The Royal Navy introduced the aircraft carrier during World War One. Although the type was new, many naval officers could envision the operational possibilities of striking an enemy fleet from well beyond the horizon. In the 1920s Japan and the United States also built small fledgling carriers with the Hosho and Langley as their first experiments in aircraft carriers. With the Washington Treaty of 1922 all three major naval powers moved some of their capital ship construction into conversions for aircraft carriers. The Royal Navy did this in a small way with a conversion of a slow battleship into HMS Eagle and conversion of the hybrids, Furious, Glorious and Courageous into full aircraft carriers. These were all smaller and less capable ships than the Japanese and American conversions. Japan converted an unfinished battleship and battle cruiser into the Kaga and Akagi, while the USN converted two unfinished battle cruisers into the Lexington and Saratoga . All three powers still had available tonnage for carrier construction for the rest of the decade but this period was used for experimentation with the existing ships as they entered service.

By the mid 1930s aircraft types had made such a great leap in performance that all three powers built new carriers designed from the keel up as aircraft carriers. All three built up to their maximum tonnage allowed under the 1930 London Treaty. Of the three, Japan went a step further. Although no more carriers were allowed under the treaty, other types of warships could still be built. The Japanese Navy clearly foresaw the possibility if not probability of war with the United States and to a lesser extent Great Britain and also recognized the importance of the aircraft carrier. A number of hulls for new construction were started and slated for different types of ships, such as fast fleet oilers or seaplane tenders, but were also designed to be relatively quickly converted into light aircraft carriers. With the lapse of international treaties and the coming of World War Two, most of these ships were indeed converted into aircraft carriers. 

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At the start of World War Two the Royal Navy desperately needed additional carriers, for convoy protection as much as for fleet duty. CAM ships could provide one shot protection by catapulting a single fighter to counter German aircraft but that was unattractive duty as the plane had to ditch when in ran out of fuel and rescue of the pirate was problematical. The answer came with merchant ship conversion into a new type of carrier, the CVE. Usually these were slow with a limited air complement but they were crucial in swinging the Battle of the Atlantic towards allied victory. They could also be used in the Pacific but that huge arena of combat also demanded fast carriers. Attrition was high among the fleet carriers of the USN in 1942. Lexington , Yorktown , Hornet and Wasp were all lost. Saratoga was a torpedo magnet and spent far more time under repair than in operations. At one point the operational carriers of the US Pacific Fleet consisted only of USS Enterprise. The Essex class fleet carriers would be coming on line in 1944 (as originally forecast) but these big carriers took time to build. There was, however, one other class of carrier that would come into service in 1943 to supplement the fleet until the mass of Essex class fleet carriers were ready. This was the Independence class of light carrier.

  The aircraft carrier had already proven its worth in service with the Royal Navy, especially the attack on Taranto , which immobilized the Italian fleet. However, the USN needed more carriers. The Hornet CV8 would not be completed until late 1941 and the Essex class was years in the future. The initial units of the class were ordered but at this time it appeared that they would not be available until 1944. The President wanted carriers before that time. 

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The Independence class light carrier owes its birth to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In early 1941 President Roosevelt was worried about the status of the United States Navy. Europe seemed firmly under control of Germany , as France had fallen the year before. The British continued to receive reversals and since Germany and the Soviet Union had a non-aggression pact, it seemed that there was no likely relief for the beleaguered island, other than the possibility of the United States . In the Pacific relations were steadily worsening with Japan . He insisted that the navy convert a number of cruiser hulls of the large Cleveland class light cruiser program into aircraft carriers. He looked at the construction program and noticed a huge number of Cleveland class light cruisers already under or slated for construction. Why not convert some of those to aircraft carriers? At first the admirals were against the idea but it was fortunate that the President had the foresight to insist upon the carrier conversion. When presented with the Presidentís plan, the Admirals found only difficulties with its implementation. The hulls were too narrow and since the bow sheer was pronounced, the hangar and flight deck would be too short. There would be difficulties in routing the stack trunks and the forward elevator would be too far aft because of the narrowness of the bow. However, President Roosevelt wanted new carriers and acceptable compromises were developed to overcome the problems. A small island was built outboard of the hull and instead of trunking all exhausts into one stack, exhaust ducts were run outboard and the four stacks supported with bracing. Thus the Independence class of light aircraft carriers was born. 

E & F Sprues
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The Independence class could steam at 32 knots and stay with the fleet. On a limited displacement of 10,000 tons the ships packed a very formidable air wing of 45 aircraft. This air complement was far more formidable than the numbers of aircraft that could be carried by the Japanese converted aircraft carriers and was at least equal to the striking power of most British full fleet carriers. Hull bulges were added to the cruiser hull for stability because the light carriers carried more weight higher on the ship than Cleveland class cruisers. Only a single H-IVC catapult was mounted and carried on the port side but in 1945 the surviving ships received a second catapult. Princeton CVL-23 was sunk at the Battle of Leyte Gulf after bomb damage detonated the shipís torpedo magazine.

Originally they were to use the standard CV nomenclature but due to their smaller size, they renamed light carriers CVL. Nine were ordered and converted from Cleveland class light cruiser hulls. All nine were commissioned in 1943 with USS Independence CVL-22 the first on January 1, 1943 and USS San Jacinto CVL-30 the last on December 15, 1943. The first two ships, Independence and Princeton had open mount 5-inch/38 at bow and stern but carried them for only six weeks when they were landed and replaced with quad Bofor mounts. They carried a composite air group that was customized depending upon the mission. Sometimes they carried only Hellcats to provide extra fighter protection for the Essex class and their strike aircraft. They carried TBM Avengers but when it came to dive bombers they only carried the Dauntless, as the Helldiver was too heavy to safely operate off their lighter, narrower and shorter decks. The flight deck was 525-feet long and 73-feet wide, which is far shorter and narrower than that of the Essex class, which measured 886-feet in length and 90-feet in width. The Admirals who opposed Rooseveltís original idea to convert Cleveland class cruiser hulls into aircraft carriers were right about the cruiser too narrow. It was the very narrow bow, which prevented a longer deck. As a consequence the forward edge of the flight deck ended far short of the bow giving the bow Bofors mount and wide field of fire when compared with the limited field of fire of bow mounts of the Essex class.

H & I Sprues
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The design did provide fast carriers on a comparatively light displacement and were very cramped because of their small size. However, in comparing the Independence class with Japanese light carrier designs, the USN CVL packed a very strong punch. Originally slated to carry 45 aircraft, the Independence could carry 40 in the hangar. Because of their high speed they served with the fast fleet units and were normally teamed with Essex class fleet carriers. Near the end of the war with a surplus of Essex class construction, they would sometimes serve to ferry aircraft with 40 in the hangar and 60 to 70 on deck. They had a limited future after the war, as they were simply a war time expedient. Originally slated to carry only fighters, they were to carry 48 F8F Bearcats and operate with the Essex and Midway classes, which would carry the attack aircraft. With budget cuts they were quickly removed from the fleet and placed in reserve status. 

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The Independence was completed with two 5-inch/38 guns, sixteen 40mm guns and ten 20mm guns. As the war progressed the Oerlikons disappeared in favor of more Bofors. By the end of the war all of the class mounted 26 or 28 40mm guns in twin and quadruple mounts. Independence was part of the carrier strike force used in the invasion of Tarawa . During this campaign she took a torpedo from a Japanese aircraft in November 1943 and spent half a year under repair. She rejoined the fleet and was with the other fast carriers throughout the rest of the war. After the war the Independence was part of the atomic bomb tests at Bikini atoll in 1946. She received minor damage as she was removed from the epicenter of the blast. Decommissioned in August 1946, she was used for weapons trials. In February 1951 she was used as a target and sunk. (History from: Aircraft Carriers of the World, 1914 to the Present, 1984, by Roger Chesneau )  

N, P Q,& S Sprues
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Dragon 1:350 Scale USS Independence

Finally modelers have there is an excellent 1:350 scale kit of the Independence class light aircraft carrier. The Essex class is no longer alone in the fast strike groups, as in most cases, an Essex strike group had an Independence class light carrier within the group. The Dragon Independence is a kit of options. Do you want to build it full hull or waterline? Do you want to build it as completed with 5-inch open mounts or with Bofor guns, as the ships appeared in their Pacific battles? What about the air complement?  Will the Hellcats and Avengers have folded or deployed wings, or both? There is no choice with the Dauntlesses, as their wings didnít fold. Which ever way you go, you wonít be disappointed.

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As mentioned, the hull can be completed full hull or waterline. Dragon provides a separate lower hull for those who prefer full hull. The upper hull displays their cruiser beginnings, with the bow sheer, squared off stern and lack of portholes. About the only protrusions or indentations on the hull sides are the anchor hawse, which are open so anchor chain can be passed through, and hull bulges. The lower hull has nice bilge keels but it is at the stern where the original cruiser design is most evident with the very narrow bow, centerline keel and angular stern. Donít expect the large deck of the Essex, as the flight decks of the Independence class were shorter and narrower. The two elevators positions are open with separate elevators, so they can be position raised or lowered. The model has only the single H-IVC catapult located on the port side, so the model is suitable for the ship from commissioning until early 1945 when a second catapult was mounted. The flight deck planking and tie down strips are very finely executed and ammunition elevators are present. Arrestor wires are molded on the deck along with the arrestor wire machinery at deck edges. The upper and lower hull and flight deck are only three of the 1300 parts provided in the kit. As with other Dragon kits the other parts are provided in alphabetical sprues.

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A and B sprues are more accessories than ships parts. Dragon has provided a few crewmen in their other 1:350 scale kits but they have increased the count to 18 with the Independence . Dragon also provides deck vehicles with four tow tractors in sprue A and two Jeeps with separate tires in sprue B. To round out the goodies are two types of tow bars. All of these parts are nicely done and the crewmen appear to scale, which is remarkable. Resin crew castings have always been finer than plastic crewmen in the past because of the limitations in molding plastic but Dragon has provided plastic crewmen as good as resin figures. There is undoubtedly a market for these figures if Dragon decided to sell them separately. D sprue is a big ticket item with the forecastle/hangar deck/quarter deck as a continuous deck, hangar bulkheads and lower hull parts. At the forecastle are open anchor hawse just as the exit hawse are open on the hull sides. This allows the modeler to run anchor chain along the anchor chain plates, through the deck hawse and out the hull hawse. You can portray the ships at anchor, with anchors raised or in the process of dropping/raising anchor. All in all, this is a very thoughtful touch by Dragon. The deck hawse fittings provide extra interest and other forecastle fittings such as open chocks and a deck coaming are separate parts. However there is a mystery, for which I still havenít found an answer. There are two openings, which I assumed were for windlasses to raise and lower the anchor and pass the chains through a curved fitting guide to the chain locker. However, in looking at the instructions, I couldnít find separate windlasses to fit in the holes. The windlasses have to be on a separate parts sprue but I did not find them in examining the sprues. Amidship wells are provided for placement of deck elevators lowered into the hangar. The short quarter has basically locator holes and inset for attaching the aft Bofors sponson. The other two main items are the hangar bulkheads which have detail on the outside but also inside, in the hangar. If you need a dose of portholes, youíll get it here with portholes with rigoles (eyebrows), piping, open hangar ventilation doors and even open access doors. This is in step with the Dragon policy of providing as many options as possible. You can choose with each of the many doors whether they will be open, closed, or anywhere in between. On the inbound or hangar side of the bulkhead you also get plenty of detail with support ribbing. Separate parts are provided on other sprues for the interior stack trunks, and various other bulkhead fittings.

Brass Photo-Etch
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Sprue E is the gallery and platform sprue. Here are all of the flight deck edge galleries with the gun tubs for the quadruple and twin Bofors mounts, as well as Oerlikon galleries and Mk 51 directors tubs. Youíll also find a series of rectangular tubs with exterior support ribs and the elevator support pillars. The main radar set/fittings parts are on this sprue but donít use the solid plastic radar parts. Dragon provides an optional brass photo-etch in the kit, which provides a far superior choice over the solid parts. Sprue F has a mixture of fittings. The four stacks with their support bracing, the deck elevators and the bow and stern platforms. The funnels have hand/foot rungs molded on them. The elevators have the same beautiful planking and tie down strips as provided on the flight deck. The hangar end bulkheads have door, piping and hand rung detail. Sprue H concentrates on the island with detailed bulkheads, including an open access door from flight deck to island. There is a detailed navigation deck for the top of the island and multiple parts for the lattice mast structure. There is an assortment of parts for other areas of the ship, such as twin bollard fittings for the deck edges or cable reels for the aft gallery. The plastic aircraft crane is remarkably open instead of the solid cranes almost always found in plastic kits, although I would still prefer using brass photo-etch for equipment such as cranes. Sprue I is a mishmash of various parts such as life buoys, bulkhead fittings, open funnel caps and grates, stack brackets, hangar fittings, and fire hoses. Likewise sprue J carries various common USN equipment and fittings, such as the carley rafts, floater net racks with the net inside, closed deck edge chocks, twin bollard settings and search/signal lights.

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The two K sprues provided detailed parts for the open 5-inch/38 guns if the as commissioned fit is used, as well as shipís boats. There are multiple L sprues with a single L sprue that has the stern hull sponson and tub for the Bofors stern mount. There are three L sprues for Oerlikons. The multiple parts Oerlikons are superb, which I would choose over brass Oerlikons. The detail and proportions look right and you get the three dimensions that you donít get with photo-etch Oerlikons. Parts include separate pedestal, mount, gun shield, and ammunition drum, with the photo-etch fret supplying training wheel, shoulder rests and center line sight. It doesnít get any better than that. M sprue has bow and stern platforms. It also includes the unique bow Bofors position. There are four N sprues, which concentrate on Mk 51 directors. Each N sprue has four two part directors with the pedestal and sighting equipment as separate parts. Have you ever seen a multi-part Mk 51 in any other 1:350 scale kit? P and Q sprues are all Bofors parts. As with the Oerlikons, Dragon has done a superb job with the Bofors. With anti-flash suppressers at the muzzle, recoil cover and loading mechanism, they are top drawer. Dragon also provides a stand and pedestals for mounting the full hull version, although it is more than likely, it wonít be used by most modelers.

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Eighteen aircraft are provided. Six SBD Douglas Dauntless, three F6F Grumman Hellcats with wings folded, three F6F Grumman Hellcats with deployed wings, three TBM Grumman/Martin Avengers with wings folded and three TBM Grumman/Martin Avengers with wings deployed are included. With 18 aircraft, plus Jeeps and tow tractors, you can have a crowded deck right out of the box. Each aircraft is highly detail. As an example the deployed wing F6F has 22 separate parts including centerline belly tanks and bombs. Three full photo-etch brass frets are provided by Dragon. The largest of the frets contains railing but youíll find the brass parts, which will replace plastic parts in the kit. Always go with the brass. These parts include radar parts and LSO safety net. Other parts are anchor chain, various support braces and inclined ladders without handrails. Another fret concentrates on hangar bulkhead details with relief etched segmented sliding hangar ventilation door and personnel access doors with dog detail. The third fret provides the very delicate and small parts AA parts such as the Oerlikon hand wheel, shoulder mount and gun sight. Bofors mounts get the gun shield, sights, gunnersí seats and control device.

Art Work
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Two decal sheets are provided. The large one provides the Independence deck numbers with optional white and yellow deck markings. Aircraft markings come with red or white outlines. The red outline was only used for a short period in 1943. The second decal sheet is small and has generic flag detail. The instructions are well done, although I still have not found reference on the instructions or parts for the anchor windlasses. As usual it is one large piece of paper folded into pages and back printed. Page one has a sprue and parts laydown, Page two has a paint guide and step 1 in the assembly sequence with modules in assembling 5-inch, twin Bofors, quad Bofors, Oerlikons, Mk-51 directors and each of the four funnels. Page three has assembly step 2 with modules on assembly of the crane, radar, lattice mast and islands. Pages four as well as five contain assembly steps 3 & 4 with modules on lower hull running gear, stern platform & sponson, bow platforms and gun mounting options, boat positions, as well as the big ticket hull, deck and bulkhead assembly. Page six contains assembly steps 5 & 6 for radar platform and gallery and hangar bulkhead detail assembly. Page seven has assembly steps 7 & 8. It finishes with the gallery and bulkhead detail. Page eight has aircraft assembly as well as finishing touches on the ship. The last two pages contain a painting guide for Independence from September and November 1943, as well as aircraft painting.

Art Work
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brings all the detail found in their 1:350 scale destroyer kits to the big time with their USS Independence CVL-22 1:350 scale aircraft carrier. The kit is loaded with options throughout assembly from fit to aircraft complement. With outstanding execution of plastic parts and optional brass parts provided for equipment, which plastic canít adequately capture, the Dragon Independence covers all of the bases.