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Building the 1/74 Glencoe WWI Subchaser

 

by Richard Eaton

 

For the new year I continue on my journey through large-scale naval topics. I decided to tackle the venerable Glencoe WWI Subchaser in 1/74 scale. This is a basic older kit but does provide a nice representation of the SC-96. Born in the need for an anti-U-boat weapon this class of small wooden ship soldiered on through WWII.

Class History

This class of vessel originated during World War I. In 1916 the United States was still neutral but during that summer two German submarines visited the U.S. and shortly thereafter sank five ships. This galvanized the navy into action. Spurred by a young Assistant Secretary of the Navy named Franklin D. Roosevelt the navy undertook its own design for an effective antisubmarine vessel.

At this time steel was scarce and shipyard capacity was used up. Roosevelt invoked naval architects to come up with a suitable design for a subchaser made of wood. The idea was to build them quickly in small boatyards, using people with the necessary skills in wooden boat construction to get the job done.

Naval architect, Albert Loring Swasey was commissioned by Roosevelt to design a subchaser that would have the seaworthiness and the endurance necessary to be effective against the U boats. Swasey came up with a triple-screwed vessel 110' long with a 16' beam, powered by three Standard 6-cylinder, 220-horsepower gasoline-driven engines. The popular view was that a subchaser should be very fast but Swasey disagreed, maintaining that extreme speed was not worth the price in the sacrifice of seaworthiness, cruising range and comfort. Despite a storm of criticism from shipbuilders who anticipated speeds of at least 30 or 40 knots he went ahead with preparations to have the boats built with a top speed of 17 knots and a cruising range of 1000 miles. He designed a bow flare similar to that of a big whaleboat with its hull cut off at the water line aft – a design unsurpassed for sea work since the time of the Vikings.

The SC-1 class subchaser had a displacement of 85 tons and a complement of two officers and 24 enlisted men. The armament consisted of two 3-inch 23-caliber guns and two machine guns. Later on a depth charge projector or Y-gun was substituted for the after 3-inch gun and it proved to be the most effective antisubmarine weapon of all. There being no electronic sonar in those days the vessels were equipped with underwater hydrophones for detecting engine and propeller noises.

By the time the First World War ended, 440 SC-1 class subchasers had been completed and placed into service. One hundred were sold to France and another 121 craft manned by American crews crossed the Atlantic under their own power, refueling at sea from tankers accompanying or being escorted. The subchasers in Europe operated in the approaches to Britain and France and in the Mediterranean and those in the United States combined with destroyers in operations off the east coast against the U boats.

The gallant little SCs of WWI ranged far and wide, completing missions as far north as Archangel, Russia, inside the Arctic Circle. Many SCs were captained by enthusiastic amateur yachtsmen with Ivy League backgrounds exhibiting an air of informality and relaxed discipline as seen onboard submarines and PT boats. Officers and crew were a close-knit group, almost to a man recruited from the Naval Reserve. The small size of the ships and the informal, nonconformist ways of their men earned them the label 'Cinderellas of the Fleet', and 'Splinter Fleet'. They were a hardy lot. At sea the conditions were grueling, uncomfortable, and definitely not for the fainthearted. The constant pounding, rolling and pitching of the vessels was unremitting and unforgiving.

To locate the submerged submarines, three types of sound detectors were mounted beneath the hull to determine the distance and direction of the target. The subchasers worked in groups of three in line abreast formation. The idea was to depth charge submarines to the surface and finish them off with gunfire. Ironically this class of ship looked much like a submarine outline-wise, and several records of friendly fire incidents were reported.

The history and performance of the World War I subchasers has been debated by historians. One source says the SC-1 class subchaser was the most important weapon of the war and credits them with destroying 40% of the U-boats sunk in the war. Another source takes a diametrically opposite view, saying "The submarine chasers never fulfilled the hopes placed in them and never achieved a single kill." Nevertheless everyone is in agreement that they were an effective antisubmarine deterrent. In an operation in 1918 known as the 'Otranto Barrage' a dozen or so American subchasers helped keep the U boats bottled up in the Adriatic, unable to escape to the open sea to press their attacks. By denying the Germans the offensive power of their U-boats at this critical stage the Otranto Barrage was perhaps the greatest single contribution of the subchasers in World War I. And on 2 October 1918 eleven SC-1s blew up enemy mines in the Austrian harbor of Durazzo, thus insuring their role in the only general naval engagement by the American navy in the war.

Later, the subchaser class was resurrected for service in WWII. The wooden WWII subchasers appear quite similar to their progenitors but the WWI subchasers were 2 feet narrower of beam and had radically different propulsion systems and armament. The WWII ships had lots of cool armament such as antiaircraft guns and a double rack of launchers known as "mousetraps" that could hurl eight fast-sinking, contact-firing projectiles 200 yards ahead to rupture the pressure hulls of enemy submarines. Now that would make a neat conversion project! During WWII these brave vessels led landing craft right in to assault beaches, protected them from enemy fire, fought off air attacks, swept for mines, laid down smoke screens and patrolled the seas for enemy submarines. And they did all this without any of the crew comforts found on the larger ships they supported.

The SC-96

The subject of Glencoe's kit was built in 1917 at the Elco Boat Company at a cost of $72,150. Entering service in December 1917 she completed training and went to New London Conn. to join a flotilla of 30 some subchaser destined for over seas service. In Jan, 1918 the flotilla left New London and went to Bermuda and then the Azores Islands and the entered the Mediterranean Sea. Based at Corfu. This squadron was part of the Otranto Barrage tasked with keeping the Austrian/Hungarian fleet bottled up in the Adriatic Sea. The Barrage was a system of Mine fields, patrolling warships and aircraft that went from Italy to Greece and consisted of English, French Italian, and American forces.

The SC-96 never fought a U-boat during WWI, or participated in the Durazzo Bombardment in 1918. Her great achievement was patrol.

After WW I the SC-96 was used to evacuate Americans from Turkey during on of the 1922 battles between Greece and Turkey. In 1924 the navy stripped her of equipment and sold the sub chaser for public auction to a man in Athens Greece. The Model

This is a basic older kit with fairly good detail and little flash for its era. The parts are molded in very soft gray and tan plastic. Ejector marks are typical of older kits and no different here. There are no decals or clear parts provided – hey what do you want for $15 US! Markings are molded into the hull and superstructure. Although I built pretty well OOB, I used a few basic techniques to jazz up the build such as drilling out port holes, scratching railings, and adding glass to the bridge.

Part cleanup was step number one. I filled sink holes and cleaned up the huge ejector marks on parts. This was made easy by the soft plastic.

Next I spray painted the major colors while the parts were on the sprue. I used Testors wood for decks, neutral gray for hull and bulkheads, and flat red for the keel. I figured I'd go with the embossed markings rather than risk ruining the hull sanding them off. I masked off the hull markings and sprayed with flat white. A final masking allowed the waterline to be added in flat black. The final effect was pleasing.

I assembled the basic components and decided to add further enhancements as I went. The ship's boat was a tad heavy for the scale unless you like a 10 inch thick hull. I decided to cover the boat with tissue soaked in diluted whit glue. This was later painted flat white.

I then went to work on the bridge. I added windows all around by cementing thin clear plastic packaging material to the insides with Testors clear parts cement. Very handy stuff! Since it was out I formed porthole glass in the numerous drillings I had done with a toothpick. The bridge top deck just cried for some railings so I scratched them out of brass wire.

Next, I lightly drybrushed all surfaces with light gray to bring out a little detail. I decided to make this ship clean with little or no washes.

Final assembly was pretty straight forward taking the deck and hull in two sections. First the deck. I built up the major structures and added ventilators and weapons. The red depth charges add a splash of color to things. With all the various fitting in place I worked the hull.

The two part hull fit well and was secured with tape. Once dry I added prop shafts and screws and painted everything. The screws were painted with Testors metalizer brass. All of the propulsion assemblies are too heavy and best replaced if you are in to that kind of thing. .

Once the assemblies were done it was largely a simple matter of fitting and alignment. The hull and deck fit well with minor adjustments and require a bit of filling fore and aft. From there, the mast assembly and remaining tiny parts were added. I then CAed thin brass to form deck railings and did a final touchup. The kit instructions had rudimentary rigging instructions. Research sources gave a much better scheme. I used black sewing thread for a light rigging job and it was done. The kit comes with a decal of a US flag that I used to add a touch of color to the kit.

Conclusion

Despite the age of the mold, I recommend this kit to large scale ship lovers of average experience. It builds up to an impressive boat with that Viking ship like bow. More experienced modelers could go to town detailing and scratching parts on this one. I still like the idea of converting this kit to a WWII variant. Oh well, maybe some day! This kit is out of production but still available, at widely varying prices, at show and on online auction sites.

I want to thank Phil Lord and Matt Prager of the Ship Model Mailing List for their generous response to my plea of help for research materials.

Sources

  • Ted R. Treadwell's excellent web site

  • The Splinter fleet by Ray Millholland, Bobbs-Merrill Co. 1936

  • US Small Combatants by Norman Friedman, Naval Institute Press 1987



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