Frank Ilse Scratchbuilds the
USS Saipan LHA-2
in 1/350 Scale
Part 2
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Having started the buildup feature of my 1/350 scale gator USS Saipan with the basic construction of hull and island, I now will proceed with the first component to be completed: the well deck. I detailed it as much as possible because it will be visible later on, although the hangar bay and the flight deck are above. But I found a way to make them free to move later on. But first, some data. click images
to enlarge
The ships of the Tarawa class are swimming Heliports with an additional feature. Like a submarine they can go down controlled. To a certain extent that is. Huge pumps and flood valves fill ballast tanks that enable the ship to lower its stern about eight to nine feet. Through the opened gate at the ship's stern water flows into the well deck.
This technique enables the Marines to board the landing craft with dry feet as long as the well deck is dry. After boarding, the ship's crew floods the deck and the landing craft, whether LCU (Landing Craft Utility) or LCAC (Landing Craft Air Cushion) leaves the well deck via stern gate. The United States developed this technique during WWII. LSD (Landing ships dock) were introduced to the amphibious operations from 1944 on to the end of the war, featuring a similar construction. A modern amphibious force incorporates an LHA, Tarawa class, or an LHD Wasp class as core and flagship. Two LSDs, frigates, destroyers and an Aegis-cruiser are normally added. USS Saipan is currently the core of Phibron 2. She sails together with USS Trenton LPD 14, USS Oak Hill LSD 51, USS Hue City CG 66, USS The Sullivans DDG 68 and USS Underwood FFG 36. Homeported in Norfolk, Virginia, the ship’s motto is Ready to Strike.
Modelling a well deck can be finger-twisting and has a lot to do with adjusting, aligning and test fitting. For two main reasons: the huge deck in 1/350 scale shrinks to mere 30 centimetres lengh, 9.5 centimetres wide and only 2.7 centimetres high between decks. And I wanted it to be visible.... 
Construction goes in basically four steps: sidewalks, middle complex, floor and ceiling-construction. If you like, you can add tanks and personnel as part five. Here we go-
First of all you draw some reference lines on the inside of the hull, port and starboard side. They mark the well deck’s height. This was followed by cutting the inner sidewalls from styrene-sheet. I used 1 mm basically throughout the well deck’s construction. Behind the inner sidewalls are walkways for the crew handling the landing craft. From stern to bow there are different stations marked to make orientation for the crews of landing craft and amphib-tanks easier. The walkways connect to the well deck via large oval openings that hat to be cut out next. I made a template to mark the positions and carefully started cutting out the ovals on port side. What a tedious job. So I tried another method on starboard side using an eight millimetre drill for the rounded sides of my ovals. It worked well in a split of time. Scratchbuilding really is a dynamic process.
Right under the oval openings I glued another strip of styrene sheet in a right angle to the sidewall, my walkway. The openings were detailed with railing from a generic GMM 1/350 photoetch fret, chocks (fairleads - for the British), and bollards. Two additional strips were cut as the walkways backwalls, detailed with fire hoses and doors from a GMM fret and 0.25 mm styrene rod as piping. Everything was airbrushed in Model Master Light Gull Grey, even lighted with white, as the well deck areas are in a very light grey, even white color. The fire hoses were painted red.
My Saipan is a real multimedia kit. I use plastic, metal, resin – and wood. The well deck’s inner walls are planked with wood to avoid damage from bumping LCU and tanks. This planking is about 0.5 millimetres thick in 1/350 scale. I used mahogany strips I had left from an historic ship project and glued them to the sides with superglue. I marked the plank structure with a hard pencil and painted some planks in white, orange, red or yellow according to photos of well decks I found on the US Navy’s official website.
And now I started to go nuts. Right above the wood planks is a line of mooring-eyebolts. Leave them off!! shouted a voice inside of me. Go ahead – do it!! whispered another. Well, there was this GMM-fret, I had used for my Trumpeter Liberty ship and there were lots of eyebolts left on it. Hmmm.... I started on one sidewall, in the evening, after a glass of wine or two – it worked! Three days later I had two sidewalls with wood covering and eyebolts.
Step two is the well deck’s middle construction. The Tarawa successor, the Wasp class, no longer has this partition, because without they can take more LCAC aboard. The partition’s plan view was easily taken from my plans, but the side view is a guess I got from several pictures from the USN homepage and from books, lacking correct plans of it. The partition is a simple built, constructed from various pieces of 1mm styrene sheet. After the basic construction everything was filled and sanded to shape and doors and hose reels from a GMM fret were added. Airbrushing in light gull grey lighted with white followed. The middle partition got its wooden planking too and there were even enough eyebolts left for further detailing. I set everything aside and headed on to step three:
The floor construction. The well deck floor extends for two thirds of the deck on an even level and following the way to the ships bow rises to a higher one. This rise is done by a ramp. The floor has the even structure typical of a steel deck and shows rails to tie the Marine-vehicles. The ramp has a rippled structure.
First I cut a floor plate, 1mm styrene, to shape and glued it into place. With a sharp pencil I marked the position of the tiedown rails and the partition. I glued down the rails, 0.25x0.5 mm styrene strips, just up to the ramp and painted the floor in gunship grey (Modelmaster). After the paint was dry I glued the sidewalls into place.
The rised part of the well deck’s floor got a substructure of 7x3 mm strips. The strips were set in a way that the middle construction was fitting tight in between the strips. I cut a piece of styrene sheet to shape and sealed that part of the floor. I added the ramps and lacking tiedown rails and painted everything in gunship grey.
If you want to take a look at the well deck later, one way will be through the open stern gate. Doing so, you would squarely look at a bare white or grey wall, because I will not go into further detailing the ships interior on that level. This annoyed me - but I found a way out. I looked for a picture that shows this part of the well deck looking forward and found one, just one, to be frank, on the US Navy’s website of course. I cropped a part of that picture using photoshop and with the help of my graphics program I mirrored and cut it to fit my well deck wall. Voila – a wallpaper. I glued it into place and now the view goes into distant compartments. Finally the middle construction was glued into place and I was ready for the ceiling.
There is a little catch waiting for you. The well dock’s side walls are connected with steel I-beams that carry the rails for the cranes that run under the ceiling. I had to find a way to mount the rails to the beams that afterwards had to be fixed between the siedewalls. As a solution I took a piece of transparent styrene and cut it to ceiling shape. This was laid onto the sidewalls. Then I marked the beam positions with an overhead marker from ABOVE. I cut the beams to size and glued them to my ceiling from BELOW. Checked the correct fit by laying the ceiling onto the sidewalls frequently. When everything fitted into place I took the ceiling and glued the crane rails to the beams from BELOW, using 0.5x0.5 profiles.
Now it was time to close the well deck, but I wanted to bring it to life before. I had already purchased some vehicles from Skytrex, a British company that provides our wargaming friends: AAVP7 amphib tanks, Bradleys and LAVs. I airbrushed them in a sand tone, gave them an umbra wash and highlighted the details drybrushing in a very light sand. I added about 25 figures from L’Arsenal and Preiser, painted as sailors and Marines. The personnel and vehicles were scattered throughout the well deck as if Marines were preparing for debarking. 
As a final step I installed the ceiling by glueing styrene strips from ABOVE and fixing the transparent ceiling that way and in the same way getting a substructure for the hangar bay – that is to follow as one of the next steps in this built.

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