The Ship
USS San Francisco was a heavy cruiser of the New Orleans class.   San Francisco was built at the Mare Island Naval Ship Yard in Vallejo, CA.  She was laid down  Sept 9, 1931, launched Mar. 9, 1933 and commissioned Feb. 10, 1934, Capt. Royal E. Ingersoll as her first commanding officer.                          

Brief History
San Francisco received 17 Battle Stars, and one Presidential Unit Citation for outstanding performance of duties during World War II.  She was the 2nd most decorated US ship of WW II.  Most notable for her efforts in the Solomon Islands and at Guadalcanal in October and November, 1942,  she and a few other US cruisers and destroyers confronted Japanese battleships and cruisers, when we had no larger vessels available. Two Hundred Eighteen men died in combat aboard San Francisco during WW II.  She fought all during the war, was decommissioned in 1946, and was sold and scrapped in 1959.  The navigating  bridge, on which the admiral commanding the US force at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Adm. Daniel Callaghan, and her Captain, Cassin Young, were killed, has been saved as a Memorial to the ship and her men.  The Memorial is at Landís End in San Francisco.   It looks out over the Pacific, along the great circle route across the water toward her old wartime adversary, Japan.

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The Model
The ship is depicted in a fairly calm sea, sailing at about 20 knots.  The overall gray paint is Standard Navy Gray # 5, which was a peacetime color.  Metal decks are Deck Gray # 20, with all wooden decks depicting holystoned teak.  The 4 aircraft are Vought O3U-3ís, which she carried until April, 1936.   The boats are 2 - 50í motor launches and 2 - 26í motor whale boats. The green stripes on the forward turrets designate the flagship of Cruiser Division 7.  The yellow upper surface of the #3 turret is specific for the San Francisco, and the green stripes on the aircraft represent the shipís assignment as flagship of that division.  However, these recognition colors and patterns are the subject of much contradictory information.  Various published sources indicate that San Francisco was either in CruDiv 6, or 8, or 7, and her position in those various divisions is unclear.  I have a copy of the San Franciscoís Cruise book, written and published by her own crew.  it states unequivocally that she was flagship of Division 7 from 1935-1940, so I selected that.  Apparently, no one knows for sure about the recognition color on the aft turret.  I interviewed a member of San Franciscoís air crew.  His shipmates all say he has a fantastic memory.  He says that the San Franciscoís #3 turret top was painted all over Chrome yellow, to match the color of the aircraft wings, and that her number was painted on it, as shown here.  He should know, it was his job to use that color and number to spot his ship and get himself, his plane and his pilot back to the ship safely.  In absence of harder data, and as a tribute to a man who was there, that is the paint scheme I chose.

Materials for Constructing the Model
The hull of the model is constructed from .060" polystyrene,  using a central profile board (spine),  an .080 styrene plate at the water line, and bulkhead formers at every hull station.  The hull was plated using .030 styrene sheet, with cast blocks of ButterBoard, a cast urethane material cemented to the bow and stern, then carved and faired to shape.   All the plastic joints are welded using solvent cement.  Joining of dissimilar materials, such as the butter board and the wood to the styrene uses 2 part epoxy.  Any joints subject to physical strain are pinned as well as glued. As built, the San Francisco had many portholes. They are a very distinctive part of her appearance.  I made each one by drilling a suitable size hole, then sliding in a short piece of plastic tubing, gluing it and leaving it protrude just a bit.  I then used a small tapered reamer, to enlarge the portholes to the correct size, which thinned the tube to just the right thickness as a rim. I didnít put glass in each porthole,  I liked the visual contrast between the hull and the portholes. The main sub-deck is styrene, with pre-glued basswood planking installed on all weather decks. Fully enclosed upper structures are ButterBoard, exposed decks and open structures are fabricated from styrene sheet.  The turrets are ButterBoard, cut and sanded to shape,  the gun barrels are mounted behind a faceplate, so they protrude through the turret face, but the barrels are fitted with fabricated blast bags to cover the joint. The aircraft cranes,  housings and supports are fabricated from brass and plastic;  The crane jibs and the catapults are photo etch from Tomís Modelworks, folded and strengthened before mounting. The 50í launches are vacuum formed styrene, with decks, fittings, strakes, rudders and props cemented on.  The whale boats are cast pieces purchased from Bluejacket, with extra details added. The 5"-  25/cal  weapons are castings from Don Pruel at J & D Productions.  Each of the 8 assemblies consists of 13 separate cast parts, which I assembled, then added some extra detail and installed. 

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I fabricated the Mk 3 mountings for the 50 caliber machine guns, but I left those guns unmounted, assuming they would be stored in peacetime. Deck machinery and fittings are a combination of cast Bluejacket parts, chocks, bollards etc.,  and fabricated fans, controls, hydrants, etc.Masts and spars are fabricated and formed from brass tube and rod,  tapered and shaped, then soldered together for strength.  The recognition lights are tiny glass beads. The 4 aircraft are scratch built from ButterBoard for the fuselage and floats,  and styrene and wire for the wings.  Each of the rotary engines has individual cylinders in proper location,  covered by the cowl.   The propellers are fabricated from styrene.  The plane dollies were fabricated of brass and plastic.  Art McArdle told me how the planes were spotted.  The section leaderís plane is up on the starboard catapult, his wing man is on the port catapult, No. 3 is in the well deck, with No. 4 behind it. Up in the pilot house on the navigation bridge, the binnacle, shipís wheel, engine telegraphs and repeaters, voice tubes and chart tables were fabricated, painted and installed. The main and secondary gun directors were fabricated and installed.  I looked fruitlessly for months trying to find what the directors actually looked like from above.  None of my sources could help me.  Finally I happened across a picture of Astoria being refit, which was taken looking down into the director.  That information, combined with the Friedman book on weapons allowed me to construct the directors accurately. All the inclined ladders, stanchions and railings are photo etch from Bluejacket.  It was a generic sheet in the proper scale;  I was able to cut and fit all the necessary pieces.  I am a nut about railings.  As best I could, I mounted the railings down in the waterway where the lowest railing would not be seen.  And doing it this way, I have a natural guide, so the rails donít wander. (Too badly)  Notice that the upper rails connect at each change of direction.  A tiny crew man would not fall. 

The treads of the inclined ladders are properly oriented, so that same crew man could climb up and down. Various staffs, booms, paravanes, pipes and hoses were fabricated and installed.  Where necessary, they were tapered to scale size or slightly smaller for enhanced appearance. Photo etch ladders were installed on the sides of the turrets and up the masts.  Navigation lights were fabricated from plastic sheet and glass beads. The ship was rigged using a combination of mono filament where a smooth small line was needed,  and various sizes of fishing line were used for the heavier lines.  The signal halyards were left natural to simulate hemp,  the standing rigging was dyed a faded black to simulate weathered tarred cable.  I did not install the standing rigging, fore and aft stays until after the ship was mounted.  I didnít want to take a chance on the lines going slack, or getting too tight when the ship was mounted. Early on, I constructed the base.  I prefer the base to look like a stone plinth.  This gives a clear line of demarcation between the real world, and the miniature world I am creating, but does not interfere with either of them.  After making the wood base, I also traced around the water line of the ship and cut that shape out of a piece of 1/4" Masonite sheet.  I screwed that piece down to the base in the final location of the ship.  I prefer the ship to be mounted at a slight angle, not straight with the center line.  This implies life and motion.  On the inside bottom of the base plate I attached a piece of angle aluminum as a reinforcement to keep the base flat. I mixed  a paste of SculptaMold paper mache,  and white carpenterís glue, then troweled this on to shape the waves.  I use any implements I can get my hands on, but by far the most useful is a plain old teaspoon.  After I have the basic shape done, I let it dry a couple of days, then slather on another layer to fill in anywhere it needs it.  It is necessary to let the first coat harden so I have a firm surface to work with the second time.  After I am satisfied, I let the paper mache dry, which usually take a couple of weeks.

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I remove the false hull which I worked around, and I have a ship-shaped depression in which I can install the model when I am ready. I brush on several coats of gel artists medium.  This seals the papier mache, fills in any low spots, and gives me a slightly windblown texture which adds some visual interest to the surface.  After that is dry, I brush on a coat of acrylic paint, which I have mixed up to give the very deepest blue color, which would only be seen down in the troughs.  The color is selected to complement the color of the  model itself.    Then I make a batch of white acrylic, into which I have mixed some of the base color giving a very light blue, airbrush it onto the surface, to accentuate the high spots, while leaving the troughs dark because the sun would not be lighting that area. When building the hull, I had installed threaded nuts securely within, and before closing up the hull, I marked and drilled locations for matching holes to install mounting screws.  When I am ready to install the ship, it is merely a matter of placing it in the depression, and running machine screws up through the base into the hull.  My hull was slightly warped (banana shaped) but the screws pulled it down nicely. I try to paint as I go. 

I dislike masking, so I tend to build substructures  which have natural joints where they would be on the real ship.  Then I can paint a piece all one color, and donít have to mask, and I donít have to do much touch up after the piece is installed.  Of course, I still have to do some masking, and touch up, but not much.  I cut out the wood deck to finished size, then painted around where it would go, then traced and cut out for most of the superstructure pieces , off the model. Then I could glue the wood down with 2 ton epoxy (to make sure that the glue would be strong enough to keep the deck from moving or curling with changes in temperature and humidity).  When it was set, I glued the painted superstructure pieces into their holes.  they fit very well, without fuss.   Many of the deck fittings are too small to do that.  For them I prefabricate.  Before I paint them, I drill them and glue in a small piece of wire which I use as a locator pin.  I push the pins through a piece of cardboard to hold the pieces while I paint them, and I drill a hole through the deck where the piece ultimately has to go.  It is easier for me to locate a small hole, and I use slow drying glue for final assembly, so I know each piece is where I want it to be, and I can easily align it before the glue dries. I use automotive primer as my first coat for painting.  This allows me to sand any roughness if I need to. 

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The final coats of San Francisco are ModelMaster Acrylic,  Standard Navy Gray # 5, and Deck Gray # 20.  Many of the fittings and structures were toned down slightly with a  dilute mixture of varnish ahd black artistís pigment.  This slight toning down adds some interest without calling attention to itself.  The boot topping around the bottom of the hull is in fact automotive striping tape,  a dark gray, not black.  The striping tape is permanent, goes on straight and doesnít have any smears or overspray. I believe in scale effect for painting.  I liked the Standard Gray # 5 as it came from the bottle, and Deck Gray is neutral so I didnít worry about it, but the black at the top of the stacks is in fact 15% white and 85% black, and all the other colors and accents are toned down also.  This prevents garish contrasts.   The wood deck was toned down with a coat of Dune Gray wiping stain before it was cut and installed.  (Most of the stain was wiped off, but it did a great job of blending the wood tone into the overall palette.) After the ship was in place, I brushed several coats of clear (actually translucent white) gel medium into the joint between the base and the ship.  This puts the ship INTO the water,  and allows me to fill any cracks or depressions which might show up.  The gel slops up onto the boot topping, just as sea water would.  It goes on white, so you can see what you are doing, but dries translucent and does a perfect job of subtly disguising the joint. I dislike shiny spots, even shiny metals arenít shiny at this scale, so as a final step I give everything an airbrushed coat of Testors DullCote, which removes all the shine, and hides the glue spots.

Length overall

588 feet


61 feet 9 inches


23 feet


9, 950 tons

Power plant

8 boilers driving 4 Westinghouse turbines, giving 107, 000 horsepower and a top speed of 32. 75 knots


9 - 8"/55 cal    main battery
8 - 5"/25 cal    antiaircraft
8 - 0.50 cal       machine guns


4 - Vought O3U-3 Corsair float planes


101 officers   803 enlisted men

My stepson is in the display business, and he recommended a case fabricator to me, Capitol Plastics in Beltsville, MD.  Their clear covers are gorgeous, they custom make them for the Smithsonian, and I am very pleased with the result.  The case never fails to get attention.  I had a frame shop locally build the visible wood frame for me, I pinned it to the Acrylic cover, and ran screws up from the flange of plinth into the wood.  The model is securely covered, but the cover can be removed if desired for photos,  and cleaning if that is ever necessary. I worked on this model for 3  1/2 years.  I am not fast, but this is a hobby.    I am reasonably productive considering the amount of research required.   I conservatively calculate that I applied about 600 hours per year,  (300 days at an average of 2 hours per day) for a total of about 2000 hours for the project.

I built the model as a "Thank You" gift for Lou Parker.   For him and his shipmates who fought in World War II, and for the kind of man Lou is today, knowledgeable and helpful and encouraging to anyone who asks for anything  Navy.  I recently took the model to the State of Washington and presented it to Lou at his home.  Ultimately, he plans to donate it to the Mare Island Navy Yard Museum.  Hopefully the people at the museum will be pleased that one of their most famous alumni (or at least a model of her and her spirit) have finally come home.



  • Tom Walkowiak, Floating Drydock, Kresgeville, PA,  drawn 1962
  • US Navy Bureau of Construction and Repair Booklet of General Plans, original undated, alterations corrected to October 10, 1944

Books and publications

  • US Cruisers,  A Design History,  Norman Friedman  US Naval Institute Press,  1984
  • US Naval Weapons ibid. 1985
  • Warship Pictorial  #5, San Francisco,   Classic Warships Publishing
  • Warship Pictorial # 2  Minneapolis  ibid.
  • Warship Pictorial # 7  New Orleans Class ibid.
  • Warship Pictorial #14 Wichita ibid.
  • Profile Morski  USS San Francisco, BS Firma Wydawniczo Handlowa 1995     
  • US Heavy Cruisers in Action  Squadron/Signal Publications  2001
  • Model Ship Builder,  periodical, article in 3 consecutive bimonthly issues, 1982  Building USS San Francisco, by Ray Crean
  • Battleship & Cruiser Aircraft of the US Navy, 1910 - 1949 William T. Larkins   Schiffer Publishing 1996
  • Battleship Country The Battlefleet at San Pedro/Long Beach 1910-1940 Harvey M. Biegel ,  Pictorial Histories Publishing   1983
  • Cruisers   Anthony Preston
  • Cruisers of World War II  M.J. Whitley
  • USS San Francisco,  One Ship    The Crewís Cruise Book  circa 1946
  • USS San Francisco, A Technical History,  Hansen Publishing Chuck Hansen  1981

Internet sources 
(Google searches for websites and photos)

  • Dictionary of American Fighting Ships 
  • Naval Historical Center
  • NavSource
  • San Francisco Memorial Foundation
  • Steel
  • American Aviation Historical Society
  • Vought Aircraft. com
  • Aviation Enthusiastís Corner

Individual sources -  from personal Interviews and conversations

  • Art McArdle  San Francisco crew member 1936 - 1940
  • Dana Bell  a retired Smithsonian curator, expert on ship and aircraft painting and markings
  • Art Herrick  retired professional model maker and naval researcher
  • Fritz Koopman  naval propulsion engineer and naval history enthusiast
  • Al Ross  author, designer and model maker for Bluejacket Shipcrafters
  • Charles Landrum  retired Navy Commander and naval historian
  • Don Pruel, master model maker annd now curator of the ship model collection at the Naval Academy, Annapolis
  • Dick Jansen  amateur naval historian and collector
  • Steve Wiper  researcher and publisher of  Warship Pictorials
  • Ray Juncal  professional model builder and researcher of Navy subjects
  • A.D. Baker III  historian and draftsman,  responsible for most of the drawings found in published information on naval ships
  • Jack Wallace, retired Navy commander, commercial pilot and the son of John Wallace, recipient of the Navy Cross for his heroism when the San Francisco was hit by a crashing Betty Nov 12, 1942
  • Darren Scannell, naval historian, producer of ship models and decals
  • Steve Nuttall  machinist and producer of miniature brass gun barrels.  Steve produced 10 beautiful guns for San Francisco, using my and his dimensions
  • Louis Parker,  San Francisco crewman, 1944 - 1945,  naval historian and photo archivist, acknowledged source of many of the photos published in the references cited here and many more.

Gary Kingzett