Building Mitsuo Fuchida’s Pearl Harbor Command Post 

The Nakajima B5N2 Kate was the best torpedo bomber in the Pacific. The airplane also was the aerial command post for Japan’s “Day of Infamy.”

A talented young officer in the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Service, Mitsuo Fuchida was chosen by Vice Admiral Chūichi Nagumo to coordinate and lead the attack on Pearl Harbor. From his place in the center seat of a Nakajima B5N2 “Kate” he would be able to see the state of the harbor’s defenses and command his waves of attacking aircraft. 

Released in 2001, Hasegawa’s “Kate” has been offered in a number of guises, as a torpedo plane, a version with folding wings and one with a single armored piercing bomb. That kit, their first offering, includes markings that are not for the more popular torpedo plane, but for Fuchida’s command aircraft. The “tip of the spear” of the Pearl Harbor attack.

The detail is typical for Hasegawa, accurate to a fault. Begin with the cockpit, paying close attention to the plenty of small parts that make up the aircrew’s “office.” It was common for different manufacturers to have their own particular interior paint color. Nakajima’s greenish gray, (often called Nakajima Interior Green), is different from the greenish blue that was typical for Mitsubishi’s aircraft. Paint the cockpit parts and get started.

The control panels have nicely raised detail, but decals are provided for some of us without the talent for painting tiny dials and switches. The only extras that are needed are seat belts for the three crew positions. 

The three man cockpit is made is made up of thirty-one separate pieces. Decals for the control panel and aftermarket seatbelts give it some added interest.

Once completed, the cockpit assembly forms a tub that fits between the fuselage halves. The fit is very good, but it pays to dry-fit pieces first. Once everything is together, set aside the completed fuselage.

Next assemble the bomber’s engine painting it black. Cement the engine to the firewall and drybrush an aluminum color over the engine’s cylinders to make the detail pop. Paint the main crankcase a medium gray. Paint the cowling and the forward firewall flat black. On many Japanese aircraft a flat black color extends from the cowling to the pilot’s windscreen. The color acts as an anti-glare panel. Paint the cowling and glue it in place setting the completed assembly aside. 

It’s time to attach the large broad wing to the fuselage. Again, the fit is very good and requires minimal filler and sanding. 

Moveable surfaces, rudder, ailerons and the horizontal stabilizer were fabric covered and should be painted in the same color as the bomber’s interior. The rest of the airplane was left natural metal. Upper surfaces should be a dark green color. Photos from the time show many carrier-based aircraft with a fair amount of chipping and wear of the dark green. Images of what is purported to be Fuchida’s “Kate” show the camouflage, hastily applied without primer, flaking off from exposure to the harsh weather at sea.  

This is purported to be a photo, taken from newsreel footage, of Fuchida’s Kate returning to the carrier Akagi after the Pearl Harbor attack. Notice the paint chipping. (National Archives)

There are a couple of ways to replicate the chipped effect. One is to spray common hairspray to the natural metal color, letting it dry before painting the dark green color. There are also a number of “chipping fluids” on the market that can be brushed on or sprayed in much the same way. Once the chipping solution and dark green camouflage have been applied, a cocktail stick and an old toothbrush can be used to chip away at the camouflage color. Wet the toothbrush and start scrubbing the various seams and panels removing the green paint in much the same way as the harsh weather did on the real thing. 

Take your time and experiment first before going all in on the model, it is a bit of an art form. Once you’re satisfied with the look, set aside the aircraft to dry thoroughly. 

Next, spray a light gloss varnish to prepare the model for the decals. Markings are very simple affair, a large Hinomaru (the classic large red disc) appears in six positions: top and bottom of the wings and either side of the fuselage. The tail is painted red with three broad yellow stripes on the rudder along with the code “AI-103” signifying that it is the commander’s airplane from the wing aboard the aircraft carrier Akagi. A coat of a dull varnish seals the decals.

The finished Kate doesn’t look as good as new, but that’s the idea behind the weathering.

Next, assemble the landing gear, painting the tires a black rubber color. The gear struts and landing gear doors should be a natural metal aluminum color. Add some mild weathering, oil and fuel stains. Keep the weathering to a minimum, crew members would have taken excellent care of their aircraft on the long voyage across the Pacific. 

The kit gives the modeler a choice of a one-piece canopy or positioning it open to show off that detailed interior. The clear pieces are thin, be careful not to crack the plastic. Invest in a set of precut adhesive masks for the canopy. A number of brands are available designed specifically to be used with the Hasegawa kit. Mask off the different canopy pieces and paint then the same dark green as the rest of the aircraft. Let the pieces dry thoroughly before removing the masks. Pay close attention to the four canopy pieces and how they fit together when slid open.