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
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Yes, another Halloween is upon us, and as SteelNavy tradition mandates, each October 31 is reserved for a White Ensign Model 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 Great Britain . The German U-Boats were true children of the night. Their low slung silhouettes and dark color blended into the blackness of the night and in mass they would descend upon a convoy and tear it apart. The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest campaign in World War Two and the U-Boats were superbly deadly opponents for the Royal Navy. Convoys were escorted but that was a passive measure that could be penetrated by aggressive U-Boat skippers. What was needed was a wolf hunter. What was needed was a huntsman that would seek combat with the wolves and destroy them before they destroyed the merchantmen. The Royal Navy had many heroes in the deadly war against the U-Boats, but one of the greatest was Johnny Walker. 

Frederic John Walker was a rarity in the Royal Navy. He joined the RN as a cadet/midshipman in 1913. He proved very able and served throughout the 1st World War. He served on the battleship Ajax as a midshipmen up to 1916 when he was transferred to the RN destroyers. That gave him the taste for fighting the small ships and even though he had other tours on Queen Elizabeth and Valiant, he kept going back to the smaller warship. After World War One Walker specialized. While the surest way to high rank was command of cruisers and then battleships, Johnny Walker specialized in anti-submarine warfare. Very few RN officers chose that path in the 1920s and 1930s. Even the benighted FAA was more popular than that field. This decision almost cost him further service. Still a commander in 1939 as an expert in an ignored field, he was slated for early retirement when World War Two erupted.

However, 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 bound for Gibraltar . During this command he trained his ships to act as one. A combined unit, acting in concert to a plan was far more effective than ships acting individually. However, the 36th Escort Group was still a passive force, shackled to the convoy that they guarded. Walker didn’t want to wait for the U-Boats. Sometimes the first notice of the presence of U-Boats was when a column of water shot up from a tanker or freighter in the convoy. Rather than wait for the enemy and react to his moves, Walker wanted to go find them on his terms. Command of the Second Support Group gave him that opportunity.

A hunter is only as good as his weapon. The Royal Navy had the hunter in Johnny Walker and they had the weapon in the sloops of his command. The Second Support Group was founded in April 1943. Consisting of six Black Swan and Modified Black Swan class sloops; HMS Starling (flag), HMS Wild Goose, HMS Magpie, HMS Woodpecker, HMS Kite and HMS Wren, the mission of the group commanded by Johnny Walker was to actively hunt and destroy U-Boats. Based in Liverpool , Captain Walker played “A Hunting We Will Go” over the loud speaker of Starling whenever his command left for their submarine hunts. In May the force supported the passage of North Atlantic convoy ONS8 with HMS Cygnet substituting for Magpie. Although they supported the convoy, they were not shackled to it. In addition to actively hunting for submarines the “Hunter-Killer” group had a secondary mission. They were to act as the cavalry and come to the rescue of the farmers and settlers of the convoy wagon train. When a convoy had been discovered and the U-Boats were massing for the attack, the Second Support Group was to come in and break up their party.  

Profile, Plan & Quarter Views
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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 short-hulled Evarts 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.  

There 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. Construction on the Modified Black Swan design started in 1941. The Modified Black Swan was one foot wider of beam than the Black Swan sloops and a more comprehensive armaments fit. Twenty-nine of the class were launched during the war or shortly after the war. Oddly enough in the 1950s several of the class were transferred to the modern German Navy where they were given the familiar German warship names of Hipper, Scheer and Scharnhorst.


Hull Detail
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One 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.

The HMS 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, Greenland when she spotted the U-202. She engaged the surfaced submarine with gunfire and then closed and used depth charges to destroy the U-Boat as she submerged. In a few more weeks she was on the other side of the Atlantic . Starling was operating in the Luftwaffe’s back yard in the Bay of Biscay when she caught another U-Boat on the surface. This time it was U-119 that was rammed and depth charged by Starling. So far that was two U-Boats in three weeks but there was a draught before her next victory. On November 6, 1943 Starling was again successful in the hunt but had to share honors with some of her sisters. In a space of seven hours two submarines were sunk. At 0700 Starling, along with HMS Woodcock and HMS Kite depth charged and sunk U-226 east of Newfoundland. At 1400 U-842 was dispatched by depth charges from Starling and Wild Goose.  


Hull Detail
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Four submarines in six months was a very good haul but Starling was just warming up for 1944. On January 31, 1944 southwest of Ireland Starling, Wild Goose and Magpie sank U-592. February 9 was another double victory day. As the force was still operating southwest of Ireland Starling and Wild Goose sunk U-734 after stalking the submarine for three hours and then the Starling, Magpie and Kite combination sunk U-238 after an 8-hour hunt. A third score for the month was notched on February 19 when Starling and Woodpecker sank U-264 at 1707. For her first victory in March, Starling along with Wild Goose, had to share the credit for U-653 with an RAF Swordfish off the escort carrier HMS Vindex. However, on March 29 Starling did a solo again in sinking U-961 with depth charges. On May 6 Starling with Wild Goose and Wren used depth charges to sink U-473 southwest of Ireland but on July 31 Starling and Loch Kilin were closer to Britain off the Scilly Isles when they caught and sank U-333. Unfortunately Johnny Walker was not aboard Starling for that victory. On July 9, 1944 Captain Frederic John Walker had died of a stroke and was followed in command of the Group by Captain D.E.G.Wemyss in Wild Goose. Johnny Walker was buried at sea in Liverpool Bay after church services at Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool . For Starling’s last triumph, she again shared credit, not with one her sisters like the tried and true Wild Goose, or even with the RAF. On August 11, 1944 the victory over the U-385 in the Bay of Biscay was shared by HMS Starling and Australian manned Short Sunderland  of RAAF Squadron 461. During the command of Second Support Group by Johnny Walker, 20 submarines were sunk by sloops of the group. Another 8 U-Boats were sunk by the sloops that had been in his command after his death. HMS Starling survived the war and became the Royal Navy Navigation Training Ship in 1948 and had all of her armament removed. For the next eleven years she served in this role. In 1959 she was placed in reserve until scrapped in 1965.

  White Ensign Models HMS Starling
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.


With Lower Hull
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The HMS Starling, Modified 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.

The WEM upper hull casting is packed with detail. One of the first things that you will observe is the very short forecastle with a rather short sheer and gentle outward flare. When you consider that the design had two twin 4-inch mounts very far forward, it was no wonder that the class tended to bury its nose in rough seas. This characteristic leads to another feature in the ship and model, the distinctive breakwater. In most ship designs the V of the breakwater ends at the hull sides and channels water over the sides. Since the Modified Black Swans were prone to taking green water over the bow, the breakwater is very much more prominent and reinforced. It doesn’t end at the hull signs. Instead it forma a solid bulkhead ahead of A mount and continues with the bulkhead down the sides of the foc’sle, instead of terminating at the sides of the hull.  The breakwater has support gussets on the forward face and inboard gussets on the side bulkheads as well as an open drainage scuttle on each side. You don’t have to open this up as there is no resin film clogging these openings. WEM detail on the foc’sle includes two open chocks, two twin bollard fittings as well as plates for the chain run of the anchors. It was a steel deck ship so there is no wooden planking.

Smaller Resin Parts
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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. 


Smaller Resin Parts
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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 racks.  

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.


White Metal Parts
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Even 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.

  Smaller Resin Parts
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.  


Brass Photo-Etch
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The 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 HMS 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.

In addition to these resin deckhouses there are ten more resin parts in the kit. The stack, the three gun shields, early lantern radar, late lantern radar, three ship’s boats, and quarterdeck 20mm platform. The stack piece has a prominent cap and rests upon a thick rounded apron on a square base. It also features two prominent ducts running into its base. The 4-inch gun shields have open back gun shields of resin. The white metal twin 4-inch pieces sit on cradles inside. These three pieces did have some light resin flash that will have to be cleaned but this is the exception rather than the rule. All three ship’s boats are different in design and size from one another to add to the very asymmetrical nature of this ship. As far as which lantern radar to use, that depends upon the fit being built. From 1943 to early 1944 the lantern radar was on a very tall lattice structure just forward of the aft 4-inch mount. The lattice itself is in photo-etch and I personally like this structure over the solid lantern radar fitting of the late war Starling. However, those late war Hazemeyers really sing a siren song. Of course an optimum solution would be to acquire two of the kits to build one early fit and one late fit. I am sure the fine folks at WEM would approve and recommend this solution since they have thoughtfully provided not just the optional parts, but also all of the nameplates for the sisterships.  

Brass Photo-Etch
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White Metal Parts
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.


Major Resin Parts Dry-Fitted
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Brass Photo-Etched Fret
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.

Fret 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.


Major Resin Parts Dry-Fitted
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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, Wild Goose, Magpie, Wren and Woodcock, plus twenty more.  

Instructions
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. 


Box Art & Instructions
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StarI1045inst6.JPG (9986 bytes) StarI1046inst7.JPG (10930 bytes) StarI1047inst8.JPG (9984 bytes)
StarI1048inst9.JPG (17319 bytes) StarI1050inst9a.JPG (17336 bytes) StarI1052inst9b.JPG (16034 bytes) StarI1053inst9c.JPG (23666 bytes)

Verdict
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.

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