USS Essex In-Box Review
Trumpeter's 1/350th scale aircraft carrier is looked at by Devin Poore
The Essex class carrier became the premiere U.S. warship in the Pacific theatre in WWII. Arriving on the scene in 1943, the class comprised two dozen ships, both long and short hull variants. The class was in service, in multiple modified guises, until the early 1970's. Several of the ships survive today as maritime museums. Of course, this is a very broad and general history of the Essex class; a much more detailed history can be found on the Warships1 and The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships websites, and many printed books.
There are already several reviews on the internet of this kit, showing overall photos of all of the parts frets. This particular look will be quick, and a bit closer, taking in the detail that Trumpeter has put into this kit. My kit showed up in great shape from Trident Hobbies. Is there anything better than UPS showing up with a big honkin' cardboard box holding a ship kit within?
Above are shots of the hull. Those who were concerned that the hull problems with the earlier USS Hornet kit would be repeated can breathe easy. Whether Trumpeter took more care, or it's the fact that the Essex class hull really did drop vertically from the hangar deck to the waterline, the hull looks to be very accurate. Measurements were not taken, but compared to the drawings in Friedman's U.S. Aircraft Carriers and Glenn Arnold's Warship Perspectives Essex class title, they look correct. The hull is a two piece affair, split at the waterline. You can build full hull, or waterline, depending on whether you attach the bottom plate, or the lower hull. Props are very well molded, as is the strut detail. There have been some questions as to whether the strut supports are properly represented, but I can offer no insight on the manner. I build waterline and don't pay much attention to the barnacle breeding grounds. One omission that is probably not that big of a deal on most modeler's list, is that there are no weld seams depicted on the hull. Most choose to ignore this detail, and since this is a styrene kit, replicating them with paint or scribing will be a fairly easy task for those who do want to replicate it.
Next up is the flight deck. Again, with the USS Hornet kit many considered the planking and tie-down detail to be overdone and over scale. Fortunately, this is not the case on the Essex. The photos above show the delicate engraved detail. The first photo shows the planking and tie down strips, along with some of the pads for mounting the arresting gear (not represented in the molding) and other details, such as engraved outlines for bomb and torpedo elevators.
The second photo shows the detail of the single,
starboard side forward, catapult. This is one oddity of the Trumpeter kit, as
according to references, the USS Essex never had a single catapult fitted. She was
rushed into service in 1943 with no catapults, and then during her first refit, she had
two installed. Therefore, this kit is not really of the Essex, but more of the USS
Yorktown (CV-10), Intrepid, Hornet (CV-12), and any of the other short hulled Essex class
that were commissioned before early 1944, when the two catapult fit became the norm.
Looking at the detail of the flight deck, it would be possible to fill in the
catapult detail and scribe the lines for a true as-launched USS Essex, so I guess
Trumpeter erred on the side of caution and did it right; it would probably be more
difficult to create the catapult details for the other ships from scratch.
Hangar Deck and Forward
The hangar deck is well detailed on this kit. The walls that make up the external detail of this area are also detailed on the inside. As can be seen in the photo above, deck scribing and other details are well rendered. The second photo shows the bow area. The right call was made, in my opinion, in only representing the running area for the anchor chains, saving the modeler time of having to sand off molded chain detail to replace it with actual chain.
Island and other detail
The shot of the island above shows the level of detail that is molded into this kit. Drainage pipes and conduits are very fine and solidly represented. Watertight doors and ladders are also well represented. It will be the individual modeler's call, but I see no reason to replace the door detail with P.E., the ladders are up for debate. They look great, but a P.E. ladder that will stand out from the side of the skin a bit will add a lot to the appearance of these areas.
The hangar doors are all molded as closed. Most modelers will want to open these up. U.S. aircraft carriers would only close these doors under the worst of conditions during the day, or when it was necessary to light the hangar deck (for maintenance, movies, etc.) at night. Seeing as the doors were mostly open on these ships, it seems odd at first that Trumpeter would mold them closed like this, but I'm sure it was a cost constraint. It is much cheaper to mold a wall as a single piece, than to mold a wall and then 5 or so separate inserts for the doors.
Above is the underside of one of the decks that are to be attached to the island. As can be seen, fine support detail has been replicated. According to photos, some of it is a little under sized, but what is there will be fine for those wanting to build an out of the box kit.
The Weapons Sprue
I have to say that while I really love this kit overall, it's the weapons and aircraft that I'm most impressed with. I seriously hope that Trumpeter follows after Skywave and makes these weapons available as separately available items; they would be invaluable for resin kit modelers. There are two identical sprues of weapons and directors in the box, containing the 20mm, 40mm, and 5-inch weapons, their respective bases, and various directors. The detail on these parts is great. The 20mm mounts (first picture above) are probably just a bit large, but they look nice. One thing to note is that they do NOT come with the splinter shielding, and it will be almost impossible to make them look convincing without a P.E. set to obtain them. Sure, shielding could be scratch built from thick paper stock or thin plastic sheet, but something will have to be added to them (cutting off the plastic barrel and replacing it with finer hypodermic tubing would also add a lot to their appearance).
Next up are the bases for the open 5-inch mounts and the 40mm mounts. Once again, great detail. Painting these items followed with a dark wash and dry brushing are going to make these items really come to life. The 40mm barrels are also well rendered, the coil shape being well represented (the most anal of us will want to replace this with actual small springs to be totally accurate, though).
A rear view of the 5-inch gun houses is show next. Notice that the sides and back are molded as separate pieces, which are shown in the next photo Very clever designing them in this way so that the seams are put on the corners, and I'm curious to see how well this works (many of the island face details on this kit are handled in the same manner). In these shots you can also see the well molded propellers and life rafts. Small details make a kit really work, and the Essex is filled with them.
I am in awe of Trumpeter's aircraft sets. Clear canopies and hollow fuselages are something I've wanted to see for years, but never thought anyone would attempt. Those who have seen the previous aircraft sets are in for no surprises. My kit came with 4 each of the F6F Hellcat, TBF/TBM Avenger and the SBD Dauntless. No Helldivers were included in the kit, but they were released in the stand alone packs at the same time as the Essex kit. Pictured here is the TBF/TBM Avenger sprue. Once again the detail is fantastic. The panel line detail is overdone a bit, to be sure, but those concerned with that can just put on a couple more coats of paint. The clear canopy detail is back, hollowed out fuselages (just beggin' for those WEM interior sets!), and the above Avenger even has a separately molded clear ball for the .50 caliber gun turret.
All of the aircraft are available in separate boxed sets. The F6F, TBF/TBM and SBC's come 6 per box, with the SBD is the same as the Hornet offerings and come 10 to a box. For those wanting to to a full deck load of aircraft (around 90+ per ship) the planes will be the big money item.
Okay, I forgot to photograph the decals. There are two sheets included, one for the ship and one for the airgroup. The airgroup decals consist of white and blue roundels (no bars) and various numbers and lettering for side codes. The ship sheet consists of flight deck stripes and large 9's for the flight deck of the USS Essex. Those wanting to model other ships will have to find other number sources, or mask and paint them.
Had someone told me two years ago that today there would be a 1/350th scale styrene kit of the USS Essex (and Hornet, for that matter) available for $100, I would have told them they were talking nonsense and needed to get back on their medication. Well, not only is the kit here, but it is fantastic. Trumpeter has followed up a very successful, but somewhat flawed, release of the USS Hornet with a marvel of modeling. The detail is exquisite, the subject matter has been sought after since Tamiya started doing 1/350th scale kits twenty years ago, and the manner in which this kit was produced will allow any number of ships and their variants to be built straight out of the box. The forthcoming after-market sets from the likes of GMM, WEM, Tom's, etc. will make this a kit that will have many people buying several copies to build any of the short hull subjects they want. If you like WWII U.S. Navy subjects, buy this kit. Then, search the web, buy some books, and get references for the ship you want to build; chances are you can build her from this kit with minimal effort. Heck, the early ships such as Yorktown, Intrepid, etc., can be built straight out of the box with little or no modification to the kit at all.
I can't wait to see what Trumpeter has coming next. A Lexington and Nimitz of this quality and accuracy? Long hulled Essex's and Liberty ships? What a great time to be a ship modeler.
References and related links for this review
Warships1 and The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. There are literally hundreds of websites with photos of the Essex class carriers. Do a web search and be prepared to spend some time looking.
U.S. Aircraft Carriers by Norman Friedman
Warship Perspectives: Essex Class Aircraft Carriers in World War Two by Glenn R. Arnold
Warship's Data #5: USS Yorktown (CV-10)
Carrier Air War in Original WWII Color by Robert Lawson & Barrett Tillman
Squadron Signal Essex Class Carriers in Action
Squadron Signal's On Deck US Lexington CV-16
Tom's Modelworks 1/350 Essex Class Carrier Photo Etch Detail set