Building the diorama
The Luftwaffe’s Last Hope
A diorama by Bjørn Jacobsen
The attack plan of the Luftwaffe.
The JG 53 paths are the black arrows at the bottom of the map
Ground crew warming up the engine of a Bf109 G-14
of 12./JG53 the morning of 1st Jan 1945
It was the early morning of
New Year's Day 1945.
The last great German offensive in the Ardennes had
slowly smoldered to an end and the Allies prepared
for a final year of war in northwest Europe.
It was this morning that Luftwaffe against all odds -
and starved of fuel and fighting spirit - launched a
massive, surprise, low-level strike attack at 17 Allied
tactical airfields throughout France, Belgium and Holland.
The attack – codename Bodenplatte – was planned under
The raid gambled on using the bulk of Luftwaffe fighter assets on
the Western Front, with the aim of decimating significant elements
of both the British 2nd RAF and the USAAF on the ground in
As the winter skies lightened on January 1st 1945, more than 900
German aircraft, most of them Fw 190s and Bf 109s, swept across
vulnerable and unsuspecting Allied airfields, creating havoc among t
he Allied planes ready for the day’s mission.
A total of 495 Allied aircraft were damaged or destroyed in the
Most of the targeted airfields remained out of action for up to two
weeks. Fortunately, very few Allied pilots were lost.
Due to Allied fighter counter-attacks, and surprisingly numerous
Allied anti-aircraft guns - intended to prevent V-1 attacks -
the Luftwaffe lost 280 aircraft, 271 of which
were fighters or fighter-bombers, with a
further 69 aircraft damaged.
But more important:
213 German pilots were lost of which
forty-five were regarded as experienced
pilots and 21 were valuable formation
leaders with skills that had taken years to
For Luftwaffe, the lost pilots were irreplaceable.
The operation was a heroic
venture that broke Luftwaffe’s
back and brought the end of the
unified aerial defence of the
For Luftwaffe, Bodenplatte was
a total disaster.
Dark pillars of smoke rising above Metz-Frescaty
attack on Etain
The 3rd Group of JG53 never reached Etain.
Three squadrons of 358FG, on armed recce discovered the low flying Bf109, heading for Etain. They engaged from high altitude and created havoc among the German planes, which jettison the fuel tanks and scattered in all directions. 25 German planes were claimed by the Jugs. But more important, the Etain airstrip was safe.
Hit the hardest
During the Bodenplatte, no Allied base was hit harder than Einhoven in the Netherlands where the Typhoon-equipped 438 “Wildcat” and 439 “Sabre-Toothed Tiger” Squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air force came under attack from Bf109 and Fw190s of JG3.
No fewer than 51 Typhoons were destroyed or damaged
The II and IV/JG 53’s attack on Metz-Frescaty
In the cramped cockpit of his Bf109 G-14 “White 11”
of 13./JG 53 , Oberfeldwebel Stefan Kohl looked
down at the snow covered ground 30m (100ft) below.
He was part of the famous “Pik As” Geschwader
and very proud of it.
It was New Year’s Day 1945 and before take-off from St. Echterdingen, he had told his colleagues how important this mission was. He was certain that he, together with hundreds of his Luftwaffe’s comrades was going to deliver a crushing blow to the Allies, obliterating 17 Allied airfields and terminate their resources once and for all.
The target assigned to the II and IV/JG53 was Metz-Frescaty in France, the
base of the US Ninth Air Force’s 365th Fighter Group (386FS, 387FS and
388FS) – their P-47 Thunderbolts, known as the “Hell Hawks”.
II/JG53 Was to hit Etain northwest of Metz
The Groups from JG53 formed up near Kaiserslautern and started their
160miles (260km) journey led by a Ju88 pathfinder of NJG100.
The airfield at Metz was lined up with P-47D, ready
for the day’s mission when the Americans heard the
thud of explosions and the staccato banging of the
AA-canons from the distant north end of the airfield.
Someone was shouting “Messerschmitts!!!” and
there was a clatter of gunfire as the pilots and
ground crew dived for cover amid machine gun
bust from the low flying Bf 109s.
Kohl was at full throttle, strafing parked P-47s,
parked wing to wing, showing the Americans, he
thought, what the Luftwaffe was capable of.
The American AA-gunfire, however, was very
efficient. The German planes were almost at
point-blank and Kohl’s Bf 109 was hit in the port wing.
His controls froze. His left aileron was immobilized
as he took more hits from the Quad .50 AA-batteries.
“I’ve got to get out” he thought aloud.
Too low and too fast to try a belly-landing, he put
his Bf109 in a climb, jettisoned his canopy and
pushed his stick forward. This was familiar stuff to
Kohl because he had bailed out three times before.
Now he was tossed from his aircraft and had just
enough time to pull his ripcord and see his
parachute open before striking the ground.
After an unsuccessful escape attempt, Kohl, who
spoke fluent French and English, was sized by the
Americans and marched right to the airfield he had
Here he comes face-to-face with Major “Bob”
Brooking, the 386th FS commander.
Brooking described Kohl
as “a handsome and
He escorted the German
pilot while his picture was
taken and his paper
filled out before arranging
some coffee for him.
“I had been fighting these
guys a long time and now
I had one face-to-face,
and he spoke English”
he later told.
The men of the 365th FG
had been in combat over
Europe for a long time,
but never seen anything
like the destruction inflicted
by the Bf109s
this New Year’s Day.
Kohl was confident that the
attack was a success, never mind that his Bf 109 had been shot down and that he was a POW.
He pointed to the smoldering wreckage of 22 Thunderbolts on the airstrip, and asks Brooking: “What do you think of that?”
The tone was of a victor talking to the defeated
Wrecked aircrafts littered the field after the Bf 109 attack
Major “Bob” Brooking , the 386th FS commander at the left
Oberfeldweber Stefan Kohl refused to have his picture taken until he had combed his hair and polished his flying boots.
What Kohl and his colleagues did not know was that the American Industry had built almost 100.000 aircrafts during 1944 alone, and that a new P-47 was out of the factories at a rate of one per hour.
Two days later, Metz was overflowing with factory fresh P-47s.
Kohl was still in custody of the
“Hell Hawks”, and Brooking, who was
getting to know his prisoner,
gestured towards the silvery new
Thunderbolts on the flight line and
“Now, what do you think of that?”
It was perhaps time for a little humility.
The German looked at the
spanking-new aircraft, just arrived from a heartland that seemed capable of building an infinite number of them and said, "That is what is beating us."
The losses at Metz
When the attack against the Metz and Etain airfields was over, the JG 53 “Pik As” Gruppen reported the loss of 20 Bf 109s and seven damaged.
This represented nearly 50 % of the attacking 52 fighters.
Some 13 pilots were missing; three were killed, six remain missing as of today, and four were captured. A further three were wounded.
The losses of the USAAF at Metz were 22 destroyed P-47 and 11 damaged.
Not all German pilots were as lucky
as Stephan Kohl
One of his fellow JG 53 pilots, Uffz. Herbert Maxis in his Bf109 “White 13” was also hit by AA-fire and made a perfect belly landing only 200 yards from American AA-positions.
When he climbed down from the cockpit, the AA-crew shot him and killed him.
The gun battery crew is reported to have believed the German was going to pull a pistol (which they later could not find)
There was talk of a court martial but this idea was quickly abandoned when the brass learnt that the pilot at low altitude had opened up on them with “everything he'd got”…
The cockpit and wings from his plane was later used by Flugmuseum Aviaticum (at Wiener Neustadt) to exhibit his aircraft - WNr. 784998 (Bf109 G-14)
To the right;
The wreck and the museum piece of "White 13"
Planning the diorama
Before I start building anything, I made a plan of how the diorama should be.
Looking at pictures from the aftermath of the attack and studying the reports both from the German and American sides, I decided to show a Bf109 strafing the parked Thunderbolts.
I plan to place three Jugs on the airstrip as indicated on the sketches.
The Thunderbolts was parked wingtip to wingtip,
all and ready for the day's mission.
Some ot the Jugs had taken off earlier in the morning for armed reconnaissance.
They did not managed to return in time to engage the Messerschmitts
This is Oberfeldweber Stefan Kohl's "White 11" as described above.
The Messerschmitt is a Bf 109 G-14 from Academy (scale 1:48)
A rather easy and uncomplicated kit that suits me well in this setting.
The first I needed to do was to place a pilot in the cockpit and fix the propeller in such a way that it would spin freely when I put a vent to it.
I therefore glued a brass tube from the front of the plane and to the cockpit.
This would be the “propeller shaft”.
Then I glued a smaller brass rod into the spinner. This will go into the “propeller shaft” and with a little graphite lubrication; it will easily spin if I blow at it.
I need a little smoke or steam streaming from the Bf 109 to hide the brass rod which will hold the plane in the air.
The plane was severely damages by shrapnel and hits from the AA-guns but did not catch fire.
I am therefore thinking that steam from an erupted cooling system would do the trick of hiding the rod.
I glued the rod into the port wing root.
I also had to make the damages from the AA-guns. The thin metal sheets which are used to create the soft skin of the airplane are borrowed from a tube of bacon cheese.
The building of the Messeschmitt is otherwise pretty straight forward, including priming and camouflage painting: The standard RLM74/75/76 with blotches
of RLM74/75 and 70 on the fuselage sides.
The spinner is black with a white spiral and
propellers are RLM70 (black-green)
The JG53 marking:
A black tail band with the Gruppen III marking, the aircraft code “White 11” and the famous “Pik As” Geschwader logo (ace of spades)
When photographing the plane, I borrowed my wife’s hairdryer to blow on the propeller to spin.
The pictures looks fare more authentic with a spinning propeller.
I am using a couple of P-47 Thunderbolts which I build some time ago. The problem is of course that neither of these belongs to the 365th Fighter Group, so I need to put on new markings and colors to make them look like one of the Fighter Squadrons parked on the Metz airstrip.
For those who wonder: The Razorback is made from a Revell kit and the Bubbletop from Tamiya (all in 1:48)
The “old” Thunderbolts (78thFG and 368thFG) Converted into 386th FS machines. (White noseband, white spinner and Code D5+)
I was planning of parking three Thunderbolts in the diorama and let the Bf 109 strafing go right through all three planes.
As indicated on the sketch, the first a/c will be hit in the tail, the next in the middle section and the last
in the front section.
The plane in the middle (#2) will be hit in the inboard fuel tanks and explode while #1 will have massive
damages in the tail and #3 will be hit in the engine, explode and probably catching fire.
The planes will be parked much closer together than in real life because I do not have a 2m long base.
Altogether, 22 Thunderbolts was destroyed and 11 was severe damaged by Bf109s on Metz-Frescaty
airstrip on this New Year's Day.
I start with the Jug #1 which is the Razorback.
This one is hit in the tail.
The tail is almost blown apart.
Luckily there is nothing flammable in this part of
the plane and the internal fuel tanks are not hit.
I use thin metal sheets to replace the thick plastic
in the model, making the damaged part as realistic
We see the plane some seconds after the rounds
from the Bf109 hits the tail.
The explosion from the 30mm round has therefore
died and only smoke and shrapnel is left.
There will of course be visible damages on the
ground, but that will be another matter.
Thunderbolt #3 is hit in front of the
starboard wing and fuselage.
I have to remove the front of the plane
and cut out large pieces of the plastic
to make room for the explosion and to
have as much air around the LED light
I also open up underneath the plane to
make room for the wires and ventilation.
After the LED light is glued in place,
I glued thin metal sheets around the
openings to replace the thick plastic
in the model.
I use a 4W LED light. This light is
connected directly to a 220V outlet.
The rounds hitting the starboard
wing, causes the wheel strut to collapse.
30mm grenades are hitting the engine
and blowing most of the cowling to
When the grenades go off, the metal
and shrapnel gets blown out first,
followed by other ejecta.
A few milliseconds later the vapor of
the ruptured fuel lines ignites.
And that’s the end of this Thunderbolt.
The explosion seems maybe a little
too white, but this is due to exploding
Later, when the oil and fuel starts to
burn, the color will be yellow and red.
The smoke is just a thin layer of white
cotton, sprayed with hairspray to
Then some shrapnel are glued to the
cotton and last, but not least the
white cotton is airbrushed with a little
For those who will build explosions:
Beware, light will always emit heat,
so also LED light.
Not from the lightbulb itself, but from
the fundament that the LED is attached to.
For those who want to make
something like this, please see that the
ventilation around the LED light is
good and don’t let the light burn too
long at a time.
Thunderbolt #2 is the new build (from HobbyBoss)
This Jug is hit in the internal fuel tanks and blows up.
It will obvious not be built in a normal way. I just have to improvise and see where it goes.
The first I did was to cut the plane in two pieces and make room for the explosion.
Then I glued metal bars between the two halves and attach the LED.
Then I made a cage of chicken wire to hold the explosion.
To have some different colors in the vapor/smoke, I put some yellow and red cellophane inside the cage.
It was the fuel vapor that exploded and this would have colors of white, yellow and red. Besides that, there would be a lot of smoke that mostly would be black.
I was hoping that the use of cellophane meant that I do not have to use so much airbrush color on the cotton.
Spraying the cotton with several colors would prevent much of the light to get through.
Then I placed white cotton on the outside of the cage and used hairspray to stiffen it.
Then it was time to place the Jug on the airfield and the cotton cage on the Jug.
The brass rod which would support the Messerschmitt is placed inside the explosion.
Then more cotton is added on top and at the bottom and the airbrush is giving the whole thing some black color.
Then it’s time to lighten the LED and see how it all looks.
Picture above to the right:
LED light without any paint on the white cotton
Picture to right:
LED light with airsprayed cotton
The Base and
The base is a wooden board
40 x 85cm (16” x 34”) which I
painted on both sides to
avoid bending when applying
wet plaster on the surface.
The base is partly covered by “Allied Airfield Covers” from Eduard and the whole area is partly covered with “snow” from Woodland.
Pictures from Metz shows a snow covered area, but not more snow than grass sticking up.
In order to have a realistic background as possible, I decided to use one of the old photos from Metz airfield as starting point for the background painting.
The picture shows the situation around the hangar and was taken shortly after the attack.
I had to add AA-explosions which no doubt filled the sky above the airstrip as all AAA-batteries opened up like crazy – even if most of the AA-guns causing trouble for the Bf109s was .50 Quad Guns which do not left explosions in the air. It was .50 caliber guns which damages Stefan Kohl’s plane.
The background is painted on a cardboard 100x60cm (40”x24”)
Fixing the Bf109 “White 11”
above the Thunderbolts
The brass rod which was fixed in the Bf109 was bent and glued into the brass tube sticking up from the explosion.
A thinner brass rod was then glued to the rod from the aircraft to extend the white vapor from the Messerschmitt backwards.
Then white cotton was glued to the rods
The Bf109 Propeller
When all was in place, another “problem” occurred.
The brass rod holding the Messerschmitt in the air was so unstable that it made the plane wobble when I used the hair dryer to spin the propeller (see section “The Messerschmitt” above)
I therefore had to make another solution for the spinning propeller.
In other dioramas I had used something called PropBlur, but decided against it for this dio.
Instead I just glued three bits of steel wool to the spinner where the propeller should be.
Making the steel wool thinner towards the end and painting it in shades of black to offwhite, it could, maybe, pass for a spinning propeller.
Regardless, it was better that a static propeller.
The Bf109 attacked the Jugs on the airfield again and again.
The original plan was that each Bf109 should strafe the airfield three times and those who could did just that – the whole attack lasted between 10 and 15 minutes.
There was a lot of smoke, fires and debris, and I am therefore making marks and smoke where the 13mm and 30mm shells are hitting the ground around the three Thunderbolts.
Then everything is in place and the diorama is ready:
The second Bf109 in the background is just a small picture attached to the backdrop
Here are a couple of pictures taken January 1st 1945 after the attack from Luftwaffe
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