Listen, my children, and you shall hear, a spooky tale of Halloween so near. While in the night bats and witches soar, Mad Pete in moonlight is loose on the moor.
Halloween is upon us, and as SteelNavy tradition mandates, each October 31 is
reserved for a White
review and the tales of the Mad
One. Why do
you think the night is called Halloween? Tonight’s tale deals with how the tables were
turned on a scourge of the ocean. Over sixty years ago the black and gray
hunters of the wolf pack prayed upon fat and slow merchantmen trying to bring
the sinews of war and life to a besieged
as one of the handful of RN ASW specialists, he was well placed to combat the
U-Boats of World War Two. In 1941 and 1942 then Commander Walker commanded the
sloop HMS Stork and the 36th
Escort Group, comprised of two sloops and six corvettes, and the mission of his
force was convoy escort. The primary mission of this Group was to escort convoys
The sloops of these
two very closely based classes were designed specifically for ASW work. As such
it is interesting to compare their features with those of the USN destroyer
escort, which emphasized ASW. The Black
Swan sloops were more ASW specialized, while the USN tried to
build more flexibility into the DEs. They were almost of the same length. The Black
Swans were 299 feet six inches compared to 289 of the
class and 306 of the other five classes of USN destroyer escorts. The British
vessels were lighter at 1,300 tons vs 1,660 tons for a Buckley.
In the USN the Evarts class was considered a
failure because it was only capable of a 20.7-knot top speed. However, that
speed still bested the Black
Swan’s 19.25 knots. The Buckley class with 12,000shp
for 24 knots had almost four times the horsepower of the Black
Swan’s at 3,600shp. While the RN was happy with the specialized
ASW platform the USN always seemed to want destroyer performance at a cut-rate
price. All of them had stern racks, four per side K-guns and hedgehog ASW
mortars, added in 1944 on the sloops. Oddly enough, the lighter Black Swan’s
had a much heavier gun armament of six (3x2) 4-inch DP guns compared to three
(3x1) 3-inch guns for four of the USN classes and two (2x1) 5-inch/38 for two of
the USN DE classes. Both types had respectful AA defenses but five of the USN DE
classes had triple torpedo tubes compared to none in the RN sloops. The RN
sloops were wetter than the USN destroyer escorts. The two twin 4-inch mountings
forward on the RN sloops were of such weight that the sloops tended to bury
their nose in green water in rough weather. Also the supply chutes for the guns
tended to leak, so while a Black
Swan was taking it green over the bow, water would leak into the
crew’s mess as well. Oh well, maybe there is something to be said for the USN
preference for larger ships with a lighter gun armament.
were four Black Swan sloops started in
1938-1939. They were a niche design from the start. Designed specifically to
hunt and destroyed submarines, the class represents the British tradition of
tailoring many warship designs for specific missions. They were specialty
vessels that were extraordinarily effective in their specialized field of naval
warfare. In stark contrast USN designs stayed away from specializing and quite
often would result in a jack of all trades, master of none, warship. You can’t
say that about the Black Swans, they were masters
at anti-submarine warfare. The design sacrificed top speed for increased range.
This was a deliberate design decision to create a more effective platform for
ASW operations. The only speed requirement imposed by the Admiralty was that the
top speed of the sloops had to exceed that of surfaced U-Boats.
of the Modified Black Swan Class and
flagship for Captain Walker was HMS
Starling. One feature found on the Starling
and other members of the class were fin stabilizers in addition to he standard
bilge keels. These fins were to be deployed to reduce rolling in rough weather
and would be retracted into the hull when not needed. They were not an
unqualified success as the deployment machinery tended to break down and many RN
commanders would have preferred to have more internal storage than using the
space for the fin housing and the machinery. Another factor was that the
extended fins were easily capable of poking a hole in the lower hull of any
vessel that came close along side. HMS
Starling was built at Fairfield Shipbuilders and launched on
October 14, 1942. She was ready for service in April 1943, just in time to
become the flagship of Johnny Walker and the Second Support Group.
Starling and the Second Escort Group proved to be extraordinarily
proficient in hunting and destroying U-Boats. On June 2, 1943 at 00:30 Starling
was operating southeast
of Cape Farewell,
submarines in six months was a very good haul but Starling
was just warming up for 1944. On January 31, 1944 southwest of
For the third year in a row a White Ensign Models product is featured on October 31. Halloween has been chosen as a traditional date for a WEM review a number of reasons. First the “Mad Pete” theme fits well with this fun holiday. Although it is not an official holiday, growing up it ranked right after Christmas and my birthday as my favorite days. The reason is simple, loot! Halloween was always fun and you got to bring home a bag full of treats and immerse yourself in wall to wall chocolate. Likewise, opening the box of the WEM 1:350 scale HMS Starling is akin to the fun I had as a kid when I opened up my Halloween bag to see the haul of candy earned after a long evening of Trick or Treating. The WEM Starling box is just filled with goodies, although of a different type, as was the bulging bags of concentrated sugar that I had so many years ago. Another reason is that any WEM product is always a treat. You never feel like you have been tricked when you get your latest prize from White Ensign Models.
Black Swan sloop, is a distinctively British design. As a
specialized type of warship that sacrificed speed for ASW weapons, the lines of
the hull do not reflect the fine lines of a warship built for speed. The WEM
hull casting really shows the advantages and quirky features of this sub hunter.
The hull comes in two pieces, separated at the waterline. It is a no muss, no
fuss build for modelers who prefer dioramas and a waterline presentation. There
is absolutely no clean up required to get your Starling ready to attach to a
base. If you like to build your ships in a full hull presentation, the separate
lower hull almost snaps into place. The two-piece full hull castings of White Ensign Models has always been the cleanest most precise
two-piece assembly available. You still will have a small seam that needs to be
filled and sanded but the fit between the two halves of the hull is so good,
that even this seam filling and cleaning seems minor. There is no resin
over-pour to remove.
Behind the breakwater are two more open chocks and twin bollard fittings. Additionally there are three cylinders, which appear to be ventilator fittings. Just even with the ends of the side bulkheads you’ll find ready ammunition lockers on each side. With the Modified Black Swan design, there was a very long amidships portion to the hull, on which WEM has included numerous fittings in the casting. Forward there are two cable/hose reels as well as two more open chocks and twin bollards. These are all symmetrically placed on the starboard and port sides. However, you then run into some asymmetrical features, which adds interest to the model. Various lockers, deckhouses and ventilators are scattered along the deck but in a refreshingly asymmetrical pattern. At the aft end of the amidships portion of the hull there is another cluster of detail with more lockers and cable reels. Here you’ll find a deck break where the main deck breaks to a lower quarterdeck. However, this feature is also very different from the usual deck break found in a destroyer-sized warship. Most warship designs of this size with a deck break have the break right aft of the forward superstructure, with a raised forecastle and a lower main deck/quarterdeck. With the Modified Black Swan design the main deck is the forecastle deck as it runs 2/3rds the length of the ship. The deck break does not run straight across the width of the ship. Rather it is a three-sided V shaped affair that elongates the main deck along the centerline. It is very different from what you’ll normally find in this size ship.
This unique deck break also creates some interesting features on the bulkhead face. The main deck runs past the break on each side to terminate in a bulkhead about 40% the width of the ship with the main deck tapering in from the sides. The deckhouse for the aft twin 4-inch guns fits aft of this. On each side there are overhangs where the quarterdeck starts with short solid bulkheads on the hull sides curving down from the main deck to the quarterdeck. In casting a hull overhangs can present significant problems in that excess resin can be trapped underneath the overhang. A true indicator of the outstanding casting of this hull is the absolute crispness of the casting underneath these overhangs.
The quarterdeck has
more detail per square inch/cm cast integral to the hull casting than I have
ever seen. No teenager’s face has more bumps, swellings and odd knobs and
features than quarterdeck of the WEM 1:350 scale HMS
Starling. However, unlike such features on a teenager, these
features add tremendous detail and interest on the model. A lot of this detail
consists of various rectangular plates. Most of these are associated with the
depth charge arrangements. Unlike USN destroyer escort designs, which had K-guns
running along each side of the aft amidships, this sloop design concentrates all
of the K-guns as well as the stern racks on the short quarterdeck. Some deck
plates are for K-guns and some are for the K-gun racks for depth charge storage.
Of course two of the longest plates are for the bases for the stern racks. There
are also two more plates for storage of additional depth charges for the stern
On a hull casting
packed with odd and interesting hull features, probably the oddest and most
interesting are the eight tall square columns forming two rows across the width
of the quarterdeck. I wondered what in the world these could be until I looked
at the WEM instructions. In between
both rows is a short platform on which are mounted two twin powered Oerlikon
positions. These are much more bulky than the lighter twin USN 20mm mounts. The
square columns have to be for ammunition storage, however, they are very
different from your common 20mm ready ammo lockers. To round out the quarterdeck
detail are more open chocks, twin bollards and ventilators. The hull sides also
have some unique features. Towards the rear of the main/forecastle deck are two
fittings on the hull sides, whose tops are flush with the deck. These are
support brackets for boat davits, so the davits are actually outboard of the
hull sides. There still is a mystery about another group of fittings. On each
side of the hull abreast of the bridge there are three fittings that appear to
be flat domes fitted over portholes. They are too prominent to be portholes that
have platted over but are the wrong shape to be porthole forced-ventilation
fittings. I am still puzzled by their purpose but they are very distinctive.
if you are a waterline modeler, you may wish to consider building the White
Ensign Models HMS Starling in full hull
form. The reasons are the stabilizer fins fitted to the design. Stabilizer fins
are common now but they were uncommon during World War Two. These fins will make
the lower hull very different from all of your other destroyer size subjects.
They may have not been entirely successful on the original sloops but they are
very successful in 1:350 scale in adding another touch of the unique to this
kit. The lower hull casting has the base plates for the fins with locator hulls,
crisply cast traditional bilge keels and shaft fairings. The casting is as clean
as the upper hull casting.
Although smaller than a destroyer, the Starling has plenty of superstructure to add to the hull. There are five major deckhouses and platforms in the smaller resin parts collection. The largest is the 01 level of the forward superstructure. It starts at the delicious splinter shield for B 4-inch mount. Of course it is of typical British design with an outward slanting forward face and curving side structure with interior support gussets. At the very front edge are two more cable reels and ready ammo lockers. Towards the rear are positions for 20mm mounts but the have squared solid splinter shielding along with the obligatory ready ammo lockers. Side detail on this piece is very nice with duct-work and very detailed doors. The bridge sits atop this level. This piece has the traditional British open bridge with a raised navigation platform and five lockers. The aft 4-inch mount is fitted to a third resin deckhouse, which fits aft of the deck break. The solid splinter shield is of a different design than that surrounding number two mount. On this kit it seems that every gun position has its own unique features. This position has an extreme slanted overhang to the rear and curved overhangs on each side. The deck features for cable reels as well as a ready ammunition locker.
kit comes with a separate resin piece for the amidship AA platform. The options
available for this platform can make these positions very attractive. The WEM
Starling can be built in mid-war fit to late war fit. The time
period that you choose can make a substantial difference in the appearance of
the finished model and WEM provides you all the optional parts that you need.
The ship was built with a tripod foremast but in 1944 this was replaced with a
lattice mast. Originally the Starling
had two powered twin Oerlikons on the amidship AA platform. This is interesting
ordnance in its own right but later two twin Hazemeyer 40mm mounts replaced the
Oerlikons. This piece of ordnance was really strange with a Yagi radar as part
of the mount and all sorts of Byzantine fittings. WEM includes the Hazemeyers! I don’t known of any other kit in any
scale that provides Hazemayer 40mm mounts. In reality, they didn’t perform too
well but they are extremely bizarre in appearance. As an added plus the resin AA
platform has a good share of ready ammo lockers. The smallest deckhouse is the
01 level structure at the aft end of the main deck. It has two J-funnel
ventilators running through an open platform forward and is a nice casting. In
the later war variant the lantern radar sits atop this position.
The bulk of the white metal parts provide the armament for the ship. The twin 4-inch mountings are very good but not spectacular. The best thing about white metal is that you don’t have to worry about any warping that can occur in resin gun barrels. There are details enough in the breech blocks to be seen at the open end of the resin gun shields. These, like most of the white metal parts, will need to be removed from a sprue and cleaned a little bit. For me the Hazemeyers are the stars of the white metal. The actual twin guns parts are very good with recoil springs and block detail. However, the very large mounts, filled with bulky angular shapes, elevate these pieces to the exotic, especially when you add all of the additional brass photo-etch detail. The powered 20mm mounts are odd birds in their own right but they are one piece castings and don’t have all the nifty brass bells and whistles as do the Hazemeyers. Lastly you can have depth charges arranged as you like it. For deployment you have the white metal K-guns but when it comes to the depth charges themselves you get back to diversity. You have the traditional long lines of stern rack depth charges, short lines of stern depth charges and columns of depth charges in the K-gun racks.
Other white metal
fittings for above the water include some excellent carley rafts, excellent
searchlight, good HAC Mk III director, good J-cowled funnels, good smoke
dispensers, and good anchor windlass. WEM provides an option for boat davits. One version is in white
metal. These are fair but don’t have the usual WEM snap. Their big advantage is their three dimensional appearance.
Also provided are brass versions from the fret. For the early fit, the center
leg of the tripod with crow’s nest is provided in white metal. These are clean
and precise but don’t have a true three-dimensional look. For below the water
fittings you get the two fin stabilizers, rudder, strut supports and propellers.
What would a White Ensign Models model ship kit be without an outstanding brass photo-etched set. It would still be extremely good but WEM kits are photo-etch intensive. So much of the most intricate detail in any WEM kit is supplied by the photo-etch that it wouldn’t be the same. With the Starling WEM and Mad Pete have done their usual extraordinarily thorough job in dressing to the nines. The set for the Starling comes with two frets joined by a couple hinges. Both sets have parts that are specific for this class but the second fret has the railing as well.
One is the major part of the set. The largest parts on the fret are three
lattice masts. Actually these are two masts and a tower. The two lattice masts
are for the late war and post war fits. The lattice tower is found on the 1943
fit for the lantern radar. As always with any WEM
fret, heavy use is made of relief etching. The best example of this is the
bridge awning. This depicts a canvas covering over the open bridge. You can see
the folds in the fabric and the impressions of the support frame beneath. This
is top rung material! As mentioned earlier, the kit comes with optional parts
for Hazemeyer 40mm AA guns. The two white metal parts are further enhanced by
the addition eight brass parts on each gun mount. About every area of the model
is dressed out in photo-etch. Funnel platform, yards and mast fittings, stern
racks, depth charge davits, optional relief-etched boat davits, Oerlikon single
guns, platform supports, main Yagi radar, director platforms, flare rocket
launchers and a host of other items are crammed onto the fret.
The second fret is
dominated by railings with eight runs in four different styles. There are also
depth charge racks for the K-guns, ventilator-cowling grills, assorted brackets,
depth charge cradles and nameplates. The nameplates are the stars of this fret.
There are two nameplates, relief-etched, for 25 different ships in the class.
All of the heavy weights are there from Johnny Walker’s Starling,
plus twenty more.
White Ensign Models sets the standard in instructions against which all others are measured. So far no other company has equaled the completeness or production qualities found in WEM instructions. If you can’t follow WEM’s use of comprehensive text and drawings, perhaps you should go back to snap kits. Now, that doesn’t mean that putting the Starling together is easy. Given the heavy use of very fine photo-etch, WEM kits can be challenging but the challenge goes from the fidelity of the parts not because of the instructions. With the 1:350 scale Starling, there are eight pages of instructions, plus a separate full color plate. Page one has a history of the ship with pages two and three showing and describing each resin, white metal and brass photo-etch fret found in the kit. Starting on the fourth page WEM takes you step by step in building the Starling through 27 modules. If there are optional parts involved, WEM annotates which part was used for each fit. The inclusion of the color plate is another area in which WEM leads the industry. It is top quality and beautifully executed. Of course WEM annotates which of their Colourcoat line is needed for the two camouflage schemes shown on the plate. For late 1943 to late 1944 Starling wore a two color camouflage scheme using MS2 and MS4 but then was repainted in an overall AP 507C light gray. If you want Hazemeyers you’ll need the one color scheme.
The White Ensign Models HMS Starling is full of options and parts of excellent quality. With all of the options provided, you can build the sloop from her commissioning in 1943 through her appearance after World War Two. The design is filled with unusual and quirky features, with maybe the Hazemeyer 40mm mounts being the quirkiest. Top production quality, top rank parts and the best instructions in the industry make this famous sub killer an irresistible subject.