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Tamiya 1/48 Corsair Conversion
The Puttalam Elephants

by Mike Thompson


The Puttalam Elephants


Tamiya's 1/48 scale F4U-1A is available online from Squadron



A few years ago I purchased several volumes containing paintings by renowned aviation artist Robert Taylor. I purchased these because I am a fan of Taylor’s work and as a source for ideas on displaying my 1/48 scale WW II aircraft models. I always display my models in a diorama setting to help bring them to life and to give a sense of scale to the aircraft.

One painting that really caught my eye was entitled “The Puttalam Elephants” which depicted an elephant pulling a British Corsair from the mud after it had slide off the runway at the Royal Naval Air Station, Puttalam, Ceylon. The text accompanying this painting explained that regular tractors and other vehicle could not operate in the mud caused by frequent heavy rains and the natives utilized elephants for this purpose.

I decided that this would make a great diorama, but at the time could find no model elephant suitable for my purposes. Any that I found after scouring toy and hobby shops were either out of scale or not realistic enough, so the project was put on hold.





When I decided to attend the IPMS USA Nationals in Atlanta, I renewed my interest in building this diorama. My five-year-old grandson, Michael, came to my rescue. Being a lover of animals of all types, he had several toy elephants, and one, although articulated and African (I needed an Asian one), was of the right size. After bribing him with the purchase of several model animals, he reluctantly agreed to turn over the elephant in question. I first cut off the ears to be replaced with smaller ones made of two-part putty. I then filled all the articulated joints and added a new, more realistic tail and trunk. Painting consisted of dark greens and grays, with a dry brushing of pinks around the face and ears.


The figures were a mixture of Verlinden and ICM, all modified to some degree. Some of the Verlinden figures already were wearing shorts and some were modified by cutting the legs off and converting the long pants to shorts. The native figure riding the elephant was a highly modified Verlinden with two-part putty clothing. I used Humbrol enamels for the faces and exposed skin of the figures. Their clothing was painted with Viejo acrylics.

The aircraft model is a Tamiya F4U-1A converted to a British Corsair II by cutting off the wingtips and replacing them with ones from Hobbycraft. Although Taylor’s painting depicted a Corsair painted dark blue and white, I wanted to depict the typical British color scheme of Extra Dark Sea Gray and Dark Slate Gray over Sky. The aircraft I chose was from No. 1836 Squadron, HMS Victorious, flown by Sub Lieutenant Donald J. Sheppard. Although not stationed at Puttalam, numerous aircraft from British carriers landed there and so I used a little artistic license to put this particular aircraft in the scene. Additions to the aircraft were limited to the Eduard photo etch set and Moskit exhaust. Decals are from Sky Models. It was painted with Modelmaster enamels and detailed and weathered with burnt umber oil washes and pastels.


The base was cut out of insulation foam as described in numerous Verlinden books and magazines. I find this type of base to be perfect as it is easily cut to any shape and very light weight.

The runway is cut from a section of Verlinden resin PSP plating, painted in various grays and browns with an oil wash. The groundwork is Premixed Ceramic Tile Adhesive and Grout, a product I found at Home Depot Home Center. It comes in a sand added version so when spread it already looks like soil.



I added a few additional rocks and some grass and painted it with various browns and greens. I then poured a little model railroad simulated water from Woodland Scenics to give the look of wet mud.





I think the whole diorama turned out looking very much like Taylor’s painting with some slight changes (aircraft colors) I incorporated. I entered the model in the IPMS Atlanta Nationals and was fortunate enough to win first place in the aircraft large composition diorama category.



I really enjoyed the whole project and my grandson is very proud of the part his elephant played.

Model, Images & Text Copyright © 2007 by Mike Thompson
Page Created 11 January, 2007
Last Updated 24 December, 2007

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