Building the 1/600 Airfix HMS Belfast and Enhancing It With White Ensign Models PE and Resin Parts
The Airfix Belfast kit was first released in 1973, and today it is still a very accurate and detailed kit, truly one of Airfix's better efforts. With the appearance last year of White Ensign Models Photo-Etch fret for the Belfast, one can now make a good model even better. I hope that through this article modelers will be encouraged to take that one extra step.
In The Beginning
I decided that I would make the Belfast a waterline kit. Start by taping the hull along and below the boot top. Using a razor saw, cut along the top of the tape. When finished remove the tape and glue the hull halves together and then proceed to sand. You have to install the decks before sanding in order to prevent the hull from bowing as you are sanding. To sand the hull down, I white glued some 60 grade paper to a 2x4 and then proceeded to run the hull back and forth across the sandpaper. Placing the hull on a level smooth surface every now and again to make sure I was sanding the hull evenly. You should also have your reference photos/drawings handy to make sure you do not over do it. You can always take it off, but you can't put it back on!
Building a Display Base
I build all my ships from the ground up or - more appropriately - the water up. I start with a very simple display base that anyone can build. I use a Plexiglas fluorescent light panel, which can be purchased through your local building supply store. The type I use is called 'cracked ice'. I took the now-sanded hull and traced around it with a marking pen on the flat surface of the panel. Next, using my electric drill with the smallest bit attached, I drilled a series of holes inside of the traced outline. These holes drilled beside each other gave me enough room to get the blade of the razor saw in the crack. Remember to cut inside the traced line. When finished I put the hull in the hole to check fit. Unfortunately, my drawing skills leave something to be desired and I had gaps on both quarters. These gaps were very small and were hardly noticeable when the hull was placed in the hole.
Removing the pen line, I was now ready to paint the wake. I taped the bow area in a 'v'. You want a hard line here and not a soft one as the ship would be digging into the water here and the demarcation is very sharp. I sprayed Model Master Flat White FS37875 for the wash, making sure to give it that extra blast at the stern and feathering back for the wake. I then over sprayed with a couple coats of Model Master Blue Angel Blue FS15050.
Painting the Hull
I primed the hull with Model Master Light Gray FS36495 and applied the AP507C (Humbrol 147) over that. I masked the pattern for B6 (Humbrol 68) next, then B5 (Humbrol 144) and finally the AP507A (Humbrol 112). You do tend to go through a lot of tape, but it is easier to do one colour and pattern at a time. I use the green painters low tack masking tape for all my taping needs. I had very little seepage of paint under the tape and therefore only a little touch up.
Rusting the Hull
To do the rust, I used a child's watercolour set. I mixed green, black and orange, until I achieved what I thought was the right colour. All of the pictures I have of the Belfast only show rust coming from the lower set of scuttles. I ran tape down from either side of the scuttles to the waterline and painted. Then taking a damp tissue I wiped away the excess paint, leaving a 'stain' of rust. It is very effective.
These were fairly straightforward. The only thing I can advise you on is to plan ahead. What's that you say? Well it's like this. I was so mesmerized by getting the decks down and painted I failed to notice a couple of things. First off,once they were down, I forgot about the hole on the side of the hull where the accommodation ladder was to fit. No problem, cut off ladder and use the rest as a plug and fill seams. I also forgot to fill the holes in the decks where other ladders and the Carley float racks were to fit. More filling . . . aaarrrggh!!! Like I said plan ahead.
On the positive side, the PE catapult is a nifty little model unto itself. I highly recommend putting this on. Unfortunately most of the detail will be lost once the decks cover it. This is another area that needs planning. Do not put the fo'c'sle deck on until the catapult is in place. Save yourself some grief, another learning experience courtesy of me.
Attach the railing in the midship area first, and then proceed to place the torpedo doors and gun sponson supports. Once done you can glue the gun deck on. If you don't put the midship railing on at this time, you will probably never get it done properly at a later date. One other thing, if you use PE ladders rather than the kit ones, in the corners of the boat decks, is to be sure to open the appropriate slots. They are not wide enough to accommodate the photo-etch.
Like I said plan ahead. I would have saved myself a lot of misery had I taken my time and thought about what I was doing.
Onward and Upward
The 6" gun turrets did not prove to be much of a problem. Please note there are two doors on the rear of the turrets. One at each side, with a ladder on the left side only, to the outside of the door.
The fit of the superstructure parts is not exactly what I would call precise. In particular the aft gun director section. I ended up with a 1/8" gap that I had to fill. It was the only way to get the deck to fit. I used one of kit's ladders in behind the hole. I filled it with white glue and when dry, put in the putty. The fit of 'Y' gun deck was also bad, and the gun directors had sinkholes that had to be filled.
Other than those problems, there is nothing very complicated about building both forward and aft superstructures. Here is where WEM's PE comes to the fore. I used as much of it as possible for detailing. I placed the ladders and doors over the existing raised panel line ones. This was to give them more depth. I added all the extra detail PE and replacement parts per the instruction sheet. The added PE truly gave her that extra detail that makes her look great. I can not say enough about the WEM PE. It is a must if you want to do this kit justice.
There is a molded ladder on the hangar roof to the lower bridge that I happily replaced with a PE one. I then CAed a two-bar railing along the lower bridge, finished. . . . Wrong, bilge water breath. . . . Long after the upper bridge was attached, I realized there should have been another ladder from the walk-through down to the hangar roof. Once again, check your references to avoid mistakes.
As I was putting the superstructure together, I noticed that my camo scheme on the hull didn't look quite right. Lesson to be learned: always put the first level of the superstructure on your ship. This way you will be able to align it properly. If you look at the pictures of her and then look at some of the historical photographs of the same scheme, you will see what I mean. The port side being the biggest offender.
Away all boats!
I for one will be most grateful when WEM comes out with their line of resin ship's boats. The kits ones are terrible. There are large sinkholes in the middle of all but the smallest ones. I also replaced the molded on boat chocks with PE ones.
Other things on the boat deck that require your attention; make sure you file out all the locator holes. Nothing seems to fit. I actually ended up removing a couple of locator pins on the gun shelters.
The kit 4" HA guns and eight-barrel pompoms were replaced by WEM resin parts. The pompoms in particular are beautifully crafted.
PE also well replaced the 20mm guns and crane booms. I used stretched sprue to simulate the cables.
This particular section of the kit is not a major problem. It is just a matter of detailing to the individual modeler's taste.
'MAST'erful job. [groan - RNP]
WEM provides many small PE parts for the mast, yardarms, starfish, radar maintenance platform, etc. There is much detail here as there is for any other part of the kit, the modeler can add as much as they feel comfortable with. I used the above mentioned items and not all the little tiny bits that necessarily accompanied them.
The 281 radars provided me with my last major building gaffe. They are extremely delicate and consequently do not take much abuse. Being the major klutz that I am, I managed to knock off or bend both of them at least twice, while finishing up the model. Therefore my advice to you is, put them on LAST.
The light at the end of the tunnel.
From this point on it was a matter of attaching the rigging, loading davits, jackstaff and railings. Plus applying the tie-down straps to the Carley floats.
I used 8X (.003) fly tying tippet for the rigging. I gave it a wash of flat black paint and attached it with Superglue. One of my other failings (for a complete list, contact my wife and be sure to have at least have 4MB of free space on your HD), when I rig, I do it more for effect, than historical accuracy or what would be nautically correct. I used 700 scale ladder sections glued to the deck as attachment points, there again not exactly accurate, but effective.
I used stretched sprue for the tie-down straps. I tried some other mediums as suggested by fellow modelers on SMML, because I wanted something flat not round, but I could not get them to work for me. Suggestions anybody?
I wrapped it all up by airbrushing on Testors Dullcote.
Although the kit does show its age a bit, I don't think it is anything that the experienced modeler can't handle. With the addition of WEM PE and resin parts, you can make her a real winner.
Thanks to Caroline Carter at White Ensign Models for the PE and resin parts to complete this article.
USS San Juan