"I Like Ike" The year 1959 was the last full year of the Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Further it was the year in which the tail fins of automobiles manufactured in the United States reached its pinnacle with those monoliths of modernity on the 1959 Cadillac line. Throughout the United States television had rapidly spread until the majority of households had one. Earlier, I still remember my mom talking to my dad about whether my brother and I should be allowed to watch Bonanza, as she was concerned that there was too much violence on that show. Of course Bonanza was one of the more peaceful westerns on television at that time. My favorite was Gunsmoke with Matt Dillon, Miss Kitty and Doc. Although Gunsmoke was mainstream, there were two more westerns that were probably more violent, Wanted Dead or Alive with Steve McQueen, portraying a bounty hunter armed with the cool Mare’s Leg, a sawed off rifle, and Have Gun, Will Travel, which was the most iconoclastic of the shows. That show featured an urbane, the black clad mercenary, Paladin, played beautifully by Richard Boone.
Now that we are in the 21st century it is popular for some to make light of the 1950s as the Ozzie and Harriet era. Those detractors are more likely than not, individuals that were born later. In the naval modeling world, the 1950s was the decade of birth of the injected plastic warship. Modern modelers may make fun of the creations of that era, as they look at the comparative lack of features and the liberties with which kit designers took for their releases, but unless you were a young modeler in that era, you will never understand the wonder of opening a new ship kit for the first time. New plastic warship kits were few and far between. Revell of Venice, California led the way but Revell only released kits of USN subjects. Renwal produced the their kits later but they too only had kits on USN subjects. On Long Island, in the town of West Hempsted, New York, there was another American company that took a different approach. This was Aurora, which marketed a whole series of different models under the Famous Fighters line. Aurora had also started earlier in the decade with a line of aircraft that were simplistic in the extreme. They had the heads of the pilots molded to the fuselage and had huge raised rivets all over them. Any collection of these models resembled a ward of pox victims. They had two benefits, their bright colors and their cheap price, both of which appealed to younger kids with small allowances. One characteristic of the Aurora aircraft lineup was their diversity. While Revell put out relatively detailed aircraft, their line was mostly limited to US aircraft. Not so with Aurora. They had bright red Messerschmidt 109s, blue metallic Spitfires, yellow zeros, green metallic MiGs and black FW-190s. Their kits might be rot-gut efforts but they covered aircraft not found from other US manufacturers.
In the same vein, Aurora became the producer of exotic ship kits. They had their own Iowa, St. Paul, Forrestal and Fletcher, not to mention that most curious of all creations, the USS Halford. The Halford box top showed a catapult equipped Fletcher but clearly the Aurora designers were liquored-up when they produced this oddity. The kit looked like nothing ever built. With a Sumner/Gearing superstructure, the model featured four twin 5-inch gun mounts, plus the catapult. When it came to USN subjects, Aurora clearly trailed Revell, but like Avis to Hertz, they tried harder. Aurora went after the market for exotic foreign warships. By definition any model of a ship from any navy other than the USN was exotic. One of these exotics was the 1959 release of HMS King George V. It is said to be in 1:600 scale but the box didn’t state scale. Imagine that you have never seen any model of the KGV. How would you react to first seeing replicas of those quad 14-inch gun turrets? It truly was an exotic creature. With this 1959 release the Aurora King George V was probably the first major kit ever produced of this class. I don’t know when the 1:1200 Eaglewall kits made their appearance in the UK but the Aurora KGV came before the Airfix or Revell versions or the Pyro US market releases from Eaglewall.
Imagine if you will, that you are a young modeler and all you have seen are the Revell kits. All USN numerous flat-bottomed ships. Then here is a British battleship from Aurora. Wow!! Look at those four gun turrets! What power! With the advantage of half a century of half a century of styrene plastic warship kits now behind us, not to mention the resin creations, it is easy to find inaccuracies with the 1959 Aurora KGV. However, in 1959 what was out there with which to compare it? Nothing. It was new. It was exciting. It wasn’t another rope-a-dope Revell Missouri with new box art. Aurora was innovative.
Some may question the accuracy of the armor belt molded on the sides of this KGV. I will concede that it looks more like a 20-foot wide belt of solid steel and might more appropriately be entitled a torpedo blister. Looking at the width of this belt, one has to wonder how the Prince of Wales could have been sunk. Still, what other kit in 1959 actually showed an armor belt of any type? Sure the port holes are large enough, through which to drive one of the towering 59 Caddys. Big deal, Aurora actually put portholes on the molding to add detail. What about bilge keels? The Aurora KGV has them, even though they are thick enough to be main structural support columns for the Sears Tower. Still, do you remember any other manufacturers’ kits that came with bilge keels?
As you look at the kit now, it is easy to call it a dog and a pig because of the tremendous extent to which the hobby had advanced but in 1959 the kit was as soaring as the fins of that year’s Caddy. Totally unique it was, as not only was it the only KGV around but it was not an USN subject. Only Aurora went down the path to diversity. Two other kits produced by that year by Aurora were the Graf Spee and German raider Atlantis. What other battleship kits were available for eager naval modelers in that year? The oldest was the various incarnations of the Revell Missouri. This was the oldest of the kits and it showed it . If you have never had this kit it featured blobs in the form of crosses molded on the deck, which represented the 20mm Oerlikons with gun shields. Of course the Revell Arizona had already been released and that kit was one of the best, if not the best, kit available in 1959. However, the Arizona did not have AA guns. With the Aurora King George V, the kits designers obviously wanted to produce a model with a lot of guns. They chose to create a late war version of the kit but of course no kids would know that ships had different fits during their careers. But any kid could count guns and the Aurora KGV was festooned with guns. If you look at the photographs of the KGV with major parts dry-fitted you will notice that it is festooned with turrets.
Look at the photographs of the deck. There are fittings all over the place and considering the age, the detail has held up well. Bollards, anchor chain, windlasses, boat chocks, hatches and fittings are abundant. No slick decks here! The tower bridge has plenty of windows and doors through which you may marshal you Royal Navy fleet. So different and exciting from the Missouri pabulum from Revell. Aurora even had its own version of Aztec steps before Airfix made that fixture famous. This KGV even has cables molded into the superstructure sides. Sure the stack gratings are oversize and look like waffle irons. However, the grate grid was open, not the solid caps provided by Revell. Does Aurora get credit for these innovations? Of course not, Aurora is only met with derision, sneers, and scorn. With the passage of 50 years, modelers today only compare these ancient kits with today’s yardstick of accuracy. One thing that can not be duplicated is the pure visceral impact of seeing a new warship model of a strange and wonderfully fresh configuration. As the saying goes’ "You had to be there."
Remember, for Boy Admirals of 1959 guns mattered. Aircraft and submarines were for sissies and younger brothers. Sure, your next door neighbor Sallie might build an aircraft carrier to go with her doll house, but you could bet your bottom cherry bomb that sniveling Johnny would not be constructing those estrogen extravaganzas. No, sniveling Johnny would be building a towering testosterone colossus armed with big guns. We all know what feminists would say about that proclivity but so be it! Guns were where it was at! Boy Howdy! The Aurora King George V packed the goods where it mattered. Not only did you get four gun turrets, which surely were better than the three gun turrets in the Revell battleships, but there were more guns. Gun mounts covered almost every surface of the Aurora KGV.
Lets contrast the design philosophy between Aurora and Revell. Granted, the Revell Missouri is five years older than the Aurora KGV, but contrasting the models does illustrate the difference in philosophy. Take AA guns as an example. Revell tried to model the 20mm Oerlikons and came out with cross shaped blobs on the deck. There was no way Boy Admirals could equate those blobs to guns. Aurora chose a different path. If scale representation of AA guns made the parts appear wimpy, to Hell with them. If boy modelers want guns, lets give them guns and plenty of them. Guns require turrets, so lets put everything in turrets. The 5.25-inch secondary gun turrets look cool, so instead of trying to get the pom-pom mounts right, give them smaller versions of those turrets. The pom-pom mounts are not unrecognizable blobs trying to portray eight barrel AA guns but are manly turrets with real guns fit to lie in line of battle. Remember, in the 1959 world of Boy Admirals AA was for Auntie Alice. It made a huge impact that there were turrets everywhere. Turrets at every level, turrets on decks, turrets on platforms, even turrets on turrets. What power! Not only does the Aurora KGV have ten main guns compared to the Revell Missouri’ s nine main guns but the Aurora KGV has 20 other, smaller turrets, compared to the 10 smaller turrets with the Missouri. Twice the firepower with Aurora! Even the Aurora attempts to show AA guns put the ordnance in futuristic turrets. At bow and stern are what the Aurora instructions call 40mm guns. The Aurora KGV portrays them in a futuristic bubble design. Accurate? Of course not but how appropriate in this age of Ike, at the pinnacle of excessive automotive design. In this age of sky-scrapping fins and bulbous tail lights, the Aurora KGV appeared as modern and fresh as the newest Cadillac.
Most kids didn’t know what those blobish crosses represented on the Revell kit, although it was vaguely supposed to be guns. There were no such doubts with this Aurora kit. There are little turrets at the bow. There are little turrets at the stern. There are medium turrets all over the superstructure. Any kid could count those turrets and be assured that his allowance or bottle deposit money was buying overwhelming firepower with all of those guns. Another high point was that all of this armament was in the form of separate parts, unlike the Revell Missouri with their blobs of Oerlikons. For any battleship gun power was everything and the more turrets the better. Not only was the KGV covered with turrets but it was easy to imagine the raw latent power of the two quadruple main gun turrets. With four guns rather than three in the Iowas or in the Arizona, the four gun turrets guaranteed that you could pound your neighbor, Sniviling Johnny’s fleet to splinters.
Shown here is the 1962 reincarnation of the kit. The kit and instructions were not changed for this release. The sole difference between the original 1959 Aurora King George V and this 1962 version is the box art. The 1962 release has better box art and apparently was Aurora’s emulation of the tried and true Revell practice of reboxing old kits with new box art in order to entice the unwary kid modeler that this was a new kit. However, this practice was very effective, as I personally can attest.
All hail Aurora! Truly in many ways Aurora was a company ahead of its time. They dared to be different. They dared to produce strange, exotic, foreign, alien designs. So what if they were sometimes a little short of accuracy. Aurora and 1959, an exciting new frontier with boundless opportunities. Picture yourself tooling down to the malt shop in your fire-engine red Cadillac convertible with snow white interior, clutching the futuristic Aurora KGV. It is only a dream now but what a dream!