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Building a Gato class submarine - and getting paid for it – was an opportunity I couln’t pass up. And this wasn’t just any Gato sub, but a BIG 1/72nd scale Gato. Submarines were still evolving at the beginning of WW2. When a boat came in for refit or repairs, problems noted while on mission were corrected. This could involve everything from upgrading weapons to (sometimes drastically) modifying the conning tower in order to reduce the boat’s surface profile. It should also be mentioned that US submarine commanders were allowed considerable discretion in the choice of external weapons and modifications. Not surprisingly, a "no two alike" US submarine fleet was the result.
Editor's Note: See the Warship USS Pampanito photo tour for extensive color coverage of WW2 US Fleet subs 

I started with the Scale Shipyard 1/72nd Gato/Balao kit. Building one of these kits is much like building an old vacuum-formed kit - the basic shapes are there but the rest is up to you. Scale Shipyard gives you good basics with which to start. The kit’s weapons were from the HR products and included cast metal 5" deck gun, a 40mm Bofors mount and two 20mm A/A guns. Also included were resin cast deck hatches, capstans, rudders, dive planes, metal chocks and anchor.

Gato 1.jpg (10465 bytes)Both the hull and conning tower are basic, but accurate. Scale Shipyard supplies them with the halves already mated, saving you the sloppy chore of working with fiberglass resin. No deck or bracing of any kind was provided, so my vacuum form experience would come in handy. Gato class hulls didn't vary much, so most of the work on the Scale Shipyard kit involved conning tower modifications. The kit’s tower is of the tall, enclosed bridge type typical of early war Gato boats. My client specified the open bridge typical of 1943 (and thereafter) boats. Using the excellent Floating Drydock plans as a guide, I cut and lowered the tower’s front section, as well as opening the rear of the tower to expose the interior. Some of my references showed the sparse detail in the forward bridge section, so I added that as well.

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Gatosmall.jpg (8404 bytes)Long, slender periscopes were characteristic of Gato class boats. Accurately simulating these instruments and their prominent support bracing was essential to getting the right "look". I fashioned them using successively smaller diameters of telescoping brass tubing, with the slender final section fabricated from solid brass rod. I then built a deck in the conning tower and drilled holes in the deck and top to accept the brass tube, which was glued below the deck. The periscope bracing was made from plastic and brass rod to match photos. 5" ammunition storage tubes were scratchbuilt below the forward 20mm mount. Assorted hatches were fashioned from plastic sheet and a flagstaff was added to the aft tower structure. Exterior access ladders are railroad grab bars from a local railroad hobby shop. The SD antenna tower aft of the conning tower has a basswood base with brass rod drilled into the top. The SS radar was scratchbuilt using plastic sheet and rod.

Conning tower railing was made entirely from brass rod. I used a trick from the Mike Ashey book to make stanchions of identical length. I cut a section of square basswood to the desired stanchion length. It was then a matter of standing the basswood section on its end, laying my sprue cutter on top, and clipping each stanchion. The railings are .06" brass rod super glued to each stanchion. The super glue made a very convincing looking weld.Expand.gif (1054 bytes)

GatoSectionSmall.jpg (7298 bytes)The conning tower out of the way, it was time for the hull. A sturdily mounted, non-flexing hull was essential, so I added a 3’ piece of 2x2 pine parallel to the keel, gluing in place with fiberglass resin. See the section drawing to see how it was mounted to the base. The hull needed extensive bracing port to starboard to prevent flexing, which would crack the deck.. Plastruct "L" sections were the solution. I glued them to the top of the hull where they formed a lip upon which the deck could be placed. The thick, sheet styrene sub deck was then dropped in. US submarine decks are comprised of long, slender teakwood sections. I thought for some time about how to simulate these teak planks, and once again the answer was at the railroad shop. Vacuum-formed plastic sheet, used to simulate HO scale house siding, was a bit out of scale but nevertheless filled the bill. It was quite realistic - and easy. The only tricky part was the alignment of the planks end-to-end.

I next lined the deck perimeter with plastic strip, faired into the hull with super glue. One last comment about the decking, there was no need to worry about the seams where the plastic sheets butted against each other. The real boat had them too! How lucky can you get?

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Gato5small.jpg (7491 bytes)It was then a matter of adding sections of plastic sheet to represent the various access doors and engine room hatches. The antenna booms were made from brass rod both fore and aft. The lifeline stanchions were made as described earlier. The rails however, were made from .06 nylon fishing line and attached to the stanchions with super glue. The model was painted Measure 32/9SS as shown in the Floating Drydock book "USN Camouflage 1 of the WW2 Era". The entire model was coated with Testors Dull coat from a spray can, much faster on a model of this size.

The final touch was the American flag at the rear of the conning tower. I used a 1/192-scale flag from Duane Fowler's excellent "Axis and Allies" decal sheet available from Tom's Modelworks. You can count every one of the 48 stars on the blue field. I carefully cut the decal from the sheet and applied it to a piece of aluminum foil. I trimmed the foil to meet the edges of the first flag side. It was then a matter of applying flag to the other side. I feared the decal would crack when folded to a realistic shape, but this was not a problem.

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The Gato class sub wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. I really wish I could have kept it for myself. The experience gained building this Scale Shipyard kit will serve me well on my next one, and there will definitely be a next one.

More Photos of Rusty White's 1/72nd Gato Class WW2 Fleet Sub
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Gato 4.jpg (26898 bytes) Gato 9.jpg (44492 bytes) Gato 8.jpg (60508 bytes) Gato 3.jpg (30762 bytes)
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