I completed a project this evening that is been on my mind for many, many years – the repair and updating of my first scratchbuilt model, a 1/700 U.S.S. Wasp (CV-7) that I built after finishing law school
31 years ago.
The 1992 Wasp
In the fall of 1991 I was clerking for a law firm in Marshall before returning to Baylor Law school for my last quarter of law school. On the way back from something in Shreveport, I got behind a car that had a bumper sticker that said “USS Wasp (CV-7) Stinger Association” and followed the driver until he pulled over in a gas station. I got out and introduced myself to him and told him I was glad to meet a former crewmember of the Wasp.
For some reason that encounter stuck in my head, and over the next several months as I finished my last quarter of law school and took the bar exam, I began ordering materials I would need to build a model of the Wasp in my preferred scale of 1/700.
I had built and kitbashed a few models over the last few years, but this would be a major project. The Wasp was notable in that there wasn’t a kit available in any scale when I was growing up, or even then. But I had a couple of books with information on it, and it used the same hardware as the slightly larger Yorktown class ships, so I thought that if I had a good set of plans, I could use parts from my old Tamiya Enterprise and Hornet kits and build the rest from sheet and rod plastic. I was able to order a set – actually two – of plans for CV-7 from The Floating Drydock, and along with the fairly small number of photographs I had in my reference books, I started scratchbuilding a model in the spring of 1992, with a goal of having it finished by the 50th anniversary of the ship’s sinking on September 15, 1992. I reduced the 1/192 plans to 1/700 scale by hand, drawing hull sections and deck plans as I needed them.
After I completed the model in the spring of 1992, I sent the former crewmembers association an article with photographs about it and they ran it in their quarterly magazine, the Stinger.
I took the model, along with a kitbashed USS Lexington (CV- 16), to a scale modeling convention in Plano in the spring of 1993, and it placed second in the smaller ship category. ( I must note that there were only three entries, so Lexington and Wasp technically placed last and second to last, but you take what you can get!) I had an information sheet for the model reflecting the research that went into it, including sources. It was at that conference that I met people from Squadron/Signal publications, and after seeing the models and the research that went into them, they offered me a contract to do a book on Essex class carriers, which I would complete three years later.
Stinger Convention ’94
I then took the model to the 1994 Stinger convention in Springfield, Illinois, and showed it off to the former crewmembers. After the Stinger convention, the model went on to a shelf and then into a glass display cabinet in my workshop in the new house – but sat undisturbed for 29 years.
2023 – the repairs
I realized several years after building the model something that the few available photos had not shown clearly enough for me to pick up on it – that the Wasp‘s Measure 12 (Mod.) camouflage had included splotches of the lighter Haze Gray (5-H) on the island structure. And as the years went by, I also began to realize that the blue paint (FS 35045) that I used for what I thought was Sea Blue (5-S) was considerably too dark. This was in fact two errors. By early 1942 when Wasp repainted from Measure 12 Sea Blue/Ocean Gray/ Haze Gray into Ms. 12 (Mod.), which substituted wavy demarcations for rigid main deck/stack level ones, the Navy had begun substituting the darker 5-N “Navy Blue” for the lighter 5-S, so what was identified as the lighter Sea Blue was in fact the darker shade, but still lighter and bluer than the paint I had used.
By this time, I had a major structural repair that was needed as well. The brace supporting the port side of the main yardarm had disappeared and the yardarm had broken in the middle, and was sagging noticeably. I now recall someone reaching close enough to touch it when I was at the Stinger convention, although I can’t consider it anything but an honor that a former crewmember was interested enough to try to point to his old duty station! So I had begun thinking about what repairs could be made to this as well.
Saturday before last I was looking at the model on the shelf and decided the time had come for repairing and updating it.
More so than I had realized, the base and the model itself was covered in pretty thick coating of dust. I brushed it off, scrubbed it with a wet toothbrush, and then did some light washes with sea blue paint to add a little green to the blue seascape. I touched up most of the wake and waves with white paint since the acrylic gel medium had yellowed over the years.
I overpainted the 5-N panels with my current 5-N Navy Blue, and added the lighter 5-H panels on the island. The Polly-S FS 36176 Ocean Gray that makes up the majority of the ship is not quite correct, but it would be almost impossible to repaint the entire ship by hand, and it is close enough so I left it alone. Fortunately I had kept the old Polly-S paint so I could freely alter the panels no matter what color they were. The starboard side aft I had not replicated the panels very well in 1992, so I redid them. In the process I realized how lucky I was the problem wasn’t worse – when I built the original model in those pre-Internet days I probably had no more than half a dozen photos of Wasp in toto.
After touching the up the island and the 5-N panels, I discovered something new. I had painted the model to match the pictures that I had, but they were taken earlier in 1942. The later pictures – including movie film of the stern during the sinking – made clear that the ship had large apparently symmetrical triangular sections on the bow and stern in 5-H. Photos of the ship in Scapa Flow in the spring of 1942 indicate that these panels were added sometime after April 22 and before the end of May – why I have no idea. So I added those as well.
Like the camouflage, the color of the paint used on the air group is slightly off as well. When I first built the model its air group was in the same FS 36118 as the flight deck – and the decals adhered poorly.
Later in 1992 I repainted the aircraft in a blue-gray that was closer to correct.
I have recently begun using a better paint for 1942 Blue Gray, and gave each aircraft a light wash of the new color. The difference is subtle, but when combined with dry brushing to remove dust, the aircraft looked much bluer than previously.
But the biggest change to the air group is larger wing roundel decals to most of the aircraft. At the time I made the model, insignia in 1/700 aircraft were limited to one size, which I now know approximated a 40″ roundel, but both SBDs and F4Fs sported much larger 54″ roundels by the summer of 1942 (they had been even larger in the spring). But current manufacturers such as Starfighter provide roundels in several different sizes to match those used, along with dimensions, so I was able to update the SBDs and F4Fs to use 54″ roundels on their wing surfaces. The TBF used smaller 40″ roundels on both wings and fuselage, but I replaced the wing insignia on these aircraft as well since the newer decals are sharper.
The biggest “repair” was to dust the model as best I could. I could not clean the flight deck sufficiently, so it got a new wash which updated the color slightly. I used, and still use FS 36118 Gunship Gray (or its close cousin, Humbrol Gris Bleu Fonce) for early war flight decks, so I put down a thinned coat of that, with some light weathering using dark gray and rust washes.
As noted above, the big repair was repairing the main yardarm, which had broken in the center, and was sagging on the port side. I replaced it with a new yardarm made of .015 wire, and left off the handrail that the old one had. I then reattached the halyards and other rigging throughout the island, and added speakers under the foretop. I then realized that although the ship carried a CXAM-1 radar on the foretop, I had never installed any radar at all – likely relying on the booklet of general plans’ not showing the details of one. So I extracted the correct radar from a Gold Medal Models USN set and added that.
Next were life rafts. I replaced the missing boat slung under the island, and replaced the out of scale life rafts on the hull with Pit Road parts. (Oddly the Revell box scale Coral Sea that I took the original rafts from was sitting on my workbench, still with a hole where I took those rafts 31 years ago). In the process I discovered that some pieces were missing on the starboard side hangar deck aft, so I added those.
The finishing touch was an overall matt coating, and the Wasp was ready to resume its place of honor on the display cabinet shelf.