Destroyers and Seaplanes; An Uncommon Marriage

KIT #: 78012
PRICE: $39.00 SRP
DECALS: options
REVIEWER: Joe Lyons
NOTES:

After-Market:   Trumpeter 1:350 scale OS2U Kingfisher (Item No. 06249),Tom’s Model Works Fletcher Class Destroyer Detail Set 1/350 Scale Set #3508,Tom’s Model Works US Light Cruiser Cranes and Catapults 1/350 Scale Set #3507

HISTORY

All of the major navies of WW II went to considerable effort to operate seaplanes and flying boats off non-aviation ships (non-carriers and non-seaplane tenders). The desire to take these planes to sea significantly impacted the design of battleships and cruisers throughout the early part of the century because of the belief that these aircraft were going to be force multipliers in the great daylight shoot-outs between opposing battle lines that all expected to be the centerpiece of naval warfare.

USN interest in spreading aviation assets to destroyers began in 1922.  USS Charles Ausburn (DD-294), a four-stacker, embarked a seaplane (TS-1) for a short period to explore the concept.

“…a Curtiss TS-1 was placed on a cradle forward of the bridge [DD-294]. The two-float fighter was to lower into the water and retrieved by a crane.”

[Larkins]

Interest in the concept was revived in 1940 in response to a perceived need to bring aircraft into the scouting forces.

“A variation on the basic type [Fletcher class DD] was the aircraft-carrying destroyer. The failure of the 3500-ton “flotilla leader”…led to a series of alternate proposals for bringing aircraft in to the scouting forces, including a catapult on a Fletcher-class destroyer. On 18 April 1940, C & R [Construction and Repair, Bureau of] passed two sketch studies to the General Board: a catapult could be mounted on the fantail in place of No. 5 5-inch gun, or else abaft the after stack in place of No. 3 gun. …In both cases tanks for 2,000 gallons of gasoline and 150 gallons of lubricating oil were to be added. The second scheme was accepted. On 20 May, a small airplane was successfully flown from the old flushdecker Noa (DD-343) and a week later the Secretary of the Navy approved six Fletcher-class conversions (DD-476-481), with the proviso that the guns deleted in favor be retained in reserve.”

[Friedman]

 

By late 1942 the USN and IJN had lost between them ten aircraft carriers and although the USN had in hand major building programs, it would be awhile before new ships arrived. Also, there would never be enough carriers even in the best of times (it was thought) to provide anti-submarine protection to every group of ships that needed it. The catapult destroyers may have been seen as a way to get air coverage on the cheap. OS2Us had earlier found their way to naval district-controlled seaplane bases along the Atlantic coast in the immediate pre-war years. They were a cheap alternative to the big flying boats for coverage of sea-lanes near major ports.

The Ships.        The Fletcher-class DDs were to be built in greater numbers (175) than any other class of DD in any Navy. The culmination of USN destroyer development throughout the 1930s, this class by going to a hitherto unacceptably high displacement combined all the navy’s desired characteristics in gun and torpedo power, range and most important, growth potential. It easily absorbed more guns (20mm and 40mm) and electronics as the war progressed, perhaps the best example being the catapult destroyers themselves. After conversion, they still possessed as many torpedoes, 5” guns, 40mm guns, and 20 mm guns as most of the preceding classes after their wartime upgrades. Six of the “early” Fletchers were tapped for catapult conversion: three actually got it (Pringle, Stevens and Halford). The equipment was removed from all three by October 1943.

          USS Pringle (DD-477) is replicated for this article. Pringle was built by Charleston NSY (launched on May 2 1942) and is representative of the earlier Fletchers, visually distinguished by her elevated Mk 37 director tower and rounded bridge front. Her initial AA armament was austere: one twin 40mm gun on the fantail and six single 20mm guns, four in the waist and two on the 01 level aft of Mt 52. Five single enclosed 5”38 guns and two quintuple torpedo tubes rounded her armament along with depth charges in racks on the stern and three K-guns on either side abreast the after deck house. She apparently was the only Fletcher to be equipped with the SA air search radar. Other radars included the SG (surface search) and Mk 4 atop the Mk 37 director.

Catapult Conversion-equipment removed:

Mount 53 5”38 gun mount (the 5” guns were numbered from 1-5 as built, from fore to aft, the number “5” signifying the size of the gun)

 

After deck house between Mounts 53 and 54

 

Torpedo tubes aft of #2 stack

 

After torpedo handling crane

Catapult Conversion – equipment relocated

40mm twin gun and associated Mk 51 director from after deckhouse to fantail aft of Mt 55 (now Mt 54).

Catapult Conversion – equipment added

A4 catapult (turntable about where Mt 53 had been located)

 

Aircraft handling kingpost and boom, with kingpost on the centerline aft of #2 stack.

 

Aircraft handling winch to position the boom and hoist the seaplane. Located on the port side of #2 stack on a platform extended out from the 01 level provided for this purpose. [In USN parlance any ‘deck’ above the main strength deck and hence not in the load-bearing hull structure is considered ‘superstructure’ and the horizontal ‘decks’ therein are called ‘levels, ’numbered in ascending order.]

An examination of photos of Halford, Stevens and Pringle shows that the first two had cranes similar to cruisers and battleships rather than the kingpost-boom arrangement on Pringle

Fuel and lube oil tanks (note: references are vague as to where these were placed, but the main deck is inferred, possibly in the now-redundant upper handling room for mount 53). The installation also infers pump(s), filters, pipelines, valves, etc, to support fueling operations.

 

Provision for stowage and handling of aviation ordnance (most probably 100 lb bombs and depth charges).

 

The A4 catapult used compressed air rather than the powder charge of the more common P Mk 6 found on cruisers and battleships. This motive power infers large air flasks to hold a charge and possibly an additionally HP air compressor, with associated piping and valves.

Other Ships

USS Leutze (DD-481) was one of the original six intended for conversion. She too had a busy war, being inter alia, damaged by shore batteries at Iwo Jima and also involved in an epic radar picket line shoot-out ten days before and near where Pringle was sunk. This story is described in detail in Reference c. The CO at the time, Lt Leon Grabowski, had acceded to command after all others above him were killed or wounded at Iwo. A 1941 Naval Academy graduate, he had already had a busy war beginning on Dec 7 1941 when he became an Arizona survivor. Some 21 years after his experiences on Leutze I served under him when he was COMSERVRON FIVE - CTG 73.5 running Seventh Fleet replenishment ships off Vietnam. Captain Grabowski was not given to loquaciousness, but he had some interesting stories to tell now and again.

The Operational Record

Pringle commissioned in late 1942 and conducted flight operations on one convoy escort assignment in the Atlantic before being transferred to the Pacific. Aircraft operations in North Atlantic weather was evidently a challenge, as might be expected. Her aircraft arrangements were removed while in Pearl Harbor and her pre-conversion armament was restored, albeit not all at once. She had a busy subsequent career, being struck by kamikazes on two occasions. The last, on April 16, 1945 on one of the infamous radar picket stations around Okinawa, was fatal for the ship and 69 crewmembers.

Stevens alone of the three operated a Kingfisher operationally in the pacific for any significant period of time.

Clearly, the availability of many Kaiser-built CVEs eliminated the need for this type of aircraft platform, but past that the destroyer seaplane carrier was an accident waiting to happen, IMHO a BIG accident, if only because of all that unprotected avgas above the waterline. Makes me shudder just to think about it.

Other issues with this type of aviation platform:

Minimal a/c maintenance facilities.

 

Inability, IMHO, to fire the after 5” guns (most certainly Mt 53) forward of the beam

without blast damage to an aircraft on the catapult

 

The afore-mentioned handling issues on such a lively platform.

The Aircraft

All the catapult destroyers operated the Vought OS2U Kingfisher.

THE KIT

Tamiya kit (78012) was used for Pringle, that being the 1/350 release of DD-445, USS Fletcher, the name ship of the class. An examination of various photos shows, as expected, minor variations among the early member of the class. But the kit does a good job for the chosen ship, which is photographically well documented.

 

CONSTRUCTION

 

The kit was upgraded/modified from O.O.B. as follows:

Kit parts not used

B5 – 40mm gun platform

B3/B4 – after deck house

D6/D8/D9/D10/D11/ D12 – 5”38 gun (Mt 53)

C11/C12/C13 – after torpedo tubes

 

Additional kit part used

B8- teardrop shaped 40mm gun shield mounted between the depth charge racks. This part does not appear in the kit instructions, but it does allow one of the 40mm variations in the early Fletchers, including Pringle.

 

Photo-Etch parts added

Toms’ Modelworks Upgrade for 1/350 Fletcher’s.

Tom’s Modelworks Upgrade for 1/350 US light cruisers – A4 catapult and turntable

 

Trumpeter 1:350 OS2U Kingfisher

 

Scratch built parts

Aircraft handling kingpost and boom – brass tubing and rod

 

Aircraft handling winch – Sheet plastic, rod and fuse wire

 

Winch/boom cabling – .012 steel wire

 

Card stock for catapult and handling winch decks

 

SG radar antenna and platform on the mast (not provided in the kit nor by Tom’s Modelworks

 

COLORS & MARKINGS

Pringle was painted in Measure 22 colors of Navy Blue (5-N), Haze Gray (5-H) and Deck Blue (20-B). The hull was painted in Navy blue to the level of the main deck at its lowest point. All other vertical surfaces were painted Haze Gray. All horizontal surfaces were painted Deck Blue. Paints used were Model Master Acryl (Navy Blue and Deck Blue) and Polly Scale (Haze Gray). Underwater hull colors: Humbrol Fitting Copper, Floquil Anti-Fouling Oxide Red, and Polly Scale Black. The kit decal sheet provided the hull number.

 

OS2U markings: Yankee Modelworks 350-1001-5 “CV-5 1940-1942 Extra Markings”

CONCLUSIONS

The Tamiya kit is very good, with modeling and parts fit we are used to from the manufacturer. It is not excellent.

Within the molding capabilities of injection plastic are in my opinion, such omitted parts as the SG radar and its platform, compass peloruses on the bridge wings and on the centerline of the searchlight on #2 stack (secondary conn) and torpedo directors in the bridge wings. Also missing, and prominently displayed on the kit box top painting are three bridge wing supports. I corrected some but not all of these omissions.

REFERENCES

 

Friedman, N (1982). U.S. Destroyers an Illustrated Design History. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.

Larkins, W.T. (1996). Battleship and Cruiser Aircraft of the United States Navy 1910-1949. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military Aviation History.

Morison, S.E. (1975). History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vol. XIV Victory in the Pacific. Boston: Little, Brown.

Raven, A (1986). Fletcher Class Destroyers. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.

Ross, A. (1988). The Destroyer The Sullivans [Anatomy of the Ship series). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.

Solwinski, L, Walkowiak, T. (1976). United States Navy Camouflage of the WW2 Era. Philadelphia: The Floating Drydock.

 Joe Lyons

June 2009  

If you would like your product reviewed fairly and quickly, please contact me or see other details in the Note to Contributors.

Back to the Main Page

Back to the Review Index Page