Achtung Typhoon! was built in June 2014, to meet a requirement identified at Jet Age Museum, Staverton, for a small, portable diorama box which could showcase a 1/72 scale model of a Gloster built Hawker Typhoon and illustrate its Second World War use in attacking trains and German vehicles in Occupied France.
Rather than building a new box from scratch, I realised that what had been built for Jet Age Reserve Model Collection outreach as the Airfield Diorama Box could be dedicated to this project by replacing the easel lid with a sheet of clear 6mm perspex and recycling some of the scenic features used in its last role as a piece of North Korean hillside in The Grumman Story.
In particular the plastic tree was joined by three other wire based examples purchased from Cheltenham Model Centre and superglued down to support a loop of fishing line carrying the wheels-up Typhoon kindly contributed by fellow Jet Age member Tim Mansfield.
The fishing line has been Photoshopped out of the image above for dramatic effect but allows this particular plastic model Typhoon to be easily replaced by another if the need arises for what is admittedly a recklessly low level strafing run!
Rather than using a traditional Airfix style stand too, the fishing line loop method freed the land below for a selection of German army vehicles from the Ron Brooks collection and also his Italian tank locomotive. German infantry were selected from the Airfix kit and suitably modified for such roles as unloading the six wheeled “birdcage” boxcar of EFE fuel drums and Peco Modelscene barrels and sacks. The sacks were supplied black to represent coal but easily took a coat of buff paint to represent potatoes.
Once the diorama box had been completed, it only remained to produce interpretive captions which described the individual vehicles and began:
North West France. August 1944. A tank destroyer unit of the retreating German army has congregated around an agricultural railway siding to receive supplies of food, fuel and ammunition, only to be discovered by Gloster built Hawker Typhoon fighter bombers patrolling nearby.
Designed by Sidney Camm in response to Air Ministry specification F18/37 as a replacement for his own Hawker Hurricane, the Typhoon first flew on 24 February 1940. However, its Napier Sabre engine had a tendency to catch fire, proved to be unreliable and required servicing after every ten flying hours. Similarly, although the Typhoon was fast at low level, its performance was poor above 20 000 feet. Later problems included carbon monoxide gas from the engine leaking into the cockpit and a tendency for the tail to fall off: solved respectively by the use of pilot oxygen masks and riveting extra metal plates inside the rear fuselage.
In fact the Typhoon was only saved from cancellation by the appearance of the similar looking Focke-Wulf Fw 190, which could outperform existing Spitfires, especially at low level. From late 1941 Typhoons were used to maintain low level standing patrols, designed to intercept hit and run raids being launched by Fw 190s. Its robust construction and excellent low level performance also made the Typhoon a potent ground attack aircraft and during 1942 the Typhoon IB – armed with four 20mm canon and capable of carrying two 500 lb bombs – replaced earlier marks with twelve .303 machine guns. This became adept at destroying trains in France although on low level raids in 1943 alone 380 Typhoons were lost to anti-aircraft fire but not before claiming 103 German aircraft, 52 of which were Fw 190s.
The first attack by Typhoons firing under-wing rocket projectiles was made by 181 Squadron RAF against Caen power station on 25 October 1943 – after which Typhoons were also cleared to carry pairs of 1 000 lb bombs. After suppressing German radar stations covering the D-Day invasion beaches, Typhoons were also used to destroy Panzers defending the high-hedged Normandy countryside as well as larger armoured formations in the Battle of the Falaise Gap and the Battle of the Bulge.
The two tank destroyers on the ground are the grey Panzerjaeger IV L70 and the red, green and buff camouflaged Panzer 38t Hetzer. Both have guns capable of penetrating the armour of Allied tanks but the these are so large that they are fixed within the hull of the vehicle rather than being in a turret. However, both tank destroyers are small enough to easily hide from and then ambush their opponents.
The Hetzer ( Hunter) was in fact adapted from the Skoda TNHP-S design discovered during the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and served as a battle tank and self propelled gun before being fitted with a Pak 39 gun in a low, compact well-armoured hull. Known for its simple and reliable nature, 4 000 Hetzers were built.
The Panzerjaeger IV L70 meanwhile only entered service in August 1944 and relatively few examples were built due to the disruption of Allied strategic bombing. However, fitted with the same 75mm Pak 42 gun as the larger Panther tank, the IV L70 could destroy targets at long range and was designed with sloping armour and wide tracks, incorporating lessons learned on the Russian Front. Despite this, the long gun barrel and heavy front armour made the vehicle difficult to steer and promoted excessive wear on the front track wheels. The armoured skirts were a popular modification made in the field.
The tanker lorry placed between the two tank destroyers – and the fuel drums by the train – are reminders of how the mechanized armies of the Second World War were reliant on secure supply lines to oil refineries and factories as well as trained mechanics in the field. Like the armies of older wars too, even highly mobile units marched on their stomachs: hence the interest in the Opel Blitz truck and its cooking oven trailer about to be supplied with sacks of potatoes and barrels of beer.
Other utilitarian vehicles include the 60 bhp six wheeled Krupp Protz Kfz 69 (Kraftfahrzeug translating as motor vehicle) modelled here with a boat trailer but more often used as an artillery tractor (monochrome image with one wheelset raised to reduce tyre wear) and the four wheeled Kubelwagen. Literally translated as a “bucket seat car”, this was designed by Dr Ferdinand Porsche and developed from the Volkswagen Beetle. Although lacking the four wheel drive of its Allied equivalent, the Willy’s Jeep, the Kubelwagen’s flat underside meant that it could be scooted along in deep sand or snow to keep up with armoured units.
Wehrmacht (German army) armoured cars were used to scout ahead of a tank force and assess enemy strength, location and intention. They were also suitably armed to be able to engage similar reconnaissance vehicles and even capture enemy patrols. The six wheeled versions of these Sonderkraftfahrzeug – or Special Purpose Vehicles – were based on a 6×4 lorry chassis but in 1937 their production was discontinued in favour of more capable all-wheel drive four axle armoured cars. However, both six and eight wheeled vehicles included the design feature of a rear driving position to allow rapid reversing.
Among the six wheeled cars, the SdKfz 232 was distinguished by the heavy “bedstead” antenna over its body connected to both short and medium range radios optimised for command and control. Guarding the supply train meanwhile is one of a number of eight wheeled SdKfz 231 Adler cars adapted to run on rails.
Approaching the rail side concrete hard standing from the right is one of the Krauss-Maffei builtSd Kfz 7 eight ton half tracks introduced in 1938 to tow the much feared 88mm flak and anti-tank gun. Although widely featured in Nazi propaganda to suggest that the entire Wehrmacht was highly mechanized, Maybach-engined Sd Kfz 7s only equipped Panzer and Panzergrenadier (mechanized infantry) units while other artillery was often still hauled by horses.
The armoured half track Sd Kfz 251 meanwhile was built by Hannover based Hanomag to carry Panzergrenadiers into battle. However, this versatile vehicle was soon modified into theSd Kfz 251/7 which carried two assault bridge ramps and the Sd Kfz 251/8 armoured ambulance with hoops to support a canvas roof over the stretchers.
The typically Continental 0-6-0 tank locomotive coupled next to the Deutsche Reichsbahn “birdcage” six wheeled van is in fact an Italian State Railways Class 835 popularly known as a”Caffettiera” or Coffee Machine”. Over 300 of these locomotives were built from 1906 to 1915 and it is not impossible that some of these could have been appropriated by German forces retreating north from the Allied invasion of Italy during 1943. The model itself is from the Rosebud Kitmaster range, in production from 1959 to 1962.
Distinguished from the earlier Panzer III by the presence of eight rather than six road wheels, the first Panzer IVs were introduced in 1936 and by the outbreak of the Second World War some 200 were in service. Originally designed as a support tank for the lighter Panzer III, the earliest versions were armed with a short barrelled 75 mm assault gun. However, as a result of experience gained during the 1939 Polish campaign the Panzer IV armour was increased and detail improvements made to create the Panzer IV F1.
In 1942 the new long barrelled 75 mm gun was introduced on the Panzer IV F2 which was the only German tank capable of meeting Allied armour on equal terms until the 75mm PAK 40 armed Panther and 88mm gun armed Tiger tanks became available.
In addition to its 75mm gun the Panzer IV carried two 7.92mm machine guns and had a road speed of 24 mph courtesy of a 300 bhp petrol engine manufactured by Maybach. The same company would go on to design the MD655 engines built by Bristol Siddeley that powered the Western Class diesel hydraulic locomotives of British Railways Western Region in the 1960s.
Robust and reliable, the Panzer IV saw service in all combat theatres involving Germany and was the only German tank to remain in continuous production throughout the war, with over 8 800 produced between 1936 and 1945.