IJN Battleship
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Building the Lifelike 1:350 Scale Model
Jim Gordon
"It has ever seemed strange to me, how weapons and warships- the tools of
death- are the loveliest things man has made."

Poul Anderson,
The Sign of the Raven, 1980

Photography by
Rob Mackie
Click here for photo gallery at end of this article

If  warships are indeed the loveliest of man's machines, then the battleship is the fairest of all. I would argue that the Imperial Japanese Navy super battleship Yamato is the ultimate warship. A grand claim, but supported by the Yamato's size, powerful guns, and graceful lines. Just the fact that Yamato and her sister ship Musashi were the largest battleships ever built lends her a mystique and grandeur beyond the reach of other dreadnoughts. Designed to defeat any other battleship in a gun engagement, its designers could not foresee the day when this leviathan would be overwhelmed massed air power. Tis a pity that these two super battleships could not have tested their guns against the battleships of the US Navy in one last blaze of glory that would have served as a fitting end to the battleship era.

I'm a Yamato buff, a necessity if one is to take on the Lifelike kit. It features early 70's engineering and detail, and 60's-era parts fit. The kit has over 400 parts, and the instructions appear to have been written and drawn by a high school dropout. Over half the parts are not even mentioned in the instructions. Why did the previous owners not build this particular kit? Why not just build the Tamiya version? Read on.

I embarked upon this 2 year love/hate ordeal when my local model club held a clearance sale of models belonging to the collection of an Air Force officer. There, among big old Pyro and Heller sailing ship models sat the 1:350 scale Lifelike Yamato, in a box  nearly a yard long. I marveled at the sheer size of the thing. Being a strictly 1/700 scale modeler, I was awed at the girth and length of the hull molding. And what seemed like dozens upon dozens of parts sprues. What a kit!  I had to have it, and, eventually I did get it - and for a song. What a deal! Not necessarily...

There is no consensus regarding the kit's manufacturer. Lifelike marketed the kit with its own "instructions", but judging from the Japanese-language Yamato plaque, it's safe to assume Japanese origin. Some theorize that it is early Nichimo or Otaki. If anyone out there knows the answer, please share it with me. Because this model is very much out of production, I am not going discuss corrections and improvements. More than likely you will never need to know. If you do own it, however, and have questions, feel free to contact me directly at JGordon262@aol.com .

Surprisingly, the Lifelike kit had sufficient parts to model any Yamato configuration - from commissioning to her sinking. The hull is 29.25" long and was designed for optional motorization. I actually considered this, but vetoed it due to lack of motor gearbox. So I started assembly by gluing the deck to the hull. Because motorization requires battery access, the deck was in three parts - bow, middle, and stern sections. The resulting seams needed filling, with much additional filler required along the port and starboard edges. However these first steps were quite satisfying, resulting in an embryonic - and rather phallic - hull assembly that looked accurate. I began to think that perhaps the kit might not be that bad, though I continued to shudder at the miserable "instructions".

What is more important, I asked myself, the overall look of the finished model - the way it captures the essence of the warship - or the absolute accuracy of every last fitting and detail, no matter how obscure or microscopic? This was my dilemma. I decided to depict Yamato in her April 1945 "as sunk" fit and to include as many details as I could. But it soon became apparent that the Lifelike Yamato would not lend itself to the full superdetailing treatment. The kit's injection molded parts were at best adequate. Fabricating additional, sharper details would just make the Lifelike parts seem even more mundane. My hope, then, was that the finished model would have enough detail density and visual interest (read: massive amounts of stuff) to overcome the inherent limitations of outdated injection molding technology. I would look at the forest rather than the trees, to coin a phrase.

Yamato JG 06.jpg (56385 bytes)Having no references other than the kit instructions and the H. Jentshura book, Warships of the IJN 1869-1945, which only provides a few small line drawings, I was encountering more questions than answers. I had started the bridge works, but was having trouble positioning the various levels of this monolith. I obtained a color copy with side/top views of a 1/100 scale Yamato model (which would be about 8 feet long). I used this as my prime reference for about a year and a half, at which time I was loaned the Janusz Skulski book, The Battleship Yamato. Part of the Anatomy of the Ship series, this outstanding volume should be in every shipmodeler's library, even if you are not obsessed with Yamato. Unfortunately, with each successively better reference I found that my previous work was wrong and would have to be redone. For example, the area abaft the bridge, with its myriad ladders and platforms, took three tries before I got it right. Each previous attempt was removed and construction started anew. Needless to say this was demoralizing. For all my work there was very little progress. I am normally a fast builder, but the lack of tangible results sapped my motivation and caused me to spend almost 2 years (off and on) building my Yamato.

A 1/350 scale ship model has four times the surface area of a 1/700th version. So in some respects a 1/700 scale model is four times easier and quicker to build than its larger 1/350 scale cousin. The larger version also requires much more detailing effort than its smaller brother. Simply put, I found that this monster swallowed details like a black hole. I would put in a 3 or 4 hour construction session, and at the end little progress was evident. After many of these sessions, I said to hell with it and put her away for many months. Nothing kills modeling enthusiasm quicker than endless time cleaning parts, filling gaps, correcting bad parts designs and the like. And this is what I spent most of my time doing, as well as just trying to identify and sort out 400 pieces. Yamato was festooned with all manner of guns and gun directors, and these changed with each refit. Just trying to figure correct locations was a major headache.

By the one year mark I had poured many hours into this model. In retrospect, maybe I should have deep-sixed this beast and gone on to something more satisfying. But I hated wasting all that effort, and she wasn't looking all that bad. It would be overstating things to say that I was growing fond of my Yamato. My feelings were more akin to acceptance, sort of like being trapped in a bad marriage one hopes will eventually become tolerable.

Yamato JG 20 small.jpg (18958 bytes)The detachable superstructure now featured a completed bridge, funnel, aft bridge, antennae array, and rings of guns. And it helped that most visitors asked me how the "big battleship" was coming. My dad especially kept bringing it up, and I'd have to tell him it was aging in the model cellar. It is an obvious people pleaser, even for those with no interest in models whatsoever. So I kept at it, working on her now and then with the pie-in-the-sky notion that perhaps some day the whole would exceed the sum of the parts. That is all I could realistically expect, because some parts - mainly the guns - are minimally detailed by modern standards- and the guns are a very large part of this vessel.

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Early on I determined that the rough nature of this kit did not justify the Gold Medal Models Yamato photoetch set. I can see now that I could have saved much work had I used the GMM sheet. That's the beauty of hindsight. However, I used the $35 I saved to buy two bottles of tequila, which provided much more inspiration than a sheet of etched brass ever could. As it was, I had a sheet of GMM railing in 1/96-1/200. This stuff was too big, but I decided that if I cut it in half lengthwise I could use it as two bar railing, then all I would have to do is add the third bar, along the middle, from stretched sprue. This is what I did. It worked, but the results are a tad rough on close inspection. Fabricating the main radar array was likewise extra work. I used two lengths of 1/700 railing glued on top of each other, two of these assemblies per side to create the mattress frame effect. I also used a lot of 1/700 railing with the center bar cut out to replicate railings on the turret tops and other places. I could have saved much time here too with the GMM set. Lets face it, I did this the HARD WAY, no doubt about it. I spent next to nothing on this build, just used whatever was within reach at the time. This ad hoc approach shows in several places. For instance, converted 1/200 railing sits next to converted 1/700 railing. However, these mismatched scale parts seem to work quite well together on the finished product. "Look at the forest, not the trees, Grasshopper ..."

The Yamato project made me confront my conflicting feelings about IPMS-style flawlessness versus the urge to have a painless build. There were just too many poorly molded minimalist parts to even consider a contest level construction, and at times it was tempting to just leave gaps as they were. I would be difficult to justify all the time I put into the Yamato, only to have created a display piece that would not even place at a local IPMS contest. But there it is- the dark side of IPMS modeling; Advanced Modeler Syndrome, perfectionism, non risk taking- these are all side effects of contest modeling and they become deeply ingrained in one's modeling psyche. I realized that trying to make this Yamato into an IPMS posterboy would be the end of my modeling career. Besides, I'd already jumped through many IPMS hoops, so I felt I had nothing left to prove when it came to contests. This realization was very liberating and allowed me to model at the other end of the spectrum- I eschewed top end detail sets and instead relied on recycled materials, scratchbuilding, and creativity to achieve the required effect.

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For specific details on my building techniques please refer to my other articles on the Warship site, the IJN Battleship Mutsu, the IJN Cruiser Tone, and the USS Cleveland. I used the same building and painting methods discussed in these earlier articles.New to this model, however, was the use of brass tubing to depict the 8" and 18" gun barrels. The kit parts were unusable. I wanted to exaggerate the 18" guns a bit so I went overscale on these. I like the overscale look very much. It is very easy to work the brass- cut it with a razor saw, and chuck it into a Mototool to shape the ends with a file or emery paper. The finished but unpainted brass barrels are beautiful to behold and give me a sense of craftsmanship that plastic or resin just cannot deliver.

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As I entered the final stretch I could not help but be very proud of what was sitting on my workbench. Many hours of nose to the grindstone drudgery had resulted in an impressive, acceptably accurate, and convincingly detailed model of the world's greatest battleship. This project gave me a renewed patience and perseverance, and strengthened my belief that given sufficient time and effort, almost any kit can be made into a beautiful display piece. Anybody have a 1/200 Nichimo Yamato for sale at a reasonable price???

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