despised the name as it became the ubiquitous term used for all petrol bombs, ironically it was the Molotov cocktail that was the weapon of choice during the eastern bloc uprisings against the Soviet Union directly after the war.

The Kit:

The ICM 1/72 SB 2M-100A consists of 6 sprues moulded in soft grey plastic. Sprue F contains the transparencies which are clear and opaque. The instruction booklet is 8 pages long with the final four pages devoted to camouflage and markings.

There are 11 assembly stages in this kit and I studied each stage very carefully. The parts are coded with letters indicating the colour that each sub-component needs to be painted. However, there are no part numbers indicating how each part is to be assembled.

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The difficulty comes in that each stage is an exploded view three view diagram and each of these are small and complicated. It is not easy to work out where certain parts are located. Therefore I recommend a dry-fit at every stage.

Construction

The kit was first washed to remove any mould release. Once dry, it was primed using grey auto primer from a rattle can.

The assemblies come in three stages. 1) The centre section and fuselage 2) the tail section and 3) the nose. All of these stages are printed on the same page; it required a certain amount of concentration to complete these sub-sections.

The next component to be assembled in stage 7 are the engines. These are straight forward as are the wings which were completed next. Once the centre section, rear fuselage, nose, wings and engine assemblies had been allowed to dry overnight, the fitting of all of the components including the tail planes were combined and the joining of all of the sub-assemblies were a straight forward process.

This kit is fairly industrial and although it has adequate surface detail, when the components had been assembled and bonded, a fair amount of green putty was required. This took approximately 2 hours to carefully sand down but the end result was satisfactory.

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I skipped stage 10 which was the preparation and masking of the transparencies and adding the weapons, electing to leave this stage to the end which seemed to me to be logical.

As I has chosen to model SB 2M-100A, 44th SBAP (Bomber Regiment) stationed in Karelia in January 1940, I opted for the ski equipped version. I chose this aircraft as I model aircraft involved in the three conflicts that the Finns were involved in during WWII and this aircraft would have participated in the Winter War.

Cutting the skis from the sprue was easy enough, however the supporting struts were of such poor quality that they broke despite the careful use of side cutters. Luckily, I had in stock some copper wire which I cut to size and substituted these for the unusable items.

Undercarriage ski assembly - starboard side.
Undercarriage ski assembly – starboard side.

Luckily, the supporting ‘ladders’ for the undercarriage suffered no such misfortune and after some patient application of Cyanoacrylate, the whole unit went together well. The restraining cables at the front and rear of the skis were 0.2mm steel wire supplied by ‘Little-Cars’. These proved extremely fiddly to fit in this scale but once again patience proved its worth.

Undercarriage ski assembly - port side.
Undercarriage ski assembly – port side.

The canopies were masked using Eduard’s 1/72 SB-2 set of masks (CX122). Once these were applied the canopy sections were glued into place using Humbrol ClearFix. The aircraft was then masked using Tamiya tape in preparation for spraying.

Camouflage and Markings

There are four options available. 1. SB 2M-100A, 24th SBAP (Bomber Regiment), Karelia December 1939; SB 2M-100A, 49th SBAP (Bomber Regiment), Mongolia June 1940; SB 2M-100A, West Front, Summer 1941 and the example that I chose, the ski equipped SB 2M-100A, 44th SBAP (Bomber Regiment), Karelia, January 1940.

My decision was based on the fact that this aircraft had participated in the Winter war and I had seen black and white photographs of this example which was invaluable in the late construction phase.

There is still some confusion surrounding the correct colour scheme for the Tupolev SB of this period. Some sources claim that the bombers were painted in pale grey; some say they were painted silver. I decided to paint my example in silver after researching the excellent VVS research page by Massimo Tessitori. I airbrushed the aircraft in Humbrol 27002 silver, pre-shaded the airframe and then gave the aircraft another two coats.

Once the paint had been allowed to dry overnight, I gave the aircraft a medium wash of black oil-paint as these aircraft had been worked extremely hard during the Winter War. Johnson’s Klear was then applied and allowed to dry for approximately 30 minutes before the decals were applied.

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The 44th SBAP aircraft that I had chosen, included 10 decals, 4 large red stars over and under the wings, two small stars on the fuselage, red tail flashes either side of the tail and red number ‘8s’ either side of the rudder. The decals were a challenge. Eight of the ten decals broke up as they were extremely brittle. Nevertheless, with patience and a great deal of Micro-Scale Micro-Set, I was able to save all ten decals. I gave the Tupolev SB a final coat of Johnson’s Klear to seal the decals before applying the finishing touches.

Final Construction

The propellers and spinners, pitot tube and guns were the last items to be added. I am pleased with the result however; I have never been more relieved to finish a kit. Yet as an example of an aircraft that played a significant role in the Winter War of 1939-40 it is a welcome addition to the collection.

Conclusion

This kit requires a great deal of planning and patience. It has the ability to catch you out if you lose your concentration and the instruction ‘booklet’ is quite frankly appalling. However, I found the subject very interesting and would recommend the kit to anybody who feels that they would like to have a go at a more challenging subject.

References

Richard Reynolds.

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