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1/400 Aircraft Carrier Bearn by L'Arsenal

Reviewed by Felix Bustelo

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During the early part of the 20th Century, the importance of military air power was becoming more evident and as a result, the world’s naval powers started to develop a new type of vessel: the aircraft carrier.  In the infancy of aircraft carrier design, a flight deck was usually installed on the hull of another uncompleted type of ship.  The Royal Navy constructed the HMS Furious which was originally supposed to be a battlecruiser; the United States Navy built the USS Langley converting the hull of a collier; and the Imperial Japanese Navy cancelled the battlecruiser Akagi and instead used it as the basis for the carrier of the same name.

The French Navy followed this same approach with its first aircraft carrier, the Bearn.   The Bearn was originally to be the 5th Normandie Class dreadnought and his (it is French naval convention to refer to ships as masculine) keel was laid down in 1914.  World War I began shortly afterwards and all work was ceased on the Bearn, with the materials earmarked for him diverted to other projects.   At the end of the war, the Bearn was still sitting at the builder’s yard and plans were resumed to complete him.  After further delays, it was finally decided in 1922 to use the Bearn’s hull as the first French full flight deck aircraft.  The conversion began in the late summer of 1923, using the similar conversion of the HMS Eagle as an example and with British assistance.

The Bearn was completed in 1927 and it received a couple of refits and modifications during the 1930’s.  Because of his slow speed and small airwing, the Bearn was not considered to be a successful aircraft carrier.  It was because of these limitations that the Bearn was relegated to aircraft ferry and training carriers duties at the start of World War II.  The Bearn was in the West Indies when France fell in 1940 and she remained in Martinique until 1943, when he was refitted as an aircraft transport in New Orleans.  When the Bearn was recommissioned, he had a new battery of 5-inch dual-purpose guns, 40mm Quad Bofors and 20mm Oerlikon guns, a flight deck which was cut back at the front, and a wild dazzle camouflage scheme.  The Bearn served through the rest of World War II and supported French operations in Vietnam (French Indochina) after the War.  In 1948, the Bearn was made into a training ship and then a submarine depot, surviving until 1967 when she was sold for scrap. 

The L’Arsenal kit of the Bearn is an exciting event in ship modeling, which has been overshadowed by the recent 1/350 scale Hornet and Essex kits from Trumpeter.  This kit, produced in a partnership with Lela Press (publishers of the great French language magazine Navires & Histoire) is a first in ship modeling in that it contains injection-molded plastic, resin and photoetch parts.  This combination of materials has been done before with airplane and armor kits, but never, as far as I know, with a ship model nor in this grand of scale.  Because of this, the Bearn kit is a limited production run.  The kit contains 78 plastic parts, 143 resin parts and 3 frets of photoetch parts.

The kit’s plastic parts are laid out on 4 sprues, identified by the letters A through D.  Sprue A has the two hull halves; Sprue B has the one-piece flight deck, foc’sle deck, horizontal flight deck supports and the stand; Sprue C contains the multitude of fore and aft deck levels and catwalks; Sprue D contains the smaller plastic parts, such as the boat cradles, light guns and shields, searchlights, rudders, forward support posts, mast and various deck fittings.  Please note that I removed the parts from the A and B sprues to make it easier to place on my scanner for this review.

The molding of the plastic parts is good and I find it to be very similar to the molding in Mirage kits.  In fact, the plastic parts are produced in the Czech Republic (I believe the work is done by MPM), using a soft plastic that is a little on the thick side.  The plastic parts have a fairly good level of detail.   The hull halves are especially well done, capturing the unusual high freeboard this ship had with the multiple level of portholes and the sponson with the distinctive cooling vents.  The waterline is marked off of the exterior sides and on the inside of the hull halves a groove in molded in to facilitate cutting the model down to a waterline version.  Missing from the hull halves are the locating pins and offsetting openings, so care must be given when joining and aligning these two parts.

The flight deck is done in one piece (no deck seams to fill in!) and it captures the slight downward slopes on the fore and aft ends.   Unfortunately, the planking is missing from the deck surface.

The resin parts are beautifully done with a level the high quality casting that I have come to expect from L’Arsenal.  The resin parts include the island/funnel sections, casemate guns, smaller anti-aircraft guns, ship’s boats, propellers and shafts, aircraft, crane, life rafts, and deck fittings.  A pair of open elevator doors is provided to give you the option to build the model with the doors up.  The ribbing underneath the doors is superbly replicated in the resin casting.

The highlight of the kit is the aircraft.  Parts are provided to build miniature versions of these aircraft: 4 Dewoitine D-373 parasol wing fighters, 3 Levasseur PL-101 biplane bombers and 3 Levasseur PL-7 biplane torpedo bombers.   Panel and rudder lines and other details are intricately done in the resin and combined with the parts from the aircraft photoetch fret you have 10 tiny detailed models to build.  The first 300 kits produced contained two packets of additional aircraft used on the Bearn in 1939: the Loire-Nieuport 40/401 and Vought 156 F.  These aircraft are sold separately and you can read my reviews of these sets on this site.   

However, as strikingly complex the aircraft are, the various boats are not very detailed at all which I find quite odd.  While adequate, in my opinion these are the weakest parts in the kit.

The photoetch parts are done in stainless steel and produced by Eduard.  Two of the frets contain ship details and the third the aircraft details.   The photoetch is crisply done and using stainless steel gives should make the parts a little sturdier but at the same time not too thick.  Lines are scored into the photoetch parts to facilitate bending.  The photoetch parts that standout are the island deck levels and rails and the flight deck supports.  Due to the complexity of these parts, I would recommend some experience working with photoetch before attempting this kit.

The kit’s decals are provided on two sheets, one has the flight deck markings and the other the aircraft markings.  The decals appear to be very well done and with good registration.  Deck markings are provided for a 1934 version and a 1939 post refit version.  The aircraft decals provide roundels, the anchors used on French naval aircraft and red and blue stripes for the tail rudders and stabilizers.  The stripe decals give you an alternative to painting these markings on the aircraft as you can place them over a white base color.

The kit comes with a 24-page instruction booklet with text in French and in English.  The very well drawn and clear illustrations break down the 26 assembly steps.  Painting instructions are given in each of the steps and in a plan and profile of the Bearn and the aircraft.  The paint codes are keyed to a Humbrol paint guide.  The instructions also clearly show decal placement.

One of the major changes done the Bearn in his 1935 refit was the addition of an enclosed level under the bow flight deck overhang.  Parts for this modification are not included in the kit so if you wish to build a post 1935 version of the Bearn, this addition will have to be scratchbuilt.  If you don’t want to go through the trouble, you can build a post-1928 version but you will have to sand down the forward bank of cooling vents on the sponson and the vents on the funnel, as these were added in 1935.  Frankly I am not sure of how difficult it would be to add the enclosed area to the forward part of the ship.  If you feel that you can do it, I would recommend it since it would make a more visually striking model.  The additional vents really stood out and it would be a shame to remove them.  The omission of the enclosed area is really the one design flaw with this kit, but it is not one that is insurmountable.

Overall this is a great kit of a ship that is played a role in the evolution of the aircraft carrier.  Measuring 42 centimeters (approx. 16.5 inches) it will build into an impressive model.  The approach taken by L’Arsenal, using plastic for the larger components, resin for the smaller parts and including photoetch details, combines the best of the injection-molded and resin kits in a fun and relatively affordable model.  The Bearn is going to look really nice in my collection built-up and I can’t wait to get started. My thanks go to Jacques Druel of L’Arsenal for the review sample.

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