Nakajima B5N Kate Double Kit
The Nakajima B5N torpedo and attack bomber was developed during the late thirties to replace the 1936 Yokosuka B4N biplane carrier-based torpedo bomber. Roughly comparable to, but also decidedly superior to, the U.S. Navy’s Douglas TBD-1 Devastator torpedo bomber, the B5N was code named Kate by the Allies when the name-codes came into use during 1942. Beating out the Mitsubishi B5M, which had an elliptical wing and a fixed landing gear, the B5N featured manually folding wings and a retractable landing gear. Strongly influenced by the Northrop A-17A attack bomber then in service with the U.S. Army, the B5N was produced in two basic models, differing mainly in powerplant. The B5N1 was equipped with an 840 hp. Nakajima Hikari 2 radial engine, while the later version, designated B5N2, had the upgraded 1000 hp. Nakajima Sakae twin-row radial engine, which was housed in a more streamlined cowling.
Kates, notably the B5N2 version, were active at the beginning of the Pacific War, and some B5N1’s were used for anti-submarine patrol and training during the course of the conflict. While the U.S. Navy quickly replaced its TBD’s with the excellent Grumman TBF-1 Avenger, the Japanese Navy continued using the B5N2 with diminishing degrees of success as its standard torpedo bomber until 1944, when the Nakajima B6N1 “Tenzan”, code named Jill, finally appeared. By this time, Japanese aircraft carriers were a vanishing species, as were experienced aircrews, and most B5N’s and B6N’s operated from land bases towards the end of the war. Some B5N’s were expended in Kamikaze attacks, and only a few survived the war. One was captured intact on Saipan, and it was taken to the U.S. for extensive testing at NAS Anacostia, where Navy test pilots were unimpressed.
While the B5N was a mainstay in Japanese Naval Aviation, not a lot of information has been published on the type. While commonly appearing in such works as Francillon’s Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War, only an old Profile Publication, No. 141, treats the type individually, although there may be other publications, such as Koko Fan, which would probably have some good material. Thorpe’s Japanese Naval Air Force Camouflage and Markings has some good color material, although few photos of the type are included. Good interior photos of the captured B5N2 can be found in Robert Mikesh’s Monogram Close-Up No. 14, Part 1, which deals with Japanese cockpit interiors. Few good photos seem to be available of wartime B5N2’s, so resource material is scarce.
This kit has a strange and interesting history. The kit first appeared in 1970 under the Mania brand, and these were produced in small numbers until 1977, when Hasegawa acquired the company. Mania produced excellent kits of the Nate, Lily, Babs, Ki-15 Kamikaze (a civil type, not the one-way military variety), and the B5N1 and B5N2. I have an original Mania issue of the B5N1/B5N2 Twin Kit, and the sprues are identical to the later Hasegawa kit. The instructions, decals, and logos on the wing interiors are, of course, different. One bag has the B5N1 engine, while the other had both engines. Whether one engine sprue was removed during the forty years I have had this kit I don’t know, but there are enough parts for one of each variant. These kits were later reissued by Hasegawa pretty much in the same form as Mania, as they were that good – state-of-the-art for their time – but as far as I can tell, they were only issued as single B5N2 kits. I built one each of the Mania kits in the late seventies/early eighties, and the only difference I can see is that the Mania B5N2 kit included a spinner, something a few B5N2’s were equipped with, and this is shown in the Mania kit instructions. Mania also mentioned the external bomb load and racks, which were included in both kits; although they are still there, Hasegawa doesn’t mention them it its offering. Hasegawa has continued to produce the kit individually, and this is the first time I’ve seen a Hasegawa issue of the type as a double kit. My Burns’ Kit Collector’s Guide does not show a Hasegawa B5N1 in 1/72 scale, so maybe this variant is a first for Hasegawa.
A very early kit in 1/75 scale was issued many years ago by Nitto, a long defunct organization. I recall having one years ago, but never managed to build it.
The reissue kit consists of two plastic envelopes, each containing identical sprues A through F, slightly over 60 parts. There is some duplication, as Sprue F contains the engine and parts for the B5N1, while D has the same parts for the B5N2. Thus, you wind up with some spare parts which might be useful for an older Hasegawa kit if you wanted to do another B5N1 from a B5N2 kit. Otherwise, from the firewall backwards, both kits are identical. The only other difference is that, according to the kit instructions, the B5N1 did not have the radio mast, whereas Fancillon’s book shows the mast on both types. It would seem odd if the early models didn’t have radios, especially after the outbreak of the war. Maybe just that one airplane didn’t have a radio. However, I think it’s possible that many B5N1’s had radio masts. Francillon agrees.
The kit is molded in high quality light grey styrene, and has recessed panel lines and details. Cockpit interior details are nicely done, along with some sidewall detail and some photo etch thingies such as instrument panels and a few other gadgets. These can be seen through the clear canopy, so they are worth installing. There is some flash, especially on the older parts, but this is easily trimmed away. Engine detail is adequate, but not great. The prop-crankshaft assemblies leave something to be desired, and you’ll probably wind up with stationary-glued props unless you do some scratch building. The position of the engine is not clearly shown, but from the drawing, I get the impression that the top cylinder in the forward bank is vertical, something normally found on American engines. Anyway, that’s the way I did it. The tailhook is molded to the side of the fuselage, and I’ll guarantee that you’ll break it off at the first opportunity. My suggestion would be to trim it off and cut one of the complete tailhooks – included as separate parts – to the proper size, gluing it on after final assembly. The cockpit interior is good and fits without trimming, although the pilot’s seat in both kits has a deep hole in the seat, requiring filling and smoothing out.
Decals are provides for three aircraft, two B5N1’s and one B5N2. Instructions are printed on 8 half-sized drawings printed on one long, oddly shaped piece of paper. Four sheets provide a sprue diagram and assembly drawings, two sheets give color guides (in black and white), and two sheets give historical and the other information required by lawyers to avoid getting lawsuits. Much of this information is in Japanese.
Assembly is pretty simple. The wings are cast in three parts, and everything fits. The fuselage fits over the cockpit assembly, and the canopy fits tightly over the cockpit opening. The tailplanes line up easily, and although a little fill was required, it was typical Hasegawa quality. Even the canopy was easy to mask, as the canopy frame positions were clearly marked. The torpedo was a bit crude and required some smoothing on the sides, but mounting it was easy. Be careful with the exhaust stacks on the B5N2, as they are of different lengths despite their having the same part number. I would assume that the longer stack should be on the side away from the torpedo.
Painting and Finishing
Painting details are clearly given if you plan to use the kit decals. A prewar B5N1 (listed as Mimeji Naval Flying Group, 1943-1944 – possibly a misprint, as this was definitely a pre-war color scheme) and a later wartime training variant (Usa Naval Flying Group, 1943-44) are shown. Also, a Pearl Harbor veteran from the carrier Hiryu, a B5N2, can also be done. The B5N2 is listed as having IJN green over pale grey, as is the Usa aircraft. However, the Hiryu plane drawing shows a brown mottling over the entire aircraft, kit shade #29. The actual color is not specified. The drawing statement says that “Brown is extremely unremarkable painting.” I would assume that this was a mottle of some kind, as a few of these planes had that kind of paint job, although the colors haven’t really been verified. I applied the brown with a paintbrush, as that’s how it probably would have been applied in that combat theater. Some photos of Japanese types show paint in very poor condition, which would be shown by green with silver or aluminum splotches where the paint has worn off. I did the B5N1 in weathered condition, while the B5N2 had only a little paint chipping at the usual points, since in 1941 these planes were probably pretty spiffy. If you’re really brave, try doing one in the all-white surrender scheme, with the green crosses in six positions.
The decals are in good resolution and do not require trimming, although I did have trouble with one of the clear number decals which disintegrated after I accidentally brushed against it before it dried. To be fair, I had applied a coat of Micro Sol, and that, rather than the decal, could have been the problem. Black paint solved it. The twin blue bands on the B5N2 rear fuselage did not fit properly, so these, too, needed trimming. Otherwise, the decals were excellent and easy to apply, and I had a few left over.
These are still good kits, and without a lot of effort they can be made into really nice models. Even the older Hasegawa Kates are good, so get several of these while they are still available. They belong in any decent collection of Japanese wartime aircraft in 1/72 scale.
Thanks to Hasegawa and IPMS for the review sample.