When the Bug Bites You
When I was a kid, my father and I would watch history-related National Geographic specials, particularly those featuring oceanographer Bob Ballard. In 1993, nine-year old me first heard the word Guadalcanal on one of those specials – an hour-long look at Ballard’s quest to locate the wrecks that surround the island. It was the first time I’d heard of Iron Bottom Sound, and the first time I really understood how wide-ranging the Pacific War had been.
Fast-forward exactly twenty years, and twenty-nine year old me read James Hornfischer’s masterful Neptune’s Inferno. Again, I was taken to the waters off Savo Island in the summer and fall of 1942, only this time with the clarity and depth that befits an adult work of history. The details of the battles were engrossing and vivid, and I was literally regretful when I turned the last page.
The bug had bit me again, and I began to pour over Ballard’s Guadalcanal book (written to accompany the National Geographic documentary) with new vigor. It had been more than a decade since I’d cracked its pages, and in re-reading it I found a wonderful trove of details that I had missed so many years ago. Yes, the fold-out color images of shipwrecks were still fascinating to examine, but now Ballard’s descriptions of the actual battles and their significance finally made sense. I was able to conceptualize the naval battles around Guadalcanal as never before…and I knew that I was going to have to model something from this epic struggle.
I’ve lived in the Atlanta area for most of my life, so one ship that always jumped out at me when reading about Guadalcanal was USS Atlanta. An anti-aircraft cruiser and the first in her class, Atlanta went down following the November 13, 1942 First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (as I will explain in a later post, the fighting around the island was so intense and frequent that most historians break it down into no less than seven separate large-scale battles fought in roughly the same waters over four months). She was a mean-looking ship with eight batteries of twin 5″/38 mounts arranged around her superstructure, twin four-tube torpedo launchers, and the usual suite of early-war 1.1″ “Chicago Piano” and 20mm Oerlikon guns.
Atlanta may not be the most well-represented ship on the modeling market, but in 2006 Dragon released an excellent 1:700 mold of Atlanta‘s sister, USS San Diego in the latter’s 1942 configuration; this means that the kit can be built to represent any of the Atlanta-class that were afloat at that time. Dragon recognizes this and even provides decals for the first four ships in the class.
When I decided to take on this vignette had just finished a year-long build of Trumpeter’s 1:700 USS Hornet (CV-8). The finished product turned out better than I had expected, so I was feeling feisty and confident. Thus, I asked myself: what if I built this scene with two ships instead of just one? I did a bit of research and found that the US fleet was in a battle line as it entered the fight on November 13. And what was just ahead of Atlanta in that line? The Fletcher-class destroyer USS O’Bannon.
Do you mean, the class that I’d already been accumulating examples of to use as additional pieces in future builds (I had five unbuilt early-and-late type Fletchers in my stash at the time)?
And with that there was no going back.
I had several examples of Tamiya’s USS Fletcher and USS Cushing, as well as Skywave’s Fletcher-class dual-ship kit to choose from. In 1942, O’Bannon still featured the round-bridge design of early Fletchers, so I went with Tamiya’s offering.
So…why does this matter?
I’ve had this simmering on my bench for several months now, but the build is finally reaching a point where I can dedicate some page space to it without leaving massive gaps in between posts. Also, this is a good opportunity to relaunch this page, in a way. With my traditional reviews moving over to Complete-Models, I can maintain this page’s focus on history, memory, and creativity unimpeded.
Look for a second post detailing the history behind the scene I’m modeling shortly after the New Year begins. Until then, of course, thank you for reading, and Happy Modeling!