Airfix 1/600 HMS Warspite

KIT #: ?
REVIEWER: Frank Spahr


 HMS Warspite was one of Britain´s best-known and successful battleships. Built as member of the five-strong Queen Elizabeth Class of fast battleships, she and her sisters were the cutting edge of Britain´s battle fleet in the First World War. Armed with eight of the excellent 15-inch guns and oil-fired, and capable of around 23 knots, they still were the backbone of the fleet in 1939. They were modernized to varying degrees and hence their external appearance was changed a lot. Warspite´s reconstruction was particularly thorough and left her with a modern block bridge, single funnel and twin aircraft hangars and catapult. Radar and AA were upgraded successively. Only one vessel of the class, Barham, was lost to a German U-boat, the others survived the war, albeit suffering extreme damage.

Warspite was almost lost after being hit off Salerno by a German gliding bomb, and was never fully repaired, only to an extent that enabled her to lend Naval Gunfire Support during the Normandy landings. After being hit by a magnetic mine, she was again provisonally repaired. She fired her last shots during the attack on Walcheren island and was taken out of service in February, 1945.

 After the war, the surviving older battleships were quickly discarded and scrapped. Warspite´s fate differed a bit from her sisters. On her final trip to the breakers at Faslane, she got into heavy weather off the Cornish coast and ran aground in Prussia Cove in April, 1947. The ship was partly scrapped there over the course of three years, until she was sufficiently lightened to be towed to Marazion near St. Michael´s Mount, where the scrapping was completed until 1957.


 I highly recommend getting the Shipcraft volume on the Queen Elizabeths; it contains an excellent overview on the class of ships but also on the available model kits, of which the Airfix offering is one of the oldest. Hence it is nowhere near modern tooling and inaccurate in shape, but it is available again for all those reliving their youth and willing to live with the warts and all like yours truly. The Airfix kit is essentially a Warspite soon after her reconstruction, and needs some modifications to represent her fit as scrapped. Moreover, the superstructure is pretty clunky and can benefit from some refinements. As regards references: Apart from the Shipcraft volume, I used the AOTS volume (helpful, though not revealing all ...) and the Raven/Roberts classic on British Battleships of WW2.


In this case, the idea for the diorama was there before the kit got into my eager paws. On a trip to Cornwall in 2005, I happened upon a memorial to HMS Warspite erected near the site of her final scrapping, right opposite St. Michael´s Mount. I hadn´t been aware of Warspite´s end before that and was duly impressed. Surfing the net, I later found some images and descriptions of her fate on the Cornish coast and soon decided I would build the old, clunky and not too expensive Airfix kit as her wreck. Fast forward several years – Airfix threatened to re-release the hitherto hardly available kit, but it took some time before it actually hit the German online shops. Discussing future projects at a model show, I learned that a modeling pal had a surplus Warspite and we soon agreed that he would sell it to me. I was pretty excited when I had the battered box in hand and again was able to build what had been one of the top favorite kits of my youth.

I started by building the hull plus the deck, making modifications where I found them to be necessary and visible. Prior to her last voyage, Warspite´s armament and boats had been removed, same as part of her radar equipment. The casemate guns had been removed and plated over, so I replaced the parts with styrene tubing. Scuttles were drilled open. The overly thick stern walk cutout was partially filled and a new piece was made from styrene. Numerous access panels to the various compartments of the bulge were hinted at using a flattened section of brass tubing, which was heated and carefully pressed at the desired locations, leaving an oval mark. The catapult was removed and the deck sanded. Unneeded mounting holes in the decks were filled with styrene stock and sanded. Oversize splinter shields and molded on stairs were removed likewise. I did not address the issues of the wrong shapes of the bulges and the bow and stern.

Having completed the hull, it was time to think about mounting it on the diorama. Having the hull fixed to my adjustable vise with threaded bars, I inclined the hull to the degree I wanted to show in the dio. Various shots of Warspite show her various states of necessary demarcation line was drawn on the hull using an indelible marker. For fears of the hull deforming after sawing the underwater part off, I first cut away sections and successively glued pieces of sprue from side to side to retain the shape. That done, the rest of the underwater hull was removed and the edges smoothed. The model was then primed with a tan enamel paint prior to paintwork on the wood decks.

Now I could position the model on my base. Using a standard IKEA picture frame, I cut a piece of foam board to fit it and placed the model diagonally on it. The hull´s perimeter was traced and some material removed so the hull would sit snugly. Two metal screws were fixed to the underside of the main deck to mount the model on the vise, and openings were drilled into the foam board to accept them. The foam board was then painted with white wall paint and a big brush in a stippling motion to achieve a slightly irregular surface. I wanted a calm sea on a fine spring day, soon before scrapping began in earnest and the ship was still fairly complete. The wall paint was then left to dry.

Using some images from my Cornwall trip as guide, the base was then sprayed in various layers and shades of acrylics to simulate areas of varying depth, underwater rocks and plant growth. After I was satisfied, the surface was sealed with a sizable number of layers of gloss clear lacquer from a rattle can – only this step brings the surface to life and makes it resemble actual water. 

Now this was quite nice, but still lacking interest – so I experimented on making rocks from my trusty foam board. Using a saw, some files and sanding sticks, I shaped several pieces to hopefully credible rocks. One larger piece was shaped to occupy a corner of the base and play the part of a bit of the Cornish coast. Using various shades of Vallejo ModelAir greys, they were sprayed and then drybrushed with lighter shades of artist´s oils, using grey and some green around the waterline. The rocks were mounted on the base using acrylic gel. Some limited foam and turbulent water was hinted at by drybrushing white artist´s oil paint. In the end I thought the base looked the part and called it quits to continue on the vessel. 


The next issue I addressed was painting the model, especially the camo and the wooden decks. The Shipcraft volume contains nice profiles that show Warspite´s late war camo and offers shades for it. I used Vallejo ModelAir Light Grey and Dark Sea Grey to substitute for the correct shades, which would be weathered heavily anyway. The vessel had been moored at Portsmouth without maintenance for two years prior to her last voyage, so in this case I wouldn´t have to restrict my weathering efforts too much. The hull sides were duly masked and sprayed in a comfortingly uneventful manner. Revell Aqua Color Anthracite was used for the boot topping, and brick red from the same manufacturer for the antifouling coat.

The deck had to the best of my knowledge been her teak deck to the last, and I tried to hint at a wooden deck look with simple means. After priming the model in tan enamel, I used various shades of acrylics to mark individual planks, especially on the quarterdeck. Then came different shades of artist´s oils, applied in a drybrushing manner, always hinting at how I thought a dilapidated teak deck might look after two years of neglect, the not too gentle removal of equipment, and a stormy journey plus a shipwreck. When I was convinced this was the best I could do, I let the deck dry and then sealed it with Vallejo´s excellent ModelAir Matt Varnish. Then the deck fittings were refined using PE parts from the kit – I did not aim at correctly replicating any vent, skylight, access hatch or ready ammo locker.  After completing that, the deck fittings and superstructure parts were hand-painted in the appropriate camo shades. 


The biggest part of the build went into the block bridge which was partly rebuilt from styrene stock as per its fit post 1943 (when some of it was modified). Working with the kit parts and the drawings in the AOTS volume as guides, I slowly but surely made my way through the various bridge levels. Splinter shields were made from CA-infused paper or from old PE frets. The wind deflectors around the topmost deck were hinted at with PE ladder stock and CA-infused paper. The bridge windows were also made from ladder stock. I was quite happy with the new look of the bridge, as a ship´s bridge is like its face to me and needs to be credibly rendered.

On  the plus side, building the ship this way meant no hassle with iffy PE pom-poms and other parts of sheer terror, no upgrading or detailing of ship´s boats, no replacement of gun barrels – quite a lot of stuff that simply needn´t be there. On the other hand, I needed to think of what to do with the spaces where the discarded items had been. L´Arsénal´s Structural parts again proved to be very helpful, so I added circular PE parts to the spaces where the pom-poms and DP guns had been. The numerous circular emplacements where 20 mm guns had been were mostly made from styrene tubing thinned from the inside. The kit parts of the various gun directors and rangefinders were detailed as per the AOTS drawings. The main gun turrets were accordingly detailed; as per reference images, „tarps“ were rigged across the openings of the A and Y turret, using PVA glue. I found a very small screwdriver a useful tool for producing rectangular depressions in the styrene – just heat it and carefully apply to the desired spot. Apart from that, the fine WEM PE set was used for whatever parts were needed, even though quite a lot of the more iffy parts remained on the fret ;-)

The masts were made from tapered BMK brass stock, PE and wire, with some scratchbuilt additions. The radar lantern was made from styrene tubing and the abovementioned L`Arsénal parts.

After removing the molded-on anchor chains, the chainways were redone using scrap PE fret, openings for the chains were drilled open and enlarged. Saemann brass chains, suitably blackened were used.

Some effort went into the funnel and the very iffy platforms festooning it. The funnel searchlights were modified using brass wire instead of the oversize styrene mounts.

Having addressed the number of subassemblies, I was able to start weathering the model, one of the most pleasant tasks during this build. Artist´s oils and Humbrol thinner make up an excellent wash, and using filters of tiny dots of oil paints and working on them with Q-tips help a lot. Using five or six shades of artist´s oils, I was able to bring the surface to life and to show the weathering of this neglected vessel.  Around the waterline, greenish hues were used to hint at algal growth, rust was hinted at rather with brownish than reddish shades, as the small scale will not easily tolerate excessive contrasts.

It was about at this time when I realized I needed something to gently press the model to the base when mounting it. I had decided to use silicone on the two threaded bars that ran through the base, and clear acrylic gel all around the hull. As I only mount my models when they are completed, I needed spots for applying pressure. My idea was to use two threaded bars running through the barbettes of A and X turret, and it worked fine when I dry-fit the parts.

So I was able to bring all the subassemblies together. Working as usual inside out, I started at the vessel´s centerline and worked towards the periphery. Numerous PE boat cradles were made, pre-painted and glued as closely to where I thought they ought to be from the drawings in my references. The cranes had been prepared and only needed to be mounted once the rest of the subassemblies were ready. The hangar doors were made from Evergreen´s very useful „N-scale Car siding“. I have no idea how the hangars were furnished after the aircraft installations were removed, so I thought it best to cover the insides up. As usual, the sternwalk railings and cover were a major PITA, especially as the WEM parts are thought for the correct more pointed shape of the real vessel and not for the more bulgy shape of the model. But I was able to get things working somehow. Like the rest, the stern walk was seriously weathered and dirtied.

The vessel was rigged using Caenis and UNI 8/0 black flyfishing thread, a manoeuvre that proved utterly nerve-wracking and the low point of my mood during the build. Doing it on a Friday after an abrasive working week may not exactly have helped proceedings ...

Having come so far, I added some flat coats to the model, checked for flaws, repainted here and there, and finally found a significant goof. I had used railings around the DP guns, but should have used splinter shields. So this part was redone using some suitable PE from the WEM HMS Tiger set.

Having painted and weathered them, a really final flat coat was sprayed, the vessel left to dry, and the next morning it was mounted on the base as described above. Some more acrylic gel was applied from a disposable syringe, which was sculpted using an artist´s spatula. After curing, some drybrushing with white artist´s oil paint completed the work on the water. Now the threaded bars were removed and the two missing turrets finally glued to the model. As a final touch I added two PE figures to the coast, plus two PE bicycles which are very hard to notice at all. My idea was to show two youths having cycled to the coast to have a look at the stricken battleship.


To me, this kit is still very nice and useful despite its shortcomings, and a fine base for whatever ideas I might have. I very much enjoyed this project and like the outcome.

Frank Spahr

October 2010

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