(The bulk of the general history of the Essex Class is from the Review of the DML 1:700 scale USS Essex, (Click for DML Essex Review; Click for DML Randolph Review; Click for DML Hancock Review; Click for DML Bon Homme Richard Review), however, additional material was added from U.S. Aircraft Carriers, An Illustrated Design History by Norman Friedman, and Warships Perspectives Essex Aircraft in World War Two by Glenn H. Arnold by WR Press. Of course USS Antietam specific history is completely new.)

  In the course of the greatest naval war in history, World War Two, in the Pacific the one class of warship that probably made the most impact in the victory of the USN over yhe IJN was the Essex Class aircraft carrier. Although submarine adherents will nominate the Gato/Balao Fleet boats for their extraordinary campaign of destruction of the Japanese merchant marine, that campaign denied the Japanese food, oil, rubber, coal, minerals, ore and every other sort of logistic requirement for mounting warfare. The seizure of Japanese controlled islands and maintenance of offensive operations was substantially aided by the submarine offensive but the backbone of the offense in the Pacific was the aircraft carrier. Of the US carriers it was the Essex Class that carried the allies to the shores of Japan . With 24 Essex Class completed of the 26 ships laid down, no fleet carrier has been built in such great numbers.

The development of the aircraft carrier for the United States Navy was largely guided by the terms of the 1921 Washington Treaty. The Royal Navy, which had truly pioneered the concept, already had constructed or was constructing a number of smaller carriers, which in the long run really hurt the development of the Fleet Air Arm. The status of the USN and IJN were different however, as neither power had invested any significant tonnage to aircraft carriers at the time of the signing of the Treaty. The IJN had the Hosho and the USN had the Langley CV1, which were both used basically as experiments and indoctrination, rather than as operational carriers. Both Pacific powers likewise wished to save capital ship hulls from scrapping, so both were granted two carriers over the established displacement in the Treaty, Lexington CV2 and Saratoga CV3 for the USN and Kaga and Akagi for the IJN. The small “training” carriers and the oversized conversions of battlecruisers and a battleship (Kaga) formed the training and operational base of the fleets of both powers throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. 

For the USN the Ranger was its first attempt to build a carrier from the keel up. To cram as many ships into the allowable tonnage of the Washington and London Treaties as possible, the USN pared the ship’s displacement to a bare minimum. It was determined that they could build five carriers of this size with the allowable tonnage left. In this design speed was sacrificed and protection was minimal in order to magnify one characteristic of Ranger CV4. That trait was maximum size of the air wing, and that became a characteristic that USN aircraft carriers have emphasized to the present day. Nonetheless, the Ranger was a failed design, as too much was attempted on too small a displacement. The next USN design was different. The Yorktown Class of 20,000-tons was a beautiful blend of speed with some protection, coupled with a large air wing. The only other carriers in the running for the best prewar carrier design were the Japanese Shokaku and Zuikaku, although RN devotees will undoubtedly advance the HMS Ark Royal as an almost perfect design. However, even with their near perfect blend of characteristics, the Yorktown design still did not have all of the characteristics that the USN wanted in a carrier. Operating under overall tonnage constraints as well, after the Yorktown CV5 and Enterprise CV6 there was only enough tonnage left over for one much smaller carrier, which almost seemed to mix Ranger and Yorktown characteristics. This became Wasp CV7.


The Hull
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The 1935 London Treaty contained a clause that if one of the signatories to the Washington Treaty and 1930 London Treaty failed to ratify the new document, then none of the signatories would be bound. When Japan refused to enter into the 1935 Treaty, the artificial restrictions, which had hamstrung warship design for the previous 14 years disappeared and navies throughout the world could add many items to their wishing lists. With the ending of treaty constraints, Congress approved the construction of a further 40,000-tons for aircraft carriers. The first carrier was a slightly modified Yorktown design, which became Hornet CV8, however for CV9, it was decided to rework the previous design to see if more could be squeezed out of it.

For the USN one of the prime items was new, larger more capable aircraft carrier. As good as the Yorktown design had been, it still did not have all of the characteristics sought by the navy. Now with no treaty restrictions to hamper and contain the design, the admirals could get the ship that they really wanted. However, even though there were no longer treaty restraints, there was another urgent constraint that impacted the design of new carriers and that was time. With the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and then China and militant Germany stirring in Europe , War Clouds were gathering and the USN needed to expand its capabilities quickly. Events overtook the design process. After war broke out in Europe in September 1939 and the situation in the Pacific deteriorated, Congress finally woke up and greatly expanded naval construction in 1940. CV9 was a beneficiary of the loosened purse strings.


A & C Sprues
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Because of the need for a quick development of new carriers, the 20,000-ton Yorktown design was used as a baseline to which other desired features were added to substantially modify the smaller design. In 1939 work began on this new design. She was given a larger hull and flight deck to operate even more aircraft. A deck side elevator was added to the two-centerline elevators to increase the operational tempo of flight operations. This was first tried with Wasp CV7 and had proven to be successful. With two deck elevators and the side elevator aircraft could be cycled through the operational pattern much faster, making the new design capable of concentrating larger strike packages. As a result of the success of the side elevator the designers dispensed with a centerline elevator amidships, which had weakened the lightly armored hangar deck. When the preceding Yorktown was designed the navy was still operating biplanes. As newer monoplane designs joined the carriers, they generally were larger than the biplanes they replaced. This reduced the total number of aircraft that could be carried. A larger hull with a longer flight deck was needed. Additionally the navy wanted the design to accommodate another fighter squadron, bringing up total capacity to five squadrons.

The 5-inch/38 DP gun had been developed and this was worked into the design. To maximize deck space for aircraft operations, these twin mounts were worked into a four turret arrangement at the ends of the island with two in front and two aft of the islands with gun mounts two and three in superfiring positions. These provided surface defense of eight guns to starboard but to provide the same defense to port four additional open gun single mounts were incorporated into galleries off the port side. Those four guns along with the two twin superfiring mounts would provide an eight gun defense in that direction. It was determined that he two lower twin mounts would be unable to fire effectively to port because of their location and blast damage to the deck. To provide medium and short range AA defense, the new CV9 would be equipped with four quadruple 1.1-inch guns and up to forty .50 machine guns. The new design also changed the machinery arrangement. The older arrangement had been to place all of the engine rooms together and all of the boiler rooms together. This was more efficient for saving weight and allowing the plant to fit in a smaller space. However, the propulsion plant was subject to a lucky hit. If a torpedo struck an engine room, they were all likely to flood, rendering the ship dead in the water. The CV9 design alternated boiler and engine rooms. This arrangement got away from placing all of the eggs in one basket. By spacing out the engine and boiler rooms, the ship would still have steam if hit in an engine room. The price to be paid for this arrangement was a heavier plant and the need for more space within the hull. This in turn required a larger hull.  


B Sprues - Antietam Specific
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If you have ever seen the series “Military Blunders” on the history channel, you may have seen an episode in which the program classified the Essex Class carrier as a blunder because it did not have an armored flight deck. The program, probably produced in Britain , lavished praise on the Royal Navy armored deck carriers and savaged the Essex design. Of course the program never mentioned aircraft capacity or operational cycle rates in its presentation. In reality an armored flight deck was seriously considered for the CV9 design but was rejected because it would severely reduce the number or aircraft that could be carried. The Illustrious Class carriers might have had an armored flight deck but because of this they only carried a complement of 36 aircraft on a displacement of 23,000-tons. USN brass was adamant that they would not sacrifice massive strike power for the protection afforded by an armored flight deck. Instead the hangar deck was made an armored deck of 2.5-inches, with another 1.5-inch armored deck further down.

There has been an interesting contrast between the operational abilities between the British armored deck carriers and the wooden deck USN carriers in Pacific operations in spring 1945. “Task Group 58.1, composed of two U.S. Navy Essex-class carriers (each of 27,000 tons standard displacement) and two Independence-class light carriers (each of 10,600 tons standard displacement) carried about 280 aircraft. Of that total, about half were strike aircraft (dive-bombers and torpedo bombers). Task Group 57.2, composed of three of the Royal Navy’s Illustrious-class carriers (each of 23,000 tons standard displacement) and one Implacable-class carrier (which was about a thousand tons larger than the Illustrious), carried about 235 aircraft. Of that total, approximately sixty-five were strike aircraft.” (American & British Aircraft Carrier Development 1919-1941, 1999, by Thomas Hone, Norman Friedman & Mark Mandeles, at page 198) In other words, with a total displacement of 75,200 tons the USN force marshaled more than twice the number of attack platforms, the ship killers, than the 93,000 tons of RN carriers. The equations equaled 537 tons per strike craft for the USN and 1,430 tons per strike craft for the RN.

B Sprues - Antietam Specific
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Another benefit of the USN design was the open hangar configuration. Except for the trunking underneath the island, the hangar had roll up doors ringing it. These could be opened for ventilation and this also allowed aircraft to be warmed up on the hangar deck. They could be warmed up there and would be ready for flight after a quick trip up the elevator. That would not be possible in an armored box design, as exhaust fumes and fuel vapor would create an extensive risk to the ship and crew. The USN arrangement was capable of a much greater cyclical operations rate than that of their British cousins. This allowed for much greater strike concentration. The huge number of aircraft that could be packaged into a single strike, reduced the loss rate as they would overwhelm defenders. There was a greater loss rate on smaller strikes as defenders would take on smaller numbers and could concentrate fire on the attacking aircraft. Compounded over a campaign and the very large USN air complements could continue to fight long after air groups were reduced to combat ineffectiveness through attrition.

The design for the new carrier was finally approved on February 21, 1940 and the class name ship, USS Essex CV9, was ordered in July. However, more design work and modifications were made before the start of construction. In May three more of the class were ordered, followed by another four through Congressional action. The original Essex and the earlier ships in the class were 872 feet in length, and were later to be called the Short-Hull Essex. As finished, the ships of the short-hull variant had a single quadruple 40mm mount on the forecastle underneath the front edge overhang of the flight deck. It was quickly discovered that this bow AA position was almost useless as its field of fire was extremely constricted because of the overhang of the flight deck. The solution was to lengthen the bow and cut back the forward edge of the flight deck. An additional sixteen feet was added to the design with a lengthened bow and a stern sponson for two  quadruple Bofors mounts. Dramatically, the above water shape was completely changed. Gone was the rounded shape of the short-hull variant and in its place was a more dramatic and lengthier Clipper Bow cutwater upon which a squared off forecastle deck rested. By lengthening, widening and squaring off the forward tip of the bow, two quadruple Bofors could be fitted, rather than one and by lengthening the hull by 16 feet to 888-feet OA and reducing the forward edge of the flight deck by 11 feet, these mounts had a clear field of fire.


D Sprue
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As constructed, the bulk of the Essex Class were in the long hull category. The 888-feet long-hull variant was found on Ticonderoga CV-14, Randolph CV-15, Hancock CV-19, Boxer CV-21, Antietam CV-36, Shangri-La CV-38, Lake Champlain CV-39 and the seven of the class completed after the war, Leyte CV-32, Kearsarge CV-33, Oriskany CV-34, Princeton CV-37, Tarawa CV-40, Valley Forge CV-45 and Philippine Sea CV-47. Because of the huge size of the Essex Class program, not all of the carriers could be built at once. Some carriers already approved with a designated hull number and name would have to wait in line until a slip of sufficient size was available. This would not happen until the launch of the ship already occupying the building slip. It is interesting that by 1945 the USN considered the Essex design to be outdated and definitely overloaded. Even though the new Midway Class was considered a far superior design, when the big Midways entered service after the war with larger air wings than the Essex Class carriers, it was observed that aircraft could not be launched or recovered any more efficiently than they had been with the Essex Class. Although the Essex Class traces its ancestry to the Yorktown Class and was a prewar design, it provided an optimum platform for operations of the piston powered aircraft of the time. Although considered obsolescent in 1945, the members of the class had more than two decades and two wars ahead of them in which to serve. After the war the members of the Essex class participated in Operation Magic Carpet in the return of troops to the US . After this, most of the older members of the class were placed in reserve and mothballed. The newer units, most of which did not see operations in World War Two, were used for training pilots and for operations but were second fiddles for the Midways.

In spring 1950 the carrier force of the USN had atrophied to a shocking degree. In 1948 the navy had won appropriations for the USS United States, which would have been the first super-carrier. However, the bomber barons of the USAF had convinced Congress that carriers were obsolete. Any new war would quickly be won through nuclear weapons delivered by heavy strategic bombers. Instead of buying obsolete technology as represented by an aircraft carrier, the money would be better spent buying the cutting edge technology of the Convair B-36. That collective body of wise men, known as Congress, nodded their collective heads and the USS United States was cancelled in 1949 after having been laid down. So in late spring 1950, the USN operational carrier force was at 14 carriers. However, half of these could not be considered front line carriers. In the Atlantic were the three Midways and the Leyte CV-32. In the Pacific were the Boxer CV-21, Valley Forge CV-45 and Philippine Sea CV-47. The other seven operational carriers were three CVLs and four CVEs. All of that changed in the summer of 1950 as the North Korean People’s Army came rolling south and over-ran all of the peninsula except for a small enclave around the southeast port of Pusan . OOPS!  


E & G Sprues
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All of the high-flown promises and prognostications of the USAF proved to be a steaming pyramid of manure. Strategic bombers were worthless in this conflict and tactical air support was golden. Those three Essex class ships in the Pacific were the first source of effective tactical air support for the besieged forces in Pusan . The USN already had a plan to modernize the Essex class and the Oriskany was the test bed. This fit, known as SCB-27A added a bulge to the waterline, strengthened the flight deck, installed more powerful catapults, installed more powerful aircraft and bomb lifts, removed the twin 5-inch/38 mounts and provided a new, much larger island. All of these changes were made to increase the ability of the ships to operate jet aircraft. Essex CV-9 and Wasp CV-18 had also started this refit in 1948. None of these ships were ready to respond to the crisis in Korea . There was a consensus that the invasion of South Korea was merely the opening round in a plan that would have the Red Army invade western Europe. Because of this belief the three best carriers of the Midway class were kept in the Mediterranean to guard against an attack that never came. 

It was up to the old, unmodernized Essex carriers, little changed from World War Two, to bear the brunt of the fight in 1950 and 1951. However, three Essex class were not enough, so the navy rushed to the mothball fleet to sweep out the cobwebs, dust them off and press other members of the class into service. Princeton CV-37 was first off, reactivated in August 1950. Bon Homme Richard CV-31 was laid up in Bremerton and was reactivated in January 1951. Shangri-La CV-38 followed in May 1951 then Antietam CV-36 in June 1951. The Antietam was laid down on March 15, 1943 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and launched on August 20, 1944. Although she was commissioned on January 28, 1945, she did not see active service in World War Two. Completed without any 40mm sponsons on the starboard side, Antietam mounted 39 Oerlikon 20mm and 52 Bofor 40mm guns in 1945. As a new unit she continued to serve in the post-war navy. From 1945 through 1946 she served in the far east in the China/Korea arena. From 1947 to 1948 she was assigned training and good-will missions on the US west coast. In June 1949 Antietam was placed in reserve. After her second activation Antietam made one tour off of Korea with TF-77. She had dropped to of her single 5-inch guns and carried 32 40mm guns and no 20mm guns.


J, K & L Sprues
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Now with the armistice signed, the navy could take a serious look at the future of the carrier. It was abundantly clear from their usefulness during the Korean War that the carrier would continue to be needed into the foreseeable future. However, the rapid development of jet aircraft imposed constraints on the existing Essex and Midway class carriers. Jet aircraft were increasing in size and weight and the old WWII designs were at the upper limit of their deck capability to operate jets. The British had come up with the idea of an angled deck to give a carrier the ability to take off and land jets simultaneously. So the USN decided to take a look at the concept by adding an angled deck to one of the Essex class. Rather than pick one that had just finished their SBC-25 conversion, the USS Antietam CV-36, little changed from her World War Two configuration was chosen for this experiment. In May 1952 Antietam was sent into the dockyard for addition of an angled deck. She was out of the dock by January 1953 and started taking testing the angled deck. When she finished her conversion there were a series of triangular support braces underneath the angled deck and she still carried the original tripod mast. Subsequent to this the triangular supports were covered over by fairing and a pole mainmast replaced the tripod. From 1954 to 1956 she was assigned to ASW missions and then became a training carrier in 1957 at Pensacola until May 1963 when Lexington replaced her as the NAS Pensacola training carrier. (Aircraft Carriers of the World, 1914 to the Present, 1984, by Roger Chesneau; American & British Aircraft Carrier Development 1919-1941, 1999, by Thomas Hone, Norman Friedman & Mark Mandeles; The Essex Aircraft Carriers, 1996, by Andrew Faltum;  Essex-Class Carriers, 1988, by Alan Raven; U.S. Aircraft Carriers, An Illustrated Design History, 1983, by Norman Friedman, Warships Perspectives Essex Aircraft in World War Two, 2002, by Glenn H. Arnold by WR Press)  

The Dragon Antietam
The DML USS Antietam kit in 1:700 scale is the sixth of the Essex Class carrier kits, which I have seen from the company. The Antietam is undoubtedly the most unique, if not bizarre, reincarnation of the Essex class carrier. As a test bed for the angled deck, it was an one-off experiment incorporating the island and twin 5-inch guns of the WWII Essex class with the angled deck found on most of the class for the last half of their operational carriers. The box lists that only 60 parts are in the kit. Although it may take only 160 parts to build the kit, there are more than triple that number of parts in the kit. A huge number of these are AA guns and other WWII fittings that will not be used in building the angled deck Antietam . Everybody is going to have a bumper crop of spare parts for other projects. Dragon has also included optional parts for the initial 1953 appearance with a series of triangular braces underneath the angled deck and original tripod mast. Additionally Dragon includes the covered fairing underneath the angled deck and pole mast with modernized electronics for her subsequent fit when she went back to active service.  


M, N & P Sprues
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Dragon includes a lower hull, so you have to decide whether to build it as traditional waterline or full hull. Dragon provides a hangar deck with the kit and the hull has all hangar doors open. The rolling hangar doors are separate pieces. So your next decision is whether you will build the Antietam with hangar doors open or closed. Although it would be nice to have the hangar door detail on the hull sides, I think more modelers will probably opt for the open hangar appearance. Dragon provides optional flight decks, as with their previous kits. One is clear plastic and the other is the traditional solid opaque deck. Some modelers may want to display most of the aircraft in the hangar with wings folded and being maintained by the ground crews. Others will want to build the kit in the traditional manner with aircraft on the opaque deck with maybe a few on elevators or visible on the hangar deck through the hangar openings. Some parts are provided in optional formats. This kit comes with not one, but two brass photo-etch frets! Deck pyramid antennae are found as solid plastic pieces and also as folding brass structures on the enclosed fret. The side elevator has optional parts. There is one solid piece with the support structure underneath as part of the piece and an optional flat elevator where you add brass parts for a delicate and intricate support structure. Some radars are found in plastic and in brass.

Hull Parts
Although there are significant differences from the DML Essex, Hancock, Randolph and Bon Homme Richard kits, all three kits share some common parts. The Hancock is a late war long hull Essex and shares more common parts with the Randolph than with the Essex, which was a short hull Essex . The hulls of Bon Homme Richard, Essex and Lexington are short hulled members of the class. With the Antietam it is back to the long hull version. There are basically six major parts to the hull: the upper hull, the lower hull, the forecastle, the hangar deck, the clear plastic flight deck and the opaque flight deck. Two of these, the lower hull and the clear flight deck are optional pieces. The main hull is one piece with reinforcing ribs at the bottom. Both the upper and lower hull pieces mate well together. If you assemble the kit as full hull, there will be a slight seam to fill but because the parts fit so well together, this will be fairly easy work. Dragon has crammed a lot of detail on the hull sides. Normally the sides of a hull can be rather featureless but not so with the DML Antietam There are all sorts of strakes, piping, side ventilator grills, bilge pumping ports, not to mention the most attractive features, the numerous open hangar doors. If you are building your Antietam  in waterline format, there is no base plate but with the support structure inside the hull, that piece is not necessary. You may consider using a pin-vice to drill out the portholes, which incidentally, have eyebrow detail. One note about the hull, on the starboard side forward the hull has a support structure/sponson that extends out from the hull. This was to support the outer end of a hangar catapult. However, Antietam never received a hangar catapult. The only members of the Essex Class to be fitted with this feature were the Yorktown, Intrepid, Hornet, Franklin , Bunker Hill and Wasp, all short hull members of the class. In reality the hangar deck catapult was infrequently used as the air currents along the hull and the lower level of the catapult compared to flight deck catapults, made their use much riskier for plane and pilot. Antietam was not given the outboard catapult support, so this feature would be an error on the hull. Of course it can be easily removed and the area where it was attached sanded smooth.


Aircraft & Other Clear Parts
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Sprue A – The Hangar Deck
The hangar deck is Sprue A and provides a good snug fit. Even if you are building the model with hangar doors closed, you’ll still need to fit that parts as it has the quarterdeck that will be seen no matter which way you choose to build the model. I might be wrong, but I seem to recall that Ray D. Bean, international man of mystery, charter member of the cabal of consultants, stated in a message that the hangar deck did not have much detail. Ray, if you didn’t post that, you have my apology for my faulty memory, however, if you did say that, than I disagree. I believe that the hangar deck has a significant amount of detail, from the deck pattern, to the fittings at the stern to the solid island base on the starboard side that features the stack trunking. I think that it is a very nicely done part that creates a strong desire to show it off with various aircraft in stowed positions. The forecastle piece has some nice detail, including , splinter shields and bases for the forward quad Bofors positions, anchor chain plates and anchor chain, open hawse and various fittings that appear to be closed chocks.

B Sprues – Antietam Specific Parts
Normally there is only one sprue with a given letter but for the Dragon Antietam there are a number of B Sprues, all of which include parts unique to the Antietam as angled deck test ship. As I mentioned there are two decks. The clear plastic deck has a smooth featureless finish so as not to obscure the detail of the hangar deck below. Of course using this piece will emphasize the activity and detail of the hangar deck below. On the other hand the more traditional opaque deck is rife with detail. The deck detail is very minute and is outstanding. Deck planking is very finely done and does not appear to be oversize as commonly found in many kits. The deck detail even includes tie down strips with individual tie down positions. There are a series of small solid deck plates for the location of arrestor wires and in a difference from Essex , two flight deck catapults that represented the final WWII catapult arrangement adopted for the class. As tempting as it is to use the clear deck to display the fine hangar deck, it will be a very difficult choice not to use the highly detailed standard flight deck. With either one, it appears that the decks are slightly too short. When dry-fitted, the deck ends at the rear of the forward bow 40mm tubs. However, photographs and drawings indicate that it should end above the center-points of the gun positions with only the forward edge of the tubs projecting beyond deck edge. Dragon also provides optional opaque and clear parts for the deck edge elevator and support fairing for the angled deck for a 1956 version. Another B fret includes all of the open triangular support braces found in the 1953 version. Of course these braces get progressively larger as they go forward underneath the angled deck. Another B sprue provides a new unique funnel cap, pole mast new island superstructure for the 1956 fit. There are also a series of what appears to be ventilators, B17, B18, B19, for which I did not find placement in the instructions. Odds are, these parts will be used in subsequent modernized Essex variants.


Aircraft & Other Clear Parts
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Sprues C and D
These two sprues include the bulk of the smaller parts for the hull and flight deck. All of the optional rolling hangar doors are found here as well as various galleries, flat elevators and other fittings. If you have ever looked at photographs of Essex Class carriers during World War Two, you may have noticed that carly rafts were stored all over the place with a great many being lashed down on the underside of the different galleries. With the Dragon Antietam these carleys are molded on the bottom of many of the galleries, which reflects the great lengths that Dragon went to add extra detail and value to this kit. However, for her 1950s appearances most, if not all, of the rafts were no longer present, so it would have been better to have galleries without carley rafts underneath. Additionally, she carried no Oerlikons, so you will have to fill in the locator holes. On these sprues you’ll also find propellers, propeller shafts with support struts and rudder for the full hull version. Many of these smaller parts also have doors, ventilation grates, ready ammunition boxes, underside bracing and other detail built into the part. Deck fittings include the solid deck antennae, although I prefer the detail of the included brass assemblies. The ship’s cranes are solid. You can paint the indented voids black but it is a fairly simple matter to open them up with a pin-vice and hobby knife. The solid side elevator with molded on support structure and separate end bays are also found here but that is for the WWII version and is not used. The new deck edge elevator is on one of the B sprues.

The Island
The parts to the island are found on four small sprues, E, G, and L. The main structure is found on sprue L and has a very nicely detailed island that is hollow and slips over a locator bar on the flight deck. Also included on this fret are the stern bulkhead, stack and four 5-inch/38 DP gun houses with side and rear doors & detail and open gun elevation slits. These gun houses are superior to the bland featureless gun houses found on the armaments K sprues. The island features standard doors, oval doors, piping, vertical ladders and portholes with eyebrows. Notches are in the island as locator positions for various decks and platforms. The parts on sprue L are identical among Hancock, Randolph , Essex, Bon Homme Richard and Antietam . It is the parts composition of the island detail E, F, G , H and M sprues that differences are found.


Major Parts Dry Fitted
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On sprues E, G and M you’ll find a host of different island decks, platforms and other fittings, such as the tripod mast and stack cap. Almost every deck or platform has underside detail in the form of the supporting beams. The decks and islands are concentrated on sprue E, M with the 40mm side tubs concentrated on sprue G. any of these parts are not used, as no island platforms from M sprue are used and the 40mm sponsons are gone. As with the hull galleries, many of these island galleries have detailed carley floats in place on the bottom surface. New enclosed bridge parts for Antietam are found on the clear plastic aircraft sprue. From her refit in 1951 for he Korean War tour, Antietam had the enclosed bridge.

Armament
There are two K sprues on which most of the armament is found. On these two frets are found another version of the 5-inch/38 DP twin gun mounts but the parts on the K frets are smooth sided and don’t appear to have the detail found on the gun houses on the L sprue. As far as the gun barrels for the twin mounts, they don’t appear to be quite right as they appear to have a raised ring near their muzzles. The four open single gun 5-inch/38 mounts feature fuse positions on the left side and the peculiar front grill work design. They are good effort with enough detail to satisfy most modelers but the separate gun barrels appear a might too short. Bofors mounts are fair and the Bofors guns have the recoil mechanisms but the barrels are on the heavy side. You don’t need any of the Oerlikons, as the 1953 Antietam had none. Other parts found here are anchors, ships boats, radar arrays, signal lamps, binnacles, separate carley floats, gun directors and the smallest of the other fittings. The two K sprues are identical among Hancock, Randolph , Essex, Bon Homme Richard and Antietam .  


Brass Photo-Etch
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Frets M, N and P
Three sprues, new for the Hancock kit, subsequently included with Bon Homme Richard, as sprues M, N and P, are also included with Antietam. Very few of the parts are used from sprue M and none from sprue P. Sprue N contains two full hull tug boats, which can be completed as navy or civilian tugs. If you want to have the tugboats in waterline format, you’ll have to sand off the lower bottom of the hulls. The two P frets provide twin Oerlikon guns with their gun shield/mount pieces. These guns would not appear on either the 1953 or 1956 fits for Antietam .

Aircraft Complement
This sprue is the BIG CHANGE! Bring on the jets! There are only twelve aircraft on the clear plastic sprue but they are toe curlers! There are two each of six different types and four of these have one bird with wings extended and one with wings folded. However, that perennial gadfly and great shadow of the northern horizon, Ray D. Bean, has mentioned that Dragon will produce separate aircraft sprues. Thank goodness! This carrier calls for a load of those glossy blue beauties. Aircraft include two Grumman F9F-2 Panthers, one with extended wings and one with folded wings; two F2H Banshees, one with extended wings and one with folded wings; two F9F-8 Cougars, both with extended wings, however, these swept wing versions of the Panther were not used in the Korean War; two F4U Corsairs, one with extended wings and one with folded wings; two AD Skyraiders, one with extended wings and one with folded wings; and two Dragonfly helicopters, just perfect for miniature Mickey Rooneys. They are done in clear plastic so that the canopies will have a natural glass look after painting. New for the Antietam is another aircraft type, everybody’s favorite, that twin tailed terror, the Cutlass. Two of these delights are included on a small sprue that is packed with the photo-etch and decals. Each type is outstanding in the detail that Dragon has sculpted onto the parts. Panel lines, elevators and other wing and fuselage detail can be clearly seen. Each sprue provides separate landing gear. However, there are more parts included in this sprue, beyond aircraft. Some of these are ship’s parts. In addition to the enclosed bridges, there are new radars, ship’s boats. Another nice inclusion in this sprue are a number of tow tractors. Now you can have your carrier with the yellow equipment!


Decals
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Brass Photo-Etch Fret
It is very significant that Dragon provides the modeler with a brass photo-etch fret in this kit. There are two frets provided with
Antietam . However, the second fret is small and provides only the three parts for the 1953 fit. The common fret among all six Dragon Essex kits, includes most of the very delicate items that are used as replacements for the solid pieces included in the kit. The fret includes a multiple piece assembly for the side elevator support structure (not used for Antietam ), radar mast, various radar arrays, flight deck folding antennae, and other items. Dragon even includes 30 crew figures in various poses on the fret. The inclusion of this fret by Dragon is remarkable in that very few 1:700 scale mass produced injected plastic kits come with their own brass fret, that allows the modeler the option of using plastic parts or brass parts for some of the more delicate features of the ship. Bravo for DML!

Decal Sheet
The Dragon
Antietam comes with a very comprehensive set of decals for the ship and aircraft in the kit. The sheet is very well done and of high quality. For the aircraft you receive white national insignia, which goes over the glossy blue of the aircraft, as a photograph of Antietam in 1956 still shows aircraft painted blue, rather than light gray. For the ship you receive various patterns of solid and dashed lines for the deck markings but this time in yellow, some white lines, national flags & jacks in two sizes and of course the large yellow number 36 for the deck numbers. With the presence of the new angled deck, there are even more deck lines and more color than ever. The registration of the colors and location of insignia is spot on and as a whole, the sheet constitutes a first class effort. The stand labels for Antietam are found on the decal sheet.


Instructions
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Instructions
The Dragon instructions provide one folding sheet printed on both sides, which form basically six pages divided by the folds. Page one portrays all of the parts that you should receive in the kit so it is easy to make sure that all of the sprues, fret and sheet are there. One very important point is illustrated on this first page. Not all parts on every sprue are used for the assembly of
Antietam . On page one of the instructions, Dragon shows all plastic sprues found in the Antietam kit. Parts that are not used are shaded in light blue. Page two has a paint matrix which shows which paints are needed in three different lines of paints, Aqueous Hobby Colour, Mr. Colour and Model Master.

Dragon provides an assembly guide with icons provided in a key for actions to be taken at certain stages of assembly. Text in six languages describes the meaning for each icon. Also found on this page are assembly modules for the different aircraft The next four pages provide a step by step assembly sequence with some insets included for subassemblies, as well as the tugboats. Every step is clearly laid out by professional drawings and the icons found on the key on page two. The last two pages provide profiles for both sides and a plan for the paint scheme worn by Antietam in 1953 on one page and 1956 on the other. Additionally, aircraft paint schemes are shown with the Antietam aircraft marking system to help place decals.


Box Art
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Verdict
This has to be the most unusual
Essex class kit yet! As the test ship for the angled flight deck, only the Antietam had this fit. Not only does Dragon provide parts for the initial 1953 fit but also optional parts for the 1956 fit, when she went back to active operations. As an added plus the delightful Cutlass makes its appearance among the aircraft included.

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