1/350 USS Flasher (SS-249)

KIT #: ?
PRICE: 4800 yen SRP for Yankee Modelworks kit and 2800 yen SRP for the AFV Club kit. Less at HLJ.
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES: Combination of  two kits


            The Fleet Submarine was developed to scout ahead of the fleet and report on the enemy fleet, then attack the enemy in preparation for the main fleet action, which would be a titanic gun battle between battleships. Effectiveness in this role required a submarine to have high surface speed, long range and endurance, and heavy armament. The state‑of‑the‑art in submarine design and construction between the wars made this combination of qualities difficult to achieve.

            By 1931, the experimental phase of fleet submarine development was completed and the Navy made solid progress toward what would eventually be the Gato‑class. By 1940, the  Tambor and Gar class submarines provided the right combination of factors and the long desired fleet submarine was a fact.  The Gato class, which first appeared in 1941 and provided the majority of U.S. submarines that operated during the Second World War was the ultimate development of this concept, with the subsequent Balao class differing primarily in equipment as a result of combat experience.

            However, the “fleet boats” would seldom ever operate in this role, outside of their participation in the Battle of Midway, and the First and Second Battles of the Philippine Sea.  With the offensive power of the U.S. Pacific Fleet dealt the blow of Pearl Harbor, the submarine force became the major offensive weapon available and were loosed as commerce raiders from the beginning.  “Execute Unrestricted Submarine Warfare Against Japan” was the first order issued after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

            The Gato class differed from the preceding Tambor and  Gar class submarines by an increase of five feet in length added to the engine room section to allow the addition of a watertight bulkhead to divide the one large engine room in two, with two diesels in each. They were slow divers compared to some German and British designs, due to the fact they were significantly larger, but their size allowed them to carry sufficient fuel and supplies for a 75 day patrol from Hawaii to Japan and back. At the outset of war, a Gato could submerge in 45-50 seconds, with the delay coming from a “hang” as the superstructure flooded.  Over the course of the war, additional limber holes were cut in the superstructure, and by 1943 a well-trained crew could go from surface to periscope depth in 30-35 seconds.

            The Gato class all had air conditioning, refrigerated storage for food, fresh water distilling units, clothes washers, and bunks for nearly every crew member.  A British submarine captain who brought his T-class submarine into Fremantle, Australia in 1944, found himself amazed at such luxuries, which were virtually unheard of in other navies. Operating in the tropics, these “luxuries” contributed to the habitability of these submarines, which were anything but “pig boats.”  Air conditioning operating as a dehumidifier was crucial in the tropics, where the heat of recently shut-down engines, electronic gear, and 70 bodies could quickly raise internal temperatures to 100F, with high humidity condensing to cause electrical shorts and fires.

            The Gato class proved to be the most successful combat submarines ever used, sinking 6 million of the 7 million tons of commercial ships in the Japanese Merchant Marine and effectively cutting Japan off from the benefits of its imperial conquests, as well as sinking numerous Japanese warships, including Shinano, the largest aircraft carrier of the war.  They were so successful that the United States Navy intervened at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials to prevent the trial of German U-boat commander Karl Donitz for the crime of operating German submarines as unrestricted commerce raiders, lest the U.S. Navy be held guilty of the same charge.

USS Flasher:

            The most successful U.S. submarine of the Second World War, USS Flasher received three Presidential Unit Citations and six battle stars, sinking 21 ships for a total of 100,231 tons.

            Flasher was built at Electric Boat Co. in Groton, Connecticut, with her keel laid down September 30, 1942; she was launched June 20, 1943.  She arrived at Pearl Harbor on  December 15, 1943 and sailed on her first war patrol on January 6, 1944, headed for an area off Mindoro.  Her first ship, a 2,900 ton former gunboat, was sunk on January 18.  She intercepted a convoy outside Manila on February 5, 1944, and sank a freighter, sinking two more ships from the same convoy on February 14 before heading for Fremantle, Australia.  One of the two freighters was the Hokuan Maru, which probably rammed and sank the Grayling on September 9, 1943.

            Her second war patrol took Flasher to the coast of French Indochina in April 1944, where she sank a gunboat and freighter on April 29, following that with a large cargo ship in the Sulu Sea on May 3.

            On her third war patrol in the South China Sea, Flasher made found a heavily-escorted convoy of 13 ships on June 28, 1944.  Shortly after midnight on June 29, she broke into the convoy on a night surface action and sank a freighter, badly damaging a large passenger cargo ship. On July 7, she sank a freighter.  On July 19, she sighted the light cruiser Oi, escorted by a destroyer.  In two attacks during which she was heavily depth-charged by the destroyer, she sank the cruiser, then sank two tankers on July 26.  Torpedoes expended, she returned to Fremantle. 

            The fourth war patrol to the Philippines saw Flasher head an attack group with two other submarines, Hawkbill and Becuna. Flasher operated as a lifeguard during air attacks preliminary to the invasion of the Philippines, but still managed to sink three ships before returning to Fremantle at the end of October, 1944. 

            On her fifth war patrol Flasher again headed the same attack group, bound for Cam Ranh Bay, Indochina.  On December 4, Hawkbill found a tanker convoy and the wolf pack assembled. Approaching the convoy in a heavy downpour, a destroyer suddenly appeared out of the murk; Flasher stopped the destroyer with two hits, then hit a tanker before bing forced to dive by a second destroyer.  After being depth-charged, Flasher returned to periscope depth and found the burning tanker, covered by a third destroyer.  Though nearly blinded by rain squalls, Flasher fired four torpedoes, two of which sank the destroyer and two of which ran deeper past the destroyer to hit the tanker before being forced deep again by escorts.  Surfacing shortly after sunset, Flasher finally sank the tanker, which had finally been abandoned. The two destroyers were found after the war to have been sunk.

            Flasher found another well‑guarded tanker convoy on December 21, 1944, and began a long chase, finally getting into position to attack from the unguarded shoreward side. In rapid succession, she sank three of the tankers - one of which was the largest ship she sank in the war - receiving no counter‑attack since the enemy apparently believed they were in a minefield.

           After refitting at Fremantle, Flasher made her sixth war patrol, again to the coast of Indochina, in February. Contacts were few, but she sank a sea truck by surface gunfire on February 25, 1945, and sank a cargo ship on February 29 with torpedoes. She arrived at Pearl Harbor on April 3, 1945, and left April 7 for a West Coast overhaul.  She did not return to combat before the end of the war.

            Flasher was retired in 1947 and stricken from the naval list in 1963, shortly before the launching of a second USS Flasher, SSN-613.  Her conning tower and deck gun were saved and form the centerpiece of the Submarine Memorial that honors the 52 U.S. submarines and crews lost during the war at the submarine base in Groton, Connecticut.

            The second USS Flasher, the thirteenth submarine of the Permit class of nuclear-powered attack submarines, was equally as successful, receiving five battle efficiency E’s, four Meritorious Unit Commendations, a Navy Unit Commendation, and a Presidential Unit Citation - all for operations that remain classified - during her 25-year career.  She was decommissioned in 1991 and her hull was destroyed in 1994.


             I was really looking forward to building the “1943 Gato class” release from AFV Club, since this would be the classic World War II fleet boat.  Imagine my surprise to discover that the upper hull part was for the Guppy 1A release, which is completely inaccurate for a World War II fleet boat!  Anyone else ordering this kit may be equally disappointed if AFV Club managed to release all the kits with this mistake.  This is really unfortunate, since the other AFV Club Gato submarines are very accurate models.

             Outside of the solution I outline below, the only way I can see getting an accurate late war fleet boat from an AFV Club kit would be to buy this kit and either the 1941 or 1942 Gato kits, which do have the accurate upper hulls.


            What to do?  Well, necessity being the mother of invention, I decided I could scratchbuild an appropriate conning tower to turn most of the AFV kit into a Guppy 1A boat, but that left the really nice conning tower, as well as the really good gun armament, which includes a 20mm and 40 mm cannon, as well as a 4-inch deck gun. 

             Fortunately, I had a Yankee Model Works resin Gato boat that had been languishing in its box due to the outline inaccuracy of the hull, the poor mold of the conning tower, the awful gun suite, the poor photoetch detail, and the mold block that ran nearly the whole length of the lower hull.

           I cut away the mold block with my Big-A$$ razor saw, sanded everything down, and corrected the profile outline of the hull. The forward superstructure is really too narrow, but it was “close enough” to proceed.  I also cut off the poor conning tower.

             All the left-over parts from the AFV Club kit were used for this model, which resulted in an acceptable late war fleet boat.  I made the fore and aft diving planes and rudder from sheet styrene to replace the too-thin photoetch parts from the resin kit, and made the prop shafts from Evergreen rod.  I did use the photoetch props.  The photoetch prop guards from the AFV Club kit were used.  I also used the photoetch conning tower railing from the Yankee Modelworks kit, with the photoetch detail railing for the upper sail from the AFV Club kit.


             I airbrushed the lower hull with Tamiya “Hull Red,” then airbrushed the upper hull and superstructure with Tamiya “NATO Black”.  I hand-painted the Haze Grey using a mixture done from Xtracrylix paints, which allowed me to dry-brush the areas around the limber holes, so they can be seen, while looking appropriately worn from being at sea. 


 I attached the weapons in position as Flasher looked in late 1944 with the 40mm weapon in the forward conning tower position and the 20mm aft, with the 4-inch deck gun forward.


             I really wish AFV Club had not screwed the pooch so badly on this release, since I could easily see myself doing a couple more of these.  If that ever gets straightened out, I will get at least one more.  In the meantime, I now have two famous US fleet boats in the collection: Wahoo and Flasher.  This project is proof that you can indeed make two lemons into lemonade.

Tom Cleaver

April 2011

AFV Club and Yankee Modelworks kits courtesy HobbyLink Japan.

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