The end of the 15th Century was the beginning of the age of exploration. At first it was Spain and Portugal that expanded by sea. The Spanish were in for conquest and gold but for Portugal it was largely a different motive. Sure they would get gold if they could find and take it, but for the most part it was to expand their trade network. Their goal was to establish a sea route to China , so they could import exotic eastern goods to Europe . They rounded Africa and continued into the Indian Ocean . The established trading ports along the way and were on their way to establishing the first commercial empire.

England was late to the game. The raids of the English Seahawks on Spanish shipping, as well as the religious differences, prompted the plan to invade England using the Armada to transport a Spanish army in the Netherlands across the North Sea for the invasion. That was in 1588 but another 15 years were to pass before the English founded their first permanent colony at Jamestown , Virginia . From that founding at the dawn of the 17th Century, no country built a greater overseas empire than Great Britain . Sure it was exploitation but that was not new to mankind, east or west. English Mercantilism involved importing raw materials from the colonies, use those materials to construct products, and then export those products back to the colonies for more raw materials, as well as money and luxury goods. In the following two centuries the British Empire expanded across the globe with an English presence on every Ocean and Sea. The 19th Century was the height of colonialism but with the coming of steam more ports were needed to store coal to feed the boilers of the merchant ships.

Great Britain developed to preeminent navy of the world, not especially to attack rivals, but to guarantee the safety of their merchant ships on the long trade routes. In the late 19th Century the French developed a plan to attack Great Britain not through fleet engagement but through attacking the British Achillesí heel, their commerce. With the rise of the German Navy at the start of the 20th Century, they too adopted the same commerce attack theory but through the submarine. In World War One it was the German U-Boat flotillas, not their expensive High Seas Fleet that almost shut down the British factories by taking away their flow of raw materials. Cargo ship losses were huge and construction of new merchant ships competed against new warship construction.

The sinews and strength of the British Empire was not the Grand Fleet with household names like Lion, Iron Duke and Queen Elizabeth but the British commercial fleet. Some of these ships were glamorous like Mauritania and Olympic but those were the fast liners. The vast bulk were cargo ships built in the 100s. No one knew their names. They toiled in anonymity and yet were more at risk to destruction and their crews to death than any of His Majesties ships. To make up for their huge losses 100s of new cargo ships had to be built. Collectively they were the British Tramp Steamers, found on any Ocean and carrying any type of material or goods. (The labels should state British Tramp Steamer, not British Trap Steamer)

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There were numerous yards that built these ugly ducklings, since they certainly lacked the beautiful lines of a warship. While the big yards of the Royal Dockyards, Armstrong and Vickers built warships, lesser known firms built the bulk of the cargo ships. One of these firms was Richardson, Duck and Co. They designed a class of single funnel cargo ships whose primary assets was their cargo holds and comparative cheapness in construction. After all, quantity not quality was the main consideration. Some of these freighters were given belligerent names in keeping with their 1918 construction and launching. Most had very checkered careers, serving under multiple flags and names. Two almost mirrored each others careers. War Vulture was completed in June 1918 and War Ostrich was completed in August 1918. Both survived World War One and were renamed losing their War Birds monikers and acquiring more pacific names with War Vulture becoming SS Bradavon and War Ostrich becoming SS Cutcombe. Both were to change names another time as both were at Hong Kong in December 1941 and were captured by the Japanese. Bradavon, ne War Vulture, then became Shinkyo Maru and Cutcombe, ne War Ostrich, became Gyokuyo Maru. There twin paths continued throughout the following years, shuttling back and forth from China or Indonesia, bringing back raw materials or food to the Home Islands. Designed to survive the Kaiserís unrestricted submarine warfare of the First World War, they were not as lucky against the USN submarine campaign against Imperial Japan. Both were sunk by US submarines in 1944.

Another one of the ugly ducklings from RDuckCo (sorry, I couldnít resist the name play with ugly duckling) was SS Wentworth III. Like her sisters listed above she escaped the Kaiserís U-Boats but was not captured by the Japanese. She went back to her World War One role of participating in convoys but this time running the gauntlet of a new German U-Boat offensive. This time she did not survive. In May 1943 she was part of convoy ONS-5 when on May 5 the U-358 sent her to the bottom.

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Battlefleet Models SS Wentworth III
I always thought that Loose Cannon Models was king of the oddball model, producing kits of lesser known warships and auxiliaries. However, Loose Cannon has lost its crown for the odd and unusual to Battlefleet Models. After all Loose Cannon does produce warship kits, along with auxiliaries and merchants, but the motto at Battlefleet Models is ďWhere your auxiliary fleet comes in.Ē There are no fast, pretty front line warships at Battlefleet but just the slow, plodding auxiliary, transport and tramp. The captain of the cargo ship in the film/play Mr. Roberts, played by James Cagney, would appreciate the Battlefleet lineup, as there are no sleek destroyers coveted by the Henry Fonda character but only the riders of the pine, those that cruised from monotony to tedium. However, that really is not true, as shown by this model, as merchant ships were prime targets for destruction. Thanks to Battlefleet you can build your own RDuckCo ugly duckling with the multimedia kit of SS Wentworth III. 

The Battlefleet 1:700 scale SS Wentworth III contains resin and brass parts for the ugly duckling of your choice. There is no fancy box art, as the modelís box does double duty as the shipping box with the modelís label on one end, totally in keeping with the flat utility of purpose of the cargo ship.  Resin casting is very good with no breakage or voids. Battlefleet provides brass rods for mast, yards, cargo booms and other features and Tomís Modelworks brass railing. There was no warp to the hull or smaller resin parts. The resin castings are extremely clean with no flash. Smaller parts need to be removed from casting blocks or resin sheets. The Wentworth III hull shows the features of a World War One era freighter with straight cutwater, over-hanging stern, raised forecastle, admidship superstructure and quarter deck.

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Battlefleet provides good, solid detail, more steak and potatoes than lobster Newburg. The hull is slab sided with minimal curves, except at the stern. At the raised bow with vertical cutwater are hull anchor hawse fittings midway on each side of the hull. A horizontal strake runs the length of the hull from the cutwater to the inward slanting stern. With a cargo ship there are no long lines of portholes. This is a working ship, not one catering to pampered tourists. What little grace to the design is found at the stern where the model reflects the rising curved stern of merchant ships, as well as passenger liners, built in this time period. At waterline is the upper part of the rudder, another common feature of the time.

Deck features can be listed under five categories, raised forecastle, lower forward cargo deck, raised amidship superstructure deck, lower aft cargo deck and raised quarterdeck. Wood plank detail is found on the forecastle and quarterdeck but not amidship or the cargo decks, which were steel. There are no butt ends to the wood panels. The forecastle is dominated by nice windlass equipment as well as the anchor chain plates. The cargo decks are almost identical with curving solid bulkheads running from the higher decks to the cargo decks but no bulkhead running along the cargo decks. Each cargo deck has two cargo hold opening coamings with slat detail. Presumably they could be opened to provide for the contents of the cargo holds. On each cargo deck, between the hold coamings is a small deckhouse which serve as the base for the masts and cargo handling booms. Amidship, the deck rises again for the shipís superstructure, which found at the beginning and end of this deck. In between these two areas is found cast on equipment and skylight, presumably for the engine room. The raised quarterdeck has a small deckhouse at the very stern. Basic access door detail is found on the forecastle and quarterdeck bulkheads.

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Smaller resin parts come on eight runners/casting blocks, four resin sheets and six separate parts, which are not on runner or sheet. These later parts are for the superstructure, superstructure decks lower masts. The superstructure parts have basic porthole and access door detail with a raised door fitting but no dog/handle detail. The two superstructure decks have the same wood planking detail as found on the forecastle and quarterdeck. The forward superstructure deck contains the pilot house, while the aft superstructure deck has another skylight. Both have raised shipís boats positions. The lower masts need some clean up, as unlike the other smaller parts, there is a minor amount of flash. The single funnel is cast on a large resin block, which is best removed by a Dremmel sanding wheel. The funnel has a single steam pipe and three reinforcing bands. The reinforcing bands appear a trifle over-scale.

Two resin sheets contain the numerous cargo deck windlasses with base plates. Two other sheets contain J-cowl ventilators, each with two medium and four small ventilators. More of these cowlings of different pattern are found cast on resin runners. One contains two very tall cowlings, another has six large ventilators and a third has six very small ventilators. Other runners have the anchors, twin bollard fittings and shipís boats. Four runs of Toms Modelworks two bar railing is provided with a bottom scupper. The railing is found forecastle, superstructure and quarterdeck. The instructions are basic and comprise four single sided sheets. Page one is a profile and history. Page two has basic instructions. Page three lists the parts. Page four shows assembly by deck with one plan for the cargo decks and separate plans for forecastle, quarterdeck, amidshipís deck and both superstructure decks. No fancy pants instructions here but usable.

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If an ugly duckling tramp from RDuckCo is your hunger, Battlefleet Models has your meal with their 1:700 scale model of SS Wentworth III 1918 multimedia British Tramp Steamer. Nothing fancy, the model is a good, solid model of a working slow speed cargo ship.