Combrig Models
1/350 USS Helena PG-9

Reviewed April  2017
by Martin J Quinn
USS Helena (PG-9) was a Wilmington-class gunboat of the United States Navy. She participated in the Spanish–American War, then served in the Far East for many years. The (PG-9) was the first of five Navy vessels named after the capital city of Montana.

The gunboat was launched by the Newport News Shipbuilding Co., Newport News, Virginia, on 30 January 1896. And she was sponsored by Agnes Belle Steele, daughter of the mayor of the city of Helena; commissioned at the New York Navy Yard on 8 July 1897, with Commander William T. Swinburne in command.

Helena served in the Spanish-American War (in Cuban waters), then set sail post-war to the Philippines, where she served in the Philippine-American War, the American attempt to quell the rebellion the grew out of American annexation of the islands. 

Post-conflict, Helena stayed in the Far East for the balance of her career, spending time in China and again in the Philippines, before being decommissioned in 1905.   Recommissioned in 1906, she served on the Asiatic Station off and on until May, 1932, when she was decommissioned for the last time.   She was sold July 7, 1934. 

For further information, check out her Wikipedia page here:

The Combrig Helena

Helena is packaged in a stiff, white cardboard box, with a photo of the real vessel on the box top.  Inside the box is the upper and lower hull, a bag of over 60 parts and a photo-etch fret in a plastic bag, all secured with packaging peanuts.   This was one of the better packaged kits I've received from Combrig.   However, the small parts were all still jammed into the same bag, and did suffer from some breakage. 

Being a rather small ship, there aren't a lot of parts to this kit. 

The hull is a two piece affair.   According to the measurements I found for Helena, the hull scales out pretty much perfectly in both beam and length.   The upper hull is very well cast with good detail. There is sharply done planking, and nicely cast bitts and other details.  There is also nice detail around the shields for the hull mounted gun ports.   The vents on the deck are especially fine, and there is a small structure on the aft quarterdeck, which probably covers an inclined ladder going down into the ship, that has sharply cast windows. 

The portholes have depth and appear to line up.   At first I thought there was a slight 'wave' in the row of port holes under the quarter deck on each side of the hull, but looking at photos, that is the way the port holes are arranged.   When laid on a flat surface, the hull does appear to have the slightest bend in it - if you hold the stern down, the bow lifts up, and visa versa. 

The lower hull has no casting defects.  There is some flash you will have to remove in two openings on the centerline, which is where the two rudders are located, if you are building your Helena full hull. 

A resin wafer is included in the box. This is where you will find all the superstructure platforms, as well as the platforms for the military masts, the top of the pilot house and a few other platforms and structures. The platforms have nice planking detail.  The wafer is fairly thin and the parts should be able to be sanded free easily. In fact one part has already come off the wafer. 

There is a large, long, thin funnel, which is cast with the top open.  There is no other detail cast on the funnel, outside of the lip around the top. 

The bottom of the military mast is a large part, which is expanded at the top into what almost looks like a spotting top.  This area has windows in it.  The windows are all recessed with crisp edges. 

There are a 6 boats included with the kit.  All are up to the usual Combrig standards, which means they are well cast.   The launch has a separate engine and funnel and a propeller strut cast to the bottom of it. 
The rest of the parts include guns, cowl vents of various sizes, rudders, props, struts, anchors, capstan and various other parts.    There were a few broken parts in here.  What isn't broken is very fine and sharply cast. 
There is a small photo etch set with the kit.  It includes davits, braces, inclined ladders, the bow scroll, funnel cap, doors, boat chocks and many other little parts.  There is no relief etching.   There are no masts included with the kit, but, as per usual Combrig practice, there are drawings showing dimensions of the masts and yards.    There are also no railings.   As with previous reviews, my sample had two photo-etch sets.  Perhaps this is now standard Combrig practice. 
The instructions are typical Combrig fare. There are three sheets of paper, with instructions on all but one side. Along with a plan and profile view of Helena, there is a page cataloguing the parts, another with some sub-assemblies and two pages of exploded views showing where to place the parts.

There are no color callouts or painting instructions, but the box would seem to indicate a white hull with buff upperworks.   Instructions continue to be one of the weaker parts of Combrig's kits. 

This is a very nicely cast kit of a lesser known ship that was consigned to serve in the backwaters of the expanding American Empire at the turn of the 20th Century.  It's small size and small part count may make this a good candidate for those who want a change of pace from larger kits, or those who are looking for a good starter resin kit.   My only two complaints are the packaging and the instructions, two areas which Combrig needs to improve.  Otherwise, this kit is highly recommended, especially for fans of small combatants, and/or fans of the Great White Fleet era!

This is Combrig’s 1/350 USS Helena (PG-9), kit number 3552.  The model lists for $89.95 and is available from many of our fine sponsors. This is an in-box review, your mileage may vary once you commence construction.  Thanks to Combrig Models for the review sample.