For almost ten years between the wars, the Royal Navy had a standardized fleet destroyer design. From the A Class, laid down in 1928 through the I Class, laid down in 1936, over 70 fleet destroyers had been built with minor improvements from the preceding class. The basic design was very long in tooth by 1936 and considerably inferior, a least on paper, with most foreign ships going into service. The Tribal Class, also laid down in 1936, was the first break in the pattern. These very large destroyers were an attempt to answer the large destroyers of Germany, Japan, France, Italy and the United States. They were too large and expensive to be the pattern for a new line of fleet destroyers. In addition to the cost, they were designed to be heavy on gun power but were weak on torpedo attack with only one quad torpedo mount. The Royal Navy needed a new fleet destroyer design.
The J Class, laid down in 1937, was this new design. Everything was fresh with no negative legacy from the earlier standardized designs. Larger, faster, more heavily gunned, the J Class now set the standard for the Royal Navy until the advent of the war caused the admiralty to design cheaper, more quickly built and more significantly inferior Emergency War Designs. The design was so successful that the K Class and N Class, laid down from 1937 through 1940, were substantially identical. However, the Admiralty again felt compelled to match foreign designs with the next fleet destroyer design.
With the J Class, the six(3x2) 4.7-inch Mk XII guns were in open mounts with splinter shielding protecting the front and sides of each mount. In fighting these guns, the crew was subject to the effects of weather and heavy sea. For all of the years since the end of Britainís Wooden Walls of the sail Ships of the Line, the crusty old admirals, retrenched in the admiralty puffed that having gun crews open to the elements was good for them. It was claimed that this would harden them and make them better than the farmboys manning the guns in foreign "wantabee" navies. If manning guns open to the elements was good enough for them, it was good enough for the new recruits. However, by the late 1930s Japan and the United States had gone to completely enclosed mounts. By then it painfully clear that gun crews in an enclosed mount could concentrate in ranging and firing their guns, free from the obvious degradation of their efforts that would be caused by fighting the enemy and the weather concurrently. Clearly if a destroyer was taking it green, a gun crew would be greatly distracted in their efforts to prevent their being washed away. Additionally, any action the North Atlantic in winter or in the Arctic, would pose significant difficulties to the crew of any open gun.
The Admiralty responses were the L Class, laid down in 1938 and the follow-on M Class, laid down 1939 through 1941. After floating a number of alternate designs, including one Super-Tribal design mounting six 5.25-inch guns, the Admiralty chose a slightly enlarged version of the J Class. The design was six feet longer, one and Ĺ feet wider and 230 tons heavier than the ships of the J Class. The new design retained two torpedo mounts but they were reduced to quad tubes from the preceding quintuple tubes. A new 4.7-inch gun was adopted, the Mk XI 50 calibre gun. Although the gun had a lower muzzle velocity than the Mk XII guns of the J Class, they had a heavier shell and a longer range of 21,240 yards at 45 degrees elevation. With the new, fully enclosed Mk XX turret design, the elevation could be increased to 50 degrees with each gun of the twin mount being able to be independently controlled and fired. A new, combined, Low Angle/ High Angle LA/HA director was mounted that would allow the same director to function for surface engagements or anti-aircraft fire. The new director and the enclosed mounts were significantly heavier than the fittings found the Js.
While the class was being built and before any of them were launched, World War Two erupted. As with the First World War, the Admiralty was faced with new urgent requirements and great expansion. Britain did not have the resources to answer all of the Royal Navyís needs. There was a supply problem with the new enclosed 4.7-inch gun mounts, as the new mounts took almost twice (1.8) the time to construct as the open mounts of the J Class. In an effort to speed ships into service, four of the eight L Class were regunned. Lance, Larne, Lively and Legion received eight 4-inch HA guns in open mounts instead of the six 4.7-inch guns in enclosed mounts. The Laforey, Lightning, Lookout, Loyal and all eight of the M Class were fitted with the designed enclosed mounts. The units receiving the enclosed mounts, also generally substituted a single 4-inch HA gun mount in place of the aft torpedo mount. Matchless and Marne later removed the HA gun and remounted the second set of torpedo tubes. The first units completed received two quad .50 Vickers MG AA mounts but as they proved ineffective, they were replaced by 20mm Oerlikons. Later units received the Oerlikons from the start.
There was a divergence between the L Class and the M Class in operational deployment. Since half of the L Class were equipped with open 4-inch guns, this class generally operated in the Mediterranean Sea, until some were deployed to the Indian Ocean. Since all of the M Class had enclosed mounts and they were the only class with enclosed mounts until the end of the war, the entire M Class were "arcticizedí with extra insulation and heating and specialized in operations in the frozen seas of the far north. Of the M Class the name of the Marksman was changed to Mahratta. The M Class is sometimes called the Marksman Class after this lead ship. However in May 1941, shortly before her launch at Scottís Shipyard, the yard underwent a bombing attack. Marksman was hit and had all of her engine machinery wrecked. She was also blown off her keel blocks. She had to be rebuilt from keel up in a new berth with her new keel being laid down in August 1941. It might be superstition or part tradition but the ship was renamed Mahratta to separate the ship from her unfortunate start as Marksman. Myrmidon was transferred to the Polish Navy in 1942 and renamed Orkan.
Almost all of the operations of the M Class were in the far north, mostly on escorts to the Murmansk convoys. In May 1942 Matchless had to torpedo the fatally damaged cruiser Trinadad. Marne, Martin, along with Onslaught caught and sank the German minelayer Ulm in the Barents Sea in August 1942. Duty was not exclusively in the north. Matchless and Marne had been detached for a couple of months in the summer of 1942 for Malta convoy escort and in the fall the class moved south to support the Operation Torch landings in North Africa. In 1942 the class was also fitted for tropical service. Normally "winterizing" to optimize operations in the far north, provided uncomfortable habitation in the war waters of the Mediterranean or off of Africa, as the extra insulation made such ships sweat boxes in a warm environment. The Admiralty apparently tried to alleviate this problem with the M Class by the tropical installations. It was during this service that the class suffered its first loss. Martin was sunk by U431 north of Algiers on November 10, 1942. On November 12 Marne had her stern blown off by U515 but was towed to safety at Gibraltar and repaired in England. She was back into service on January 31, 1944.
Throughout 1943 Matchless, Milne and Musketeer operated in anti-submarine support groups in the North Atlantic. These three plus Meteor were involved in the chase and sinking of the Scharnhorst off of the North Cape in December 1943. Musketeer and Matchless were close enough to engage the German battleship near the end of the action, after Scharnhorst had been heavily damaged by the Duke of York. Milne also sank the U289 off Norway on May 31, 1943. Arctic duties continued in 1944 with Mahratta, ex-Marksman being lost on February 25, 1944 when struck by two torpedoes in the Barents Sea. Also during that month, Meteor along with Whitehall sank the U314. Later the year Musketeer and Meteor were reassigned to the Mediterranean for mopping up operations. While back in the south supporting Operation Avalanche in the landings in southern France in the summer of 1944, Meteor along with Lookout sank the German TA24 and TA29. Orkan ex-Myrmidon served the Polish Navy mostly on Arctic and Atlantic convoy duty until she was sunk by U378 with an acoustic torpedo in the Atlantic on October 8, 1943.
As new construction at the start of the war and also because they were bigger and more capable than the hastily built ships of the Emergency Construction Programs of the war, the five surviving British units of the M Class continued to sail on with the Royal Navy. Musketeer was the only member of the class to be sold for scrap by the Royal Navy. On December 6, 1955 she completed her last voyage to the scrapyard. Milne, Matchless, Meteor and Marne received a new lease on life when on August 16, 1957 they were sold to Turkey. (Bulk of history from British Destroyers 1892-1953 by Edgar J. March; and Destroyers of World War Two by M.J. Whitley)
The WEM Musketeer
As ship modelers, we are also forever searching, but in our case for that perfect model, which is so seldom found. Then, there it is! As you open the box and remove the components for the White Ensign Models 1:350 scale model of the HMS Musketeer you think; Eureka! Bingo! The Mother Lode! Paydirt! This kit has it all and produced to the highest standards. No trick here! It is a treat of the first order!
When I reviewed the White Ensign Models 1:350 HMS Janus (click for review of the WEM HMS Janus), I was happy to find an error, something that was not perfect. There was a bit of resin splash on the bridge face. It wasnít much but it was something. It allowed me to say that the kit was not perfect, as I had found a casting error. Well, those British Tricksters, those perfidious Albions, those nasty hobbits of WEM have closed that door. Try as I might, I could find no imperfections with the WEM HMS Musketeer. The casting quality is flawless, no bubbles, no breakage, no splash, no problems. Later I did successfully locate an error, not a defect, on the photo-etch fret.
The hull is in two parts, divided at the waterline. This allows the modeler to build the Musketeer in a full hull or a waterline format. I like to build my 1:350 models full hull and I prefer one piece full hulls, so I donít have the problem of mating hull halves and filling seams. If you have been building 1:350 scale resin ships for any length of time, you will undoubtedly come across two dreaded problems with mating hull halves. In some models, one is caused by different shrinkage rates of the upper and lower hulls, requiring minimal to significant adjustment with sandpaper. The other problem often found would be large seams, requiring a significant investment of filling and sanding in an effort to remove the seam. Neither of these problems appear on the hull halves to the WEM HMS Musketeer. Indeed, for the last year with every kit that I have seen from WEM, I have been struck by one salient point in their hull castings. The upper and lower hull halves are so well designed, so well cast that the joinder seam is about as minimal as could be expected. There still is a seam that needs to be filled and sanded but it is so small as to only require a minimum touch-up filling. Without a doubt, WEM has the best fitting hull halves for two piece hulls, that I have seen.
The other sixteen resin parts were likewise devoid of errors or damages. These parts include superstructure and bridge parts, stack, the three gun mounts, director, shipís boats, one platform, one deck house and one torpedo mount. The WEM HMS Musketeer portrays the ship as she appeared in 1943, after she had substituted a single open mount 4-inch AA gun for the second set of torpedo tubes. The parts have a very slight amount of resin flash that is easily cleared from the parts with a hobby blade. Overall, there is far less clean-up required with this kit than is found in the kits of almost any other resin manufacturer. The only evidence of casting sprues or casting vents were a few small convex circles on the bottom of the larger pieces. Another apparent characteristic of WEM casting is that solid bulkheads, splinter shielding, breakwaters and other thin planes of metal are probably slightly thicker than scale. Undoubtedly, this allows the pieces to be cast without defects, holes or breakage. Frankly, I prefer this approach as it is easier to thin a flat plane with a little sanding than to fill and repair damaged structures.
White Metal Parts
Brass Photo-Etch Fret
The biggest item is an absolutely gorgeous deck plate for the 4-inch AA gun. With the 3-D relief and use of the two types of finish, this plate has a beautiful almost spider web appearance. For the early units, the fret contains the two quad Vickers mounts and all receive extra brass framing for the quad pom-pom mount. The fret comes with name plates for the four 4.7-inch armed units of the L Class and the seven British units of the M Class. Nameplates for the Polish Orkan are not included. It is with the nameplates that I finally caught an error in the WEM Musketeer kit. Hallelujah, I have them now! I am not defeated in my incessant quest to unveil error! My inquisition may continue! All of the M Class name plates are right except the pair that say HMS Marksman. That ship was never launched or sailed under that name. After being damaged in an air attack before launch, it was disassembled, rebuilt from the keel up in another berth, launched as the HMS Mahratta. The fret has no plates for HMS Mahratta. I realize perfectly that if you are building 10 of the 11 Royal Navy destroyers of the L Class or M Class that mounted the 4.7-inch guns, the omission of the Mahratta name plates will have absolutely no impact upon your build. But what of those poor unfortunate teeming souls yearning to build the Mahratta? I must shed a tear, as there are no nameplates for them.
The rest of the fret comes with all the bells and whistles for which WEM photo-etch. Eight generous runs of railing in three different types are included, including curved railing that follows the sheer of the bow. Seven small runs of splinter matting are included. With other frets on British subjects, splinter matting is often overlooked. However, it was a classic British tactic to provide additional anti-splinter protection and was very frequently found on Royal Navy destroyers. Yagis, other radar, vent grills, davits, anchor chain, inclined ladders, vertical ladders, shipís boats fittings, carley racks, bridge wing supports, Oerlikons, staffs, siren brackets, antennae, spacers, handrails, stove pipes, accommodation ladders, yardarms, depth charge rails; about any small fitting you can envision is found on this fret. I was struck by two, almost miniscule items that were included, two small signal lamps. WEM provides two items that are about the size of the trainable door lights sometimes found in police cruisers. That is attention to detail!
White Ensign Models completes the components with brass rod and a decal sheet with funnel markings and pendant numbers.
With Musketeer the instructions are eight pages in length in the usual comprehensive WEM format. Page one has a photograph of the ship, short history and shipís specifications. Page two has a photo and textual listing of the smaller parts, along with general assembly instructions. Page three shows the photo-etch fret with every brass part identified and described. Pages four through seven displays 19 modules or steps for the assembly of Musketeer. Each step is illustrated with one or more well drawn pictures accompanied by text. You cannot become confused as to the assembly, WEM will not let you. The last page, as usual, has a striking full color plan and profile that besides being a work of art, doubles as color chart and painting guide. The title photo above is a small portion of the profile on this sheet.
It is Halloween. With the White Ensign Models HMS Musketeer, I know I have my treat. Do you have yours?