Silk Purse Revisited
Aoshima 1/700 IJN Battleship
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(Official USN Photo)

Jim Gordon
Photographed by Rob Mackie

Editor's note:  the photos of Jim's Mutsu are particularly impressive - and big!  If you want to see remarkable pics, scroll down and click on the thumbnail images in the left column.  These are big files but worth the wait.   Trust me.



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Read Jon Warneke's review of the excellent Monograph Morskie #5 book covering Nagato & Mutsu.  Jim Gordon's life would have been a lot easier if this book had been available when he built this model.

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Click for the Hi-Mold Nagato review, the ultimate 1/700 kit.


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Is 1250 scale your cup of tea?  Then check out the amazing Neptun Nagato


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Nice view of midship detail

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Take a look at this photo.  It's worth the wait  And keep reminding yourself that this is a 1/700 model while you view this pic.

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Flight Deck

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Great view looking forward

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Is it real wood or is it painted plastic?

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My favorite view

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What is it about pagoda masts?  Something sexual perhaps?

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Rigging Detail

The Ship
The battleship Mutsu, and it's sister Nagato, were the pride of the Imperial Japanese Navy when they were launched in 1921. They were the world's first battleships with 16" gun main armament. Displacing 34,000 tons and extremely well protected, they were formidable vessels indeed. Both ships were extensively modernized during the 1930's, acquiring the distinctive "pagoda" mast that would be the hallmark of IJN battleships. The Mutsu saw limited action in WW2. In June 1943, while riding at anchor in the waters of Hiroshima Bay, her magazines exploded for reasons undetermined, and she sank.

The Journey Starts
Aoshima kits of this vintage are rather crude by current standards and upon examination of the parts, I found the project to be daunting.  But the little "Pete" floatplane was appealing, so that's where I started .

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Pleased with the appearance of the finished, detailed "Pete", I had the confidence to try the main course.  I first photocopied a Mutsu profile view from Jentschura's"Warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy" (an essential reference for IJN enthusiasts). I marked each bridge level a different color, and matched them with the corresponding kit part.

Pagoda Mast
This told me that the Aoshima kit at least had the correct number of bridge levels and that their shape was acceptably accurate. But what was missing? Pagoda legs! There weren't any! Needless to say, the omission of the six tubular columns supporting the entire pagoda structure was a problem. pagoda.jpg (15029 bytes)So I assembled the bridge parts with liquid cement,making small corrections to each successive layer. After the bridge platforms were firmly in place, I used a 1/16" drill bit to make four guide holes through all nine levels.   Evergreen plastic rod was then inserted and I had my bridge legs - well, at least four of them. I omitted the two forward tubular masts. They are not obvious in my reference photos, and they would be too difficult to include in the space allowed on the bridge. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.  Then came levels 10 and 11. I crammed these platforms with as much detail as I could squeeze in - 25mm guns, searchlights, ventilators, railings, antennae, portholes et al. The massive bridge structure was starting to look very "IJN", but it lacked yet another highly visible feature - windows. There were none. The kit-supplied black paper sticky windows were toy-like, but then a bit of inspiration from the armour modeling side of my brain saved the day. Use a hot knife!! I ground the tip of a large nail to about 2mm x 2mm, inserted it into a 30 watt soldering iron, and practiced melting squares into scrap plastic. The technique seemed to work as long as the tip was neither too hot nor too cold.   Using a Dremel speed controller to modulate temperature, I melted the window's into the Mutsu's bridge. The technique proved to be sound, but I could have ruined the model had I not practiced first. You have been warned!

Hull and Fixtures
Surprisingly, the Aoshima Mutsu's hull and beam were both reasonably accurate, and the prominent torpedo bulges looked "right". But there was a lot of flash to be cleaned up, and I added numerous portholes with a Dremel tool. The 16" turrets were acceptable but the barrels needed straightening.,. The aft bridge structure also required drilling and tubular leg installation. I hollowed out the single funnel and fabricated a cap from thin brass wire. There is a complex searchlight installation surrounding the funnel. The kit parts in this area required much reworking and thinning, and I added stretched sprue to simulate the cross-bracing supporting the searchlight platforms.

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The casement guns were awful, the barrels more square than round, but I bit the bullet and sanded them true. In retrospect it would have been much easier to simply replace them with brass rod. The secondary guns were also rather lifeless. I used them anyway, but substituting Skywave parts would have been the better solution. My thinking was that the sheer density of detail on this model would swallow up these detail-forsaken bits.

Next came the many fixtures crammed onto an IJN capital ship - cranes,  boats, launches, gun tubs, masts, planes, catapults, deck railing, ladders et al. I used an entire fret of Tom's IJN railing, affixed with white glue.  There are more than 500 parts on this 1/700 scale battleship, 300 of them scratch built. On smashing the 500 part barrier it is my custom to have a cocktail, and dance a little jig while singing, "Oh, the modeler's life is the life for me!"

As for painting, I mixed my own shade of IJN grey using acrylics and sprayed it with flourish.  Lighter shades of the base color were sprayed downward over the vessel in order to lighten the horizontal surfaces. Next came the least enjoyable part - painting the wooden deck. I mixed a very thin wood color, and then brushed 3 coats. This was not going well, the wood tan  looking very uneven over the grey base coat. What to do? And then the muse whispered in my ear. "Use this color variation to your advantage." Employing a #0 paintbrush, I washed individual deck planks with different shades of the thinned wood color. You see, Aoshima thoughtfully provided RAISED deck panel lines, normally anathema to ship modelers, but the raised lines contained the colors beautifully. It was hell on my eyes, but in the end, I achieved a level of realism unhoped for. To be honest, I got lucky. The deck is the first thing those examining the Mutsu comment on,  as in "Is that REAL wood?". I reply, "Why, yes, it is. I cut and sanded each individual plank and then nailed them down with 1/700 scale nails."

I applied minimal weathering, dusting the ship with pastel chalk here and there. The water is Celluclay coated with white glue, painted with acrylics,  and then glossed with Flecto Acrylic Varathane. Last but not least, I added little flags, fixed the "Pete" floatplane- which started this whole project-to the catapult, and gave him a companion "Dave" biplane from a Skywave set.. I couldn't believe I had finished the Mutsu. But there it was, and I thought it looked great. I spent somewhere between 5 and 100 hours on this model. My stopwatch broke, so I cannot tell you precisely.

The Aoshima Mutsu is barely a satisfactory kit. The bridgework is lousy, and substantial cleanup and scratch building are required to bring it up to current standards. The kit is basically accurate, and with enough giddy enthusiasm, a working Mototool, a large magnifier, and much patience, you too can transform it into one fine display piece.

1998 Mutsu Refit
It is axiomatic that as one grows in ability and creativity, one's notion of "good" similarly evolves.  This was the case with Mutsu, which I completed in September 1996.  It was well regarded in local modeling circles, and I was content.  As often happens, the best references appeared AFTER completing the model.  This is unsettling, and I often feel compelled to update a model and incorporate my newly found wisdom.  "Gilding the lily" is a perfectly acceptable notion for me, and besides, if I don't update the model I won't be happy.   I'll lie awake at 4AM meditating on what it could be.   Just as the original ship had been reconstructed in 1937, it was time for a Mutsu "refit".

I replaced ALL the secondary anti-aircraft guns.   The original Aoshima parts were  too heavy for fine scale work, so off they came.  I used medical hemostats to grip and separate them from the hull.   Affixed with liquid cement, the AA guns were welded to the decks, and their removal was hazardous to adjacent detail.  Luckily for my sanity, nothing was damaged in the removal process.

The guns were replaced with Skywave versions from the IJN Equipment Set
#38.  The improvement was immediately noticeable.  I left off some twin 25mm guns on the lower bridge structure because they did not appear in my references.  I also cleaned up some over scale parts in this area, replacing two guns with Tom's PE single 20mm parts.

Next up was construction of small detail parts like fire hose assemblies, gun railings, life rings, aft bridge lookout assembly, paravanes, and other fiddly bits.  These added more "density".  Here's a tip: make life rings, using thin white styrene rod.  Drill a hole down the center, slice off sections crosswise, and then flatten the rings by tapping them once with a small hammer.

Now I turned my attention to the rigging.  My references showed that much more rigging was needed.  I used a combination of stretched sprue and Dai-Riki fishing line.  Dai-Riki is especially good for long sections, but it is harder to shrink under heat.  I prefer thin stretched sprue as I find it more workable.  I added about 2 dozen lines of different lengths, and removed a few old ones that did not look right.  The added rigging really improved the fineness and detail of the finished model.

A noticeable feature of many IJN capital ships were the awning supports surrounding the forecastle and quarterdeck. Awnings shielded the decks from the intense tropical sun when the ship was at anchor.  The awning supports are simply vertical poles with diagonal support braces, spaced about every three stanchions along the railings.  I fabricated these from thin grey-painted stretched sprue.  A simple jig enabled me to cut 4mm vertical stanchions and 4.5 mm diagonal supports.  80 of each size were needed.  The verticals were applied first using small drops of white glue applied at the base.  When these set, the diagonals were applied with a drop of white glue at each end.  Setting the verticals is easy because the railing supports them, but aligning the diagonal bracing was quite tedious.  Try to line them up before the glue sets.   But the overall effect is well worth the effort.  It looks great.

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Lastly, I added more signal flags, stern anchors, boarding ladders, and a few other details.  Not counting the guns, I affixed well over 200 new parts to the Mutsu during its April 1998 refit.  Still on the drawing board is the addition of figures.

I encourage you to take a previously completed model and go to work improving it.  A model is complete only if you think it is.  I regard my models as works-in-progress.  Just as with real ships, a periodic "refit" can bring new life and vitality to an old and perhaps forgotten model.

Editor's Note:
Jim's Mutsu was awarded first place in its class at the US IPMS 1998 Nationals in Santa Clara, CA.
And the Devastator shown in the "Official US Navy" photo at the top of the page
was built by Rob Mackie using the Monogram 1/48th scale kit.

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