Building White Ensign's
(Editor's Note: Colin did not have photos to accompany his article so I have taken the liberty of inserting two pics of Peter Hall's beautiful White Ensign HMS Hood buildup)
What follows is part diary and part review of the White Ensign 1/350th Scale HMS Hood. It's highly subjective, the odd swear word does crop up from time to time, it's not a full review, but does I hope give a flavour of building this most expensive, and beautiful kit.
The summary is that Hood, the largest RN ship ever put into service was launched at the end of WWI as the first of a new class of Battle Cruisers. The class was cancelled, mostly because of the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, and she became one of a kind. Like all battle cruisers she was a combination of extreme striking power, (8x15"guns) coupled with high speed, (over 30 Knots). The price paid for this performance was limited armour protection, especially on the upper decks of the ship.
Despite her limitations when complete in the early 1920s Hood represented a personification of the Pax Britannica, to quote Ludovic Kennedy in "Pursuit", "Looking at Hood one understood the phrase Rule Britannia". The limitations of her design were always visible however, for example her low freeboard meant that she had the habit of taking large seas over the bow in all but the calmest weather. However for over 20 years she showed the flag for Britain, trained countless crewmen in what the Royal Navys traditions meant, in doing so she became the most loved ship in the Navy.
Like most large units of the Navy, plans were made to modernise the ship, in the same way as Renown, Warspite and others had been in the 1930. In this modernised form she would have been a major asset, however the war intervened and all such plans were abandoned. Some work had been done to modernise the ship, especially in the 1940 re-fit, including the landing of the 5" guns, the extension of the Boat Deck, and the instillation of a battery of 4" dual purpose mounts. These modifications along with the instillation of 2lb Pom Poms and the infamous 3" UP rocket mounts went some way to modernising her weapons fit.
After a hectic 2 years of war service that saw her lead the bombardment of the French Fleet at Oran in North Africa, and her operating as part of Force H with Ark Royal and Sheffield, Hood returned to Scapa Flo in 1941 to become once again part of the Home Fleet. It was in this role that she sailed out of Scapa in May 1941 with Prince of Wales to intercept the Bismarck and Prince Eugen The result of this action saw Hoods design flaws revealed in the starkest possible way with salvos from both German ships blasting Hood to pieces in a little under 10 minutes, 1400+ of her crew perished that cold day.
For my part I was interested in it almost from the word go. My modelling history goes back a long way with virtually anything and everything being built over the years, but with the emphasis on aircraft. I had never tackled a resin ship of any kind before, although I had extensive experience in using resin and PE brass in the past. More importantly perhaps, I had a long-standing interest in the royal Navy in WWII, (I put it down to watching the "Cruel Sea" at 6 or 7!).
I remained undecided over the kit until WE posted pictures of the main castings on their Web pages early in 1997. The scale and precision of the castings won me over, and I was hooked. The cost of the kit, £400 including VAT is, I guess, steep, but since I had been made redundant the year before, I did have some money put aside to pay for my indulgences, so off went the order.
After a delay of a couple of weeks a Very Large Box appeared at the house one Friday afternoon. Once I got home the scale of the project began to sink in. The basic hull casting, (I bought the waterline version), is 29 ½ inches long, theres not a flaw in it, as far as I could see. The three PE frets were works of art. The only slightly disappointing thing being the quality of some of the smaller resin pieces. There was some flash to clean up, along with some air bubbles.
The box also contained the very comprehensive instructions, and painting guide, along with a set of 1/192nd-scale plans, (very useful theyve been too). The other thing of interest was a note saying that WE were preparing an update for the kit replacing/improving various pieces already in the kit, this I signed up for, more of this later.
The kit went back in its box, and there it stayed for about 6 months as I tried to work out how to build the thing!
By the end of the afternoon I had the 4" mounts complete, along with the Pom Poms and the 0.5" Machine gun mounts. None of them were particularly difficult to do, the 4" guns have 2 resin components, and 2 PE sides, and build up in minutes. The Pom Poms take a bit longer, but are also straightforward. Apart that is from the ammo feed trays, these require to be folded, and without etched lines to assist the folding, the use of a steel ruler and a good pair of pliers is recommended. Once I had completed these units, I stuck them to a piece of balsa with double-sided tape, sprayed them, and left them to one side.
After I got home however I was faced with the problem of what to do next. My first stop was to buy some balsa wood to make a mount for the hull. Some old ship building hands recommended this to me, and I never regretted it for a moment. It ended up being a large plank of balsa, with the support blocks glued on. I was then lucky to get a word with Peter Hall, (who built the master the kit is based on), at the IPMS Nationals a couple of weeks later. He recommended I start in the middle of the kit, the boat deck, and work out and this is what I did.
Being used to airbrushing aircraft I found the return to brush painting, especially with the deck tan over the primmer grey of the hull a real pain. My lack of experience in shipbuilding was to blame here, coupled with a reluctance to use my airbrush in the early days. More on this topic later.
The next step is attaching the actual shelter deck itself to the main hull casting. This is that largest casting in the box apart from the hull, and detail wise its excellent. However the size of the casting does make it prone to warping. Something that WE themselves spotted, and to this end moulded in 2 large re-enforcement blocks underneath. These can be removed for a scale appearance, or left in. I selected the latter, and armed with my Dremel, dust mask and sander off I went. 10 minutes and a large pile of dust later I was ready to glue the deck down.
The overall fit of the deck, once I had removed some slight warping with hot water, was pretty good apart from a gap at the forward end of the deck. I tack fitted it with Cynao, and then worked round the outside with more Cynao and zap kicker to both set and fill at the same time. The net effect being that in 20 minutes or so the deck was in place. I spent the next 2-3 days filling and sanding the various joins but since that was the only filling required on the kit, I can live with it. The only effort I had in the filling was in the two curved extensions to the deck to support the forward 4" mounts. This is a fairly complex compound curve, and took a lot of work to get right. The resin used for the hull is very hard, (far harder than any other resin Ive used), and it takes a lot of sanding to shape to any extent.
The Bridge goes together rather like a wedding cake with a number of layers stacked on top of one another. There are really no serious problems here, other than cleaning up the stray resin, and filling the odd pinhole. I assembled the spotting top, but didnt attach it to the formast on a permanent basis, I simply added a small length of wire to the bottom of the Top, (so to speak), and drilled a hole in the top of the mast. This turned put to be a good idea as the upgrade kit replaces this whole are with new pieces. There are numerous ladders and railings to attach to the bridge. Beware of adding anything too fragile to the bridge before installing it on a permanent basis. I did, and I think I went through at least 4 sets of rails!
The after funnel attaches to a deckhouse, which then receives hatches, winches, and rails. I added these and then had a good look at the plans supplied with the kit. These clearly show doors, portholes, and other external details, including the intake vents. I added these, and then painted the assembly, and bridge. The remainder of the smaller units were also painted, secured to left over balsa with Blue Tack, and put to one side. I then returned to the hull with a vengeance!
I struggled through November and December adding a lot of other bits and pieces including the Degaussing strip. This should be added before any painting, and can be something of a pain to line up properly. Its also important to stick it down really well, as it has a tendency to catch on just about everything. I also added the aft mast with the loading boom. This is supplied as a series of resin parts. I drilled out the boat deck, and positioned everything carefully before any glue went near the pieces. The upper mast is supplied as a series of brass rods, which are cut to size from templates in the instructions. One nice touch is the inclusion of part of the after mast rigging as a PE piece, although 2 dimensional once painted it looks the part.
The other area that takes time and effort in fitting is the main loading boom, and its associated PE rigging. This is designed to be fitted at right angles to the main mast, and then the rigging is glued in place. My attempts to get this to work were only marginally successful first time I tried it. The trick seems to be to get the boom mounted at exactly 90 degrees, and then attach the rigging to the end of the boom, and only when set attach the blocks to the main mast. This way you have a fighting chance of the rigging looking taught.
I took a break from the ship over December and early January, (I had 3 Babylon 5 Star Furies to build). At the beginning of February I had reached the point when all the secondary weapons had been added, the bridge, funnels were in place, and I had started on the ships boats. At that point fate took a hand.
There had been one or two setbacks before, broken mast components etc, but nothing serious. However one Thursday evening, in late January a stack of boxes overlooking my work bench decided that gravity couldnt be defied any longer and they, along with some other bits and pieces, descend on to Hood, like a salvo of 15" shells. I swear Im not making this up, but that same day I had received the Tamiya Bismarck, (part of my birthday) and it was sitting a few feet away, and if its possible for a box to smirk, it was managing it.
When the dust had settled and I could move again, the damage was assessed, the rear mast was gone, history, little more than resin dust. All the 4" gun barrels were gone, the main director was minus the two arms, the two bridge .5" guns were gone, and the handrails round the boat deck were also gone. Also missing presumed lost were any happy thoughts I once had about the project.
The first thing I did was to remove most of the crappy paint Id laid on over the past months. This was prompted by a large section of primer on the after deck flaking off, after that, I added several applications of airbrush cleaner, and off the rest paint came. I did this on the quarterdeck, and foredeck, and 2/3rds of the hull. Once the cleaning up was complete, out came the airbrush!
This time the deck was sprayed then masked, and then the superstructure, barrettes etc were sprayed in turn. I had been very wary about spraying, with the problems of masking, and the precision required. However this time I started with the deck, and laid 2 decent coats on. Once dry, the deck was masked off, and barrettes sprayed. This proved to be a difficult masking job, with the various ventilators, etc protruding out from the barrettes. I managed this by using a lot of masking tape, and a brand new scalpel blade, oh, and a lot of patience. My obvious mistake of course being I should have painted the grey first, and then the deck, it being easier to mask. However being conditioned to painting aircraft with the rule of "Lightest colour first ", I got it wrong I suppose.
Airbrushing really is the only way to get a decent finish, however its application in ship modelling is still something Im working on!
The rear mast was re-constructed using aluminium tubing. I took the dimensions off the plans, and divided the measurements by 2. I had enough of the resin mast left to work out the diameter of the tubing required. The one resin piece I was able to salvage was the transition point where the two support arms join the mast upright. The net effect was that I had a strong and durable mask that wont crack! Actually one improvement Id suggest to the kit would be some tubing, and a details on making the mast up in the same way I did. I also built a new loading boom, (yup that got squished as well), this time in brass rod, and again there were problems getting the PE boom yards to look suitably taught.
While the paint stripper was working I started to work through the upgrade set itself.
The two starfish were built in an evening and added to the two masts. The hollow arms of the starfish add considerably to the look of the masts. The new turrets also look splendid. There are two platforms to add to X turret, (left over from the days when it had an aeroplane catapult). I added the 3" UP platform to B turret, and then sprayed them. The gun barrels were added, and then Blue Tack was added to represent the blast bags, these were pained white, and a black acrylic wash was run over them when dry.
I removed all the 4" mounts and replaced the gun barrels with telephone wire, cut to length, with the wire pulled out slightly to give a hollow look to the barrels, they looked better than the originals. They were re-installed, along with the Pom Poms and the new 3" UP launchers, supplied in the upgrade set. These odd devices were designed a rocket launchers to protect ships from low flying aircraft, but were unsuccessful in this role. The new launchers supplied in the set are little masterpieces with individual launcher tubes visible. Once painted and dry-brushed to bring out the detail, they look wonderful in place.
With the re-painting complete, I added back all the missing hatches, winches etc, and this time I managed to get the deck and superstructure paint join to look right. How, by scribing round the join, the paint naturally follows the gap, the result being a perfect join. It only took 4 months of work and a conversation with David Carter before I worked that trick out, (see what I mean about out of my depth).
The replacement PE panels for the after end of the boat deck were added, and carefully faired in, this takes a lot of effort, some careful filling, and a gentle hand on the wet and dry, (the brass is so thin it sands away faster than the resin or filler). These panels add a lot to the look of the ship, but are delicate and must be handled carefully. When attaching them remember a couple of points, A) roughen up the smooth side of the part, and the resin its being stuck to, b) make sure the glue is squeezed up to the edges of the panels. Its too easy to brush against the edge of the panels while working on something else, and tear the panel away from the hull, (yes I managed that!)
The update set includes a number of additional details to add to the bridge area such as semaphores and grills which go a long way to adding additional interest to this area. The new main director was added, (the update set has a two piece director, and this comes with two PE stays), the two piece design allows it to be posed at any angle to match the guns. I built the two replacement .5" mounts for the bridge these were added along with their handrails, and using the plans again, I added some inclined ladders and additional handrails to complete this area of the ship.
At this point the ships boats were started. There are a large number of boats on the Hood, ranging from the 45 cutter down to the 16 sailing dingy. All start their lives as resin shells, to which brass thwarts, oars rudders and all manner of other tiny PE pieces have to be fitted. I found the best approach was to treat each one as a miniature project in its own right, and work through them in a systematic manner.
The only real problem I encountered were the chocks securing the boats to the deck. These are built up from two parts with the chock and its deck mounting plate. Gluing these together is bad enough, but there are 2 sometimes 3 chocks per boat, (extra chocks are provided in the upgrade set), and the actual contact area for them to attach is tiny. My advice is to make small cut in the keel of each boat to allow the chocks to get a decent grip, and dry fit before attempting to glue.
One small splash of colour on the deck is the one of the 35 launches that should be painted in pre-war colours of blue and white to depict an admirals launch, that apparently was still carried up to its loss in 1941. These 35" launches have minute PE grab handles and propeller/rudder pieces to apply. Getting these cut out and added is perhaps the most difficult thing on the whole model. Again the upgrade kit supplies additional rudder assemblies, since these boats had 2 not one set as WE thought originally.
The final area that may cause problems with the boats are the two 32 cutters suspended on davits at the rear of the boat deck. The attachment areas on the davits are tiny, and this makes for a very delicate assembly. To get round this, I drilled two small holes in the boats and inserted the davit lines into them. Once ready the davits were glued onto the hull sides, and the boast rests, (very delicately) on the handrails, giving that extra element of support. Also added at this point were the two night life belt holders supplied in the upgrade set. These are two tiny cages that attach to the ship beside the 32 cutters, with their tiny resin life belts in place to complete an already beautifully detailed area of the ship.
Ill be going back over the boats soon to add wire over the boats to represent the lines securing the boats to the deck. I may also look at putting the odd tarpaulin over a boat or two. Thin paper crumpled up and held in place with PVA seems a logical way to go. Spending a lot of time on the ships boats is a very useful investment in time, as they occupy a substantial chunk of deck space, and any problems with them do tend to show up rather alarmingly, as Ive found to my cost.
With the painting and varnishing completed, (I used Aeromaster acrylic matt) to tone everything down, it was time to look at the rigging of the ship. The update set provides two antenna spreaders to be added to the DF shack on the after funnel deck house, and a spreader to be added to the spotting top/starfish. This latter piece comes complete with the insulators onto which the main radio aerials, which run between the main and after mast, are attached. The two spreaders attached to the DF shack require some thought, as their geometry isnt obvious, (at least to me initially).
The main problem with the large spreader added to the main mast is thats too flimsy in my opinion to handle the rigging wires without becoming damaged. I therefore added a small brass rod on top of the original yard to firm everything up. I then added the 7 wires from the main to rear mast made from invisible thread, tightened up using a warm match held close to the wire.
The remainder of the rigging began with the funnel stays. The plans provide good location points for these stays, and they were added from stretched sprue. Following this were the DF aerials. These take the form of a pyramid running from the DF shack up with two wires coming from the antenna spreaders. This was a bl**dy fiddly job, but again using sprue all went well.
The next to be rigged was the after mast. I first added the re-enforcing stays to the bottom arms of the starfish using telephone wire. Then the PE rigging for the yards was added, then sprue rigging running from the starfishs arms to the upper yards was put in place. This is a fiddly job, and really should be tackled slowly and carefully. I added a small platform at the bottom of the rear mast at this point. This platform is in plans and I scratch built it from some scrap brass sheet and come odds and ends. Its important to add this since its the termination points for some prominent lines.
Once the main fore and aft rigging was completed, I added some of the vertical radio (?) lines that run from the main and rear mast yards on to anchoring points on the main superstructure. These were made from stretched sprue again, altho somewhat finer than other lines. I couldnt hope to reproduce all the lines, so I contented myself with half a dozen per side to give an impression of what the rigging should look like.
The first thing to say is that the kit is a masterpiece, the resin casting is flawless where it matters, and the PE details are superb examples of design and execution. The instructions, both the original and those included with the update set are the best Ive seen. Id suggest very strongly that the update set is a real necessity in order to complete the model
Unlike me, most buyers of the kit will be experienced model ship builders, and so will have evolved building techniques that will avoid many of the problems I encountered, especially the perennial one of "What do I do next!" Paradoxically the Hood is a good kit for non shipbuilders to start with, (albeit an expensive one), since it has a limited superstructure, and little in the way of complex weapons, (compare its 3 2lb Pom Poms with the anti-aircraft weapons on a USN ship).
Building Hood is really an exercise in persistence, at times it feels less like building a replica, and more like laying siege to a particularly large and beautiful castle. Keep banging on the gates and eventually it will give its self up to you.
I havent mentioned reference sources at all so far, WE do list some of the more well known works, most being out of print unfortunately. I was lucky and was able to dig out the original "British Battleships 1900-1945 " from its original run in 1976. This plus the plan supplied are probably all you need to complete the kit. If however you want to take it further, and it will stand the addition of extra work, then have a word with Caroline or David when you order the kit, and theyll point you in the right direction.
Well I finished it, and I can look back on a project that challenged me like no other in my modelling career. Have I been put off, Hell No, Sheffield is on the way, and lurking further ahead is RN Fleet Carrier also in 1/350th who knows, maybe Force H will sail again!