The Blackburn Roc was developed from the Skua dive-bomber/fighter and holds the distinction of being the Fleet Air Arm's first aircraft to be fitted with a power-operated turret. Unfortunately, that's probably the only accolade the Roc deserves since, almost unbelievably, this dismal aircraft was a poorer fighter than its Skua dive-bomber ancestor...
Envisaged as a naval equivalent to the RAF's Boulton-Paul Defiant, the Roc was intended to deploy its turret-mounted 4 x .303 Browning machine guns in a "broadside" against enemy bombers. The root of the problem was that, fitted with a low-powered engine and encumbered by the additional weight of the turret, the Roc could only just struggle past 220 mph and so was unlikely to catch any modern bombers to attack them!
Thankfully, the Roc was destined to see only brief operational service and in very small numbers. Following a period of familiarisation with several units, the first four aircraft joined No. 806 Squadron at Eastleigh in February 1940 to supplement the unit's Skua's. A further six Rocs went to join 801 Squadron at Hatston in the Orkneys, while sixteen were supplied to No. 2 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit at Gosport to replace its ancient Blackburn Sharks. Following an air-raid, four of this unit's damaged Roc's used their turrets as ground-based machine gun posts.
Finland showed brief interest in the Roc, but the aircraft could not be delivered before the end of the Winter War and the idea was dropped. After that the Roc was rapidly withdrawn from first-line duties and spent the rest of its career serving as a trainer and target-tug until the last machines were grounded in August 1943 for lack of spares.
Perhaps the ultimate irony is that the Roc was chosen in preference to a navalised Defiant, which promised a top speed of over 80 mph faster. Adding insult to injury, Blackburn Aircraft were unable to cope with the order, so Boulton-Paul were forced to build their competitor's aircraft which, in turn, delayed the introduction of the Defiants they were producing for the RAF (although, in light of the Defiant's subsequent career, some might see that as a blessing...).
Once bitten, twice shy?
After my less than happy experience with the Skua
, I might be accused of tempting fate by ordering the Roc via mail-order. Happily, my faith in Modelimex
was rewarded and the Roc arrived promptly and in perfect condition in a sturdy package.
I'll probably never know if the feedback from myself and others was a factor, but Special Hobby have made one significant change in how they pack the Roc, compared with the Skua. Although sprues C and D are unchanged (this time the propeller was intact...) they have now sealed the clear parts in a separate bag. One of the clear parts had still detached from its sprue at some point, but the simple expedient of the bag prevented any damage. Full marks to them for a basic but hugely effective improvement!
As with the full-sized aircraft, Special Hobby's Roc is largely based on the earlier Skua, so the kits share the bulk of the parts. The kit comprises:
86 x grey styrene parts
6 x clear parts
45 x beige resin parts
37 x etched steel parts, plus a clear film
Decals for 4 x colour schemes
As with the Skua, the new main parts have a smooth, satin finish and very nicely scribed panel lines, plus a subtle depiction of the fabric control surfaces which, in true MPM group-style, puts many of the larger kit producers to shame. For a semi-short run kit the quality of the moulding is excellent, with very little flash even on the smaller detail parts. Ejector pin marks are obviously larger than you'll find on a "Tamigawa" kit, but Special Hobby have kept them totally clear of the cockpit and other visible areas.
The main differences between the Roc and the Skua kits are an entirely new fuselage, together with the 4-gun turret, plus new wings which lack the up-turned tips of the Skua's. This means two sprues are shared between the kits for the detail parts, including the propeller. One of my references states that the Roc was fitted with a larger propeller than the Skua, so this is something to check further.
The basic airframe consists of just 10 parts and the fit is pretty straightforward. Although the kit makes more use of styrene for some of the details than would have been the case in a short-run kit 10 or so years ago, Special Hobby's Roc still includes a large number of resin and etched parts for the details, making it unsuitable for inexperienced modellers. The Roc shares the Skua's nicely detailed pilot's cockpit - 34 parts - but, of course, the big change is the turret. This comprises another 16 parts, plus an 8-part etched seat harness. With such a detailed turret, it's rather a shame that the rear fuselage decking can't be lowered to allow it to rotate.
As you'd expect, the kit includes the same highly detailed engine as its predecessor - 31 parts by the time you've added the cowling brace and carburettor intakes, which should look superb by the time it's finished and painted carefully.
Despite its fighter role, the Roc could still carry light bombs and flares and the etched fret includes a neat pair of light and universal carriers. Frustratingly - and this is the case with far too many "basic" (as opposed to "hi-tech") releases from the MPM stable, there are no underwing stores included.
After my troubles with the Skua, it was a real relief to see the Roc arrive with undamaged cockpit transparencies. They are very nice, being both thin and very clear, with the frames well defined. There's a touch of flash to clear out of the turret's gun slots. As with the rear decking, the centre part of the canopy folded down on the Roc to allow the turret to rotate, but Special Hobby have moulded it in the raised position. The canopy framing is quite complex (especially the turret) with some awkward curves, so it's an obvious candidate for an Eduard canopy masking set - otherwise, some thin masking tape such as Micron (available from HLJ
) or Cammett's recently reviewed Micro Tape
will be a great help.
The assembly instructions are very clearly illustrated with Gunze Sangyo paints keyed to each stage. Construction is broken down into 14 logical stages and there are a number of scrap views to aid positioning of items like the bomb racks.
Painting and Decals
The kit contains an excellent set of decals. The items are thin and glossy and printed in excellent good register with accurate colours for the following colour schemes:
A. - Blackburn Roc, s/n L3114 "E", No. 759 Squadron, RNAS, Donibristle, November 1939.
B. - Blackburn Roc, s/n L3075 "L6R", No. 806 Squadron, RNAS, Hatston, April 1940
C. - Blackburn Roc, s/n L3084, No. 778 Squadron, RNAS, Lee-on-Solent, May 1940
D. - Blackburn Roc, RO-143, Dycen, Scotland, 1940 - an aircraft intended for Finland but never delivered.
The last scheme is a victim of political correctness gone mad, because the Finnish Hakaristi are treated as though they're Nazi Swastikas and have been printed with separate centres to avoid offence.
Special Hobby's Blackburn Roc is very neat kit. As with any short-run kit, it's not really suitable for beginners, but it's encouraging to see just how much the gap is closing between these and mainstream kits. Experienced navy enthusiasts should love it and, although the full-sized Roc might have been something of a turkey, Special Hobby's kit deserves to be a big success. Recommended.
Special Hobby's Blackburn Roc is available from Modelimex - specialists in Eastern European short run kits.
Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE