Scratchbuilding 1/700 Scale Soviet River Monitor Udarnyi
by Vladimir Yakubov

One of the main lessons that young Soviet military learned from the Civil War was the importance of the river warfare.  Throughout the war rivers played a vital rove in supplying the armies and provided good defensive barriers and hence all sides of the conflict wanted to control them.  From the first days of the war the regular warships of the navy were being disarmed and their guns (often as big as 6" ones) were being placed on any suitable platform; usually non-self-propelled barges for the heavier guns or tugboats for the light an medium guns.  There was even a river aircraft carrier that consisted of a barge and a tugboat that carried 3-4 hydroplane fighters.  During the war there were several pitched river battles between whites and reds.  Interestingly enough the only purpose built large river warships of the Russian empire - eight Shkval river monitors didn't take part in the civil war as they were all captured by the Japanese in 1918.  During the Civil War they were either damaged or taken by the retreating Japanese to Sakhalin.  Yet by 1925 they were all returned and repaired.  And as it turned out just in time, in 1929 fighting broke out along the Eastern Chinese Rail Road (KVZhD) - Russian owned railroad that went through China.  Amur monitors formed a very mobile and heavily armed group that was instrumental in the fighting.  It proved to the Soviet government the necessity of building the river warships.

Soon after, in 1930, the first Soviet purpose built river warship, monitor Udarnyi, was laid down in Kiev on the Dnepr river under the project name SB-12.  The ship had a flat bottomed hull that displaced 385t with a small draft of only 82cm (due to the overload the design draft of 49cm was not reached).  The armor consisted of the 6-12mm plates that armored the parts of the ship against splinters and bullets.  The ship was heavily armed for a river warship - it carried two 130mm/55 caliber cruiser guns in the superimposed turrets in the bow.  Unlike the seagoing warships where most of the combat was broadside to broadside the river warships had no opportunity to do that an most of the combat was head on, therefore Soviet designers chose to concentrate their main guns in the bow.  The anti-aircraft armament included two turrets (designated 41-K) with twin 45mm/46 caliber 21-K AA guns and four quad 7.62mm Maxim machine guns.  Main fire control was provided by the 2.4m rangefinder in the armored cupola above the bridge and the AA fire control was done using 1.5m rangefinder on an open platform behind the bridge.  There was also a telescoping mast for the human observer to be able to see the fall of the shots.  The ship was powered by two 800 horse power diesels that gave it a top speed of 9 knots.  Overall the ship turned out to be too big for the rivers that it was designed to operate on (Dnepr and Pinsk rivers) and the artillery arrangement was also considered to be unsuccessful because it took too much space.  The follow up ships were about 2/3 the size and carried two 4" guns in a single turret with 360 degree field of fire.

Launched in 1931 and commissioned in 1934 it initially got assigned to the Dnepr flotilla the ship only operated on the lower parts of the river far from the borders of USSR, but in 1940 when Soviet Union occupied Bessarabia (then part of Romania), they got a piece of the Danube river to go with it.  It seemed to be the perfect place where to transfer the ships of the Dnepr flotilla since Poland, against which the flotilla was built to operate, didn't exist anymore anyway.  Udarnyi got assigned a flagship role as it was the biggest of the ships in the flotilla.  From the first hours of the war the ship participated in combat.  The beginning of the war in Bessarabia was not as disastrous as in Ukraine and Belorussia and for a month Soviet troops were able to successfully defend the area, even landing troops on the Romanian shore of the Danube in the first days of the war.  Udarnyi as the most powerfully armed ship of the flotilla was important in providing heavy long range fire in support of the defense of Izmail and prevented the Romanian troops from crossing the river in that area.  However by the July 19th the position of the defenders was untenable and the ships of the flotilla sailed down the river through the fire of the Romanian coast defense batteries and under the cover of the regular navy ships made a trip to Odessa.  There they were split up and some were sent back to Dnepr where they were eventually all destroyed (some in action and some blown up by their crews once the river was cut of downstream to prevent capture) while the others, including Udarnyi, were sent to the Nikolaev-Kherson-Ochakov area to prevent the Germans from crossing the shallow bay near the Tendra spit, which was the key to preventing them from shutting down ship traffic to Odessa which was surrounded and still fighting.  On 11 September 1941 the Germans broke through the front near Kakhovka and captured Ochakov, Nikolaev and Kherson cutting off the ships that defended the bay and the troops stationed on the Tendra spit.

On 19th September Udarnyi was covering the retreat of the Soviet troops behind the Dnerp river, shelling German troop concentrations near the village of Ivanovka.  In the morning the ship was covered by the fog, but by midday the fog cleared up and German dive bombers attacked the ship dropping 13 bombs.  By 1941 the anti-aircraft armament designed in 1931 was wholly inadequate and the ship that was unable to maneuver because of the shallow water was hit in the right machinery room and lost power. During the attack all of the anti-aircraft ammo was used up.  Without the ability to maneuver and unable to defend itself the ship was hit by a total of 11 bombs, one of which hit the bridge killing the captain and most of the officers and the other detonated the main magazines.  A total of 56 people were killed out of the crew of 74.

The ship was found by the divers in 1963 and explored quite extensively since.  It is sitting on an even keel in the 4 meters of water buried in the sand up to a waterline.  In 1983 one of the twin 45mm turrets, one of the main guns and a quad machine gun were raised and placed in the Odessa's History Museum.

Construction       click images
to enlarge
The Hull and Superstructure

After downloading the plans from the internet (the plans are available here, the article about the ship, in Russian can be found here) I shrank them to the correct scale and printed out about 6 copies.  I found that the easiest way to make the hull is to laminate the correct thicknesses of styrene sheet and then to glue the paper outline of the deck on it.  The hull had a forecastle that was lower than the main deck so I did the hull in two pieces.  First I cut out the lower part of the hull and then the upper part of the deck without the lower forecastle.  In both cases I used the printout glued to the deck as the guide to correctly cut out the shape of it.  I usually take the paper off after I cutout the part, but in this case the paper got glued to plastic so well that I decided to leave it on.  I covered it with thin superglue on the top of the paper and lightly sanded it to smooth out any imperfections.  It turned out to be a great idea as it provided a reference as to the location of the parts on the deck.

The hull is very simple basically a low flat sided rectangle, except at the bow where it curves.  The forward part of the hull has a step down and I built a bulwark around it using a thin piece of plastic that I fared in on the outside and thinned down in the inside.  Next thing I did was build the main superstructure pieces.  There was a low raise in the deck in the aft part of the ship above the engine room to fit in the engines, so that is what I did first by cutting out the rectangle from a 1mm thick styrene sheet and beveling the sides at 45%.  Next thing I did was add the small aft superstructure that was partially above the engine deck and fared it in to the engine deck as well.  Working toward the front I made the main superstructure by laminating several square styrene rods together to have a roughly correct dimensions and then cut it to shape.  Finally I added the barbettes that were done from 8.7mm diameter styrene tube.  All of these were smoothed and fared in using putty.  Unlike my usual practice I didn't paint the hull at this point but decided to wait until after detailing (more on this later).


Once the main pieces of the superstructure were done, it was time to detail the ship.  First I drilled the illuminators in the hull and the superstructure.  Then I added the hawse-holes for the anchors on the sides of the ship and for the chains on the deck.  Then I started the detailing, as I usually do, from the front of the ship backwards.  Various hatches and doors were made from pieces of PE hatches and doors.  The cable reels were done using pieces from one of Combrig's PE sets.  Capstans were made by lathing a plastic rod in the Dremel.  The ship had 33 mushroom shaped ventilation heads on the deck so I drilled the holes where they were supposed to be placed and then took a .01" thick plastic rod using a heated knife, made little mushroom head on the end of it.  After repeating the process necessary number of times I glued them into their holes.  In the aft part of the ship I drilled out the machine gun nests.

Once these details were complete it was time to work on the second level of superstructure.  The deck was done the same way as the main deck - by laminating the paper onto plastic and then cutting it out to shape.  The machine gun nests in the back were done from tube and sheet styrene building a box structure that was empty inside.  The bridge was done in the same way as the first level of superstructure - as a solid cube.  Pieces of superglue impregnated paper were used to make the armored window covers on the bridge and it was detailed using the various PE pieces from spares box.  The rangefinder platform was built using a hole punch and piece of the railing from the WEM's Askold PE set.  The searchlight was taken from a spares box.  The stack was lathed on the Dremel tool using the knife blade as a cutting instrument.



The most interesting feature of the ship are it's two large turrets with single 130mm guns each.  They were of the unusual construction with the large round plate covering a very large barbette and a small cupola that was reinforced with the stiffening ribs on the side.  It turned out the these turrets were the hardest things to scratchbuild in the entire build because of these ribs.  The bases were cut out from 0.01" styrene sheet using a compass with two needles.  The cupola was done from 1mm thick sheet styrene and was easy to do, but the ribs had to be rebuilt three times because they weren't coming out the way I wanted.  First time I built them using 0.01" thick styrene (see the first photo) but after they were primed they looked way too thick, so I decided to try to make them from piece of PE brass, to hold the brass securely I made groves in the gun cupola and them glued the brass strips into the grooves, but when I was shaping them into correct shape they got bent up and it was very hard to straighten out brass.  So finally on the third try I used superglue impregnated paper, this turned out to be just right.  The paper was thin, easy to shape and glued well to the turret.  The guns were made from hypodermic tubing and the blast bags were done from putty.

The 45mm AA turrets were cut out from the correct thickness of the styrene and shaped according the drawings.  The quad Maxim machine guns each had 10 parts.  The barrels were made from 0.01" thick plastic rod and the receivers were done from a block of plastic.  The gun sight and the handles came from 20mm guns from Combrig's PE set for one of the US WWII cruisers.  The frame was made from the a random piece of PE and the ammo boxes were once again done from a square piece of rod.  I used the 20mm Oerlicon stands from WEM for the MG stands.  The machine gun nests were done by lathing a piece of styrene tube in the Dremel and then cutting it in half and doing the flat front panels from pieces of styrene.


Masts and Boats

As usual the masts were done from the brass rod soldered together.  The ship had an interesting construction of the masts, there was a short regular mast to which the antennas were connected and then there was a telescoping crow's nest that could be raised up to coordinate the long range artillery fire but can be lowered to allow the ship to be able to pass under the river bridges.  To do the socket for the crow's nest I found the hypodermic tube which had the right internal diameter and used that.  The masts were glued on last so that they wouldn't get damaged during construction.  The rigging was done using pantyhose string.  The flag came from the decals of one of the modern Soviet warship sets by Skywave.

The boats are converted from other boats in the spares box. To make the cutter I took a regular row boat, glued the deck made from paper on it, made the seats. On the bottom added a PE screw and then added a little windscreen.  The row boat was done by cutting a bigger boat down to size and then using foil to simulate the canvas cover on top of it.  The davits were scratchbuilt and the boat skids came from a PE spares box.

Painting and Final Details

Initially the reason that I almost completely built the ship before painting was that I thought that it was all the same color (the deck and the sides), but what I was ready to paint I realized that the deck was actually black while the sides were medium grey.  So I painted the deck black but when I started masking it for painting of the sides, various pieces of the ship prevented me from doing a good job at it, so after painting grey I had a lot of overspray and had to virtually repaint the deck again.  After several levels of touch ups, the painting was finished and I did the wash using the stuff called "Black-It-Out".  It's a water soluble ink-like stuff that once dry I remove with a Q-tip and a stiff brush.  The final step was drybrushing with a lighter shade of grey.

Once the painting was done it was time to add the final details.  On the bow I built the anchor crane from brass rod and pieces of photoetch.  Because all of the PE chains that I found were too big for such a small ship, the anchor chains were done from a piece of the 0.01" styrene rod alternatively pressing the flat side of the knife blade on it at 90 degrees.  This was easy to do and looks convincing.  The ladders came from PE spares box  and the railings were from the Lion Roar's IJN Railing set.  The canvas covered railings on the superstructure were done by gluing the regular railings and then filling in the gaps with thinned white glue using capillary action.  Once dry it forms a thin film that can be painted and show off the shape of the railings underneath very well. Running light holders on the side of the bridge were done from pieces of PE from the spares box.

Weathering and the Base

The ship was weathered using pastels.  I used black pastels to simulate the soot from the exhaust on the stack and on the sides and rust colored pastels to simulate the rust streaks.

Since the ship is a river monitor it was important to to show that in the base, so to do that I decided to build a part of the river shore and show the ship close to it.  Also since the ship was traveling up the river, the water should be much calmer than in the sea, so I took special pains to smooth out the water surface, sanding it several times and using alcohol to dilute the paint so that the brush strokes would not be visible.  The alcohol also worked well for the wake - diluting it and giving it a watery rather than a painted on look.  However when the shore was done, it was still missing something - it was very empty, so I decided to populate it a bit.  I added the quay and the boat to fill in the empty space on the right, and the space on the left I filled in with brush from a railroad foliage set.  Once everything was finished, I covered the water with Future floor polish which also had a good effect of making the lower parts of the brush look wet.



It was a very neat an interesting project and a first scratchbuilt model that I finished (I started a lot of them :)).  I would recommend that anyone who wants to try their hand at sctachbuilding choose an easy model for their first try.  I really enjoyed the build and now plan to make an entire series of Soviet river warships.


The Ships of Vladimir Yakubov