Aoshima 1/700 Kanmusu Landing Ship “Akitsu Maru” 
late war version (Kantai Collection)
Reviewed August 2016
by Dan Kaplan
Japanese military incursions all along the Chinese coastline in the early 1930s demonstrated a convincing need to both the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) for improved equipment, particularly with regard to amphibious landings. The first significant developments were those of the Diahatsu and Shohatsu type landing craft, and their subsequent mass production, in varying lengths.

It soon became evident that a mother craft of some size would be necessary so as to carry significant numbers of such craft to a specific location and thereby deliver troops and equipment with quick and effective impact.  Accordingly, a large vessel was commissioned for construction by the IJA, with considerable input from the IJN.  Her development was considered top secret by the Japanese.

Shinshu Maru was placed in service in 1934, and could carry three dozen or more landing craft of various sizes within a dry well deck that that led to a ramped exit from her gated stern.  2,200 troops could be accommodated aboard. She was also designed to house a large hangar for aircraft that could be launched by catapult to provide air support for amphibious assaults, though no provision for their recovery was possible. This feature was, in fact, never used, and the hangar space turned into additional troop accommodations. She is considered the world’s first landing craft carrier.

Her success begot several subsequent versions of similar size and capabilities, both with and without flight decks. 

The variant that was equipped with a flight deck in addition to a well deck for landing craft was known as the Hei-Type, or Type C.  Four were projected, though only three were ever completed. The first two vessels were sister 11,800 ton passenger liners that were requisitioned for IJA service while under construction. 

Named Akitsu Maru and Nigitsu Maru, they were equipped with boilers, geared turbines (18,000 shp) and two shafts for 20.8 knots. Though construction on Akitsu Maru was advanced, the design was altered while on the ways to provide for a full length, internal well deck just above the waterline. The well deck was dry, with an inclined ramp leading down to a set of stern doors.  A hinged mechanism was installed to allow the doors to be raised outward and upward.

The full length well deck had no provision for subdivision for water tight integrity in case of flooding. With no way to section off flooding, any rapid ingress of water could destabilize the ship quickly, and accelerate the overall rate of sinking. In time, this would prove to be a serious design flaw. 

It’s not clear how the landing craft were moved about the dry well; possibly on rails, rollers, or dollies.  Landing craft capacity was set at 28, though not all were carried simultaneously within the well deck. Several could be carried outside on the main deck at the stern, under the flight deck.  Provision was also made to carry a number of Type 98 Medium tanks.

Given her advanced construction, the flight deck arrangement on Akitsu Maru became straightforward.  It was laid atop the second deck of her superstructure and extended forward all the way to the bows atop a series of open, latticework trestles. The flight deck was also extended part of the way aft in a like-wise fashion.  No enclosed hangar was provided. Aircraft could be stored below the flight deck on the main deck. A large elevator was placed aft of the flight deck to raise aircraft to the flight deck from below. Immediately aft of the elevator was placed a large mast and heavy capacity boom, to move landing craft and aircraft in and out of placement on the main deck. The positioning of the mast and boom on the ship’s centerline, as well as the lack of arrestor gear, restricted flight operations to takeoff only, so as to supply newly established airfields, or for aircraft ferry operations. 

Her exhaust gases were rerouted into a relocated funnel which was part of a small, rectangular island structure placed amidships, on the starboard side at the deck’s edge. A tall tripod mast was placed between the bridge and the funnel. Light AA weapons ringed her flight deck.

The original design called for aircraft transport, with the possibility of flying off the aircraft to equip newly established airfields. To that end, various complements of thirteen to twenty eight aircraft were envisioned, mostly Nakajima K-27”Nate” fighters; some stored on the flight deck, the others below.

Later in the war, her design was altered to enable her to act more in the manner of a true aircraft carrier, for convoy escort.  A small complement of liaison-type aircraft and autogyros were specified at that time, as was simplified arrestor gear. Accordingly, the addition of aircraft classifies Akitsu Maru as the world’s first amphibious assault ship in the eyes of several publications.

For reasons that are unclear, Nigitsu Maru never had a flight deck installed, and retained her basic passenger liner configuration. 

Akitsu Maru was laid down in September, 1939 as a passenger liner for Nippon Kaiun, K.K. by Harima Shipbuilding at its Aioi shipyard. Six months later, she was requisitioned by the IJA for conversion to a large assault landing ship. She was altered on the ways, launched in September, 1941, and completed by the end of January, 1942.

She was immediately assigned to participate in the invasion of Java as part of a very large invasion force. However, she was tasked only with carrying troops of the IJA 2nd Division, and had no air support role.  Subsequently, Akitsu Maru was heavily used as an aircraft and landing craft ferry over the next two years, traveling in small convoys to points throughout the Pacific and Southeast Asia. Troops and material were also transported as needed. It was an unsung but crucial role. 

For the most part, Akitsu Maru transited without incident during this interval. She was subjected to torpedo attack by USS Crevalle while in convoy to Manila in November, 1943.  Despite claims of being sunk, Akitsu Maru was undamaged in this attack, though the escorting torpedo boat Tomozuru was sunk. Her convoy was further subjected to attack from the air on the return trip, but again, she suffered no damage. 

As the war progressed, the deteriorating convoy situation gave pause to the IJA about the IJN’s ability to successfully protect its ships from submarine attack. Accordingly, Akitsu Maru underwent an extensive refit for conversion to a proper escort carrier configuration at the Harima shipyard at Aioi, beginning in mid- April, 1944. The work was completed by the end of July. 

The flight deck was widened amidships, and the island structure moved further outboard on an overhang to improve deck clearance. It was supported by a sponson built out from the starboard side of the original liner superstructure. The heavy mast and boom aft the elevator was moved to a position aft the funnel, in line with the island arrangements. Her flight deck was shortened slightly at the bows, to allow for the placement of 75mm AA mounts with clear fire arcs on the forecastle. Like-wise, additional AA was emplaced at the stern. 

With the flight deck clear, Akitsu Maru was assigned an air group crewed by Army personnel, the Independent 1st Flight Division. It consisted of seven Ki-76 “Stella” Type 3 liaison aircraft, a light utility aircraft similar to the German Fi-158 Storch. The Ki-76 aircraft were fitted to carry two 60kg depth bombs for ASW, and an arrestor hook. Akitsu Maru was fitted with a simplified arrestor cable set-up, and two sets of landing lights per side similar to the set-up on the IJN’s carriers. 

In another first, Akitsu Maru also embarked two Kayaba Ka-1 autogyros.  These had been modified for ASW work by eliminating the second cockpit position and rigged to carry a 60kg depth charge or bomb. In mid- August, trials were conducted with both aircraft types, apparently to the IJA’s satisfaction.

She conducted several sorties and anti-submarine patrols over the next two months.  Come November, 1944, she was assigned to a convoy bound for Singapore from Korea with troops and equipment of the IJA’s 23rd Infantry Division, which was ultimately bound for the Philippines. While it’s not clear if she was expected to function in her escort /ASW role, Akitsu Maru was fully loaded with several battalion’s worth of infantry, 500 horses, some non divisional units and 104 “explosive torpedo boats” operated by a special unit of the IJA. She was also ferrying aircraft meant for the Philippines, loaded below on the main deck.

On November 15th, 1944, the convoy was enroute in the Korea Strait, with substantial sea escort and air cover from land based units, plus those from the escort carrier Shinyo. The submarine USS Queenfish had been alerted to the convoy by Ultra decrypts, and just before noon had worked itself into a firing position.  Queenfish was spotted by the air cover, and her position marked by an air dropped smoke buoy. With escort vessels rushing in for the attack, Queenfish fired four torpedoes from her stern tubes at Akitsu Maru while making her escape, two of which struck Akitsu Maru. 

One torpedo struck at the stern, setting off a reaction in an aft magazine that held a supply of depth charges meant for the suicide torpedo boats onboard. The ensuing explosion ripped open Akitsu Maru, causing her to settle quickly. As the water rushed in, her boilers reportedly exploded. She capsized to port and sank within three minutes.  Over 2,300 men perished, including over 2000 men of the 64th Infantry regiment. 310 men, mostly crew, were rescued by escorts over the following 24 hours. 

Continuing its current program of releasing newly tooled kits of less commonly known Japanese naval auxiliaries and merchant ships, Aoshima has recently issued a kit of Akitsu Maru. Actually, there are three kits: an initial release for the Kantai Collection, an early war fit version, and a late war version. These are limited edition releases of both early and late war versions, which include a small PE fret. I would imagine that standard kits will be released at some future point. 
My review kit is the one produced for the Kantai Collection.  To be honest, I can’t even begin to explain what this anime related collection brings to the table. So, I will take the easy way out and direct you to the Wikipedia article (who says Wiki is useless?) that explains it nicely: 

Personally, I see this collection (or marketing effort, for the more cynical among us) as a bit of a godsend to both the waterline consortium companies and to avid 1/700 ship modelers. For one, it is a source of incremental revenue for not only Aoshima, but also for Tamiya and Hasegawa on the sales of their older and current waterline kits.  I’m not sure if Tamiya and Hasegawa gain a royalty on each sale, or if they sell the kits directly to Aoshima, which then repackages them and distributes them as part of its Kantai Collection. Either way, these company’s products are as much a part of the Kantai Collection as are those of Aoshima.

In turn, the revenue stream has been lucrative enough to enable Aoshima to create brand new kits of lesser known ships, such as Akitsu Maru, and to encourage Tamiya to mix and match parts of its current kits in order to offer previously unreleased ships such as the 5,500 ton light cruiser Yura, or the heavy cruiser Mogami in its original light cruiser configuration. 

Third, the positive response of the Japanese home market to this effort has been enough to prompt Fujimi to offer a competing 1/700 collection line in conjunction with another anime series, known as the High School Fleet, with obvious, incremental revenues.(see: this link) Naturally, this helps drive Fujimi’s continued product proliferation as well as the issuing of new kits. 

And fourth, I have to believe that the interest in these collections almost certainly has, at some level, exposed a younger generation of anime aficionados and gamers to both warship modeling and to some historical awareness of the Imperial Japanese Navy, if not the naval history of the Second World War. 

This particular boxing of Akitsu Maru gets you the Kantai box art, which portrays the corresponding anime figure, some series collectible items and art, and the full model kit contents inside. You also get a kit molded in the most hideous shade of green that I can remember for any model kit. I think of it as a sort of an intense, bright olive drab, if there can actually be such thing. It reminds me of the Wicked Witch of the West. (Reviewer’s note:  the color in the accompanying photos is somewhat muted and not truly representative.  I don’t think my camera was able to handle the real shade.)

I suppose the argument was made at Aoshima that the color shade is sort of a match for the late war light green camouflage of the actual ship, which eliminates the need for painting by those interested mostly, or solely, in the Kantai Collection.  In my opinion, unless you are purchasing this kit specifically as part of that collection, you should be prepared to do some corrective painting. Of course, one has the option to purchase the non-Kantai Collection versions, which come in the more typical (and easier on the eyes) grey. 

Once over the shock of the color (which was like having one’s pupils dilated prior to an eye examination; it took hours to subside), one is left with an interesting, nicely detailed kit. The plastic was matt finished, free of release agent, and without sinkholes or flash. 

This is the late war flight deck, molded in a medium grey color as one piece. I am unaware of the composition of the actual flight deck aside from the fact that it was not planked with wood. It appears to have been metal plated and topped with a coat of non-skid type paint, in the fashion of the late war IJN aircraft carriers.

Available photographs portray a light colored deck that is mostly featureless, and that is what the kit deck reflects. Among the few details are a band of some sort around the edge (probably metal, as there were no rain gutters), a transverse, shallow trench that probably represents a single expansion joint, and a raised set of lines meant to depict the arrestor cable set-up. There are also shallow embossments meant to act as a locating base for the bridge island structures.

Underneath, the deck has a multitude of raised, molded girders representing the extensive system of support trusses for the decking. The sprue also holds the three main components of the actual island bridge. Some molded on door hatches and portholes provide some detail for the bridge structure.

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The hull is sharply molded in two halves in green. The bow has some nice sheer to it, and no lines or panels have been included to denote hull strakes or plating. The hull is detailed with portholes and eyebrows, some access hatches, some bow sponsons for AA emplacements, rimmed hawse pipes openings, accommodation ladders stowed against the hull, boat booms also stowed against the hull (with rope ladders extended, which is incorrect), and openings at the stern for the hinged access doors to the internal well deck.

Other parts on the sprue include anchors, jackstaffs and some of the trestle supports that support the flight deck. Though some care has been taken to mold the trestles with open latticework, this is one of those instances where PE clearly renders a much finer sense of the lattice. As of this writing, a PE fret containing trestle supports for Akitsu Maru is only offered by Aoshima with the late war Super Detail version. It seems a worthwhile investment to me. Hopefully, the fret will be offered separately at some point. 

Outside of the color, I think the hull is nicely done. The pillar supports for the upper decks of the superstructure do not appear as thick as those on Aoshima’s recently released Kamikawa Maru class kits. Personally, I find the hull lines nicely balanced, and it would have been a handsome, mid-sized liner if it had been completed as originally designed.

The hull scales out exceptionally well, as far as published measurements go. The actual waterline length measurement was not available in any publication that I can find, only the length between perpendiculars, which is not really applicable here.  Akitsu Maru’s particulars versus the scale and kit:
Overall Length: 152.1m/499’ 1/700 scale OA length: 217.29mm Kit OA length: 218mm
Waterline Length:  n/a 1/700 scale WL length n//a Kit WL length:  215mm
Beam:  19.5m/64’ /700 scale beam:  27.85mm Kit beam: 27mm

Two pieces are included here, the waterline plate and the main deck. The waterline plate is fairly typical, with a recessed rim that fits the upper hull when assembled. However, it also doubles as the well deck, and has recessed channels set into it. I think these lines denote areas of placement for some of the Daihatsu, but that’s not entirely clear.

The main deck has raised lines to indicate wood planking fore and aft of the main superstructure, small raised bases to anchor the trestles used to support the flight deck, mooring bits, and raised bulwarks for the areas that comprise the main cargo hatches, both fore and aft. I am uncertain about how accurate this depiction of the cargo hatch area actually is. 

There’s no disputing that the area above the main hatches was decked over, both fore and aft, to provide two expansive areas upon which to store large items of equipment, such as aircraft, or landing craft, or tanks. What’s not clear is whether or not these raised bulwarks are actually hatch coamings that were nearly one deck high (which is how Aoshima has depicted them) or, if the hatches were really set at the main deck level, with open sided, raised platforms set high above them.

Aoshima has molded them as high enclosures, but most of the plans and illustrations I’ve seen seem to show the area open on the sides, with pillars holding up the decking above them. It is possible that these structures were fully enclosed and had a lot of support pillars ringing the enclosed hatchways.  Unfortunately, none of the available photographs are clear on this point.  Aoshima has placed substantially sized placement rings for the cargo hatch and superstructure decking within these areas, essentially hiding the rings from view.

This is a very small, clear plastic sprue that contains two sets of the bridge windows, each molded with frames. Only one is needed. Sprue-A-4
It contains the components of the bridge island’s aft superstructure, which serves as the base for the large, tripod mast.  It also carried the large cargo crane mast and boom that was moved in mid 1944 and incorporated as part of the island. The structure was simple in nature, represented here with some basic detailing. Sprue-B
Holds the 01 & 02 decks for the passenger liner superstructure, bulwarks for the same, and the raised decking/hatch covers that rise over the main deck, both forward and aft. When in place, the bulwarks are hidden behind the pillar supports of the superstructure. Detail is limited to portholes and subtle, raised outlines for access doors. Thought the doors could use PE replacement, it’s likely that these details will remain in the shadows, given that they appear in relatively deep recesses as well as the overhang of the flight deck. 

Also included are the combination hatch covers and decking for the area over the cargo hatches. The hatches are outlined with recesses, and there are seams denoting wood decking. There are additional parts on the sprue that are not used on this version of the kit. I believe they are deck houses for the flight deck as portrayed by the early war version kit.

This sprue holds a mix of parts. Among them: the funnel components, the foremast mast and trailing legs that together form the tripod mast base, a deckhouse, the quarterdeck with planking, a windlass, some bulwarks for the superstructure, and the pieces for the well deck access hatches at the stern.

The modeler has two choices on assembly and display of the stern hatches. One can portray the hatches as opened or closed. If open, there is an opportunity to display several of the daihatsus within the well deck for viewing from the open stern. (It should also be possible to display some of the daihatsus atop the cargo hatches from sprue C once those are glued in place.)

There are also some extraneous parts probably meant for the early war version.


This sprue carries an interesting mix of parts. Included are some gooseneck air intakes and some winches for the main deck, some of the trestle supports for the flight deck, the guide rail girders for the elevator, two merchant ship type lifeboats with optional canvas covers, davits for same, three large 14m daihatus, 75mm AA guns, 25mm single AA guns, and the components for both one Ki-76 aircraft and one Kayaba Ka-1 autogyro.

The insides of the ship’s boats and the daihatsus have recessed seams to denote wood planking. Unfortunately, that’s about the extent of their detailing. (Note: the older Pit-Road E-2 & E-13 equipment sets have 13m & 14m daihatsus with more detailing.) The Ki-76 has recessed panel lines on the wing and fabric control surfaces, though no details aside from windows on the fuselage. Still, it looks good to me. The autogyro is very small with minimal detail, but notable is the tiny, separate part for its exposed radial engine. It also has some interesting fixed landing gear and a sizable main rotor.

It was the practice of the IJA to equip its requisitioned ships with at least some of its own service weapons. The late war fit of Akitsu Maru came equipped with six of the Imperial Japanese Army’s standard medium AA weapon, the Type 88 75mm gun, which was a decent weapon. I don’t know a lot about this gun; the kit version has some minimal detailing of the recoil cradle and breech block, but the barrel looks particularly short to me. Some replacement with brass rod may be in order.  I believe that Niko Models also makes some resin replacements, though I don’t know how well those measure up.  Five Star models recently released a set of four Type 88 guns rendered in brass that is pretty impressive in its detail

The ship was also equipped at least ten light AA single mounts. One of my references states that these were IJA 20mm mounts, but the close-up photo on board Akitsu Maru that I have shows mounts that look exactly like an IJN 25mm AA single gun. I tend to believe it was a 25mm version, and that’s what the kit appears to offer. However, I can tell you that the kit versions are ridiculously short barreled and absolutely require replacement by any of the very good PE or plastic alternatives for the 25mm AA that are out there. 

This is the “sponson” sprue. Pieces include the forecastle deck and all the other AA sponsons, the structural sponson used to support the island, the large elevator, additional trestles to support the flight deck, more gooseneck vents, and the landing light arrays. The kit is supposed to come with two each of the two light and four light arrays that were standard equipment aboard Japanese aircraft carriers. Oddly and unfortunately, both of the two light array pieces (parts 13 & 14) were missing from the sprue, as if they hadn’t been included as part of the mold.  Yet, a look online at the kit parts of the standard kit as seen at Hobby Search Japan, shows then on the tree. I can’t explain what’s happened here, or why. 

Aside from this omission, details are okay, with some nice deck treading and mooring bits. 

The kit includes a fret of photo etch. As a Fleet Collection kit, some of the items on the fret are collector’s items particular to this kit, including a full color, anime based painting on metal, and a reproduction of a compass. I’m really not familiar with the line’s collectibles, so I can’t really comment on these, aside from being nicely rendered.

Other parts are more familiar, and welcome, such as rotors for the autogyro, along with propellers, landing gear, and struts for both the autogyro and Ki-76. These options will make for a far more realistic depiction of the aircraft, but be forewarned:  these are some very small parts.  Also included is a Type 21 and Type 13 radar antenna. 

The inclusion of radars was a bit unexpected for me. While the timing of Akitsu Maru’s final fit in mid 1944 would suggest that the addition of radars was a possibility, the photos of her after her refit in mid-summer 1944 show no radars at all. That isn’t to say they couldn’t have been added a little later, though there is no such mention of them in her Tabulated Record of Movement (TROM).

There is a well known painting of her by noted maritime artist Ueda Kihachiro that shows a Type 21 radar mounted on a deckhouse, and I wonder if this didn’t influence the decision to include them.  However, the artwork is erroneous on a number of counts with regard to fit, so, use of the painting as a reference is dubious at best. Also interesting is the fact that none of the instructions actually depict placement of either radar. The radars themselves are a somewhat simplified, without much of the fine detail that can be found in more focused photo etch sets for Japanese radars. 

The decal sheet is clearly printed with no registration issues.  Much of the sheet contains the flight deck markings, which are very straightforward and not elaborate. Simple, red Japanese hinomarus (roundels) for the wings and fuselage for both aircraft are present, as is the ship’s name for the stern, rendered in what I think is hiragana characters.

Beginning in late summer, 1944, camouflage paint in shades of light and dark green was applied to the hulls of the remaining aircraft carriers of the IJN, often using large, very simplified outlines of merchantmen in dark green against the lighter green of the carrier’s hull. It was thought that such camouflage would seem confusing to submarines. That practice was also carried over to the surviving landing craft depot ships requisitioned by the IJA. 

Here, for the first time that I can recall, a decal has been reproduced with those large block, dark green merchant ship outlines. Clearly, this was done on behalf of the collectors and less experienced modelers to simplify the finishing of the kit, as it eases a potentially difficult paint job. In fact, if one is just relying on the kit colored plastic as the base color, then applying the darker green decals over the kit hull greatly simplifies things. I would imagine that use of decal setting solution would be helpful.

Also included are some stylized, Fleet Collection decal overhead images of the Ki-76 and KA-1 aircraft. Aside from possibly being part of the collectible aspect of the kit, I have no idea how they are meant to be used, if at all.

The kit comes with anime characterized artwork for Akitsu Maru, and a collectible card. Collectible-Card
This consists of one large sheet printed front and back, then folded into eight pages. The pamphlet is printed in black and white, is clearly illustrated, thorough, and mostly in Japanese. Assembly is shown step-by-step via exploded, three point perspective illustrations. Sub-assemblies are shown in good detail, and the construction process appears straightforward. The painting guide is keyed to the GSI Creos and “Mr. Color” paint lines.

There is also a separate instruction sheet for the photo etch.

Instructions-1 Instructions-2 Instructions-3 Photo-Etch-Instructions

What we have here is a good kit of a unique ship, historically obscure and unsung, but still significant.  It doesn’t appear to be a particularly complicated build, and will add a very interesting model to one’s collection.

I think that the omission of the landing light arrays to be atypical of this kit.  It may be limited to just the Kantai Collection version, or perhaps just a particular production run. On the other hand, unless one is a Kantai Collection collector, or prefers a simple out of the box build, I would advise looking for the late war version Super Detail kit.  That kit is molded in grey, appears complete, and comes with the enhanced photo etch fret including the trestle supports, as well as all the photo etch for the aircraft as described in this review. 

Thanks to Aoshima for the review sample. This particular boxing is listed in Aoshima’s catalog as 1/700 Kantai Collection No.27, SKU # 051368. I haven’t see this kit available as yet in the US, but I note that list price is Japan is 3800 yen (approximately US $36), plus shipping. There, the kit is typically discounted by 10% or more. 

This is an in-box review showing the kit contents. We welcome your input and comments in the review section of the forum especially if you can share details about fit, ease of assembly and accuracy. Click the logo on the right to join in the discussion.