Airfix 1/600 HMS Marlborough

KIT #: A04210
REVIEWER: Frank Spahr
NOTES: SWEM photo etch for Airfix Iron Duke

Master machined brass barrels ; # 700-033 British 16 in für main guns, # 700-006 japanese 15.5 cm for casemate guns


The British Iron Duke - class of dreadnought battleships comprised four vessels. Apart from Iron Duek there were HMS Emperor of India, Benbow and Marlborough. Ordered in 1911, they were commissioned around the outbreak of World War One, fighting in the Grand Fleetīs frontline squadron. As compared to the preceding King George V - class, they fielded a stronger secondary battery with twelve 6 inch guns instead of sixteen 4 inch. The higher weight necessitated an increase in length and displacement, the latter around 2,000 tons. The main battery of five twin 13.5 in turrets was identical to the preceding class, same as the machinery. This class was to be the RNīs  penultimate coal-firing battleship class.

Despite the larger displacement, the secondary battery had to be mounted lower than in the preceding class, rendering the guns unworkable in poor weather. Nonetheless the ships proved successful and popular in service.

Iron Duke served as flagship, Grand Fleet under Admiral John Jellicoe from August, 1914 to January, 1917. She survived the longest, being demilitarized in the early 1930s and used as a training ship up to the outbreak of World War Two. She was then moored at Scapa Flow for use as afloating AA battery and stores ship. Damaged by a German air raid already in September, 1939, she hat to be beached, was later repaired provisionally, and returned to service. After the war, she was sold for scrap, refloated in 1946 and broken up over the next two years.

HMS Marlborough sustained damage at Jutland and was used to rescue members of the Tsarīs family (and relatives of King George V) in 1919 whilst in the Black Sea. She served on during the 1920s, being decommissioned in 1932. After use as a target she was broken up.


 Airfix produced a 1:600 kit of HMS Iron Duke in 1970. This is the only kit depicting a battleship from WW1, the Warspite kit being in a 1930s fit. The kit is rather middling, being neither one of the best nor one of the weakest offerings of the company. Despite the shape of the hull being acceptable, the superstructure is markedly too high, and most details are rather clunky. Moreover, the kit does not depict any one unit of the class at any given point in time, but is a mix of fits, pun not intended. It is nonetheless a base for detailing.

The now defunct company White Ensign Models produced a dedicated PE set for the kit in the late 1990s. This is on the smaller side, compared to the sets for, say, Belfast or Warspite. It comprises two small frets with very delicate parts, one of them containing generic parts like railings, ladders, anchor chain and inclined ladders. The instructions refer to the unclear fit of the model and suggest doing research. It is not on the level of helpfulness and clarity of later WEM offerings or what Peter Hall offers these days with his own Atlantic Models kit range. You need to research, and do a good think now and then.


I hadnīt built this kit in my youth, being not really interested in WW1 back then. So it was a sort of a first contact when I bought the kit a few years ago, and I must say I was underwhelmed. As I said before, Airfix did better then that, and with my lack of interest in the period the kit (and the complimenting PE set, which didnīt rock my boat that seriously, either) gathered dust for a while.

 Having bought and read the three volumes of  R.A. Burtīs work on British battleships, and matured myself a bit more (sigh), my interest awoke and I decided to tackle the kit.

 The first decision was which unit to model and when. As Burtīs book contains a large reproduction of a good quality photo of HMS Marlborough entering Valetta harbour in 1922, it was her. This photo should become my main reference, and I was amazed how much I still found in it even after having the book open on my workbench for weeks.

 I first removed the modelīs lower hull and assembled the hull and decks. The inserts for the secondary guns were modified. They were meant to enable the guns to be turned, but I wouldnīt play with the ship, and preferred adding the casemate guns late in the build. The aft casemate port and starboard was blanked with styrene stock tubing, the same material I used for my newly made casemates. It was cut with a small tube cutter which should prove even more useful later on. There are no dedicated 1:600 machined brass barrels, so I spent a long time looking through the catalogue of Master Models of Poland for barrels I could press into service. I found two 1:700 sets the fit quite well.

To accept the new main guns, I had to shape styrene plates to the insides of the turrets and drill holes into them. The brass barrels for the secondary guns were glued into small holes drilled into the precut styrene tubing. At the model, I closed lots of oversized holes in the decks using plugs made from sprue stretched to the appropriate diameter. There were quite some seams to be addressed, too. The raised "deck planking" suffered from removing the plugs and the very clunky boat cradles, so I used really coarse files to restore some longitudinal structure here.

 I did not like the kit funnels one bit, and couldnīt be bothered to clean them up laboriously. So I decided to rebuild them, which was comparatively easy due to their circular cross section. A first test using wood worked, but lacked the surface I wanted, so I bought brass tubing and started again. The tube cutter mentioned above worked fine and was also suited for circular engravings adding some structure to the funnels. I didnīt even think about adding teensy-tiny PE funnel rings. There are some shreds of my sanity Iīd like to cling to for a bit longer yet, thank you very much. The brass tubing was combined with various stock PE handwheels by German supplier Saemann, a ring of annealed brass wire, and the funnel grilles from the WEM set. Steam pipes (they are different with the two funnels) were depicted using brass wire and styrene stock respectively.

 Building the superstructure was a lot of work and a lot of thought. I had to make everything a tad les clunky, bring the flag bridge to the level of the funnels and model the fit of Marlborough in 1922 the best I could. All that implied some effort, but it was obvious that getting this right would make or break the overall look of the model, so it had to be done.

 Virtually all the levels of the bridge were thinned out to end up at the right height. Clunky molded on splinter shields were either removed or thinned out. I was constantly browsing my PE folder for usable leftover PE parts, most notably for the very visible bridge supports and the starfish assembly. I also had to make sure the legs of the tripod mast would still fit through the various holes in the bridge levels and into the wooden deck.

 Along the model, scuttles were re-drilled, PE watertight doors were added, and the entire upper part of the armored conning tower was scratchbuilt including the director assembly atop it. The two masts were rebuilt using tapered brass and steel wire. The aft mast received a scratchbuilt searchlight platform. The yardsī footropes were made from Albion Alloys .1 mm nickel steel wire, a very useful product. I also used it for the prominent awning over the open bridge, the boat derricksī cables and the rigging of the boat davits.

 The kit boats are clunky beyond redemption, and had to be replaced for a consistent level of detail. I had ordered some 1:700 resin boats from WEM right when they closed, and used those. I have no idea how accurate they are, but they were the best I could do. Apart from those boats I used various open boats leftover or coldheartedly robbed from unfortunate Kombrig kits.

The various boat booms were made from brass wire and rigged with the abovementioned .1 mm wire.

 In between work I realized that Marlborough had retained a flying-off platform for aeroplanes on her Q turret after the war, even though she hadnīt shipped a plane any more. This platform was made from a convenient leftover PE part from my stock, plus some stock styrene supports.


The model was painted with acrylics, after a solvent-based primer coat. I used the new Coastal Craft / AKAN acrylic paint for the very light AP 507C on all vertical surfaces, the appropriate shade for service in the Mediterranean Fleet. The paint worked well, but I still prefer the Vallejo type bottles I can get single drops out of. The wooden deck was painted with some of my dwindling supplies of JPS IJN deck tan, those decks I reckoned had linoleum covering applied were painted JPS IJN Linoleum. Irregular application of some slightly differing shades and some washing added life to the large wooden deck areas. I did not aim at the basket ball court look, but at a well-maintained wooden deck which is holystoned on a daily basis. The photo showed that the boats were painted in some colour, which I reckoned might have been blue, which I used on them. The insides of the beautiful open Kombrig boats were painted a rich brown and received a dark wash.


Having painted the various subassemblies, I was able to attach the railings. I used generic 1:600 WEM Kriegsmarine railings combined with some of the railings from the PE set, which were rather too delicate for my ofentimes ham-fisted approach. Canvas dodgers were simulated by applying white glue to the railings and painting it deck tan. The conspicuous awning over the open bridge was made from white glue over a frame of .1 mm wire, the white glue being applied with an extra-long brush. The cured glue was painted tan and some washing was applied.

The model was then crewed with Lion Roar PE figures. The stern walk was partially rebuilt using stock styrene, PE grating and fine wire. The model was then rigged using UNI Caenis thread. The numerous isolators were hinted at with droplets of white glue which were painted grey.

Now the ship might still have had the dreaded cage aerials in 1922, even though I hope they phased them out after the war, same as the tedious torpedo nets. But: These antennae hardly ever really show in period photos, and they are utterly difficult to make at all, and it is even harder to end up with a result that is so delicate it is not visually distracting and just looking crude and heavy. For the sake of my sanity, I am comfortable to do without them.

The model was weathered very lightly using ochre oil paint, always bearing in mind that this was a well-maintained vessel in peacetime fresh out of a refit.

The base was made after my usual method in a Trumpeter display box.


All in all this was an exciting and rewarding project, being more of a challenge than earlier Airfix builds and needing some techniques new to me. Even if you can build 1:700 scale high-end resin kits of this class, my model is unique, and it is mine, warts and all.

I would like to dedicate this model to the fine people of WEM. You and your products helped me tremendously over the past ten years since I rediscovered ship modeling, and your company is sadly missed.

Frank Spahr

March 2015

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