"There's something wrong with our bloody ships to-day"

 


HMS Lion - Scale 1:250, published by JSC Models, £34.95

(Also available HMS Lion laser-cut parts £17.95, HMS Lion metal gun barrels £16.95)


So said Admiral Beatty at Jutland in 1916 when one of the battlecruisers under his command blew up. For the cause of the problem, however, one must go back ten years. In 1906, the world was amazed by the appearance of HMS Dreadnought, the first all big gun ship. The Dreadnought was larger, faster and more heavily armed than contemporary battleships whom she could stand off and sink without coming under fire herself. The arrival of HMS Dreadnought intensified the arms race between Britain and Germany and led to the construction of two fleets of these huge leviathans. Arising from the original Dreadnought design was a new breed of armoured cruiser, eventually to be styled battlecruiser. Although of a sadly flawed design, battlecruisers have always held a fascination for many people. In general appearance, they resembled the dreadnoughts. However, while armed with heavy guns, their armour protection was considerably reduced to enable the installation of much more powerful engines, giving much higher speeds than the dreadnoughts. Intended primarily to engage armoured cruisers and to finish off stragglers in a main fleet engagement, the temptation to use them as virtual dreadnoughts proved too great. In two battles, one in each World War, four battlecruisers, engaging the enemy, suffered from their lack of protection and blew up, resulting in the deaths of thousands of men.
HMS Lion, with her sisters, HMS Queen Mary and HMS Princess Royal, were completed in 1912-3 and, at 700 feet long and 29,700 tons, were the largest warships thus far laid down. A fourth ship, HMS Tiger, was considerably modified in design. They were the first "super-dreadnought" type battlecruisers, each mounting eight 13.5" guns, and were affectionately known as the Big Cats. At Jutland, flying Admiral Beatty's flag, the Lion was heavily engaged with the High Seas Fleet and was lucky to survive; her sister, the Queen Mary, blew up with the loss of most of her crew. After the War, she fell victim to the wave of disarmament and was sold for scrap in the 1920s.


The Model.


Over several years, JSC has built an interesting series of WW1 warships in 1:250 scale. While many of these are from the German High Seas Fleet, they have now brought out their first offering from the Grand Fleet - HMS Lion.
The computer-designed, waterline kit is published in book form, filling 18 A4 sheets of card, together with other parts, including two Sopwith Pups and two Sopwith 1½-Strutters, printed on thinner paper. The parts are printed in full colour so that there is no need to paint. A full set of English instructions is provided and there are several diagrams.
Construction begins with the hull. JSC have been experimenting with different types of hull construction, instead of the usual "egg-box" method. In the case of the Lion, the sections of the base plate must be pinned to a prepared wooden plank and the keel and hull frames then attached. This worked quite well. I did encounter a diagrammatic error, but closer inspection of the parts clearly showed the right way to proceed.
Once the hull skeleton has been completed, the sides can be plated and the decking laid on top. The model then begins to look like a ship. When laying the decking, I was a little worried to see the deck overlapping the ship sides. However, study of photographs of the original showed that a ledge had been provided under which to tuck the anti-torpedo netting when not in use.
The secondary armament must now be built - in all, sixteen 4" gun turrets. A nice touch here was the provision of four extra gun emplacements as spare parts. This was repeated for some of the other later parts. Because of size limitations, instead of card, the gun barrels were to be made from suitable material (wire, plastic rod etc.) using a template provided. This applied to some other parts such as masts. The secondary armament is modelled with even printed detail on the breech block, although, to be honest, I found these guns rather awkward to construct. I think there may have been too much detail which made it difficult to produce a good rotating turret. There again, it might have been all thumbs on my part!
Next come the turret barbettes, deckhouses and superstructure. This is quite a lengthy job as there are innumerable hatches and ventilators to be placed on deck. Usefully, each barbette is clearly marked A, B, Q or X. The superstructure has also been designed with great care to show the different levels with connecting ladders.
Funnels do add character to a ship and so it is important on a model for them to look right. On this kit, the funnels are provided with mesh cowls which are quite tricky to apply but the result is well worth the effort.
The construction of the main turrets is quite straightforward. Each gun is provided with card trunnion and cradle to enable it to elevate and depress. You can also apply linen flash shields to each gun. I used an old hanky, from which I cut small squares. In the middle of each square, I cut a hole and pushed through the gun barrel which itself had already been fixed into the turret. I then glued the shield on the barrel to where I wanted it to cover and, when dry, tucked the shield into the open turret before closing the turret roof. By trial and error, I found that, for a reasonable effect, you needed a piece of hanky about 1" square. Although this looked rather big, the cloth tucked into the turret quite neatly, leaving plenty of material outside for the right effect. The main turrets have been designed with plugs underneath to slot into the barbettes to allow them to turn.
The kit is provided with numerous ship's boats, each of which is now built up and placed in position on the deck. Some of these, such as the Admiral's launch, are quite elaborate, comprising over a dozen pieces.
After this, various small but numerous items, such as searchlights, cable reels and bollards, are put together and positioned on the model. Masts and davits can be made from wire or plastic rod, as mentioned above, and you may use the diagrams provided for rigging the model.
The last job is to build the aircraft, each with a wingspan of about 1½". As well as the aircraft parts, the kit also provides special card jigs to enable the aircraft to be built with the correct wing angles.
I will leave the last words to the model instructions.
"Now place the ship in proper position, go back two or three steps and look at it. It's nice, isn't it?"

Christopher Cooke.

(N.B. This review was wriitten in 1997 when the kit was first published. The kit has been reprinted; laser-cut parts and metal gun barrels for the kit are also now available separately).

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