Building the FGS F 215 Graf Spee
The ship
When West Germany started re-armament after WW2, a motley collection of vessels formed the nucleus of the new Bundesmarine. These ranged from former Kriegsmarine units, such as salvaged Type XXIII submarines or Schnellboote to surplus allied ships. It was crucial first to train core personnel, so a number of training ships were needed. In total, the class 138 of Schulfregatten (training frigates) comprised seven former Royal Navy vessels, three Hunt destroyers, one Black Swan sloop and three modified Black Swan sloops. Unthinkable today, the vessels received traditional names, including five of WW2 Kriegsmarine heavy units (Gneisenau, Scharnhorst, Hipper, Scheer, Graf Spee). The remaining two vessels were named Raule and Brommy, commemorating leaders of earlier naval forces of the 17th and 19th century.

FGS Graf Spee (F 215) was launched in 1939 as HMS Flamingo and belonged to the original Black Swan class. She served throughout WW2 as an Atlantic escort, and was sold to West Germany in January, 1959. She was associated with Muerwik naval academy and was used extensively for world-wide training cruises until 1964. She was then decommissioned; plans to convert her into a plane guard vessel never materialized, so she was broken up in 1967. Despite her short operational service, she helped train a large number of the new German navy's key personnel.

The idea
Holidaying in North Germany in 2010, I made sure we were at Flensburg on a tuesday afternoon, because this is when Muerwik naval academy is open to the public. The "red castle by the sea" is a major landmark at Flensburg fjord, and the splendid old building from Admiral Tirpitz´ time is well worth visiting. The former CO´s villa houses a noteworthy collection of German naval models and memorabilia, the view from the top of the central tower is stunning, and the coffee and cake supplied by academy personnel is very good value for money. Plus the academy's extensive library sells off surplus books at more than merely interesting prices. GF1a
The model collection includes two models of Bundesmarine Schulfregatten, and the connection between my favorite subject of  the Royal Navy and my second most favorite of Bundesmarine and Deutsche Marine (which is how our navy has been named since our reunification) immediately caught my imagination. Sadly, the images I took ended up very poor, but I was able to lay my hands on a helpful book (from the above mentioned surplus books sale) and several images from the net, so I got an idea how my rather diminutive and unusual Graf Spee would look like. I found out that originally, only extra superstructure was added to house the cadets, and most of the RN fit remained. During her Bundesmarine service, the vessel received the new standard twin 40 mm mounts, but in her early years she served with her 4 inch twins intact. I found two pretty good images in this early fit, with deployed awnings and boats being launched, probably taken in the Med or another warm spot. This was the fit and the situation I wanted to depict.

This is the link to the image used.

The kit
WEM´s 1:700 kit of the famous HMS Starling has excellent PE parts and resin which doesn't quite come up to the PE´s quality. There are more crisply molded and better cast kits around, and many with less pour plug to remove, but on the whole this is a very good kit for those intending to build a modified Black Swan. The only but nagging downside was that my vessel was a very early and unmodified Black Swan. Finding out that dimensionally, the modified vessels were one foot wider in the beam, and figuring out what this would mean in 1:700 (0.4 mm), I decided to live with the inaccuracy. So here you have it I do indeed lack commitment to accuracy. GF2a
Building the model
Working from the drawings and images, I removed the parts of the superstructure not needed and built the new one from styrene stock. Portholes were drilled out in the hull, but not entirely aligned.  Watertight doors were added from my not inconsiderable spare PE supply. As usual, I prepared the base early on in the project. A suitably sized Trumpeter display box was used; after aligning the model, holes were drilled through the base into the model. Thread bars were fitted through them and glued into the holes drilled into the model. The edge of the base was masked, the waterline perimeter of the hull was marked on the base, and wall paint was stippled around it to simulate a calm sea. After drying, the base was sprayed a pleasant mediterranean rich blue, using Vallejo ModelAir acrylics. That thoroughly dried, the base was sprayed solvent based clear gloss from a rattle can from the local hardware supermarket, and left to dry. GF3a
The rest of the model was build per instructions, with railings, inclined ladders and other paraphernalia added per images. An additional davit from the WEM Tribal class set was used. The model was painted using Vallejo acrylics, in approximate equivalents of the RAL shades of 7035 lichtgrau for the hull and superstructure and 7012 basaltgrau for the decks. There's a rather useful online spreadsheet resource to be found here.
The boot topping was painted a very dark grey, the hull numbers are generic dry transfers from an electronics mail-order outfit.
Awning stanchions were added from WEM´s useful set of 1:350/400 railings. Very fine wire was used to complete the awning supports. Lion Roar PE figures were painted and spread across the vessel's deck as per reference images this should be done before the awnings are added. In this case, I opted for drilled thin wire to simulate the anchor chain.  GF5a
Once everything was done, the extensive awnings were added using cigarette paper soaked with thinned white glue or Johnson's Kleer. That glued to the framework, the awnings were painted an appropriate shade of tan. The model was then rigged using Caenis ultra-fine flyfishing thread. After a final flat coat to hide blemishes, the model was screwed to the base, and remaining gaps filled with clear acrylic gel. GF6a
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I´m not skilled in kit conversions, but this was is so mild even I got away with it. It´s quite an unusual model and a good conversation starter with those who know exactly how a Graf Spee must look. And last but not least it shows the improvised and humble origins of our postwar navy.


Breyer, Siegfried / Koop, Gerhard: Die Schiffe und Fahrzeuge der deutschen Bundesmarine 1956-76. München 1978

More of Frank Spahr's work.
Updated 2013