Review by Jean-Paul Binot
The kit is molded in light gray plastic, with 472 parts in 8 sprues. The general appearance is very good, with minimal flash and fine detail. Overall length is 640 mm, height 170 mm, which matches published data reasonably well. As in all Heller kits, plastic railing is supplied in a special sprue. It is hopelessly overscale and should be discarded.
The kit depicts Richelieu as she (or he in French) was after being modernized in the US in 1943. The most visible changes to the original design were the removal of all aircraft and associated equipment and the addition of a massive AA battery, similar to the one installed on contemporary US battleships. Radars of British design were also included when the Richelieu joined the Home Fleet thereafter.
The hull is made of two full-hull halves, to be joined and reinforced by large strips of plastic. Heller provided the same hull for both the Richelieu and Jean Bart. Inside each half-hull are portholes already drilled out and many more only semi-open, indicated 'R' or 'J', to be drilled out according to the ship represented. Heller's recommendation on porthole location seems to match my documentation. One should note that the hull is correct for Richelieu, but that Jean Bart received bulges that modified the profile of the hull.
The deck is an impressive 61 cm single piece. The finely engraved wooden deck is well simulated. As in the case of the hull, many holes need to be drilled wherever marker 'R' to prepare for gun emplacements etc.. The four propellers match available photographic evidence.
Overall the superstructure is very accurate, even if some detail is missing. The grid on the funnel is fine enough to be used. The various range finders are reasonably accurate, even if some detail should be added. Radar's are represented, but should definitively be replaced by photo etched parts, together with the many ladders. The ship's boats should receive some super-detailing, but are accurate nonetheless.
The two main battery turrets are made of four elements (base, roof and sides). All four guns are molded together, with their tip separate. The gun sleeves (blast bags) are provided in two pairs per turret.
The secondary armament is made of three 152 mm turrets. Two are identical, the third has a special range finder on top. All three are very nicely molded. The six 100 mm turrets display some flash that is easily removed. The rear of those turrets is open and should allow some extra detailing.
The kit depicts the Richelieu accurately as she was in September 1943 after reconstruction in the US. The AA battery includes 14 quadruple 40 mm mounts and 48 single 20mm Oerlikon guns, which is correct according to some sources. Subsequently 11 single 40mm Bofors guns were added and 9 Oerlikon 20 mm guns were removed.
Both the 40 mm and the 20 mm guns provided with the kit are over scale and lack detail. They should be replaced by photoetched parts, which will be difficult to find. Possibly 1/350 parts might be used. The gun tubs are generally well proportioned, although the smaller tubs (for aiming devices) should be drilled out. The shields for the 20 mm guns are among the finest ever made in plastic, but they should still be replaced by PE equivalents.
The instructions supplied by Heller are pretty much useless. The color scheme proposed does not match the camouflaged scheme sported by the Richelieu at the time of her US refit. And the reference to Heller paint numbers is not too useful either. The four plates (HONNEUR, PATRIE, VALEUR, DISCIPLINE) should be replaced by the parts supplied with the Gold Medal Models 1/400 Naval set.
Obviously the American camouflage (Measure 32) sported by the Richelieu is very appealing, but the British Admiralty scheme offers an equally attractive option.
There are two books that I suggest should be used when building Heller's Richelieu:
BATTLESHIPS, Allied Battleships in WWII, Garzke and Dulin, Naval Institute Press, ISBN 0-87021-100-5, which provides useful information and some photographic evidence, together with a superb outboard profile.
RICHELIEU, Sarnet and Le Vaillant, Marines Editions, ISBN 2-909675-32-7. In French. It is a very complete account of the career of the Richelieu from construction to final disposition, and includes lots of interesting anecdotes, together with many pictures, plans and drawings. There is one section at the back showing, in, full color, all the paint schemes and camouflages sported by the Richelieu.
The kit of the Richelieu is probably one of the best ever produced by Heller, and represents incredible value for money. 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, since replacing the kit's plastic versions of both the French specific items and even 'generic' naval items like 20 mm and 40 mm AA guns by much finer and more accurate PE/resin versions would turn basically excellent kits into true masterpieces.
I believe that Heller's range is large and diverse enough and would support dedicated after-market products, or at least it would be if the whole range was made available by Heller (together with the more confidential producers of 1/400 ships). At least, manufacturers of 1/350 items should follow Loren Perry's example and produce 1/400 versions of their 'mainstream' products, since scaling down existing sets should be relatively easier and more affordable than designing brand new ones. Both the GMM 1/400 German and Naval sets are most useful in upgrading Heller kits, but they do not cover by far the various radars and specific fittings found on French ships.
In the case of the Richelieu however, the kit is comprehensive enough and will not require much addition to turn it into a museum quality masterpiece, beyond the usual replacement of masts by metallic rods and the sort. PE rails are easily available, and PE doors and hatches will nicely enhance the appearance of the kit's bulkheads. Radar aerials are minimal and should be converted from 1/350 sheets. The biggest trouble is in the AA battery, for which 1/350 items will certainly appear over-scale. The kit's versions are good enough, though, so each modeler will have to decide for himself.
The potential for conversion of the kit is limited since Richelieu had only two states, as constructed in 1940 with a French design AA battery and aircraft arrangements, and as modernized in the US. The only supply of 1/400 French catapults and cranes would be either Strasbourg or Dunkerque, both kits being unavailable. An other alternative conversion would be to turn the kit into the Jean Bart as in Casablanca in late 1942, with battle damage.
In conclusion, I very strongly recommend the purchase of the kit, and the rest of the range that is currently available, since Heller has a habit of discontinuing their warship kits without warning.