by: Stefan Halter [ ]
Originally published on:
I received this sample from Kitmaker Network for review and it was my first DML ship in any scale. My previous experience with 1/350 scale ships were the old Tamiya USS Missouri and the Fletcher. This kit however is several generations ahead of those. On opening the box I was amazed and stunned by all the detail packed into this kit. But more of that later. First, a history lesson.
History and Technology…
USS Independence was laid down on 1 May 1941 as Cleveland class light cruiser Amsterdam. In January 1942 the hull was the first to be chosen for reconstruction as an aircraft carrier. She was launched on 22 August 1942 as CV-22 Independence, the lead ship in her class of light carriers that was to include 9 different ships, all of which had distinguished services during the war. Two were transferred to the French Navy after the war, serving into the early 1960ies and one was transferred to Spain, serving until 1989.
With a flight deck of 174 meters length and 22.3 meters width and some 33 aircraft, she was only slightly larger than an escort carrier (CVE) of the time. But her most distinguishing feature were the 100’000 hp turbines. These allowed top speeds of 31.6 knots, allowing her to keep up with fast battleships and carriers. She had two deck elevators, a small island and four smoke stacks on the starboard side and in her initial layout one catapult on the front port side. Another catapult was added during repair and modernization in 1944. Her anti aircraft battery consisted of varying combinations of 40mm and 20mm guns as well as one 5” L38 gun on bow and stern each, in open mounts. The latter were removed after her shakedown cruise and replaced by 40mm quad mounts.
Independence was commissioned on 14 January 1943 and after her shakedown cruise in the Caribbean she transferred to the pacific fleet. On 14 July she was reclassified as light carrier (CVL) as were her sister ships.
Assigned to task force 15, Independence saw her first combat in September and October1943 with raids on Marcus and Wake Island. On 11 November she took part in a raid on Rabaul. The ensuing counter attack gave her AA gunners a chance to prove themselves, shooting down 6 enemy planes. On 18 November her planes attacked Tarawa and she was heavily damaged by aerial torpedoes on 20 November in a counter attack. She managed to get back to port on her own but was in dry dock in San Francisco for 24 weeks starting 2 January 1944.
In July 1944 she was in training with Carrier Air Group 41 (Night), the first night air group of the US Navy. Subsequently she took part in raids against major Japanese bases throughout the pacific with Task Force 38, the naval battles of Leyte Gulf and supported the invasions of the Philippines and Okinawa. Independence won 8 battle stars and her planes shot down 101 enemy aircraft.
After the war she took part in operation Magic Carpet, bringing home troops from overseas. She survived two atomic bombs during operation Crossroads at the Bikini Atoll and was eventually sunk in 1951 as a target ship near the Farallon Islands west of San Francisco. Controversy still lingers on about tons of nuclear waste supposedly sunk with her.
For more information and lots of photos I can recommend the USS Independence Reunion Group’s homepage (http://www.ussindependence-cvl22.com/).
The huge box is full to the brim with plastic and PE. You will find 22 grey plastic sprues, 9 clear sprues, 4 large plastic parts (upper and lower hull, flight deck and stand), as well as 3 PE frets, one large decal sheet and a small vinyl sheet with US and signal flags. Packaging is first class with the large plastic parts firmly attached to the bottom and the sprues spread in 2 different compartments of the box. Molding is superb – as can be expected from DML nowadays – with no flash, no sink marks or any pin marks in easy to see locations. DML has made substantial use of slide mold technology and the results are obvious.
The kit can be built either as Independence during her shakedown cruise (with the 5” L38 guns on bow and stern) or in her configuration until the attack on 20 November 1943 at Tarawa. Later configurations would in particular require the second catapult.
Starting with the weak point of this kit, the instructions. These are the standard DML line drawings with 10 steps on 10 pages. Crammed with subassemblies they are not easy to follow and careful study is recommended, as well as marking the steps required by the option you choose.
The painting and marking guide is somewhat lacking, as it shows three options for the flight deck, each with or without flight deck numbers, but it does not clearly say which configuration represents which time. Also, it contains no indication for the shakedown cruise. It is up to the modeler (or the reviewer) to find out, that she was painted in Measure 14 (Ocean Grey) on her shakedown cruise and Measure 21 (Navy Blue) after (as indicated in the instructions). Note, that from 1944 onwards she carried a Measure 33 camouflage scheme.
Rather than go through all the sprues separately, I will follow the steps of the instructions to guide you through what’s to be expected from this kit.
Step 1: AA guns and smoke stacks
No, the first step is not the joining of the two hull parts. DML have you build lots of small details first, which you will have to put to the side for a while before attaching them to the ship. Some may prefer building these as you need them when installing on the ship.
The first subassemblies are the anti aircraft batteries. You will assemble both dual and quad 40mm mounts which include incredible detail for this scale, details you would normally expect from an update PE set. The crisply molded guns are enhanced with seats, foot pedals and gun sights and can be mounted in any angle, making some variation possible. Not included are the guards at the rear of the mounts. A quad mount for example is made up of 9 tiny plastic parts and 6 PE parts. The 20mm Oerlikons include separate barrel, magazine, gun sight, shoulder rest and a choice of either plastic or PE shield. The open mounts for the 5” guns are made up of 11 parts and the gun itself even has a hollowed out muzzle.
The four smoke stacks have intricate detail and some very finely molded lines and grating. Each one is made up of at least 10 parts.
Step 2: Crane, island and radars
Slide molding comes to its highest reaches when it comes to the crane assembly. No PE is needed here as the grating on the crane is very finely molded. The downside of this is that the part was bent and cracked in transport on my sample.
The mast on the island is made up mostly of delicate grating from plastic, again with slide molds used. PE parts are added to this, including a 4 part SC-2 radar. There are two more radar antennas unknown to me (one probably an SG radar?) from plastic. While these are delicately molded, some might wish to replace them with PE. The mast also includes delicate power lines. The island itself is made up of 10 parts with PE ladders added.
Step 3 and 4: Hull and hangar deck
Step 3 has you assemble the main parts of the hull and the walls of the hangar deck. The hull consists of lower and upper hull and even though the instructions don’t mention it, it looks like it is possible to make a waterline model by leaving the lower hull off. Both parts are beautifully molded and while the upper hull on my example is slightly warped, this will square out nicely once glued together. Some light sanding should take care of the glue seam. Shafts and screws are finely molded and the rudder is made up from two pieces, allowing articulation.
The hangar walls include delicate wall detail that is enhanced in step 4 with more details inside and out, including a choice of plastic or PE hangar doors, both of which are very good. This of course gives you the possibility to give the viewer a chance to look inside not only through an elevator in the down position but also through the side doors. There is even a decal for the interior ("Beware Of Propeller"). More ambitious modelers will want to install a light so everything can be seen.
More details of the lower deck are added in this step and the modeler will have to decide now, whether it will be a shakedown cruise configuration or a war cruise. The first AA guns are added here together with anchor chains from PE, highly detailed anchors, two launches with separate rudders (from very finely molded plastic) and the first of the delicate life rafts from plastic and PE railings. A word on the railings: The cross bars are much wider than the ones I have used so far from Gold Medal Models.
These two steps are highly confusing and careful planning is necessary to be sure you don’t forget anything. I would even recommend marking off the parts you have added.
Step 5 and 6: Starboard side flight deck details
Finally you’ve made it to the flight deck. This is a stunning one piece molding with deck planking, arresting cables and catapult on top and doors, ladders and other small details on the sides. The lower side is of course also detailed with strengthening bars but has several pin marks. As no one will see the hangar ceiling from below this is not a problem. Some may wish to remove the pin marks outside the hangar but unless you look at the model upside down you will not notice.
In steps 5 and 6 you add all the nitty gritty details to the port side of the flight deck. It takes careful study of the instructions and comparison with the deck part to find out what side you are on and which part goes where, so care should be taken here. It is unfortunate that DML don’t describe anything in words (like Tamiya for example) as this would help considerably.
Details include AA guns, fire directors for the AA guns, railings and life rafts. Also included are PE doors for the hatches which are molded open. This is a very nice touch that can add a little life to the deck. Also added here is the separate mast (made from plastic with slide molds) for the SK air search radar. The radar itself can be either made from 2 plastic parts (which are best confined to the large round bin) or 3 quite complex PE parts.
Step 7 and 8: Port side flight deck details
This is the equivalent of steps 5 and 6 for the other side and the same precautions should be taken here. Special mention here goes to the PE safety net on the stern (incidentally, a subassembly within a subassembly, just to show how complicated the instructions really are!).
Step 9: Final assembly
In the final assembly you first have to add several parts to the underside of the flight deck. Elevators and flight deck are added then, as well as the island. The elevators can be placed in any position, which makes interesting scenes and views into the hangar possible. A large and rather nice stand is included with the kit and the two pillars can be mounted in 4 different locations. I presume this stand has been seen before or will be seen again some day.
Step 10: Aircraft and vehicles
For those who were wondering what the 9 clear sprues are, these are for the 18 aircraft. Whether from the modeler's point of view it makes sense to mold the whole aircraft in clear plastic just for the clear windows is another matter but I’m sure it is for economical reasons. How to mask such small windows is also on another page. Nevertheless, the aircraft have stunning details.
There are 6 F6F Hellcats, three each with folded or deployed wings and open or closed canopy. They have separate wings, engine, propeller, wheels, belly tanks and rockets. The Hellcats can even be built with retracted landing gear, maybe for a diorama setting. The 6 TBF Avengers are also divided in 3 stowed and 3 deployed with the same parts layout as the Hellcats and open or closed bomb bay with torpedo. There are also 6 SBD Dauntlesses, of course all with the same layout as the Dauntless did not have folding wings. Its use on the Independence was limited because of this but it is unclear to me how long they were actually used (and the instructions have no info on this). 3 can be built with open and 3 with closed cockpit. They include defensive machine guns and a bomb.
Aircraft are also available separately for those who wish to add more.
There are also 4 tractors and 4 jeeps to populate the flight deck. They have intricate details for this scale down to the engine on the tractors which can be seen through the open cowling sides. The tractors have two different types of tow bars.
Yes, this kit also contains several figures, not from PE, but from plastic. They are well animated and detailed little chaps for this scale and ideal to populate the deck somewhat. This is the only place in the whole kit where some flash can be noticed and care will have to be taken with cleanup. Each pose is provided twice making 18 figures in 9 poses. They include 10 pilots and 8 deck crew (with two tractor drivers) but no gun crews. This is unfortunate as having a populated deck and deserted AA guns seems unrealistic to me. Nevertheless a nice inclusion and hopefully we will see more of this in the future.
Decals are finely printed, well registered and commendably tin. There are of course all the necessary lines for the deck and two large deck numbers in black. There are 3 hull numbers in white with the instructions only showing the location of two. Presumably the third is a spare. The rest of the decals are three different types of aircraft national insignia for your choice of time period. Unfortunately it is again up to the modeler to find out when which insignia was used. No other markings for the aircraft are included, which is somewhat disappointing when you consider all the other detail on the planes but not a major issue of course.
In one word: Stunning! I can recommend this kit without reservations to anyone. Though some of the details are a bit daunting, less experienced modelers can always leave off some of the very fine PE parts and still have a very detailed model.
The instructions are clearly the weak point in this kit and once again, careful study is highly recommended. For the painting and marking, the 100% accuracy minded will want to use some good reference. I am sure we will learn more about this issue once the build logs start.
Many conversions and different version are possible with this kit, ranging from late war CVL-22 to 8 other Independence class carriers and also carriers in French service for example during the Suez Crisis. Not least of the versions is of course the Spanish Dédalo with Harrier jump jets and helicopters. If DML don't follow this one up, I am sure some AM-producers will. Unfortunately we can not expect a Cleveland class light cruiser as the hulls were somewhat widened for the Independence class.