Building the Gneisenau

Heller's 1/400 scale battleship by Len Roberto

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THE KIT: I picked up this Heller 1/400 German Warship kit for only $11.00 through a super ModelExpo sale.  A Gold Medal Models brass detail set for $28.00 completed this cheap ship project.

The Heller 1/400 series of kits are great starting points-   shapes are usually correct but details are rather soft.  This is why a brass photo-etched set is almost essential on these kits.  These are not Tamigawa kits; pretty much every single part needs some measure of sanding to clean them up and most assemblies require some putty.  Yet they have a certain charm.  They include real anchor chain and are a good value for their cost- especially when you can get them on sale!


My usual sub-assemblies method was followed, adding and replacing brass parts where applicable.

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MAIN GUN TURRETS:  Brass ladders fitted to both sides of each turret and brass sight hoods added to each turret extension.

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STACK AND AFT MAST:  brass footropes added to yards, brass grill added to Stack, railing added around platform, and ladders added to stack sides.

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AIRCRAFT HANGAR AND CATAPULT:  Had to get creative here—I replaced the kit plastic cat and shuttle by cutting half of the brass catapult supplied in the GMM set.  Also added vertical ladders for access to rear gun tub.

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BRIDGE AND SUPERSTRUCTURE:  footropes added to all yards, plastic ladders were discarded and replaced with brass inclined and vertical ladders, various watertight doors added.

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SECOND DECK LEVEL:  added brass doors and life rings- the rest was assembled as per instructions.  The brass railing all around this deck level was left off until the dark grey (non-skid?) was painted on the horizontal surfaces.

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Was assembled as per instructions then using my Dremel cutter, the lower hull was cut off right in the middle of the boot topping.


I wanted a simple paint scheme for the ship mostly because it has been below freezing for quite a while and my airbrush does not like cold weather.   (The wife makes me spray as far from the house as possible)

I went for the basic scheme most German ships wore during trials and workup.  It is basically a light grey with wood decking.  I used Tamiya Deck Tan for the wood deck after which I heavily scuff with various pastel chalks to break up the monotone tan.  This, at least to my eye, gives a good account of various strips of multi-colored wood decking.

For the grey, I had various mixtures of grey ready to match as closely as I could but imagine my joy when I went to prime the model with some new can of primer I picked up at Loew’s…it was almost a perfect match!  So being the lazy modeler that I am, I went with it.  Various weathering sessions later on would blend and distort this coat to make it acceptable for me.

For the dark grey armored decks, I used Tamiya German Grey, which is a dark, gunship grayish color that I thought matched well.


After the relatively easy painting was done, I added the various sub-assemblies to the hull.  Had a bit of trouble getting the second deck level on the hull.  Heller provides massive locating notches that the bulkheads fit snugly over.  Of course my fastidiousness of assembling the deck level made it a little too snug and I had to stop gluing and cut off these locating nubs in order for the deck to sit flush.  As it was, I still had some gaps I had to work hard at to close up…don’t look to closely at the starboard side!

A pine signboard was acquired from AC Moore Crafts and Grumbacher Modeling Paste was sloshed on for my sea base-  a calm sea was my goal.   Liquitex Blue, Green and White were mixed and applied and later dry-brushed with white to bring out the wave tops.  Future makes the sea glossy.

A lengthy touch-up session to repaint the brass areas marred during attachment followed.  Black pastel chalk was gunked up around the stack followed by a light black/ grey wash applied to cracks and crevices especially on the secondary armament.  Brass hose and cable reels replaced the plastic blobs and I used some black clay to simulate the hoses themselves.

For rigging, I used black stretched sprue (no painting!) and hot match tips to round off the overhangs and help strengthen the bonds. 


This was a fun and inexpensive project.  The model now sails alongside my Heller Bismarck in my ship case.  The GMM brass set, as always, adds immeasurably to the overall look of the model and was easy to use.  The Trumpeter Hornet is calling me from the closet…

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For a fantastic website on the Scharnhost class ships as well as other German warships, visit John Asmussen’s site at:

German Capital Ships Photo Feature: Bismarck, Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau

More of Len Roberto's ships

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