I have been fascinated for as long as I can remember by HMS Furious in her early aircraft carrier guise. Who cannot help but be captivated by a carrier with funnel and superstructure in the middle of the flight deck? I was simply ecstatic when the 1/700 resin kit produced by Mr. David Angelo of Loose Cannon Productions came on the market!
So I immediately set about collecting and cross-referencing as much information and documentation as possible. There are many photos of Furious in her 1918 configuration, yet few actual close-up detail photos with really good resolution that allow one to ascertain the actual truth of the shapes and layout 100%. It was suggested that I photograph the famous model in the Imperial War Museum in London as a reference. I duly had this done but the model in the IWM is in my opinion a likeness but NOT a true scale model. There are many simplifications and omissions as well as just plain inaccuracies, which initially led me well astray. The theory was that since the model was in the IWM, it must be correct but the reality was, no it was not!
The Warship in Profile Publications did a two-part feature on Furious spanning her whole career. On the face of it, this was a good start, however, the illustration in the centre, while initially being very convincing, is actually full of holes. This is especially true in the precise location of detail items and the exact positions of the colour camouflage bands and angles, only really close examination of the photos tell the truth.
Initially I wanted to show Furious underway with little brown biplanes ranged on the deck, but in reading the operational history of the ship in the configuration as the kit depicted, I soon realized that this would be unrealistic. Accordingly a new plan was hatched! I now wanted to show HMS FURIOUS at anchor, with the forward lift down allowing a limited view into the innards. While to the rear of the model the SSZ 59 airship was being landed on the aft flying deck with hordes of personnel swarming around catching the blimp. Before I could allow myself the pleasure of detailing and scene setting I had to build the ship and tackle that dazzle camouflage.
First of all I must say I am grateful that a manufacturer has produced such a fine effort of such a totally esoteric ship. A hearty well done and please can we see some more! Fundamentally the kit is very good, although some aspects are a little simplified and there are a couple of problem areas, which I dealt with in absolutely the incorrect order! The casting was a generally good, with the parts being on a sprue similar to a plastic kit. The edges and hollows were not as sharp as some other resin producers but some deft blade work rectified this in the hangar to deck angle and there was a lot of flash. This however came away very cleanly and easily. The watchwords with any model ship project has to be: PLAN AHEAD!!
I succeeded in falling into every hole with sometimes retro fixing major components a long way into the build. Hitherto, I have gotten away with it without damage and HMS FURIOUS was no exception! So perhaps my experiences may assist others in NOT blundering as I did! The first problem I encountered was with hull surface plating. This was in my opinion far too hefty and would cast shadows on the camouflage as well as making the masking of straight lines tricky. I elected to scrape off the ridges and bumps until they were almost flush. The layout was correct, just overdone. After painting it added in my opinion just the right amount of texture. The next problem was the photo-etch of the supports for the forward flight deck. At first sight it appeared to be an easy assembly, as LCP had helpfully cast onto the hull the locating ridges, to which the photo-etch parts could be stuck. The ridges however, were too high and wide in scale. The photo-etch surrounding it was hence was too high and clunky and in my opinion was not delicate enough. I wanted a sufficiently airy look in that area. I therefore did it the hard way, making the entire inner assembly from very thin brass strip and gluing and cutting the individual struts.
This required also a new forward flight deck fill to get rid of the upper locating ridges on the underside of the resin piece. The undercut deck area below the aft 5.5in gun was not nicely cast and would have been most difficult to represent as nicely as I felt I wanted. Accordingly I cut away with a motor tool, the deck and resin below into a sharp edged square hollow. A new section of deck of styrene sheet and slanted wall section made this area crisp. The turret has the barbette shaft continuing through the deck. The addition of alloy tube solved that issue.
I proceeded to affix flight decks fore and aft and started to paint the camouflage scheme. This occupied me for a week or two. I painted it all with a brush and masked, re-masked, re-re-masked and re-repainted it a number of times until I was reasonably satisfied. Again check the photos and do NOT trust the colour illustration in the Warship Profile. It tells lies about the starboard side shown and the port side is simply wrong and again look and check the photos, for only they tell the truth! My final paint job is almost right but there are some proportional flaws. Again forward planning was needed but not carried out! The triple stack torpedo tubes with their triangular tent like structure gave me all sorts of worries. After I hollowed out the supplied resin items, which have the correct shape, and laboriously constructed three tube mouths out of drilled small styrene rods, I then saw new photos where the outboard face of the stack of tubes was covered with a flat canvas flap. So it would have not been incorrect to simply paint the supplied parts!
I was getting ready to apply the rather nice photo-etch vertical flight deck supports when I realized that if I stuck the upper part to the outboard edge of the flight deck the stanchion base would end up well inboard and impede the rotation of the 5.5 in turrets. A quick look at the plan view in the Warship Profile drawing and subsequent checking of two aerial view photos quickly revealed that the kit item had an outward flaring waist. The fore and aft line should not have any hollow in the plan view. So I proceeded to rip off (ouch!) my very well glued resin deck without noticeable damage and cut a new deck from styrene sheet; I took the opportunity to cut out the aft lift and show it lowered so not all was lost! I then built the tapered box bracing structure at the forward half from thin Evergreen strips, which was also not on the original resin part.
On the real ship, aircraft were transferred from the aft hangar to the forward flying off deck via two ramps located on either side of the superstructure. In the kit these were made with a hard angle and parallel. In the real ship these were curved and flared out towards the aft end. The vertical elevation was a gentle curve not a kinked angle. I made replacement items from thin styrene sheet with separate wall sections. The hardest part was the application of the vertical bracing strips. These were VERY fiddly and boring but they cannot be omitted.
The 5.5-Inch turret barrels suffered like many resin guns from being slightly bent and or clunky. I simply cut off the ends and replaced them with brass rods. The spotting top wraparound photo-etch was a true joy to behold. The solid spotting top was the correct shape and the marriage of the two to make a hollow glazed spotting top was too good to miss. I simply ground it down to window level, applied the photo-etched windows and made a new roof. Result, presto-change-o, a hollow, see through, glazed spotting top. The funnel had the plating ridges scraped off and was hollowed out with a Dremel drum sander. The observation pods were crisped up and faired into the funnel by being partially wrapped in very thin styrene sheet.
The tripod mast was constructed from brass rod supplied in the kit, according to the instructions and worked out well. A new upper platform was made to give thinner floor and sides. Now we will go back to the forward flight deck. The outer braces with the Y pieces were in my opinion not spaced correctly and again had the top and bottom ridges for easy location. Again this was not fine enough for me, so I cut off the top and bottom edges, cut off the Y pieces and added new legs, spaced out according to my photo interpretation. At last, an airy, fine and delicate looking under structure. The ship had a fence around the after part of the forward flying off deck, often called palisades or windbreaks, these could be raised and lowered to permit flying or ranging of aircraft without them being blown overboard. There was some really nice photo-etch supplied to represent this feature. On the real ship the palisade planks ran as far as I can ascertain, within vertical guide tracks. I simulated these by using White Ensign Models under-wing rocket photo-etch, it's sort of within the theme. In my opinion they look delicate and just right! At this stage I decided that she would become a diorama at anchor with the blimp landing aft, so checking photos showed the forward hangar lift at this time to be down and the aft one up. So I cut open the forward lift within the delicate and fragile palisades and painted the hangar inside after dropping in a false floor and simulated ramp. Then I inserted three aircraft and then made a new lid for the aft lift which now was up again.
The blimp was an adventure in itself, having secured a book called Battlebags, which is a great book all about WW1 British airships. Within the volume there is a useful general arrangement drawing of SSZ 59 as well as the vitally needed dimensions. I now was airship enthused! Armed with a Stanley knife and some balsa dowel, I proceeded to whittle the blimp envelope. When the correct shape was achieved after three tries, it was sanded and soaked in CCA to harden the soft balsa wood. The bag was then re-sanded and re-sanded between many coats of paint. The panels were drawn on in fine pencil. The gondola was carved from resin scrap and drilled out for the crew. Engine and propeller were made, fins were brass and the decal lettering was designed and drawn on a PC, not a standard font! The lettering was printed onto a clear decal sheet on an alps printer, won of e-bay for this very purpose. Making the envelope stand above the gondola was a true nightmare due to the material limitations of bend prone wire in this scale. In 1/350 scale this would be easy.
The aircraft were real fun to build and rig. They are very small but really pretty! I had slight reservations about the wings being in resin and they proved were very hard to thin down. Perhaps relief etched ribs and brass wings which could be curved might be more delicate looking. In my kit there was no decal sheet for the roundels although I understand that these are usually present. No matter, the roundels on the wings and fuselage are very small so I simply painted them with small dollops of the appropriate light blue, white and red. The end effect is really quite convincing.
The gallows structure, which supported the aircraft crash barrier, was a hoot to build! Again check as many photos from as many views as possible. The central post is vertical, not angled. I built a few versions of the gallows. I initially used the vertical photo-etched ropes supplied, but then felt that a finer looking effect could be had with sprue. The nets at the side as supplied in the kit photo-etch were great, and initially I used them. The Warship Profile illustration shows the nets to be exactly as LCP supplied them, with four fore and aft cables. However, photos showed there to be five, with far more vertical lines also. So regrettably, off they came to be superceded with sprue items, which collapsed many times until I finally gave up with sprue for the fore and aft cables. I eventually used very thin copper speaker wire. This was heated over a candle and then drawn between pliers while warm to make thinner and straight. These were spanned and curved as appropriate. Vertical cables being sprue, this gave a delicate and busy appearance and greatly enhanced the overall look.
The boat accesses platforms aft were remade in thin brass, the small gussets at each end were made using sprue filled in with white glue. The platform above the aft deck below the aft hangar entrance was extended in width as seen in photos and new legs made. The aircraft handling crane aft was the right shape in side elevation but for my liking, rather too wide. I cut out the centre lattice-work, re-bent and glued the side members and filled in with a small bit of Tom's Modelworks lattice from a spare IJN set. As far as I can tell at the time of the blimp landings there were no AA guns on the aft deck so I left these off. I was going to leave the davits and boat suspended off the aft face of the aft hangar immediately below the aft edge of the flight deck off, consigning it as another Warship Profile false leader, having not seen them in any of the close up views of the stern. However, there is a photo of the SSZ 59 Blimp landing, taken from the starboard side and the boat and davits can be made out to be there. I used Gold Medal Models Gold Plus railings blackened with a permanent marker pen, then very lightly dry brushed in gray to highlight.
The entire model was painted with WEM Colourcoats, shaded and lightly weathered. She was never tatty, just a bit streaky, using watercolours over a flat coat of spray varnish from the aerosol so as to seal the camouflage paint and prevent any funny reactions. Ship’s boats were partly the kit items with covers made from filler and some WEM boats from the Pro 700 Range.
The addition of 400 plus crewmembers, an aircraft in the aft hangar aperture, the blimp, and some final detailing with struts and supports around the flight deck, application of the gorgeous etched fairleads, supports for the aircraft ramps and 5.5-Inch platforms, barbette shafts of alloy tube, rigging of sprue and final touch ups completed the model. I mounted her on a 3mm stainless steel plate to counteract any later warping. The sea is watercolour textured paper painted in and washed in watercolour then sealed with satin varnish.
Overall conclusion is that if built from the box, it will assemble into a reasonable rendition of this unique carrier very quickly. The only problem is the aft flight deck in plan view. The remaining modifications were simply my never-ending quest for delicacy and fine-ness to which I have committed so much of my efforts in building small ship models. I look forward to some more innovative ideas and kits for unusual ships from Loose Cannon Productions.