USS Monitor
Union Navy Turret Ironclad

MikroMir. 1/144th scale. Injected Styrene
Reviewed by Devin Poore, August 2020

There's not a lot to say about the USS Monitor that hasn't been written and re-written a hundred times over the past century and a half. So, a brief summary. Approved as one of the ironclads meant to counter the then-building CSS Virginia, Monitor was built in 100 days (101 by some sources). Designed to ride low in the water, her armored turret was the only major feature rising above the waterline. She fought CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads on 9, March, 1862, after which she remained in the area, patrolling, waiting for a rematch with Virginia that never occurred. After the fall of Norfolk to Union troops, which saw Virginia scuttled to avoid capture, Monitor participated in the drive up the peninsula, culminating in the battle of Drewry's Bluff, an engagement which gave the first indications that dual-gunned, slow firing monitors were not the best suited platforms for reducing fortifications.

After a few upgrades and refits to the ship, including a new pilot house, stacks, and bullet shields for the top of her turret, Monitor was dispatched to Charleston, to assist with the blockade and planned assault on the city. While en route under tow, she sank in a storm on the night of 31 December, 1862. Her wreck was discovered in 1973, and initial video documentation of her state and the recovery of several small artifacts occurred in 1977. After many years of planning, larger parts of Monitor have been recovered, starting with her propeller in 1998, her engine in 2001, and her entire gun turret in 2002. These artifacts are either on display, or still in the process of restoration, and can be seen at the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Virginia, mere miles from where she fought CSS Virginia in 1862.

The overall length of the model comes out to 14 1/16". There are several measurements given for the LOA for the actual Monitor, the most popular being 179' as this was based on the drawings and the approved proposal. Several sources, however, list her as being 173' long. Using the initial 179' measurement, the kit scales out small, actually to 1:153 scale. If using the 173' measurement, however, the LOA should be 14.4", which is pretty close to the 14.06" of the kit, and the full size 20' turret should be 1.66" in 1/144th scale, which is almost exactly the kit's size. 

The deck is split into two pieces, fore and aft, as is the lower hull. Based upon my observations of other MikroMir kits, I believe their injection molding machines can only produce up to a certain size of parts, which necessitates this split. This is a short-run kit, so there are no tabs or locator pins on any of these pieces. The builder will need to take their time, dry-fit everything once or twice, and figure out the best method for assembly. A quick dry-fit of the parts reveals a decent mating for a short-run kit, but care will be needed to minimize any seams. The ship's hull sides are split into eight pieces, four per side. Again, a challenge to get lined up properly and not lose any of the flush-bolt details in the armor plates. My initial take is that assembling the deck first, flipping it over, then assembling the hull sides to it, and then adding the lower hull, would be the best angle of attack. That may not prove to be true under actual practice, though. Like I said: dry-fit and test.
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The other styrene parts in the kit are on three sprues; one larger with the gun turret roof and deck, and a smaller one, of which there are two, with the rest of the pieces. The main focus of Monitor is of course her gun turret, and here you'll find it, albeit in four pieces. How these four pieces will fit together for a finished product is difficult to say. Any seams requiring filling on the turret will need great care to avoid damage to the raised bolt detail. The same can be said for other components molded in multiple parts: Dahlgren guns are molded in two halves, the propeller is in five pieces, the gun carriages in three pieces, etc. 

The largest sprue contains the turret roof and floor pieces, with decent detail. Also on this sprue is the recessed well that fits into the lower hull for screw clearance, and the pilothouse. The pilothouse is worth a mention, as it's the later, slope-sided variety. This was a modification done to Monitor after the battle of Hampton Roads, and as such, this kit can't be built out of the box in her battle configuration. The good news is, though, that the stacks (actually called chimneys at the time) are for that same later fit, so if you want to build Monitor in a mid-to-late 1862 appearance, you're good to go.

The duplicate smaller sprues have everything else for the build, including the ship's boats, stacks/chimneys, ship's rudder and screw supports, and the turret interior details. Everything in the kit is well molded, the detail is sharp, but there is a bit of flash here and there that should be easy to clean up.

A small sheet of photoetch is included, which includes some nice details that would have likely been oversized in styrene. The majority of the brass is for the two ship's boats: floor boards, seats, rudders and anchors. Also included on the brass sheet are hand wheels for the gun carriages, and a ladder for the side of the turret.

Also included is what appears to be a pedestal base. It's only referenced in the instructions by way of showing the base, part #61 and the verticals, parts #29, in the parts diagram. Fortunately, it's easy to deduce how it should go together, and it's a nice touch, even if the instructions don't mention it in the assembly sequences.

Instructions are on 6 pages, front and back, on folded 8.5 X 11" paper. The first page is all text, which I assume is a history of Monitor, yet it's in a language I don't read. The next two pages are a parts diagram, showing everything that comes in the box, with the following 6 pages showing the assembly sequences in exploded detail. The final page is a color profile of the ship. They're not fancy instructions, but they contain everything you need to build the model.
American Civil War warships are not widely represented in the modeling world. The vast majority of what is available are resin kits, so this injection molded entry is most welcome. Being short-run, there are things to be aware of for those less experienced modelers; the lack of locator pins and the split deck and hull sections will result in some noticeable seams if extra care isn't taken during assembly. The modeler also needs to keep in mind that one can not build Monitor as she appeared at Hampton Roads from this kit, without modifying the pilot house to the original square structure without the sloped sides. With the way the deck is molded to accept the included pilot house, it'll be difficult to backdate this and keep the armor plating and bolts consistent, but I'm confident it can be done with some work.

Highly recommended.

Thank you to Tracy White for sending this kit my way to take a look.