Dragon 1/700 USS Laffey DD-459

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 1/700 smart kit from Dragon represents a major step forward for those of us who model in the divine scale! If you were impressed with the 1/350 USS Laffey, you will be even more impressed with this smaller scale version. It shares many features with it's larger cousin but at only half the size. A Gleaves class version is also available as the Livermore and Monssen.

See the preview for some of the CAD images. Dragon has been listening to what ship modelers are asking for and this kit proves it. They have engineered the parts to achieve higher levels of detail than we are accustomed to in plastic. Extensive use of slide molding allows for accurate shapes and complex details. Before you read my review, you should know that I took an active part in the design of this kit and was compensated for my efforts, therefor my opinions may be a bit biased and I will try to contain my enthusiasm here. 

Built up test shots from Dragon
SPRUE A (x2)
The forward and aft deck are both cambered like the real ships. Real ships rarely have flat decks, rather there is a little angle to them to allow water to run off the sides. Propellers are nicely done as are the propeller shafts. The struts should have more of a wing shape to them, but that is not really that noticeable here.  Click images
to enlarge
SPRUE C (x2)
Superstructure parts are included on this sprue with forward and aft decks included. Two types of aft decks are included, one like the one fitted to the Buchanan and one like the USS Woodworth DD-460. Note there is some evidence that Laffey also had this arrangement. So you may want to use this part instead of the other version. Either way you have a choice. The other parts on this sprue include the walls of the superstructure. They have plenty of surface detailing. The typical flat sided funnels of the Benson class are well done. These parts are slide molded to give the tops an open appearance. Separate funnel piping is provided to give the kit a more detailed appearance. 
There are also some forming tools provided to form the life raft brackets and the propeller guards. 
SPRUE D (x2)
Depth charges and other fittings are included on this sprue. K-gun launchers are well molded and the extra charges are molded in groups of two. Many other parts not typically seen in this scale are included such as the 5" practice loading machine, sky lookouts, and torpedo director. The lone 1.1" gun assembly is done in 4 pieces. Some of the parts are so small that some modelers may be intimidated by them. But detail lovers will go crazy with them. I would add that if you don't need to add all the tiny parts to have a good looking representation of a Benson class destroyer. The 26' Whaleboats have separate tops to allow you a covered or undecked version.
SPRUE F (x4)
This sprue has some highly detailed torpedo mounts. You will only need the quintuple version here. A 40 mm twin mount is included in three parts. Four 20 mm twin style mounts are included but you will use the 20 mm singles on the next sprue on these ships. The 5" blast bag equipped gun barrels are actually slide molded to allow for an opening in the barrel. You will need glasses to see them, but they are there. 
SPRUE H (x4)
The bottom of the 5" gun base and the movable gun barrel are nicely molded. I assembled the 5" turret and you can elevate the gun realistically. There are plenty of 20 mm single gun mounts provided. These are done in two parts so you can mount the barrel at any realistic angle. The stern depth charge racks are slide molded in a single piece so they are very detailed. These parts about as detailed as is possible in plastic. 
SPRUE I (x4)
Dragon has included two distinctly different 5" turrets. For those who are not aware, most destroyers with the 5" 38 cal gun house had lower mounts that had reinforced roofs. The blast effect from the upper mount tended to dent the lower roof and some stiffening was necessary. On most early DD's this was done by adding an extra knuckle. A stiffening plate was also riveted to the roof plate. 
Dragon has reproduced this by molding two version of the turret. This lower mount has the knuckle and extra rivets. 
SPRUE J (x4)
The upper mount was identical to the lower one, but had a smoother roof. The turrets also have the correct offset to the gun barrel. A triple slide is used on these parts to allow for a virtually seamless part. 
The parts fit together smartly with only a small hint of a seam. Note the hatch details and the shell extraction chute and the vent on the rear. I certainly hope Dragon makes these mounts available separately as they blow away anything else now on the market. 
Rather than mold a separate lower hull Dragon has done two versions of the hull. This one with the complete hull molded in one single piece. There is no seam to fill here.
A waterline style hull is also included identical to the other version from the waterline up. Both has the classic 40's aerodynamic styling to the bow. 
SPRUE S (x2)
There are four sprues labeled "S". These are the Square and Oval Life Rafts, The Mk-37 Directors and their Mk-12 Radar and mount, and several new searchlights. The directors use triple slide molding to capture the full detailing, and have separate bottoms. You can clearly make out the hatches, and ladder details on the sides. The Fire Control Radar Antenna and mount are three parts, and the stand is also molded using slides. The yoke for the radar screen is very detailed for such a small part. These parts are not exactly new, they first appeared in the Dragon USS Pennsylvania kit a couple of years ago. But they are detailed far beyond any other plastic parts in this scale.
Life rafts
Mk-37 Director
Mk-12 FCR
Antenna & mount
Search lights
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 have no seams to fill and sand. Hole locations are provided so all you have to do is open them up with a knife or drill. 
Two simple photo etch frets are included, one for each ship. Bridge wings, propeller guards, and funnel platforms and ladders are among the details. Many ships in the Benson Gleaves class has k-gun davits fabricated to mount to the gun tubs. These are provided and will give the ship a more detailed appearance. 
Note the effect that photo etch has on the completed ship.
Walkway decals to represent the rubber no skid pads that were used on US Navy ships is done on these well registered decals printed by Cartograph. These are made to match the typical paths they were applied in. Hull numbers for both Laffey and Woodworth are included. Though they are hard to see, this sheet even includes draft markings.

A second sheet includes flags and ensigns printed on a pliable vinyl material.

The instructions are an eight page booklet showing the assembly in a step by step process that is easy to follow. A full size camo drawing is provided illustrating the MS-21 camo scheme. If you plan on painting your ship, then I would change the order of assembly as it is much easier to attach the decks to the hull without all the fine parts added. 
This has got to be the most detailed 1/700 kit yet available in plastic now on the market. The details are extremely fine and the molding is first class. Not only do you get state of the art molding, you get two complete kits for one very competitive price of only $19.95. At this price you can afford to buy extras and use the parts to upgrade other kits. It is available now at Dragon USA and your favorite hobby shop.