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Armoured Cruiser
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Iron Shipwright
1:350 Scale Kit

Build-up Review
Bob Santos

The Iron Shipwright USS Olympia can be built to represent Admiral Dewey's Battle of Manila Bay flagship at any time up until her1902 refit. Changes before that were minor, but the 1902 alterations (and her present fit as a museum ship in Philadelphia) would require more than cosmetic changes. The 1902 overhaul gave her a new rig, removed the torpedo tubes and fighting tops,  relocated the hawsepipes, substituted ornate scrollwork and a figurehead for the bow shield, and replaced her 8" turrets with deck guns (phony turrets are in place today). While it is possible to convert the kit to a post 1902 configuration, out-of-the-box it most closely resembles the USS Olympia as she appeared in Boston, 1899, on her return from Manila Bay, so that is the way I built her.

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USS Olympia 27 September 1898

The kit is straightforward but the instruction sheet is not. My sample was nicely cast with only a few easily removed resin bubbles, the smallest bit of flash around the hammock berthings, and resin bubbles in the port holes, all of which I drilled out anyway.   The only part ruined by an air bubble was the officer’s skylight on the aft part of the main deck. I repaired it with quick setting epoxy putty. I wanted a waterline model so I used a bandsaw to cut the hull slightly below the waterline (and have been called a heretic for so doing). Those of you building a full hull model will have to separate (carefully!) the casting lugs from the bilge keels and fill the air holes on the hull bottom with thinned putty or super glue.

I cut a bow shield from card and superglued it in place, and removed the circle from the foredeck (for a capstan) and replaced it with a square piece of styrene to represent a hatch cover. The center part of the upper deck between the hammock berthings is quite bare and while this gets covered up somewhat by the boats, I scratchbuilt all the hatches, hose reels, gratings, scuttles, winches, ventilators, lockers, and water tanks that belong there.

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Closeup pic of upper deck
(click to enlarge)

There are no painting instructions with the kit and of course the paint scheme changed over time. I painted the model in stages as I added parts. The most popular scheme for ships of this era is the familiar white hull/buff superstructure combination, but the correct 1899 pattern is as follows:

All decks - tan (I use burnt sienna oil paint, wiped over a tan undercoat)
Hull and superstructure -
white, red below waterline
Bollards, winches, all gun barrels, anchors, smokestack caps - black
Hatches, skylights, turrets and bases, smokestack bases, anchor cranes - white
Inside forecastle rail, anchor winch housing, billboards, boats - white
Pilot house - dark brown
Edge of bridge decks, all boat beams and davits - white
Falls on boat davits - light tan
Gratings - white, grate areas black, dry brushed white
Masts, smokestacks - buff
Boat covers - gray
Bow shield - red & white stripes, blue field, white stars
Windows in pilot house and skylights - gloss black
Screws - brass, bronze, or red

NOTE: there is a black stripe that goes the whole way around the main deck edge and a thinner stripe along the edges of the upper deck. I did these with home-made decals as well as the name in black on the stern and stars and stripes bow shield. I used Gold-Medal Models draft markings, bow and stern.

Need ideas and references for superdetailing your USS Olympia?
Check out the Warship photo tour of the 1/96 scale USS Olympia on display at the Smithsonian American History Museum. And don't forget to check out the photos in the
Warship Photo Archive:
USS Olympia
) #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6

Most resin parts have casting lugs attached, easily removed with a hobby knife except for the smokestacks which I cleaned using a sanding disk. The ship’s boats are wrong. They are motor whaleboats and these did not exist in 1899. Disguise this by rounding off the sterns to match the bows and adding putty boat covers. Scrounge your spare parts box for more boats too.

The kit's two funnels have large rings to which guy wires were affixed. They are much too prominent. I scraped them off and sanded the funnels smooth. Newer kits have corrected funnels with much less prominent funnel rings. I also added steam pipes to the rear of the stacks and a steam whistle (fabricated from a piece of styrene rod) to the front of the fore funnel. I did not use the etched brass funnel caps included with the kit,  but I did install crossed wires in the stack tops. Rig the stacks as per my rigging drawing. I also removed the stick-like projection from the pilot house roof. I never did figure out its purpose. The brass boat support beams are incorrect, so I replaced them with beams cut from sheet styrene with the correct rounded (rather than square as on the kit) outer corners.

There are two sizes of brass rod in the kit. Use the larger for the 5-inch guns in the superstructure casemates and the smaller for the 6 pounders along the hull. The 5-inch guns should protrude 1/4 inch from the ship and the 6 pounders 1/8 inch. The brass anchors need work. I added thin wire arms, bent the flukes 90 degrees, beefed them up with superglue, and added tiny model railroad chain running from each anchor through the hawserholes and back to the winch housing. I beefed up the anchor cranes (the two "gooseneck" items on the brass sheet) with superglue and added a tiny plastic disk block (pulley) to their upper ends. A capstan (part 11) was added to the aft part of the main deck as well was two cut down ventilators outboard and just forward of the officer’s skylight.

While I ended up with the correct rails, there are problems with the brass items, both with the way in which they are identified on the instruction sheet and in their positioning. Quickly, they go on something like this:(top view on the instruction sheet calls out the letters of the rail):

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Etched brass

1. I cut one section from rail "D" to fit properly

2. The two other "D" sections with one section removed fit where "G" is called out.

3. Sections "E" and "F" fit fine between the turrets.

4. Sections "A" and "C" are not marked on the brass sheet but they are the short rail sections that go up for one section on the end. These fit will on the fore and aft sections of the hammock berthings but be careful, two are a bit longer than the other two.

5. Sections "B" fit well between them completing the hammock berthing top rails.

6. Sections marked "W". The two outer shortest sections go on the upper deck against the hammock berthings. The next two short section working towards the middle on the sheet must be rolled around a 3/16 inch dowel and then they will fit perfectly atop the 5-inch turrets. The long piece left has to be bent to fit all around the remainder of the aft part of the upper deck.

7. Two rail section "K" are glued to the forward edge of the after bridge deck but butt them together and leave openings at the outboard ends, not in the center as shown. The long piece is bent to fit around the sides and aft edge of the deck

8. Sections marked "X" fit well on the upper deck between the hammock berthing and the armored conning tower.

9. The two short sections next to the flagstaffs should be bent 90 degrees in their middles and glued atop the pilot house. (that’s actually the open air bridge so I cut some tiny pieces of styrene to represent the pelorus, a binnacle, and two engine room telegraphs. These are not detailed but the do get rid of the empty look there on the bridge.

10. No section is called out as "M" as shown on the instruction sheet but I used all the sections called "L". Lay them out as they were on the sheet and label them a through g. These all go on the forward bridge deck, e and f to the angled deck edges, c and d bent 90 degrees at their centers to the next deck edges moving aft, a and b bent to fit the bridge wings, two sections cut from g to either side of the pilothouse leaving an opening at either side (not in the center again), and then use a scrap of g to close off the front of the deck.

The two "Y" looking things of the brass sheet are the flagstaff and jackstaff . They should be folded into tripods and installed. The brass sheet contains inclined ladders of 5, 7, and 9 steps each. Placement of these on the instruction sheet is wrong.

1. Two 5-step ladders go from the hammock berthing tops up to the forward bridge.

2. Two 5-step ladders go from the hammock berthing tops up to the after bridge.

Note: All 4 of the above ladders should have their outer rail removed because those rails are already in place.

3. Two 7-step ladders go from the upper deck to the top of the hammock berthings slightly aft of the ladders to the forward bridge.

4. Two 7-step ladders go from the upper deck to the top of the hammock berthings slightly forward of the ladders to the after bridge deck.

5. Four 9-step ladders go from the main deck to the upper deck, one pair just forward the aft 8-inch turret and one pair just aft of the conning tower. Note that you will have to clip away the upper and middle rails where these four ladders lead.

I found the kit masts to be unusable. I made new, taller ones by soldering various diameters of brass rod and using the shrouds and ratlines from the brass sheet. The resin tops were added as well as a yard and a gaff on each mast. After the masts were installed I added a slightly simplified rig using 9X fly fishing tippet material. No rigging diagram is included but the model looks good with a simplified rig as shown on the diagrams below. The blue lines are single, down the ship’s centerline, and the red lines are rigged to both sides.

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Rigging diagrams by Bob Santos
(Click to enlarge)

Two pieces of brass rod were bent and glued into holes on either side of the hull to represent boat booms. The eight davits are installed as shown on the instruction sheet but they do not appear tall enough so I mounted them a bit high on the superstructure and filled in below eachdavit with plastic strips. The other four davits are shown incorrectly on the instruction sheet. The placement is OK but they should be mounted on the outside of the hull, not on the deck. All davits were rigged as shown on the rigging diagram.

IS Olympia 08.jpg (5181 bytes)No flags are included. I made my own decals, a proper 45 star flag at the stern, a jack at the bow, and a four star admiral’s flag at the peak of the main. I bent, fattened up, and painted crew figures from Gold Medal Models. I added a 5-minute epoxy lens to the searchlight and as a last detail, built up those little clear lights shown as black dots on the main backstays on the rigging diagram. These represent the Ardois signal lights that were used prior to radio.

It sounds like a lot of work, but I really liked this kit. It would build up into a nice model out of the box, but with a bit of work it becomes a great little model. What it really needs is a much better instruction sheet. I understand that a new one is in the works. This kit provides the basis for a nice Olympia and is suitable for ship modelers of any level.

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Kit parts as they appear out of the box
(click thumbnail to view full size pic)

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Midship and forecastle
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Hull profile and plan views
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Resin parts
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Resin parts
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Etched brass
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Instruction sheet
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Plan view of the finished Olympia

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