by Richard Eaton
I've always like the look of the USN WWII Atlanta class light cruiser. I stumbled into one at a local shop and bit. I have not much experience with 1/700 scale ships but the Revell kit looked nice. Talk about a package! These ships were fast as hell and combined an anti-aircraft, surface (torpedo), and anti-submarine threats for protecting the fleet. Remind you of another class of USN ship? Hum, an Aegis perhaps?
"A class of light cruisers of unique design. They were conceived as flotilla leaders but ushered in a new concept in warship design, the anti-aircraft cruiser, a concept that can still be seen in the navy today in ships specialized for this role." [Excerpt from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.]
Atlanta Class History
These cruisers were designed in the late 1930's under the constraints of the London Naval Treaty of 1936 which tried to place an 8,000 ton limit on cruisers with the abandonment of 8" gun (heavy) cruisers. Initial design concepts called for a 'mini all purpose' Brooklyn class cruiser with dual purposes 6" armament but was quickly changed as it became apparent that a successful design could not be achieved on that displacement and a dual purpose 6" mount would not be ready for some time. The success of the new 5"/38 weighed heavily in the design discussions of the Atlanta class. The 5"/38 mount could fire 15, and with some well trained crews 20 rounds per minute while the 6" mount could fire 8 to 10 rounds per minute.
Their initial purpose, contrary to popular belief, was not only that of an anti-aircraft cruiser but that of a small, fast scout cruiser that could operate in conjunction with destroyers on the fringes of the battle line in addition to the defense of the battle line against destroyer and aircraft attack. While they were not designed to "slug it out" with heavier ships, they were well suited to close surface action in bad weather (poor visibility) and to night actions, where their fast firing 5"/38's and eight 21" torpedoes could be used to advantage.
While these ships were conceived of as partly flotilla leaders they were armed with depth charges and sonar. Additionally, they were originally planned with 2 triple torpedo tubes which were to come from the Pensacola and Astoria class heavy cruisers. A change to quadruple tubes was made when tubes from the Sim's class of destroyers were removed for stability reasons and became available.
One of the design features that generated the most interest in these ships is their use of true high pressure steam power plants. These were of improved design based on experience gained in the operation of destroyer machinery. Manufactured by Westinghouse Electric Corporation, each set of turbines consisted of one cruising, one high pressure and one double flow low pressure. The cruising turbine connected to the forward end of the high-pressure turbine rotor shaft through a single reduction gear. Reduction gears were locked train, double reduction type manufactured by DeLaval. The four boilers were designed by Babcock & Wilcox. Shaft horsepower was 75,000, maximum speed was 33 knots. Many reports exist of speeds in the high 30 knot range on occasion.
The machinery plant reintroduced the alternating engine room and fire room arrangement. This proved critical to the survivability of the ship to torpedo damage by providing protection against the total destruction of the power plant.
The side armor was of watertight riveted construction forming part of the watertight envelope of the hull. Armor protection was moderate, due to the weight limitation dictated by speed requirements, and consisted of side armor in way of the machinery spaces, bulkheads enclosing magazines, conning tower and steering engine room, with lighter protection on decks and on the boundaries off other vital areas. The class could take a considerable amount of damage and stay afloat considering what happened to Atlanta at Guadacanal.
Armament consisted of sixteen 5-inch guns in twin mounts, three quadruple 1.1" antiaircraft machine guns (later quad 40s), eight 20mm, and two quadruple mount torpedo tubes.
The San Juan
The San Juan (CL-54) was laid down on 15 May 1940 by the Bethlehem Steel Co. (Fore River), Quincy, Ma.; launched on 6 September 1941; sponsored by Mrs. Margarita Coll de Santori; and commissioned on 28 February 1942, Capt. James E. Maher in command.
After shakedown in the Atlantic, San Juan departed from Hampton Roads, Va., on 5 June 1942 as part of a carrier task group formed around Wasp (CV-7) and bound for the Pacific. The group got underway from San Diego on 30 June escorting a large group of troop transports destined for the Solomon Islands where the Navy was about to launch the first major American amphibious operation of the war. Unlike Atlanta and Juneau, she survived. Cruiser duty was not a lot of fun at the beginning of WWII. They were the only ships of the line left to counter the still powerful IJN fleet.
San Juan then carried out a raid through the Gilberts, sinking two Japanese patrol vessels and joined the Enterprise task force. Three days later, after patrol planes had made contact with enemy carrier forces, the Battle of Santa Cruz Island was fought, in which HORNET (CV-8) was lost and Enterprise damaged while the Japanese suffered severe losses in aircraft and pilots. During the last dive-bombing attack on the formation, one bomb passed through San Juan's stern, flooding several compartments and damaging, though not disabling, her rudder. She then spent 10 days at Sydney, Australia, receiving permanent repairs.
San Juan joined carrier, Saratoga (CV-3), in the Fijis and neutralized airfields on Bougainville and Rabaul while Allied forces landed at Bougainville. The task group then acted as a covering force for the occupation of the Gilbert's San Juan then joined Essex (CV-9) on a raid on Kwajalein in the Marshalls, fighting off persistent torpedo plane attacks.
San Juan rejoined Saratoga off Pearl Harbor on 19 January 1944 and the force covered the occupation of Eniwetok in February. San Juan next escorted carriers, Yorktown (CV-10) and Lexington (CV-16), in strikes on Palau, Yap, and Ulithi. The cruiser joined the new carrier, Hornet (CV-12), which covered the landings at Hollandia in April and then struck at Truk on 29 and 30 April. After returning to bases in the Marshalls, the Hornet group began support of the Mariana campaign in early June, striking at Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima in the Bonins while American troops landed on Saipan. San Juan helped guard her group during the Battle of the Philippine Sea when American naval air power decisively defeated a Japanese counterattack to save the Marianas; and, in doing so, all but wiped out Japanese naval air strength.
Following refresher training at San Diego and Pearl Harbor, San Juan joined Lexington's task group at Ulithi. From there, she screened the carriers in strikes on Formosa and Luzon in support of landings on Mindoro. During this operation, she was sent alone within scouting range of Japanese airfields in an effort to draw out Japanese aircraft by radio deception, but none rose to the bait. The carrier group then covered the occupation of Luzon with strikes on Formosa, Okinawa, and Luzon and raided ports and shipping in the South China Sea. San Juan escorted carrier Hornet in air strikes on Tokyo during the Iwo Jima operation and the Okinawa invasion.
San Juan was at sea when the news of the Japanese capitulation was received on 15 August, and, on the 27th, after 59 days at sea, she joined the van forces for the triumphal entry of the 3rd Fleet into Sagami Wan, just outside Tokyo Bay.
San Juan received 13 battle stars for her World War II service.
The cruiser arrived at Bremerton, Wa., for inactivation on 24 January 1946, and was decommissioned and placed in reserve there on 9 November 1946. San Juan was re-designated CLAA-54 on 28 February 1949. She was struck from the Navy list on 1 March 1959 and sold on 31 October 1961 to National Metals and Steel Co., Terminal Island, Ca., for scrapping.
Building the San Juan
The kit is a tad expensive for Revell and the scale (high $20s US.) Opening the box I found out why. There are four trees of delicately molded flash free parts. The cost and the detail makes me think that this kit was picked up by Revell from someone else. (Matchbox or Skywave?) Beats me [SKYWAVE - RNP]. I decided to build OOB as usual with assembly and then painting.
I assembled hull out of the two major pieces. The bow and upper hull fits down nicely on a separate piece making up the torpedo armor and stern. Next came the two deck pieces on top. Fit and detail are superb. The kit included a lower hull and screws but I think this scale just cries for waterline modeling.
I next tackled the forward superstructure building up the layers that usually included three parts for the sides and front each. This kit really consists of two trees of basic San Juan parts with two trees of detailed generic guns, boats, radars, torpedo tubes and the like. Again the parts on the '"detail' trees are some of the best I have seen in this scale. There are probably enough parts to detail four ships. I built up the after superstructure and added the funnels. Detail molded into the superstructure parts was great and looked right on for the scale. I'm thinking drybrushing now to bring out those details. Lastly I added the 5 inch gun turrets and masts to the ship. The masts are my only complaint in the entire kit. They are badly over scale and lack detail.
Once the basic ship was built, my thoughts turned to painting. The instructions included no camo scheme at all. Just early war gray treatment. The cover art showed an early war wavy thing on the hull with no cameo pattern on the superstructure. I decided to go with the gray treatment. I sprayed the hull and superstructure Testors Dark Aircraft gray for the scale. I then brushed The decks with Testors Gunship gray.
Next came the details! The kit instruction only call out for a minor amount of detail parts. This included three quad forties, torpedo tubes, depth charges, boats, searchlights, and no 20mm guns or radar. I added six 20mm mounts around The ship and another quad forty aft. I was tempted to add more but stuck with an early to mid war fitting. I added the search radar to the rear mast and 5-inch gun director radar fore and aft.
Next bringing out all that detail! I did a light wash of acrylic scale black over the entire model. I then painted all portholes and vents with Testors flat black using a paper clip. I painted the stack tops flat black and added white to the ship boats as well. After drying, I drybrushed the entire ship with Testors Light gray and watched those details pop out! This is one of my favorite parts of modeling.
Lastly, I tackled the rigging. I chose invisible nylon thread colored with permanent marker for the scale. I used kit supplied references and did my usual light rigging job. A few last touch ups, decals, and I was pleased to have a really sharp model of this classic ship. Now how to display it.
I fell in love with the look that Bob Pearson got with his painted water scheme in the November Internet Modeler Freccia article. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right Bob? I tried my hand. I was able to get a pleasant effect going with acrylic Navy Blue, White, and a touch of Turquoise. Nowhere near the finesse that Bob got, but he is the artist, certainly not me. [Editor's note: I think we can agree that Richard did it at least as well as I did - RNP]
Despite my lack of experience in 1/700 scale, I had a blast with this little kit! No PE for this one as my funds would not allow it. Details abound with what you get though. I recommend this kit to most ship lovers of average experience though experienced builders could go to town detailing. Let's see, a very nice model, I got to try some new techniques, and the kit comes with enough extra detailed parts to try a few more! Hum, what next?