This started out as a paper model, the Polish Kartonowa Flota (paper fleet) 1:300 Jaguar. It was always intended as a test bed in preparation for making the JSC HMS Exeter paper kit from Marcle Models. I’d bought a book from them to help me: ‘Card modelling – basic and advanced techniques’ by Alvar Hansen of Schreiber-Bogen Kartonmodellbau. Armed with the knowledge from that I thought I’d have a bash at a cheap £5 job just to develop my techniques. Then I would wade into HMS Exeter. Of course, the advantages of origami are twofold: no painting and minimum tools. But Alvar Hansen also advocates that modellers using different material should unite: combining paper and card with photo-etch, plastic, wood, metal and whatever else, scratch building to achieve the desired result. I think that building pure world-class paper models takes the craft of model making to the highest levels. It seems to be elevated way beyond polystyrene and resin based work. But I found I couldn’t cut it to that level. Apart from all the problems of folding and gluing fiddly little bits, not painting a model (it seems to be sacrilege in the paper model community, although I’m certain they can be weathered) can produce a rather static and lifeless result. So here’s my hybrid. Using any appropriate materials (even tea light canisters and take-away aluminum food container foil) to achieve an acceptable result depicting a well-weathered, war-torn vessel. This model appealed to me from a roundabout route. I’d seen photos in Profile Warships and Profile Morskie of the Abdiel class minelayer HMS Welshman disguised as a French contre-torpillier while running supplies to Malta in 1942. Investigating further how effective or otherwise this disguise was, I came across those big French destroyers. And I thought the Chacal class - the first of the type commissioned in 1923 and also the three funnelled ones - just looked so cool. Full of Gallic style and misplaced swagger and self-confidence, as if looks could kill... a far cry from the convoluted miscontraptions they’d been building in the age of the dreadnought.
I’m deliberately avoiding giving a potted history of this ship and its class in the up-top preliminaries. Most articles are written this way. My reasoning for not doing this is twofold. First, it’s boring. Secondly, it’s duplicating information that the world wide web is awash with. If a reader is interested in knowing about the ship, they can just Google it. The paper model as it comes is a bit of a weird one. I don’t know what sources the designers used, but it’s an extraordinary mixture of accuracy and wishful thinking. I used the plans available online from the French maritime museum for reference - but not until too late in the process (it was just going to be a quick throw-together, I hadn’t intended to do deep-dive research when I started). Unexpectedly I discovered errors within the drawings themselves. Some of the plans, cross sections and elevations don’t correlate in detail, even within a single sheet. And comparing them with photos, they are not in the British Admiralty convention of ‘as fitted’. The model actually scales out very accurately, but some of the superstructure elements have been misinterpreted and are over complicated – in particular the rear of the bridge, and the boiler room intakes. And then there’s the camouflage scheme. I’ve found only one photo of the Jaguar wearing this, and on the model the tones have been reversed – the light colours are dark and vice versa. I don’t believe the photo was a negative, but I didn’t find it until I’d finished painting, so it was too late to correct that.
The first point I decided I couldn’t carry on in pure paper was the ship’s boat beams. Then it was the boiler room intakes, which I made balsa cores for. Glue was starting to discolour and stain the paper. Rolling the torpedo tubes around drill bits of the right diameter didn’t produce a convincing result. Ship’s boats ended up a gungy mess of uhu glue. I didn’t like the printed on doors, hatches and life rings, so fabricating all these meant painting these - knowing it was impossible to match the four colour process screened printed paper (not solid colours). So by this stage I was accepting that maintaining the printed, paper-based character of the model was unrealistic if I was going to produce a half-decent result. So enter a new dilemma – was I using this any longer as a material and technique based test-bed, or was I trying to build a model I’d be happy with? Well, both really. I knew it would never win a medal, but I also knew that if I didn’t try to make it the best I could, I wouldn’t develop my skills and learn things. So I accepted I was trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I learnt how to scratch build torpedo tubes, really complicated funnel caps, ship’s boats, gun mountings, depth charge throwers, anchors and more. All better in plastic than paper. I threw a whole lot of 1:350 photo etch and resin crew at it. Admittedly slightly under scale because this is a 1:300 scale ship. But there was no alternative – no after-market accessory and detail provider offers stuff in this scale. And the difference in scale is really too small to notice. Throughout I used David Griffith’s incredibly informative and wonderfully readable book ‘Model Ships From Kits’ as my reference for things I hadn’t tried before. This included weathering techniques and building the ocean using weird and extraordinary materials that were completely unknown to me. Now, I don’t make a practice of drawing attention to failed features in my models. But the stern chutes for depth charges fell into this category. I made them first from modified photo-etch railing (removing a lot of metal) but mashed them up when I built up the sea around the stern. Very fragile. I replaced them with fine brass wire bent around a wooden jig, but the angles were very complex, the cross-ties clumsy looking, and the result less than satisfactory. So, if David Griffiths or anyone else has got some smart ways of making these, please let me know.
In making the sea, I decided from the outset I didn’t want it sitting lazily in harbour. These destroyers were the greyhounds of the seas, so I was determined to try a portray an impression of high speed manoeuvrability – sharp turn to starboard with the vessel healing into the curve. I hope I’ve succeeded. A bit ambitious I suppose for the first time I’ve ever made an ocean. The flag hoist reads ‘OMG I’m turning to starboard’. I chose OMG as in ‘Oh My God’ in text speak. In the international flag code it also means ‘surf’. So – ‘Oh my god! Surf! I’m turning to starboard!’ LOL. I’ve included a set of pictures taken from the same angle of one particular section of the ship to illustrate the stages I went through sorting things out. Yes, some of the first stuff I did I stripped off later having done my research rather more diligently. They’re also intended as a terrible warning to wannabe paper makers. My build is easily criticized. The liferails look a bit wonky. And I had a big problem with the hull sides shrinking between the athwartships formers. Next time (if there is one) I’ll put in more intermediate formers and also stiffen the hull sides with an extra layer of paper. The Caenis thread used for the rigging can exert incredible tension, and my top foremast – even though stoutly constructed from brass rod and wire – acquired a backward stagger thanks to seven wireless aerials. The mainmast was OK though. So, the outcome of this ‘quick’ effort at paper modelling in preparation for the real deal – HMS Exeter? No way. These paper model sheets are brilliant in conception and process, but practically impossible to make ‘out of the book’ to an acceptable standard. Well, for me anyway. On the other hand, they are totally brilliant as templates for scratch building. And I have to say, the end result to my eyes is pretty cool – capturing in a French impressionistic way the real character of this ship. You can criticize some of the defects, but the overall effect - well, that’s for you to decide. Welcome to my hybrid-fusion, made of all sorts.
PS: A HUGE word of caution. ‘Zip Kicker’ accelerator for CA glue is very, very nasty stuff. After some very unpleasant experiences, my practice has been to throw open the window and exit the room immediately after using it. Before that, I remained head over the model, carrying on with gluing and ‘kicking’. The result on a few occasions was that within an hour or so I experienced frighteningly large blind spots in one or other of my eyes. I could see, but not as we know it Jim. Nasty stuff. Really nasty chemicals in it. The effects on the brain and sight disappear fairly quickly, but the experience is very unpleasant.