Reviewed by Timothy Dike
 The USS Laffey DD-459 was a Benson class destroyer built by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Company in San Francisco, California in 1941. She was commissioned March 31, 1942, with Lieutenant. Commander William E. Hank in command. Laffey spent the next few months sailing up and down the West Coast on her shakedown cruise. With the bugs worked out the ship sailed for Pearl Harbor and headed right into the thick of the action. The situation in the Pacific was critical and the Japanese seemed to be unstoppable. When the Japanese landed on Guadalcanal and began work setting up an airfield, Laffey Buchanan, Aaron Ward and other destroyers joined Task Force 18 built around the USS Wasp and headed for the area. Laffey was too late to participate in the first battle of Savo Island that resulted in the loss of four Allied cruisers. Wasp and her escorts launched attacks on Tulagi, Gavutu, Tanambogo, and other targets in the Guadalcanal area. On September 15, 1942 the Japanese submarine I-19 launched a spread of six torpedoes that hit not only the Wasp, but also destroyer O'Brien and Battleship North Carolina. The Wasp was fatally damaged and the fires were uncontrollable. The Wasp had to be scuttled and Laffey took on survivors and returned them to Espiritu Santo. 

 Laffey returned to Guadalcanal and saw her first surface action at the Battle of Cape Esperance in October 11-12 often referred to as Second Savo. Sistership Farenholt led Duncan and Laffey followed by San Francisco, Boise, Salt Lake City, Helena, Buchanan, and McCalla into the waters south of Savo Island. Thanks largely to the superior radar on the Helena and Boise, Admiral Scott commander of Task Force 64 succeeded in crossing the "T" of the enemy. The lead destroyers executed what was supposed to be a column turn, but were thrown into disarray when San Francisco executed a simultaneous turn instead of following in the wake of the ship ahead. Going to full speed Lt. Commander Hank was able to get back in the new line as they counter marched in front of the oncoming enemy ships. Farenholt and Duncan were not so lucky and soon found themselves in-between the opposing forces. Admiral Scott was able to overcome the confusion and after a few miscues brought all his guns to bear. When the order to open fire was given Laffey unloaded on the Aoba with three of her four 5" guns. When the smoke cleared Aoba was badly damaged, Furataka was sinking, and destroyer Fubaki had sunk. On the American side the Duncan was sinking, and the Boise and Farenholt were badly damaged. Laffey and the other ships headed for home. Before reaching the safety of the anchorage at Noumea. The undamaged ships were called on to rendezvous with another group of ships sailing with more transports bound for Lunga Point on Guadalcanal. 

 November 11th found the Laffey guarding those transports as they unloaded their troops and supplies on the beach. Thanks to aircover, the US Ships were generally safe during the day. However when night fell, the advantage shifted to the Japanese who would sail down the slot and bombard Henderson field with devastating shellfire on an almost nightly basis. When a Japanese task force with two battleships was spotted steaming for Guadalcanal, the transports were withdrawn with Laffey and the other fighting ships. As they cleared the area Laffey, second in a line of 13 US ships turned to intercept a Japanese task force. Laffey was on a mission against overwhelming odds. Stop the Japanese from bombarding the Marines on Henderson field. The American force consisted of five cruisers, two heavies; San Francisco, and Portland, and three light cruisers Helena, Atlanta, and Juneau. Eight destroyers, the Cushing, Laffey, Sterret, and O'Bannon led the way in the van with the Aaron Ward, Barton, Monssen and Fletcher bringing up the rear. Half of the destroyers present were Benson and Gleaves classes then the workhorses of the war. All of this group would be lost in the waters of Guadalcanal, three in this one battle alone.

 The ships were just executing a turn to the North when out of the blackness two Japanese destroyers raced in front of the formation. As they passed to starboard, the Japanese cruiser Nagara and Battleships Hiei and Kirishima bore down on them flanked by destroyers.  With what was thought to be the Nagara in their sites Lt. Tom Evin's the torpedo officer called out "I request permission to fire.". Lt. Commander Bill Hank, the Laffey's captain replied immediately "Permission NOT granted". There was still no order to open fire. The situation was unfolding so rapidly that Admiral Callaghan must have been overwhelmed by the multiple sightings. At 0150 early Friday the 13th the Japanese searchlights snapped on, illuminating the Atlanta in a blinding bright light and sweeping up and down the American column. There was no need to wait for further orders to fire as instinct took over and all hell broke loose. The Laffey began pumping shells into the Akitsuki. Suddenly her attention was directed towards the massive pagoda mast of the Hiei bearing down on them. It was too late to turn and the only option was to increase speed and try to clear the beast. The collision alarm was sounded and torpedoes were launched although range was probably too close. The Laffey raked the superstructure of the Hiei was ever gun that could bear from the 20 mm to the 5". Although the battleship was well armored in the vital spaces the bridge was not well protected and numerous fires were started.  The shell fragments wounded Admiral Abe and Hiei was fast becoming an ineffective fighting ship. Never the less, machine gun fire from the battleship rained down on the Laffey as she cleared the battleship with barely 20 yards to spare as shown on the stunning box art by Satake. They were so close that the big 14" guns of Hiei were unable to depress low enough to fire on the Laffey. As she sped along away from the massive battleship, the machine guns were no longer able to reach her. However the Hiei now was able to use her 14" guns and she scored direct hits on the Laffey wrecking the destroyers. To add insult to injury, a torpedo slammed into her fantail stopping her dead in the water. The order to abandon ship was given and moments later a massive explosion ripped the destroyer apart and she disappeared under the waters of Iron Bottom sound with heavy loss of life. There would be no bombardment of Henderson field that night. Many sailors on the Laffey and the other ships paid the ultimate price to prevent it. Her point blank fire on the Hiei contributed to the loss of that ship as the sun came up later that morning.

 In 1992 Dr. Robert Ballard of Titanic fame conducted an expedition on the "The Lost Ships of Guadalcanal". One of the ships found was the USS Laffey and her wreck is remarkable intact. Her guns remain pointed out to port as in the dramatic painting above. Laffey was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for her gallant performance at Guadalcanal. Three battle stars were awarded for her short World War II service. The first for the battle of Cape Esperance October 11-12, 1942. The second for the Capture and Defense of Guadalcanal November 12th, and the final for her the action on Friday the 13th, 1942.

This new 1/350 smart kit from Dragon is the follow up to the Gleaves class USS Buchanan. Designed from the same CAD/CAM technology this kit also incorporates innovative tooling and smart features. The result is stunning high quality parts with a level of detail that has raised the bar to a new level. As with the Buchanan 42 and 45 versions, I had an active role in the design of this kit. The reader may want to take that into account if I seem to enthusiastic about this ship.
Benson and Gleaves class parts comparison. 
This kit is the first of the Benson class versions, while similar to the Buchanan, there are several important differences. These are noted in the images above. 

A:  The Laffey also had her forward gun tubs moved inboard similar to the early 50 cal. gun placement. 
B:  The deckhouse below the bridge is simplified on this ship and the streamlined rounded front is eliminated to save cost and weight. 
C:  The funnels are rectangular instead of round with their own distinctive styled funnel caps. 
D:  The aft funnel trunking is exposed and not plated over as on most early Gleaves class ships.
E:  Laffey also has a cut down 36" searchlight platform. 

The first sprue consists of most of the forward superstructure parts. The bridge is composed of separate wings with interior bracing and conduit detail molded on. The bridge wing floor includes the underside bracing. The doorways are molded with the doors as separate parts, the modeler can mount them in the open or closed positions. The doorways are hollowed out and it will be easy to open them up by removing the boss on the inside walls.  Click images
to enlarge
The bridge windows are not open due to mold limitations. You can blacken these with a marker or drill them out yourself. Raised wooden platforms for the 24" searchlight and pelorus mounts are also separate parts to allow easy modification to other versions of the ship. The mushroom vents are also separate parts as are the main deck hatchways. The funnels are presented in two styles on this sprue and the B sprue. On this one the molded on ladders are left off to allow for the included photo etch ones to be used. The funnels are slide molded so you wont have to big seams to fill. The funnel cap and base parts are designed so that the seams are in easy to hide locations.
The second sprue includes most of the mid and aft superstructure parts. You might notice the decks are lightly etches with a very fine diamond plate pattern. The mast is finely detailed with position lights and other items. The yardarm is separate as as the lower fighting lights. The funnels from the Gleaves class are included on this sprue, but are not used on this kit.  The Mk-37 gun director base is molded using slides to eliminate the seams and allow for open slits.
This sprue features the deck propeller gear and lower hull. One of the first things you will notice is that the deck is not flat. This is because like real ships the deck is cambered to allow water to run off. This may be a first for plastic ship models. The anchor chain is not molded on so the modeler can easily add real chain or use the included brass photo etch chain. The edges of the deck include the waterway that also acts as a guide for those adding photo etch railing.
The propellers are as thin as is practical for plastic. The deck is also notched along the edge to allow the separate bits to be easily placed and give a realistic appearance. The  lower hull is slide molded to allow for some very thin bilge keels. Test fitting shows that the fit is very good. The area where the rudder mounts will need a little smoothing as the clearance for the rudder is a bit exaggerated. The rudder is separate and can be mounted at any angle. 
This sprue include many of the weapons including quad and quintuple torpedo mounts. Only the quintuple mounts are needed on this kit. The detailing is very good with a separate control stand. The tubes are all loaded ready to fire. The torpedo cranes are correct for Benson Gleaves class destroyers
The 20 mm guns are extremely detailed and push the envelope of injection molding capabilities. They are designed with separate shields, gun base and barrels, and even ammo cans. The latter can be left off for those who have problems with tiny parts. Additional photo etch details and alternate shields are also provided. The real beauty of these guns is that they can be elevated just like the real ones. A 5" practice loading machine is provided with a separate base, gun assembly, and gearmotor. A 1.1" gun mount is also very detailed. The base, yoke, and gun barrel assemblies are separate as are the sights and seats. Separate sights and seats are also provided in photo etched brass. The gun barrels are as thin as possible for injection molding. 
Radar's and directors are presented on this sprue. The Mk-37 director is molded in two parts again with the use of slides to preserve the detailing. These are very detailed with crisp molding and sharp details. The torpedo director features nice gauge face detailing and the Mk-51 directors are awesome. The latter are molded with a separate base and yet another part to benefit from the slide molding. I am very pleased with the way the Mk-12 radar screen mounting arms came out. This is one part that you wont need to replace with photo etch. The plastic Mk-12 is not bad for plastic, but serious molders will want to get the upgrade set for this kit and replace them with the much more accurate versions provided in photo etch. The radar's are typical for plastic and too thick for my taste. But the SA radar mount is separate and will look great with a photo etch screens. Although not used on the Laffey, an SG radar set is included complete with separate base and antenna. Save these for the spare parts box.
The strange looking parts on this sprue are actually forming tools. Another smart feature of this kit. They are used to form the photo etch life raft supports and the propeller guards. The latter is a great idea as I'm sure I am not alone in having a hard time folding these to shape. Use this tool to form near perfect shaped prop guards for your ship. Note, the propeller guards are typical of those used on other USN destroyers, so hold onto this tool it make come in handy for other projects.
SPRUE G (x2)
The 5" 38 gun turrets are presented in the correct single and double knuckle style with all kinds of detail. The lower mounts feature extra rivets on the roof panel along the extra knuckle to reinforce them from the blast effects of the upper mount. I had thought the knuckle would be more pronounced, but it is barely noticeable. The gun have the correct offset for the gun. Such fine features as the louvers on the back are finely molded. The base of the gun includes underside bracing and they fit nicely with the upper mount reducing the amount of seams you will have to fill. 
You have a choice in gun barrels too. Canvas covered or bare ones that can be elevated throughout the whole range of a real gun. The ends are also hollowed. The amount of slide molding used on this sprue shows how serious Dragon is in getting it right. These are undoubtedly the best 5"38's ever done in plastic. They are even better than most resin versions. 
This sprue contains two 36" searchlight lenses. Just the lenses so if you don't like the brittle nature of clear parts, you will appreciate that the main part of that searchlight is good old gray plastic as shown below on the K sprue. The surface of the lenses even has the cross lines of the real ones.
SPRUE K (Updated)
This is the fittings sprue with everything from the ships boats to the doors and davits. The ships boats are nicely done with separate inserts for the seats and engine. Another insert allows you to convert the boat to a covered version typical of those found on the Buchanan and other DD's. The boats are designed to use a photo etch rudder assembly.
 Another first for ship modeling is the inclusion of separate plastic doors. If you don't like working with photo etch, you will like these. They allow you to model the doors open and while a little thicker than PE, they look very nice. Optional bridge wing braces are included for the non PE crowd. Floater net basket are provide in two styles, empty and with molded floater nets. The K-guns parts are great, they include separate launchers, stands with charges, and davits. The davits are a little on the thick side as testing proved they broke too easily when molded to scale thickness. Another nice detail is the pair of smoke generators found on the stern. A three piece assembly with a very realistic shape. 

Three types of searchlights are provide. Swivel mount versions of the 12" searchlight in a left and right hand version. Two 24" searchlights and a really nice 36" searchlight assembly that can be aimed realistically. Photo etched seats are provided too. This will result in one smart looking assembly when finished. The aft mast on this sprue even includes a hooded truck light. The anchors are two pieces with a separate shank that allows the fluke to pivot just like a real one. A two piece deck winch, Flag bags and life rafts are among the other items on this sprue.

UPDATE: In my review of the Buchanan kit I lamented that the "The stern depth charge racks are well done but unfortunately the seam falls in the middle of the cans where it is noticeable". I was fortunate to meet Mr. Dragon in person at the Dragon 08 Expo. Among other things I expressed my concerns about the weak points of that kit. Well Dragon went back and reworked the mold and the stern depth charges have been greatly improved with the seam of the parts now being relocated to the edge of the can where is can be hid without having to get creative with the putty. This change will be reflected on all future Dragon kits that use this sprue. Thank you Mr. Dragon!
SPRUE M (New for Laffey)
This new sprue includes a new forward superstructure with the gun tubs moved inboard as on the Laffey. The deckhouse below the bridge has the flat faced front instead of the rounded one found on the Buchanan and other early Benson/Gleaves ships. This simplified version is typical of those found on later Benson/Gleaves class. The aft funnel trunking and base for the second torpedo launcher, now searchlight platform, are new. Laffey did not have any structure built over the aft funnel trunking. Dragon has used slide molding to mold the access doors open and the surface detail on the part. A couple of inserts are provided to fill in the notches on the bridge wings.
SPRUE L (New for Laffey)
The new flat sided rectangular funnels are on their own dedicated sprue. Two styles are provided, one with molded on ladder detail and one without. The modeler can chose which version they prefer. The funnels are made up of separate base, transitions, stacks, and caps. Slide molding is used to allow for a hollow stack. Separate piping is also included to add to the fine detail. 
SPRUE L (Hull)
The upper hull is nicely done with lines that follow the hull lines of the real ship. Even the characteristic rounded edge that tapers from 15" to zero at the bow is faithfully represented. I test fitting the decks with this part with no problems. FYI the hull is split at the low water mark to represent the ship in light or unloaded condition. Note that on the Laffey, the portholes were left open and not plated over like on the Buchanan. 
A new base for this kit has been designed based on how most modelers like to display their ships in full hull mode. The stands which resemble lamp finales are even slide molded so they can be done without seams. Note there are additional mounting hole locations in the base. So this base can be used on future Dragon ships. 
PHOTOETCH (New for Laffey)
Two photo etch frets are included with the finer details that just can't be done in plastic. The first fret is new for the Laffey and includes the photo etched details mention in the previous text as well as lots of others. One nice addition are the splinter shield mounted davits that were used instead of standard pole davits. These were used on many Benson and Gleaves class destroyers. Fore funnel platforms with relief etched decks, direction finder loop, inclined ladders, and aft mast details. The mast ladder not only helps add detail, it strengthens the joint of the upper and lower parts, smart. The one omission in my opinion is an SA radar antenna to replace the plastic version.

The second fret includes the optional doors. These are nice and are relief etched on both sides. Three types are included 60" 66" and bridge doors. 

Another included part is the shields for the skylookouts. These are pre formed so you wont have to do it yourself.

DECALS (New for Laffey)
Another smart feature is the walkway decals printed by Cartograf. These represent the anti-skid rubber pads that were often applied to US Navy ship. This set is similar to the Buchanan set but tailored for the Laffey. Since this was a detail that was usually added by the crew, the arrangement and path tended to be different on each ship. There are some extra sections so you can adapt the walkway to fit other ships too. Hull numbers are done in the typical USN style. Draft markings are black above the boot topping line, and white below.

A second decal sheet is provided for the flags printed on self adhesive vinyl. These include the straight and wavy flags, and a token amount of signal flags. Some different flags not included with the Buchanan are included here. 

The instructions are an eight page booklet showing the assembly in a step by step process that is easy to follow. Markings for the  Ms-21 that Laffey wore her entire career are shown. I don't agree with the order of assembly as shown and prefer to complete the hull and decks before adding details. The modeler may wish to leave the fine details off until the major assemblies are completed. You can see the Dragon CAD images in this kit preview
Six new crew members are included with this kit. Like the others included with the previous Buchanan releases these are very life like. They figures are based on real world poses and are not your typical cookie cutter poses. You can clearly make out the facial features and uniform details. Someday in the future these figures may be made available separately, but for now they are only available in this kit.
The Laffey is one of my all time favorite ships. So I may be a bit biased in my opinions, but this new Smart Kit from Dragon is simply awesome. It even improves upon the Buchanan version and allows for modelers to recreate the famous ship in 350 scale. Finally plastic ships are getting the same treatment that Dragon already delivers with their stunning armor kits. This kit can be built into a stunning model right out of the box, or add some photo etch for that ultimate ship build. You can expect more great ships like this in the future. While there will be other Benson and Gleaves class ships produced, you can also expect some brand new classes in the future. Dragon has started a scale arms race in 350 plastic and is currently well ahead of the competition. This kit is available now for only $42.95 at  Dragon USA. A fantastic price for a complete kit like this.