The Connecticut class has always been one of my all time favorite pre dreadnoughts. There’s something about them especially in their early white & buff paint scheme that looks typically American in nature. Maybe it was the color scheme which is essentially peaceful. Maybe it’s those masts which reflect certain simplicity. Maybe it’s those three funnels. Who knows but these ships as built just look like one of Teddy Roosevelt’s big sticks. Earlier this year, Niko model of Poland released two versions of the class. The first was the USS Louisiana in military mast fit and the later was the USS Vermont in a cage mast fit. For years many of us wanted these kits but given the small market of enthusiasts for such a little known class of ships, we had to be patient. Well, our patience was handsomely rewarded by Niko. I ordered two kits from “ole reliable”, Pacific Front Hobbies as soon as they came out. For those of you who cleaned me out of my 1/700 Skywave A-4’s and other jets now you know what I did with the money. With Bill Gruner’s typical lightning like speed and efficencey, not to mention my being a pain in the rump, the kits arrived at my door within a week of their arrival in the US in July. One was going to be the Louisiana and another was supposed to the Connecticut. Regrettably, after doing some research on Navsource and using the Reilly & Scheina US Battleships 1886 – 1923, the US Pre Dreadnought source, I discovered that Connecticut had a different rear superstructure than the Louisiana so that ruled doing BB-18 out until I could find better detail about her aft flag bridge. After wasting money on the old Edward Wisswesser plans I reluctantly did my second one as USS Vermont before her modernization since she was the closest in appearance to the Louisiana. Oh well. I’ll do my second cage mast version as Connecticut. My first is the cage mast version is the USS Vermont which was a group build with Bob Cicconi, Bruno Guire, Neal Clarke, and Rob Kernaghan. They represent the best of the SteelNavy Fleet and the group build will be described in a separate article. Suffice to say it was a blast!
The fun began…..Upon opening the kit and looking at the parts, I saw that Pawel at Niko had produced a genuine winner. All the pieces were crisp, there were no bubbles in the hull, and the hull itself required only a small hot water bath to even it out perfectly flat. The main resin pieces of the superstructure required little sanding after clipping away the resin over pours underneath them. The turrets were crisply molded once you also sand off the over pour. I read somewhere of some criticism of some of Niko’s offerings but while those were for their earlier kits, the complaints themselves were minor and since I have those kits, I was able to verify that. Plus, if you do have a problem, Pawel is more than willing to rectify it as I discovered with a piece on my USS Maryland armoured cruiser. Niko sells you a high quality kit for a very good price. And, this was more than confirmed with the Louisiana! I drilled out all the portholes with a Walther 68 drill bit. There were a bunch of them but being it was July, the drilling made for a pleasant diversion in the park across the street from by building in NYC. Especially whilst enjoying a good cigar, a flask of scotch, my faith puppy at my side, the sun shining bright, and the Eleanor Roosevelt High school cheerleading squad holding practice. What could be a better environment for the most tedious part of the build? Portholes drilled and cigars and scotch consumed the remaining resin parts were slightly sanded which took about ten minutes if that. I used very fine wet sandpaper. When you’re using wet sandpaper be careful or you’ll sand off too much. This I can readily attest to. After washing all the parts in soapy water to remove any molding agent and allowing them to dry naturally, I primed all the resin parts that I was going to use with Humbrol l #1 matt primer. After allowing it to dry for the required six hours, I painted the hull with a base coat of Humbrol #34 Matt White below the main deck. As those of you who have used this paint know it is essentially white tar, I thought it an excellent base coat for white which next to yellow is probably the hardest color to work with. After the Humbrol #34, I gave the hull two coats of Floquil “Reefer White.” This paint is much easier to work with Humbrol #34 and dries with a nice even matt sheen. I then painted the deck with WEM Teak and the above deck parts with WEM USN Buff for all vertical surfaces and WEM USN Standard Deck Gray for all the metal decks. The interior of the air scopes were given a coat of Humbrol #60, crimson red on the interior. Anything representing glass was given a coat of Humbrol Met #34. This is a dark metallic blue that I used on many kits. I’m just not a fan of using silver
I replaced the kit supplied 12 & 8 “gun barrels with brass barrels from NNT for the 12” guns and from Clipper for the *” guns. This is not to disparage Niko’s excellent resin barrels for these but after using some turned brass barrels on my Classic Warships USS Idaho, I really like the look of those turned brass barrels even though this adds a significant cost to my ships. One of the things I like about the Niko barrels for the 12 “ guns is they have a nub on the back which also perfectly fits my Walthers 68 drill bit. I was able to drill out locating holes in the main turret recesses for the guns which resulted in them having a very stable support. I painted all the gun barrels in Humbrol #33, Matt Black leaving the forward two millimeters unpainted to simulate the brass gun tube covers. This gives a nice contrast and adds another color to overall visual effect that contrasts with all the other colors. I used the Clipper 8”/55 guns for the secondary armament cutting them to a length of 9 millimeters. These all fit nicely into the four 8” gun turrets with minor filing. The three ships funnels were then installed and rigged with stretched sprue. Each mast has 8 pieces simulating the guy wires to the deck for a total of 24 pieces. The masts were then given two levels of vertical rigging from funnel to funnel with another 8 pieces of stretched sprue. As those of us who have worked with stretched sprue you know its trials & tribulations. If it’s done right, it will make your kit a winner. If it’s done wrong you’ll do it over until you get it right. There’s no compromise here. Using stretched sprue is a case where defeat is not an option. After the funnels and wires were installed it was time to install the superstructure parts. Niko cast these extremely well both in resin & photo etch. They went together well. I drilled out the center of both masts with a Walther 76 drill bit and used a spare staple run through the center of the mast pieces to align the masts. This greatly simplified things especially when aligning the masts with deck during completion. I used Gold Metal railings for all railings. Niko provides you with more than enough railings to do the whole ship with some extras but for “Butterfingers”, the Niko railings are too delicate since they’re made out of a very fine brass. With the exception of the fore and aft rigging from the masts to the flagstaffs, all the superstructure rigging was done at this time. I forgot how many pieces of stretched sprue I used but think it’s in excess of 30 in total. Not only did they have to be mounted but they all have to be painted black.
I replaced the some of Niko ship’s boats with those from Combrig’s harbor set. I did this to be consistent with the earlier released Combrig USS Olympia and USS Maine kits that I built a while ago. The Niko boats are fine but for me a fleet should have as many fittings that are consistent between ships. I figured since most real fleets order fittings in mass quantity – boats, secondary guns, search lights etc, my fleet should follow this. The boats were painted white with dark brown decks and white rows of benches. The effect really stands out although it takes much longer to do. For the boats mounted on davits, I put in 4 of the Niko P/E oars in each. The Niko P/E davits at first caused me some concern but after emailing the guys in the Vermont build, I have no reservation about using them anymore. A small piece of stretched .01 brass rod was used to bind the davits to each other for stability and to simulate the ropes holding the boats to the davits. I then used a small piece of Gold Metal P/E ladders to simulate the rope ladders for getting into the boats. An added and unforeseen benefit is the P/E ladders once glued to boat and deck provide some extra stability to the fitting. The next step was mounting the hull casemated 7” and 5” guns. Niko’s casting of these delicate parts is quite good but you’ll have to do a little filing to get them to fit. As with everything, be extremely careful when you do this but once the guns fit, they do stand out well since the barrels are black against the white hull. It was now time to attach the rigging from the masts to the fore and aft jack staffs. I used stretched sprue for this and once it was taut painted them black. Once they were dry and still taut, I was able to breathe again. I’ve always found that these are the rigging that will make or break your build. Finally, the build was ready for over coating. I sprayed one very light coat of Testor’s Glosscoat to even my painting out and then two very light sprayings of Dullcoat as a sealer. After this is was time to run up the flag and commission another ship in BLK’s Navy. Not to be confused with McHale’s.
Overall, this kit was quite an enjoyable build. It required a minimal of cleanup work. The parts were all well cast in both resin and P/E. The instructions were crisp, clear, and concise with excellent illustration. Other manufacturers should take lessons from Niko in this area. If I were grading the overall experience, I would give it an “A”. I’m excited that Niko has undertaken to do the USN Pre dreadnoughts. Their Iowa, Vermont, Virginia, & Rhode Island are on my build list for 2010. Hopefully, they will produce both versions of the Illinois and Maine class very soon. I’ll grant you that the US Pre dreadnoughts are except for the first Maine and maybe the Oregon not well known but they were extremely interesting in their day and made the USN a first rate navy. Special thanks to Stephen Halperin for helping me out with the photos. He’s my very good friend and we used his digital camera. And extra special thanks to my wife Cindy for putting up with me.