How do you top a classic? It can be hard. Whether it’s a classic car like the original GTO or the iconic Trans Am with its “flaming chicken”, or a classic plane like the immortal Spitfire or evergreen DC-3, coming up with the “next big thing” is never easy. When what has come before is, itself, a high-water mark, the goal of surpassing it can seem impossible. Sometimes, it is. However, when you’re only looking to improve on something that is pedestrian at best, it really shouldn’t be that hard. I mean, consider improving on the Pinto, or F3H Demon; those don’t sound like really daunting hurdles to overcome, do they? Well, that’s the situation that the designers at Messerschmitt found themselves in when they began work on an improved version of the Bf-110 in the late 1930s.
For whatever reason, the RLM and German High Command had a serious amount of “lower torso stiffness” for the concept of the Zerstoerer, or “Destroyer” aircraft. I know it sounds cool and all, but all a Zerstoerer aircraft could claim to be was a large, heavy fighter. In the ‘30s, the concept of the heavy fighter wasn’t really all that well understood, and of course the Germans weren’t the only ones to embrace the concept. They were, though, some of the most rabidly attached to it. Like a bulldog with lockjaw, the Germans persisted in the design of large, heavy fighters when logic and experience told them it wasn’t wise to do so.
The Bf-110 was not a bad plane. It was, in fact, successful enough that it spawned very important night fighter versions that continued to fight until the end of the war. As a day fighter, though, it was completely outclassed. Almost as large as a bomber, and with that type’s limited maneuverability and large surface area (making it an easy target), the Bf-110 soon proved that it was no match for smaller single-engined types when it faced the Spits and Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain. Regardless, before this mauling even occurred, Messerschmitt had begun to develop a successor to the -110.
The result was the Me-210. This was ordered right off the drawing board, such was Willi Messerschmitt’s political cachet and the confidence that the RLM had in his company. Sadly, the RLM’s faith was misplaced, and the aircraft was a disaster. It was unsafely unstable and boasted little improvement in capability over the much safer-to-fly -110! Despite excessive modifications, the Me-210 was never quite right, and only the Hungarians really ever used them. After a lot of redesign (and, we can be sure, behind-the-scenes political pressure), the Messerschmitt works produced the Me-410 Hornisse (Hornet).
Even with all the work that went into it, the Me-410 wasn’t really successful at everything it was designed to do. Unlike other twin-engined heavy fighter types, like the Beaufighter, Mosquito and Lightning, the -410 never really found its niche. Granted, it was very powerful and well-armed, and for a machine in its class it was quite fast. It was overly complicated, like many German designs, and it was plagued with problems early on. Just like the He-177 the design tried to do too much at once.
While it was successful against unescorted bombers, it was easy meat for the escorting Thunderbolts and Mustangs and even required its own escort fighters! Some were also highly successful as night intruders, following British night bombers back to England and shooting them down in friendly territory. At least in this role the craft’s strengths of long range and good armament could be used effectively, and it didn’t have to dogfight much against Lancasters and Halifaxes!
Despite its rather lacklustre career, the Me-410 has been a constant subject for kit makers. Part of the reason for this is likely because it is such an unusual looking aircraft, with huge engine nacelles and a strange, almost pillbug-like canopy that terminates in really no nose at all! The Hornisse has also been kitted in a variety of scales, with many 1/72 incarnations. That means that I had lots to choose from when I decided I wanted a kit of this somewhat loser of a plane. Now, I realize that normally I’d go with the Matchbox or FROG, but this time I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone…
I’ve always heard how great FineMolds kits are, and they make an Me-410. However, FM kits are always hellishly expensive, so I’ve never bought one before. Then, at one of the HeritageCon shows in Hamilton, Ontario, I found one cheap. Thus, I thought I could indulge in what is supposed to be a really nice kit, find out what the hype is all about AND get a model of the much-lamented Hornisse.
If you’ve read other reviews of mine, then you know I love good box art. Good art can easily sell even a mediocre kit. Of course, being a FineMolds, most of us assume this is actually a very good kit. So, then, it should deserve very good box art, right? Well, this art is, technically, very good. It’s crisp, detailed and very, very precise. It’s more like a series of overlaid technical drawings and with a beautifully rendered aerial view of farmland below it than a dramatic scene of life-or-death aerial combat.
Therein lies the problem; the box art doesn’t quite live up to its own potential. Both the Me-410 and the B-17 it is overflying are beautifully rendered, as is the background of irregularly-divided farm fields as seen from far above. The -410’s panel lines and oddly part-splinter/part-squiggle cammo are painstakingly presented, and the B-17 is no less nicely portrayed, although since it’s in the background, there’s a bit less detail. The problem isn’t with the technical level portrayed. The problem is that, like the Me-410 itself, the art is just too technical and has no real life to it.
One issue is that there two aircraft really do look pasted one upon the other. I don’t get a feeling of separation in the vertical plane at all. Another issue is the angle at which the planes are illustrated. The B-17 looks like it’s banking super-hard, like it’s doing a dive bombing wingover to get out of the Hornisse’s way. While that might be the case, I can’t help but think it looks unnatural for a B-17 to be in this orientation, unless it’s on fire and falling out of control. Now, right there, is the third problem. If, indeed, the B-17 WAS on fire and falling, the art would work very well. However, in the modern “no violence” tradition of box art, no one is firing. Why?
This is supposed to be life and death. This is hunter and hunted, and the tables can turn at any time. In the position it’s in, the Hornisse could easily be a target for at least the B-17’s chin turret. But no, rather than hammering away at its attacker, the B-17 is apparently content to cartwheel wildly with no guns firing and the chin guns in the full “up” position. It just looks… wrong, and forced, and contrived. It’s artificial, and I don’t like it. It’s technical, but soulless; it’s flatly forcing a sense of dynamicism and it doesn’t work.
On the long box sides are full colour side elevations of the two marking schemes provided for in this kit. They are an Me-410 B-3 in night intruder paint and an Me-410 A-1 Interceptor in standard green/braunviolet splinter-and-squiggly-tail cammo. Both are interesting looking, and the lack of the complex (and largely heavy and useless) side-barbette turrets on the A-1 is a neat visual difference between the two marks that you can assemble. Of course, there’s a tonne of reference for these things out there, so finding any scheme you like won’t be too hard. The short sides repeat the nearly-offensively sterile box top art.
Thing 1: Here’s the paint scheme for the night intruder version of the -410. I’d double check my colours with other references, to be sure.
So, now that we know that the box art is a solid ‘meh’, how does the sprue inside look? After all, we don’t care about building box art, right? Inside the box there was, to my eyes, surprisingly little for the size of the box. I mean, Matchbox could cram the same plane in a box half this size in each dimension, so how is it that FineMolds needs that much more room? I thought I’d be overrun with pieces! To be honest, though, what I did find was actually preferable to that; I really hate kits that are unnecessarily fiddly.
There are six main sprues in the box, and there are also an additional four smaller sprues with bombs and shielded nighttime exhaust stacks. The wings come in three pieces; one full-span+belly pan for the lower part and two upper halves. This is pretty standard. The fuselage halves stop at the nose, allowing for different variants to be easily produced while the major other subassemblies (engine nacelles, tires) come in halves. The tailplanes are single pieces, and there are single pieces for the cockpit floor/cannon bay, main gear struts and the props are one piece too. (Yay!)
There’s also a single transparent rack with the canopy and front bomb-aiming windows. The canopy is odd in that the rear sides are both separate pieces so they can be attached open or closed. I really wish they’d given an all-closed cockpit, since at this scale closing an “open” canopy can be very difficult.
The kit is entirely moulded in a medium grey (except the clear parts, of course!) plastic that has quite the shine and feels a bit brittle. It’s definitely not New Airfix plastic, since I don’t think you can cut this stuff with a dull cheese cutter or dental floss, but likewise, I don’t get the feel this plastic is going to tolerate much in the way of bending. Overall, the feel is very much like a Hasegawa for plastic quality, and that’s generally not a bad thing.
The surface detail on the model looks, at first blush, to be very nice indeed. There are recessed panel lines all over the plane, but there are raised details too, where they are appropriate. The plastic is nice and smooth where the plane is metal, and a bit of sag is moulded into the “fabric” control surfaces. One thing I noticed, though, as I stared at the parts for a while was this: the model doesn’t really stand up to close scrutiny as well as I thought it would. The panel lines are fine, but they’re also weak in spots, and they do have a bit of depth and width “wander” to them.
If you’re worried that the Matchbox Trencher might have come to visit, that’s not an issue; you can breathe again. However, the inconsistency of the surface detail is a bit disappointing in that I was lead to believe that FM kits were some kind of “ultimate” plateau. They’re not. Well, at least this one isn’t. I’ve seen better, finer and more consistent panel lines on both newer Academy kits and New Airfix kits. In fact, I’d say that the FM Hornisse is no better than some of the Revell Germany “What Ifs” of the middle 1990s, in terms of detail and complexity.
That doesn’t mean that the Hornisse is a bad kit, but I don’t think it is a showcase for why people hold FM in such high regard. I also get a very mid-90’s Hasegawa feel from the kit. I feel that the kit is good, but not as good as it should or could be. It’s a far cry better than any FROG or Matchbox, sure, but it’s not supreme. If it were a dinner, it’d be good fish and chips, but hardly the freshly-caught lobster I thought it was supposed to be.
Instructions and Decals:
The Hasegawa comparison continues STRONGLY in the instruction department. I find Hasegawa instructions frustratingly complicated for what they do. It gets bad when there are multiple variants of a single plane, and then the instructions call out all the different stuff for each variant on sometimes separate, sometimes not, substeps. You have to remember which one you’re building, and not do the wrong thing, and the whole thing just gets too complicated at points. This is definitely a problem with the FM -410.
However, there’s an additional layer of complexity here: there must be at least one other FM Me-410 kit that makes into other variants, because in the instructions, there are callouts to FOUR different variants (I, II, III, IV). However, this kit only makes two, namely III and IV, as can be seen on the paint plan. Thus, you’re going to have to be careful to watch what pieces you put where, since clearly the instructions are designed to service a wider number of models than we are supposed to be able to make.
As far as the instructions themselves, they are well-drawn and don’t appear to have any serious drawbacks beyond what I’ve already cited and the lack of English. However, the lack of English shouldn’t hamper anyone and I certainly don’t consider it a deal breaker at all. There is a separate folded piece of paper that has the paint plans on it. These are in black and white and cover the schemes for III and IV, so at least the modeller won’t be too confused about which variant to act on in that sense of things.
There are four (yes, 4) decal sheets. One is generic decals covering things like stencils, iron crosses, spinner spirals and instrument panels. Yeah, that’s right… this kit has decal instrument panels, and no moulded-in detail for the controls at all. This makes the decals easy to put on, mind you! The next two sheets include the various call codes, a white tail band and the wooden show “nose art”. One thing; Germans SUCKED at nose art. The US guys had naked or nearly naked women, cartoon characters and interestingly aggressive drawings. The Germans…. They had wooden shoes. Really? That’s as much as your blood gets pumping? Wooden shoes? I just… I just shake my head. They really didn’t get it…
The fourth sheet, or strip, is of Hakenkreuzen (Swastikas to most)! As pedestrianly somewhat disappointing as this kit is, it HAS Swastikas! That alone makes up for some of the less-great stuff this kit pulls. It’s nice to see a company that realizes that accurate markings are an important part of history. I won’t go on a rant here; I think you can see where it’s going…
The Me-410 is an interesting aircraft, with unique styling and a somewhat advanced, yet at the same time conventional, appearance. The oddly-shaped greenhouse, fat nacelles and short, stumpy nose make it very recognizable, and it is an interesting counterpoint to similar, more successful Allied machines of the same type. For that reason alone, there’s no good reason not to have a model of the Hornisse in your collection if you’re into the Luftwaffe or WWII in general.
As for the kit itself; it strikes me that it is a lot like the Hornisse. I expected great things when I got my hands on one, and when I popped the lid was led to believe that I’d see some kind of modeller’s Nirvana. The thing is, however, that just like the real thing, the FineMolds kit of the Me-410 looks OKAY, but that’s it. It has nice detail and isn’t overly complicated, but it just doesn’t blow me away the way the hype about Fine Molds made me think it would.
This model is a good kit for anyone who is an intermediate modeller or better. It’s not overly complex, and assembly, assuming the fit is good, should go relatively smoothly. Some of the parts are delicate looking, though, and they would likely present a bit of a difficulty for novices. Indeed, the multi-piece canopy gives me pause, because I’ve seen those be a real bear to work with in the past. In addition, the instructions are clear, but demand attention be paid to them, so for someone new it could be a bit much.
When you couple this with the soft-ish panel lines in some areas and the fact that this kit is likely going to need rescribing in numerous spots, you end up with a model that will present some challenges, but also likely some rewards, for more advanced builders. I’ve heard that the engine nacelles are somehow wrong and don’t quite fit to the wings. That’s not entirely unusual for a kit like this, but again, it’s something that most people paying what the asking price for this kit is would expect to have already been handled. Still, if you can throw putty and rescribe lines, then this kit is a great starting point, by the looks of it, for a nice replica of the Hornisse.
By and large, this kit looks like it’s a good one, but it hasn’t aged well and the competition has come a long way in the years since it was introduced. However, this is still likely the best Me-410 in 1/72 that’s available, so if you want one, you may as well get this one or the Eduard re-box.
Overall, this kit doesn’t look like it quite lives up to the hype, although on the merits of what it is, it’s good enough. That, in a nutshell, is the story of both the model and the real Me-410: they’re good enough for what they are, but in the end analysis they both could have, and likely should have, been better.