It was a gray, rainy afternoon. My best friend and I had just watched a movie at the Lyric Theater downtown. You know, one of those old style theaters that only showed on movie at a time in the era before the multiplex. The Lyric had a balcony and the interior was painted in an old west theme that glowed under a black-light. It had been not too long ago that my friend and I had watched the British movie, "Sink the Bismarck" at that same theater on that movieís initial release, Odd how the Germans said "Fire" and the British said "Shoot", when firing their main guns. Sorry, but somehow saying "Shoot" instead of "Fire" seemed somewhat sissy. As inveterate model builders both of us wanted to build models of the ships in the movie, especially Bismarck. The only kit available in the US was a 1:1200 scale model marketed by Pyro. Well, a Pyro model, especially one that small, does not quench the burning desire of a twelve year old.
After watching the movie on this particular day, we walked down a block to stand in front of Cathaís Hobbies, the local hobby store that carried a good selection of models. The store was already closed, as we stood waiting for my friendís aunt to come pick us up. As we stood there we turned around and looked into the glass front of the closed hobby store and were galvanized just as surely as if a bolt of lightning had descended out of the gray skies to strike us. There it was, crushing through the green foamy seas. The sky was a roiling purple and black, slashed with the vertical lines of star shells. B turret was pointed to port and responding to a manly shouted "Fire" from the bridge. On the horizon was the blazing pyre of the Hood. It was a large model of the Bismarck, produced by Aurora, the US model company that specialized in non-US subjects.
Can you remember a time when the box art of a model made an indelible impression upon you, an experience so memorable that it stayed with you for decades thereafter? Well, this was such an occurrence with me. The only equivalent event for me occurred a few years later when my brother and I discovered our Dadís secret stash of Playboy magazines hidden in a closet. However, that is another story. Box art sells models. Revell knew this as they kept repackaging the same old tired models of the Iowa class with new box art. The average kid modeler would say "Gee, this has to be a new model, look how beautiful the painting is on the box!" and spend his hard earned two dollars. Of course it was the same old garbage underneath the concealing cellophane and cardboard. Revell also used dramatic art such as the Red Sky in Morning Arizona box art or the muddy Missouri box art with the battleship in some bay with brown, muddy water, firing into a muddy sky. Aurora also used the dramatic box art approach with selling their kits, and the Bismarck box art was the most gloriously excessive example.
The colors, the drama, the event, were framed by John Steel to seductively whisper to any American pre-teen boy, "Psst, Hey kid! You want excitement? You want adventure? Take a gander at this! Buy this kit and you will be transported to Valhala and sing with Thor!" No pimp on Bourbon Street could have crafted a more alluring image than the box art did for the Aurora Bismarck kit. As it was, we could only drool helplessly on the glass with paradise so close but so unavailable. I knew I couldnít get it. I was still hopelessly in debt from the last reboxed Revell Missouri that I was so sure was a new kit because of the new box art. No way my dad would let me have new deficit funding on future allowances. However, my friend swung a deal and was back the next day. He had his aunt take him to Cathaís where he eagerly plunked down the $2.00, plus tax for the rare treasure. Of course, it was Aurora, so we knew that there were risks with the purchase of a new unseen Aurora kit but this one had to be good, after all it was the Bismarck and the box art was so glorious! It just had to be great!
Well, it speaks volumes that I no longer remember my thoughts upon seeing the actual Aurora Bismarck model, only my reaction upon initially seeing the box art. My friend remembers thinking Ughh, instead of Ahhh, upon ripping off the cellophane and opening the box. Even though he was only twelve, he knew that he had been had by the company from New York. I do know that I never did purchase the kit. Instead my first large Bismarck was the far better Revell offering. Besides in a few years my interest in models waned to be replaced by other interests, probably around the same time that I found my Dadís hidden cache of magazines. In the fullness of time Cathaís developed the dreaded moccasin disease. If a local hobby shop decreases their stock of models and starts trying to sell "Build Your Own Moccasin" kits, watch out, its on its last legs. Who buys Build Your Own Moccasins? Of course, like many other "mature" modelers, I redeveloped my interest in models after going through all of the required testosterone driven life events. Again I found myself wondering about those long lost Aurora models, including the Bismarck. Of course the Aurora Bismarck has been long out of production and about the only place that you can find one is at auction, and one day there it was on E-Bay. I jumped at the chance of acquiring this lost treasure and was high bidder for this copy. It was worth it just to see the box art again but now with a trained eye, the mistakes in the box art are readily apparent. Bismarck never carried a camouflage scheme as show on the box.
However, I found the kit rather interesting in light of historical perspective. I can see why I was not bowled over, even as a pre-teen and yet the design of the kit shows some interesting choices. This kit was released years before the four company Japanese consortium popularized 1:700 scale waterline kits. Yet here is an Aurora kit that is clearly a linear ancestor to this popular format. First of all it is in a standard scale, as 1:600 scale was the standard for Aurora kits. Secondly, it is the first larger kit that had waterline construction as an option. Other Aurora kits had the hull divided along the centerline. Of course for any kid, no matter how much glue you used to put the hull halves together, there always was some gap. Therefore, your model was very unseaworthy and invariably violently capsized after a short period of rough seas in the bathtub. With a solid lower hull and a wide beam the Aurora Bismarck could handle almost any bath-time tsunami with the greatest ease.
This design created a unique effect. The upper hull slid inside the lower hull. The kit designed apparently tried to create the effect of an armor belt at this juncture. As every 12 year-old examined this Bismarck, it was clear why this ship was so tough. The width of the belt was huge. The hull sides were so thick that the armor belt appears to scale out at least 6-feet in width. Unlike other kits the seams of the deck planks were incised and not raised, which certainly is a plus. However, it was equally clear as to why the Bismarck fared worse against Rodney and King George V than it did against Hood and Prince of Wales. Early in the raid, the crew of the Bismarck was fresh and had not suffered the plague of broken and sprained ankles caused by the deep, wide ruts that are the seams between the deck planks of the Aurora Bismarck. They are so deep that you could run trolleys along the deck. Typical of the time, the kit featured solid thick railing but then so did Revell and Renwal kits. The armament was somewhat to greatly off. Aurora designers were never exacting in duplicating secondary and tertiary armament. Gun barrels ended in flash and resemble the ends of Q-tips or reversed Dahlgrens.
Clearly, if you are looking for fidelity or detail, give the Aurora Bismarck a wide berth. Almost any other Bismarck kit with be far superior in detail and design. Furthermore, one of the current 1:700 Bismarck kits, in addition to being a far better kit than the Aurora Bismarck, will probably be significantly cheaper than the price that youíll have to pay for this "Blast From the Past." The appeal of the Aurora kit primarily rests upon two factors. It is out of production and accordingly far rarer than all of the better Bismarck kits. Secondly, it is a piece of modeling history. If you are looking for a piece of history, the Aurora Bismarck is a real hoot! For those modelers of the present era who moan of the release of yet another Bismarck kit, it will be difficult to imagine a time when there was no large Bismarck kits to be had. Aurora, true to form, rushed into the breach to fill that aching void with their usual panache. This panache is best characterized as an approximation of the ship with a cavalier disregard to the smaller details.
The Aurora Bismarck was the first kit of the ship larger than the 1:1200 scale and that alone, earns the kit a place in the Hall of Fame. As an added bonus, the John Steel box art still has visceral impact and equally belongs in the Box Art Hall of Fame alongside so many other Steel works.