This is a tale of initial exultation,
disillusionment and then the satisfaction of cresting that disappointment.
But first a bit of History! - The Roberts Class of Monitors were built during WW2 as a development of the WW1 Erebus Class. HMS Roberts was built to utilize the 15" turret from the WW1 HMS Marshal Soult, whilst HMS Abercrombie was issued with the turret originally intended as the standby turret for HMS Furious in her original guise as a battlecruiser, should the 18" turrets prove to be unsuccessful. This turret was modernized to achieve the greater elevation of 30 degrees.
This pair's external appearance was
made very distinctive by having the armour belt sloping down to the bulge for
3/4 of the hull length. Abercrombie
was completed on 5 May 1943, just in time to participate in the Allied landing
on Sicily, firing her first salvo in anger on 10 July at 07.15 am. Thereafter
she engaged numerous enemy targets with considerable success. By the 9th September Abercrombie was
called in to support the American landings at Salerno whilst fighting off
Heinkel 111's and Me.109 simultaneously on both sides. Some time later she
drifted with a light breeze offshore into an unmarked and unswept minefield onto
a 500 lb contact mine causing serious damage along a 100' section of her bulge
and unseating the 15" director. After the stopping of leaks and
counter-flooding she sailed under her own steam for Palermo.
The Allied landings at Salerno were the first combined operations in Europe in WW2 where heavy naval bombardment had played a crucial role. This convinced skeptical army officers of the value of accurately deployed naval heavy ordnance prior to the army being able to deploy its own artillery in a landing plan.
Whilst her sister HMS
Roberts was in action extensively during the Normandy landings,
D-Day, in June 1944, HMS Abercrombie's
repairs were completed at the Taranto dockyard on August 15 1944. It was shortly
afterward, during her working up period off the coast of Malta that she had the
misfortune of striking not merely one but two mines, bending both propeller
shafts, breaking the starboard A-bracket and causing other major damage. She
spent the next 11 months in Malta Dockyard being repaired. Both HMS
Roberts and Abercrombie
were ordered to the Pacific. Abercrombie
reached the Seychelles by the time of the Japanese surrender.
Abercrombie returned to England in November 1945 having spent barely six months in active service due to her propensity for hitting mines! She served as an accommodation ship after the war and was broken up in 1954. Her sister Roberts survived her until 1965
Building the Combrig Abercrombie
The only option I faced was to partially disassemble the model and scrape the
nicely rendered but incorrect planking off from all over the model. This is very
much easier to do when the model is unpainted and still in its most basic
component form. I ground large Stanley craft knife blades into various peculiar
shaped scraping and paring blades. Large blades enabled me to keep the planes
level and not gouge too deeply; a similar effect could be achieved, I am sure,
by filling and then scraping back to level on an unassembled kit. Prior to the
deck finish disaster I had extensively thinned down all the overhanging decks.
These were all now thin and fragile making the whole operation more precarious.
At the same Steve Backer of Steel Navy pointed out another major flaw in the PM
drawings. This showed the barbette to have facets similar to her sistership Roberts.
This error was carried through into the kit, leading me to believe that the
patternmakers at Combrig used the PM as a guide.
So having pared the deck flat throughout and having unseated virtually everything, I ladled on the new deck paint, replaced all the wrecked gun tubs and searchlight platforms with brass replacements. I made a new breakwater in brass and repaired the broken resin splinter shields with brass. I then turned my attention to replacing the barbette and cutting in the armour plate ridges on the turret roof. The barbette was formed from the nozzle of a silicone gun cartridge, having the exact diameter required. The spotting top was a crude lump of resin, I cut this down and formed new window frames from 1/350 ladder stock. The spotting top roof was laminated and shaped from styrene sheet. The spotting top was faired and given shape using self adhesive tape from RC Cammet.
The under deck braces and radar lantern platform and braces were formed from brass. The type 272 surface warning set radar lantern supplied was crude. The WEM pro series replacement was a different type, even when altered and painted carefully it still looked wrong to my eyes, so I manufactured a replacement using aluminum tube and 1/700 photo-etch, painted in RN B55, then the 'holes' were filled with white glue. When dry, white glue is clear. The inside was painted black and a roof added.
The bow crane was manufactured of styrene strip. The supporting operating 'derrick' had its side-members cut from doubled over paper with scissors. When installed I simply soaked it with thin Pacers CA after 'springing' in the PE lattice work cut from redundant GMM and Toms photo-etch sets, IJN I think.
I find myself using paper increasingly in construction for under deck braces and gussets, such as those on the aft face and undersides of the Bridge tower. In this instance it was from the instruction sheet. The foremast supporting structure is an assembly of three triangles, much easier to cut from paper and tack in place with matte varnish. When positioned correctly, soak with CA. This gives total adhesion and strength. I used some bits of scrap photo-etch brass, cut with scissors, to make the aft mast braces. These were clamped and the drilled prior to assembly. The kit supplied funnel did not have the funnel cap cast on or even attempted. I made my own using paper and wire back-filled with white glue after drilling out the solid funnel. The funnel siren platform and sirens were scratch-built with wire and patience. The Oerlikon platforms on the turret were made of paper gussets mounted under a paper circle punching. The twin Oerlikon tubs were made of brass as the original resin versions perished in the deck refinishing. Similar methods were employed for the compass platform aft, which had a binnacle and a WEM photo-etch wheel added.
The kit supplied paravanes were really nice but somewhat on the large side, so I
replaced them with WEM Pro series items. The carley floats supplied with
the kit were insufficient in number and design/size. I used Tamiya items
in company with some scratch-built items bent up from wire. The floors being
made by spanning the gaps with white glue.
I added various waste pipes, chutes and drains to the side of the sloping armour belt on the hull. This made the otherwise featureless hull visually more interesting. I used most of the kit supplied boats and davits were replaced with wire items rigged with sprue. The anchors were kit supplied, the deck chainways were furnished with Saemann of Germany chains after the original, nicely cast items were pared off with the timber deck.
The Camouflage was applied using WEM Colourcoats in the pattern drawn out in Alan Raven's Warship perspectives RN camouflage book, supported by photos in the aforementioned books. I got it almost right. Afterwards the plating, visible in photos, was suggested by sketching it in with light pencil strokes. Masts were made in my usual fashion from metal rod and drawn wire with the cross-members made of fuse wire on the aft mast. The radar aerials at the mast tops were made using the WEM photo-etch items from the KGV set as well as sprue. The yardarm foot ropes were made of stretched sprue, as was all the running and standing rigging. A Dunagain decals white ensign was crumpled over chocolate foil and applied with white glue to the sprue halyard. I mounted the ship on a calm Mediterranean Sea of azure blue, steaming gently with hardly any wash, depicting her awaiting orders to fire.
In conclusion, despite all the problems, inaccuracies and frustration, I
actually really enjoy the finished model. She makes a very interesting contrast
in the wall case of my usual fare of battleships and cruisers through the ages. Combrig
supplied a fair starting point. I suspect they were misled, as was I, by a very
tempting looking single source of information. This looked too good to be true.
As it turned out it was. It really underlines the importance of verifying and
cross-checking all the information one has to hand before commencing the kit
I am grateful for the invaluable assistance of: John Snyder and Alan Raven in clearing up my timber deck conundrum; Dimi Apostolopous for scanning superbly various pictures
and most especially to the fellow smml'r Mr. Edward Brown who without hesitation lent me his valuable copy of the Buxton book.