Aircraft Ordnance Weathering - Part I

How you learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

Modelers too often treat ordnance as afterthoughts, regarding them really more as a nuisance than something that could add value to their finished work. They complain that ordnance is tedious and blame any lack of further motivation on being stuck in a mire of tiny bombs that won't build themselves. Corners soon get cut as modelers attempt to discover the next great way to build weapons faster, and paint those pesky yellow stripes in a more convenient manner. Then they sling a coat of olive drab and vitriol all over them and hang them, begrudgingly, beneath the wings of their proud fighter. Finally, they claim that bombs never weather because they are stored in a climate controlled bunker for their entire lives until one day they are selected to be loaded on an aircraft and flown over the enemy to fulfill their singular purpose.

But, you see, that's wrong.

In this age of modeling, weathering has taken on a significant role. There are whole product lines devoted to it. Magazines. Facebook pages. Some would even say the attraction to weathering has grown way out of proportion. Whatever your take on it, the techniques for adding wear and tear to a model are here to stay and are as popular as ever.
I have always leaned more toward the "dirtier is better" side of the fence for two reasons. First, it's realistic. Aircraft get dirty, be it from human interaction or by exposure to the elements. It is unavoidable. Second, it adds character to your model. Fading the paint, adding streaks, chips and stains all help give your model a story and present the aircraft as the bad-a** war machine its suppose to be.
Ordnance is an extension of the aircraft and can exhibit similar weathering characteristics. The myth that bombs are kept clean, locked up in a sunless basement and delivered to ordnance technicians out of bubble-wrapped crates has been propagated by generations of modelers who have likely never set foot on a flight line. The simple fact is that munitions get dirty, even filthy. So much so that ordnance demands the same amount of attention when it comes to applying your favorite weathering techniques that you pay to your overall model.
And the proof is in the pudding.

To cut down on the length of the post, I am limiting Part I to bombs of the World War II.

Bombs don't have 5-star accommodations

Contrary to popular belief, munitions were not stored in bunkers living a sheltered life away from the scorching sun and drenching rain. According to this fascinating site, the Allies dropped 3.4 million tons of ordnance on the Axis powers during World War II. That is a lot of bombs; roughly 1,500 tons per day of the conflict. Ideally, during the war the munitions were stored indoors to the best of their ability but the quantity of munitions soon out grew the capacity to store them.
With the war intensifying, the UK and the United States scrambled to create more and larger facilities to house the munitions needed to fight a global conflict. Underground storage tunnels such as the one at RAF Fauld were constructed across the country.

RAF Fauld tunnels

But it wouldn't be enough.
When the US Army Air Corps arrived, new so called Forward Ammunition Supply depots were established in places like Sharnbrook and Braybrooke to meet their needs yet they soon exceeded capacity.

Open air storage of munitions at the Sharnbrook ammunition supply depot.
By 1943, the United States had opened sixteen of its own ammunition depots. Despite this, open air storage of bombs still occurred.

The Sierra Ordnance Depot, California
Though concerted efforts were made to store bombs in shelters, vast amounts of ordnance would remain uncovered across all theaters of the war.







It was hard enough to provide adequate storage facilities to ordnance residing in countries that remained relatively free of the fighting let alone combat areas that were closer to the front. Consider the Pacific theater. Even without the picture below it should not take much reasoning to assume bombs could not have been stored any where but under the palm trees, surrounded by sandy berms.


Bombs traveled long distances

Understandably, munitions tend to be kept as far away from surrounding assets and personnel as possible, especially if they are not being stored in underground shelters. Of course, not being in close proximity to the flight line and the aircraft which they will ultimately be loaded on to means they must be transported a long distance.
Ammunition trailers are by no means a luxurious mode of transportation. It was not uncommon to see munitions stacked on top of each other in transit.


Bombs sit in the mud waiting to be loaded on to trailers.


You can see the effect the muddy road has had on the bombs.


They were not handled with kid gloves

Of course, after reaching their destination the abuse did not stop. Cranes and chains could be used to offload ordnance from trucks. Bombs were placed on racks next to the aircraft and tail fin assembles were attached. Munitions, if light enough, could be carried. If they were heavy they could be rolled across the ground to get them from trailer to aircraft. 

These bombs being prepared for loading operations already show a great deal of surface wear and tear.

Munitions being handled within the bomb bay. Signs of wear from the environment are obvious. Note the man is standing on two bombs, perhaps adding some final wear to the finish with his boots before they are dropped.

Several bombs which show proof of weathering sit in the dirt while a pair of armorers pose for a photo.

More ordnance wallowing in the dirt with a pair of friendly armorers waiting to load them.


Assembling the bombs on the spot. Notice how clean the tail assemblies are, not to mention the different shade of green compared to the bomb body.


Clearly weathered ordnance being inscribed after loading.

Notice the hand print.

A dirty bomb.

Armorers rolling a bomb across the ground.



The effects of the Pacific environment on a Corsair's bomb.


It was like that for everyone

Though the majority of the photos shared so far are of Allied bombs and loading operations. But from what I've been able to gather, the situation was not much different for the Germans and their allies.








The takeaway

I think I have shown beyond a reasonable doubt that ordnance does not remain in pristine factory finish condition until it is dropped from an airplane. My hope is that, first, you found this article useful and informative. And second, I hope that if you were a non-believer prior to reading this that you've changed your mind. Pay attention to ordnance. Though bombs may seem like insignificant add-ons to your model, with the proper treatment they will enhance the look of your completed kit. Don't let your lazy bomb making skills hold your model back. 

Check out these sites for some more interesting reading on bomb storage during the Second World War:

Comments

  1. Great article! Very well written.

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