Thursday, April 23, 2015

Rebuilding Notoro

There were a number of ships  in the Imperial Japanese Navy with interesting histories, but few more colorful than the one I will describe here. I happened on this ship quite by chance. Being a fan of logistics (odd isn't it?) I quickly bought models to represent oilers for my first two fleets: Neosho and Kaskasia for the Yanks and Notoro and Iro for Imperial Japan.

We will be discussing Notoro. She was the second ship of the Shiretoko class of oilers (sometimes also called the Erimo class) built immediately after the First World War when the potential of oil as a fleet fuel made itself obvious to even the most obstinate coal burning navies. They were broadly similar to the Kanawha class of the U.S. Navy with about 15,000 gross registry tons and speeds of about fourteen knots. Notoro came six years after Kanawha, but by the mid twenties Japan was fairly well supplied with eleven purpose built oilers and several leased merchant tankers; a state not far inferior to the larger U. S. Navy.

At this point the astute observer will note some interesting facts: the Imperial Japanese Navy was at that time treaty bound to be roughly three fifths the size of their likeliest opponents and their military needs were considerably more local; thus Japan had something of a surplus of tankers odd as that may sound to ears familiar with later history. So they took a pair of their perfectly good fleet oilers and converted them for use in aviation. (After all, if you have a large flat deck . . . ) Thanks to some odd quirks of history and my own collecting habits my own Notoro has enjoyed a remarkably similar career thus far. I bought and first painted her as a fleet oiler. Later I learned that she had been converted to a seaplane tender. Eventually, after I had procured a fair handful of more modern oilers, I got the yen to convert her to that seaplane tender guise. I worked off photographs I had to hand, which showed her in the mid thirties. Since I started I've found that she probably underwent some rather drastic changes in the late thirties or early forties that might eventually prompt me to undo some of my careful work, but for now she's a decent enough seaplane tender. But enough history. You want to know how she got there . . .

So here's Notoro as she arrived at the yard for overhaul. This is the casting pretty much as it arrived from Panzerschiffe. I might have cleaned it up before I painted it, but this was an early piece that predated my detailing habits.

The first step in the conversion was to remove the excess fittings from above the main deck. It was a little work to file the walkway and the sort of pipelike thing off, but the hangar roof would help to hide any imperfections.

The next step was to lay out the hangars and build the supports. Due to scale I simplified the structure a little, eliminating some light horizontal elements and slightly reducing the number of uprights. I also cut a small triangular piece to become the forward plate. Holding this in a pair of tweezers I filed one edge of it with a round file to make the curved indentation where it fits around the gun tub. Once all of these were in place I cut small pieces of sheet styrene to fit. I drilled holes in these for the heavier posts for the large cranes that passed through the hangar roof, which I would install from above later.

Before attaching the roof I painted the deck, hangar interior, and added aircraft, since doing so beneath the roof would have been difficult. I decided to leave the hinomaru off since I assumed they wouldn't be visible after the roof was in place. This was a mistake I came to regret.

Here you can see the aircraft in the hangars and the posts for the heavy cranes fitted. You may also see that the upper surface of the seaplane wings is clearly visible . . . but in a spot that's darn hard to paint. Oops. When in doubt add the detail that might or might not show before you close things in. At worst you'll have done a little unnecessary work, but you may save yourself considerable headache later.

Once those small problems were solved I turned to the masts and cranes. Notoro seems to have had fully five cranes for aircraft handling. I deleted the least visible one for space reasons but the two largest cranes were supported by rather complex vertical trusses that stood athwart the beam of the ship forward and aft of the amidships superstructure. While I don't have the skill to really do them justice I felt I had to make something of an attempt. You can see that the shorter port post forms the back rail of the truss and the taller starboard one the front rail (assuming the boom of the crane is to the front). I typically use 0.015" styrene rod for masts and spars. For these heavier elements I used 0.020" rod. You can see the difference if you compare the trusses to the masts. While small, it is visible. I built up the heavy DP weaponry fore and aft from styrene stock and rod. I've occasionally done this with squash casting, but the number of DP weapons is not so atrocious and the built up guns look a little cleaner when finished. At this stage I also added the masts. The foremast is attached to the forward truss along with a small structure I assume is a pilot house.

Finally you can see the last two cranes in the photo below. These appear to have been overhead gantry types, which is quite surprising in this application. Neither the photographs nor the diagrams I've found are completely clear. I suspect good Japanese sources could answer the question, but in this scale the difference wouldn't be obvious anyway. The relevant thing is that it's structure was another truss, though smaller and more conventional than the cranes above. I depicted this with a piece of styrene smashed in the grip of a needle nose pliers, which gives a nice waffling effect. 

At this point about all that was left was adding anchors and painting, which I did forthwith. The resulting ship, while a touch crude, looks acceptable from table distance and gets the point across pretty clearly. And the wealth of interesting detail helps to distract the eye from any imperfections.

As always, I hope there's something here you find useful or interesting and thank you for reading.

The Composer

Monday, April 20, 2015

Japanese Auxiliaries Steam to the Review

As the Annual Naval Review gets underway I'm taking some long delayed 1/2400 projects off the back burner and heating them up. For a number of years I had kept paint-free miniatures from building up in my fleet, but that changed a few years back when a not-quite-local gaming store sold off the stock of another store that had gone out of business at prices I'd never seen before and likely won't again. And it's only gotten worse since, thanks to my visits to the seductive Bay of Ee. Thus am I well caught on the horns of a dilemma. I have over a hundred ships needing paint, but I'm not dreadfully excited about them. And I have a fair number of painted ships that I'd like to update, but that doesn't whittle the pile down any.

I've settled for a compromise and done a bit of both. Below are two Japanese auxiliaries; one from each camp. First, Canberra Maru:

This is a C-in-C model of an IJA transport that was sunk in the late stages of the Guadalcanal campaign. I got this one used and without tag. It took me forever to identify it as it was quite a bit smaller than I imagined it would be. (She tends to look beefier in photographs than her 446' and six thousand odd tons on the books suggest.) But careful measurement shows that C-in-C actually got it more or less right. To give an idea of her size she's pictured below with Hakusan Maru (astern),  Asama Maru (starboard of the pier), and Kamikawa Maru (out in the bay).

In the overhaul department Notoro emerged from the yards with considerably more superstructure than she had going in. Below you can see her in the company of her unconverted sister Iro. (The circular barge was included for scale.)

And here's Notoro alongside another seaplane tender, Kamikawa Maru, which was seen earlier. Both of these models (and Iro) are heavily converted Panzerschiffe castings. While they don't get as much love as the fancy brands they are much more reasonably priced, they make good solid gaming pieces, and they look quite presentable with a little detail work.

Of course it is the time of year when I take all my ships from all the various manufacturers and line them up together for Imperial (my wife's), Dictatorial (my own), and friendly inspection. More will follow, but below is a little sampler of what is presently on display.

I will keep you updated as the review continues and I have photographs of Notoro's conversion that might be illustrative. Stick around if you're interested. More will be along shortly. On that note, thank you kind readers. As always, I hope you enjoy my humble offerings.

The Composer