In 1916 the Royal Navy laid down the first units of a new cruiser class. This one design, the Hawkins Class, would exert far-reaching effects for the next two decades. The cruisers displaced slightly under 10,000 tons and carried seven 7.5-inch guns. When the major naval powers met in Washington in 1921 to develop a naval limitations treaty, one topic concerned what type of cruiser would be allowable under the new treaty. The Royal Navy wanted to retain their new cruisers so the new treaty limits for cruisers were set at a displacement no greater than 10,000-tons and guns no greater than 8-inch. Those were the only limitations on cruisers, as there was no quantity limitation on cruiser construction like there was for battleships. As most signatories already had the maximum displacement in capital ships, they all eagerly joined in on a new naval competition, cruiser construction.
The goal of any cruiser design was to pack as much punch into a cruiser, while staying under the 10,000-ton limit. Initially every nation built up to the maximum limits allowed under the treaty. This meant a wide variety of 8-inch gun cruisers close to the 10,000-ton limit, appearing in the 1920s. The gun power, torpedo power, speed and infrequently armor scheme of each new design were compared against those of competing nations’ designs. Although some mistakes were made with minor fudging on displacement figures, by and large France, Great Britain and the United States lived up to the treaty limitations. Italy and Japan on the other hand significantly understated displacement figures from the start. Of the three critical factors involved in a warship design, armament, speed and armor, all of the early cruisers sacrificed armor in favor of the other two characteristics.
The first attempt by the USN to build a ship to the new treaty limitations was only partially successful. In a display of excess caution to avoid exceeding the 10,000-ton limit, the Pensacola CA-24 and Salt Lake City CA-25 came in 900 tons under the limit. Although well armed, their light design made them bad rollers with a consequent degradation of gunnery accuracy. The armor belt was a paltry 2.5 inches and that was only over machinery spaces. The next design, the Northampton Class, was somewhat better but still decidedly under-armored. The six ships of the class CA-26 through CA-31 were 1,000-tons under limit but did marginally increase the armor to a belt of 3-inches over machinery spaces. However, one salient feature of the six Northamptons was that they were all laid down within six months of each other in 1928. In London, their Lordships of the Admiralty started to see unlimited cruiser construction running amuck. Britain could not keep up with this tempo.
"On February 5, 1929, the Senate passed by a large majority, the Bill authorizing the construction of a further fifteen 10,000-ton cruisers. They refused to comply with the wish of the President that the rate of construction should be left to the discretion, and retained in the Bill a clause decreeing that the cruisers are to be laid down at the rate of five a year for the next three years." (Brassey’s Naval and Shipping Annual 1930, 1930, Edited by Commander Charles Robinson RN and H.M. Ross) The first batch of this new huge cruiser program was for FY29 and were allocated in July 1929 with three of the five allocated to US Navy Yards and the other two allocated to private yards.
In Britain Ramsay MacDonald, leader of the Labour Party, had just become prime minister and looked with alarm at the huge increase in US cruiser construction. "It is impossible in the face of this experience that to deny that competitive building is a serious bar to the maintenance of good relations between nations, nor can it be denied that independent building may very easily assume an aspect of competition. It was so in the case of Germany and England from 1900 to 1914; it was so in the case of the United States in 1919; it was so in 1926 when the United States woke up to the fact that they had only two 10,000-ton 8-inch-gun cruisers against the British eleven, and announced the discovery in an explosion of feeling which was only too readily exploited by ‘propagandists of hate." .""( Brassey’s Naval and Shipping Annual 1931, 1930, Edited by Commander Charles Robinson RN and H.M. Ross," The London Naval Treaty, by Captain Alfred C. Dewar RN at pages 69,70)
Whether or not he played upon the Congressional snub of Herbert Hoover’s wish to control the pace of cruiser construction, Mac Donald quickly contacted Hoover about the arms race in cruisers that Britain could not afford to enter. MacDonald pressed for more arms reductions. MacDonald suspended activity on two cruisers ordered in May but not yet laid down, the Northumberland and Surrey. In response Hoover deferred laying down the three cruisers allocated to the Navy Yards but the USN was already contractually obligated to proceed with the two of the five allocated to private yards. Those two ships were Portland CA-33 and Indianapolis CA-35 and their construction started while the three Navy Yard cruisers were still on hold. Both ships were laid down in spring 1930 while the London Conference was meeting over further armament limitations. This time, instead of coming in at 9,000-tons, the designers used the 10,000-ton limit to add extra armor protection. Although the belt remained 3-inches, the armored deck jumped from 1-inch to 2.5-inches and magazine armor jumped from 3.25-inches to 5.75-inches. So this pair in terms of deck and magazine protection were much more robust that the earlier eight cruisers. However, the belt armor had not changed and the navy wanted their cruisers to have better side protection.
If you look at the numbering sequence of the cruiser construction of the USN, you’ll notice a discrepancy. Cruisers of a newer design New Orleans CA-32 and Astoria CA-34 have earlier numbers than the older design of Portland and Indianapolis. This was the result of the hold that Hoover placed on the three Navy Yard cruisers of the 1929 program, which were New Orleans, Astoria and Minneapolis CA-36. The two cruisers in private yards progressed as planned but the three Navy Yard ships, which were on hold, were subsequently given a newer design. The upshot of the postponement of new cruiser construction was the London Treaty of 1930. The same signatories to the Washington Treaty agreed to further restrictions. Cruisers were now subdivided into two types; heavy cruisers with guns over 6.1-inch and no greater than 8-inch and light cruisers with guns up to 6.1-inch. The terms, heavy and light, did not refer to displacement but just gun size. The maximum displacement per ship was left at 10,000-tons but now the parties agreed to maximum total tonnage of cruisers by the light and heavy categories.
By 1930 it was well recognized that heavy cruiser designs were vulnerable. The 10,000-ton limit just did not allow an adequate armor scheme with the designs that had already appeared. "The great weakness of the type is the insufficiency of the protection that can be afforded, particularly on the sides and above water decks amidships, where the deck immediately over the machinery spaces is usually at a height slightly above the waterline owing to the comparatively shallow draught of the vessels; all the while such high speeds and great endurances are held to be essential the ship must be of such size that she cannot be adequately protected against a ship with gun power equal to her own; as at present built a well placed salvo of 8-inch shells would place the ship receiving it out of action, and it would have required at least an additional thousand tons of displacement beyond the Treaty limit if full protection against 8-inch guns had been incorporated in the design of existing ships. It is possible that experience will show that some reduction in the designed speed and in the radius of action is acceptable; the reduction of space required for machinery and fuel would permit of reduced dimensions for the ship, there would be a saving of weight in hull, and a reduction in the areas requiring protection.""( Brassey’s Naval and Shipping Annual 1931, 1930, Edited by Commander Charles Robinson RN and H.M. Ross,"Capital Ships and Cruisers, by William J. Berry at pages 110-111) Of course the Italian and Japanese navies had already solved this dilemma by adding the extra armor to their designs and then lying about the true displacement of their cruisers. The USN had taken a step in the right direction with the increased deck and magazine protection of Portland and Indianapolis but that was still not enough armor.
"It was cruisers that the Washington Conference unfortunately omitted, and it is cruisers which now form the substance and essence of the London Treaty enveloped in a variety of clauses not too easy to unravel….The vexed question of United States cruisers has at last been settled." .""( Brassey’s Naval and Shipping Annual 1931, 1930, Edited by Commander Charles Robinson RN and H.M. Ross," The London Naval Treaty, by Captain Alfred C. Dewar RN at pages 72,75) Under the terms of the new London Treaty the USN was allowed a total tonnage of 180,000-tons of heavy cruisers (i.e. eighteen 10,000-ton cruisers) and 143,500-tons in light cruisers. The RN received 146,800-tons in heavies and 192,200-tons in lights, while Japan received 108,400-tons in heavies and 100,450-tons in lights. The Royal Navy received what it wanted. It stopped the huge new US cruiser program dead in its tracks. With the two Pensacolas, six Northamptons and two Portlands, the USN could build eight more heavy cruisers and even here there were additional restrictions imposed on the US. Three of the eight were already accounted for. In his article on the results of the London Treaty in Brassey’s Naval and Shipping Annual 1931, Captain Dewar also listed the three navy yard ships put on hold by Hoover in 1929 as Indianapolis type ships, but in fact, they had already gone down a different path. When the London Treaty was signed in April 1930, the plans for the two private yard ships of 1929 were locked. Portland was laid down on February 17, 1930 and Indianapolis on March 31, 1930. However, the three 1929 ships allocated to navy yards, New Orleans, Astoria and Minneapolis, contrary to Captain Dewar’s beliefs, were not locked into the same design. In fact a completely new design was developed for them that would greatly increase the armor scheme of the cruisers from previous designs.
To allow a thicker armor belt, the New Orleans design had to be shortened so that that the armor belt would not have to cover as much distance. The New Orleans Class was shortened by 14 feet at the waterline, with a further beam reduction of 4 feet, from the Portlands. This was achieved through a sacrifice in the machinery layout. Although the USN had been the first major power to adopt the "unit layout" for machinery, they went back to the older "inline layout" in order to shorten the ship. The "unit layout" separated boilers and engines far more than the "inline system". Ships with the "unit layout" were far less susceptible to loose all power through one lucky hit. The disadvantage was that a unit layout required more machinery space than an inline layout, hence a longer ship. With the New Orleans Class the USN took the chance of a more compact machinery space under the theory that the protection afforded by a thicker armor belt would compensate for the risk. The size of the fuel bunkers weight of fuel tonnage was also reduced to save weight with a reduction of range. With the weight saved in this manner, the New Orleans Class of heavy cruiser was far more comprehensively armored than all of the previous designs. The armor belt jumped from 3-inches to a maximum of 5.75-inches. Although there was a slight decrease in deck and magazine armor, the turrets were finally armored with 5-inch barbettes, 6-inch face, 2.5-inch roof and 1.5-inch side armor, which was a marked improvement from the 2.5-inch face and 2-inch roof armor of the gun houses of the earlier designs.
The first ship of this new cruiser design to be laid down and the only one to be laid down in 1930 was USS Astoria, laid down on September 1, 1930 at Puget Sound Navy Yard. New Orleans followed on March 14, 1931 and Minneapolis on June 27, 1931. The FY 30 cruiser program, now cut back from five to two ships, were also laid down a few months later with Tuscaloosa CA-37 and San Francisco CA-38 both being laid down early in September 1931. Under the London Treaty the USN was limited to one heavy cruiser for each year thereafter, which became Quincy in 1933, Vincennes in 1934 and the Witchita, designed around a Brooklyn hull, in 1935. Although the Astoria had an early lead in construction, New Orleans was launched first April 12, 1933 with Minneapolis following on September 6. The slow poke Astoria finally went down the ways on December 16, 1933.
All three of the FY29 cruisers and both of the FY30 cruisers between 10 February and August 17, 1934. It is ironic that the last of the five to be laid down, San Francisco was the first to be completed. Astoria was completed on April 28, 1934. As completed the class had very limited AA capacity. The primary weapons were the eight 5-inch/25 guns found four on each side in open mounts devoid of any splinter shielding. Each ship was also fitted with eight .50 machine guns. Astoria was originally assigned to Cruiser Division 7 but in 1937 was reassigned to CruDiv 6, to which she was assigned for the rest of her career. The first significant modifications to Astoria were the results of the King Board into the status of the fleet’s AA defense. As a result her 5-inch/25 positions received splinter shields and she was fitted with four 1.1-inch AA guns, nicknamed Chicago Pianos, which were in place by April 1942.
On December 7, 1941 Astoria was at sea as part of TF11 taking marine aircraft to Midway. After return to Pearl she was made part of TF14, whose task was to attempt to bring reinforcements to Wake Island, which fell before the mission could be accomplished. In February she was an escort for Yorktown in TF17 for a raid against Rabaul, which was aborted. In March Astoria was with an ANZAC force for an air raid against Papua New Guinea. Afterwards she rejoined TF 17 as escort for Yorktown. She was with Yorktown through two critical battles, the Battle of Coral Sea in May 1942 and the pivotal Battle of Midway in June 1942. With the loss of Yorktown in the later, she was reassigned to TF11.
The origins for Operation Watchtower began in July 2, 1942 when the initial plan mentioned Tulagi but not Guadacanal. Earlier the Japanese had overrun a very small force of local constabulary at Tulagi at Florida Island across a narrow strait from Guadacanal. However, initial planning was geared against Tulagi and the seaplane base stationed there. On July 4 it was discovered that Japanese engineers were building an airstrip on a little known island named Guadacanal. The threat posed by Japanese land based bombers at a Guadacanal airbase was too great to be ignored. On August 7, 1942 marines hit the shores of Tulagi and Guadacanal and completely overwhelmed the surprised Japanese defenders. For the first time in the war the USN had gone on the offense.
The Imperial Japanese Navy reacted that very day and set cruisers in motion to form a force to counterattack allied warships and shipping off of Guadacanal. At 0625 Admiral Mikawa, commander of the Japanese force, sent cruiser floatplanes to get the latest information of US ships in the Guadacanal/Tulagi area. Mikawa received the reconnaissance report and headed southeast. By 1600 he was south of the island Choiseul and traveling at 24 knots. His battle plan was to attack allied forces off Guadacanal with torpedoes and then turn north to attack forces off Tulagi with torpedoes and gunfire before retiring north of Savo Island. At 1840 Mikawa signaled to every man in his force, "Let us attack with certain victory in the traditional night attack of the Imperial Navy. May each one calmly do his utmost!"
The allied actions after August 7 amounted to a botched reconnaissance plan of the sea approaches to the area, delayed messages and misidentification of Mikawa’s force when it was sighted. In late afternoon on the 8th a report reached the allied forces off of Guadacanal that at 1026 that morning three cruisers, three destroyers and two seaplane carriers were observed heading south. This was indeed Mikawa but he had no seaplane carriers, but instead had 7 cruisers and a destroyer. Allied commanders reasoned that any force containing seaplane tenders could not be intended for surface engagement and by 1630 it was too late for a follow up reconnaissance. Accordingly, the allied commanders were completely unaware that the first running of the Tokyo Express was going to slam into them that night.
As Mikawa increased force speed to 26-knots the allied forces deployed into their night defensive positions. Designed to protect the transport anchorage, the allied force was divided into three parts. Between Savo Island and Guadacanal to the south were three cruisers, HMAS Australia, HMAS Canberra and USS Chicago, and two destroyers. Netween Savo Island and Florida Island (Tulagi) to the north were three cruisers, USS Vincennes, USS Quincy and USS Astoria, plus two destroyers. Two other destroyers equipped with SC radar were placed in patrol patterns northwest of these two allied forces. To guard the eastern and least likely approach, HMAS Hobart and USS Juneau and two destroyers were tasked. The Juneau with her SG radar was the best equipped ship in the whole allied force to detect any Japanese force in a timely manner and she was totally misplaced to the east. As it turned out the two SC equipped destroyers were total busts in their mission of early warning as they never picked up the Japanese force. At 2032 Admiral Turner signaled Admiral Crutchley, commander of the allied covering force, to join him for a conference. Instead of taking a small boat, Crutchley traveled in style and took his flagship HMAS Australia from the southern force. Theoretically taking 1/3 rd of the combat force out of position was a very bad move but as the situation existed on the night of August 8, 1942, it probably saved Australia, who just would have been one more target of Japanese Long Lance torpedoes.
The combat force was at Condition II with half their crew on station, as they had no inkling of the approach of Mikawa. At 2330 heavy rains developed between the northern and southern allied forces. At 2345 the first odd event was observed or more accurately heard by allied sailors as the engine sounds of unidentified planes was heard. These were Mikawas float planes dispatched with flares for the upcoming attack. Different ships picked up the planes on radar and made some reports, which were disregarded as be inconsequential or assumed to be allied aircraft. For the next hour and a half, Japanese scout planes droned over the allied forces, sending in reports to Mikawa, with no allied reaction.
At 0054 Mikawa sighted the radar picket Blue, which was on a southward patrol leg with the Japanese behind her. Neither the SC radar nor lookouts on Blue picked up the long line of Japanese cruisers crossing her rear. At 0136 the Japanese spotted the southern force but was hidden from being spotted in return by a heavy rain cloud. At 0138 Japanese Long Lance torpedoes hit the water and another five minutes were to pass before the destroyer USS Patterson finally observed the Japanese ships at 5,000 yards and broadcast the alarm. That very same minute the Long Lances arrived at their targets. Two torpedoes hit Canberra. Also the Japanese floatplanes dropped flares and the cruisers opened fire with their guns. Canberra got off a few 4-inch rounds and two torpedoes, before all power was lost and she silenced to sink in the morning. Chicago received one Long Lance at 0147, which blew off part of her bow. She was lucky in only losing a bow, as she was the only one of the five allied cruisers engaged that night to survive. Chicago’s captain failed to alert the northern force.
At 0144 the Japanese spotted the northern force and made for them. The first ship of the northern force to be engaged was the rear ship in the column, USS Astoria. Because of atmospheric conditions the northern force did not pick up the warning of the Patterson or see anything happening to the south. At 0145 LTCDR Topper on the bridge of Astoria felt tremors, which had been caused by the explosions of torpedoes running past Chicago. Star shells were then seen off Guadacanal, along with a series of bright lights. Topper called Astoria to General Quarters. Searchlight beams lit up Astoria at 0150 and within one minute the first Japanese salvo arrived short and ahead of CA-34. Astoria quickly responded and at 0152 the first six 8-inch shells to be fired by any allied cruiser that night, left the barrels of USS Astoria. Captain Greenman, commander of Astoria, had been asleep, fully dressed in his ready quarters off the bridge. The first salvo of his ship was a jarring alarm clock and he reached the bridge just as Astoria’s second salvo departed. "Who sounded the general alarm? Who gave the order to commence firing? Topper, I think we are firing on our own ships, let’s not get excited and act too hasty. Cease firing!" LTCDR Truesdale, who was the Astoria’s gunnery officer, begged Greenman for permission to reopen fire. He was sure that Astoria was firing at Japanese ships. At 0154 Greenman consented. "Whether our ships or not, we will have to stop them." By this time Chockai had fired four salvos at Astoria without scoring a hit. Finally the luck of Astoria ran out and a Japanese salvo hit amidships. The placement of seaplane catapults and hangar amidships, was a design weak point of US Treaty cruisers. With all of their gasoline, oil and other combustibles, they would always burst into flame when hit. Astoria’s flamed up and provided an excellent aiming point for the seven Japanese cruisers. At ranges of 6,000 to 5,300 yards the Japanese cruisers poured shell after shell into Astoria. By now on Astoria the flames and smoke from her amidships fire greatly lowered the accuracy of her return fire. Eleven salvos left Astoria before her guns went silent. Greenman could easily keep station on Quincy and Vincennes ahead of him because they too were now burning brightly amidships. By 0202 her forward turrets were out of action and port 5-inch/25 battery torn to pieces. Greenman realized that Astoria was in the line of fire between the Japanese and Quincy, so he turned his ship to starboard. Just then the starboard battery was smashed by a shell and the Astoria was out of control for half a minute. As heat from the fires caused the engine crew to leave their stations Astoria’s speed dropped to 7 knots. The twelfth and last salvo fired by Astoria hit the forward turret of Chockai.
As the Japanese ships swept past and the guns of Astoria silenced, fire shifted to the last two ships of the New Orleans Class. As with Astoria, they were plastered in turn with the aircraft facilities igniting into a pyre. Both were doomed to sink quickly. Quincy capsized and sank at 0235 and a 0250 Vincennes heeled over and went down. Unlike her two sisters Astoria refused to follow them to the bottom of Iron Bottom Sound. However, she was doomed. She had no power and slid to a stop, still burning fiercely. Because of exploding machine gun ammunition, the bridge was abandoned and all wounded moved to the foc,sle. A bucket brigade was organized but no headway against the blaze. The magazines were flooded but resulted in less buoyancy for Astoria.
Aft on the quarterdeck, Astoria’s XO, Commander Shoup, had number three turret manned and ready under manual power in case the Japanese returned. His fire brigade was making headway against their fire and Shoup thought Astoria could be saved. Greenman was unaware of the survivors on the quarterdeck because there was no communications within the ship. The undamaged destroyer Bagley showed up and Greenman had Bagley take off the forecastle party, including the captain by 0445. It was only then that the survivors on the quarterdeck were discovered. At daybreak as Bagley went alongside to pick them up, Greenman decided to have another go at saving his ship. Captain Greenman along with a 300-man salvage party stayed aboard Astoria to save the cruiser. Minesweeper Hopkins took Astoria under tow, stern first and destroyer Wilson arrived to fight fires. In a long fight the Astoria slowly lost ground. The list to port increased and at 1100 Astoria suffered a minor, rather than catastrophic, magazine explosion but further increase the underwater damage. By noon Astoria’s main deck was at sea level and Greenman knew his ship was lost. He turned away from his command, walked to the edge of the deck, dove into the water and swam away from Astoria. As if giving her commander enough time to get clear of her final plunge, Astoria lingered until 1215 August 9, 1942 before joining her two sisters. (History from Brassey’s Naval and Shipping Annual 1930, 1930, Edited by Commander Charles Robinson RN and H.M. Ross; Brassey’s Naval and Shipping Annual 1931, 1931, Edited by Commander Charles Robinson RN and H.M. Ross; Cruisers of World War Two, An Illustrated Encyclopedia, 1995, by M.J. Whitley; The Struggle for Guadacanal, Volume V of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, 1948, by Samuel Eliot Morison)
The Combrig Astoria
The resin hull for the Astoria is a very clean casting with good to excellent detail. Combrig has released kits of two ships in the class, the Astoria as fitted in 1942 and the Minneapolis as fitted after her big refit than ended in August 1943. Therefore Combrig designed both kits to maximize the parts that could be used in common with both kits. This intentional design decision, which applies to the photo-etch brass frets as well as the resin parts, yields a great deal of flexibility for the modeler. One example was the decision to cast splinter shields as separate parts from the hull casting. The reason was that the 1942 Astoria and the 1943 Minneapolis had different size and shape splinter shields and they were separate parts so a common hull could be used in both ships. This opens up a new possibility for the modeler, an Astoria as built with no splinter shielding and only eight machine guns to supplement the 5-inch/25 armament. Of course the bridge 1.1-inch positions would have to be eliminated but the Combrig Astoria kit provides the best opportunity for a prewar Astoria, or for that matter Minneapolis, than any other kit. Another addition would be a lower line of portholes as the hull reflects the 1942 appearance, after the low line of portholes was plated over. New Orleans would require more work as its bridge arrangement was different and the FY30 Tuscaloosa and San Francisco had more compact turrets. Quincy and Vincennes are completely out of the picture because A and B turrets were nine feet closer to each other and the 01 level reworked with B barbette showing its front face.
However, most modelers will probably opt for the Astoria right from the box, as she appeared at the Battle of Savo Island in overall 5N. Frankly, who can blame you. It would be a shame to waste those lovely Combrig 1.1-inch Chicago Pianos. Anyway, I digress, back to the hull. In contrast with many other ships there just were not that many fittings for the deck. The deck comes with nicely done wood planking and some very crisp and clean fittings. If you look at photographs of the steel foc’sle you’ll see what I mean by crisp and clean fittings. Look at something as simple and overlooked as a set of bollards. In most kits they are shown as straight posts which is fine with me. However, it is not fine with Combrig as they have their 1:700 bollards in the true shape with wider heads than posts. This dedication continues over to the other deck fittings, which are mostly associated with anchor gear. If you look at photographs that greatly magnify deck hatches, you can even see hatch opening wheels. Combrig has provided the plates for the anchor chain but the chain itself is part of the photo-etch. The hull sides are clean with a single row of portholes as found on the ships in 1942. As built they had a lower line of portholes that were plated over in 1942.
The most interesting part of the hull casting is found amidships, where several features jump out. The design features a break in the deck aft of the machinery spaces and in front of the catapults. Combrig has executed a very nice undercut of the main deck at the break. Another feature found here is a curious opening in the straight solid bulkhead. On each side from the break of the deck to just aft of the catapult pillars there is a low solid bulkhead pierced by one opening, apparently for deck drainage. This has been perfectly captured by Combrig. Also found amidships are the 2nd and 4th 5-inch/25 positions, whose platforms extended over the sides of the hull. If you look, you’ll notice that Combrig has captured these features in an excellent fashion as well. The model has very fine outlines on the deck indicating the attachment of superstructure, or in the case of the 3rd 5-inch gun on each side, splinter shielding. This is of real help to the modeler since it is simple to line up the superstructure parts with the provided outlines. There were no defects in the hull casting and only a small amount of clean-up sanding is necessary along the waterline.
Superstructure Resin Parts
It is with the smaller resin parts and the brass photo-etch that the USS Astoria CA-34 assumes her individuality. There are two sheets of resin film that include the specific deck and superstructure levels, as well as splinter shielding for the class in 1942. One obvious example is the bridge, which is wide and amply supplied with large square windows. You won’t find this after refits in 1943 as it only appeared on ships in the class from completion through 1943 refits, for those survivors of the class that made it to 1943. One point of Combrig fidelity that I would like to bring up concerns the aft control position at the aft apex of the hangar upper deck. This position had a series of windows facing forward that could monitor crane operations. These windows, which are found in the Combrig kit, are overlooked and left off in kits of this class from other companies. This upper hangar deck also reflects the 1942 fit as the ships still mounted two aircraft cranes. The starboard crane would be landed in the 1943 refits. The piece for the forward 01 level deck also has the correct overhang for the two forward 5-inch/25 guns. The large hangar which was a characteristic of the class is cast in two parts with an open interior, with the separate upper hangar deck on top of the two hangar halves. The hangar door is also separate. Again the design of the Combrig kit presents additional opportunities for the modeler, as it will be fairly easy to portray one of the SOC Seagull biplanes inside an open hangar. Other superstructure parts also show some very nice touches. The conning tower has vision slits, the forward stack has the forward cap very nicely rendered and both stacks are hollow to a good depth. The cranes with their open mechanism areas are also winners.
Armament and Ship’s Fittings
Although not technically part of the armament the Combrig Astoria comes with two Curtiss SOC Seagull floatplanes. Combrig has done a really fine job with these as each SOC is made up of twelve parts. Seven are resin (fuselage, center float, upper wing, lower wing, two tail pieces and separate canopy) and five are photo-etch pieces (two wing floats, two wing supports and propeller) Almost every small fitting on this kit exhibits above standard detail and unparalleled cleanness in casting. Just look at this list and cycle through the photographs and you’ll find that the ship’s boats and carley rafts have excellent detail. Searchlights, signal lamps, anchors separate enclosed cleats, and ventilators are all exceptionally well cast.
Two Brass Photo-Etched Frets
Parts included in the common fret are one crane arm; two catapults; two runs of anchor chain; radar arrays; stack grates; propeller guards; inclined ladders; SOC wing floats; boat davits; 5-inch mount safety railings; accommodation ladder; crane wheels; various supports; SOC propellers and SOC wing supports.
For the second fret you’ll find all sorts of goodies for the early war Astoria. There are far fewer parts on this fret but they are nice. The parts that I like best are the sides to the lower bridge. The Astoria had two levels of square bridge windows. With the Combrig Astoria the upper bridge is a resin part but with the lower bridge in brass, you can see through the open windows. If you wish you can leave them open or glaze them in with Micro-Klear, either way it makes a far greater visual impact than black painted windows. The 1942 Astoria has a large lattice searchlight tower, which is represented in the kit with two brass searchlight platforms. The second crane arm is included here as well as a long inclined ladder. Finally there are eight Oerlikon 20mm guns and shields. As mentioned before, Combrig supplies resin posts for the Oerlikons. The gun mounts have ammo drums and shoulder rests that are bent to the correct shape. Likewise the gun shields have a base for mounting the gun piece and gun wheel which are bent to the proper location. Good stuff, all!