The S.M.S. Mackensen and her three sisters, Graf Spee, Prinz Eitel Friedrich (Ersatz Freya) and Furst Bismarck (Ersatz A) represent the last class of German Battlecruiser actually launched in World War One. A fifth ship, Ersatz Yorck, was ordered for the class but subsequently redesigned to accommodate 15 inch guns and would have had a different appearance. Although described as Battlecruisers, the Mackensens were in reality the ultra fast battleships of their day. Mackensen was designed with a twelve-inch armor belt with up to thirteen inches of armor on her turrets. True contemporary battlecruisers, HMS Lion Class and HMS Tiger (9-inch belt, 9 inch on turrets, IJN Kongo (8-inch belt, 9 inch on turrets), HMS Renown and Repulse (6-inch belt, 11 inch on turrets) would have been completely outclassed Mackensen's protection. She is more appropriately compared to contemporary battleship designs. USS Texas (12 inch belt, 14 inch on turrets), HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Revenge (13 inch belt, 13 inch on turrets), IJN Fuso and IJN Ise (12 inch belt, 12 inch on turrets), USS Nevada (13 inch belt, 16 inch on turrets), and USS Pennsylvania and USS New Mexico (14 inch belt, 18 inch on turrets). Only the later classes of US battleships had superior protection to that of Mackensen.

All photos are from Die Grossen Kreuzer by Koop & Schmolke 

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The Queen Elizabeth class were the first true fast battleships of the Dreadnought era, capable of 25 knots. The Mackensens, with almost the same protection, were designed for 28 knots. With eight 13.8-inch guns, the class would have been formidable antagonists for the Royal Navy. All four in the class were laid down in 1915. Mackensen was launched April 21, 1917 and Graf Spee September 15, 1917. The other two were never launched. After launching, work stopped on the ships in order to provide labor and material for German U-Boat construction. They were never finished. Mackensen was allocated to be part of the fleet to surrender to the Grand Fleet in November 1918 but as The Naval Annual 1919 stated at page 88; "The battle-cruiser Mackensen was not so far completed as to be ready to join the melancholy company of her impotent companions in internment." The battleship Baden was substituted in her place. After the war consideration was given to converting the first three ships of the class into diesel powered tankers (10 knots) of 18,500 tons but the plans were abandoned for lack of funds. All four were scrapped between 1920 and 1924. The Mackensen had one last impact on naval history. The design of the World War Two battlecruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were strongly influenced by the Mackensen design. (Class history from Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1906-1921 and The Complete Encyclopedia of Battleships by Tony Gibbons.).

LAID DOWN: January 30, 1915 LAUNCHED: April 21, 1917 BROKEN UP: 1923-1924
ARMAMENT: Eight 13.8 inch (350mm) SKL/45; Twelve 5.9 inch (150mm) SKL/45; Eight 88mm Flak; Five 23.6 inch (600mm) submerged torpedo tubes DIMENSIONS: 732 feet oa x 100 feet x 27 ½ feet DISPLACEMENT: 30,500 Tons normal; 35,500-36,000 Tons full load  PERFORMANCE: 90,000 shp, 28 knots ARMOR: Belt 12-4 inches; Barbettes 12-4 inches; Turrets 12.8-4.3 inches; CT 14-4 inches

The NNT Mackensen is a large model. The hull measures slightly over 12 ½ inches long by 1 ¾ inch at its widest. Other than the size you immediately notice three things about the hull; the 18 delicately cast boat chocks concentrated amidships, the subtly rendered deck planking, scribed not only length-wise but also beam to beam, and the very finely done ventilation louvers characteristic of WWI German capital ships. This ship has far less deck clutter than earlier WW1 designs. NNT has truly captured the long lean beauty of this design. Casement positions are predrilled for secondary gun placement and breakwater on the forecastle is also finely cast. The hull had no warp and only requires minimal sanding of the bottom to remove the last vestiges of the extremely thin casting film.

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German capitol ships of WWI were known for their sparse superstructure but Mackensen has a very pleasing built-up forward superstructure. NNT has captured this using a four level build up, with two additional platforms and control top on the tripod foremast. All parts are cast with the same care and precision as the hull. The rear superstructure is of two levels with three additional platforms on the mainmast. Each of the two funnels is cast in two pieces. The lower, gracefully curved, halves are cast as part of the first level of the fore and after superstructures, which eliminates the need to align them. The upper halves of the funnels, starting with the flared apron, with horizontal banding, minutely cast steam pipes and hollow funnel tops with fine grates, cast integral to the funnel. The 13.8-inch gun turrets feature the unique angular shape of German turrets, with its multiple angles. Each turret features well-done recesses for the guns as well as a very thinly cast apron at the turret base. Use care in removing these turrets from the resin film so as not to damage the apron. All main and secondary guns are in resin and were uniformly straight.

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If you buy this kit, take the time to look at the high level of detail cast into some of the smaller parts. The searchlights, which are around 1/8 inch high, are very crisp and are better than some I’ve seen in 1:350 kits. Of special note are the eight 88mm tertiary gun shields. Not only are the gun shields hollowed out but also the breach block of each gun is crisply cast. This is superb by anyone’s standards. NNT supplies an extremely thin plastic filament to cut the 88mm barrels, each one 3.5 mm in length. Among the multitude of other small resin parts are curved deck ventilators, deck platforms, directors, tripod legs, steam launches, oared boats and crane posts, all cast without defect. The instructions show placement of anti-torpedo net and booms. NNT supplies the cord for the rolled net and the boom base plates are molded into the hull. Mackensen was designed to have this system, when laid down in 1915. However, it is very unlikely that she would have been completed with it. The High Seas Fleet discarded torpedo net defense in 1916 after Jutland. You can build her as designed are as she probably would have looked if completed.

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The only damaged parts were one bollard (easily replaced with rod) and a small area on the side of one of the ship's boats, also easily repaired. All resin parts are extremely well done. My only criticism is the lack of placement aids for locating fore and aft superstructure on the hull. I wish NNT had cast an outline of the superstructure on the deck to insure correct placement and alignment. As it is, you have to use the Mark I eyeball to place and align these structures. Use the profile and plan drawing included with the kit. There is only a very short gap between the rear of B turret and the forward face of the fore superstructure. There is that equally short gap between the rear face of the aft superstructure and the rear of X turret. Use white glue so you have time to get the right gaps and to allow you time to get the superstructures equidistant from the ships sides. If you use superglue for this step, you'll increase the likelihood of the part's setting up prior to your getting the alignment right. As one who has fallen into this trap upon numerous occasions, I have seen the error of my ways, and recognize the potential problem.

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Among the many things I like about an NNT kit  is the inclusion of a ship specific photo-etch fret. The NNT Mackensen is no exception. It comes with a small, 1 ¾ by 2 ¼ inch fret from Eduard of the Czech Republic. This fret is typical of Eduard in that it is of stainless steel and is very slightly thicker than frets from GMM, WEM and Tom’s. This is not meant as a criticism because it is actually easier to work with the slightly thicker fret. The parts are less likely to be damaged or accidentally bent. The Mackensen fret comes with three (two piece) anchors, anchor chain, ladder strips, crane arms, oars for the larger boats, small boat davits with rope and hook, crane cables with block and tackle and hook, bridge V support struts, platform supports (very nicely done), triangular support for one of the foremast platforms and two inclined ladders with landings that actually seem to have a grating relief on them. My only criticism is that the inclined ladders do not have hand railing. The PE anchor chain will work just fine but you might consider replacing it with 3D-anchor chain from ModelExpo or another large hobby distributor. There are no railings in that the fret is ship specific. Add GMM, Tom’s or WEM railing, and make sure you get enough of it. This is a large model.

Mackensen's instructions are comprised of two sheets. There is a one-sided, 16 ½inch by 11 ½ inch, isometric construction schematic. It includes templates for the masts, yards and jack staffs. It is functional but sparse. At first glance I thought there was an ambiguity in the placement of the square PE platform supports but on closer examination I noticed that NNT has  designated placement with fine dotted lines on the instructions. They are clear and more than adequate to assemble the kit.

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The second, smaller sheet is two sided with a short history, technical data and armor schematic, all in English. The other side features a profile and plan of the ship with painting guide. The kit also comes with a sheet of what appears to be applique decals. They are greenish-gray. I recognized the aerial recognition circles for B and X turrets but have no idea of what the long strips are for. The appliques appear too thick to use for the recognition circles, which in most cases appear to be white, not greenish-gray (Editor's Note: According to NNT, these are painting templates. Paint the two turret tops white. Stick the recognition circle template on the turrets, spray with black or very dark gray paint for the turret tops and then remove the template. The long strips are intended for another model).

Since the Mackensen was never completed, she may not be your cup of tea. However NNT, in their most ambitious effort yet, has produced a kit that is almost flawless. NNT’s execution is outstanding, with the exception of there being no guide to place the superstructures on the deck; and the sparse instructions, which are adequate but not outstanding.

If you like World War One warship designs, Mackensen, one of the biggest ships of this era, is your cup of tea. In appearance she resembles a bigger, more robust Derfflinger or Hindenburg. This is yet another outstanding  NNT effort that I can recommend without reservation. This is indeed a great time to be a modeler of WW1 era warships.