The German battleship Bismarck hardly needs an introduction. Even people who are clueless about the strengths and weaknesses of warships, know of, if not about the Bismarck. One acquaintance who knew that I had some knowledge of warships, told me that he knew the best warships ever constructed were the Bismarck and Prince George. "Prince George?" I said. "There was a British predreadnought by that name but it certainly wasn't one of the best ships ever built." Sure there was, he said, it was the ship with the Bismarck. I then explained that the ship's name was Prinz Eugen and that as a cruiser, it could hardly compare in fighting power to a battleship. It comes as no surprise that many believe that the Bismarck was some sort of super ship. Although the Bismarck was a good design, she had many design flaws and was hardly the best ever built. Under gunned for her size, she certainly could absorb punishment but the minute she lost her guns, she was no more than a punching bag. She was dead meat, road kill, just absorbing round after round until she succumbed.
It may come as a surprise to some but the Bismarck/Tirpitz has been included in Antony Preston's The World's Worst Warships. The Bismarck was not one of the worst warships but was included because its power was magnified by German and British well beyond actual capability. The design was started in 1933 and used the 1914 Bayern design as a starting point. Using a 20 year old design as the base line for a new battleship design is hardly a recipe for success. The Bismarck had an inherently weak stern and the inclusion of a low angle 5.9-inch secondary and 3.9-inch tertiary guns, instead of one DP gun system took up deck space and imposed a weight penalty. The armored deck was too low, so hydraulic lines to turrets were not behind armor and were damaged early in the combat with KGV and Rodney. With no power the guns were silenced. And yet today it doesn't matter what her weaknesses were in reality, Bismarck will be a Norse god fighting for his place in Valhalla. It is not surprising that the Bismarck has been and always be a very popular subject among ship modelers. Accordingly, here is the Premium Edition of the Bismarck in 1:700 scale from Dragon. As a Premium Edition, the kit comes with brass photo-etch fret, and new, redesigned parts.
Sprue A - Main Deck and Lower Hull - There are only four parts on this fret but they are large. Included are the forward main deck, aft main deck, starboard underwater hull and port underwater hull. I used the 1:400 plans in the AJ Press Bismarck/Tirpitz volumes to compare the details on the plastic parts with the detail on the line drawings. There was a pretty close match, but not quite. On the forecastle the forward tip comes to a sharp point whereas plans show the tip had a slight rounding at the top of the cutwater. Bollard placement appeared to match but the kit did not have deck edge open chocks. Deck detail on the kit is nevertheless good. On the kit the deck edge hawse are nicely done. The kit does have the metal plate chain bases and the anchor chain is part of the detail included. Some may want to sand this off and add their own metal anchor chain. One thing you will instantly notice are the breakwaters. There are two forward, a flat base V in front of A barbette and two wing breakwaters flanking each side of B barbette. Both of these are equipped with the same features. These breakwaters have great detail with all of the numerous support gussets on the rear face and various fittings abutting the forward face. As with any plastic part, the plastic detail is on the thick side. Plastic will never achieve the ultra thin appearance of such features, as can be achieved with resin or photo-etch. Boat chocks are on the deck on each side of the forward superstructure. As with the breakwaters, they are a little bit thick but most modelers will place ship's boats on top of them. The DML forecastle did not have quite all of the fittings on the forecastle before and aft of A barbette as shown in the plans but did have most of it. The molded on cable reels are too thick and some may wish to replace these with photo-etch versions. On the quarterdeck piece there are many details, although as in case of the forecastle, more fittings are shown on the 1:400 plans. Bollards match number and locations but again, there are no deck edge open chocks. There are five cable reels between the turrets, which conforms in quantity with the plans but doesn't conform in exact locations. It appears that most of the deck fittings left off are access hatches, which of course can be added with brass photo-etch.
When I looked at the hull halves, I immediately noticed numerous plates and fittings on the lower hull, which surprised me. I in common with any others always assumed that lower hulls were relatively smooth and featureless, except for the occasional underwater torpedo tube opening. However, the DML Bismarck had quite a number of slightly raised plates of all types of sizes included as part of the molded on detail. The 1:400 scale plans did confirm the presence of those fittings, although I still don't know their purpose. From the slant of the underwater portion of the cutwater to the graceful curves of the centerline shaft housing the lines of the lower hull matched the plans with one possible exception. The centerline curve at the aft end of the lower hull appears to be a tad more gradual than that shown in the plans. As is true with any plastic kit, the bilge keels are too thick.
Sprue B - Shelter Deck and Forward Superstructure - Sprue B actually comprises two sprues both labeled B. The long shelter deck piece is nicely done. The presence of metal none slip grid plates was immediately apparent as the grid pattern is molded on detail. However most of this piece has the same deck plank detail as found on the forecastle and quarterdeck. For the various gun positions, curved metal plates extended beyond the deck edge and overhung the main deck. Dragon has really captured these, including the tread pattern. Another item that will instantly grab your attention is the catapult. This feature was an open lattice grid and of course plastic molding shows this as solid. The lattice detail is there but of course a solid plastic piece will never be as nice in appearance as the open lattice appearance of photo-etch. Many modelers may wish to remove the plastic catapult and add photo-etch. There are AA positions behind B barbette and in front of Y barbette. These were surrounded by solid splinter shields. These shields, although too thick, match the shape of the forward positions but not the aft positions. There are some nice details on the barbette sides but minimal detail on the bulkheads of the shelter deck sides. There are no portholes, no doors, no ladders, no piping, and no louvers. There is a reason for this lack of detail on the plastic parts, Dragon has included superb brass bulkheads in the included photo-etch fret to attach the plastic bulkheads.
The pieces for the base of the forward superstructure/tower are just the opposite. They are covered with detail. Louvers, doors, portholes and other detail is present. Incredibly, the portholes even have molded on eyebrows. This may be a first, as I don't recall ever seeing a mass produced injection molded ship in 1:700 scale have this item of detail. The stack platform is included on this sprue which is nicely done with grid tread platform on the top and support ribs on the bottom surface. The stack top is also included. This has nice piping but the open clinker screen pattern is too thick. The aft upper superstructure, small vision devices, vision tubs, main mast and 3.9-inch lower gun mount pieces are included.
Sprue C - Upper Superstructure & Light AA Guns - Some of the upper structure parts are on this sprue. They include the 02 level for the aft superstructure, roof for the main mast deck house and two levels of the forward tower. All of these superstructure parts have very good detail. The aft 02 level has square windows, ventilation louvers, ammunition boxes, and inclined ladders molded into the bulkheads. I personally would remove the plastic inclined ladders and use photo-etch. The deck house roof upon which the mainmast attaches has framework and chocks for four of the ship's boats. Both levels of the forward tower have commendable upper and lower detail. They feature intricate supports underneath the platforms and nice detail on top. Almost all of the light AA guns for the ship are included on this sprue. These include the 3.9-inch twin barrels, twin 20mm guns and single 20mm guns. The 3.9-inch barrels are good, the twin 20mm are OK if somewhat plain and the single 20mm guns are too thick. Oddly, the twin 20mm barrels are thinner than the single barrels. You may wish to consider brass 20mm replacements, especially for the single guns. Other parts included on the sprue are nice range finders, propeller shafts, open cranes, bridge wings, stack platform cranes, rudders, director covers, and foremast. Although the cranes are not blocks of plastic and have open lattice work, it of course can not be as fine as photo-etch.
Sprue D - Armament & Fittings - The 15-inch gun barrels, 5.9-inch secondary turrets and guns and 3.9-inch mounts are found on this sprue. The 15-inch barrels are separate and are designed so that each barrel can be fixed at different angles. The secondary turrets are nice with guns in pairs, so unlike the main guns, they cannot be trained separately. There are an assortment of other fittings included here. The search lights might have over-scale shudders but I rather like the detail. The crane bases show the lattice detail incised to a high degree but are not open. Windlasses, as with the searchlights have fine detail. Anchors and propellers are found here and the propeller blades are all of the same design instead of have port and starboard blades canted in opposite directions. The anchors can be further augmented and enhanced by additional brass parts found on the included fret. Also included are a number of solid accommodation ladders. Don't use these. Replace them with photo-etch.
Sprues E & F - Superstructure and Stack - Sprue E seems to include all new parts. These parts are shown on the side of the box as new tooling. There are nine parts to sprue E. The biggest is an extremely nice aircraft hangar with a very fine level of detail on the door. The hangar sides are separate pieces with slide molds so that the bulkheads can have a higher level of detail than a one-piece molding. The halves to the upper forward tower are included an feature open portholes. The other three parts on this sprue are two director domes, upper range finder and a director, which is not used. This part, labeled E1, must be for a future release of the Tirpitz. Sprue F also appears to contained newly designed parts for this release. It includes the main bridge with separate slide mold bulkheads, stack halves, peaked deck houses with separate end doors, and two separate boat frames. As with sprue E parts, these parts are excellent with a universally high level of detail.
Sprues G, I & J - Main Turrets, Upper Hull & Stand - Since I have not seen the original release of the DML Bismarck, I can't say if the main gun turrets are new pieces. They are featured on the side of the box, which mentions that the turrets have rivet details. This in fact they do have. These turrets are rather nice and although the rivet heads are over-scale, they certainly add a level of extra detail and interest to these turrets. There are also access doors on the rear face of each turret, as well as molded on vertical ladders going up the sides of the turrets. The upper hull is listed as sprue J. The upper hull appears to follow the 1:400 scale Bismarck plans vet well. A count of portholes forward confirmed that the quantity and location of these on the model corresponded with those on the plans. The hull sides at the aft end are especially busy. There are numerous portholes, a stern anchor well on the port side, as well as other detail. The only discrepancy that I noticed was that the forward anchor wells/hawse were of a slightly different shape than those on the plans. DML includes cross bracing to maintain the form of the hull if the model is built full hull. However, these must be removed if the model is built in waterline format. Sprue I is simply the stand for the full hull model, as well as nameplates.
Sprue H - Clear Plastic Parts for Arados and Ship's Boats - Sprue H is of clear plastic. I really like the use of clear plastic for these parts. It adds an extra touch to have clear canopies on the aircraft and clear windows on the ship's boats. There are two Arado floatplanes with each plane composed of four pieces, One is the combined fuselage and wings, with two floats and a propeller. There are 14 ship's boats on the sprue. Four are open boats with no glass but ten have cabins or windshields. Six paravanes round out the parts found on the sprue.
Brass Photo-Etched Fret - If you have any of the previous Premium Edition Dragon kits, you'll have noticed that one of the upgrades that DML provides in the upgraded kit is a brass photo-etched fret. With the DML Premium Edition Bismarck, the parts on this fret make a big difference. As mentioned, the sides of the shelter deck were smooth, with no bulkhead detail. The reason for this is found on the brass photo-etch fret. Dragon provides four absolutely gorgeous brass bulkheads for the shelter deck sides. These parts are extraordinary. Not only do the open portholes have eyebrows but also you can see the the hinged porthole cover below the opening. There are cutouts for the parts to fit over any side fittings, pipes, life rings and ladders. These parts are fully relief-etched and are fully equal to the best in the industry. Since brass and plastic will expand and contract at different rates with changes in temperature, it might be best to attach the brass bulkheads to the plastic with a glue with some flexibility, White glue would probably provide more flexibility than super glue. The roof of the forward end of the bridge is also provided in brass and has detail not found on the plastic bridge.
I didn't like the molded on cable reels as I thought that they looked too chunky. Well, Dragon has thoughtfully provided delicate brass reels as substitutes. There are actually 18 of these in three different sizes. Simply cut off the plastic reel and attach the brass version at the now vacant position. There are substitute brass forward anchors of double thickness with separate cross piece for each anchor. There is a main mast yards piece that will be far better than the plastic one in the kit. Three brass radar arrays are provided. DML provides railing but it is not sufficient for the entire ship. No railing is provided for the main deck. However, there is a full set of railing in different patterns for every deck and platform from the shelter deck upwards.
Decal Sheet - Dragon provides a full decal sheet, as well as two other paper items. When you look at the decal sheet, you are struck by omissions. The white circle deck markings do not have swastikas and the naval ensigns are equally lacking the swastika, just a vacant white circle in the middle of the red flag. Since some countries prohibit decals with the nazi emblem, Dragon does not have it directly on the main decal. However, the swastikas are there, they are just deconstructed to black L shapes and straight lines. To add these onto the flags or deck circles, you have to assemble the design, piece by piece. The sheet winds up with black crosses for the wings and fuselages of the Arados but no swastikas for their tails. To other items are provided. One is a label sheet with two adhesive labels for the nameplates. The second sheet provides masks for the fore and aft aerial recognition stripes. Simply paint the deck with the color of the stripe, apply the mask over the painted area and then paint the rest of the deck. You'll get clean, straight lines. It also serves as a canvas covering to cover the marked area during her Atlantic sortie.
Instructions - The Dragon Premium Edition Bismarck comes with the standard DML instructions. There is one large, back printed sheet that folds to give ten pages. Page one provides a schematic of all of the plastic and brass parts. Almost all parts are used but there are a few that are not used. They are shaded in blue and must be for a follow-on Tirpitz model. Pages two through six provide assembly of the kit in eleven steps. Optional parts are indicated with brass parts designated as a "MA" part in the instructions. Page seven simply shows assembly of the stand. The last three pages depict five different paint schemes worn by Bismarck. These are the ship in these time periods: (1) August - December 1940 overall light gray; (2) March 1941with hull and superstructure camouflage stripes; (3) May 1941 with hull camouflage stripes but none on superstructure; (4) Norway May 21, 1941 with stripes painted out; (5) May 26, 1941 and yes with yellow turret crowns.
Verdict - With this Dragon 1:700 scale Premium Edition of the Bismarck, DML provides not only new plastic parts but in addition, the included brass photo-etch fret provides some really outstanding parts. Yes, the 20mm guns are clunky but most of the plastic parts are good to excellent in detail. If you have the first version of the DML Bismarck, you can see the differences with this new release.