Modelling the Supermarine Seafire LIII

Modelling the Supermarine Seafire L.III

Modelling the Supermarine Seafire LIII:
Converting the carrier-based variant of the Spitfire
with Mark Barber

This article is the first in a two part series to guide you through the process of taking Battlefront’s Spitfire Mk IX miniature and converting it into a Royal Navy Seafire LIII. In particular we’re looking at an aircraft of the Air Spotting Pool of No. 34 Reconnaissance Wing of the 2nd Tactical Air Force, for use with an Allied force in a Normandy campaign battle.

Check out the Spitfire Mk IX in the online store here...

Whilst wargaming invariably attracts a great number of individuals with masses of experience in scale modelling, the focus of this short series of articles is actually the amateur. The main reason for this is that from my point of view as the guy putting the articles together, I’m a complete amateur myself! So, a couple of pointers before I get started:


  • There will undoubtedly be people reading this with infinitely more skill, experience and top-end equipment available to them. I hope it isn’t too frustrating or patronising reading through this and picking up on a number of my mistakes or areas which you would have done differently, but please do leave comments on the forums to suggest better ways of tackling problems as it will hopefully help somebody.
  • This guide is not intended to produce a perfect model after hours of painstaking work to proudly display on a shelf; it is intended to produce a useable miniature for wargaming in a relatively short space of time with only a modest amount of equipment required.
With that in mind, here’s what I used:
  • A robust nail file
  • A scalpel or craft knife
  • Superglue
  • Clippers (optional)
  • Modelling putty
  • Paints – black, white, red, dark green, ocean grey, medium sea grey
  • Black ink
  • Optional – black spray undercoat, matt varnish, gloss varnish


To kick off with, let’s have a quick blast through Spitfires and Seafires for anybody who has no prior experience of these aircraft. The Supermarine Spitfire Mk I, which entered service with the RAF in 1938, was so different from the Seafire Mk 47 which served with the Fleet Air Arm during the Korean War that the two share very few common components.

For scale modelling purposes, external differences between variants include different engines, wings, canopies, propeller blades and spinners, exhaust stubs, fuselage and wing blisters, armament, radiators and intakes and, for naval variants, undercarriage and arrestor hooks, amongst many others...

For our era, we’re looking at late-marque Merlin engine fighters. Some of the differences between a Spitfire Mk IX and a Seafire L.III are either internal or too small to be effectively considered at 1/144 scale. So, the modifications I’ve chosen to go with are:

  • Adding an arrestor hook and panel
  • Modifying the port underwing radiator
  • Clipping the wings 


The Arrestor Hook
To start with, we’re going to carve an extra panel into the underside of the model’s rear fuselage. This is done by using the knife or scalpel with a sawing motion across the width of the model at two points, or (as we are in the process of marinising a fighter, we should use the ‘Jackspeak’ of the Royal Navy) cutting athwartships abaft the midship position.

It’s best to do an internet search to get a good picture of the underside of a Merlin Seafire to work out where you want to place these two cuts; for me I placed the forward (pronounced for’ard if we’re still speaking Navy) line just in front of a half way line between the trailing edge of the wings and the leading edge of the horizontal stabilisers (tail plane little wing bits). The rear line (after line) is just in front of the tail transportation joint, which is a slanted line running diagonally down the sides of the fuselage, just in front of the tail unit. Using a knife freehand it is difficult to exactly replicate the precise panel lines already on the model, so don’t set your sights too high!

Modelling the Supermarine Seafire L.III
Modelling the Supermarine Seafire L.III

All you’re looking to do is make a couple of cuts in a good position for ink to flow into later. Now you’ve made these two cuts, you’ll need to carve two lines connecting them. These diverge as they progress up from the tail towards the cut nearer the wings – again, make reference to a good picture from your earlier internet image search.

You’ll see from this that it has ended up fairly messy, but at this scale and after painting, drybrushing and ink washing this will suffice for the majority, hopefully! Besides, it can be tidied up a bit with some careful sanding and filing, courtesy of your nail file – don’t worry about minor scuffs to the model’s surface, we’re painting over it all anyway. Now you’ve got the arrestor hook’s panel, we need to add the hook itself.

The hook is located at the back of the panel you’ve just created. All I did for this was superglue a random bit of scrap to the panel, let it dry and then clip and file it into shape. The random bit I used was some superfluous metal vent pieces from the metal components in the original Spitfire miniature box.

Once this is dry, use the clippers or a sharp knife to cut the majority of the scrap away, leaving you with a short stub glued in the place you want it. Then carefully file it down to the shape you’ve got on your reference picture.

Modelling the Supermarine Seafire L.III
Modelling the Supermarine Seafire L.III

It’s a pretty small hook you’re aiming for, but with careful filing at an angle you can get it forming a functional hook rather just sitting there as a simple block. Once this is complete, you’ve successfully marinised the miniature and completed the first step. Feel free to reward yourself in the time-honoured fashion of the maritime community with a tot of rum.

Port Underwing Radiator
The Spitfire Mk IX varied in many ways from the previous mainstream variant, the Mk V; one of them was that both underwing cooler/radiator units were now the same dimensions due to the addition of a radiator for the new engine’s intercooler. The port wing unit now housed an oil cooler and half radiator unit. The Seafire LIII did not have this arrangement, so we need to change it back to its older dimensions.

This requires two stages – modeling putty and filing. The rear of the radiator unit does not extend far back enough due to the egress port, so this needs to be filled in with putty to extend back at least as far as the radiator unit’s side walls.

This doesn’t need to be a particularly neat job – once it was dried you’ll be filing down the majority of it anyway.

Modelling the Supermarine Seafire L.III
Modelling the Supermarine Seafire L.III

On that note, it you are a beginner at this please do remember to wait until the putty is 100% set, or your hard work will just flake or detach completely as soon as you start filing. You may notice that I applied modeling putty after filing had commenced – this is purely because I hadn’t anticipated the noticeable reduction in length of the unit once I’d filed the side walls away!

Once the putty has hardened, the aim is to file the radiator unit down to resemble that of an earlier model of Spitfire or Seafire. If you are looking for images online, check any underwing shots of Seafires I through to III, or any variant of the Spitfire Mk I, II or V. Start filing by coming in from both sides towards the centre, as shown. 

This is a fairly laborious process, so might I suggest sitting in front of the TV and multitasking to keep the mind occupied – watching Sink The Bismarck! might work well at keeping enthusiasm for naval aviation alive and well during this process. The edges of the older intake are not straight and do taper in a little at the front and rear, but this is easy enough to replicate. Once the intake has been fashioned along the sides, then file the edges away to leave it rounded.

At this point you now have a later model Merlin Seafire; in other scenarios this could be used to model a Seafire LIIc, FIII or LIII. However, the Seafires used over Normandy had their wings clipped, which is the final stage.

Modelling the Supermarine Seafire L.III
Modelling the Supermarine Seafire L.III

Clipped Wings
Clipping the wings of Spitfires had occurred as early as with the Mk V, following the first encounters with the Focke-Wulf FW190 when it was apparent that the British fighter’s roll rate was lacking in comparison. Whilst there were benefits and penalties to this modification, in general the benefits were more apparent at low level and it was here that the naval Seafires would be operating from over Normandy, hence the modification.

The modification involved removing the wing tip just outboard of the end of the aileron and replacing it with a much shorter tip - almost a stub or plug in comparison. So for our miniature, this is a simple case of snipping the ends of the wings off with clippers and then filing down neatly. If you don’t have clippers, the whole job can be done by filing easily enough. Don’t clip too far in with the clippers if you do opt for them; you’ll need to file the edges away neatly at the end so if you clip too much away there isn’t really any going back.

Working from leading edge to trailing edge in plan view, the tip resembles an aerofoil cross section so don’t file to a straight line or a symmetrical finish. Once that is complete, smooth away the upper and lower surfaces to eliminate any sharp edges.

The finishing touches are as simple as adding the stock metal parts from the pack. The aerial mast just behind the cockpit on the miniature is certainly robust as this is intended for handling in wargames rather than displaying on a shelf; I decided to file mine down a bit just to get it a little closer to the real life dimensions. After adding guns, the radio mast and the propeller spinner and filing these neatly in, you’ve got a clipped wing Seafire LIII all ready for painting.

~ Mark. 

Modelling the Supermarine Seafire L.III