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New Life for the IJN Heavy Cruiser
Jim Gordon

Photographed by Rob Mackie
(Click here for the extensive photo gallery at the end of the article)

Let me suggest an alternative to buying yet another model. Chances are you still have many of your early efforts, but they are not up to your current "standard". Quite simply they are not "good enough", so they sit on the shelf gathering dust.  Why not rebuild those old finished kits?  After all, most of the work has been done, so all need do is repaint and/or upgrade parts.  Think this is ridiculous?  A waste of time?  Read on, and save some of your hard earned dosh.

20 years ago a young man built several models of various warships.  Tiring of them, he threw them in a box. A friend discovered the box moldering away in his basement and gave it to me. I found ten 1:700  waterline ship models in various stages of disrepair.  Others necessities such as  paint, sandpaper, and assorted minor tools were included.  I was intrigued by this modeler's portfolio.  His models showed his skills to be  developing,  his work ranging from crude to not bad.  I reckoned this stuff to be late 1970's vintage, judging by the 30 and 40 cent Testor's paint bottles.

Tone12A.jpg (23500 bytes)One of these forgotten ships was Fujimi's 1/700th IJN Heavy Cruiser Tone. A sleek and beautiful warship, the Tone carried its  four 8" turrets forward, and a seaplane deck aft. The model itself was not so appealing.  Brush painted dark grey with the linoleum deck a pastel yellow color, it was ugly.  Rigged with black sewing thread and assembled using liberal amounts of Testors tube glue, the Tone was missing several crucial parts, including a dual AA turret, bridge gun director, main mast, and searchlights.  Part of the bridge was gone, the mast hung loosely from bits of thread, and most of the AA gun barrels had disappeared. Several times I came close to rebuilding this thing, but then regained my senses and threw it back into the box, breaking yet more parts.

Months later at a club meeting a friend showed his 1/700 model of the IJN cruiser Yahagi.  Seven years in the making, it is stunning.  This inspired me to rebuild the old  Tone.  I'm not sure why.  I had a new kit of the cruiser Aoba sitting on the shelf, but I chose to do a complete Tone restoration.  It's one of my favorites, and I suppose the challenge of doing something different was a motivation.

Lemon Scent Easy-Off
First step was the removal of thread rigging, loose parts, and the red waterline bottom. I then commenced spraying the model with liberal amounts of Easy Off oven spray (in fresh lemon scent!).  Easy Off is great - it lives up to its name and is much less toxic than paint removers, most of which eat plastic.   After 20 minutes, I scrubbed the paint with a toothbrush, rinsed it under tap water, dried it, then sprayed another Easy Off layer.  After three applications the old enamel was gone and the dark grey plastic revealed.  I repeated this procedure for the small parts and floatplanes.  To my delight all the scratches, glue blobs, and screwups were fully revealed.

I commenced by repairing the broken bridge with sheet styrene. 1/350th photoetch ladder stock was used to simulate bridge windows.  I reattached small gun directors, repositioned the forward bridge AA gun platform, and added PE railing to the various levels. I drilled out the trunked funnel with a mototool, then added PE and fine wire funnel capping. Using the existing forward gun director as a pattern, I fabricated a duplicate using a Skywave part and Evergreen rod.  After installation the missing director re-appeared, and so I removed my duplicate and reinstalled the original. Had I not scratch built a duplicate, the missing director would not have materialised so my effort was not wasted.  A missing funnel AA platform was replaced with a spare destroyer part.  I cut the large quarterdeck crane in half, drilled holes in the top and sides of the lower portion, and added a new photoetched boom to replicate the outer portion.  It's not exactly accurate, but much better than the featureless kit part.

ToneWIP01.jpg (27575 bytes)Brass wire was used extensively to fabricate the all-new aft mast, and most of the tripod mast assembly.  Jackstaffs are also of wire.    A below deck torpedo bay was constructed from spare parts-sheet styrene and four triple torpedo turrets. The original model had nothing in this vital area.  The finished model barely shows this feature, but I know it's in there and on some very deep level this gives my life meaning. The Jake floatplanes were painted and improved with photoetched props.  One plane had its wings removed to depict a spare plane being stowed on deck.  I placed its floats on each side of the funnel.  The wings are below decks somewhere being repaired. To add visual appeal I  showed the newly detailed crane lifting one of the Jakes from the water, or lowering it into the water, depending upon your belief system.  I also added an extended mooring boom near the stern with a few small launches alongside. Tom's Modelworks IJN railing and ladders were used throughout. I affixed them with white glue. The radar is also from Tom's Modelworks.

ToneWIP02.jpg (127020 bytes)The six stern gun tubs were replaced with thinner homemade resin castings.  The main turrets were in decent shape, but the tissue paper and tube glue blast bags had to go. Further improvements included drilling out the gun barrels and adding brass ladders. The four port/starboard dual purpose twin mounts were bent, and one was missing.  Using the best one as a master, I made resin copies which turned out surprisingly well.  Most barrels were replaced with brass wire.  The very crude triple and dual 25mm AA guns were in the worst shape. I used six Skywave mounts in the resin stern tubs.  The other light AA guns were converted from the existing gun bodies, with .005 styrene rod used for barrels.  It's very hard to get the barrels aligned.  I recommend using Skywave parts when you can (Editor's note: or the new White Ensign IJN etched brass guns. Click here for Jim's review), but in this case I ran out so I did it the hard way.  These conversions amounted to 6 more triple mounts and 2 twin mounts.

I sprayed the entire ship Pollyscale Gunship Grey.  The linoleum deck was hand brushed with an acrylic color by Delta called "brown iron oxide".  The brass linoleum tie downs were applied with a gold-colored ink pen.  Considerable touch-up of all three colors was required to get a clean effect.  Note: prevailing thinking has it that IJN ships had their linoleum removed towards the end of the war, since the material presented a fire hazard and burned readily.  However, I like the contrast of the brown with the grey, and so left the deck linoleum color although this is a late war Tone.
Taking care to mask the linoleum deck, I then sprayed a mist coat of Pollyscale ocean grey onto the horizontal surfaces in order to obtain a lightened, faded effect. I glossed the model with a spray coat of acrylic varathane.  Using a fine brush I  then applied burnt umber oil wash to all details. When dry, I sprayed a thin coat of matte acrylic.  This leaves a slight sheen that I find more appealing than dead flat.  The hull sides were sprayed with various shades of grey.  Further weathering was accomplished with rust watercolor and brownish pastel chalk.  Thin stretched sprue was used for some basic rigging, more of which will be added later.

The Scene
Tone08.jpg (16624 bytes)The base is constructed from thin 1" plywood strips with a 3/4" styrofoam center.  The ocean is Celluclay worked thoroughly in a food blender to break down any lumps.  I spread the clay out very thinly, then inserted the model and let dry.  I then coated the ocean with white glue both for a smoothing effect and to fill small holes.  I custom mixed some acrylics to get the ocean color. When dry, I glossed it with Flecto Diamond Finish clear Varathane.  A small launch from the parts bin fills in the upper right corner of the scene and provides a sense of movement.

The project was finished, and it looked pretty good, but something was missing.  I went through my " ship graveyard" looking for that elusive element and decided a sub would look right.  I had  the I-371 kaiten carrier and the I-58 mini-sub mothership already built, both a bit worse for wear.  I chose the I-371, mostly for its interesting load of human torpedoes.  I improved the periscopes, radar and crane; and repainted the deck.  Positioned aside the Tone's long forecastle, it draws attention to that ships most distinctive feature and gives density to the presentation.  The two vessels have a complimentary effect and a photoetched inclined ladder ties them together.

Several details give clues as to the time of this scene- the Tone's radar arrays, stern AA gun layout, and the sub's Kaitens place the time at early to mid 1945, in Kure harbor perhaps.

In conclusion, this 20 year old rebuild came off much better than I expected, and proves that almost any old model is still useful.  After 20+ hours, it took more time to "reverse engineer" this model than if I had built it from a new kit, but it was MUCH more interesting this way.  Further, the idea that the Unknown Modeller's work, at least a fraction of it, lives on in this piece is very gratifying in an existential way.  So grab a can of Easy Off and bring your early models back to life - you'll save money and get a special satisfaction that no new kit can deliver!

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For references I used Jentschura's Warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the Grand Prix IJN Cruisers book.  Entirely in Japanese, the book has over 200 pages of remarkably clear drawings that will answer any conceivable question a modeler could have about IJN cruiser construction details.  Available from Pacific Front, it has to be seen to be believed.

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