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German Pocket Battleship
Admiral Graf Spee
Iron Shipwright
1:350 Scale kit

Build-up Review
Dave Judy

(see the photo gallery at the end of this article for pics of
Dave's beautiful Graf Spee as well as the kit parts out-of-the-box)

The Admiral Graf Spee and her sister ships Admiral Scheer and Deutschland (later renamed Lutzow) were popularly known as "panzerschiffe" (pocket battleships). This was due in part to their carrying a main armament of 11" guns, an unusually heavy weapon for a cruiser. The Graf Spee sailed on Aug. 21 1939 to a holding area in the South Atlantic, where she waited until commencing her first wartime mission as a surface raider. Merchant vessels were first stopped, searched and then sunk by gunfire, but not before their crews were removed, a bit of chivalry seldom seen in the Battle of the Atlantic. During her brief operating history, the Graf Spee sank 9 merchant ships totaling 50,100 tons.

On Dec.13 1939, Graf Spee encountered three British cruisers (Exeter, Ajax, and Achilles) sent to track her down. A fierce gun engagement, the Battle of the River Platte, ensued. She inflicted heavy damage on her adversaries, but she too was hit and needed repairs. So the Graf Spee broke off the engagement and sought refuge in the neutral harbor of Montevideo, Uruguay. Under Neutrality Law (and pressure from the British) she was allowed only 72 hours for repairs. Her captain, Erich Langsdorf, incorrectly believed that vastly superior naval forces awaited him once he departed Montevideo. Rather than shooting it out with what he thought to be an overwhelmingly superior force, he ordered the Graf Spee scuttled in the River Platte estuary. Assuming full responsibility for his command actions, Cpt. Langsdorf shot himself shortly thereafter and was buried with full military honors.

The Iron Shipwright kit depicts Graf Spee as she appeared at the time of her 1939 scuttling. The 1/350th model is a stunning one-piece full hull casting that scales out very close to actual dimensions. As a full hull model there is of course Graf3A.jpg (10043 bytes)no need to mate upper and lower hull pieces, the tradeoff being some easily filled voids along the keel. It should also be noted that IS left off the bilge keels. The modeler will need to scratch build them from styrene strip. A large one-piece hull casting tends to trap air in the vicinity of these bilge keels, so omitting them means less filling and cleanup; and fabricating them from strip is not difficult

The smaller resin parts are among the most delicate I‘ve seen, especially the 15cm gun houses. Exercise care while cleaning these parts, as they are fragile and break easily. (Note: ISW will replace parts for any reason, an important consideration for someone as fumble fingered as myself). The white metal parts were well cast and required minimal cleanup. The etched brass is up to IS’s usual high standards. The superstructure rails are pre-sized to the proper dimensions, though the generic main deck rails require the modeler to do his own measuring and cutting. There is sufficient extra rail to allow you a second chance should you make a mistake. I suggest that you use a pair of dividers to transfer deck dimensions to the uncut etched brass rails.

The stairways are three-dimensional, which I find more realistic and preferable to the flat type. Consider trimming the rather large radar antenna to a more "scale" size and shape. The kit includes three sizes of brass rod for constructing the masts, while the yards and footholds are etched brass pieces. The kit’s brass chain can be blackened using a product called Blacken-It by A-West. This product is available at most hobby shops or from Micro Mark.

speeschiffer.jpg (13960 bytes)Criticisms? Three of any significance, the first being five small voids on the superstructure and main deck, all of which were easily filled with putty. The second was the prop shafts, which seemed too small. I scratchbuilt new ones that looked more "in scale". Finally there are the instructions, which I found to be sparse, though I was still able to build the kit easily enough using minimal references and Breyer’s "Pocket Battleship Admiral Graf Spee", a 48 page picture history included with the kit. Note: the instructions incorrectly show the large yard on the mainmast above the small yard, not below as it should be.

Opening a new kit is akin to sitting down to a fine dinner. Will it be a pleasant experience or will I reach for the antacid? Let me say that the Graf Spee is one of Iron Shipwright's best kits thus far and a pleasure to build.  It goes together far more readily than most 1/350th cruiser kits. I can recommend it to any ship modeler new to resin kits and desirous of attempting a larger warship. You’ll be very pleased with the result. I built mine in the more colorful prewar fit. I may yet purchase another Graf Spee so that I can display her in the camo pattern worn at the time of her 1939 scuttling. Either way this is a fine kit of a famous and important German that was a pleasure to assemble - if not eat.

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Note: the references used in evaluating this kit were "German Warships 1815-1945" by Erich Groner and Sigfried Breyer’s "Battleships and Battlecruisers 1905-1970"). See the Iron Shipwright web page for ordering info or contact

Commander Series Models, Inc.
Iron Shipwright Division
551 Wegman Road
Rochester, NY  14624

Phone: 1-888-IRONSHIP  (1-888-476-6744)

Click thumbnail to view full size photos

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Nice photo of the completed Spee
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Big pic
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Big pic with much detail
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In progress photos
Graf7.jpg (51989 bytes) Graf2.jpg (36608 bytes) Graf4.jpg (43159 bytes)
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Kit parts: Hull and structures
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spee05_small.jpg (1347 bytes)
Deck structures
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Port bow
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Forward & turret
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Small resin parts
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Etched Brass