Introduction - The Commandant Rivière class of aviso escorteurs were diesel-engine warships designed in the 1950s and commissioned in the early 1960s.  These ships, which can be classified as frigates, were designed to serve as patrol ships to serve in French colonial waters and as ASW escorts in wartime.  As built, they were fairly well armed with 3-100mm dual purpose guns, 1-305mm four-barreled anti-submarine mortar mount, 2-40mm single anti-aircraft guns and 2-triple 550mm torpedo-tubes.  In 1970s, the ships in French service had their number 2 turrets replaced with 4-MM38 Exocet missile launchers.Nine ships in this class were built for the French Navy and four, referred to as the João Belo class, were built for the Portuguese Navy.  The French ships served well into the 1990s and were well liked by the crews that served on them.  Three of the French ships sold to Uruguay without the Exocet launchers as well as two of the Portuguese ships.  Currently, the two Portuguese ships are still in active service and one of the French ships remains in reserve. L’Arsenal in a sense returned to its roots with a release of a 1/400 scale kit of this class of ship in her original all gun fit.  Heller is synonymous with scale models in France and they offered an extensive line of ships in this scale.  Two kits of ships in this class were produced by Heller, Commandant Rivière and Victor Schoelcher, but they are long out of production and hard to find.  Also, while generally accurate, these kits suffered from the common issues found in Heller kits of this era: lack of details on superstructure faces and those horrible raised grids on the decks.  L’Arsenal’s kit is not a copy of the old Heller kit and in fact is a vast improvement.  Falk Pletscher has already written an in-box preview of the kit (http://www.steelnavy.com/L'ArsenalType12AvisoFP.htm) so I will focus on my experience with the model and how it went together.  I decided to build the model as the Commandant Rivière.

References - Like most modelers, I search for as many photographic and visual references that I can find before I get into a build.   I downloaded a complete set of as fitted plans from the Service Historique de la Defense site from this class of ship before that site was unfortunately taken off-line due to an attack by hackers.  I also obtained photos from Net-Marine site (http://www.netmarine.net/eng/index.htm) and from the Alabordache site (http://www.alabordache.fr/) which appears to be a site where French Navy veterans post photos they took while serving on their ships.  This is an excellent site to look for on-deck and detail photos.  

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Resin Parts - The one piece hull full is cleanly cast with some minor bubbles on deck details requiring attention and some smoothing along the keel.  All of the superstructures, housings and funnel are integrated into the hull casting which simplifies construction but makes for a little extra work when masking off for painting either the deck or the vertical surfaces.  Watertight doors and some vertical ladders are already cast into the model though they are also provided with the photo-etch detail set.  I opted to remove the cast on doors and some of the vertical ladders and replaced with the photoetch versions since they would stand out a little more. The smaller parts were also well cast and required some light sanding after removing them from the casting blocks.  Again, there is a good amount of detail cast into these parts and the 40mm guns have their own small photoetch detail fret.  The resin searchlight that came with the kit was broken with only the pedestal remaining, so I stole one from some spare Heller kit parts to replace it. Plenty of square life rafts are provided along 6 of the more modern life raft canisters.  This gives you the option to build an older version with only the distinctive orange and blue painted square rafts or the later version with 4 or 6 on the canisters replacing some of the square rafts. I opted to use the combination.

Photo-etch Parts - A distinctive feature of French warships from the 1950s forwards is the fairly complex lattice mast and platform structures.  The Commandant Rivière class is no exception and the kit’s photo-etch provides parts to reproduce a miniature version this structure.  This was easily the most complex part of the build requiring 6 parts (12 total if you include the DBVR22 radar assembly, vertical ladder and resin parts needed to complete it).  As extensive the photo-etch fret, it did not provide enough railing to complete the model.  I had to raid some extra 1/400 scale railing to use on the main deck.  I also opted to use suitable scale modeling chain instead of the photo-etch versions.

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Decals - The decal sheet provided with the kit has hull numbers and ships’ names for all nine ships in French Navy service and the instructions maps the hull numbers to each ship.  Two sets of bridge windows are provided with one serving as an extra.  One omission from the decal sheet is the French tri-color which I got instead from the Gold Medal Models flag decal set.  The decals went on without any problems and reacted well to Micro-Set and Micro-Sol decal solutions.   For the black boot-topping I used the separate L’Arsenal boot-topping decal set (http://www.steelnavy.com/LArsenalDecalsBootTopping.htm) which I find easier to use then trying to mask the hull and gives me straighter and neater results.

Instructions - As you can see in Falk Pletscher’s review, the kit instructions are well illustrated and complete.  Although the French text may present a challenge to non-French speaking modelers, the assembly and placement diagrams take the guess work out of the assembly.  If you supplement them with references from the other sources I mentioned above you are good to go.

Painting and Additional Details - I used the Modern French Navy Grey and Modern French Navy Deck Grey from the White Ensign Models Colourcoats line.  I decided to hand brush the decks to avoid masking off the vertical surfaces and the work on masking the decks to airbrush the vertical surfaces, the mast assembly, armament, railings and other photo-etch parts.   For the antifouling red I used Valspar American Tradition red oxide primer in a spray can available at Lowes which is a good match for a generic antifouling red. Testors Model Master paints were used for the various other colors on this model.  I used .008 brass rod for the various whip antennas and drilled out bits of plastic rod when needed for their bases.   Rigging was done with .005 steel music wire that I got via Small Parts dipped in Blacken It.

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Summary - This model was a pleasure to build and makes for a nice addition to my 1/400 scale Marine Nationale fleet. You should be able to build any of the ships in Portuguese or Uruguayan using this kit as a basis.  I am not sure of what mods, if any, you will need to do to build these ships.  L’Arsenal is planning to release two additional versions of this class of ships, the Exocet equipped fit and the Balny which was unique in several ways and I am looking forward to building those when they are released.

Felix Bustelo

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