It happens every time. Because of a huge industrial base the United States can out build any other nation in warships. So many get in the pipeline that their sheer numbers influence naval procurement programs years after the war has ended. The huge numbers of flush deck four stack destroyers built in response to World War One, prevented new procurement of far better destroyer designs for a decade. For politicians a destroyer is a destroyer, a gun is a gun, even when one gun is a .22 single shot and the other is a 20mm Vulcan gatling cannon. Why should the navy get new destroyers when they had over 200 of them freshly built and almost unused? History repeats itself for those that donít learn from history and it certainly seems that politicians are learning handicapped. The same train of events came into play at the end of World War Two. Every class of ship had built in tremendous numbers, so with some exceptions new designs came to a stop. This was true with aircraft carriers. So many Essex class carriers had been built, plus the three big Midway carriers, that their was no money for new designs, plus the situation had become more complex when the independent USAF was created as a separate service, clear of army control. Just as the pre-war RAF had been dominated by the Big Bomber Boys, so too with the shiny new USAF. Why spend money on the Army and Navy when the Air Force could win wars all alone with nuclear armed strategic bombers?

It is interesting that by 1945 the USN considered the Essex design to be outdated and definitely overloaded. Even though the new Midway Class was considered a far superior design, when the big Midways entered service after the war with larger air wings than the Essex Class carriers, it was observed that aircraft could not be launched or recovered any more efficiently than they had been with the Essex Class. Although the Essex Class traces its ancestry to the Yorktown Class and was a prewar design, it provided an optimum platform for operations of the piston powered aircraft of the time. Although considered obsolescent in 1945, the members of the class had more than two decades and two wars ahead of them in which to serve. After the war the members of the Essex class participated in Operation Magic Carpet in the return of troops to the US. After this, most of the older members of the class were placed in reserve and mothballed. The newer units, most of which did not see operations in World War Two were used for training pilots and for operations but were second fiddles for the Midways.

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In spring 1950 the carrier force of the USN had atrophied to a shocking degree. In 1948 the navy had won appropriations for the USS United States, which would have been the first super-carrier. However, the bomber barons of the USAF had convinced Congress that carriers were obsolete. Any new war would quickly be won through nuclear weapons delivered by heavy strategic bombers. Instead of buying obsolete technology as represented by an aircraft carrier, the money would be better spent buying the cutting edge technology of the Convair B-36. That collective body of wise men, known as Congress, nodded their collective heads and the USS United States was cancelled in 1949 after having been laid down. So in late spring 1950, the USN operational carrier force was at 14 carriers. However, half of these could not be considered front line carriers. In the Atlantic were the three Midways and the Leyte CV-32. In the Pacific were the Boxer CV-21, Valley Forge CV-45 and Philippine Sea CV-47. The other seven operational carriers were three CVLs and four CVEs. All of that changed in the summer of 1950 as the North Korean Peopleís Army came rolling south and over-ran all of the peninsula except for a small enclave around the southeast port of Pusan. OOPS!

All of the high-flown promises and prognostications of the USAF proved to be a steaming pyramid of manure. Strategic bombers were worthless in this conflict and tactical air support was golden. Those three Essex class ships in the Pacific were the first source of effective tactical air support for the besieged forces in Pusan. The USN already had a plan to modernize the Essex class and the Oriskany was the test bed. This fit, known as SCB-27A added a bulge to the waterline, strengthened the flight deck, installed more powerful catapults, installed more powerful aircraft and bomb lifts, removed the twin 5-inch/38 mounts and provided a new, much larger island/stack. Those short hull Essex units also had their bow reworked to long hull configuration. All of these changes were made to increase the ability of the ships to operate jet aircraft. Essex CV-9 and Wasp CV-18 had also started this refit in 1948. None of these ships were ready to respond to the crisis in Korea. There was a consensus that the invasion of South Korea was merely the opening round in a plan that would have the Red Army invade western Europe. Because of this belief the three best carriers of the Midway class were kept in the Mediterranean to guard against an attack that never came.

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It was up to the old, unmodernized Essex carriers, little changed from World War Two, to bear the brunt of the fight in 1950 and 1951. However, three Essex class were not enough, so the navy rushed to the mothball fleet to sweep out the cobwebs, dust them off and press other members of the class into service. Princeton CV-37 was first off, reactivated in August 1950. Bon Homme Richard CV-31 was laid up in Bremerton and was reactivated in January 1951. Shangri-La CV-38 followed in May 1951 then Antietam CV-36 in June 1951. The Oriskany was the first modernized 27A Essex to be commissioned in June 1950 but she was not sent to operate off Korea until September 1952. It is the Oriskany that is seen in the movie The Bridges at Toko-Ri. Essex was commissioned in her 27A appearance in January 1951 and immediately entered into air operation off of Korea as part of TF-77 from 1951-1953. The Essex would have been more appropriate for the movie as she was sending her Panthers over the Korean Peninsula, while the Oriskany was basking in the warm clime of the Mediterranean. Yorktown CVA-10 came out of her SCB-27A refit in January 1953 but only served in combat that September. Hornet CVA-12 was not recommissioned in her 27A fit until September 1953. Randolph CVA-15 came out with a 27A fit in July 1953 but served in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Wasp CVA-18 was another earlier 27A entrant with Essex but when she came back into service in October 1951 Wasp served in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Another east coast 27A ship was Bennington CVA-20, which served in this fit from 1953 to 1954. Kearsarge CVA-33 was along with Essex, a 27A ship that did see substantial service off Korea. In 1952 and 1953 she was with Essex in TF-77. Lake Champlain CVA-39 was the last numbered of the class to receive the SCB-27A fit. Commissioned in September 1952 she spent some time in 1953 with TF-77.

Now with the armistice signed, the navy could take a serious look at the future of the carrier. It was abundantly clear from their usefulness during the Korean War that the carrier would continue to be needed into the foreseeable future. However, the rapid development of jet aircraft imposed constraints on the existing Essex and Midway class carriers. Jet aircraft were increasing in size and weight and the old WWII designs were at the upper limit of their deck capability to operate jets. The British had come up with the idea of an angled deck to give a carrier the ability to take off and land jets simultaneously. So the USN decided to take a look at the concept by adding an angled deck to one of the Essex class. Rather than pick one that had just finished their SBC-25 conversion, the USS Antietam CV-36, little changed from her World War Two configuration was chosen for this experiment. In May 1952 Antietam was sent into the dockyard for addition of an angled deck. She was out of the dock by January 1953 and started taking testing the angled deck. When she finished her conversion there were a series of triangular support braces underneath the angled deck and she still carried the original tripod mast. Subsequent to this the triangular supports were covered over by fairing and a pole mainmast replaced the tripod.

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The experiment was a success, so all of the 27A Essex class carriers were reworked in another modification known as SCB-125, which added an angled deck, enclosed Hurricane bow, a larger side folding deck elevator, bulges, new catapults and other refinements. Essex underwent this second metamorphosis and was in her angled deck configuration by 1955. The SCB-125 angled deck Essex, which was the fit modeled by Revell in 1957, which was a very advanced kit for the time. (Aircraft Carriers of the World, 1914 to the Present, 1984, by Roger Chesneau; American & British Aircraft Carrier Development 1919-1941, 1999, by Thomas Hone, Norman Friedman & Mark Mandeles; The Essex Aircraft Carriers, 1996, by Andrew Faltum; Essex-Class Carriers, 1988, by Alan Raven; U.S. Aircraft Carriers, An Illustrated Design History, 1983, by Norman Friedman, Warships Perspectives Essex Aircraft in World War Two, 2002, by Glenn H. Arnold by WR Press)

Iron Shipwright SCB-27A Essex
The "Fightingest Ship in the Fleet" only appeared in the axial deck 27A design for four years but two of those years were when she and 27A Kearsarge joined the unmodified Essex class carriers in combat operations off of Korea. It is hardly surprising that Jon Warneke of Iron Shipwright chose the 27A Essex fit as the subject of a new ISW 1:700 scale kit. His father served on the 27A Essex. As far as I know, this is the only model of the 27A fit Essex class that has been produced. It has been a long time since a modernized Essex carrier model with new island design has been available. The last one was the angled deck SCB-125 Oriskany by Jim Shirley that has commanded high prices on auction sites. The kit is a true multi-media kit with resin parts, a plastic flight deck and brass photo-etch details.

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Hull Casting
One nice thing about and USN WWII or prewar carrier design is the presence of plenty of hull side detail. With the open hangar concept and ranks of roller door openings the Essex design presents plenty of this detail. The ISW Essex will need clean up at the bottom of the hull casting, as there are resin over-pour traces to be removed. The 27A fit hull is different from the World War Two Essex hull in that it was widened and has a long hull bow. As the only member of her class that retained a single 40mm gun mount sponson at the stern, Essex also was equipped with the larger two gun mount sponson. The 27A fit is almost a halfway point from the WWII Essex and the SCB-125 angled deck carrier. It retains the open bow and almost all side galleries of the original carrier, as well as the axial deck. The most noticeable difference is of course the redesigned island.

At the bow are thick anchor hawse on each side but if you look at the photographs, these features were large on the original ship. The cutwater has the graceful curved profile of this design but appears a little too broad across the top. This extra width will be covered by the two twin 3-inch AA gun mounts. Looking at the bow photographs, you will notice that the forward end of the forecastle does appear to be narrower than on the model but that the gun tubes extend the width over the slightly wider forecastle. The hangar bulkheads are inboard of the hull edge, so the design allows more interest and side hull detail. The hull below the hangar deck does have exterior fuel lines, which was a damage control feature to prevent fuel from a damaged line leaking into the hull. There was some damage to these fuel lines in that small sections had broken. Repairs are fairly easy if you can find the resin line that had broken free in the box or with the appropriate diameter plastic rod cut to the right length. All of the openings in the hangar bulkheads are closed on the ISW model but the resin is thinner at these locations, so they are easy to open with a hobby knife. The rolling hangar doors do have nicely done slat detail. Bracing for the outboard port amidships elevator is cast onto the hull and is crisply executed. A new addition to the 27A design is found just aft of this elevator. This is a large hemisphere sponson upon which the crane was based. Other hull side details include portholes, ventilation louvers, forward and aft rectangular sponsons, wastewater exhaust vents, vertical strakes and thin catwalks. The stern has the larger two-mount AA sponson cast integral to the hull.

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The wide forecastle will mostly be concealed by the flight deck, yet there is still plenty of detail. Along the centerline you will see the anchor chain bed plates leading to crisp deck hawse. Outboard and to the rear of the deck hawse are two more deck openings whose exact function I do not know. Aft of the anchor chain plates is found the anchor machinery with integrally cast windlasses, chain locker entrance fittings, access hatches and other fittings. Towards the hull edge on each side of the forecastle are a series of twin bollard and chock fittings. The forward hangar bulkhead has a locker cast on each side. Along each walkway outboard of the hanger will be found other bollard and equipment fittings. The aft hangar bulkhead has a lot of exterior detail with hangar access doors, vertical reinforcement strakes and other fittings. The small hemisphere quarterdeck rounds out the exterior main deck detail with various plates and fittings. The hull casting also provides interior hangar bulkhead detail. ISW cast this detail integral with the hull, so unlike the Dragon or Trumpeter plastic Essex models, the modeler doesnít need to worry about fit of the interior hangar deck or in the case of Trumpeter hangar deck bulkheads. This alone will save a lot of time in assembly and eliminates the need to fill and sand unsightly seams. Not only does ISW include stack flue trunking but also internal strakes, supports, roller door fittings, lockers and other fittings. Of course this detail will be concealed once the flight deck is attached, unless you cut out the hangar doors to portray them in an up position or have the centerline elevators in a down position. Even with this some of this detail will not be seen but it is nice to know it is there in case one of the IPMS ship judges is a proctologist and comes to the show with the tools of his trade.

Flight Deck
The flight deck is in black plastic, designed and executed by James "Chainsaw" Corley of Nautilus Models, famed destroyer of entire forests and sworn foe of Greenpeace. The deck is admirably thin and highly detailed but the black plastic conceals the tremendous detail, at least until it is painted. On each side of the bow are the longer, more powerful catapults installed to cope with the rapidly climbing combat weight of jet aircraft. The flight deck has individual wooden decking planks as well as tie down strips. Aft youíll find the arrestor wire gear on each side. The deck has all three elevators in an up position. However, ole Chainsaw also includes separate elevators if you wish to portray your 27A with any or all of the elevators in a down position. Youíll have to cut out the deck level elevator but the plastic is thin enough to cut with a scissors. Of course youíll want to use a sharp hobby knife for cutting control and to get true corners. The forward and aft flight deck edges have metal strength strip detail.

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Smaller Resin Parts
There are quite a number of smaller resin parts. The largest is the new island. The island is composed of a number of pieces, one of the largest of which is the massive stack. The detail cast onto the stack piece, including piping, platform supports, access doors, port holes, stack cap, mast base and starboard array arm. The part for the island base is mostly smooth sided with detail of access doors and portholes. Bridge levels are separate pieces with bridge windows deeply incised. Other bridge piece detail includes access doors, portholes and splinter shields. You may have to do some repair work here, as the splinter shielding on one piece had started to separate from the deck on my sample. Some sanding will be necessary on the bridge levels to get a flush fit with the other parts to the island. The 04 deck, which forms the base for the stack, has director pylons in front and behind. The next largest types of parts are various separate hull sponsons. These parts have good detail underneath put some did have pinhole voids, which will need to be filled. The larger pieces have circular sponsons as part of a larger angular sponson gallery. All sponsons have solid splinter shielding. The forward and aft AA sponsons are in this group as well as a forward raised deckhouse, which goes above the forecastle underneath the flight deck and is probably the forward air squadron room. One other prominent part is the escalator fitting underneath the starboard side of the island.

There are a host of smaller parts for weapons and equipment. The twin 5-inch/38 turrets of the WWII Essex are gone but the single open mounts are still present in side galleries. The trusty old 40mm Bofors are also gone, replaced by the twin 3-inch AA gun mountings fielded in the 27A refit period. Both of these weapons systems come with separate gun pieces and mount pieces. These parts are beyond just the basic shape and have good detailing. The directors with their associated small radars are one-piece castings and have excellent detail for their small size. A number of the parts are the smaller director tubs, which housed the small Mk 51 directors used to control the WWII Bofors and Oerlikons. The directors are gone with the guns they controlled but some of the tubs are still there. During WWII the quantity of shipís boats was minimized for space and weight reasons but with the 27A Essex they have made a comeback. Nine of them are present in the kit from large launches and whalers o small dinghies. An island flight control position, island top radar shack and masts round out the smaller resin pieces. No aircraft are included but Cyber-Hobby/Dragon has two perfect boxes of Korean War jets, props and choppers. More than enough for any aspiring Micky Rooney.

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Brass Photo-Etch Fret
The ISW 27A Essex comes with a full brass photo-etch fret, which was jointly produced by ISW and Nautilus Models. The quality of the photo-etch is good but not state of the art, as it is not relief-etched. Parts are identified by number on the fret and in the case of radars by specific name. About half of the fret contains equipment and ship specific fittings while the balance is of more generic accommodation and inclined ladders. The largest of the brass parts is the boat crane, designed in the traditional folding manner. Although not relief-etched, the numerous radars are well done with very good open and airy detail. A large platform, like a diving board extending forward from the top of the stack will have the radar shack with the multi-shape SX radar arrays. The thick pole mast with arms extending fore and aft at various levels forms the base for the SPS-6, SPS-10 and SPS-12 arrays. Full support girders are provided for the deck edge elevator. Suspiciously, there are some large radars on this fret, such as the SPN-6A, that do not appear in the instructions. Other specific fittings are for perforated platforms, crane cables, DF loops, director radar supports and support bracing but the instructions donít show where most of these parts are attached. No railing is included and you will need some for various platforms.

Resin models come with a wide quality range for instructions. At the top line are those treatises disguised as instructions produced by White Ensign Models. At the bottom are those instructions found in the older Modelkrak kits. The ISW 27A Essex instructions are definitely not in the WEM league. They go beyond the simple one sheet provided by Modelkrak but frustratingly leave things out. There are eight pages but only four contain assembly steps. Page one has the statistics for the 27A Essex and also the ISW replacement guarantee, which includes replacing any parts the modeler happens to eat. Page two contains the squadrons carried by Essex, their aircraft, tail symbols and modex numbers. Page three has resin parts laydowns for the island and sponson/catwalk parts. Page four continues the resin parts laydown for bow, stern and miscellaneous parts. Page five starts the assembly steps and concentrates on the island and mast. There is also a drawing of the photo-etch fret, which really serves no purpose. Page six has the steps in the bow assembly. The drawings are OK but lack the specificity that most modelers would prefer for precise attachment of parts. Page seven has the port galleries and page eight the starboard galleries. The only photo-etch parts locations identified on the sheet are for the mast and island radars and the boat crane. These are shown with the PE partsí numbers enclosed in an oval. Additionally, there are drawings of the radars and deck edge elevator supports. Except for some of the smaller mast and island parts, the attachment locations for the smaller parts are not shown.

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Where do the boats go? Where do the small tubs go? Even more basic, where do the five-inch and three-inch guns go? Sure, I have plenty of references and can get that information or I can just give Jon a call. However, a modeler should not have to go beyond the instructions in the kit to fully assemble a model unless it falls within the Craftsman category. This is not a Craftsman kit but the instructions are on that lower level. If there had been an included plan and profile like Combrig provides, this would have been a minor inconvenience. However, there is no P&P and the modeler will have to beyond the instructions to find locations of most of the smaller parts.

The Iron Shipwright SCB-27A USS Essex is a nice but not excellent kit. Casting is good but not perfect, as there are some voids and broken parts. The Chainsaw flight deck has outstanding detail that is carried off very well in plastic. Photo-etch is good but not excellent. The instructions are clearly sub-par and will need to be supplemented for complete assembly. However, this kit can make into a very attractive model of one of the major fits of the Essex class.