by: Gremlin56 [ ]
I think it was early last year that I read an article that Hasegawa was producing the escort carrier USS Gambier Bay in 1/350th scale. I have always liked the looks of these stubby little carriers so to say I was interested in buying my own scale “Jeep carrier” is putting things mildly. I later ran into another news item announcing that Dragon was working on a light carrier in 1/350th scale, the USS Independence. The fine differences between these two types of vessels was virgin territory for me at the time, all I wanted was my own midget flattop.
Dragon evidently put more time and effort into their advertising campaign, providing plenty of CAD drawings and lots of details about what they would be offering while the information from Hasegawa was virtually non existent, and when Frank Brechmann at Der Sockelshop announced that the Independence would be available in November I placed a pre-order at his shop. Looking back at that decision now I am an extremely happy camper !
USS Independence CVL…
What eventually became the first vessel of the Independence class of light carriers started life as a Cleveland class light cruiser. To provide air cover for the Atlantic convoys President Roosevelt had already proposed the conversion of merchant vessels into escort carriers. To fill a gap in the production of the carriers sorely needed for the Pacific theatre FDR proposed converting some of the Cleveland class light cruisers into light carriers as a stop gap measure. After an initial rejection of the proposal by the Navy the decision was made in January 1942 to convert 1 Cleveland cruiser into a light carrier. The order did however entail that the carrier would have a smaller flight deck, smaller aircraft capacity and would be more susceptible to adverse weather conditions with all consequences for flight operations. By June 1942 the order had expanded to a total of 9 light carriers.
Despite alterations to the cruiser hull, huge blisters were added to widen the waterline, the height above the water and the added top weight did nothing to improve the vessel’s sea keeping abilities; lots of photo’s can be found online showing rather horrifying roll angles that make you wonder why the aircraft on deck did not disappear over the side.
To cut down on weight amour was kept to a minimum and the class had virtually no protection against bombs or torpedoes.
The armament was changed even before the Independence went into operations, her 5 inch guns being replaced by 40mm quads.
A fact I found fascinating was the statement that the Independence class’ final design violated just about every rule the US Navy had learned about carrier design. Despite these shortcomings the Independence class was available on time and was able to take the place of an equivalent of four heavy carriers at a time those were not yet available but sorely needed. At this point I would recommend buying Squadron/Signal’s US Light Carriers in action, ISBN 0-89747-437-6, to read the full exploits of these “mighty midgets”. They were on scene at nearly every major operation in the Pacific. Most of them were damaged at some time due to enemy action and the Princeton was lost due to a dive bomber attack in 1944. A couple of these light carriers were badly damaged due to extreme weather conditions. Strangely enough one of these vessels, the Cabot, was still in active service with the Spanish navy in 1989, flying Harriers !
The Independence met with a sad ending, first being used as a test vessel during the “Crossroad” atomic bomb tests at Bikini atoll. After being reduced to a floating hulk she was used as a radiation test platform until 1952. In 1952 she was used as a target and sank off the coast of California, a rather sordid finish to a gallant career.
Dragon 1/350th USS Independence CVL…
I mentioned before that I was very happy having chosen the Dragon offering instead of the Hasegawa Gambier Bay. While Hasegawa have taken the now familiar road of releasing the model with several very expensive after market PE sets and a minimum of aircraft for on deck, Dragon supplies a package that will build a very complete replica of the Independence complete with the basic PE needed to detail the ship and with a very comprehensive air wing. Tow tractors and jeeps are included as well to add to a realistic cluttered deck look. To top this all off a small complement of deck crewmen and airmen are included, this all for a reasonable price, ( I think I paid about € 150,- including postage). Dragon have even supplied a very civilized looking stand to mount the Independence on.
At the time I write this article WEM have announced PE sets for the carrier and the air wing, Dragon have released additional aircraft sets to boost the supplied air wing and you can be very sure that Eduard have noticed this model and are probably cooking something up in their workshops.
So how is the model itself? The box is a now familiar Dragon information overload, photo’s on the front, sides and behind listing all features and chucking CAD photo’s around like there is no tomorrow. It does attract your attention though and gives an excellent idea of what you are spending your hard earned cash on. Inside the box the parts are beautifully packed, the hull and flight deck parts clamped down on plastic supports and protected by sprue extensions where necessary. The PE parts and a small sheet of flags are secured on the familiar Dragon cardboard sheet and a large sheet of decals is placed faced down at the bottom of the box, no damage there either!
The model is made in a very elegant matt grey plastic, very reminiscent of the new Vallejo grey undercoat, seems to be rather soft at first glance but I haven’t done any cutting or trimming yet. There is next to no flash. Slight bit on the crewmen, see photo, but nothing that a quick scrape with a knife or a swipe with an emery board won’t cure.
Ejector pin marks are placed where you should not notice them.
The fit of the hull parts is exquisite and will need only the slightest bit of clamping while the cement hardens.
The molding is beautifully done with the expert use of slide molds easily recognizable. The latticework for the radar masts, stacks etc. is very delicate and at a pinch can be used instead of the PE. The big exception here is a rather awful solid plastic SK radar antenna. It is so bad you can hardly believe your eyes, ( look at photo if you are extremely brave). Luckily a finely etched PE part is included to do full justice to the air search radar so that you can “bin” the plastic offering straight away .
Detailing of the flight deck is a work of art, the separate planks and tie-down strips plainly visible, deck edge detailing sharp and clear, this cries out for filtering, washing and glazes to bring out all details. I am not too sure about the arrester wires, maybe PE would have been a better alternative. The girder work underneath the flight deck is rather coarse and over scale, this is where Hasegawa’s approach pays off. The problem is only evident if you hold the model over your head and make a prolonged study of the girders though so with some prudent washing and hi-lighting it should not detract from the total effect.
Detailing of the island, smoke stacks and masts is of the same high quality, with very prudent use of PE to boost the effect. This does mean that there are several sprues of miniscule parts that may be a bit too intimidating for the less experienced modelers.
The fine parts are protected by sprue extensions to prevent damage in the box.
The same thing applies to the armament, with traverse pedals, gun sights etc. available in filigree PE parts. You will need the trusty optivisor, Gator glue and the patience of a saint to add all these parts. If you do though the effect is fantastic, creating a museum model finish.
Also included in the PE set are the hangar deck shutters, which are a great improvement on the plastic parts.
The air wing and deck vehicles are more of the same: minute details, for example the Hellcats can be built with folded or extended wings, the trademark Hellcat drop tank is included but it does not stop there. You can add 6 rocket projectiles and if you want to the starboard wingtip radome is included for the night fighter version. The Avengers provide the same level of detail. Here the bomb bay can be assembled open or closed so that the included torpedo can be admired. Six Dauntless dive bombers are included but using them will limit the time frame for the portrayal of your build of the Independence as the deployment of the Dauntless to this class of carrier was short. The Dauntless could not fold its wings and took up too much space.
The air wing does embody my favorite gripe: once again it is molded in brittle transparent plastic. I hate this junk plastic and to use this just for the canopies makes absolutely no sense to me at all. I would suggest a major rethink here for all companies using this extremely irritating method.
The one major disappointment is the instruction sheet. Once again a great model is crippled by a substandard set of instructions. Of course it will not prevent the model getting built but it could have made life more easy. Just take a peek at Trumpeter: booklet style instructions, color sheet etc. It is so much better than the included Dragon offering. Having said this I must stress that despite the instruction sheet this model of the Independence is just about as good as it gets. Once again I thoroughly recommend this model and would add the classification “must have” here. I am looking forward to the build although that is still a long time off at the moment due to some other projects I have lined up first.