R.A.F. Air Sea Rescue Launch »Whaleback«
Airfix 1:72 Scale Ship Review
British Commandos landing from an R.A.F. crash boat. The vessel has been converted to a waterline model which can be used in harbour dioramas and simulations of coastal warfare. The Commandos and Kübelwagen are available from Airfix, ESCI made the Opel Blitz.
The sea shall not have them
During World War 2 the Royal Air Force operated a fleet of high-speed, very reliable and seaworthy motor launches to rescue pilots and aircrew who ditched their damaged planes or bailed out over water. It was vital that downed airmen be picked up quickly, to protect them from exposure and – equally important – to prevent their capture by enemy E-boats. Interestingly, because the crash boats were operated by the R.A.F. Air Sea Rescue Service, their captains held Air Force ranks of Flying Officer or Flight Lieutenant.
On the night of 23rd/24th June 1940, the newly created No. 11 Commando borrowed six crash boats from the Air Ministry to launch the first ever Commando raid. Each boat carried 30 Commandos and their equipment, landing the men near Boulogne and Le Touquet in occupied France. The raid itself was uneventful, but it marked the beginning of combined operations and it did much to improve morale in Britain. Until specialized assault landing craft became available later in the war, a variety of naval vessels like destroyers, Motor Torpedo Boats (MTB), Steam Gun Boats, RAF crash boats, motor launches, Eureka boats, dories and canoes were used to ferry Commandos across the channel and land them on the French coast. RAF crash boats were involved in the raid against the island of Guernsey, 14th/15th June 1940, where it proved difficult to land and later evacuate the troops from the rugged coastline.
Raids against St. Nazaire and Dieppe in 1942 showed the deficiencies of motor launches and similarly unarmoured naval vessels used in amphibious operations. Many of the boats were badly shot up as they approached enemy machine gun positions defending the intended landing sites. As a result, RAF crash boats had anti-shrapnel padding fitted around the forward cabin and they were equipped with additional machine guns and a 20 mm Oerlikon on the rear deck.
The rescue launch shown here has been converted to a waterline model by cutting the hull apart and mounting the vessel in a wargame display. The offcuts were used to create the impression of an inverted and sinking naval vessel. Waterline models can be displayed in very attractive harbour scenes involving buildings, figures and vehicles. The rubber dinghy and its crew of two men are from Revell’s set of German engineers.
The R.A.F. rescue launch is an excellent model, it deserves to be mounted in a naval diorama. The Airfix kit is dated 1978, but it does not show its age at all. Parts fit perfectly, most of the work can be completed in an evening and it will be surprisingly familiar terrain for armour enthusiasts. Standard modeling and painting techniques apply, drybrushing and weathering will bring out all the raised detail and turn this kit into a superb showpiece. A welcome change of pace from 1:72 scale armour and infantry models. The Whaleback really is a delight to build.
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– Published: 1996 – Updated: 10.09.2002
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