When it comes to battlefield intelligence, the old “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!” doesn’t really cut it much anymore. In fact, it more or less stopped cutting it as soon as firearms managed to outrange the old Mk. I eyeball! Thus, since that moment, the development of tactical reconnaissance has taken on ever-greater importance. From the recon balloons of the American Civil War to the wood-and-fabric spotters of WWI, aircraft had proven to be a decisive asset when it came to knowing what was going on “just over the rise”. After the Great War, army co-operation and artillery spotting continued to be of great importance, and the development of newer and better aircraft tailored to the job was always an important consideration for the world’s major armed forces.
However, during WWII the role of the battlefield co-operation aircraft expanded greatly. These light “spotters” were used by all belligerents on pretty much every battlefield, and for a wide range of tasks. They performed recon and spotting, casualty evacuation, liaison/message/light cargo delivery as well as being used for night harassment and special operations. They ranged from retasked civilian light planes (like the immortal Piper L4) to custom-designed machines, both heavy (like the Lysander) and light (like the Fiesler Storch).
The German Army (Heer) made considerable use of such aircraft, and devoted considerable resources to their development. Two of the war’s most famous aircraft of this type were the aforementioned Storch, an excellent all-around light aircraft, and the Fw-189 Uhu, also known as the “Flying Eye”. However, before these two machines took to the sky, there was another German machine designed and developed for this purpose. This was the Hs-126. While this machine is not as famous as those that replaced it, it was still a useful and hard-worked asset, especially during the first half of World War II.
The Hs-126 was developed in the mid-1930’s from the less-than-stellar Hs-122. Like the former, it was a parasol-winged monoplane with fixed landing gear. The -126 had a cockpit for the pilot and an open position for a rear observer/gunner, and could carry light bombs as well. It was first delivered to the Luftwaffe in 1937, and some were sent with the Condor Legion to Spain. By the time production stopped in January of 1941, around 800 had been produced. They served on pretty much every front, although they were almost all on the Eastern Front by 1941. They were tough and could absorb considerable punishment, and they had excellent STOL capability. As the war went on, they were relegated to secondary tasks, including towing gliders and use in the Nachtschlacht (night assault, or night harassment) Gruppen. This made them, along with their Hs-123 stablemates, the German equivalent to the ever-annoying and deadly Po-2s of the Russian forces.
Despite their long service, they aren’t all that well remembered. The Storch and Uhu are generally better known, and have been kitted more often as well. However, there have been some kits of the venerable -126. The one I was most interested in, of course, was the Matchbox 1/72 model! If you know me, this is no surprise. I love me some Mbox goodness, so when I had a chance to pick up a classic “old box” of the -126, I leapt at it. I think it was only like $5 at a model show, too, so it was too awesome NOT to pick up. So, let’s see what the good folks at Matchbox turned out in tribute to the Hs-126, shall we? It’s both obscure and classic – what more could you ask for??
You know I love Matchbox box art. The older it is, the better it is, and the Hs-126 that I got was one of the original versions, first released in 1974. It is a typically small “Purple Range” box, but the art is awesome! Front and center, you have a green -126. At first, you likely think “Oh, it’s a plane flying along… kinda boring.” Sure you do, but you know there’s more to it since it’s old Matchbox art. The first thing to note is that the foreground machine is rendered with quite a lot of detail. You can see secondary struts and panels that you know you aren’t going to find in the kit. The second thing to note is that the lighting and the sky look weird. It’s a sunrise or sunset sky, and there’s an eerie “half-light” to the entire picture. The tones of yellow and beige fade to pinky-purple overhead, and it’s quite peaceful looking.
That is, until you look to the background. What’s back there, smudging up the sky? Why, it’s more planes! And Flak! Well, so much for the “placid morning” vibe, eh? In the background are two other -126s, dark in the half-light, each towing a glider. If you take a second look at the foreground plane, you can see what is now clearly a tow cable coming off of it. This is a pretty interesting piece of art, since you usually don’t see glider tugs getting shot at! As with a lot of the old Matchbox boxes, there’s even a little description in tiny, black letters. It says these are 21 Gruppe machines, fighting their way through to supply German forces encircled at Kholm, on the Eastern Front in 1942. That’s a very unusual way to depict the subject of a model, and it’s not one of the more usual ways to depict the Hs-126; they’re often show either in the desert or alone, above a battlefield. As usual Roy Huxley delivers a beautiful and unique piece of art both in terms of setting and execution!
On one side of the box are the inevitable cross-sells for other Matchbox products. Sadly, I only have one of them, the Buffalo. On the other side has some non-English descriptions of the kit, along with the image showing how the kit looks built unpainted. Of course, being a Matchbox, it is moulded in TWO colours! This was a big deal for Matchbox, and in their catalogues, they are always saying that they try to use colours that will make the plane somewhat realistic when done. I have to say that this poor model really doesn’t work, though. It’s moulded in light blue and bright green, apparently, and the end result just doesn’t really look right.
This is made very clear by the two different paint plans, in full colour, on the back of the box. One is for the machine on the front, from 21 Gruppe on the Eastern Front in September 1942. This is in the usual two-tone green splinter with light blue underside. The bottom machine is one from Gruppe 14 in North Africa in 1941. It’s tan (likely Afrika Corps Mustard or close to it) with green and brown mottle. Again, the underside is the standard RLM 65 Lichtblau, by the looks of things. Since this is an old box, it is a window-type, so you can see the parts through it, or, as in my case, the instruction booklet. Above the window is the English statement of what the kit is. Considering the small size of the box, this is a lot of information!
Matchbox kits are NOT the pinnacle of the kit maker’s art. They never were, and they weren’t intended to be. They were supposed to be simpler, more rugged kits, and they were targeted at the “pocket money” segment. They were there for boys to buy with their allowance, not to stand up to the finest from FROG and Heller. (Now THERE’S a statement, eh?) They eschewed excessive detail and part count, and instead focused on making kits of subjects that were odd, esoteric or otherwise neglected (at the time). The Hs-126 is clearly a product of this philosophy, for good and for bad.
The kit comes on two coloured sprues, and one clear one. The one sprue is, as expected, a light blue. It is very bright, and doesn’t replicated the RLM colour well at all. The other sprue is, again as represented, a bright green. You have to give Matchbox credit – they believed in truthful representation when it came to showing you what you got in the box. The clear sprue has the canopy and one of the awesome “M” stands with a gimbal on the top. This is great should you desire to pose your kit flying! Actually, I never use the stands for Matchbox planes, but have used them for many other things, including my KOR Fighter, my old FROG Gannet and my Super Gunship. You can never have too many of these things, so I was glad to see one in the box!
The parts in this model are not complicated, nor are they fine. The fuselage and landing gear legs are pretty much in halves, and the wings and tail planes are separate pieces. Oddly, the wings are not joined together, one having a tab, one having a slot. This should be fun for getting your alignments right! The cockpit consists of a floor, and a couple of seats (one a bench for the rear gunner) as well as a rudimentary control stick. There are pilot figures, but luxuries like interior cabin wall detail, floor detail or an instrument panel are not standard.
The detail on this kit is almost all recessed and it’s not even as bad as some might think. It doesn’t appear that the “Matchbox Trencher” was working this day, and the panel lines aren’t huge. I mean, they’re not Academy Stuka fine, but they’re not as bad as the ones on my Hunter either. They’re clunky enough, and few enough to let you know that this is an old Matchbox but it’s not like you can float a boat down them either. If you rescribe them with a fine tipped tool, I’m sure you’ll see that, with a few coats of paint and primer, they’re pretty much “normal” for an old kit. I prefer this to raised, at least! Also, the fabric “sag” on the control surfaces looks pretty good; it’s not overdone as it can sometimes be (even on newer kits) but it definitely will benefit from a wash or some pastel work to bring it out.
While the kit isn’t the master of all things detail-y, it does have a surprisingly good engine. Well, it’s better than the terrible half-engine in the Buffalo, at least! It has nine cylinders and each has two lines on it for pushrods. There are cooling fins. Sure, it’s got some flash/seam lines, but if you just leave them, paint the cylinders Model Master Acrylic (MMA) Steel and give them a wash, this thing is going to look good enough for government work at least! I don’t fixate on the small stuff like perfect engines and the like, I just want something that’s the right shape and size. That’s why I love my Matchboxes! The canopy is typical Matchbox too; it is thick, and has hugely thick fames, two things I love. Why? Well, there’s no interior to obscure, so having distortion is a help, and thick frames are easier to mask. Sure, it looks a bit clunky, but it’s in keeping with the nature of the kit!
One thing that disappointed me was that this kit doesn’t have the little pylon for the external bomb rack that the -126 is often seen with. I wanted to do one of these as a Nachtschlacht unit, but that’s a no-go without the bomb! It’s an odd omission, especially since the kit does have the equally prominent and likely more delicate boarding step on the fuselage side. No accounting for some peoples’ tastes.
Instructions and Decals:
There’s not a lot to say about the instructions. They’re simple, pretty well drawn, and since the kit’s not a huge mine of fiddly parts, they’re pretty easy to follow. Like all Matchbox instructions, there are “mini paint plans) for the subassemblies like the cockpit (such as it is), engine and pilot, among others. The whole thing only needs eight steps to complete the build, and none of them seem very complicated.
As with all small Matchbox kits, there are two decal schemes for this kit. They are not complicated, and there are no stencils or other fine detail decals. The spares box is going to have to do for those. All you really get are wing and fuselage crosses and call letters, plus the shields for the 14 Gruppe plane. You do, of course, get two Hakenkreuzen, (“Crooked Crosses”, i.e. what Swastikas are really called) for the tail. This shouldn’t be, but is, a big deal, since I’m sure the Revell Germany re-pop of this thing doesn’t have them. Mine were “welded” to their tissue paper backing, due to being improperly stored for a long, long time. I don’t know if they’ll still work, but I’ll give them a shot. If they are typical Matchbox decals, they’ll be very tough and strong and conform well without any decal set whatsoever. I hope that the “tissue” part will come off during the soaking procedure. Time will tell!
One thing that is missing, and I’m surprised that it isn’t a decal, are the coloured “diving lines” on the outside of the airplane. These were, I believe, to allow the dive angle to be determined, and are shown on both paint plan profiles. These are pretty much de rigeur on the -126, so not having them is unfortunate. Sure, you can make your own, but that’s something I don’t think you should have to do, even on a Matchbox. It’s a shame something this basic got missed. Weak, Matchbox… very weak.
The Hs-126 was an important, if not somewhat inglorious, workhorse for the German forces, and is a type that deserves its due. Sure, it’s not as sexy as a Bf-109 or an FW-190, but it did its job well and under difficult circumstances. Couple that with a neat aesthetic (parasol wing, long legs and spatted wheels) that’s unlike many other planes (except maybe a Lysander) and it’s almost a no-brainer that someone into WWII should have this plane in their stash.
This kit was made for beginners, and shouldn’t present too much of a problem for those who have little to no experience with building aircraft. However, like so many things that “look easy”, the -126 hides some pitfalls. You’re likely going to have to shorten the wheel ‘axles’ so the gear can be painted and them popped in place. This will save masking and touch up later. Also, the engine and cowl assembly may be best put on at the end of things. The biggest issue though will be getting everything to align correctly. I’m sure there’s going to be a bit of play in the struts and wings, so getting the wings straight and then square to the body is going to take some finagling. It’ll also likely be best to glue the tail plane struts in afterwards, since they’re blue, but the fuselage under them is not.
So, maybe it’s not as easy as it looks, but it depends what you want to get out of it. If you’re a novice and you just want experience and fun, then you are literally doing exactly what the kit was designed for. If you have some experience, but it’s all with newer kits, and you’re used to “shake and bake” engineering, you’re screwed. Matchboxes are fairly forgiving, but they only give results in direct proportion to the work you’re willing to do. They’re fuelled by elbow grease, and none of the modern “niceties” are there for a builder to use as a safety net. If you like a challenge of how to “work around” problems, though, then this kit will definitely appeal to you.
It’s got great potential for superdetailing, too, like all Matchboxes. Mind you, I realize this is a nice way of saying “interior detail sucks”, but hey, I’m a Matchbox apologist, what can I say. An addict never trash talks his high!
If you like the classics, want something a bit different, or just want to have a cheap way to add the Hs-126 to your collection, this kit is a great way to do it. I know I’m glad I got mine, and I’d encourage everyone out there to do the same!