(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), 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 Randolph 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. This was the status of USS Randolph CV-15.
The USS Randolph was 7th of the class by number sequence but in reality was the 16th of the class going by the date that he hull was laid down. Authorized to be constructed at Newport News, Randolph could not be laid down until a slip became available. In the case of the Randolph, she was apparently waiting behind sistership, USS Intrepid CV-11. The short-hulled Intrepid had been laid down at Newport News on December 1, 1941 and was not launched until April 26, 1943. Based upon the dates, it apparently took a couple of weeks to get the slip available for the start of the next hull, since Randolph was laid down on May 10, 1943. It had taken 15 months to get Intrepid to launching but it only took eleven months for Randolph, which was launched on June 29, 1944. What is even more remarkable is that it took only slightly over another three months to go from launching to commissioning for Randolph, which occurred on October 9, 1944. Of course before she could be deployed into combat she required a shake down and work in period to test the ship and meld the new sailors manning her into an organized crew. From commissioning until January 1945 Randolph wore Measure 32/17a-1 modified dazzle pattern camouflage scheme. This scheme consisted of dull black (BK), navy blue (5-N), ocean gray (5-0), haze gray (5-H) and pale gray (5-P) in a pattern that featured both angles and curves. In January 1945 at a refit a Hunter’s Point, California, Randolph was repainted to Measure 21, overall navy blue (5-N).
Another unique aspect about the color and markings of the Randolph was in the manner of the aircraft markings for her air group. Although pre-war carrier aircraft complements had a very ordered and colorful markings developed that distinguished the aircraft from one carrier to the next, when prewar yellow wings gave way to gray and then blue wings, the standardized aircraft scheme was dropped. In 1942 aircraft markings really didn’t matter that much as there were so few carriers operational available and those numbers dwindled as 1942 progressed. In 1943 the situation changed as seven carriers of the Essex Class joined the fleet. Seven more, including Randolph, joined in 1944 and five more in 1945. In 1943 an unofficial aircraft marking scheme was adopted. Each carrier designed its own aircraft markings for wings and tail that would mark the aircraft for that carrier. These markings took the form of white geometric patterns. The markings developed for the aircraft of Randolph followed that same pattern. The tail of each aircraft from the upper tip to its base where it joined the fuselage was in a four horizontal white stripe pattern with the upper and lower stripes being about twice the width of the two middle stripes. On the upper wings thin white rectangles were placed on the trailing edge of each wing, roughly in the position occupied by the outer aerilons. You can see the exact pattern on page 58 of Warships Perspectives Essex Aircraft in World War Two by Glenn H. Arnold by WR Press, which also features a full page photograph of F6F Hellcats with the markings on the forward flight deck of Randolph on page 62. Aircraft markings did change with some of the Essex Class but the aircraft of Randolph apparently wore these markings throughout the war.
After the refit Randolph was ready to join her sisters on the battle line. Along with three other new sisterships, Bennington, Shangri-La and Bon Homme Richard joined TF-58 fast carriers in time to participate in the Iwo Jima and Okinawa campaigns. The Iwo Jima campaign started on February 17, 1945 and by March the fast carriers were back at the giant anchorage at Ulithi Atoll preparing for the Okinawa invasion. Ulithi was thought to be secure so on the night of March 11, 1945 the crew of Randolph went about their duties with a false feeling of security. The ship was engaged in loading ammunition and they were so far removed from enemy bases that Randolph was fully lighted to increase efficiency in the loading operation. Some members of the crew not engaged in this operation were watching a movie in the hangar deck. However, the Japanese had sent one long range two engine Frances night fighter on a one way kamikaze mission to attack any large ship found at Ulithi Atoll. The Frances found the Randolph. The Japanese kamikaze crashed into Randolph’s aft flight deck, killing 25 and wounding 106 crewmen of Randolph. Three days later the fast carriers up anchored and steamed towards Okinawa on March 14, 1945, however, Randolph was unable to sortie due to the kamikaze damage.
Most often in the past a carrier with the degree of damage as sustained by Randolph, especially to the arrestor gear, in this attack would be sent to Pearl Harbor or even the west coast for repairs. However, one member of the crew had previously worked for the Otis Elevator Company, and through his experience with elevator cables and repair work, he devised a plan to repair the Randolph right at the anchorage. Using undamaged parts from less critical areas, the damaged arrestor gear of the most critical areas was replaced. Even with this ingenuity, it still took three weeks to get Randolph operational again. On April 7 Randolph rejoined the other fast carriers off of Okinawa. On that same day the fast carriers had pounced on the Yamato, Yahagi and escorting destroyers but Randolph’s air group missed the event. As part of TF 58.2, Randolph and Enterprise had been delayed by refueling in rejoining the fleet from Ulithi.
On May 11 Admiral Mitscher, commander of the fast carriers, flew his flag from Bunker Hill, however, a kamikaze strike heavily damaged his flagship on that day, so Mitscher transferred his flag to Enterprise. The kamikazes seemed to follow Mitscher because on May 14 one struck Enterprise. Mitshcher’s next choice for flagship was Randolph. On May 28 TF 58 changed again to TF 38 as Halsey replaced Spruance as fleet commander and McCain replaced Mitscher as fast carrier commander. McCain chose Shangri-La for his flag so Randolph reverted to the flag of Rear Admiral Bogan Task Group TF 58.2 now TF 38.2 who remained in group command. In June Randolph steamed to Leyte and missed the typhoon that hit the rest of TF 38 but here she was struck by another aircraft. In bizarre twist of fate she was struck not by a kamikaze from the Japanese Navy or Army but by a P-38 Lightning of the USAF. The pilot of the P-38 was doing acrobatics and obviously had less skill over his fighter than he believed. He lost control and crashed into Randolph.
On August 26 Admiral Halsey had planned to bring his fast carriers into the outer bay of Tokyo. By this time in the war battleships closed with mainland Japan to use their artillery against land targets on the home islands and it was thought that the Kamikaze threat was about the same whether 50 miles or 250 miles from Japan. Randolph had already joined in the attacks as her aircraft had assisted in sinking the battleships Ise and Hyuga in shallow water, not as prestigious as sinking the greatest battleship, Yamato, but battleships none the less. However, on August 26 Halsey’s plan again ran afoul of typhoons, this time two of them. Randolph, still flag for Admiral Bogan, but now as part of TF 38.3 off Shikoku. During the storm Randolph lost steering control for four minutes. After the conclusion of the war in the Pacific Randolph was transferred to the Atlantic in order to serve as a transport for returning US soldiers back to the US from Europe. She then went on to training duties until June 1947 when she was placed in reserve. She was brought out of reserve to receive the SCB-27A modernization from January 1952 to July 1953 when she was retyped as CVA-15. From August 1955 to January 1956 Randolph received SCB-125 modernization. Later that year she was the first carrier to fire the new Regulus I cruise missile. Another change occurred in 1960-61 when she was earmarked to serve as an anti-submarine aircraft carrier as CVS-15 and received SCB-144 (Fram II) modernization. She also served as a recovery ship in the US Space Program by serving as prime recovery vessel for the Liberty Bell Seven mission of Gus Grissom on July 21, 1961 and Friendship Seven mission of John Glenn on February 20, 1962. She then served in the imposition of the quarantine line during the Cuban missile crisis. Finally the operational life of USS Randolph ended on February 13, 1969 when decommissioned and was finally was stricken on June 15, 1973.
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. (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 Randolph
The box lid states that the kit contains 536 parts, which is a sixteen-part increase from the DML Essex. I haven’t counted the parts but I believe them. Remember guys, this is a 1:700 kit. How many kits in that scale have parts counts in excess of 500? Why does the Dragon Randolph have so many parts? Two reasons jump out, the kit is very comprehensive and Dragon packs a ship’s load of options into this kit. The kit is USS Randolph as she appeared in 1944, as she was commissioned. The box art and painting instructions portray her in the dazzle paint scheme that she wore until January 1945. The box art portrays Randolph in action in the Ms 32/17a-1 scheme, which is probably artistic license, as she does not appear to reach the western Pacific until March 1945, when she wore Ms. 21, which Randolph acquired January 1945.
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 Randolph 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, both of which are different from those found in their Essex. 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 its own brass photo-etch fret! 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. The F6F Hellcats, SB2C Helldivers and TBF Avengers come with separate wings, so you chose to build them with wings extended for flight or folded for storage. Aircraft decals feature 72 of the blue outline insignia worn in the late war period. As to which parts to use, Dragon leaves that to you. Boiling it down to its essence, the USS Randolph is another amazing DML 1:700 kit and is significantly different from last months release of USS Essex CV-9.
Although there are other significant differences from the DML Essex kit, the two biggest differences come as a result of the Randolph being built as a Long-Hull Essex. 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. The hull for the DML Randolph is indeed longer than the DML Essex. This is because it is a Long-Hull variant of the class. Also the bow has a completely different design in plan and profile between the two kits with the heavier and more elegant clipper bow in the Randolph. Normally the sides of a hull can be rather featureless but not so with the DML Randolph. 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 Randolph 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, Randolph 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. Therefore, unless Randolph was given the outboard catapult support without the catapult, this feature would be an error on the Randolph hull. Of course it can be easily removed and the area where it was attached sanded smooth. In addition to the extra length of the hull and completely changed bow appearance, two additional parts, both Oerlikon galleries, are found attached to sprue inside the Randolph hull. Dragon is using every centimeter of available space in the sprue design to find accommodation for the 16 additional parts in Randolph.
The hangar deck also 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 two quad Bofors positions, anchor chain plates and anchor chain, open hawse and various fittings that appear to be closed chocks. This is part of B sprue. Although the hangar deck and elevators are the same parts with Randolph and Essex, the forecastle part is completely different.
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 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. Both opaque and clear flight decks for Randolph are different than those found in the Essex kit. Most obviously, they are shorter as the flight decks of the long-hull members of the class were shortened to allow better fields of fire for the bow and stern Bofors mounts. Randolph has two deck catapults instead of one and the arrestor wire deck plates found at the bow of Essex are gone in the Randolph. Photographs comparing the changed areas between the DML Randolph and DML Essex are found at the end of this review in the photographic block entitled Dueling Flattops.
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 Randolph 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. 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 I again would prefer to use the flat side elevator and add the option brass support structure found on the included fret. Although sprue C appears to be the same with both kits, sprue D of the Randolph kit includes additional parts not found with the Essex kit. These parts are extra gun sponsons. Found here are the stern sponson with double mount side by side quad Bofors deck and a double mount port side sponson for two more quad Bofors on a separate deck.
The parts to the island are found on three small sprues, E, F, H 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 between Randolph and Essex. It is the parts composition of the island detail E, F and H sprues that differences are found.
On sprues E, F and H 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 and H with the Oerlikon galleries concentrated on sprue F but with the Randolph only two of the galleries on sprue F are used. As with the hull galleries, many of these island galleries have detailed carley floats in place on the bottom surface. For sprue E most of the parts are used for Randolph but two two bridge decks, including the square bridge/platform are not. New bridge parts for Randolph are found on sprue H, which includes the round bridge/platfrom. As the Essex kit did not have a sprue H, all of the parts on this sprue are new to Randolph.
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. Each 20mm Oerlikon consists of two pieces, a separate barrel and a combined pedestal and gun shield. The guns themselves are oversize but do have shoulder rests. The combined pedestal/gun shield has a problem on the front of the shield. An injected plastic 20mm shield will never have the thinness of brass parts and that is true with these parts. Because these small parts are plastic, the shields are too thick but to complicate the process of thinning them down, each shield has a small hump on the lower outside face of the shield that should be removed, preferably by sanding, if you use the kit parts. These guns appear to be the only noticeable weakness in the kit. In large part they are overly large and thick because injected plastic parts can never achieve the same thinness as photo-etch or finely cast resin parts. Accordingly, Essex Class Maniacs may consider replacing them with resin and/or brass after market sets. 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 between Randolph and Essex.
The aircraft included in this kit comprise three different types, the F6F Hellcat, the TBF Avenger and the SB2C Helldiver. Of course the one difference between Essex and Randolph in aircraft complement is to replace the Dauntless with the Helldiver in Randolph. They are done in clear plastic so that the canopies will have a natural glass look after painting. Each type is outstanding in the detail that Dragon has sculpted onto the parts. The Hellcats and Avengers have separate wings so you can assemble them with wings extended for flight or wings folded for storage. Panel lines, elevators and other wing and fuselage detail can be clearly seen. Each sprue provides separate propellers and landing gear. Dragon provides six of each type with the Randolph.
Brass Photo-Etch Fret
It is very significant that Dragon provides the modeler with a brass photo-etch fret in this kit. The fret 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, 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! The fret provided with the Randolph kit is the same as provided in the Essex kit.
The Dragon Randolph 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 72 national insignia all in the same blue outline design found in late 1943 and thereafter. For the ship you receive various patterns of solid and dashed lines for the deck markings, elevator outlines for the two centerline elevators, national flags & jacks in two sizes and of course the large number 15 for the deck numbers. Dragon includes three of the deck numbers on the sheet just in case you goof with one of them. The registration of the colors and location of insignia is spot on and as a whole, the sheet constitutes a first class effort. Instead of providing a separate sheet of peel off labels for the display stand as in Essex, the stand labels for Randolph are found on the decal sheet.
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 Randolph. On page one of the instructions, Dragon shows all plastic sprues found in the Randolph 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 sheet are assembly modules for the different gun mounts, gun directors and some other parts. The next three pages provide a step by step assembly sequence with some insets included for subassemblies. Every step is clearly laid out by professional drawings and the icons found on the key on page two. The last page provides profiles for both sides and plans for the camouflage scheme Measure 32/17a-1 modified worn by Randolph from early October 1944 until January 1945. Additionally, aircraft paint schemes are shown but not the Randolph aircraft marking system.
The Dragon USS Randolph CV-15 is a superb 1:700 scale kit of a Long-Hull Essex Class carrier. The DML Randolph is an outstanding buy for the money when you consider that it comes with so many options, over 500 parts, photo-etch fret and comprehensive decal sheet. Additionally, this is not a re-pop of the DML Essex! The largest parts, hull, solid flight deck and clear flight deck are different. As well as these changes you get a brand new sprue H, new Helldivers, new gun sponsons and many other parts not found on the Dragon Essex. If you want an early version, i.e. 1944, of an Essex Class long hull carrier, you won’t find any better kit on the market and in fact it is many orders of magnitude in quality and detail ahead of the previous kit of this variant, the Hasegawa Hancock.