The Bretagne was one of three sisterships( Lorraine and Provence) and was completed in 1915. She was armed with ten 13.4-inch guns in five turrets along with originally 22 5.4-inch guns in casemates, though the forward four were as in many other navies later removed due to being unserviceable in a seaway as they were very wet ships forward. Note the very short foredeck for a battleship. She was refitted and modernized in 1920, 1925,1928 and again in 1935. She was sunk by British capital ship gun-fire on July 3 1940 at Mers-el-Kabir with the loss of 977 crew to prevent her falling into German hands and being used against the allies.
The model is based on the 1/700 Delphis resin kit which portrays the ship as sunk. I have always been an admirer of the class in their heyday during the interwar years when they sported the most unusual practice of black turrets and barbettes, which I thought to look very cool and after getting the model from WEM some years back, knew that someday I too, had to have a black turret ship in my collection. To realize my wish I had to do a fair bit of scratch-building and some careful study of many photographs. I soon realized that I would have to completely reconstruct the forward tripod and all platforms and bridge structures . I was aided here immensely by the superb photo of Bretagne on page 67 of Richard Hough's book DREADNOUGHT, along with the plan views in the Dumas book, which I do not own, but fortunately L'Arsenal came to the rescue. The drawings are also to be found in WARSHIP Volume X but are very small. This aspect took an absolute age but I hope the photos illustrate the method I employed first with styrene sheet and then with brass.
The spotting top was made of brass with ladder stock for windows then filled with white glue. The range finder clock was a WEM Iron Duke brass circular item mounted on a brass shim. I was not happy with the funnels as they were slightly 'waisted'. In any event the after funnel was shorter than the forward one until her refit in 1935 so new items were made in my usual way. I used alloy tubing with the forward funnel being squashed to an oval shape between two wooden blocks with a timber dowel in centre to prevent a total crush. The casting at the bow was the wrong profile so a piece of styrene sheet was glued on and shaped. The casemates were simply flat and lacked any definition so they were enhanced with trimline self-adhesive strips and sealed with CA.
The blastbags on the main guns were very nicely cast on with the correct amount of protrusion upwards, but they needed to be saggier at the bottom. This was done with CA gel. Search lights were from the kit, the large searchlights on the forward platform were scratch-built from alloy tube with the domed back being made using white glue. The paravanes required were scratch-built as nothing I had in the spares box resembled the French items.
The build was proceeding quite well, when I decided that I needed more information. Hence a visit to the Musee de Marine in Paris was the result, along with a wonderful long weekend of culture in that beautiful city. An e-mail and some Euros resulted in Jaques Druel from L'Arsenal supplying me with photos and plans of Bretagne as built, from original builders plans. This very usefully had cross sections which resulted in my realizing that the kit had been simplified in the area of the boat stowage . Out came the motor-tool, a dose of courage and the offending resin was removed without any PE casualties. I then set about making from photo-etch scrap the required boat racks and installing the boats underneath as well. This gave the whole area a much lighter and more delicate feeling and I was becoming increasingly happier with the model.
I was not totally happy with the crane masts or jibs as supplied so made new masts from cocktail sticks spun in the motor tool with sandpaper then impregnated with CA to stabilize. New jibs were made from styrene sheet shaped with a blade. Some of the opening portholes on the hull had hinged lids and these were made from very thin wire, wound around a small drill shank. The large openings on the superstructure amidships had frames made from ladder stock. The ships boats were a mixture of kit supplied and modified WEM and some guesswork. Range finders were scratch-built along with numerous other miniscule items. I was particularly pleased with the aircraft ramp on the amidships turret and the extended crane jib on the starboard side.
The box lattice aerial spreaders were a real problem and went through many guises. They were in the end fashioned from GMM 1/700 scale RN aircraft carrier radio masts suitably shortened. They are only three sided off the fret; so they had an extra face added carefully. The ship was painted in WEM Colourcoats and Humbrol enamels, figures are GMM as is the ensign. Rigging is all sprue with patience and swearing in equal measure.
Special thanks must go to: Jean Paul Binot of France for supplying lots of photos and advice; Vladimir Yabukov of USA for e-mailing me lots of photos; Stefano for inspiring me to visit the Musee de Marine to research first hand; Chris Amano Langtree for advice and critique; Jaques Druel from L'Arsenal for giving me the drawings and photos from that priceless Dumas book 'Les Cuirasses Francaise de 23,000 tonnes' , of which I failed to find a copy of at under 175.00.
I sort of enjoyed the construction of this model, I even had a break while waiting for information halfway through and built the RIN destroyer Boevoi/Som, which restored flagging spirits. It was at times frustrating to find relatively little concrete information in English on the net or indeed elsewhere, or to be able to accurately verify the information I had due to my linguistic limitations. That said I was suitably inspired with the French navy that I have among other projects the 1/400 scale Heller Surcouf on the workbench.