If you saw that old movie Battle for the Coral Sea released in the early 1960s, you’ll remember those cool Japanese aircraft carriers launching aircraft off of multiple flight decks on the same ship. The movie was a turkey but at the time I didn’t realize that the scene that I had so much liked was lifted from an old movie produced in World War Two. I believe it was named Destination Tokyo with Cary Grant about a submarine preparing the way for the Doolittle Raid. It wasn’t the last time that a poor movie used the same scenes from an earlier, much better movie as the poor movie Midway used scenes from the far superior Tora, Tora, Tora. What? You didn’t know that the Midway atoll had battleship cage masts with fighting tops installed as lookout towers in June 1942? Well Japan did have aircraft carriers with multiple flight decks but that ended well before World War Two.

There is no question that it was the Royal Navy that "invented" the aircraft carrier as a type. Yes, I know all about the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania and USN flights off that cruiser. However, the aircraft carrier as a type is designed around the sole mission or purpose of carrying and operating aircraft in combat operations. The first carriers were converted merchantmen but by 1917 the Admiralty had just glimpsed a small portion of the possibilities of a large, fast aircraft carrier. They chose the light battle cruiser Furious for conversion into an aircraft carrier. The first design was a half measure in which only the forward turret was replaced by a flight deck, leaving a single 18—inch gun in the aft turret. A one-gun battery is pretty well useless, so it wasn’t long before the aft turret was landed and a flight deck installed. However, the ship was still flawed as the forward flight deck and aft flight deck were separated by the superstructure, tripod and stack of the ship.

Still, in 1922 the Royal Navy had a huge lead in aircraft carriers in service. This early lead turned into a detriment further magnified by the disastrous decision to place the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) under management and control of an independent Royal Air Force. Never, ever, place naval aviation under control of a ground airforce. Italy and Germany tried the same theory, as a result of which neither had operational aircraft carriers. In marked contrast the two great Pacific powers, Imperial Japan and the United States, kept separate army and navy aviation, resulting in far better consequences in ship and aircraft design. Compared to the British the Japanese and Americans had little experience in naval aviation and only a small aircraft carrier each. As the events of 1922 and 1923 would prove, this lack of a large number of converted merchant hulls as possessed by the Royal Navy.

During the course of World War One the Japanese and American navies grew far faster than the Royal Navy. Early in the war the British had ceased building battleships but not so with the other two powers. While the German navy was locked in a death struggle with the Royal Navy, Japanese and American construction of heavy ships increased. The focus was of course on capitol ships with large programs for battleships and battle cruisers. Free of war the United States had decided to build a fleet, "Second to None". The 1916 building program was immense with more battleships and battle cruisers funded than ever seen in a naval program before. In the years 1920 and 1921 six battle cruisers were laid down, Lexington, Constellation, Saratoga, Ranger, United States and Constitution. Across the Pacific the Japanese navy responded with their own huge program, the 8-8 plan, which called for the building of eight battleships and eight battle cruisers. Four of the battle cruisers were of the Amagi class, two of which were Amagi and Akagi. The United States, which was the country most able to afford a huge naval program, chose to invite the other powers to a naval disarmament conference in Washington. The result was the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 that with a few exceptions stopped battleship construction in mid-step. Both Japan and the United States had a large number of capitol ship hulls to scrap under the terms of the new treaty. However, there was a way to save a few of these hulls so that their expense was not a total waste.


Hull - Sprue A
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The Washington Treaty authorized Japan and the United States to each convert two of their capitol ships into aircraft carriers. Both chose battle cruiser hulls because of their greater speed and each chose the two hull that were most advanced, Lexington and Saratoga for the USN and Amagi and Akagi for the IJN. However, the great earthquake of 1923 wrecked the hull of Amagi and hull to the battleship Kaga was substituted for conversion in its place. Before these events had even taken place the Royal Navy had already taken the first step in the creation of the true fast carrier. In a memo dated March 23, 1921 it had been decided to take the furious in hand for another refit, which would eliminate and impediment to her use as a full deck, high-speed carrier. As the Furious had also started out as a battle cruiser, although a light one, it is interesting to compare the three carrier designs based upon converted battle cruisers.

A comparison of the three designs shows a marked difference in capacity and operational theory. The hull to the Furious was laid down five years before the other two and was further hampered by light construction. The American and Japanese designs enjoyed the advantage of newer, larger and heavier battle cruiser hulls. However, there was only a hundred feet difference in overall length between the longest and shortest of designs and yet the Lexington was designed to operate more than twice the complement of aircraft than the Furious. More than design difference, this discrepancy went to operational theory. Both the USN and IJN used the same operational theory of aircraft carrier deployment. The carrier was a weapon system in and of itself whose primary purpose was to strike the opposing fleet with their aircraft with a supplementary mission of scouting for the fleet. British theory was more muddled with far greater emphasis in scouting and supporting fleet operations as opposed to an independent long range striking force. The USN and IJN were far more interested in maximizing the size of the air group in their designs than the Royal Navy ever was in its designs. The result was the titanic carrier battles in the Pacific between the two powers that emphasized the offensive capabilities of the aircraft carrier.

Comparison of Aircraft Carriers from Battle Cruiser Designs

Country
Class

Date

Displacement (ST)

Length

Speed/ihp

Aircraft

Armament

USA
Lexington

1920

38,500 tn

888 (oa)

33.2/180,000

80

8 x 8in

Japan
Akagi

1920

29,600 tn

857 (oa)

32.5/131,000

60

10 x 8in

Britain
Furious

1915

22,130 tn

786 (oa)

31.5/90,000

36

10 x 5.5in

The first fast fleet carrier for the Imperial Japanese Navy was Akagi. After the hull of Amagi was wrecked in the earthquake the construction of Akagi was much more advanced than that of the substituted Kaga. Although lumped together the Akagi and Kaga were very different designs in size, speed and appearance. The Akagi was laid down as a battle cruiser on December 6, 1920 but after the Washington Treaty in early 1922 was selected to be converted into an aircraft carrier in November of that year. There was a delay in construction because of need to develop new plans based upon the new function. After the plans for the changes were finished, some items had to be removed before construction as a carrier could begin. The armor belt and armor deck were reduced in thickness to facilitate more aircraft. To reduce top-heaviness the belt was also lowered and anti-torpedo bulges redesigned. The Akagi was launched on April 22, 1925 and commissioned on March 25, 1927. Although the Akagi had more in common with the Lexington in size and capacity, her initial design was far closer to that of Furious.

For Lexington and Saratoga the design was to provide one large spacious hangar with a high overhead on the hangar deck, which would provide plenty of space for new larger aircraft. The design for Furious took a different tack. Instead of one large hangar, the British design had two smaller hangars with cramped overhead. Instead of a single deck, the Furious had a main flight deck on top and a supplementary flight deck out of the front of the top hangar. In theory with two flight decks aircraft could be launched twice as fast. Independently but perhaps, given the delay in converting Akagi, Japanese designers got wind of British multi-deck decision for Furious because Japanese designers did the British one better. The Akagi had two hangars like the Furious but instead of having two flight decks, the Japanese carrier would have three flight decks. In addition to the main flight deck on top, Akagi would have the two additional hangar decks below open at the bow to allow launches from all three decks. The middle deck had a very short take off distance of 50 feet beyond the upper hangar, which was barely sufficient for early light weight fighters but the lower deck had a 175 foot take off distance beyond the lower hangar. To make matter worse for take offs from the middle deck, any aircraft using that deck had to thread a needle. Twin eight-inch gun turrets were placed on each side of the aft portion of the middle deck and a speeding aircraft had to go between them in the take off. Matters were further complicated when a navigational bridge was added underneath the front of the main flight deck adding a vertical constriction on top of the horizontal constrictions imposed by the gun turrets.


Main Flight Deck, Base & Decks - B, C, & D Sprues
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This was the last straw because after the addition of the navigation bridge, take offs from the middle deck were of more danger to the ship and pilot than to a possible enemy. Because of the difficulties in taking off from this deck it was very rarely used for that purpose and for all intents the upper hangar served just as a hangar. The main deck had two elevators and a unique deck design in that it sloped up from the aft edge and down from the funnel location. This helped slow the aircraft landing and speed up an aircraft taking off. When Akagi joined the fleet in 1927, she beat the Kaga into service by one year and Saratoga and Lexington by more than half a year. In addition to the two twin eight-inch gun turrets there were three 8-inch gun casemtes on each side. Displacement was listed at 26,900-tons but this was probably far under actual displacement. For anti-aircraft defense Akagi was given six twin 4.7-inch DP guns mounted on sponsons, three on each side of the hull, slightly below the level of the main flight deck.

The large stack vented downwards and behind that a small stack vented upwards from the starboard side. With Kaga there were long funnels along the sides of the hull on each side and venting outwards at the stern presenting a much different appearance from Akagi. The three flight decks on each ship created a stair step profile with the forward edge of each upper flight deck stepped back from the deck below. It was soon after completion that the navigation bridge was added very few modifications were made thereafter. In 1931 arrestor wires were added to the main flight deck. In 1934 Akagi received a minor refit which added additional sponsons for light AA and a small temporary island placed on the starboard island. By 1935 with the increasing size of aircraft, it was clear to the Japanese Admirals that the multi-flight deck design of Akagi and Kaga had become a detriment to the ship’s ability to operate newer and heavier aircraft. The ships were sent to the yard in 1935. When Akagi went in for her major refit in October 1935, she would be completely rebuilt during a period of almost three years. When she came out in August 1938 she was a completely different ship. Gone were the three decks and in there place was a much more efficient ship with just one long flight deck. The new Akagi could not only operate the newer heavier aircraft but could also operate many more of them compared to her former capacity. This was the appearance of Akagi in her strike on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.


Smaller Decks & Stacks - E & F Sprues
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The Japanese Navy was very secretive about its warship construction program, so it is entirely likely that the only photographs that the producers of Destination Tokyo could obtain of the big Japanese carriers were of their appearance before their 1935 to 1938 refits. Whether they did not know of the modernization of the Akagi or simply ignored it because the multi-deck Akagi looked cool, the film was enriched by the multi-deck carriers that appeared in it. (History from: Aircraft Carriers of the World, 1914 to the Present, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland 1987 by Roger Chesneau)

The Hasegawa Akagi 1927 to 1935 Fit
Until now the only kit available of the Akagi in her initial multi-deck appearance was a 1:700 scale resin kit by Pit Road in their High Mold line. With a price close to $200, it was produced in limited numbers and is now out of production. Since Pit Rod is now associated with Trumpeter, the Hasegawa kit is apparently an all newly tooled effort. The Hasegawa kit comes in a fairly large box for a 1:700 scale kit but packs quite a bit of throw weight. The kit needs a large box because it comes generously endowed with parts. With twelve sprues in injected plastic and three decal sheets about the only thing missing is brass photo-etch. This kit could definitely benefit from a photo-etch set designed specifically for it, but I’ll say more about the benefits of such a set in the review of the hull pieces. Two possible variations are possible. One is for the period of 1927 to 1934. The second presents the appearance in 1934 to 1935 with additional light AA platforms.


Superstructure Details & AA - G & J Sprues
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Hull – Sprues A & C
The hull is divided into three pieces with the hull sides divided along the centerline. The hull sides are sprue A. The hull sides have marvelous detail with one major caveat. Unlike the hull sides of most WWII or modern warships, which are fairly featureless, the Hasegawa Akagi 1927-1935 fit is gloriously crammed with great detail. All of the numerous portholes on multiple levels have eyebrows (rigoles). You may want to drill them completely through the hull but be patient, there are plenty of them. The hull is rife with multiple angles from smooth graceful curves found in the elegant clipper bow and dramatic flare of the bow to the six plane towering angular mass amidships. The ship has a reverse tumblehome in that the hull has a significant flare outwards as it goes up in height. Numerous horizontal strakes run along the hull intersected by the occasional raised vertical strake. As interesting as the lower hull is, it gets only better when it reaches the lower hangar deck area. After a narrow ledge a inward tumblehome starts. No one will ever call this Akagi slab sided.

At the lower hangar level there are nine different openings into the hangar. The support posts or pillars also start at this level. The upper hangar level has more of a deck than a ledge as the hangar sides are significantly inboard from the deck edge. Part of the upper hangar bulkhead is vertical and part is an inverted vee, angled in and then out. Towards the aft part of the lower hangar deck a platform juts outward with support detail underneath. Another ledge is at the casemate level, as the casemates are set well to the aft. Additional hull detail comes in the form of numerous foot rung ladders and booms. My major criticism of this kit concerns some detail on the sides of the upper hangar deck. On each side there are nine lattice work supports which rise from the upper hangar deck to the main deck above. You can paint the voids between the frames black but brass open latticework would be a significant improvement. The plastic pillars can be removed and spaces sanded from a photo-etch substitute if one was produced. Now all we need is for a photo-etch manufacturer to produce a kit specific fret. Sprue C has the third part to the hull, the bottom plate. It is probably best to add this plate to add strength and stability to the hull.


Aircraft, Armament & Boats - K & L Sprues
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Decks – Sprues B, D & E
Sprue B is the primary flight deck along with a hangar aft bulkhead. The deck is delightfully asymmetrical and you can see the rise of the deck from aft to midpoint and drop from midpoint forward. There is a significant turndown at the stern.Both elevators are offset to starboard and the forward flight deck sides are radically different, angular to starboard and rounded to port. The deck wood panels are well detailed with arrestor wires and crash barriers/ wind breaks in a down position. A series of small galleries are found on each side of the deck. Sprue D contains only two parts, the quarterdeck and the lowest flight deck. The quarterdeck has an excellent anti-skid metal deck at the very stern with the bulk of the deck with linoleum panels connected by brass strips. There are also access coamings, stern anchor chain and other fittings. The aft elevator well is also found on this piece. The lower flight deck piece is actually elevated from the forecastle deck. This part has the same fine paneling as found on the main flight deck. The E sprue has three pieces. One is the forecastle, which will be mostly concealed by the lower flight deck. That’s a oity because of the wealth of detail found on this piece. Most of the deck is metal with the anti-skid cross-hatching. An anchor washboard is found to port and as with the quarterdeck, the forecastle has molded on anchor chain and nice deck hawse. Aft of the anchor windlasses the deck turns to the traditional linoleum and brass pattern. The middle flight deck again has the excellent paneling. Apparently after it was decided not to fly off this middle deck forward bulkheads were installed enclosing the upper hangar. The third piece is this forward bulkhead with a combination of curves and angles.

Smaller Superstructure Parts – Sprues F, G & J
These sprues contain all of the smaller parts for the superstructure. The larger of these parts are on the F sprue. The large curved funnel has foot rung/hand rung detail but both funnels are on this sprue. Also included are solid cps but photo-etch would be better. The two halves of each elevator well have bulkhead ribbing and with the aft well the upper hangar deck is in place. If you want the elevator to be fully down to the lower hangar, you’ll have to cut out the deck in the well. Both of the elevators are also on this sprue. Other parts include masts, a very small island, small crane, a couple of small galleries and the stern anchor. The largest parts on G sprue are a couple of large bulkheads. Most of the sprue consists of lattice support pillars, which again are solid. When given the opportunity, substitute with photo-etch. Other parts are a couple of ship’s boats and internal supports. The J sprue has the weapons sponsons, 4.7-inch gun shields, and other platforms with supports.


Decals
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Weapons & Aircraft – Sprues K & L
You get two each of the K & L sprues. Each K sprue provides three fighters and three larger torpedo bombers. Both of course are biplanes with separate fuselage with lower wing, upper wing, landing gear and individual torpedoes for the bombers. Hasegawa also provides the aircraft as a separate set so you can fill your Akagi’s decks. The two L sprues have highly detail twin 8-inch gun turrets for the middle flight deck forward. Casemate guns are nicely tapered with round bases that fit inside the circular casemate positions. The other armament is the 4.7-inch guns and some light guns, which are probably twin heavy machine guns added in 1934 because I think it is too early for that mount to appear. There is another series of solid lattice supports (same comments about photo-etch), more ship’s boats, davits and anchors.

Decals & Instructions
There are three decal sheets, two large and one small. One sheet is for flight deck markings with red and white striped round downs fore and aft. There are big arrow marks for the centerline, a ray pattern forward, elevator outlines. Also included are name markings, name plate and a full set of flags. The second sheet provides a huge selection of aircraft markings. There are more markings then there are aircraft. Instructions are in Japanese and English. There is one long back-printed page. Included are nice profiles and plans of both of the possible versions. There is a short history but the bulk of the instructions presents a sequence of nine major assembly steps with many additional subassembly insets. The instructions are well illustrated and all parts numbered to match the parts numbers on the sprues. 


Box Art & Instructions
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Verdict
A must have. I admit it, I like the early Akagi design. That three flight deck design really intrigues me, especially when it is filled with biplanes. Hasegawa has produced an excellent 1:700 scale kit of this impressive one off carrier design as she appeared from 1927 to late 1935. All it needs is a dedicated set of brass photo-etch. Hopefully Hasegawa will follow up with the three flight deck Kaga.

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