Building Japan's Subchaser No. 25 in 1/700 scale
Highly competent in surface warfare, naval air power and other areas of naval concern, the Imperial Japanese Navy prior to the Second World War was astonishingly remiss in the development of its antisubmarine warfare capability. This was due in part to limited resources, but also reflected a dangerous disinclination to develop such defensive weapons. This neglect was to have disastrous consequences later: during the Pacific War over 55% of all Japanese ships lost fell to submarine attack.
One type of ship brought into service to counter the submarine threat was the No. 13 class subchaser. Designed primarily for the escort of small coastal convoys, these vessels were small, slow, and almost entirely unarmored. They were nevertheless exceptionally seaworthy and were to serve throughout the war in all operational areas from the Aleutians to the Solomons. Intended to supplement rather than to replace full sized destroyers, these tiny ships increasingly found themselves the sole protectors of convoys as the chronic shortage of destroyers became more acute. Unequal to this demanding task, these ships suffered heavy losses: by the end of the war 36 of the 48 vessels of this type had been destroyed. One of those lost was Subchaser No. 25. Ironically she was sunk, along with her sister No. 27, by the submarine USS Grunion off the island of Kiska on July 15, 1942.
I built this model back in the early Eighties from the Skywave/Pit Road kit. Released as part of a combo kit along with a USN Gato/Balao class fleet sub and a B-24 bomber, the kit was pretty good for its time. The molds have since been purchased by Tamiya, who now sell the kit with new box art under their label. (Fair enough, I suppose; it was originally marketed by Green Max.) Interestingly, Tamiya also makes a No. 13 class subchaser of their own tooling which they include in their Japanese Auxiliaries set. An entirely new effort, this subchaser is noticably different than the older Skywave version. Fittings are better, details a little sharper, and it seems to be more dimensionally accurate as well. I liked the Skywave kit, but I wish this one had been available back then. Oh, well.
The 2 1/2inch long subchaser was attractive right out of the box, but I decided to add a few improvements. (I suppose I was looking for a good excuse to put off studying for my high school finals!) I began by adding the doors to the sides of the superstructure which appear so prominently in photos of these ships. These were fashioned from .010 inch plastic stock with hinges made from binder paper. Next I added two small anchors (and I do mean small-these things measured about 1/32 of an inch high!) borrowed from Hasegawa's I-168 submarine kit. Molded onto the submarine's hull, I had to destroy the sub to remove them. I hated to cut up such a fine kit for parts, but I figured it was worth it. The absence of anchors on the subchaser's hull was just too noticeable, and the tiny anchors look fine mounted beneath the hawsepipes.
Other improvements included replacing various kit parts with better ones from Skywave's "Equipment for the Japan Navy Ship-WWII, set 1." These parts kits are still available and are definitely worthwhile. Though a bit expensive, these replacement sets are of excellent quality and provide enough spares to last for years (I'm still using parts from that particular set). I applaud Skywave for this unique and innovative effort. Replacements included the searchlight on the superstructure, the cutters, and the type 22 "horns" radar unit. These fittings were distinct improvements over their kit provided counterparts.
In addition to this I improved some of the kit parts, especially the armament. The 80mm deck gun, for example, received a new copper wire barrel and a sheet plastic shield. The 13.2mm antiaircraft guns were improved with wire barrels, plastic shields and wire shoulder brackets. The depth charge racks on the fantail received wire rails.
I also added a number of scratchbuilt improvements. The mast was replaced with one fashioned from copper wire bonded with white glue, with the crow's nest taken from the kit part. The signal flags were made from painted binder paper. The rigging and UHF areial atop the bridge were made from superfine wire taken from a transistor raidio coil. The safety rails on the superstructure and around the AA gun positions were made from copper wire and attached with white glue. These were then hand painted using a 000 brush. This paint not only gives these assemblies the appropriate color but strengthens the delicate joints as well. I made the galley stovepipe along the funnel in the same way.
The safety rails along the main deck were probably the single most difficult addition. These were made by cutting 28 copper wire stanchions, each 1/16 of an inch high. Along with a flagstaff and jackstaff, they were set along the perimeter of the deck with white glue. It was important that all 28 stachions be exactly the same length so that the safety lines to come would fit properly, making a smooth line. To do this I lined up nine or ten 1 inch lengths of wire and, followig a prototype, made multiple copies with each cut. This assured not only uniform accuracy but was quite a bit faster than cutting them individually.
After this I carefully laid the ultrafine wire along them, two strands on each side. These were attached with thinned white glue applied stanchion by stanchion using a fine brush. I painted the wire a gray slightly lighter than the hull color. This was to hint at the effect of salt spray and to help them stand out better against the darker gray deck. This method is basically the same construction as that on the real ship and captures the delicacy of the small scale well. It is, however, a tedious and time consuming process. I had the patience to get through a less than 3 inch long subchaser - but I would not want to try this for a battleship!
The decals, applied after assembly and painting, were not those provided in the kit. The hull number "25" was from a Super Scale set for 1/285 Micro Armor. The shaded effect was achieved by superimposing a white "25" over a black "25," slightly offset. The Japanese flag on the bridge top was from a 1/76 scale tank kit. Although I cannot document that Subchaser No. 25 had this marking, I took a calculated risk and applied it anyway. Such markings were commonly used as an aerial recognition measure on Japanese warships, and it is quite possible that No. 25 had it as well. Anyway, it adds a welcome bit of color to an otherwise drab model.
Finally, in order to display the subchaser in a natural setting, I sculpted a sea base for it using drywall repair spackle, mixed thick. To emphasize the seaworthiness for which these small ships were noted I made the sea very rough, as it might have appeared in a stormy North Pacific. I painted the sea with green, blue, and white enamels. With the addition of a nameplate and a homemade plexiglass cover to protect the model (as much from the attentions of my cat as from dust), my Imperial Navy Subchaser No. 25 was complete. Now it was time to take on that USN fleet submarine that came in the box with it !
Jenschura, Jung, and Mickel
Warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy 1869-1945.
Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1977.,
Japanese Warships of World War Two.
Shepperton, Surrey, England: Ian Allen, 1966.
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