Time for the Showboat! That was the nickname for the USS North Carolina BB-55. As the first new battleship design of the USN to be designed and built since World War One, the United States Navy was proud of the power of the North Carolina and Washington. Designed at the conclusion of the London Treaty of 1930, this design was very slightly behind that of the RN King George V Class. Under the terms of the new proposed naval arms limitations treaty of 1935, the main armament of new battleship construction would be 14-inches with a displacement of 35,000-tons, if all signatories adopted the new treaty. The RN felt that they could wait no longer for new battleships and so the King George V Class was designed and built with 14-inch guns, under the assumption that the treaty would be ratified. As it happened Japan refused to ratify the new treaty and so signatories were not bound by the 14-inch gun limitation.
The USN, in contrast, decided to wait and see if the treaty would be ratified by Japan, before finalizing the North Carolina design. Since the North Carolina design was not finalized when Japan refused to agree to the new limitations, the USN, which originally planned on using 14-inch guns, reworked the North Carolina design to accommodate 16-inch main gun armament. As a rule, the armor of a new battleship would be designed to withstand the shells of the main armament that it carried at normal battle range. Since the North Carolina was originally planned for 14-inch guns the armament scheme employed was designed to withstand 14-inch shells, not the 16-inch shells of the revised design. The 35,000-ton cap precluded inclusion of 16-inch guns and increased armor and better armament won out. Therefore the King George V and North Carolina designs present interesting contrasts for contemporary designs. The KGV had a very good armor scheme but was very under-gunned for her size, while the North Carolina had a very good main and secondary gun armament but was under-armored for her size. Such were the respective deficiencies imposed by the arbitrary constraints of the 35,000-ton maximum of a treaty design.
As the first fast battleship of the USN and the first battleship design of any type after two decades of the Battleship Holiday, the USN tried out some new theories in the design, including hull form. Some of the theories did not pan out so the North Carolina as built, suffered from very severe vibration problems, due to the propellers and design of the hull skegs. In 1975 Alan Raven was doing research at the British Directorate of Naval Intelligence (DNI) for the forthcoming British Battleships of World War Two, authored by John Roberts and Alan Raven. While he was there he came across notes from the British naval attaché to the United States, which annotated problems encountered during trials of the North Carolina. "The library there had a crypt like feel even though it was several floors up. I usually used a tape recorder to take notes, but because of the old Admiral that came in each morning to read the Times and then fall asleep in the easy chair I was forced to take hand written notes in order not to waken him. The place was run by a woman who was about six or seven years older than I, and I realized that if I played my cards right I could get two things out of her. After a day or two I had achieved the first when she started to wander off and look for things that she thought I might be interested in. DNI had some people in the building and from them she borrowed some dead files; there were several tied together. I could go through them and if I wanted to take notes she would get them released. Most of the files were on subjects that I was not interested in, but there was a folder entitled 'Foreign Battleships". There was no date on the cover, but inside were some sheets that had come from C&R via the Naval Attaché in DC. It had been compiled especially for the DNC at Bath but a copy had found it's way to DNI. It was dated December 1941 and gave an outline of the problems with the North Carolina battleships. It appears that the North Carolinas was the lead ship for trying to cure the terrible problems that vibration was causing, as almost every reference related to that ship and not the Washington. By the end of the week I knew that I was about to get the second thing from the lady." At the time Mr. Raven recorded the British observations about the North Carolina, which were: "Notes from NI file - Held at MOD Lillie - FORIEGN BATTLESHIPS - North Carolina out of yard - report from US via Naval Attaché. Problems - as of Sept 1941 - No director or range finder fitted because of vibration - very severe aft. If fitted before cure, then damage may result to equipment and optics - Air warning radar not fitted as of this time _ same reason as for director & range-finder. Propeller changes and bracketing has not cured vibration - cannot lay secondary weapons - gunners cannot keep their eyes to the sights at speeds over 20 knots due to vibration Move turbine-gearing 20 ft further aft - this is a very big job. Vibration affecting electrics. Washington has same problem. Neither ship ready for combat, people very worried about follow-on classes."
However, eventually these problems were ironed out, more or less, although North Carolina was on trials for an abnormally long time to sort everything out and correct it. You will not have that problem in building Trumpeter’s new release of the 1:350 scale USS North Carolina. After releasing seven 1:350 scale aircraft carrier kits, Trumpeter has released their first battleship in that scale under the Trumpeter name. The kit is designed to represent the Showboat as she appeared in 1944 and the Commanders/Iron Shipwright 1944 North Carolina may have been used as a pattern. However, Trumpeter certainly diverged from the design of the kit, as to add a high degree of flexibility in the model. As almost all of the AA gun positions and tubs are separate from the deck pieces, the Trumpeter kit is very adaptable of modification to earlier and later fits for North Carolina and Washington. In this regard it is far more easily changed to the fit of a different year than either of the two resin kits in this scale, the Commanders/Iron Shipwright 1944 North Carolina or the Classic Warships 1942 North Carolina/Washington. Due to the configuration of the parts sprues and the manner in which the kit was designed, it is entirely likely that a 1942 Washington may be forthcoming at some point in the future from Trumpeter.
For any fit of North Carolina or Washington, and especially for any late war fit in which there were large numbers of Boffors, Oerlikons and abundant radar arrays, you will need a dedicated photo-etch set to adequately portray the ship. No matter what company produces a injected plastic warship, some equipment can not be adequately portrayed in the medium of plastic. Only photo-etch is capable of the fine detail needed for some parts. There are at least five companies that have or will produce photo-etch for the 1:350 Trumpeter North Carolina and one of the fastest off the mark is Toms Modelworks with their set #3553. Toms provides a three-fret superset to super detail your Showboat, which I have arbitrarily labeled, frets one through three.
Fret #1– This is the largest of the three frets and concentrates on three main areas in detail for the Showboat. First you have the heavier fittings. This includes the two stern catapults, catapult walkways with folding safety railing, catapult turntable detail, stern aircraft cranes, two amidships boat cranes and replacement forecastle breakwater with support gussets. Most of these assemblies are multi-piece. The second area of concentration is in the arena of AA fittings, both 40mm and 20mm. For the 40mm mounts Toms provides 16 gun shields with folding side safety railing and separate back safety railing for the mounts. To jazz up you Oerlikon batteries, Toms gives you 53 gun shields and 50 combination shoulder rest/gun sight pieces. The third major area addressed is the crucial radar arrays. Do not use solid plastic radars on your North Carolina. If you are spending the money for the kit, spend a little bit more for photo-etch. In the area of radars alone, the addition of photo-etch will make a tremendous difference. On this fret Toms Modelworks provides very finely etched pieces for the rectangular SK-1 radar, rectangular CXAM radar, parabolic SK-2 radar, Mk 8 main gun directors, Mk 12/22 secondary directors with base pyramid and various alternate modifications, radar service platforms and other essential equipment. There is actually a fourth grouping of parts on this fret, which is best described as miscellaneous. These parts include square end carley raft bottoms, round end carley raft bottoms, stack clinker screens, inclined ladders in two sizes, DF loops, open foremast platform and various small platforms with safety railing.
Fret #2– The second fret is the smallest and contains an interesting mixture of North Carolina specific parts and more generic fittings found on most USN ships of the period. For the specific parts Toms provides various platform designs for the antennae platforms and service walkways at the top of the stacks and top tower bridge platform. These twelve parts come in five different styles and will really add a high level of detail to the stack tops and top platform of the tower. There are fine replacement boat chocks and boat rudders. All of the fine bracing and propellers for the Kingfisher floatplanes is provided on this fret. However, the bulk of this fret comprises essential generic detail. Toms includes 30 round bottom floater net baskets. Each one of these is a one piece design in which the semicircular bottom is rounded to the correct shape by forming it around a rod or other suitably small circular template, with folding end caps. These essential parts are not to be found in the kit in any form and add very fine detail to the edges of the superstructure decks. In a similar vein are the twelve hose/cable reels found on this fret. It is another generic but ever-present fitting found on all USN ships of the period but not found on the kit.
Fret #3– The third fret includes all of the required railing for the North Carolina. On this fret are a total of fourteen long runs of railing in five unique styles based on stanchion spacing and number of rungs of rail. The main deck uses one style and the other four are found on the various decks of the superstructure levels. Additionally there are three long runs of vertical ladder. These are not custom fitted so the modeler will have to cut them to shape to fit the specific areas of the deck and superstructure.
Instructions– The instructions for Toms Modelworks Set 3553 is in the standard Toms format. There are three pages printed front and back. Page one starts with general instructions followed by fifteen paragraphs of text, which address assembling various brass components as replacements or in augmentation of the parts in the kit. Eight of these paragraphs contain small inset diagrams of the parts. Page two has another nine paragraphs of text describing various subassemblies. Starting on this page are a series of detailed sketches which use drawings heavily to show the assembly of the more complex parts. This series of sketches carries over to pages three, four and five. Sketches included are: Sketch A – Catapult Assembly; Sketch B – Boat Handling Crane; Sketch C – Aircraft Handling Crane; Sketch D – SK-2 Radar Array Assembly; Sketch E – SK-1 and CXAM Radar Array Assembly; Sketch F – Mk-8 Main Gun Director Assembly; Sketch G – Mk 12/22 Secondary Gun Directors with various modifications; Sketch H – Inclined Ladders; Sketch J – Floater Net Basket Assembly; Unlettered – 40mm Shielding and Rails. All in all the instructions are adequate for most modelers but not spectacular. Beginners with photo-etch may wish to look at photographs of some assemblies, especially the radar, to see the overall layout before tackling some of these sub assemblies. The last page is a CD offer from Toms of photographs of North Carolina as she is displayed at the present.
Verdict– With three frets of brass included in this superset, Toms Modelworks Set #3553 packs a lot of essential detail for the 1:350 scale North Carolina. Is your Showboat ready for the big show? With Toms #3553 detail added to the kit, your Showboat will be ready for the main event.