The Fujimi 1/700 waterline kits of the Lexington Class carriers are often criticized and their shortcomings have been explained many times on the Steelnavy Message Board. This article is for those of us not too technically inclined but want to know how to make these old molds a little better. First, a little model history.
In the late forties, the plastic revolution was underway and companies like Strombecker and Monogram began switching from wood to plastic and new companies like Aurora jumped on the plastic bandwagon. These releases were very basic. Sometimes the outlines were not correct and the details were usually horrible. Constant scales were abandoned as manufacturers were only concerned about which subject would sell and how big their box was. The usual claim on the box top was "14 inches long"! There were some common scales for instance Aurora’s Enterprise was 1/600 and later Renwal’s wonderful constant 1/500 scale. All of this is to say that ship modelers took whatever they could get!
About this time in Japan, a new constant scale of 1/700 was hitting the market. Those of us used to 1/400 - 1/500 scale ships, thought this smaller scale seemed absurd, and surely it was because the Japanese simply had very small houses! The first Japanese kits arrived in bag form in funky translucent plastic with only a "blueprint" which had a side & overhead view as instructions. But the Japanese kept cranking them out and pretty soon we ship modelers realized they had more World War II ship subjects then any other source.
Then along came the Fujimi 1/700 Saratoga and Lexington. This was the final straw for many of us. The box-art clearly showed the Saratoga with twin 5" mounts. This was unheard of accuracy in ship models to that date! A manufacturer actually cared about historically accurate configurations! This is how I bought my first 1/700 kit after years of ignorance. When I opened it I was overwhelmed. The armament detail was actually better than many of my larger "box-scale" models. I was totally hooked and started buying every 1/700 kit in sight!
Now, 30 years later, we ship modelers are totally (but rightfully) spoiled. Our wonderful Fujimi kits are actually horribly flawed. Around the time they were released, the Breyer's book on battleships was considered the last word in reference books. If you look at the illustrations provided for the Lexington aircraft carrier conversions provided by Breyer you could see where Fujimi might have referenced their models. Let’s look at the waterline first. Below is the Breyer’s drawing of the battlecruiser hull and his drawing of the Saratoga aircraft carrier hull.
Whoops, what happened to those graceful lines? Any manufacturer will tell you that drawings are nice but pictures are an essential part of making any model. These ships were CONVERTED from the battlecruiser hulls, therefore the waterline was necessarily that of the original battlecruiser. Reference books like Squadron’s "In Action" series or Classic Warship’s wonderful pictorial series are invaluable. This picture below is taken from Squadron’s book, and shows the ship at in the noonday sun. The shadow line clearly indicates how the battlecruiser lines were flared out and up to match the deck. The sheer line from the stern to mid-point is consistent at about 12 feet above the waterline, then it slants upward toward the bow.
It is the lack of the beautiful battlecruiser waterline which is Fujimi’s greatest flaw. When viewed from the side, their model is not too bad, but it hardly captures the real carrier. Below is a cropped shot of the Lexington’s bow from Robert Stern’s book The Lexington Class Carriers, again you can see the massive flare at the bows and the narrow hull lines near the waterline. Cure? Wait for a new release or fill the hull with Bondo and sand like hell!
The hull is not the only graceful thing about the Lexingtons. Their funnels were much more aerodynamic than portrayed by Fujimi. The scan of the Fujimi part below is next to drawing cropped from Friedman’s book, U.S. Aircraft Carriers. The funnel is more air-foiled shaped and is tapered toward the top. Also the funnel is not immediately behind the superstructure but slightly offset as seen in this cropped picture from Stern’s Lexington book. This is not too noticeable but it should be corrected.
More grievous than that, is Fujimi's failure to cut the Saratoga's funnel height down to correctly represent that configuration. Breyer's book also has this mistake in funnel height. The Saratoga's funnel was cut down to help offset the additional topside weight caused by the increase in anti-aircraft weapons. The comparisons below are cropped from correct drawings in Squadron's book. Note the catwalk between the funnel and bridge.
The funnel cap was also changed during this modification. The cropped picture is from Classic Warship. It looks nothing like Fujimi’s! Note how the funnel cap is rounded downward.
Additionally in both the LEX and SARA, the bridge superstructure was not square toward the stern. Look at this cropped picture (Fig. 8) from Classic Warship’s book and you can clearly see the ship designer’s concern for airflow over the deck (also see Fig.5 above). The Saratoga kit has the correct taller bridge but the upper platform is not correct as shown by this cropped Classic Warship picture.
Now the deck! The Fujimi’s deck represents the Lexington’s from 1936 until sunk. Saratoga’s deck was finally widened by August of 1941. Unfortunately for Fujimi, the afterdeck was also changed and lengthened at this time, so the Saratoga kit’s deck is it not accurate. Given the shortcomings of the battlecruiser hull mistake, the most accurate representation possible with Fujimi kit would be the early war Lexington. Below are some hand drawings to illustrate the deck changes.
The other major flaw in the Saratoga model was the huge torpedo bulge which was added shortly after she was torpedoed in January of 1942. This bulge was much bigger on the starboard side to offset the weight of the island, funnel, the twin 5" mounts and other AA increases. The Lexingtons always had stability problems because of their slim battlecruiser lines and often had to shift fluids to keep the ship trimmed. The bulge was so large on the starboard side that it had a permanent railing and was used as a platform for many operations like refueling. The lack of this bulge and the subsequent sealing of some portholes make the Fujimi Saratoga’s hull all but worthless. The cropped picture of the starboard bulge below is from Stern’s book.
Well, I could go on and on, but this is supposed to be simple. The prewar deck and detail are also different and almost impossible to recreate from the Fujimi kits without replacing the entire first 3 inches of the bow.
Some other prominent notes are:
1. Originally there was a flywheel catapult track for wheeled seaplane dollies. This was removed early on and both ships entered the war without catapults.
2. The "T" shaped hanger only has an elevator in the forward portion. The base of the "T" is actually just two unequal size hatches that swing down to allow larger aircraft to be struck below deck.3. Lexington had a small forward funnel cap when the war broke out.
4. In early 1944, Saratoga was fitted with two catapults and her bow arresting gear was removed. Bow landing capability was the initial reason to widen the deck at the bow.5. In late 1944, both the Enterprise and the Saratoga were fitted with small rectangular decks just aft of mid-point on the port side. I assume these small fixed decks were for aircraft or ordinance "over-the-side" disposal.
6. In Saratoga’s last configuration as a training carrier, her aft elevator was removed and classrooms were built in the hanger.
7. This class originally had no catwalks but rather had deck edge folding nets, which were often in the up position and then swung down to about a 20 degree angle for flight operations. The deck edge went to the hull edge so it was short walk to a long fall without these. Saratoga eventually replaced most of these with narrow catwalks.
8. Actual island and funnel configuration varied greatly and one must consult pictures for the timeframe of their model. Always refer to pictures!!
9. Degaussing coils are not represented in either model.
10. The rectangular ventilation openings on the side of the hull had a steel shutter that could be raised from the bottom up. Often these openings looked half-open or closed because of these shutters. Page 42 of the Classic Warship book illustrates this.
I hope this helps some of you who still have questions about these dated kits. Perhaps the reported new releases both in 1/350 and hopefully in 1/700 will correct these flaws.
I was considering producing a simple late-war Saratoga 1/700 upgrade for the Fujimi kit. This will include new resin parts of a bridge of the correct shape, a corrected funnel, good twin 5" mounts, the small rectangular port-side deck and a "plug" for the rear deck. Resin bulges made to fit the incorrect Fujimi hull would also be provided. Later, possibly a photo-etched fret will be made to include the deck-edge nets, some funnel platforms, radars and the newer catwalks. If you are interested please let me know.
Bibliography:Battleships and Battlecruisers, 1905-1970 by Siegfried Breyer, English version printed by Doubleday. U.S. Aircraft Carriers in action Part 1 (Warships Number 5) by Robert Stern printed by Squadron/Signal Publications. Warship Pictorial 11, Lexington Class Carriers by Steve Wiper printed by Classic Warships Publishing. The Lexington Class Carriers by Robert C. Stern printed by The Naval Institute Press. U.S. Aircraft Carriers, An Illustrated Design History by Norman Friedman printed by The Naval Institute Press.