Heller 1/400 Colbert
Review by Jean-Paul Binot

Colbert was the last French cruiser. In the early 50s, the French navy attempted to enhance its anti-aircraft capability and converted two uncompleted ships, the battleship Jean Bart and the light cruiser De Grasse, as dedicated AA assets. Then in 1956, the cruiser Colbert was launched. The ship included a very strong AA battery of 16 127mm (5") guns in 8 twin turrets and 20 57mm guns in 10 twin turrets. Both types of guns were then standard to the French navy and also armed the contemporary Escorteurs d’Escadre of the T47 and T53 programs.

In 1969, the French navy, that had had to give up a third Suffren-type destroyer in order to purchase Crusader fighters in the US, believed that the Colbert still had many years of useful service life left. However, the armament was considered obsolete and the decision was made to rebuild the ship, using the Masurca long-range AA missile system that had been ordered for the helicopter cruiser Jeanne d’Arc but never installed. The navy had to fight the government to get funds appropriated for the conversion work, and only got a partial approval. The Masurca system was installed, together with new radars and an up-to-date fleet control system, but only the 127mm battery was replaced with two modern 100mm turrets. The 57mm battery was reduced to six twin turrets.

Colbert served as the flagship of the Mediterranean squadron of the French navy until finally retired in 1991, after participating in the Gulf War. The ship was donated by the Navy to the city of Bordeaux and was turned into a museum that opened to the public in 1993. 

The Heller kit is molded in light gray plastic, with 186 parts in 2 sprues. The general appearance is very good, with fine detail and minimal flash. Overall length is 451 mm, height 135 mm. As in all Heller kits, plastic railing is supplied in a special sprue. It is hopelessly overscale and should be discarded. The kit depicts Colbert as she (or he in French) was in 1961. 

The hull is made of two full-hull halves, to be joined and reinforced by strips of plastic, as with all Heller kits except the Charles De Gaulle and the Foch/Clemenceau. The main deck is in three parts and fits the hull very well, with no gaps to be filled. Overall the superstructure is accurate, but some detail is missing (doors, hatches, etc.). The kit includes the full original battery of 127mm and 57mm twin turrets and fire control radars. The lattice masts are as fine as Heller could make them, but are still overscale and should be replaced by scratch-built items made of brass rod.

 If the modeller wishes to portray Colbert in its final configuration, quite a lot of scratch-building will be needed.The superstructure needs to be modified to build the two-level bridge. Two 100mm turrets need to replace the kit-supplied items on the forecastle. Two double Exocet missile containers need to be placed behind the second 100mm turret launcher. A Masurca system needs to be placed on the quarterdeck, together with its associated fire control arrays. A new mast and new radar antennaes need to be scratch-built. Many of the new components can be found in another kit from Heller, either Suffren or Duquesne.The kit's instructions provide a guide to Heller and Humbrol paints. As for all modern French warships, Colbert should be painted light blue-gray, with all horizontal surfaces dark gray. There is one bookthat I suggest should be used when building Heller's Colbert : Le croiseur Colbert, Marines Edition, Jean Moulin, ISBN 2-909675-09-2. The kit of the Colbert is a very nice attempt at producing a model of this graceful ship. As with all Heller kits, this one should receive a considerable amount of super-detailing, including PE accessories and additional parts, but there are no obvious mistakes to be corrected. One can only regret that there is no manufacturer of PE material to have produced a set specifically for French warships in 1/400 yet. However, Gold MedalModels has produced a set for 1/400 naval ships that has several useful items, and L'Arsenalproduces 100mm turrets, 20mm guns and Exocet launchers.

The potential for conversion of the kit is exiting since Colbert has been considerably altered in the middle of its 33 years of service with the French Navy. I very strongly recommend the purchase of this kit, since it provides excellent value for money. If built out of the box and fitted with PE accessories, it will turn into a very nice replica of Colbert as completed. With the extra effort of scratch-building additional components, it has the potential to be a real winner.

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