R.A.F. Air Sea Rescue Launch «Whaleback»

Airfix 1:72 Scale Ship Review

R.A.F. Air Sea Rescue Launch «Whaleback».

British Commandos landing from an R.A.F. crash boat. The vessel has been converted to a waterline model which can be used in harbour dioramas and simulations of coastal warfare. The Commandos and Kübelwagen are available from Airfix, ESCI made the Opel Blitz.

The sea shall not have them

During World War 2 the Royal Air Force operated a fleet of high-speed, very reliable and seaworthy motor launches to rescue pilots and aircrew who ditched their damaged planes or bailed out over water. It was vital that downed airmen be picked up quickly, to protect them from exposure and – equally important – to prevent their capture by enemy E-boats. Interestingly, because the crash boats were operated by the R.A.F. Air Sea Rescue Service, their captains held Air Force ranks of Flying Officer or Flight Lieutenant.

On the night of 23rd/24th June 1940, the newly created № 11 Commando borrowed six crash boats from the Air Ministry to launch the first ever Commando raid. Each boat carried 30 Commandos and their equipment, landing the men near Boulogne and Le Touquet in occupied France. The raid itself was uneventful, but it marked the beginning of combined operations and it did much to improve morale in Britain. Until specialized assault landing craft became available later in the war, a variety of naval vessels like destroyers, Motor Torpedo Boats (MTB), Steam Gun Boats, RAF crash boats, motor launches, Eureka boats, dories and canoes were used to ferry Commandos across the channel and land them on the French coast. RAF crash boats were involved in the raid against the island of Guernsey, 14th/15th June 1940, where it proved difficult to land and later evacuate the troops from the rugged coastline.

Raids against St. Nazaire and Dieppe in 1942 showed the deficiencies of motor launches and similarly unarmoured naval vessels used in amphibious operations. Many of the boats were badly shot up as they approached enemy machine gun positions defending the intended landing sites. As a result, RAF crash boats had anti-shrapnel padding fitted around the forward cabin and they were equipped with additional machine guns and a 20 mm Oerlikon on the rear deck.

R.A.F. Air Sea Rescue Launch «Whaleback»


  • British Power Boat Company Type Two 63ft HSL
  • Length: 63ft (19.20 m)
  • Speed: 36 knots
  • Range: 800 km
  • Armament: 2 turret mounted .303 Vickers machine guns. In late 1942, additional twin machine guns were mounted on either side of the pilot house and a 20 mm Oerlikon on the rear deck.
  • Crew: Captain, medical orderly and 7 sailors.


Scale model with excellent detail.

Perfect choice of subject, the model may be used in amphibious operations involving infantry, landing craft and other small naval vessels.

Choice of early war version with black/yellow colour scheme or late war vessel with subdued colours, additional weapons and anti-shrapnel padding.

Decals for three boats are included.

Intermediate level of difficulty. Many parts, and some equipment choices need to be made. Some parts require painting before assembly.

High quality kit. Parts fit very well and there is minimal flash.

Assembly instructions are easy to follow.

Very nice crew figures, depicting the captain, two machine gunners and a man about to throw a life-preserver to someone in the water.

Compatible with torpedoboats, Motor Torpedo Boats and destroyers produced by Airfix, Revell and Tamiya.

Crew figures for the machine gun turrets are not included.

Decals will not fit over raised detail on the bow, they need to be cut out precisely.

Historical Employment

  • R.A.F. Air Sea Rescue Service, 1940–1945
    • HSL 130, 1941–1942
    • HSL 127, Flt. Lt. D. Jones, 1942–1944
    • HSL 156 (Seagull 70), Flying Officer G. Lockwood, 1943–1944
  • Combined Operations, 1940–1944

Possible Conversions

Sinking ship created from offcuts of the waterline model pictured above.

The rescue launch shown here has been converted to a waterline model by cutting the hull apart and mounting the vessel in a wargame display. The offcuts were used to create the impression of an inverted and sinking naval vessel. Waterline models can be displayed in very attractive harbour scenes involving buildings, figures and vehicles. The rubber dinghy and its crew of two men are from Revell’s set of German engineers.

The R.A.F. rescue launch is an excellent model, it deserves to be mounted in a naval diorama. The Airfix kit is dated 1978, but it does not show its age at all. Parts fit perfectly, most of the work can be completed in an evening and it will be surprisingly familiar terrain for armour enthusiasts. Standard modeling and painting techniques apply, drybrushing and weathering will bring out all the raised detail and turn this kit into a superb showpiece. A welcome change of pace from 1:72 scale armour and infantry models. The Whaleback really is a delight to build.

Airfix Modelling

British Miniatures of World War Two