The state of model warships has advanced tremendously in the last half century. In the 1940s radio programs were the primary source of entertainment in the household and ship models were assembled from wooden parts. This was called the Joel Era, as popularized by known grognard, Joel Labow. However, these standards changed dramatically as the century hit the halfway point. In the 1950s television took over most households and injected styrene plastic ship models made their appearance. The Revell USS Missouri made its appearance in 1952 and gave birth to the flat bottom era of ship models. Designed more for kids than for adults, these early Revell ships featured flat bottoms that were more conducive to carpet naval battles. As a member of the geezer gang (Yes Wil, you are not alone), I first started building warship models in the late 1950s and Revell, along with Aurora warships were my staple. In that period I built every Revell flat bottom model, except one.
In the 1950s there was one Revell model set that was priced beyond the reach of most kids who were hampered by dime and quarter allowances. In the last several years I have been able to acquire most of those early models through E-Bay and yet that same set that was too expensive in 1956 still eluded me, again because of the price. That set was the Revell Missile Fleet. Produced in 1955 this set included three model kits, which all had the common theme of carrying missiles. Included in the 1955 kit were the converted missile cruiser USS Boston, a debatable version of the nuclear submarine USS Nautilus, and the missile test ship USS Norton Sound. Priced at $4.95 in 1955, the price was stratospheric for most kids. Your only hope was to get it for your birthday or for Christmas. You could get the Nautilus cheaply as an individual kit and even the Boston was attainable in the single kit form. However, things were different with the Norton Sound. This model featured a helicopter pad on the forecastle and a V2 or similar missile firing off from a gantry on the stern. This particular model was not out too long. Apparently Revell changed the molds to the Norton Sound to issue the ship as the seaplane tender Currituck and other members of the class. Gone were the assorted missiles and helicopter pad and in were more guns and the neatest PBM Mariner flying boat to be placed on the quarterdeck. Because the Norton Sound was only out for a comparatively short period of time and was never reissued it became the rarest and most expensive Revell ship kit.
When it was announced that Revell of Germany was reissuing this set as part of the 50th anniversary of the company, I eagerly wondered if the Norton Sound would reappear. To cut to the chase, the answer is no. All of the rumors of the Norton Sound mold being destroyed to produce the Currituck seaplane tender must be true because it was the seaplane tender that appeared with this reissue, rather than the missile test ship. However, the Boston and Nautilus that appeared in the 1955 kit are back in all of their original glory. A couple of weeks ago I was at my local hobby shop and there it was, the release of the Guided Missile Fleet. Although I quickly saw that it did not have the Norton Sound the big box provided all of the allure of that originally unobtainable treasure. Even without the Norton Sound, there was the Boston. Several times I had tried to acquire a Boston on E-Bay, only to drop out of bidding, when the price reached excessive amounts. This new reissue will sure put a dent into those prices, as it cost a mere $26.00 at my hobby store. The Currituck kit was also a lure. I had not seen it out in some time but I still harbored warm memories of this kit and its PBM. The Nautilus was the least of the three. Reissued numerous times, this kit was easily found in its earlier reincarnations.
If you examine the box art, youíll find that it is an almost exact duplicate of the original 1955 box art. Of course they had to redo the missile firing Norton Sound to show the PBM carrying Currituck. However, the Boston and Nautilus are shown as they were depicted on the 1955 box. Some text was changed. The box art in 1955 had a blurb for the Navy Log television series with the ABC eye logo and the reissue deleted the eye logo, presumably because ABC wanted payment for its use 50 years later. One other change was the title. In 1955 it was "Guided Missile Fleet" but in 1955 it is "Guided Missile Fleet and Seaplane Tender". The box sides still show the other Revell models of the period and box ends still reflected the $4.95 price tag but with the substitution of the Currituck. When you open the box there are the three kits separated by a yellow cardboard divider. Boston is at the top, Currituck the bottom and separated by the Nautilus.
USS Boston, Missile Cruiser
The most desirable of the three is the USS Boston, which has been reissued less frequently than the Currituck and Nautilus. With the single funnel and missile mounts with associated tracking radar make this much different from the Revell Baltimore/Helena/Pittsburg all gun kits. Sure it has a flat bottom and had inaccurate detail in some places but it still has visceral punch. As you look at it, you can visualize that with some modifications and with some brass photo-etch you can still make a very impressive model, albeit a flat bottom version or cut down to waterline format. Sure the deck has raised plank lines rather than incised ones. Some of the detail is rather vague but on the other hand some of it is rather good and there is quite a bit of it. Revell even has non-Aztec step inclined ladders with railing, although the railing is solid. The deck railing is also solid, so that will probably come off with most modelers.
Except for mold sink marks the missiles and tracking radar arenít too bad but of course not up to todayís standards. The gun positions did not hold up as well as the missile mounts after 50 years. The eight-inch turrets have giant thick doors, huge carleys and oversized fittings. The five-inch turrets are even more suspect with the same giant doors and a big shelve between the two barrels. The twin three Ėinch mounts have telephone pole barrels and lack detail. The superstructure parts have vent louver detail, although Iím not too crazy about the raised copyright on the side of the funnel base. However, just dry fitting the major parts shows that there is still potential for this old warhorse.
USS Nautilus, Missile Submarine
The Nautilus is the comic relief of the group, as it is an odd implausible fit. It is dominated by a cylinder aft of the sail. This cylinder is for what I assume was to be a Regulus missile. Apparently the Revell designers had no idea of the appearance of the Regulus because you get what looks to be a V1 Buzz Bomb augmented by two JATO engines to get it off the short launch railing. I have no idea if the Navy ever considered this odd addition to the Nautilus but it is hard to believe that Admiral Rickover would have allowed the degradation of performance parameters of his first nuclear attack boat with this arrangement. However, it is still a blast from the past to see this model to see the campy V1 along with six separate torpedoes, so that six year old attack boat skippers of 1955 could move the torpedoes along the carpet floor to sink the unwary victim. For most kids of 1955 that small V1 was a potent SS missile designed to devastate Sniveling Johnnyís battleship, rather an unguided, inaccurate relic from World War Two. Who can forget those raised numbers on sail and hull that were present to allow drooling kids to accurately place the decals.
USS Currituck, Giant Bomber Carrier
Ah, the Currituck, a toy with a toy, was always one of my early favorites. It had guns, although not many, but it did have that all impressive single feature, a plane far larger than any found on the Revell carriers. As has been mentioned before, for boy admirals size matters. Now I did know the difference between fighters and bombers but this was clearly one big bomber. No doubt with its colossal size this bomber could haul a load of destruction to Sniveling Johnnyís fleet. Besides as an added bonus, I could always land her on the water if the ship was lost. Granted, one giant bomber on a ship with only a few guns was not as potent even for boy admirals as the Revell Midway (click to see review of the Revell Midway) with her large number of smaller planes and large number of guns.
With the Currituck the big draw is the PBM. The rivets are overly large and the guns appear to be 75mm in size but that PBM still has pizzazz as I look at it. If you are a Youngin, youíll never appreciate the impact of that ship and aircraft when seen fifty years ago. Another attractive aspect of this kit is the presence of open galleries on the sides of the hull. Of course, they will be even more impressive when you remove the solid railing and employ photo-etch. The big aircraft cranes will also be substantially improved with photo-etch arms in place of the elephantine plastic parts. One irritating feature of this kit is the separation of decks at porthole level, as in the Revell Arizona kit of the same period. It certainly makes it more difficult to dispose of seam lines. You also get a dose of blob 20mm guns in tubs that look more like giant sling shots rather than Oerlikons. However, as with the Boston, there is still is promise with this kit even after half a century of its design.
Beat the prices of E-Bay and get half-century old Models for a pittance. With the reissue of Revellís Guided Missile Fleet and Seaplane Tender you can relive a simpler period when this set was the ne plus ultra of shipbuilding. Although the Norton Sound is no longer there, the Currituck is as good a substitution as you can get. The Boston is still impressively big and comic relief is provided by the buzz bomb armed Nautilus. As an added bonus, you get three points towards a Revell bonus gift. With only two more points I can get a nifty "Iím a Top Model Builder" baseball hat, which only a paltry five points. Iím not interested in the nostalgic sign for 10 points but that tee shirt will be tough to get at 15 points. Well, time to scrounge some coke bottles for their deposits and get back to the hobby shop to see if I can score another two points for that hat.