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Trumpeter 1/350 scale USS Essex

Kit: No. 5602
Scale: 1/350
Manufacturer: Trumpeter, distributed by Stevens International, P.O. Box 126, 706 N. White Horse Pike, Magnolia, NJ 08049, 856-435-1555
Price: $119.95
Comments: Injection molded, 610 parts, decals
Pros: Good representation of the carrier as commissioned, good fit all-around, obvious accommodations for aftermarket photoetched parts, excellent aircraft "kits"
Cons: Ejector-pin marks and mold seams need cleanup, some small items are basic, propeller shafts and supports incorrect

Arguably the most famous class of aircraft carriers, the Essex ships were built rapidly in the middle years of World War II, bringing the U.S. Navy's attack carrier fleet from a low of three (Saratoga, Ranger, and Enterprise) in late 1942, to 27 on V-J Day. Of the 24 ships in the class, none was sunk by the enemy, although the USS Franklin (CV-13) was put out of commission by kamikaze attacks.

Many Essex-class carriers saw action in Korea, and some were modernized with angled landing decks, steam catapults, and "hurricane" (enclosed) bows. A few of them served as attack carriers during the Vietnam War, but most became antisubmarine carriers. Three still exist as floating museums: the Yorktown in Charleston South Carolina, the Intrepid in New York City, and the Lexington in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Trumpeter has reproduced the Essex in its original 1942 configuration. Significant modifications were made during her 1944 refit, but those modifications are not included. It's important to know that each of the Essex-class carriers differed in detail even at their commissioning, and that incremental refits changed even more features.

The kit's parts are molded in gray, red, black, and clear plastic. There is no significant flash, but there are visible mold seams and ejector-pin marks that should be cleaned up. The kit provides the option of building a full-hull or a waterline model. Only 12 aircraft (four each of the Hellcat, Dauntless, and Avenger) are provided. Each is a miniature kit, containing 10 to 16 parts with clear canopies.

The 24-step instructions include parts maps for the individual sprues. My sample had a basic decal sheet including two black "9s" for the flight deck and several white elevator warning strips. There were no decals for the aircraft, so I used Gold Medal Models' 1/350 scale USN aircraft decal sheet.

This is a big, complex model, not the basic ship kit of old. The overall fit is good, and the detailing possibilities are endless. As with Trumpeter's earlier USS Hornet, this kit is designed to accommodate aftermarket photoetched details. Careful planning and dry-fitting will result in an impressive final product. Good references are a must and should be consulted often during construction.

I began by attaching the one-piece upper hull to the lower hull. The instructions would have you do this at the end, but that could lead to difficulties. I glued the stern portion first then worked my way forward. I added plastic strip tabs along the inside joint to help reinforce the joint. I opened numerous portholes on the hull and the hangar deck superstructures with a small drill bit in a pin vise. If you want, there are also 22 bilge holes (11 per side) missing from the hull that could be drilled out.

The ship's propeller shafts are too thin for the scale and should be replaced with brass rod or plastic stock. The shafts should have V struts on the bearing housings, but the kit supplies single struts.

During the hull assembly, I gradually worked on the island, which consists of two halves and a multitude of small parts for catwalks, searchlights, gun directors, and radars. The radar arrays are thick and obviously are place-holders for photoetched replacements. The main mast does not have the yard-arm that clearly shows in my references. There are more portholes to be drilled out, and mold-seam marks on all of the splinter shields can easily be scraped or sanded away.

A basic hangar deck is included, and you must open the hangar doors to see within. This is not difficult, but I wish there had been separate doors. Dry-fitting the superstructures will help resolve fit problems down the road. Be sure to take into consideration the fit of the flight deck when gluing the superstructures in place.

The flight deck comprises three pieces with optional raised or lowered positions for the three elevators (two centerline, and one on the left side). To prevent gaps at the joints, carefully dry-fit the deck sections to each other before gluing. The deck details include a forward starboard catapult, numerous bomb/torpedo elevators, simulated planks, expansion joints, and aircraft tie-down strips. There are no landing wires, but they can easily be produced with fine monofilament.

The forward and rear deck edges lack the proper "roundover," which can be made with quarter-round styrene stock. The port side elevator is devoid of the complex support lattice-work found underneath the elevator; another space that probably will be filled by aftermarket photoetched sets.

Flight deck additions include the assembled island, four dual 5" gun mounts, numerous 20mm gun galleries along the deck edges, and various other structures. The dual 5" gun mounts consist of a main body with left, right, and rear appliqués. Dry-fitting those parts will save some filling and sanding. The 5" gun barrels are not to scale and should be replaced by brass or plastic stock. The 40mm guns and single 5" guns are made of platforms and separate gun barrels.

The 20mm guns are individually molded but have no splinter shields. Five prominent radio masts along the right side of the flight deck are provided as overly thick rods. Photoetched parts will help correct both of these problems.

For those who are dazzle-camouflage challenged, the early Essex is a dream-come-true. It was originally painted in Measure 21: overall navy blue with the flight deck finished in deck blue. I used Testor Model Master paints, mixing dark sea blue with intermediate blue for the hull, then lightening this mixture with more intermediate blue for the flight deck.

Trumpeter's Essex is a large, impressive model that accurately reflects the shape and dimensions of the real thing. I spent about 120 hours on my Essex, which compares to Mike Ashey's USS Hornet (FSM, April 2003). I highly recommend this kit to any modeler with experience in large ship models.

- Bill Teehan


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