The "New Navy" Monitor USS Amphitrite, like the near-sisters in her class and the larger USS Puritan, had very a dubious origin. The Amphitrite class of iron-hulled monitors were laid down in the mid 1870s, 1874 for the Amphitrite, using money appropriated to repair derelict civil-war monitors of the same name. In actuality, new ships were constructed using the funds that were to repair the older ships. It was in this manner that then Secretary of the Navy, George Robeson was able to get around the obstacle that no funds were allocated for new construction. When this funding scheme was uncovered it became a national scandal but there was nothing else that could be done other than to complete the Amphitrite and the other monitors. This means of funding was also the reason why it took 9 years for the Amphitrite to be launched and 21 years for her to be finally commissioned.
As was the case with the other monitors embroiled in this controversy, when the Amphitrite was commissioned she was already woefully obsolete. The Amphitrite was a relatively small monitor, measuring about 263 feet in length, about 56 feet in the beam and displacing 3,990 tons. She was armed with a main battery of four 10-inch guns in twin turrets and her secondary armament was comprised of two 4-inch guns, two 6-pounders and two 3-pounders. Monitors had notoriously poor ventilation and the temperature in the engine room on the Amphitrite often exceeded 150° F and was once recorded as high as 205° F. It got so hot on the Amphitrite once that enough engine room crewmembers were affected by heat exhaustion that it caused the ship lost steam power and come to a standstill requiring that she be anchored! Additional ventilators were eventually installed to improve the conditions in the engineering spaces and as a result the average cruising speed was improved from 5 knots to about 8 knots.
The Amphitrite was stationed in several naval bases ranging from Key West to as far north as Staten Island in New York City. During the early part of her career, she served primarily has a gunnery training ship and in this capacity she apparently excelled. During the Spanish-American War, 45 gun captains that were trained on the Amphitrite "gave a good account of themselves" in engagements with Spanish ships. The Amphitrite’s own involvement in the Spanish-American War was basically limited to blockade and bombardment duties in the Caribbean. Due the limited coal-storage space on this ship, which limited her range, the Amphitrite was towed by the battleship USS Iowa while Admiral Sampson’s squadron searched for Admiral Cervera’s Spanish fleet. The Amphitrite was involved in the bombardment of the coastal defenses guarding San Juan.
After the war, Amphitrite resumed training duties until 1917 when she was assigned as guard ship examining all ships entering and leaving New York harbor. While in this capacity, she was damaged in two separate collisions with merchant vessels due to poor visibility in inclement weather. She was eventually decommissioned and stricken from the Navy list in 1919. In 1920 she was sold to private owners who converted her into a floating hotel in Beaufort. SC and later in Florida. In 1943, she was chartered by the US Government to provide housing for workers building a naval air station in Elizabeth City. She changed hands several times before finally being scrapped in the spring of 1952.
"Monitor fever" is reaching epidemic proportions with Iron Shipwright’s 1/350 scale release of the Amphitrite. There were a lot of similarities among the "New Navy" monitors so likewise this kit shares a lot of aspects with Iron Shipwright’s previous releases of the Monterey and the Puritan.
The largest part of this kit is the one-piece full hull and main superstructure casting which contains a very good level of detail. The finely planking deck is dotted with an array of shielded glass ports that provided light to the spaces below. Holes are pre-drilled for the anchor handling davit and the secondary guns on the upper deck level. The casting is generally well done but some minor repairs where required. The resin-pouring stub along the keel was sawed off and the area underneath and around it was filled in and sanded smooth. There was a sizeable notch in the rudder keel that required fitting a piece of styrene stock with gap filling CA that was sanded into shape. Some additional rough surfaces in this same area were also sanded down. On the topside, a couple of the mooring bits were broken off so I drilled some holes and replaced them with bits of plastic rod.
The next largest parts are the pair of 10-inch turrets, the pilothouse, the tall funnel, the bridge levels, cowl vent and rudder. These parts were also well done needing only minor clean up and sanding after removing them from the casting runners. The bottoms of the turrets needed a little more attention but they fit neatly into the barbettes. The pilothouse is particularly nice with the windows and doors neatly framed and the paneled wood done quite realistically. One minor problem that I encountered here was that I think that the wrong rudder was provided since it was too big to fit in its location. I could have easily contacted Iron Shipwrights for a replacement but I happened to have a spare rudder from my Monterey build that appeared to be more appropriate.
A lot of smaller parts are provided which include a variety of boats and steam launches, boat racks, aft searchlight platform, propellers and propeller struts, anchors, 10-inch gun barrels, military mast and fighting top. Some of the smaller parts area little roughly cast and required sanding and cleaning up. As is usually the case, the resin military mast was warped so I used it as a pattern to make a replacement out of telescoping brass rod to give it a tapered effect. Due to an oversight, my kit was missing the secondary armament. An e-mail to Ted "Guido" Paris resulted in a package containing plenty of guns.
The brass photo-etch for this kit is good but basic. It contains all of the railings, most of which have the awning support stanchions, supports for the bridge platforms and rear searchlight deck, inclined and vertical ladders, davits, boat rudders, boom pulleys and hooks, 1-pounder guns. Not included on the brass fret was the funnel cap grill and oars for the boats. I used a funnel cap leftover from another project that fit adequately but I didn’t equip the boats with any oars. Based on the few photos I found of the Amphitrite, it didn’t appear that the a boom was fitted to the mast, yet parts for one are provided with the photoetch and it is referenced in the kit instructions. I omitted one from my build, especially since the placement of the cowl vent would have blocked it in any event.
Also included in the box is a decal sheet that has been developed for their series of models from this era. The sheet contains eight 45 star and eight 46 star United States flags in two sizes (3/16" x 9/16" and 1/8" x 7/16") and styles (standard and windblown").
The instructions with my kit were adequate but could have been a little more detailed. It comprised of a series of diagrams with part numbers which provided enough guidance to put the model together but still left open questions as to placement of certain photoetch parts like the bridge wing supports. There was no mapping of part numbers to a key and there is a typo where part numbers both within a circle and a square are resin parts and not photoetch and resin respectively. This could lead to some minor confusion.
The model itself is a very easy build as these ships were not overly complex to begin with. Assembly was fairly straightforward and out of the box with some judgement, dare I say "guess"-timates, made as to the placement of certain details. Once such case was my placement of the bridge wing supports. The larger pair was a little too short to fit vertically underneath the lower bridge wing so instead I attached them at a 45-degree angle from the main bridge deck support base to underneath the wings. I added brass rod to support the extreme ends of these wings. Based on images I’ve seen of the 4-inch guns of this era, they were fitted with a curved gun shield. I fashioned a pair from bits of kit’s actual photoetch fret in which I drilled out the openings, curved around a bit of rod and trimmed down to size. I added elevation wheels using some of the smaller ones from a Gold Medal Models N-scale boxcar handbrake set. To detail the pair of 6-pounder guns I used a pair of shields from the Puritan’s photo-etch set, which had plenty to spare – again this was based on photos I had seen of 6-pounder guns. The pair of 3-pounder guns were essentially a pair of 6-pounders (in this scale they would be nearly identical anyhow) but they did not have shields fitted.
I painted the Amphitrite in her classic white and buff scheme, utilizing Testors Model Master Insignia White and Floquil Depot Buff respectively. For the anti-fouling red I used Floquil Oxide Red and for the pilothouse Floquil Roof Brown. The pilothouse windows are homemade black window decals that were individually applied. The details in black were painted with the exception of the circular plates and the edge of the main deck, which were done using a Sharpie permanent marker. I found using a marker for these areas easier and it enabled me to do a very neat job. I gave these areas a light acrylic gloss coating to seal the marker and the acrylic didn’t cause runs or bleeds. The deck was painted used Testors Model Master Radome Tan and highlighted using two shades of pastel pencil dust blended together with a light drybrushing of the Radome Tan.
The funnel stays were 1-pound fishing line heat tightened and the mast rigging was done with .006 diameter brass wire. The anchor stocks are thin brass rods bent into a "J" shape and the ball ends were gap-filling superglue formed into shape and cured with accelerator. The anchor chain was brass 27 lpi chain spray painted white – based on photos the Amphitrite’s anchor chains were white and not the more common black.
I was quite pleased with my build of the Amphitrite and it looks great next to my Monterey. It is a fairly quick build and a good second or third resin model. I have definitely caught a bad case of "monitor fever" since I have the Puritan and the new Florida on the slipways as well. If you are a fan of ships of this era, I recommend adding this interesting subject to your collection.