“The Sea Shall Not Have Them...”

Airfix 1/72 “Whaleback” Air Sea Rescue Launch

by Anthony "Pappy" Papadis



“The Sea Shall Not Have Them...” this was the motto of the Royal Air Force Air Sea Rescue Service ( ASR Service). The subject of this build is the venerable old Airfix chestnut, which was originally released in 1979, and is currently available again.

The ASR boats were colloquially known as “whalebacks” due to their distinctive cambered deck. Designed by the British Power Boat Company (BPB Company), the RAF’s ‘Whalebacks’ played a pivotal role in rescuing thousands of downed aircrew, from death or capture. The BPB Company’s Type Two 63Ft HSL was capable of a maximum of 36kts, powered by three 500hp Napier Sea Lions, guzzling 60 gallons/hr each. ASR boats serviced the coast of Britain, the Mediterranean (notably Malta) and the Indian Ocean.

The kit

The kit instructions take the form of the typical Airfix A4 booklet with clear illustrations. The kit can be built in one of two configurations, an early 1941 boat with light defensive armament, or two later examples from 1944, which were more heavily armed and had better shrapnel protection.

I chose to build the later, specifically boat 156, callsign “Seagull 70”. This particular boat was commanded by Flying Officer Geoffrey Lockwood (D.S.C) out of 128 ASR Unit, Newhaven , 1943-44. In October 1944, ‘Seagull 70’ rescued two downed B-17 crews (totalling 19 men) from the middle of a minefield! That was good enough for me, ‘Seagull 70’ it would be!!

The builder will need to decide early on which confiiguration they will want, as there are several holes that need to be opened up before the deck is attached to the hull.


Construction begins with the vertically split hull, to which the one piece deck is attached. I found that there was little of no gap at the bow, however, a gap appeared towards the stern. The problem appeared to be that the rear transom did not spread the rear hull far enough apart, with a resultant gap.

I had not test fitted the parts, a classic rookie mistake! I shimmed the gap with plastic strip and added putty, lesson learned I moved on!!

The next major sub-assembly is the wheel-house. I had no references for the interior and little can be seen in any case. Detail provided is very basic, simply a steering wheel, helmsman & commander figures. The officer’s hatch was left open. I added an electrical cable to the back of the spotlight mounted on the wheel house roof. I also replaced the clear screen around the hatch with acetate sheet from a blister pack, as I felt the kit part was overly thick.

The cabin section follows next. This is divided into an upper deck and two sides. Unfortunately, Airfix have moulded the grab rails with the upper deck piece, which means that there are two prominent seams to tackle. I cut off the grab rails and cleaned up the seam. I then used the grab rail parts as a template to drill locating holes and replaced the lost detail with plastic rod. I didn’t fit the cabin windows as I didn’t want to bother masking them. I simply left them out and would replace the ‘glass’ at the end with PVA wood glue applied with a toothpick.


Various stowage boxes, rail fittings and pipes are added to the deck next. Depending on the configuration , different items will be added. Since I would be building a later 1944 boat, I needed to add the 20mm Oelikon. I built a replacement splinter shield from plastic card as the kit item was overly thick. The twin Lewis guns were assembled next, and put aside, as were the turrets and the Oerlikon.

I replaced all the masts with new items built from brass and plastic rod, mainly because I hate cleaning up seams on round sections, and they look nicer.

Painting and Weathering

The deck was now sprayed, followed by the hull. Once all the major colours were on, the kit was given several light coats of Future floor polish, and the decals were applied. I then added a wash of various greys and browns, followed by a light dry-brush. I added paint chips to the hull using thinned brown paint, applied with 000 brush. A matt varnish coat followed and the turrets and armament were added.

Go Figure...

I wanted to add a human element, to give an idea of scale. The kit includes four figures (CO, helmsman ,gunner and a dude with a life preserver) whilst in reality, the full complement was nine. I was able to scrounge a couple of extra gunner figures (Thanks Keith!!), which were placed in the Vickers .303 turrets. I also manned one of the twin Vickers to add some interest.

None of the figure poses were modified. I drilled a small hole in one of the feet, into which a small length of brass rod was glued. Once I determined where I wanted to place the crew, a small hole was drilled into the deck and the brass rod was inserted into the hole and the figure was glue in place with a spot of Cyano.

Get a 'rigger' long ...

The last job was the rigging. I am not an avid ship builder, indeed, this is my first boat kit. The rigging filled me with dread. I used a product called Ezy-Line for the rigging. This is a stretchy rubber string like material that can stretch up to seven times its own length before it breaks. It also only requires slight pressure to look taut. This would be important as my scratchbuilt masts were very thin, and too much pressure and they would begin to bend under the tension. Thankfully, I was able to achieve the desired result with very little tension.

The boat sits on the kit provided stands, which in turn are fixed to a simple wooden base, onto which a brass name plaque was added.

All in all, not a bad little kit. Not without some issues, but a fun build,, and a nice change from aircraft. The kit is pretty cheap and superdetailers can go to town, opening up the cabin etc.

Completed model

© Anthony Papadis 2006

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