It should come as no surprise that this post has been a long time coming. What’s it been…thirteen months since I blogged in earnest? Sorry about that interval, but hopefully you’re already part of the community on The Museum Modeler Facebook page and YouTube channel, and thus are aware that I am nowhere near dead.
I’ve worked on several projects this year, but one of them overwhelmingly consumed my time and attention: a long-planned 1:700 vignette depicting USS Franklin (CV-13) and USS Santa Fe (CL-60) on the morning of March 19, 1945. Specifically, as depicted in this scene:
In the end, going to this from a pair of stock kits required more patience, creativity, and troubleshooting than I’d ever thought I’d need to call on in the pursuit of this hobby. Writing this now, however – one year later – I can finally tell you how it went down, phase by phase.
Let me tell you a story.
On March 19, 1945, the Essex-class carrier USS Franklin was struck by two bombs dropped by a Japanese D4Y “Judy” bomber. This action occurred while the ship was preparing to launch a strike against Honshū, and thus had numerous armed and fueled aircraft on both the flight and hanger decks. The rearmost bomb landed among these aircraft, setting off multiple explosions on Franklin’s hanger deck which ultimately cascaded into a massive fuel vapor explosion. This detonation filled the length of the ship’s hanger deck and resulted the deaths of hundreds of sailors, airmen, and Marines. It also caused the spun-up aircraft on the flight deck above to jostle into one another, leading to an immediate chaotic dance of whirling propellers and demolished airframes. As these aircraft exploded, so too did their ordinance. Within minutes, Franklin had been transformed from a normally-operating aircraft carrier to a garish hellscape of flame and debris.
The surviving crew battled on and, with the assistance of some of her escorting destroyers and cruisers, Franklin was saved. By the time the ordeal was over and the carrier had returned to New York under her own power, history would record Franklin as having survived the most grievous damage – and the highest casualty count – of any American warship to have done so and not sunk. With more than 1200 crew having been killed or wounded it was a particularly dark day for the US Navy. The heroics of the survivors and those rendering aid is a credit to the fleet, however, as is their ultimate action of having saved the ship.
Now then…how to model this? As noted in an earlier post, US Navy War Damage Reports can be immensely helpful in reconstructing battle damage. Given the scope of Franklin‘s damage her report proved invaluable in researching this project. This document is available from many sources, though I’m here linking to the version posted by the Naval History and Heritage Command. Though the dozens of photographs and narrative pages were all of the utmost usefulness during this project, the summary plates stand out immediately as reference materials:
More than half of Franklin‘s flight and hanger decks were wrecked during that day’s ordeal; her gallery deck (suspended below the flight deck and above the hanger deck) was all but obliterated. To practice some of the techniques that I would use to replicate this, I first engaged in a trial build of USS San Francisco (CA-38) depicting the ship on the morning after the First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal:
Some time ago, I’d purchased Five Star Models’ “Late War Essex” photoetch detail set (which I reviewed here) with the intention of using it on this project. This set replaces the entire flight deck found on Trumpeter’s 1:700 USS Franklin kit while also adding significant gallery deck, island, and catwalk details. To get Franklin‘s flight deck convincingly wrecked, I was going to need this brass material to create the effect of an underlying deck that was revealed as the ship’s wood-planked deck burned away.
But I get ahead of myself: before tearing down the flight deck, I had to build up everything else, first.
Photographs of Franklin show the ship as having acquired a thirteen-degree list by the time that Santa Fe pulled away from the stricken carrier. Amazingly, the carrier’s watertight integrity was unharmed by her topside damage; the list was the result of fire-fighting water cascading down into the hanger deck and thence deeper into the ship by way of open and undogged hatches.
To replicate this, I attached the Franklin kit’s lower hull to the upper, as portions of the undersea hull became visible as the ship’s port side rose our of the water. Using a razor saw, I carefully cut through the ship’s hull at the 13-degree mark I’d established with a protractor. Another hour of sanding the new hull bottom against a sheet of 400-grit paper evened out any irregularities and let me put this initial modification behind me.
Gallery and Hanger Decks
Franklin’s War Damage Report provides a clear, clinical description of the tremendous damage inflicted upon Franklin’s Gallery and Hanger Decks:
“Detonation of the enemy bombs in the hangar ruptured aircraft fuel tanks causing fires to spread rapidly on both the flight and hangar decks. A tremendous gasoline vapor explosion followed the initial detonations by a few seconds. Blast and flames filled the entire hangar and shot up elevator wells and out the sides of the hangar. Dense black smoke filled the hangar and enveloped large portions of the flight deck and bridge. Planes on the flight deck, which had been turning up were thrown together with their propellers cutting into one another. The severity of the initial detonations and vapor explosion can be appreciated by the fact that there are only two known survivors from the hangar.” (United States Navy, War Damage Report 56: USS Franklin (CV-13). September 15, 1946. Section 3-32).
To warp Franklin‘s hanger deck as per her War Damage charts, I went with an old standby: heat. After marking out what should be deformed, what should show penetration, and how far each bit of damage should go, I spent several brief rounds holding the hull over open flame. After a few seconds, the plastic in question softened, and I was able to press into and through the hanger deck with a dowel as needed.
After building up the rest of the hanger deck sides, adding details with stock styrene, and drilling out shrapnel holes as indicated by reference photos, it was time to paint the sucker. I started with a full-ship base coat of my trusty Mr. Surfacer 1200 Black before adding in scraps of aluminum foil and thin wire to replicate the shredded nature of the collapsed gallery deck. This was then painted and weathered per the technique described in this earlier post.
While this was going on, I decided to scratchbuild those portions of the gallery deck that the ship’s damage report indicated were only partially destroyed. I measured and cut lengths of textured and strip styrene into a form that was both accurate and capable of suspension beneath the photoetch flight deck. Hanging metal sheets were replicated using the same foil-and-wire technique as mentioned above:
When put together, the Hanger and Gallery deck create an appropriate atmosphere of destruction. While much of this is dark and difficult to see in the finished model, the hints of debris that show through speak volumes toward the havoc that was unleashed aboard Franklin that day.
One last touch before closing up the Hanger Deck for good was to add several torrents of water cascading out of Franklin‘s starboard side. This water, which was the cause of Franklin‘s list, was the result of the afore-mentioned firefighting water which had come aboard ship. To create this effect, I used my old standby of Liquitex Gloss Gel Medium (this is my standard material for creating water effects, for which a complete , 2-part tutorial can be viewed here and here). Essentially, I built a flow of water out from each relevant point on the hull over several coats and several hours, adding and shaping each stream as the area preceding it cured.
The most distinctive element of any carrier (besides the wide expanse of flight deck, of course) is the island. In Franklin‘s case, the damage sustained to the island was most severe internally than externally.
In fact, the most severe damage to the island that needs to be modeled is identifed by the ship’s wrecked and tilting radar mast. To quote again from the ship’s damage report:
“The mast support for the SC-3 radar antenna fractured and in falling smashed both the SC-3 and SM antennae. The foremast which supports antennae for the YE homing beacon, SG and BK radars and VHF radio gear was fractured at the radar platform level. This mast tilted inboard but was prevented from hanging down by its starboard wire stay .” (Section 3-42)
This damage is clearly visible in a series of photographs taken from aboard USS Santa Fe :
To achieve this effect, I had to rely almost exclusively on Five Star’s photoetch set (plus a few lengths of brass rod). Really, though, it was just a matter of matching the build’s mast angles to the photo references. A little bit of glue in the right places, and I had a convincing effect:
Ah yes, the Flight Deck. Hands down, this is the most characteristic visual element of the Franklin disaster. This is what draws the eye; this is what people remember.
This is how the US Navy remembered it:
“Within a short period of time, variously reported as from one to four minutes after the initial detonation, the first of a five-hour long series of heavy explosions of aircraft bombs occurred. During this period it is estimated that about 60 of the 66 500-pound bombs and about 7 or 8 of the 10 250-pound bombs which were loaded on planes on the flight deck detonated. … Most of the bombs on the flight deck exploded on that deck, but some fell through holes and exploded in the hangar spaces. All of the 12 Tiny Tims (11.75-inch rockets) on the flight deck went off. Some were observed to leave the ship by the force of the motors, but it is believed that a majority of the rocket heads detonated on the ship. …Small caliber, 20mm, 40mm and 5-inch ammunition exploded singly (low order) throughout the period of the heavy explosions and for several hours following. This ammunition was located in planes, clipping rooms, ready service boxes and upper handling rooms. No lower magazine spaces were involved. Fires, fed by gasoline and aggravated by the continuing explosions, raged unabated during the first few hours on the flight deck and in the island, gallery, forecastle, hangar and a few second deck spaces.“ (Section 3-33)
In most photographs taken of Franklin that day, her flight deck after of the island is completely obscured by smoke and flame. It’s only in images taken in the weeks following the attack – and with the guiding hand of the War Damage Report – that we get an accurate sense of the destruction that was wrought.
I relied heavily on Five Star’s photoetch components to recreate this mechanical trauma in miniature. Trumpeter’s stock flight deck has too thick a cross-section to realistically represent the thin steel of Franklin‘s flight deck, and the molded quality of the deck’s planks and tie-down strips would ave required significant sanding with no guarantee of success.
Five Star solves this problem by providing a thick brass deck which includes substantial portions of the Gallery Deck. As designed, this deck was intended to serve as a backing plate for a nicely-detailed photoetch flight deck. I had other ideas, though.
To avoid bogging down in an excessive word count, I’ll let images and captions tell this part of the story:
Putting it All Together
And there it is. Nine months from start to finish, and I couldn’t be happier.
So then, what’s next? Not to worry, I have an idea about that…