|I cant remember the first time I saw a picture of the Fuso. I was probably hunched down in a dark corner
of our towns old Carnegie library poring through a worn copy of Janes
Fighting Ships. The "pagoda" tower superstructure of Japanese battleships in
general and the Fuso class in particular has always been, in my opinion, the most
distinctive and spectacular design characteristic of any modern warship. No other navy has
comes close to duplicating the tower-like superstructures of Japanese battleships, and in
the Fuso class the Japanese took this "pagoda" fetish to the extreme. Add in six
(count em six!) 14" gun turrets and four 5" dual purpose guns mounts
situated almost 65 feet above the waterline - the highest mounting of such a large weapon
on any warship - and youre looking at one unique (not to mention top-heavy) warship.
It was inevitable that I would build a Fuso when I started modeling again after a twenty year hiatus. I looked first at a friends old Aoshima Fuso and was not impressed. It had been released many years ago and looked rather primitive by current resin kit standards. When I learned of Hi-Molds imminent release of a 1/700th Fuso, I was determined to get it, though the steep (for a 1/700th kit) $125 price did make me think twice before taking the plunge.
The Hi-Mold kit represented Fuso in her 1941 fit, and this posed another potential problem. I wanted to build the ship as she appeared during Operation "Sho-Go" (October 1944), when both Fuso and sister ship Yamashiro were sunk by the U.S. 7th Fleet in Suragaio Strait. I wasnt sure how much work this conversion would require. All I knew was that Fuso carried greatly augmented anti-aircraft defenses at this stage of the Pacific war, but was in the dark regarding other changes.
Both Fuso and her sisiter ship Yamashiro were "harbor queens" throughout much of WWII, but the Fusos spectacular demise at Leyte Gulf makes the 1944 version far more appealing. Controversy remains over the fate of IJN Battle Division Two during the confused fighting on the night 24-25 October 1944. Fuso appears to have been sunk first, succumbing to a devastating torpedo attack from the five destroyers of the US Navys DesRon 54. Two to four torpedoes struck Fuso, and a spectacular magazine explosion resulted. Fuso broke in half, carrying almost her entire 1,400 man crew down with her. A short time later Yamashiro met her fate when she came up against an American battleline comprised of many Pear Harbor veterans. I recommend Tony Tullys article, "Shell Game at Suragaio: The Entangled Fates of Battleships Fuso and Yamashiro," on The Imperial Japanese Nany Page (www.combinedfleet.com/Kaigun.htm) for an interesting discussion of the confusion surrounding each ships fate. Janusz Skulski, in his wonderful Anatomy of the Ship Battleship Fuso, and several other sources argue it was the Fuso that faced the American battleships, but it seems to me that Tully (and Samuel Eliot Morrison) are correct in asserting the Fuso was the victim of American destroyers.
When the kit arrived I was not disappointed; it was simply beautiful. The detail was the equal of anything Ive seen in 1:700 scale. Its one of those kits thats so appealing in the box that you almost hate to start putting it together for fear that you wont do it justice. I compared the hull to the drawings in Skulskis book and it right on scale and contained virtually all the details shown in the drawings. A minor question concerned the need for a degaussing cable. The Fuso carried one by 1944, added either during 1941 or 1942, though my sources werent clear. I noticed a single raised line where it was supposed to be. Was this the degaussing cable? I would have liked a little more detail here, and I toyed with the idea of taking GMM 1/1250 railing, cutting off one bar, and using the remainder to represent the cable. Fortunately, I came to my senses and left well enough alone. I may still try this technique on kits lacking proper degaussing cables, however.
The 14" gun barrels are machined brass and add greatly to the kits appearance. Im a real believer in brass gun barrels on 1/700 kits. They add a level of detail that cant be achieved with resin barrels, which are often warped, appear too spindly, and have to be drilled out to achieve proper scale effect. I would have added Clipper Model barrels if the kit lacked brass ones. Speaking of metal, I do not like, as a rule, white metal parts. I had heard that Japanese white metal is among the best, and I wasnt disappointed. The Hi-Mold metal is superior to any white metal I have seen thus far, and I had no hesitation in using it.
Looking at the smaller parts, I found virtually no excess resin, and most pieces fit together like an injection-molded kit. The "pagoda" tower is a good example of the excellent fit and superb engineering that characterize this kit. Daunting at first glance, the pagoda structure is comprised of eleven levels and three support legs. Constructing it one level at a time and fitting the brass rod legs at the appropriate point, I experienced no problems. It went together painlessly. What I feared would be a nightmare of alignment problems and frustration went together in one sitting. This distinctive structure is the hallmark of IJN battleship design. Work carefully and patiently and you too will have a perfect "pagoda" tower.
Janusz Skulskis Anatomy of the Ship Battleship Fuso is the essential starting point in detailing and converting the ship to a 1944 fit. The beautiful 1/500 scale drawings show the ship in its 1941 and 1944 fits (as well as earlier versions) and, as always in the Anatomy of the Ship series, includes many detailed drawings of guns, boats, doors, rigging, etc. There is also a Profile Morskie (No. 11), though I do not own it. While Ive been impressed with the Profile Morskie series, I dont know how thoroughly it covers the 1944 Fuso. As I examined the Skulski drawings it became apparent that the conversion to Fuso circa 1944 would require minimal modifications. The Japanese viewed the Fuso and Yamashiro as second line battleships by 1944 (too slow) and made little effort to upgrade them. However, the IJN had become painfully aware of American airpower. Accordingly, they loaded down these old battleships with 100 25mm and 13.5mm anti-aircraft guns, but more about that later. In addition, the 1944 Fuso featured three kinds of radar, a reduced boat compliment and a variety of minor superstructure changes.
I wish I could say the conversion was challenging and provide detailed explanations of how I had to scratch build or extensively modify parts but it was a simple build. I carefully followed the Skulski drawings and made modifications as necessary. The superstructure can be divided into three distinct sub-assemblies: the "pagoda" forward bridge, the stack/searchlight structure amidships and the rear structure, which houses the elevated 5" guns and main mast. The "major" changes included an anti-aircraft platform forward of the bridge, and a small structure forward of the searchlight that was cut off and sanded smooth. A number of splinter shields for the 25mm gun mounts (four to a side) were manufactured from .010 plastic strip and positioned according to the drawings.
The major challenge was bringing the AA armament up to its 1944 level of 98 25mm and 10 13.5mm guns. In contrast, the 1941 Fuso carried only 16 25mm AA guns in eight double mounts. I had originally intended to use several PE sets of White Ensign Models IJN Anti-Aircraft Weapons (PE729) for the AA armament. A lost weekend during which I re-discovered long forgotten profanities resulted in one great looking triple 25mm gun and eight failures. At this rate it would cost a fortune and take a lifetime to finish the 24 double and triple mounts required. To be fair, White Ensign warns that these are for experienced modelers only. At this point, they are just beyond me. They do look great though and I intend to try to use them in the future. I fell back on the Skywave/Pitroad detail sets, specifically Equipment for IJN Ships # 5 (E-10) that contains single, double and triple 25 mm gun mounts. They lack the detail of photo-etch but are easy to assemble and paint up quite nicely. Two # 5 sets (two frets are included in each set) along with the frets (E-3 and E-10) included with the kit are enough to complete the AA armament.
The hexagonal antiaircraft tubs atop four of the six turrets also came from the Skywave set #3 (E-3). Eight are needed and I had to purchase two extra sets to go with the one provided in the kit to get the required number. The 13.5mm guns were simply 25mm single mounts with the barrels and mounts slightly cut down. It sounds crude but it works, the two weapons look very much alike, particularly in this scale. There seems to be AA guns EVERWHERE on the ship and they add a pleasing level of complexity to the finished model.
The Skywave sets also provided two of the three radars, Type 13 and Type 22, carried by the Fuso in late 1944. The third radar, a Type 21 mattress set, the photo-etch scaffolding for the searchlight platforms, the catapult, crane, ladders and two-bar railing came from the Gold Metal Models IJN Battleship set. The scaffolding and catapult supplied with the kit are resin and, while quite detailed, dont look as good as photo-etch. I had to do some cutting to get the PE scaffolding around the stack to fit properly, but it was relatively painless and looks great. For all the attention the "pagoda" bridge receives, the Fusos stack area, with its searchlight platforms and scaffolding, looks almost as appealing.
It was finally time for painting and weathering. The Fuso wore a camouflage scheme of Kure Gray on all metal areas with wooden decks and linoleum around the catapult area. I used a Snyder & Short IJN color chip set to determine colors. The Kure gray was mixed from Polly Scale Model Railroad colors using a dark gray (I cant remember the specific color and there is paint splotched over the name on the bottle!). I took the basic gray and began mixing in blue and white until I got a very close match. To be honest I dont remember the exact proportions, I just eyeballed it until the paint matched the S&S sheet. I like Polly Scale Railroad colors because they airbrush and hand brush easily and dry extremely flat. As expected, there was a lot of brush touchup after the airbrushing because of the vessels many nooks and crannies.
The deck and the catapult area were then hand painted using Model Shipways Marine Colors Deck Tan and Linoleum respectively. They hand brush rather well, especially the linoleum, which appears as if it were airbrushed. Weathering was done with pastels, which have just the right subtlety for 1/700 ships. I used three shades of gray, black and a rust-like color to provide the contrasts, using a small brush to spread and blend the pastels. Although Fuso spent most of her career in harbor, I suspect she became weathered during her last several months in the transit from Japan to Singapore to Brunei and then to Leyte. I weathered and rusted the Fuso rather extensively, and I like the way she looks.
Overall, I am happy with the results. Its certainly my best build to date. A modeling friend paid my Fuso a high compliment by saying if he had not known it was a conversion, he would have thought the ship came from the box in its 1944 guise. There are certainly areas in my buildup that could be improved upon. My rigging skills are rudimentary at best and I should have spent more time rigging the forward superstructure. As it is, I used stretched sprue to rig the main mast and left it at that. My one complaint with the kit is the lack of etched brass. I understand that Hi-Mold is now offering a separate PE sheet, but I think it should be included, particularly considering the kits lofty price.
I was proud of my one-of-a kind warship upon its completion, but I have recently learned that Hi-Mold will soon release a 1944 version that includes photo-etch. Oh well, such is the fate of all modeling projects! I spent about $160-170 when all the add-ons are factored in. Im reluctant to say I would ever spend this much again on a 1/700 kit. For the same price I could purchase a 1/350-scale cruiser. Nevertheless, Im happy with the results and thats the bottom line. Ive learned a lot from this simple conversion and, hopefully, will have enough confidence to take on more ambitious future projects.
I do appreciate the terrific quality of Hi-Mold kits, and Im thinking about converting the Hi-Mold Nagato to a 1944 fit using all the Skywave parts frets I own. Now, if Hi-Mold would just put out an Ise/Hyuga hybrid battleship/carrier, my remaining Japanese warship fantasy would be fulfilled.