7. Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero- 1934
281st Sqn, July 1941 - Classic Airframes
The Italian word for “Sparrowhawk”, the “Sparviero” was probably the most successful Italian bomber of the war. First seeing combat during the Spanish Civil War, it would later become the most feared torpedo bomber in the Mediterranean, sinking and damaging many British ships and earning itself the famous nickname “Gobbo Maleditto” – the “Damned Hunchback.”
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Kit: 1/48 Classic Airframes Savoia-Marchetti S.79 Sparviero
Decals: I used the kit’s decals
Date: July 2022
History: With its trimotor design, boxy fuselage, and trademark “hump”, the Savoia-Marchetti S.79 was one of the more unconventional looking aircraft of the war. But if the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” applies anywhere, it applies to the S.79. It set 26 world records between 1937 and 1939, and was responsible for sinking over 700,000 tons of Allied shipping during the early part of the war. Simply constructed of duralumin, plywood, and fabric skinning over a welded steel tube frame, some 1,300 were built, several of which soldiered on in the Italian Air Force until 1952.
The S.79 first saw service in the Spanish Civil War where its high speed made it virtually immune to all fighters but the Soviet I-16. During World War II it came to be the scourge of British shipping in the Mediterranean, earning the famous nickname “Gobbo Maleditto” – “Damned Hunchback.” One of the leading S.79 “aces” of the war was Carlo Buscaglia. I chose to model his famous “281-5” and was excited to try my hand at its very interesting camouflage scheme. Between that scheme, the aircraft’s unique lines, and the fact that I’ve never built a model of the S.79 before, I was really looking forward to this build.
The Kit: Classic Airframes’ S.79 is a mixed media kit, with the fuselage halves, wings, engine nacelles, and torpedo made of light gray injection-molded plastic. All of the remaining parts are made of cream-colored resin. A sprue of well-molded, clear plastic parts is included, as is a small fret of photo-etched parts. Finally a sheet of decals provides markings for a plethora of aircraft, and the kit itself is designed to allow you to build a couple different versions of the S.79, either the popular torpedo-armed “sil” version or the later “bis” version that saw the removal of the bombardier’s gondola, amongst other changes.
While the quality of the resin parts is excellent, the injection molded parts, at least in my boxing, had some issues. Many of the recessed panel lines had tiny “nodules” of plastic randomly set into them that took some time to remove with a panel line scriber. The starboard fuselage half also had a vicious warp in it that had to be dealt with (see below). Still, none of these issues were show-stoppers, and the overall feeling one gets when one opens the box is that it is a very high quality production that will build into an excellent model.
Construction: Before I can say the usual “Construction began with the cockpit”, there were the aforementioned part cleanup issues to deal with. Removing the imperfections in the recessed panel lines was straightforward using a good scribing tool - I use a sewing pin in an old XACTO pin vice. Dealing with the warp in the right fuselage half was a bit more involved. The warp caused the aft half of the part to be angled outward – imagine looking straight down on the aircraft from above; then imagine the right fuselage half angles sharply away from the left half right in the center of the aircraft. I tried “cold working” the part – basically just twisting it by hand, but had no luck as the part is fairly thick. Ultimately I used my Dremel tool to put a slit in the “roof” of the fuselage right where the warp started. At that point in the fuselage the “floor” is open as that’s where the gondola is mounted, so now I could bend the fuselage much easier. With that problem solved the Dremel was still needed, but this time to open up the back of the hump to display the interior of the dorsal gunner’s station, and also to open up the crew entry door and the two side windows for the waist gunner’s station. And now it was time to start on the interior.
The resin interior parts allow you to build a highly detailed rendition of the cockpit, the radioman’s station, and the navigator’s station. Aft of that you’re on your own, and since I wanted to display the rear crew entry door open, I had to do a little scratch-building. To do that I used Evergreen plastic rods to replicate interior framing, using pictures of similarly detailed models on the excellent Stormo! website as references. I then attached the resin cockpit sidewalls to their respective fuselage halves, attached the various cockpit parts to the cockpit floor, and otherwise prepared any remaining interior parts. I primed all of the interior parts and surfaces with Mr. Surfacer 1000, and then pre-shaded them all with Tamiya XF-69 NATO Black. The instructions say the interior color of the S.79 was a light green anti-corrosion shade (Verde Anticorrosione), but the Stormo! website indicated that in fact S.79 interiors were painted a light gray shade. To replicate this I sprayed on some light coats of Tamiya XF-20 Medium Gray, keeping it subtle to let the pre-shading show through.
The instrument panel was painted Vallejo Black Gray and drybrushed Testors Neutral Gray. The dials were picked out in Flat Black, and then I carefully drybrushed tiny amounts of Testors Flat White onto the dials to give them some life. I then dabbed Testors Clear Cement onto each dial to make it look like glass. The rest of the various panels and radio equipment in the cockpit were picked out by hand, and the pilot and copilot seats were painted Vallejo Saddle Brown. Seatbelts were sourced from an Eduard Luftwaffe Bombers color photo etch fret I had in my spares box, and then the whole cockpit and interior was given a wash using MIG Productions Dark Brown wash.
There are small guide marks on the inner surfaces of the fuselage halves that tell you where the cockpit should be glued, and after a lot of test-fitting and some trimming of the instrument panel I glued the cockpit to one of the halves. Once that was set I began test-fitting the fuselage halves together. I had to trim one of the cockpit sidewall pieces slightly, but then the halves went together fairly crisply. There were seams to be dealt with, the worst of which involved the surgery I had to perform to undo the warp, but nothing too terrible. I spent two nights going around all of the seams with Squadron Green Putty, Mr. Surfacer 500 and my various sanding sticks before I was satisfied with the result.
With the fuselage set aside, the wings were next, followed by the horizontal stabilizers and their support struts. After that I attached the gondola and front windshield. The last major components to build were the three engines. These consist of a resin insert trapped between two cowling halves. The resin insert depicts the face of the engine, so I painted it Vallejo Black Gray and then drybrushed it with Testors Aluminum. Once the three engines were assembled and had their seams attended to I glued them to the airframe. The attachment of each to the airframe is fiddly – the basic idea is that the rear face of the engine’s resin insert is supposed to be glued to the front face of the engine nacelles. I had to add some scrap pieces of sheet plastic to those faces so that they would come in contact with each other.
With the airframe now complete I attached the fiddly bits that I thought stood a chance of not being knocked off during the painting process. Flap counter balances, engine exhausts, and a small propeller thingy on the side of the fuselage were all super-glued on (it did not survive the painting process). I fashioned the wire braces that run from the tail to the upper surfaces of the horizontal stabilizers out of EZ-Line, a great tiny rubber string product from Bobe’s Hobby House in Florida. Finally I masked off all of the bomber’s windows - always tedious and always my least favorite part of the job. Before priming it I wiped the model down with some Polly S “Plastic Prep” solution, a new product in my arsenal that is supposed to remove oils, mold release lubricants and other impurities from the surface of the plastic, as well as act as a dust repellent barrier. While I can’t vouch for the science behind it, it’s pink and stinky and evaporated quickly, allowing me to roll right into the painting steps.
Painting & Markings: I sprayed my usual primer coat of Mr. Surfacer 1200 onto the aircraft and then checked my seam work. A couple of nights’ extra work was needed to smooth out the seams, especially around the engine cowlings. All panel lines were then pre-shaded with Tamiya XF-69 NATO Black, and then the white fuselage band was painted using Tamiya XF-2 Flat White.
The Stormo! website features a pair of excellent articles by Mr. Stefano Lazzaro about the history of the aircraft I was modeling (S.79 Serial Number 23838), and it points out that the color scheme of the aircraft changed a couple of times throughout its life. From late 1940 to early June 1941 it had light gray leading edges, aluminum-colored lower surfaces, and beige upper surfaces with rust and green mottling. During June 1941 the aircraft was overhauled and when it came back to the front in late June, it had been repainted with basically the same color scheme on the upper surfaces, but the aluminum lower surfaces were now either light gray or a light blue shade, probably similar to RLM 65. I chose to depict it at that point in its life, so I first airbrushed the forward part of the fuselage, leading edges of the wings, and prop hubs Tamiya XF-20 Medium Grey. I then chose to spray the undersides Tamiya XF-19 Sky Grey, though future research may well show that they should in fact be light blue.
With those areas masked I airbrushed the upper surfaces a 50/50 mixture of Tamiya XF-60 Dark Yellow and Tamiya XF-59 Desert Yellow, and then tackled the fine squiggles and splotches that make up the S.79’s interesting camouflage. For those I used Testors Enamel Rust and Testors Enamel Medium Green (FS34102). I then removed all of the masks (except for those covering the windows) and thankfully, in doing so removed none of the paint. The final color to be sprayed on was a 50/50 mixture of Testors Steel and Testors Rust, and this was airbrushed onto the leading edges of the engine cowlings and exhaust pipes. The prominent wing insignias on Italian aircraft often had white backgrounds, but the aforementioned Stormo! articles pointed out that on the version I was modeling, they should be transparent.
With the painting done I sprayed a coat of Future over the whole model and set it aside to dry for a couple of days. The decals (produced by Microscale) went on perfectly and settled into the surface with Walthers Solvaset. The kit’s decals provide markings for “281-9”, so I was able to convert the “9” into a “5” and use them as such. I sealed them with another coat of Future, and then it was time to start the weathering.
My first step was to apply a thin wash of Mig Productions “Dark Wash” to all of the recessed panel lines. A coat of Testors Model Master Flat Finish was airbrushed on next, and then I airbrushed a very thin 50/50 mix of Tamiya XF1 Black and Tamiya XF64 Red Brown onto the panel lines and engine exhaust areas. Next I added some paint chips using a Silver Berol pencil, but since I was modeling “281-5” after its recent overhaul, I kept the chipping minor and confined it to the engine cowlings.
At this point I removed all of the canopy and window masks, which is always a bit nerve-wracking. Two things often go wrong with this step – one, small amounts of paint seep under the masks, and two, sometimes removing the masks removes a chip of paint from the frame, where you want the paint to stay. Thankfully the Tamiya masking tape I used held up.
At last I was at the final step, attaching the landing gear, guns, and any other “fiddly” bits, or should I say “naughty” bits in this case. The S.79 is positively bristling with guns, antenna, flap counterbalances, torpedo racks, and pitot tubes. Throw in the landing gear with their less than perfect attachment points for the struts and landing gear doors and handling the model soon became similar to handling a sea urchin. More than once I knocked off one small part while trying to attach another, and my frustration level began to rise. Finishing the model required my constant concentration, always thinking about how I was going to pick it up. It became a little stressful, but finally when I attached the crew’s boarding ladder, I was done - almost.
The purpose of the S.79 was ultimately to carry a torpedo, which it did, usually on its port side. The kit’s torpedo is a nice reproduction, complete with tiny propellers replicated in photo etch. I assembled it and smoothed out its seams with putty and then primed and pre-shaded it. Without any hard information on how to paint it, I sprayed the body a 50/50 mix of Testors Steel and Testors Panzer Gray and the aft end White. The prop was painted a brass shade, and then I washed the recessed areas with the Mig Productions Dark Wash. Once it was dry I glued it to the torpedo rack and called the model done.
Conclusions: It took me about twice as long as I expected, but the finished product was definitely worth it. The ungainly bomber has some undeniable curb appeal, and with its very unique camouflage pattern it really sticks out in my collection. Classic Airframes’ S.79 is not a shake n’ bake kit, but with a little perseverance it builds into a really neat model. I understand it’s more accurate in many areas than the Trumpeter offering, and as long as you’re not afraid of being patient and applying your modeling experience, you’ll end up with a very rewarding model of a fascinating aircraft that has been perhaps a bit underappreciated.
- Squadron/Signal Publications, Aircraft in Action #71, “Savoia Marchetti S.79 in Action”
- http://www.stormomagazine.com/index.htm - Stormo!, “A Famous Torpedo-Bomber S.79 Carlo Emanuele Buscaglia’s “281-5” – Parts I & II”, Stefano Lazzaro, June 2007