Ship modeling Francophiles have had much to cheer about in recent months with the release of Sameks battlecruiser Dunkerque and WSWs releases of the destroyer Le Triomphant, the light cruiser George Leygues and, most recently, the Dunkerques sister ship, Strasbourg. With their "fierce face" main armament arranged forward in two quadruple turrets, towering superstructure, stacked rangefinders, and a prominent aircraft catapult and hanger in the stern, the Dunkerque class has always been one of my favorite warship designs. Graceful, yet possessing a distinctive Gallic eccentricity, theyve cried out for quality coverage in 1/700 scale. Its about time! Was it worth the wait?
The Strasbourgs keel was laid in November 1934 and she was launched in December 1936. It was sent to Brest for outfitting, commissioning and trials, entering active service in early 1939. I wont go into a detailed discussion of the classs origins and design philosophy, I suggest you take a look at SteelNavy reviewer Steve Backers excellent article on the Samek Dunkerque for background information. Although sisters, the Strasbourg was launched over a year after the Dunkerque, allowing the incorporation of a number of visible and hidden improvements that made it a superior vessel to its elder sibling. The most noticeable difference was that Strasbourg possessed a two-level bridge. More significantly, it had a thicker armor belt as well as heavier protection on the turret roofs. It also had a greater fuel capacity. These additions resulted in the loss of a knot or two in speed but, all in all, the Strasbourg was formidable warship.
During the fall of 1939 Strasbourg teamed with the British aircraft carrier Hermes, two cruisers and two destroyer divisions to form Force X, tasked with searching for the Graf Spee. The German raider eluded the force but Strasbourg was involved in sinking several German supply ships. Its moment of "glory" came on 3 July 1940 when, as part of the French naval force at Mers el Kebir, she was attacked by a British force that included the battlecruiser Hood, battleships Valiant and Resolution, and aircraft carrier Ark Royal. When negotiations to surrender the French force broke down, the Strasbourg was fortunate to have its boilers at steaming level when the British opened fired. In the smoke and confusion of the one-sided battle, the Strasbourg surprised the British by escaping the harbor with six destroyers. After driving away the destroyer HMS Wrestler, it headed toward the French naval base at Toulon. The Hood gave chase but was unable to close the range. (Fortunately, that loss of a knot of speed didnt come back to haunt her) The Strasbourg was twice attacked by Skuas and Swordfish from the Ark Royal, beat off both air attacks, suffered no damage, and put up enough AA defense to down one Skua and damage several Swordfish. It reached Toulon where, during 1941-42, it became the flagship of the French fleet based there. After the Allied invasion of North Africa, it was scuttled in November 1942 to keep it from falling into German hands. Certainly not the most illustrious history but that day at Mers el Kebir, while tragic, makes for fascinating reading.
Modelers wont be disappointed when they open the box. The hull measures out at slightly over twelve inches and, when compared to drawings in Garzkes Allied Battleships of World War II and to Sameks Dunkerque, appears to be right on scale. This is an all resin kit and the pieces are mostly up to WSWs high standards; there is little or no flash and the parts fit with precision. The kit represents the Strasbourg in its 1940 fit with a complement of eight 37mm AA in four twin mounts and 32 13.2mm AA in eight quadruple mounts. The Samek Dunkerque represents that vessel as it appeared in pre-war times circa 1938/early 1939. I prefer the wartime fit of the WSWs Strasbourg with its larger AA armament that recreates its appearance at Mers el Kebir.
There is much to like about this kit. The stacked rangefinders that are so prominent on these vessels are well detailed. The capstans and anchor chains are truly works of beauty. Ordinarily, I replace resin chain with scale chain but theres no need to do so with WSWs kit. The turrets for the main and secondary armaments are highly detailed and the gun barrels, molded into the turrets, are ramrod straight, and have a most realistic look to them. The funnel comes hollowed out. This was a welcome addition since I usually have to do this myself and its always a time consuming process. Thanks WSW for that small but nice touch.
For all the kits strong points, and there are many, I cant help but feel that it lacks some of the delicacy of detail found in WSWs other recent releases such as Kaiser and Blucher. Dont get me wrong, WSW at 90% is better than most other kit manufacturers, but somehow I feel that the detail is not quite up to their usual high standards. Nevertheless, the basic product is fine and, with a little effort, an eye-catching model can be constructed.
The Strasbourg was largely built straight from the box. The only items added were what appears to be shielding that was found in various locations on the superstructure between the stack and the rear rangefinders. These "shields" are quite visible in photographs of the Strasbourg, including shots of her leaving Mers el Kebir harbor. I quizzed modelers about these structures on the Steel Navy Message Board and received a variety of plausible answers: shielding, life rafts, etc. After studying a variety of photos, I decided to display them as shielding using Evergreen styrene strips . If anyone knows what these structures were, I would appreciate your letting me know.
I used Polly Scale Model Railroad Colors CP Gray mixed with some black and blue to get a close approximation to a light to medium gray used by French vessels in 1940. The deck was hand-painted with Model Shipways Marine Colors Deck Tan. I weathered the vessel with a combination of light and dark gray, black, and rust colored pastels. I enjoy weathering models; fortunately I ran across a photo of the Strasbourg at Toulon during October 1940 that showed it in a rather disheveled state after escaping from Mers el Kebir, so I weathered it rather heavily.
Although I understand WSW's philosophy is "resin only," the kit, with its catapults, cranes, and distinctive "booms" on the bridge superstructure, cries out for photoetch. None is included. The kit's resin parts are good but I cant help but think how PE parts would send this model off the charts in appeal. With all the French WWII ships coming out in 1/700 scale, perhaps one of the PE producers would consider a French Navy fret.. To really make Strasbourg come to life, you should at least add photo-etched two-bar railing.
One other complaint concerns the instructions, or lack thereof. Frankly, like most modelers, I pride myself on using the instructions as little as possible. I dont expect kit manufacturers to offer detailed instructions on a par with White Ensign, but I would like clear instructions on the rare situations where I need to know where something goes. This happened several times with the kit, forcing me to consult photos for placement of range finders that should have been clearly marked in the instructions. Please WSW, make your instructions more than a vague suggestion of where things are supposed to go.
In conclusion, WSW has produced a fine kit of a beautiful warship. Was the Strasbourg worth the wait? You bet.