|Midway Dive Bomber: Hasegawas D3A1 Type 99 Model 11 "Val"
By Tom Cleaver
In 1936, two airplanes competed to become the new Sturzkampfflugzeug (Stuka) of the Luftwaffe. As the world knows, the Junkers Ju-87 was the winner, but it wasn't the best design. That honor goes to the Heinkel He-118, a dive bomber graced by the aesthetic sense of the Gunter brothers, probably the foremost advocates of the elliptical wing in the aeronautical world of the 1930s. The He-118 had retractable landing gear, carried a heavier bomb load in an internal bomb bay, and was faster than its competitor. Unfortunately for Heinkel (and likely fortunately for the rest of us) the Reichluftfartministerium (RLM) - the one organization besides the Nazi Party that proves Germans aren't as smart as they want the rest of the world to believe - had decreed that Heinkel was too busy with its He-111 bomber to become involved in the production of other aircraft. The ugly Ju-87 became the terror of the Blitzkrieg, and the He-118 went on to scare hell out of the U.S. Navy in 1941-42.
Heinkel had a long-time relationship with Aichi in Japan, and had produced aircraft used by the Japanese Navy during the 1920s and 1930s. With the He-118 rejected at home, Heinkel provided Aichi with information about this very advanced dive bomber when Aichi was involved the following year in the competition to provide the Imperial Japanese Navy with its next-generation carrier dive bomber. The result was the D3A1 Type 99 Model 11 dive bomber, known to the Western allies by the reporting name "Val," which was - at the time it joined the IJN in 1939 - likely the most advanced dive bomber in the world, as well as the best-looking. While the airplane saved weight by losing the retractable landing gear and internal bomb bay of its Teutonic progenitor, it was head and shoulders above the competition; its only fault was a too-modest bomb load, being restricted to a 250kg armor piercing bomb for carrier assault sorties against naval targets.
In the hands of IJN pilots - at the time the best naval pilots in the world - the Val was a fearsome weapon during the first six months of the Pacific War, from Pearl Harbor to Midway. Vals killed everything they ran across: American battleships at Pearl Harbor, the RN carrier Hermes in what was likely the most accurate dive bombing of the war after Dick Best's three-plane dive on Akagi at Midway, the Yorktown at both Coral Sea and Midway, and on and on. The bomber was as maneuverable as a fighter, and once rid of its bomb load, Vals stuck around over the task forces at Coral Sea and Midway, giving F4F Wildcat pilots a nasty surprise. Eventually, shorn of its expert pilots, and overdue for replacement, Val became a target for US Navy pilots throughout the Pacific, but at the outset, the airplane was as good as they came.
Fujimi brought out a 1/48 Val in the late 1970s, and it was state-of-the-art when it arrived, with some of the nicest raised surface rivet detail of any model ever made. The interior left something to be desired, but there were very few models of that era that didn't. Outside of a 1/72 Val released by Airfix in the 1960s and another in 1/72 released by Hasegawa in the late 70s, Val kits were not exactly thick on the ground.
Hasegawa released their Val last summer, in time for display at the IPMS-USA National Convention, in the Pearl Harbor markings of LCDR Egusa. This second release puts the airplane in the markings of a Val from Akagi and another from Kaga at the time of the Battle of Midway. These airplanes differ from the original release in being painted in Mitsubishi Green uppers/Mitsubishi grey lowers, rather than overall grey. Past that, it is the same kit.
Looking through the six sprues, I like that Hasegawa has finally molded a canopy in the open position, with parts nearly as thin as the canopy sections one finds in Accurate Miniatures' SBD Dauntless, as well as the fully-closed canopy we have come to expect from this company. The rest of the parts, molded in the standard medium-grey plastic we know so well, have very nice engraved surface detail. While the Val really did have raised rivets as shown in the Fujimi release, Hasegawa has gone for its standard smooth finish which, in 1/48, really is more accurate, though I do miss the Fujimi surface detail. The interior is far more detailed than its predecessor, and is one of the best interiors I have seen yet in a Hasegawa kit. The only thing I see wrong here is seats that look more accurate in 1/72 than 1/48, but this is a problem easily solved by anyone with a spare parts box or a sheet of styrene and a knife with a No.11 blade in it.
The decals have the proper shade of red for the insignia, and likely go down as well as Hasegawa kit decals are known to do.
In the Akagi markings, this will be a nice model to pose next to my SBD-3 "B-1" flown by Dick Best, who kept the Vals of Akagi from making any further contribution to the Battle of Midway after their single dawn strike against Midway itself on June 4, 1942.