The Spanish Civil War saw some of the most modern and iconic weapons of the mid-20th century bloodied in combat for the first time. Tactics and technology were developed and tested in the skies over Madrid, Barcelona and Guernica during the 1936-39 conflict. The Messerschmitt Bf-109 and Polikarpov I-16, two of the most advanced fighters of their day, would go on to battle each other in one form or another for the next eight years. The Hobbycraft model company has produced a number of different versions of our two Spanish protagonists.

Messerschmitt Bf-109D

The Hobbycraft Bf-109D is a great addition to any Messerschmitt fan’s collection. The kit was rereleased by Academy of South Korea in 2010. Currently out of production (for now), the model can be found on eBay and at swap meets.

The cockpit is made up of three parts, forming a tub along with a control panel, seat and control stick. Construction is straightforward with plenty of room for scratch-built detail. There are a wide variety of aftermarket detail sets available and even a simple resin seat and harness can add some extra interest. At the time, the German Air Ministry specified that aircraft interiors be finished in a gray green color (officially called RLM 02). The completed cockpit fits snugly between the fuselage halves. Be sure to dry fit the pieces before cementing them together. Add the engine exhaust stubs, two pieces that attach through the inside of the engine cavity. Attach the engine cover and the chin intake, then set the completed fuselage aside to dry.

Assemble the simple three-piece main wing and attach it to the fuselage. Fill and sand where necessary.

There is a small oil cooler that attaches under the wing just inside of the port landing gear bay (part C-5). Unfortunately, the instructions do not show where the piece should go, so reference material here is a must. Flaps are offered as two separate pieces and can be attached “dropped” to give the finished airplane a more accurate look.

Assemble the landing gear, painting the tires a medium gray, the hubs nearly black, the struts and inside of the wheel wells RLM 02. 

Camouflage is relatively simple, with a light gray green (RLM 63) on top and undersides in light blue (RLM 65). Wingtips and the rudder are painted white. Give the airplane an overall gloss-coat to prepare for the decals. Markings for this particular Bf-109D belong to Hauptmann Werner Mölders, one of the most famous Condor Legion aces, with 14 aerial victories. His experience in Spain translated well to his Luftwaffe career, as during World War II he became the first fighter pilot to shoot down 100 enemy aircraft.

After applying the markings and a clear coat of Matt varnish, add the landing gear and a little light weathering. 

A single-piece closed canopy comes with the kit, but it’s an easy item to replace with an aftermarket vacuformed set. Carefully cut and sand to fit and mask the canopy pieces for painting. Attach the canopy center section in an open position to show off that hard work in the cockpit. Assemble the propeller, painting the blades an aluminum color. Paint the back side of the blades a very dark, almost black, color. The prop was painted this way to cut reflective glare to the pilot.

It’s time to add the final touches. Attach the antenna mast just to the rear of the cockpit. There are two weight-and-balance vanes that attach to the underside of each aileron (parts A-6). The L-shaped pitot tube will need to be made from stretched sprue. 

Once those pieces are attached your Condor Legion Messerschmitt is ready to display alongside its Republican opponent.

 

Polikarpov I-16

Like the Messerschmitt, the I-16 is a straightforward build. Start with the cockpit: The very simple cockpit floor, seat and control panel will need some help. Among the aftermarket detail sets available, newcomer Quinta Studios has taken a unique approach. The small Ukrainian company produces “3D” decal sets. The raised, three-dimensional control panel and seat harness are easy to use and, once applied, look great.

The I-16 had two small doors on either side of the cockpit that made it easier for the pilot to get in and out of the tiny fighter. A little surgery and the cockpit becomes more open, allowing the detail you’ve added to be more visible. A pair of new cockpit doors can be cut from plastic card. 

Dry fit the completed cockpit and cement it between the fuselage halves along with the engine firewall. Put together the wings and cement them to the fuselage. Fill and sand seams and set the completed assembly aside. 

Next, turn to the engine. Paint it an aluminum color and pop out some of the detail with a dark wash over the cylinders, then glue it to the firewall. Note that the louvered covering of the fuselage cowling will cover up most of the engine detail, so there’s no need to spend a lot of time on wiring harnesses and push rods.

Attach the engine cowling. Add the breech covers to the two machine guns along the top of the fuselage (parts D-20).

It’s time to head to the paint barn. The Polikarpov I-16 was painted in a standard scheme most Soviet aircraft had at the time: an overall dark olive green (approximately FS34102) on top and sky blue (FS35550) on the lower surfaces. The Republican forces painted red recognition panels on the wingtips and a good-sized red stripe around the fuselage, just behind the cockpit. Check your reference material to make sure the sizes of the painted areas are correct. Mask them off and paint.

Painting complete, add a coat of clear gloss to prepare the model for decals. Markings for this “Mosca” (Spanish for “fly”), as the stubby fighter was affectionately known, are for an airplane flown by José María Bravo Fernández, a 12.5-victory ace from the Spanish Republic’s 3rd Escuadrilla of Groupo 21 in the summer of 1938. Fernandez survived the war and would fly with the Soviet air force in World War II.

Assemble and attach the landing gear, being careful with the slight overlap that the gear door covers have. Add the propeller, with its blunt hub and black blades. Give the airplane a light wash in places of normal wear. Using a black wash, pick out the six exhaust ports around the cowling and add some exhaust staining. Finally, stretch those scratch-building skills on a gunsight using your research as a guide. Add the simple windscreen and your Mosca is complete.

The pair of opponents makes for an interesting comparison in the design of fighter aircraft in the years leading up to World War II and will be sure to spark a conversation or two.

 

For further reading about the fighter pilots and aircraft of the Spanish Civil War, try Aces of the Condor Legion, by Robert Forsyth; Spanish Republican Aces, by Rafael A. Permuy López; and of course How the Spanish Civil War Served as a Dress Rehearsal for World War II, from the September 2021 issue of Aviation History. Subscribe today!