Hasegawa 1/700 Type VII & IX U-boats
|KIT:||Hasegawa 1/700 Type VII & IX U-boats|
|PRICE:||$6.95 at the time|
The single most produced design in submarine history, the Type VII U-Boat was the backbone of the Kriegsmarine U-Boat Arm throughout the Second World War. A descendant of the highly successful UBIII class of World War One, the Type VII was a handy, medium sized, long ranged boat well suited to its role of commerce raider in the vast reaches of the Atlantic. It was while in command of Type VIIs that such U-Boat aces as Joaquim Schepke, Günter Prien, and Otto Kretchmer built their reputations in the early years of the war. Appearing in five major variants, the Type VII was produced in large numbers; by war’s end over six hundred had served with the German navy.
The Type IX was the other major type used by the Kriegsmarine. Larger and faster than the Type VII, the Type IX submarines also enjoyed nearly double the range. Their larger size, however, also made them wetter, less maneuverable and slower diving, earning for them nickname Seekuh (“Sea Cow”) from their crews. These boats are best known for their participation in the long range Paukenschlag ("drumbeat") campaign against American shipping off the U.S. Eastern Seaboard and in the Caribbean. A successful design, Type IX was produced in four major variants and was second only to the Type VII in numbers produced for the German navy.
Back in the late 1970’s I was a teenager happily building my way through Revell’s old 1/720 “International Series” warships, which I thought were the coolest things going (dig those moveable turrets and snap-apart hulls—yeah!) Then Hasegawa released these little beauties…WOW! They just blew me away...all those limber holes, awesome deck guns, amazing surface detail; even the life preservers and running lights were molded right in. And they were sooooooooo tiny! As far as I was concerned, these models were the coolest ever!
Over thirty years later, these model kits remain an impressive achievement. The subs are very close to scale length and the parts have absolutely outstanding surface detail, in fact some of the best ever in injection molded 1/700 scale. Though less than four inches long, these hulls feature tiny engraved planks, hatches, deck fittings, scuppers, and even handrails. The characteristic saddle tanks on the Type VII are faithfully reproduced, and the Type IX even has the fairings for the two spare torpedoes molded to the deck aft of the conning tower. The towers are very well done also, both dimensionally convincing and featuring exceptionally fine molded details including handholds, ladders, running lights, spray deflectors, “horse shoe” life preservers and RDF loops. The AA guns, periscopes and 88mm deck guns, molded separately, are also very well executed. A further plus is the inclusion of thirteen extra parts to make the bow and stern of a sinking Liberty ship, so the wolves can be displayed next to their kill.
Excellent as these kits are, I now recognize that there are a few problems too: Type VII deck is just a little too wide and the hull is a bit off in shape, not fully capturing the graceful, sleek appearance of the type when viewed from above. The Type IX is better, but there are inaccurate bulging ballast tanks on the hull at the waterline which should be removed. Also, the conning towers for both subs, representing both the small early and the later extended types with augmented AA, are just a bit short, and the periscopes for Type VII should have separate shears rather than the combined structures provided for both subs.
Still, unless you are an incurable sub freak these shortcomings aren’t all that noticeable and the subs build into beautiful little models.
As I said, when I first saw them in 1975 I thought these models were the coolest ever. Fit was near perfect and construction was a breeze; they went together literally in minutes. Except… well, what was up with those solid molded rails?
I had never added rails of any kind before to my ships, and most of the smaller scale kits didn’t have them. But there they were on the Type VII, hulking up like some weird basket on the back of that neat little conning tower. It was a game attempt, but they were hopelessly embedded into a solid hunk of clearly non-scale plastic. These goofy things weren’t at all up to the level of the rest of the kit. No problem. A few scrapes of the xacto and they were history—but then it looked so… NAKED! My small scale ship models usually looked okay without rails, but on U-Boats they were pretty conspicuous…
What to do? I didn’t have much experience scratchbuilding, and those intricate rails looked pretty intimidating. (Remember, this was during the dark days of the 1970s: the energy crisis, rampant inflation, Watergate, disco, and, worst of all…NO PHOTOETCH!) First I tried fitting bits of cut down window screen. Awful. Then I tried tulle wedding veil material (I don’t think mom ever noticed those trimmed edges…) Not much better. Finally, I conceded that my best shot would be to try it the hard way: wire. I took some fine gauge copper material salvaged from an old phone cord and started to play around with it. I had taken a pencil rubbing of the molded rails before scraping them off the hull, so this and the deck served as guides in bending a piece to match the compound curve of the top deck. The subtle shape of the Type VII hull toprail was difficult to capture; it took several tries to get the two sides to not only conform properly to the deck but to each other. Asymmetrical toprails on that narrow, exposed deck would have been painfully obvious, so I kept at it until they looked right.
Ok, so far so good. Now how do I attach these things? Plastic cement wouldn’t work, JB Weld epoxy seemed a bit extreme (and a gawdawful mess to work with). Krazy Glue had just come on the scene, but I was frankly a little afraid of the stuff; my experiments with it up to then had succeeded mainly in gluing my fingers together. I finally opted for an interim solution: Elmer’s school glue would hold the parts in place until I could find a suitable adhesive for the final bond. It was just a stop-gap measure, but I figured it would enable me to fabricate the parts and test fit them together temporarily. As it happened, Elmer’s glue by itself worked great. The joints blended nicely and were surprisingly strong once the glue hardened. Also, the forgiving nature of white glue made it very easy to work with. This was good, since the wire parts were all handmade and required a good deal of fiddling to get them shaped and positioned correctly. The white glue could be loosened by simply rewetting the joints, making adjustments much simpler and the risk of damage that much less. It was also nontoxic and non-smelly, a definite plus since I worked at a desk in my bedroom. The one disadvantage was the tenuous binding power of the glue to metal and plastics. Not formulated for this type of use, I expected the Elmer’s glue bonds to be exceedingly frail. I need not have worried; over thirty years later (yikes!) the bonds are still holding fast.
After attaching the toprails the six upright stanchions were cut and positioned following the pattern of the molded rails I had taken off earlier. Finally, the straight horizontal lower rails were cut and placed against the stanchions, each being attached with thinned white glue applied with a #000 paintbrush. I hadn’t yet acquired my first airbrush, so the whole assembly was carefully brush painted once the glue had dried.
The next area to be railed was the conning tower. The railing of the Wintergarten (“greenhouse”) on the tower, though considerably more busy looking than the main deck railing, was actually simpler to accomplish. Lacking the compound curves of the deck toprail, it was a straightforward matter to form the simple round shapes of the guardrails. I began with making two rings by wrapping the wire around nails of the correct diameter. The lower rail was to be slightly smaller than the upper, so one was formed around a slightly smaller nail than the other. Otherwise they were identical. Then I bent the ends of each outward to form the lengths which were to connect them to the tower. Though not complex, it is important that these rails be even. They form a focal point of the boat, and any irregularity would be very distracting on the completed model. Also, the uprights to come would not have sat uniformly if the structure was crooked. A bit of coaxing was needed to get them right, no big deal. After I was satisfied with these shapes I attached them to the tower. The unsupported horizontals had a tendency to droop while the glue was still soft, but propping the sub vertically on its nose for a few minutes while the glue thickened took care of this. Then came the flagstaff and vertical stanchions. I began with the flagstaff, using wire to replace the oversized kit part. This formed the anchor of the structure, and all the uprights on the sides were spaced from it. Progressing from there forward along each side I glued each of the uprights into place taking care that they were vertical and evenly spaced. With the horizontals properly aligned these verticals went on easily. This was the fun part because with the addition of these stanchions the intricate Wintergarten really came together. When the glue was dry I examined the assembly to make sure it looked right, rewetting a bit and making minor corrections here and there. Despite the white glue, which does not bond at all well to metal, the completed assembly turned out to be quite sturdy. I was able to fix a small misalignment of the upper and lower horizontals by bending the wire with gentle pressure from a hobby knife without breaking the tiny glued joints. When I was satisfied with the shape the glue was allowed to dry thoroughly—not that that took long, since such miniscule touches of white glue dry in just a few minutes.
The construction of the Type IX Seekuh (“Sea Cow”—I just love that) followed that of the VII with only minor differences in the models. For some reason Hasegawa decided not to include the molded railings on the conning tower like on the Type VII, so removing them was unnecessary. Since the main deck rails on the Type IX were straight they were easier to make than those on the Type VII. Otherwise making the railing was much the same on both subs.
After the rails, fixing up other details was a piece of cake. The FuMo29 centimetric radar unit on the Type IX conning tower came molded on it as a solid block, so I replaced it with a bit of rayon fabric mesh. Much better. Since I had knocked off and lost that nice little RDF loop on the Type VII earlier (Doh!), I made replacements for both subs from wire bent around a needle. This actually worked out well as the new loops came out more delicate looking than the kit originals. Those terrific kit deck guns inspired me to improve the 20mms, so I cut them from the mounts and repositioned them at more casual angles, with shoulder pads and barrels made from wire.
|COLORS & MARKINGS|
The submarines each received a coat of gray enamel. I don’t remember the exact paint color I used, but the German Hellgrau 50 (“light gray 50”) these boats were painted was roughly similar to the haze gray applied to most USN ships. With the variation of the paint stocks among shipyards and the sun, salt, and immersion deterioration to which U-Boats were subjected you can’t go too far wrong with a generic light gray. On the decks, both the wood and steel areas of U-Boats were typically painted black, but this would have looked too stark in 1/700 scale. I used panzer gray both for scale effect and to simulate paint wear.
If you apply your finishes by brush as I did exclusively when I built these models, it’s important to do this with highly thinned paint. It doesn’t cover very well that way, but thick paint would have obscured those lovely molded in details. Ugly paint clumps would also have ruined the effect of those delicate railing structures, so I applied all the paints heavily thinned. Nevertheless, I made sure to cover the rails as thoroughly as I could since any bare spots would show a glaring copper color and give the game away. I had to go back and touch up several times; it seemed that every time I thought it was done a new viewing angle would reveal a shiny little spot of copper peeking through… arrgh! The job can be done this way all right, but I don’t recommend it. Life definitely got easier when I bought my first airbrush!
The paint job on the Seekuh was just like the Type VII, but with a little extra. I had seen some pictures of Mediterranean based U-Boats with that funky mottled camouflage, so I had a ball adding little green splotches all over the hull and tower. I didn’t know it at the time, but apparently the paints the Germans used for this camouflage were from Italian stocks of the same Blu Scuro (blue-grey) applied to Regia Nave submarines, so the medium green I used may not have been accurate.
Once the basic colors were dry, both boats received thin washes of dark gray along with liberal streaks of lightened gray hull color, white, and brown rust to simulate the paint deterioration universal among World War Two-era submersibles. (Of course, “liberal” in tiny 1/700 scale is relative; a very light touch was all that was required!)
By the way, it was during this project that I first discovered that brown simulates rust on ship models better than does rust color paint. I found this accidentally when, having run out of my trusty Pactra rust (and too impatient to stop work and make a trip to the toy shop where I bought my paints), I tried some brown instead. The effect was surprisingly good. It was less extreme than the vivid rust paint had been, and much more realistic. If you actually look closely at rust-streaked metal surfaces you will see that the color is mostly a rather dull, dark reddish brown rather than a bright rust color. I was still learning how to weather my ships without having them end up looking like rotting hulks, and the subtler tones of the brown turned out to
Last came the U-Boat’s rigging. Before installing the jump wires I added a net cutter to the Type VII’s bow and small support assemblies to both boats aft made from wire. The rigging itself was some super fine copper wire I had copped from an old transistor radio coil. Even though it must be painted, I have always liked this microfine wire better than fly tippet or stretched sprue for rigging since it is easier to impart a realistic sag to the scale lines. It also doesn’t loosen or contract with temperature changes. Insulators on the lines were dabs of white glue. The wires were (oh so gently!) brushed with highly thinned hull color paint after they were in place. As with the safety rails, these lines had to be repeatedly touched up to assure that none of the copper color showed through. When this was done the subs were outfitted with Kriegsmarine naval ensigns made from painted binder paper.
I had great fun building these little U-Boats, which, even with those goofy railings, were among the best kits I had yet seen. Even all these years later they remain outstanding kits, but replacing those rails had definitely been a challenge. They came out all right, but hand making those things was an effort I wouldn’t want—or need—to take on again. Today there are inexpensive, accurately scaled, simple to use photoetch rails available which will get the job done in no time. So much easier to get there now than in the 1970s…!
U-Boat War Timothy j. Kutta, Squadron/Signal Publications, Texas, 1998.
U-Boats in Action Robert C. Stern, Squadron/Signal Publications, Texas, 1977.
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