Short History and Operational Service - The battleship Richelieu was, together with her sister ship Jean Bart, which entered service several years after the end of 2nd World War, were the best battleships ever produced by the French naval industry. Her distinctive features were derived from the Dunkerque class battleships, of which she has the same main armament arrangement and general design but she was dramatically improved as to the older sisters. With her main 380mm guns instead of 330mm of the Dunkerque class, thicker armoured belt and new solutions for her general arrangements; in short, Richelieu was recognized as having very good seaworthiness and protection.

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The Richelieu was commissioned in 1940 and represented the French "alter ego" to the German battleships Bismarck and Tirpitz and to the Italian Vittorio Veneto class, which she hypothetically would have to face but never did. One of her most distinctive features was the concentration of the two 380 mm. quadruple gun turrets forward the main tower as found in the older British battleships HMS Rodney and HMS Nelson, with their three 406mm triple gun turrets. The secondary batteries of 152 mm were arranged in three triple turrets, near the stern. However, the most distinctive feature was, with no doubt, the funnel, that was incorporated into the second tower and represented one of the first examples, if not the first, of this kind of naval construction.

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As far as her operational life, the Richelieu did not have a good start. In 1940, she was damaged by hits from the 380mm guns of the British battleships HMS Barham and HMS Resolution, while she was at anchor, still incomplete, in Dakar harbour. In 1942, when the Free France Navy drew up her ships together with allied ships against the Axis forces, the Richelieu was sent to the United States, where she underwent a general refit that completely changed the anti-aircraft gun fit and radar apparatus. These changes brought Richelieu up to date with new naval technology and weapons. At the end of the refit, in September 1943, the battleship left the U.S. for Europe and joined the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow, ready to fight the German warships on the North Atlantic and North Sea. In 1944, she was sent to the Far East, where she joined the allied forces that fought against the Imperial Japanese Navy and in that arena, she participated in actions against Surabaya, Sabang and the Andaman Islands. She was decommissioned in 1959, after twenty years of operational service. In 1968 she was sold and scrapped in La Spezia, Italy.

The Kit and Construction - The 1/700 scale Hi-Mold kit (code HM 018) is simply the best you can find on the market, in looking at resin kits but its price (about $250.00 in 1998, when I bought it) could easily be a hard challenge to the pocket of waterline ship modellers. Anyway, passion is passionÖ. so I bought it. First of all, when I opened the box, I soon realised that the hull, the superstructures parts, the 380mm and 152mm gun turrets, the range-finder directors, boats and all the other resin parts, were extremely fine and detailed, while the metal parts were not as good as the resin ones.

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So I decided to scratch build lots of details, radars, mast, 100mm gun barrels, cranes, jack staff and ensign staff, reels, searchlights and many other details, using photo-etch parts, plastic sheets, sprues, copper wires and so on. As for the photo-etch parts, a specific set for this battleship doesnít exist yet. Anyway, thereís more than a simple rumour from Navalis (click for the Navalis web site) about a 1/700 scale photo-etch set for the Richelieu.

Unfortunately, the set is not ready for the market, so I decided to build photo-etch details by using photo-etched parts from Gold Medal Models, White Ensign Models and Tomís Modelworks sets, modified and adapted for the Richelieu. Iíve added photo-etched railings, ladders, 20mm Oerlikon guns with shields and the resin quad 40 mm. Bofors from WEM. The Hi-Mold kit represents the ship at the end of the war but as I wanted to build her in the March/April 1944 configuration, I had to make some structural changes to the main and second towers

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Painting the Camouflage - Maybe, painting the Richelieuís camouflage is the most interesting thing to point out. At the end of the U.S. refit, in September 1943, the battleship was painted with a U.S. Navy camouflage scheme, Measure 32, which consisted of four different types of grays. Looking at the photos of the battleship, it is uncertain if four grays were used, on the contrary, itís more probable that only three grays were used. This supposed variation on the Measure 32 scheme, seems to be real and logical, because of the non-American nationality of the ship and the necessity of hastening the initiation of operations for the French Navy.

The camouflage scheme is different from the starboard side to the port side. On the port side, the ship presents some squared areas of darker grays, where colors seem to be incomplete and worn out, while on the starboard side there are some false bows and false sterns, with the same general color appearance. Iíve used WEM enamels, and the colors are: 5-N Navy Blue; 5-O Ocean Gray; 5-L 1943 Light Gray for hull and superstructures, and 20-B Deck Blue for the deck. First of all, I sprayed the 5-L on the entire hull; then I sprayed some patches of 5-O, looking strictly at the photos and drawings contained in Eric Le Vaillantís book devoted to the Richelieu and in the other book "Les cuirassťs: Richelieu" by Robert Dumas. When the color was completely dried, I sprayed the entire hull with a second coat of 5-L, covering all the previous areas in 5-O. Then, after having masked the areas that had to be in 5-L, as in the real ship, I sprayed other patches in 5-O again, in different position from the previous ones in 5-O, and in 5-N.

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After a one week waiting (to let the paint completely dry), I finished the hull by using wet extra fine emery paper, with a vertical movement. This kind of work, allows you to shade the colors, as in the real ship and to age the camouflage. Moreover, finishing the hull with emery paper, gave me the opportunity of letting the first sprayed patches of 5-O,the ones masked under the second coat of 5-L, come back to life again, in a delicate veiled way, just as in the real ship.

What you can easily realize, when looking at the real Richelieu photos, is that she gives the impression that the paint was applied hastily on the hull. This is, maybe, the reason why the colors used on the ship seem to lack coverage and not be homogeneous. Then, I softly dry-brushed the hull and superstructures with three shades of grays, from a darker, to a medium, to a lighter one, always with a vertical movement of the brush. Then Iíve painted some rusty areas, where water drained. The deck, painted in 20-B, was sprayed, like the hull, before the superstructure was assembled and dry-brushed with three different grays, as above, to lighten the color because of the effects of the sun, sea water and trampling of the crew.

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The model of the battleship, as I built her with this kind of camouflage, represents the Richelieu in the very first days of April 1944, when she left the allied naval base of Trincomalee (Madagascar), to join the allied forces in the Indian Ocean for fighting the warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy

Claudio Matteini
Ancona, Italia
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