Scratch-building the Heavy Cruiser
USS San Francisco (CA-38)
Depicted as in January, 1936
Scale 1:192 (1/16” to the foot)
Text by Gary Kingzett
Photos by Gary Kingzett,
Brendan Quinn and Martin Quinn
USS San Francisco was a heavy cruiser of the New Orleans class.
San Francisco was built at the Mare Island Naval Ship Yard in Vallejo,
CA. She was laid down Sept 9, 1931, launched Mar. 9, 1933 and
commissioned Feb. 10, 1934, Capt. Royal E. Ingersoll as her first commanding
San Francisco received 17 Battle Stars, and one Presidential Unit
Citation for outstanding performance of duties during World War II.
She was the 2nd most decorated US ship of WW II. Most notable for
her efforts in the Solomon Islands and at Guadalcanal in October and November,
1942, she and a few other US cruisers and destroyers confronted Japanese
battleships and cruisers, when we had no larger vessels available.
218 men died in combat aboard San Francisco during WW II. She fought
all during the war, was decommissioned in 1946, and was sold and scrapped
in 1959. The navigating bridge, on which the admiral commanding
the US force at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Adm. Daniel Callaghan,
and her Captain, Cassin Young, were killed, has been saved as a Memorial
to the ship and her men. The Memorial
is at Land’s End in San Francisco. It looks out over the Pacific,
along the great circle route across the water toward her old wartime adversary,
The ship is depicted in a fairly calm sea, sailing at about 20 knots.
The overall gray paint is Standard Navy Gray # 5, which was a peacetime
color. Metal decks are Deck Gray # 20, with all wooden decks depicting
holystoned teak. The 4 aircraft are Vought O3U-3’s, which she
carried until April, 1936. The boats are 2 - 50’ motor launches
and 2 - 26’ motor whale boats.
The green stripes on the forward turrets designate the flagship of Cruiser
Division 7. The yellow upper surface of the #3 turret is specific
for the San Francisco, and the green stripes on the aircraft represent
the ship’s assignment as flagship of that division. However, these
recognition colors and patterns are the subject of much contradictory information.
Various published sources indicate that San Francisco was either in CruDiv
6, or 8, or 7, and her position in those various divisions is unclear.
I have a copy of the San Francisco’s Cruise book, written and published
by her own crew. it states unequivocally that she was flagship of
Division 7 from 1935-1940, so I selected that. Apparently, no one
knows for sure about the recognition color on the aft turret. I interviewed
a member of San Francisco’s air crew. His shipmates all say he has
a fantastic memory. He says that the San Francisco’s #3 turret top
was painted all over Chrome yellow, to match the color of the aircraft
wings, and that her number was painted on it, as shown here. He should
know, it was his job to use that color and number to spot his ship and
get himself, his plane and his pilot back to the ship safely. In
absence of harder data, and as a tribute to a man who was there,
that is the paint scheme I chose.
||61 feet 9 inches
||9, 950 tons
8 boilers driving 4 Westinghouse turbines, giving 107, 000 horsepower and
a top speed of 32. 75 knots
||9 - 8”/55 cal
8 - 5”/25 cal antiaircraft
8 - 0.50 cal
||4 - Vought O3U-3 Corsair float
||101 officers 803 enlisted
is SculptaMold, a paper mache which I mixed with carpenter's white
glue and applied with a teaspoon and other instruments. The white
glue makes it tough, and it can be painted with both brush and airbrush.
The SculptaMold was applied around a ship shaped piece of 1/4" Masonite,
which was removed after the material dried, leaving a perfect depression
in which to mount the ship.
Francisco, sailing about 20 knots in a fairly calm sea. The model
is 1:192, mostly scratchbuilt, with purchased photo etch from Tom's
Model Works and Blue Jacket Shipcrafters.
||The photos were taken
under fluorescent lights, which gave a yellow cast to some of the pictures.
Hopefully it looks a little like bright sunlight.
Tom Walkowiak, Floating Drydock, Kresgeville,
PA, drawn 1962
US Navy Bureau of Construction and Repair
Booklet of General Plans, original undated, alterations corrected to October
|Books and publications
US Cruisers, A Design History, Norman Friedman
US Naval Institute Press, 1984
US Naval Weapons ibid. 1985
Warship Pictorial #5, San Francisco, Classic Warships
Warship Pictorial # 2 Minneapolis ibid.
Warship Pictorial # 7 New Orleans Class ibid.
Warship Pictorial #14 Wichita ibid.
Profile Morski USS San Francisco, BS Firma Wydawniczo Handlowa
US Heavy Cruisers in Action Squadron/Signal Publications
Model Ship Builder, periodical, article in 3 consecutive bimonthly
issues, 1982 Building USS San Francisco, by Ray Crean
Battleship & Cruiser Aircraft of the US Navy, 1910 - 1949 William
T. Larkins Schiffer Publishing 1996
Battleship Country The Battlefleet at San Pedro/Long Beach 1910-1940
Harvey M. Biegel , Pictorial Histories Publishing
Cruisers Anthony Preston
Cruisers of World War II M.J. Whitley
USS San Francisco, One Ship The Crew’s Cruise
Book circa 1946
USS San Francisco, A Technical History, Hansen Publishing
Chuck Hansen 1981
(Google searches for websites and photos)
Dictionary of American Fighting Ships
Naval Historical Center
San Francisco Memorial Foundation
American Aviation Historical Society
Vought Aircraft. com
Aviation Enthusiast’s Corner
Individual sources - from personal Interviews and conversations
Art McArdle San Francisco crew member 1936 - 1940
Dana Bell a retired Smithsonian curator, expert on ship and aircraft
painting and markings
Art Herrick retired professional model maker and naval researcher
Fritz Koopman naval propulsion engineer and naval history enthusiast
Al Ross author, designer and model maker for Bluejacket Shipcrafters
Charles Landrum retired Navy Commander and naval historian
Don Pruel, master model maker annd now curator of the ship model collection
at the Naval Academy, Annapolis
Dick Jansen amateur naval historian and collector
Steve Wiper researcher and publisher of Warship Pictorials
Ray Juncal professional model builder and researcher of Navy subjects
A.D. Baker III historian and draftsman, responsible for most
of the drawings found in published information on naval ships
Jack Wallace, retired Navy commander, commercial pilot and the son of John
Wallace, recipient of the Navy Cross for his heroism when the San Francisco
was hit by a crashing Betty Nov 12, 1942
Darren Scannell, naval historian, producer of ship models and decals
Steve Nuttall machinist and producer of miniature brass gun barrels.
Steve produced 10 beautiful guns for San Francisco, using my and his dimensions
Louis Parker, San Francisco crewman, 1944 - 1945, naval historian
and photo archivist, acknowledged source of many of the photos published
in the references cited here and many more.
Materials for Constructing the Model
The hull of the model is constructed from .060” polystyrene, using
a central profile board (spine), an .080 styrene plate at the water
line, and bulkhead formers at every hull station. The hull was plated
using .030 styrene sheet, with cast blocks of ButterBoard, a cast urethane
material cemented to the bow and stern, then carved and faired to shape.
All the plastic joints are welded using solvent cement. Joining of
dissimilar materials, such as the butter board and the wood to the styrene
uses 2 part epoxy. Any joints subject to physical strain are pinned
as well as glued.
As built, the San Francisco had many portholes. They are a very
distinctive part of her appearance. I made each one by drilling a
suitable size hole, then sliding in a short piece of plastic tubing, gluing
it and leaving it protrude just a bit. I then used a small tapered
reamer, to enlarge the portholes to the correct size, which thinned the
tube to just the right thickness as a rim. I didn’t put glass in
each porthole, I liked the visual contrast between the hull and the
The main sub-deck is styrene, with pre-glued basswood planking installed
on all weather decks. Fully enclosed upper structures are ButterBoard,
exposed decks and open structures are fabricated from styrene sheet.
The turrets are ButterBoard, cut and sanded to shape, the gun barrels
are mounted behind a faceplate, so they protrude through the turret face,
but the barrels are fitted with fabricated blast bags to cover the joint.
The aircraft cranes, housings and supports
are fabricated from brass and plastic; The crane jibs and the catapults
are photo etch from Tom’s Modelworks, folded and strengthened before mounting.
deck is actually pre glued basswood sheet from Northeast Products.
I toned down the basswood color with a coat of Dune Gray wiping stain,
most of which was wiped off, leaving a hint of gray which matched the color
scheme very well.
stripes denote the flagship of CruDiv 7. I picked that color, to
conform to the Willow Green stripes on the aircraft.
of the funnel and searchlight platform.
The 50’ launches are vacuum formed styrene, with decks, fittings, strakes,
rudders and props cemented on. The whale boats are cast pieces purchased
from Bluejacket, with extra details added.
The 5”- 25/cal weapons are castings from Don Pruel at J &
D Productions. Each of the 8 assemblies consists of 13 separate cast
parts, which I assembled, then added some extra detail and installed.
I fabricated the Mk 3 mountings for the 50 caliber machine guns, but I
left those guns unmounted, assuming they would be stored in peacetime.
Deck machinery and fittings are a combination of cast Bluejacket parts,
chocks, bollards etc., and fabricated fans, controls, hydrants, etc.
Masts and spars are fabricated and formed from brass tube and rod,
tapered and shaped, then soldered together for strength. The recognition
lights are tiny glass beads.
The 4 aircraft are scratch built from ButterBoard for the fuselage and
floats, and styrene and wire for the wings. Each of the rotary
engines has individual cylinders in proper location, covered by the
cowl. The propellers are fabricated from styrene. The
plane dollies were fabricated of brass and plastic. Art McArdle told
me how the planes were spotted. The section leader’s plane is up
on the starboard catapult, his wing man is on the port catapult, No. 3
is in the well deck, with No. 4 behind it.
Up in the pilot house on the navigation bridge,
the binnacle, ship’s wheel, engine telegraphs and repeaters, voice tubes
and chart tables were fabricated, painted and installed.
|The catapults, aircraft
and ships boats
in all the detail I could for 1936, but it is apparent that
there was a lot of deck space for the installation of 20 and 40 mm anti
aircraft guns when war broke out.
nice angle where you can see the lean contour of the ship.
|The hull is fabricated
from a waterline plate, inboard profile, and bulkheads at every hull
station. The Floating Drydock drawings show all these shapes, it
is a simple matter to lay them out, cut them and make them into an eggcrate.
||The hull was plated
with a sheet of polystyrene on each side. The bow and stern are carved
from solid blocks of butterboard, glued and faired into place. The
main deck was left loose until late in the construction.
||Steve Nuttall supplied
the barrels. He had the overall dimensions, and I supplied the dimensions
of the muzzle. I got those from several superb photos in the original
San Francisco Crew's book which I have.
|The stacks were made
from flattened brass tube. The searchlight tower is supported on
steel wire, hard to form and cut, but very strong.
||The Floating Drydock
plans were originally 1:96, I had them photographically reduced to 1:192.
Perhaps you can see the detail of the front of the hanger. The drawings
depict the 1944 fit.
||I didn't have plans
for the superstructure for the date of my model. I scaled a lot of
photographs to develop the size and shape, but ultimately, I spent much
time doing temporary fit ups to make sure there was room for everything.
The main and secondary gun directors were
fabricated and installed. I looked fruitlessly for months trying
to find what the directors actually looked like from above. None
of my sources could help me. Finally I happened across a picture
of Astoria being refit, which was taken looking down into the director.
That information, combined with the Friedman book on weapons allowed me
to construct the directors accurately.
All the inclined ladders, stanchions and railings are photo etch from Bluejacket.
It was a generic sheet in the proper scale; I was able to cut and
fit all the necessary pieces. I am a nut about railings. As
best I could, I mounted the railings down in the waterway where the lowest
railing would not be seen. And doing it this way, I have a natural
guide, so the rails don’t wander. (Too badly) Notice that the upper
rails connect at each change of direction. A tiny crew man would
not fall. The treads of the inclined ladders are properly oriented,
so that same crew man could climb up and down.
Various staffs, booms, paravanes, pipes and hoses were fabricated and installed.
Where necessary, they were tapered to scale size or slightly smaller for
Photo etch ladders were installed on the sides of the turrets and up the
masts. Navigation lights were fabricated from plastic sheet and glass
The ship was rigged using a combination of mono filament where a smooth
small line was needed, and various sizes of fishing line were used
for the heavier lines. The signal halyards were left natural to simulate
hemp, the standing rigging was dyed a faded black to simulate weathered
tarred cable. I did not install the standing rigging, fore and aft
stays until after the ship was mounted. I didn’t want to take a chance
on the lines going slack, or getting too tight when the ship was mounted.
Early on, I constructed the base. I prefer the base to look like
a stone plinth. This gives a clear line of demarcation between the
real world, and the miniature world I am creating, but does not interfere
with either of them. After making the wood base, I also traced around
the water line of the ship and cut that shape out of a piece of 1/4” Masonite
sheet. I screwed that piece down to the base in the final location
of the ship. I prefer the ship to be mounted at a slight angle, not
straight with the center line. This implies life and motion.
On the inside bottom of the base plate I attached a piece of angle aluminum
as a reinforcement to keep the base flat.
|It is hard to see,
but the various bridges are furnished with appropriate equipment and instruments.
I didn't glaze the windows so it would be possible to see in.
||I could not find
any pictures of the rear of the fore superstructure for my time period.
I worked backward from the 1942 Mare Island photos to find where the inclined
ladders and other details had to be.
||There are 4
- Vought O3U-3 Corsairs aboard. The Corsairs were replaced by SOC's
in April of 1936, hence my model date of January '36. An air crewman
who was aboard in 1936 told me how the planes were arranged and stowed.
The aft end of the hanger housed crew washrooms. At this scale it
is impossible to see into the hanger, I doubt it would be a problem
in 1:350 or 700.
|Stowage of the 26'
motor whaleboats didn't seem to change during the ship's lifetime.
The bow of the boat rested on a beam and was suspended from a formed davit.
The after end rested on a pad on a pivoting bracket. The after tackle
was suspended from a pivoting crane. To launch the boat, the
tackle would be tightened and the stern and the crane would be swung out.
This would pull the bow clear of the forward davit, which would then be
pivoted aft, carrying the bow out over the water.
were very tight. I had to move the catapult housing forward 1/8"
to clear the railings, cranes, and launches.
||The Mark 28 directors
were open on top. The 3 crewmen who aimed the director sat on an
open bench behind the sighting scopes. Motive power to train and tilt the
director was supplied by a man pedaling a bicycle crank, inside the director.
After much searching, I found a photo of Astoria taken from above which
showed the interior details.
I mixed a paste of SculptaMold paper mache, and white carpenter’s
glue, then troweled this on to shape the waves. I use any implements
I can get my hands on, but by far the most useful is a plain old teaspoon.
After I have the basic shape done, I let it dry a couple of days, then
slather on another layer to fill in anywhere it needs it. It is necessary
to let the first coat harden so I have a firm surface to work with the
second time. After I am satisfied, I let the paper mache dry, which
usually take a couple of weeks. I remove the false hull which I worked
around, and I have a ship-shaped depression in which I can install the
model when I am ready.
I brush on several coats of gel artists medium. This seals the papier
mache, fills in any low spots, and gives me a slightly windblown texture
which adds some visual interest to the surface. After that is dry,
I brush on a coat of acrylic paint, which I have mixed up to give the very
deepest blue color, which would only be seen down in the troughs.
The color is selected to complement the color of the model itself.
Then I make a batch of white acrylic, into which I have mixed some of the
base color giving a very light blue, airbrush it onto the surface, to accentuate
the high spots, while leaving the troughs dark because the sun would not
be lighting that area.
When building the hull, I had installed threaded nuts securely within,
and before closing up the hull, I marked and drilled locations for matching
holes to install mounting screws. When I am ready to install the
ship, it is merely a matter of placing it in the depression, and running
machine screws up through the base into the hull. My hull was slightly
warped (banana shaped) but the screws pulled it down nicely.
I try to paint as I go. I dislike masking, so I tend to build substructures
which have natural joints where they would be on the real ship. Then
I can paint a piece all one color, and don’t have to mask, and I don’t
have to do much touch up after the piece is installed. Of course,
I still have to do some masking, and touch up, but not much. I cut
out the wood deck to finished size, then painted around where it would
go, then traced and cut out for most of the superstructure pieces , off
the model. Then I could glue the wood down with 2 ton epoxy (to make sure
that the glue would be strong enough to keep the deck from moving or curling
with changes in temperature and humidity). When it was set, I glued
the painted superstructure pieces into their holes. they fit very
well, without fuss. Many of the deck fittings are too small
to do that. For them I prefabricate. Before I paint them, I
drill them and glue in a small piece of wire which I use as a locator pin.
I push the pins through a piece of cardboard to hold the pieces while I
paint them, and I drill a hole through the deck where the piece ultimately
has to go. It is easier for me to locate a small hole, and I use
slow drying glue for final assembly, so I know each piece is where I want
it to be, and I can easily align it before the glue dries.
|Art McArdle, an enlisted
member of San Francisco's flight crew insists that the entire #3 turret
top was painted chrome yellow for recognition. Published data is
unclear on that point. Art was there, and it was important for
him to be able to spot his ship and get home. I took his word for
I use automotive primer as my first coat for painting. This allows
me to sand any roughness if I need to. The final coats of San Francisco
are ModelMaster Acrylic, Standard Navy Gray # 5, and Deck Gray #
20. Many of the fittings and structures were toned down slightly
with a dilute mixture of varnish ahd black artist’s pigment.
This slight toning down adds some interest without calling attention to
itself. The boot topping around the bottom of the hull is in fact
automotive striping tape, a dark gray, not black. The striping
tape is permanent, goes on straight and doesn’t have any smears or overspray.
I believe in scale effect for painting. I liked the Standard Gray
# 5 as it came from the bottle, and Deck Gray is neutral so I didn’t worry
about it, but the black at the top of the stacks is in fact 15% white and
85% black, and all the other colors and accents are toned down also.
This prevents garish contrasts. The wood deck was toned down
with a coat of Dune Gray wiping stain before it was cut and installed.
(Most of the stain was wiped off, but it did a great job of blending the
wood tone into the overall palette.)
After the ship was in place, I brushed several coats of clear (actually
translucent white) gel medium into the joint between the base and the ship.
This puts the ship INTO the water, and allows me to fill any cracks
or depressions which might show up. The gel slops up onto the boot
topping, just as sea water would. It goes on white, so you can see
what you are doing, but dries translucent and does a perfect job of subtly
disguising the joint.
flange is normally covered by the acrylic case and a finished frame,
which were removed for these photos.
green stripes, which denote San Francisco the flagship of CruDiv 7.
||I couldn't find any
studded anchor chain of the correct size, 15 links to the inch, and I didn't
want photo etched chain. Th control wheels for the capstans are photo
etch on steel pins.
reels, paravanes, boat booms and support spars at the
fore end of the superstructure. All the portholes, superstructure
and hull, consist of a short piece of styrene tube glued into a drilled
hole, then sanded to be ,010" proud of the bulkhead. Then I used
a tapered miniature reamer in each one to make the rim the correct thickness.
the 50 caliber machine gun pedestals were conical as shown here.
Later I found out the Mk 3 mount is an offset casting. I have since
installed Mk 3's. I did leave the machine guns off. I
figured they would not have been mounted in peacetime, except during exercises.
||Bridge, funnel and searchlight
platform details. Note the ships bell.
I dislike shiny spots, even shiny metals aren’t shiny at this scale, so
as a final step I give everything an airbrushed coat of Testors DullCote,
which removes all the shine, and hides the glue spots.
My stepson is in the display business, and he recommended a case fabricator
to me, Capitol Plastics in Beltsville, MD. Their clear covers are
gorgeous, they custom make them for the Smithsonian, and I am very pleased
with the result. The case never fails to get attention. I had
a frame shop locally build the visible wood frame for me, I pinned it to
the Acrylic cover, and ran screws up from the flange of plinth into the
wood. The model is securely covered, but the cover can be removed
if desired for photos, and cleaning if that is ever necessary.
I worked on this model for 3 1/2 years. I am not fast, but
this is a hobby. I am reasonably productive considering
the amount of research required. I conservatively calculate
that I applied about 600 hours per year, (300 days at an average
of 2 hours per day) for a total of about 2000 hours for the project.
|To my eye, the ship
is very attractive from this angle. Note the stowage of several lengths
of refueling hose along the bulkhead under the forward 5".
||The 5" -25's came
from J & D Productions. Each one consists of 13 castings, plus
I added some brackets, cranks and motors. It was a challenge to make
the rest of the model measure up to these little beauties.
||Port catapult and boat details
|Another view of the Vought
||Another look at chrome
yellow of turret #3, which was used for recognition.
||The decals are from
the Resin Shipyard. The draft marks are perfectly legible, each number
about .015" high.
I built the model as a “Thank You” gift
for Lou Parker. For him and his shipmates who fought in World
War II, and for the kind of man Lou is today, knowledgeable and helpful
and encouraging to anyone who asks for anything Navy. I am
going to take the model to the State of Washington and present it to Lou
at his home. Ultimately, he plans to donate it to the Mare Island
Navy Yard Museum. Hopefully the people at the museum will be pleased
that one of their most famous alumni (or at least a model of her and her
spirit) have finally come home.