It happens every time. Because of a huge industrial base the United States can out build any other nation in warships. So many get in the pipeline that their sheer numbers influence naval procurement programs years after the war has ended. The huge numbers of flush deck four stack destroyers built in response to World War One, prevented new procurement of far better destroyer designs for a decade. For politicians a destroyer is a destroyer, a gun is a gun, even when one gun is a .22 single shot and the other is a 20mm Vulcan gatling cannon. Why should the navy get new destroyers when they had over 200 of them freshly built and almost unused? History repeats itself for those that donít learn from history and it certainly seems that politicians are learning handicapped. The same train of events came into play at the end of World War Two. Every class of ship had built in tremendous numbers, so with some exceptions new designs came to a stop. This was true with aircraft carriers. So many Essex class carriers had been built, plus the three big Midway carriers, that their was no money for new designs, plus the situation had become more complex when the independent USAF was created as a separate service, clear of army control. Just as the pre-war RAF had been dominated by the Big Bomber Boys, so too with the shiny new USAF. Why spend money on the Army and Navy when the Air Force could win wars all alone with nuclear armed strategic bombers?
It is interesting that by 1945 the USN considered the Essex design to be outdated and definitely overloaded. Even though the new Midway Class was considered a far superior design, when the big Midways entered service after the war with larger air wings than the Essex Class carriers, it was observed that aircraft could not be launched or recovered any more efficiently than they had been with the Essex Class. Although the Essex Class traces its ancestry to the Yorktown Class and was a prewar design, it provided an optimum platform for operations of the piston powered aircraft of the time. Although considered obsolescent in 1945, the members of the class had more than two decades and two wars ahead of them in which to serve. After the war the members of the Essex class participated in Operation Magic Carpet in the return of troops to the US. After this, most of the older members of the class were placed in reserve and mothballed. The newer units, most of which did not see operations in World War Two were used for training pilots and for operations but were second fiddles for the Midways.
In spring 1950 the carrier force of the USN had atrophied to a shocking degree. In 1948 the navy had won appropriations for the USS United States, which would have been the first super-carrier. However, the bomber barons of the USAF had convinced Congress that carriers were obsolete. Any new war would quickly be won through nuclear weapons delivered by heavy strategic bombers. Instead of buying obsolete technology as represented by an aircraft carrier, the money would be better spent buying the cutting edge technology of the Convair B-36. That collective body of wise men, known as Congress, nodded their collective heads and the USS United States was cancelled in 1949 after having been laid down. So in late spring 1950, the USN operational carrier force was at 14 carriers. However, half of these could not be considered front line carriers. In the Atlantic were the three Midways and the Leyte CV-32. In the Pacific were the Boxer CV-21, Valley Forge CV-45 and Philippine Sea CV-47. The other seven operational carriers were three CVLs and four CVEs. All of that changed in the summer of 1950 as the North Korean Peopleís Army came rolling south and over-ran all of the peninsula except for a small enclave around the southeast port of Pusan. OOPS!
All of the high-flown promises and prognostications of the USAF proved to be a steaming pyramid of manure. Strategic bombers were worthless in this conflict and tactical air support was golden. Those three Essex class ships in the Pacific were the first source of effective tactical air support for the besieged forces in Pusan. The USN already had a plan to modernize the Essex class and the Oriskany was the test bed. This fit, known as SCB-27A added a bulge to the waterline, strengthened the flight deck, installed more powerful catapults, installed more powerful aircraft and bomb lifts, removed the twin 5-inch/38 mounts and provided a new, much larger island/stack. Those short hull Essex units also had their bow reworked to long hull configuration. All of these changes were made to increase the ability of the ships to operate jet aircraft. Essex CV-9 and Wasp CV-18 had also started this refit in 1948. None of these ships were ready to respond to the crisis in Korea. There was a consensus that the invasion of South Korea was merely the opening round in a plan that would have the Red Army invade western Europe. Because of this belief the three best carriers of the Midway class were kept in the Mediterranean to guard against an attack that never came.
It was up to the old, unmodernized Essex carriers, little changed from World War Two, to bear the brunt of the fight in 1950 and 1951. However, three Essex class were not enough, so the navy rushed to the mothball fleet to sweep out the cobwebs, dust them off and press other members of the class into service. Princeton CV-37 was first off, reactivated in August 1950. Bon Homme Richard CV-31 was laid up in Bremerton and was reactivated in January 1951. Shangri-La CV-38 followed in May 1951 then Antietam CV-36 in June 1951. The Oriskany was the first modernized 27A Essex to be commissioned in June 1950 but she was not sent to operate off Korea until September 1952. It is the Oriskany that is seen in the movie The Bridges at Toko-Ri. Essex was commissioned in her 27A appearance in January 1951 and immediately entered into air operation off of Korea as part of TF-77 from 1951-1953. The Essex would have been more appropriate for the movie as she was sending her Panthers over the Korean Peninsula, while the Oriskany was basking in the warm clime of the Mediterranean. Yorktown CVA-10 came out of her SCB-27A refit in January 1953 but only served in combat that September. Hornet CVA-12 was not recommissioned in her 27A fit until September 1953. Randolph CVA-15 came out with a 27A fit in July 1953 but served in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Wasp CVA-18 was another earlier 27A entrant with Essex but when she came back into service in October 1951 Wasp served in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Another east coast 27A ship was Bennington CVA-20, which served in this fit from 1953 to 1954. Kearsarge CVA-33 was along with Essex, a 27A ship that did see substantial service off Korea. In 1952 and 1953 she was with Essex in TF-77. Lake Champlain CVA-39 was the last numbered of the class to receive the SCB-27A fit. Commissioned in September 1952 she spent some time in 1953 with TF-77.
Now with the armistice signed, the navy could take a serious look at the future of the carrier. It was abundantly clear from their usefulness during the Korean War that the carrier would continue to be needed into the foreseeable future. However, the rapid development of jet aircraft imposed constraints on the existing Essex and Midway class carriers. Jet aircraft were increasing in size and weight and the old WWII designs were at the upper limit of their deck capability to operate jets. The British had come up with the idea of an angled deck to give a carrier the ability to take off and land jets simultaneously. So the USN decided to take a look at the concept by adding an angled deck to one of the Essex class. Rather than pick one that had just finished their SBC-25 conversion, the USS Antietam CV-36, little changed from her World War Two configuration was chosen for this experiment. In May 1952 Antietam was sent into the dockyard for addition of an angled deck. She was out of the dock by January 1953 and started taking testing the angled deck. When she finished her conversion there were a series of triangular support braces underneath the angled deck and she still carried the original tripod mast. Subsequent to this the triangular supports were covered over by fairing and a pole mainmast replaced the tripod.
The experiment was a success, so all of the 27A Essex class carriers were reworked in another modification known as SCB-125, which added an angled deck, enclosed Hurricane bow, a larger side folding deck elevator, bulges, new catapults and other refinements. Essex underwent this second metamorphosis and was in her angled deck configuration by 1955. The SCB-125 angled deck Essex, which was the fit modeled by Revell in 1957, which was a very advanced kit for the time. (Aircraft Carriers of the World, 1914 to the Present, 1984, by Roger Chesneau; American & British Aircraft Carrier Development 1919-1941, 1999, by Thomas Hone, Norman Friedman & Mark Mandeles; The Essex Aircraft Carriers, 1996, by Andrew Faltum; Essex-Class Carriers, 1988, by Alan Raven; U.S. Aircraft Carriers, An Illustrated Design History, 1983, by Norman Friedman, Warships Perspectives Essex Aircraft in World War Two, 2002, by Glenn H. Arnold by WR Press)
Iron Shipwright SCB-27A Essex
At the bow are thick anchor hawse on each side but if you look at the photographs, these features were large on the original ship. The cutwater has the graceful curved profile of this design but appears a little too broad across the top. This extra width will be covered by the two twin 3-inch AA gun mounts. Looking at the bow photographs, you will notice that the forward end of the forecastle does appear to be narrower than on the model but that the gun tubes extend the width over the slightly wider forecastle. The hangar bulkheads are inboard of the hull edge, so the design allows more interest and side hull detail. The hull below the hangar deck does have exterior fuel lines, which was a damage control feature to prevent fuel from a damaged line leaking into the hull. There was some damage to these fuel lines in that small sections had broken. Repairs are fairly easy if you can find the resin line that had broken free in the box or with the appropriate diameter plastic rod cut to the right length. All of the openings in the hangar bulkheads are closed on the ISW model but the resin is thinner at these locations, so they are easy to open with a hobby knife. The rolling hangar doors do have nicely done slat detail. Bracing for the outboard port amidships elevator is cast onto the hull and is crisply executed. A new addition to the 27A design is found just aft of this elevator. This is a large hemisphere sponson upon which the crane was based. Other hull side details include portholes, ventilation louvers, forward and aft rectangular sponsons, wastewater exhaust vents, vertical strakes and thin catwalks. The stern has the larger two-mount AA sponson cast integral to the hull.
The wide forecastle will mostly be concealed by the flight deck, yet there is still plenty of detail. Along the centerline you will see the anchor chain bed plates leading to crisp deck hawse. Outboard and to the rear of the deck hawse are two more deck openings whose exact function I do not know. Aft of the anchor chain plates is found the anchor machinery with integrally cast windlasses, chain locker entrance fittings, access hatches and other fittings. Towards the hull edge on each side of the forecastle are a series of twin bollard and chock fittings. The forward hangar bulkhead has a locker cast on each side. Along each walkway outboard of the hanger will be found other bollard and equipment fittings. The aft hangar bulkhead has a lot of exterior detail with hangar access doors, vertical reinforcement strakes and other fittings. The small hemisphere quarterdeck rounds out the exterior main deck detail with various plates and fittings. The hull casting also provides interior hangar bulkhead detail. ISW cast this detail integral with the hull, so unlike the Dragon or Trumpeter plastic Essex models, the modeler doesnít need to worry about fit of the interior hangar deck or in the case of Trumpeter hangar deck bulkheads. This alone will save a lot of time in assembly and eliminates the need to fill and sand unsightly seams. Not only does ISW include stack flue trunking but also internal strakes, supports, roller door fittings, lockers and other fittings. Of course this detail will be concealed once the flight deck is attached, unless you cut out the hangar doors to portray them in an up position or have the centerline elevators in a down position. Even with this some of this detail will not be seen but it is nice to know it is there in case one of the IPMS ship judges is a proctologist and comes to the show with the tools of his trade.
Smaller Resin Parts
There are a host of smaller parts for weapons and equipment. The twin 5-inch/38 turrets of the WWII Essex are gone but the single open mounts are still present in side galleries. The trusty old 40mm Bofors are also gone, replaced by the twin 3-inch AA gun mountings fielded in the 27A refit period. Both of these weapons systems come with separate gun pieces and mount pieces. These parts are beyond just the basic shape and have good detailing. The directors with their associated small radars are one-piece castings and have excellent detail for their small size. A number of the parts are the smaller director tubs, which housed the small Mk 51 directors used to control the WWII Bofors and Oerlikons. The directors are gone with the guns they controlled but some of the tubs are still there. During WWII the quantity of shipís boats was minimized for space and weight reasons but with the 27A Essex they have made a comeback. Nine of them are present in the kit from large launches and whalers o small dinghies. An island flight control position, island top radar shack and masts round out the smaller resin pieces. No aircraft are included but Cyber-Hobby/Dragon has two perfect boxes of Korean War jets, props and choppers. More than enough for any aspiring Micky Rooney.
Brass Photo-Etch Fret
Where do the boats go? Where do the small tubs go? Even more basic, where do the five-inch and three-inch guns go? Sure, I have plenty of references and can get that information or I can just give Jon a call. However, a modeler should not have to go beyond the instructions in the kit to fully assemble a model unless it falls within the Craftsman category. This is not a Craftsman kit but the instructions are on that lower level. If there had been an included plan and profile like Combrig provides, this would have been a minor inconvenience. However, there is no P&P and the modeler will have to beyond the instructions to find locations of most of the smaller parts.