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Samek Dunkerque Box Art

Dunkerque and her sistership, Strasbourg, were products of the Washington Treaty. This agreement imposed a ten year moratorium on battleship construction,  35,000 ton limit on new battleship construction, and fixed ratios of total tonnage for the signatory nations. In the case of France an exception was made. The ten year moratorium was back dated to 1916 because she had not completed any new construction during WWI. The ships that were building, the Normandie class, were all scrapped on the stocks except for Bearn, which was converted to a carrier. France was eligible to lay down up to 70,000 tons of new battleship construction starting in 1927.

The Marine Nationale carefully studied other nation’s designs. There was great concern over the new Italian Trento class cruisers. France's first design was for a 17,500 ton battlecruiser that could chase down and destroy these fast Italian cruisers. It was to be armed with eight 12" guns and have armor sufficient to resist 8" shell fire at anticipated battle ranges. The guns were to be mounted in two quadruple turrets forward, a result of two factors. The French anticipated that they would be in a stern chase of the Italian cruisers and were heavily influenced by the design of HMS Rodney/Nelson. The two turret, all guns forward design resulted in significant weight savings by reducing the protective armor neede.

Dunkerque
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Vital Statistics

Laid Down 24 Dec 32   Launched 2 Oct 35   Commissioned 15 Apr 37
Displacement
35,500 tons full load (26,500 designed)  Length 703' 7"oa, 683' wl"   Beam 108' 3"
Maximum speed 29.5 knots   Endurance 7,500nm @ 15knots
Armament: Eight 13" (2x4), sixteen 5.1" (8x2), sixteen 4", eight 37mm
. thirty-two 13.2mm
Complement: 1,430 officers and men
Sister Ship: Strasbourg

In 1928 Germany’s Deutschland panzershiffe plan and construction completely changed the French outlook. The Marine Nationale realized that the 17,500 ton design would be highly vulnerable to 11" shells. They scrapped the existing design and adopted a 23,3000 displacement limit. Both the 17,500 and the 23,300 ton limitations were selected solely to squeeze the maximum number of ships within the 70,000 tons allowed under the Washington Treaty. However it proved impossible to design a 23,300 ton battleship with the required attributes. The 23,300 ton limit was abandoned and the Dunkerque was the result.

She was designed to withstand 11" shellfire at anticipated battle ranges. The Marine Nationale classified the Dunkerque and Strasbourg as battleships, but Dunkerque's armor characteristics were those of a battlecruiser. The main belt had a maximum thickness of 9.84 inches (250mm) according to Allied Battleships of World War Two by Garzke, Dulin and Webb. "The Origins of Dunkerque and Strasbourg" by John Jordan, found in Warship 1999-2000, gives the maximum belt on Dunkerque as 225mm. Strasbourg had a significantly thicker armor belt. It was a remarkable design. On a displacement of 26,500 tons, the French were able to mount eight 13" guns, achieve a top speed of 29.5 knots,  and carry armor capable of  withstanding 11" shellfire. It is illuminating to compare Dunkerque with Scharnhorst and Alaska.

Main guns Maximum belt Speed Displacement
Dunkerque 8- 13" 9.8 " 29.5 kts 26,500 tons
Scharnhorst 9- 11" 13.7" 32 kts 34,841 tons
Alaska 9- 12" 9.0" 33 kts 29,779 tons

The Dunkerque is truly impressive, given the constraints of  her light displacement and her age. Alaska was drawn up almost a decade after Dunkerque. Dunkerque’s service history will be covered in the build up review.

The Model
In March a friend of mine had purchased Samek’s Bismarck kit. I was impressed with this kit. I had never before seen a Samek kit and was curious about the quality. It was truly competitive with 1:700 kits from other companies. However, my cursory examination of Bismarck did not prepare me for Dunkerque. It is a treat! The Samek Dunkerque is packaged in the same style box as Bismarck, however the box artwork is of a different style. Bismarck’s box has a painting of the ship. Dunkerque’s has a color profile (see above). This is very similar to the approach taken by White Ensign Models. This is a significant improvement as the profile will be of great help in painting the model.

Resin Casting
If you buy this beauty or have the chance to examine the parts, look at the casting of the breakwater and the boat chocks. They are incredibly thin and delicate. They are cast as part of the hull. I have never seen resin work of this crispness and delicacy cast as part of the hull. This of course raises a matter of personal preference that has been discussed in other reviews. Is it better to have minute detail as part of the photo etch (PE) and added to the resin during construction or is it better to have some parts cast in resin and integral to the hull or superstructure? I believe this is strictly a matter of personal taste. There are good arguments for both positions. I personally prefer to have details such as boat chocks, breakwaters and doors cast in the resin, if they can equal the detail and delicacy of PE parts. On the other hand I prefer to use PE ladders. There is no way that a manufacturer can please everyone since preferences vary. With Dunkerque I believe that these resin details are at least equal and in some cases superior to existing PE standards.

Hull Casting
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Forecastle
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Midship
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Quarterdeck

It has to be seen up close to be appreciated. Photos cannot convey the detail of these castings. As a check against my own enthusiasm, the friend of mine who had purchased the Bismarck came over to view the kit. I had just received it Friday and he did not know of its arrival. I pulled out the box and he said "How is it?". I responded, "See for yourself." He looked at the hull and said "Wow". His appraisal was exactly the same as mine. It was the best cast detail he had ever seen. He immediately asked if Samek was doing the Strasbourg. He stated that the Strasbourg was going to be his and that I should keep my hands off her because he was going to buy it.

One caveat about the delicate cast detail. Be extremely careful about removing the hull from the protective bubblewrap. If you are too aggressive in removing it from the hull, you could break one of these delicate pieces. In my eagerness to see the hull, I did not use enough care and broke one boat chock off of the hull. I found it loose on the deck. There will be no problem in reattaching it but it did emphasize the delicacy of the detail. In Rob Mackie’s review of the Samek Bismarck, he mentioned the same problem, in that some delicate parts of Bismarck were broken in transit. My broken chock I attribute to my own impatience. Samek has apparently responded to the problem encountered with the Bismarck kit. The hull was secured inside of the box by the use of a styrofoam block and by securely taping the bubblewrap to the bottom of the box.

The resin is the standard light cream in color. By my count there were 173 resin pieces. Decks, turrets and superstructure details come cast on a very thin resin sheets and can be removed easily. Most parts require very minimal cleanup, if any at all. I did not see one air bubble or defect anywhere. One of the first things I did was to remove the pieces for the tower.

Small Resin Parts
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After removing those pieces, I dry fit the tower on the hull. It went together beautifully and presented the appearance of a seamless, gapless structure. The guns, boats, stack and some of the superstructure parts are attached to resin casting blocks. I have not yet removed them from the blocks, but at first glance it appears to be an easy task. Doors and ladders are also cast integral to the hull, turrets and decks. I will replace the cast in ladders with PE. In anticipation of building this kit, I ordered the PE frets of doors, reels and the Naval Ship Fret (700-1) from GMM. I had no idea as to the design of the doors on French warships and had anticipated using PE doors on Dunkerque. After getting this kit, I know exactly the design detail of the doors from the exacting crispness and detail of the resin casting. My Dunkerque is keeping the doors as cast. There is no discernable warp in the hull. Towards the bow, there is a faintly discernable resin overpore as if the hull was cast on a very thin sheet of resin. The last 2mm at the tip of the bow does not have this characteristic and accordingly there is a very small gap in this 2mm from the bottom of the casting and the flat surface. This gap is a fraction of one mm. To correct it, I can sand 99.9% of the hull a fraction of one mm or add from the very thin resin film to the 00.1% hull that has this problem. The solution to me is obvious but again, it is a matter of personal preference.

So far I have only found one portion of the resin that I question as far as accuracy. The funnel cap appears to be more rounded than shown in my references. The box art shows Dunkerque as completed with a low stack cap. She only wore this low cap for a few months. It was ineffective in keeping fumes from the bridge. She was then given a much higher cap, which she wore for the rest of her career. The model has the revised high cap. Also, the rear of the cap comes very close to being flush with the stack casing, rather than the prominent lip shown in references. The funnel is solid and there has been no attempt at giving the illusion of depth. There is scribed grillwork at the exhaust of the funnel. It is a rather minor point, but given the high quality of the kit's resin casting, I don’t know why it couldn’t be done with a separate PE piece for the grill work. This illusion of depth adds a lot to a model.

The gun barrels are all resin. The 13" barrels appear to be too thin and delicate. They may be to scale but they just don't look right to me. Clipper, a Japanese company whose products are available through Pacific Front, makes brass machine turned barrels for 1:700 US, DKM and RN subjects. These are expensive but worth the price. I may replace the kit's 13" gun barrels with Clipper brass 14" version if shape and length are roughly comparable.

Photo-Etch
There are three marketing practices used by the manufacturers of 1:700 resin ships in connection with photo-etch (PE) parts. White Ensign Models stands at one end of the spectrum in that WEM has as part of a kit a complete PE that includes individual ship specific items as well as railings, doors, stairs, jackstaffs and other more generic naval accoutrements. At the other end of the spectrum are a number of manufactures that include no PE of any type. Squarely in the middle of these two poles is SAMEK. Samek gives the modeler a ship specific PE but no generic railings, doors jackstaffs, etc. In any event I don’t think you need PE doors with SAMEK. This may again come down to personal preferences on the degree of detail the modeler wishes to build into his model. However, I suspect that most of us who build resin warships want all the detail we can get that we could realistically build into a model. As a consequence one must judge the costs and value of a kit by desired result. A kit that has a comparatively low list price but no PE will be considerably more expensive if the modeler wants to add the detail offered by use of a PE. My personal preference is for the WEM practice of a full PE fret. I want railings and other generic naval fittings with the kit.

Dunkerquephotoetch.jpg (38918 bytes)The PE is by Eduard, a well-known Czech Republic manufacturer of PE. The fret is beautifully executed with 56 pieces specific to Dunkerque. The fret includes individual Hotchkiss 13mm MGs so detailed that you can easily discern the sites as well as the drum fed magazines. If you wish to use PE ladders, the fret does supply a length of generic ladders. One very noticeable characteristic of Dunkerque is the presence of four lattice projections or yards that protrude diagonally from near the top of the superstructure tower. These are part of the included PE and will look spectacular when attached. Catapult, cranes, 3 two piece anchors, 3 anchor chains, crane ropes and pulleys, seaplane cradle and two small range finders are all included on the fret. Also on the fret are six braces and the propeller for the Loire 130M seaplane that is part of the kit. This seaplane, a model within a model, is 18 pieces and that’s for a monoplane! I have two complaints about the fret. 1. As mentioned above, I prefer a fret with all railings and generic items to be included, even if it increases the price of the kit. 2. The fret includes a portion of what looks to be excessively wide ladder. The instructions show that this is for use for the various stairways on the ship. I find this totally inadequate for that purpose. The industry standard for this piece of equipment is for stairway with treads and bending safety handrails. I found it surprising that such an advanced and well designed fret would include such a deficient part. But this is a very minor point, stairways that are to standard are cheap and readily available from a number of sources. It should also be noted that the numbered PE parts correspond to the numbers shown in the instructions.

Instructions
The instructions come on two sheets, printed front and back. One sheet gives a brief history (it diplomatically avoids the mention of Mers-el-Kebir) and basic technical data. The back has instructions for building the Loire 130M seaplane, with profile, plan and front view of the plane as well as a photo. The other sheet is double sized and contains the the model's assembly instructions. Resin mating surfaces needing glue are shown as crosshatched. This materially aids the proper superstructure positioning. There is a very faint line scribed on the deck, which appears to designate the location point for aft end of the first tower level. Correct positioning of this one piece is critical. The instructions are entirely by diagram and numbers, no words, and are generally adequate. PE part numbers are circled and resin part numbers are in boxes, which makes identifying the part easy. The instuctions also include small profiles and plans for a portion of the tower, stack, search light platform and top of mainmast.

Instructions
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Exploded view
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Exploded view

A profile and partial top plan of the ship, with individual details on a 13" turret, Loire 130M, and catapult dominate the back of this sheet. It also contains individual instructions in the construction of the various turrets, directors and cranes. Also noteworthy is a section showing the parts to be created from stretched plastic sprue. The drawing is unmistakable. It has a picture icon of a rod being stretched over a candle. These do-it-yourself parts are for the flag staff, jack staff, one pedestal for one director, vertical bracing between the two levels of the search light platforms and vertical bracing from deck to bridge. It appears easy to do and will significantly enhance the visual impact of the finished model. I’m certainly going to incorporate them in my build of Dunkerque. My only gripe is that I wish that this had been part of the PE.

The Verdict
I’ve run out of superlatives. For anyone with even a passing interest in this obscure, unappreciated and tragic ship, it is a must build. I had to actively hunt for negative aspects on this kit, while the superior characteristics of the model are overwhelming from the start. I know the Samek Models Dunkerque is available from Pacific Front and is probably available from Kit-Link and other mail order specialist houses, including NNT in Europe. The Samek page shows very interesting upcoming releases. There are exciting models coming from this producer, and, to borrow a term from the software industry, with Samek it's real, not vapor-ware, (a product announcement with no product). Bring on the Strasbourg, bring on those three (out of five) plodding, dowdy English Rs.


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