The USS KATAHDIN was built by the Bath Iron Works of Bath, Maine. This experimental, harbor-defense ram was a departure from traditional ship design. She was built to ride low in the water with her bow awash while under way – a feature now seen on modern submarines. Her hull embodied several other new technical features, which were later used on many ships. These included double hull construction and flood tanks. The former provided additional protection from being damaged or holed by shot while in combat and the latter allowed her to ballast herself down to present an even lower profile.

She was launched at Bath on 4 February 1893 and was sponsored by Miss Una Soley, daughter of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. The KATAHDIN was the subject of a protracted contract dispute between the Navy and Bath Iron Works over design and construction that delayed her final acceptance. The dispute was finally resolved in Bath’s favor. The KATAHDIN was finally accepted and placed into commissioned at the New York Navy Yard on 20 February 1897, CDR Richard P. Leary in command.

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Ironclad Ram

Displacement 2,155 tons;  Length 250' 9";  Breadth 43' 5";  Draft 15' 1";  Speed 16 knots;  Fuel coal

Complement 97;  Armament 4 - 6-pound rifled guns.


The KATAHDIN departed New York Harbor 4 March 1897, the day of President McKinley's first inauguration, and sailed to Norfolk. The Navy did not know how to employ this new type of ship and she was soon decommissioned and laid up at the Philadelphia Naval Yard on 17 April 1897.

A year later, with the Navy preparing for an impending war with Spain, the KATAHDIN was reactivated and recommissioned on 10 March 1898. She was attached to the North Atlantic Squadron and operated along the Atlantic Coast from New England to Norfolk. Her mission was to protect the Nation's seaboard cities from possible attack by the Spanish Fleet. However, after the decisive American naval victories at Manila Bay and Santiago Harbor eliminated this threat, the ram was again decommissioned and laid up at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 8 October 1898. Her total military career was 269 days.

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However, the KATAHDIN served to advance the knowledge of naval weaponry to her very end. She was struck from the Navy List 9 July 1909; and designated "Ballistic Experimental Target 'A'". She was sunk by naval gunfire at Rappahannock Spit, Va., in September 1909.


Commander’s/Iron Shipwright USS KATAHDIN 1:350 scale

I found that many of the resin cowl vents to be miscast. There were bubbles in the necks that caused them to snap off when the cowl was separated from the carrier. These were replaced by ISW. I improved them by making some circles of fine lead fuse wire made by spiraling the wire around an appropriate sized drill shank then slicing up one site to release the circles. The circles were cemented in place with some gap-filling CA – then the cowl head and throat was lightly shaped with the smallest Dremel ball-head cutter (turned by hand).

The hull was in very good shape when I received it. There was a very small pour stub and few bubbles. What bubbles there were filled with some Bondo auto body glazing putty and sanded smooth.

I added some Evergreen strip styrene to the bridge deck and to the areas along the deck edge. Before installing the decking I pre-painted pieces several shades of wood tan and installed them in a ‘random’ pattern. I also improved some of the deck detail by adding GMM photo-etched hatches and scuttle-hole covers.

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The ship’s boats provided with the kit are WWII era motor whaleboats. The few period photos of the KATAHDIN show her carrying what appear to be square-sterned cutters or long-boats on her boat racks. Jon Warneke of ISW sent some of the cutters that are included with the Bainbridge destroyer, but these proved to be too short for the photo-etched boat racks. I modified one of these cutters by adding a piece of 30-thousands styrene to the transom and filing it to shape. I also added a triangular piece of plastic to the keel to deepen the boat’s appearance. I filled and sanded the seams and then cast some copies.

The instructions included with the kit are poor. There is one sheet of with plan and elevation drawings, parts list and location identification. The instructions include directions to cement a piece of wire to the boat rack supports. There was no explanation for this addition. When I began the assembly of the racks I discovered that the notch in the boat cradle would fit around this added wire. I was able to use this notch to accurately and securely fix the boat cradles to the rack assembly (after first making sure that the added wire was clipped to an appropriate height. The instruction drawings also include an indication of cross-deck supports for the boat racks. After adding these I also added some longitudinal supports and some etched walkways and railings to complete the boat racks.

The bridge, foredeck and aft awnings are supported on pieces of 0.010 brass wire cemented to the inside of the railings. I drilled a block of styrene and used it as a spacer so that I could trim these uprights to the same height. I made canopy frames from 0.010 brass wire with some 0.005 wire bracing . I made the canopy canvas covers from tissue paper, stiffened and cemented in place with some white glue. I painted the tissue paper a cream white and drybrushed with white to bring out the framing details. The railing dodgers are also tissue paper handled the same way.

The stack guy wires and the mast braces are 0.005 stainless wire. The mast itself is a wooden toothpick. It was notched to receive the gaff and a hole was drilled through it to receive another toothpick sliver for the yardarms. The halyards are invisible sewing thread.

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The green paint job is based on Steve Backer’s reference to American Steel Navy experiments with green painted vessels (click for preview review). I painted my Katahdin using Polly-Scale acrylic railroad colors. I used Coach Green, which matches well to some of the green colors cited in Eric Ronnberg’s on 19th and early 20th century ship painting. A photo of the bridge area of the Katahdin that appears on the US Naval Historical Center’s Photographic Section shows that the throats of the smaller cowl vents were painted white, while the larger cowls were not.

I gloss-coated the paint and applied washes of Paynes Gray and Burnt Umber oils thinned in turpentine. When that was dry, I drybrushed with the Coach Green and some Polly-Scale Warsaw Pact Green to give it some of the olive-yellow tones. Everything was then overcoated with a light dusting of Testor’s Dullcoat.

I mounted the ship on a polished brass cleat. I drilled some 1/16th inch holes in the arms of the cleat and soldered some 1/16th brass wire pins into them. I filed away the excess solder, and polished the brass before sealing the cleat with some Krylon clear gloss. I drilled some 1/16th inch holes into the bottom of the ship to receive the pins.