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All Posts, Military History, Seaforth

Author guest post: Robert K. Liu


1. COMPARISON OF TWO 3D PRINTED AND TWO CAST METAL AMERICAN DESTROYERS, with the Winslow bought in 2007, the stock Mahan in 2022, while the Neptun Sumner and Superior Fletcher are older productions, slightly to heavily enhanced. The Sumner and Winslow are both late war DDs, with the latter having augmented emergency AA to counter suicide aircraft, swapping out 5” 38s for close range 40mm AA. These models range from 8.3 – 9.5 cm overall length. Photographs and modeling by Robert K. Liu.

I collect and work on small scale naval models of WWII naval ships because I am interested in their history, technology and how they are made. Having only discovered the excellence of Nordzee models late in my collecting career, I now want to know more about 3D printed resin models, as they have reached a very high level of accuracy, although my observations are based largely on the products of one maker, Nanomaquettes. Because Jörg Niehage had to cancel his Kassel show space this year due to the pandemic, he was able to offer some of his ship kits at a very reasonable price; previously, I had purchased his finished Ville de Oran. Since I had a number of US destroyers of mid to late war designs, this also provided an opportunity to discuss the evolution of these highly active ships of the war, and to contrast 3D printed vs cast metal models.

2. PAPERLAB VS NMQ 3D PRINTED DDs that are in a very smooth orange resin, with added Nylon masts and booms, as well as main battery gun barrels. The latter are much more scale accurate than 3D printed barrels, which have to be thicker for strength. The NMQs are designated kits; not sure what a finished model by Niehage would look like.
3. WINSLOW VS MAHAN, both 3D printed models, respectively from 2007 and 2022; they represent US DDs from 1944/45 vs 1940s. Both the quality of the 3D printing and the armament, electronics of these ships are very different.

I bought two 1940s US destroyers, the Farragut and Mahan, as seen in these orange resin 1:1250 models, finished except for yards on the masts. Due to the sophisticated printers that he uses, these resin models display extremely fine detail, so that structures are scale accurate, except possibly barrels of mgs, although since early shipboard 0.50 caliber mgs were water-cooled, their barrel diameters might not be that far off (Figs. 1-8). Even navigation rangefinders are shown on the bridges. The crispness of details when compared to cast metal models is very noticeable, especially with fine deck supports, ladders and boat handling equipment. As far as I can see, there are no printing artifacts like stairstepping, as in earlier generations of 3D printed ships. Instead of metal wires, he uses Nylon for masts, booms and gun barrels. Until 1942, US destroyers did not mount radars, so the only details I added were yards, which at that time, some were asymetrical. On one model, the mast was replaced by thin copper wire, as the Nylon was too flexible to work with. It is harder to glue yards onto Nylon, using cyanoacrylic glue, perhaps due to the very smooth surface of this plastic.

4. NMQ DD MAHAN DETAIL, still in its shipping box, showing bridge, tripod mast, forward 5” 38s, twin .50 caliber water-cooled mgs on platform aft of B turret. Note the very fine detail, like the ladders, funnel and associated pipes, searchlight platform and Nylon masts. Even the navigation rangefinders are shown on the bridge. None of the fine structures are distorted, which occurs sometimes with cast metal models, due to casting defects or being damaged during removal from the mold.

Having ended WW I with a large fleet of newly-built flush deckers, the US Navy did not really design and build new destroyer classes until the mid 1930s, with the Mahan and Farragut representatives of this period. These ship models make a good starting point when we look at evolution of destroyer armament and electronics, with the Fletcher class a good mid-war example, and Sumner/Winslow models marking late war ships. 

5. DETAILED STERN VIEW OF DD MAHAN, note the fineness of the propellor guards, depth charge rails, cutter booms and Nylon 5” 38 gun barrels. Since 3D printed models are built from the bottom up, there are no problems with having undercuts or delicate structures, since the models do not have to be released from a tight mold. This means a considerable savings in finicky labor. The use of Nylon main battery guns results in both scale accuracy and increased strength for the barrels, a weak point in cast metal models.
6. PAINTED AND DETAILED MAHAN/FARRAGUT DDs, each with five 5”38s but differing in number of torpedoes, foremasts, yards, number/method of mounting the mgs and ship’s boats and booms. Mahan has a searchlight platform but no crow’s nest. No sanding or washing of the 3D cast was necessary before they were sprayed with a Rustoleum auto primer. These models are not yet completely painted, as I could not locate the running lights, which may be located under the bridge wings or on a bridge support.

Since Japan was likely the future opponent, US ships were designed with the vastness of the Pacific in mind, with a concentration on gun and torpedo armament. Fortunately, the Navy early on settled for the 5 inch 38 as the main gun battery for destroyers, capable of both surface and aerial gunnery, thus dual purpose or DP. When combined later with the Mk 37 gunnery director and the VT/proximity fuse, this combination resulted in perhaps the best destroyer gun of WW II. These guns were mounted as singles or duals, in light turrets forward, with aft guns often in half-turrets to save top weight or without any protection at all, as seen in Mahan and Farragut (Figs. 5, 6).

7. DETAILED NMQ FARRAGUT, with missing boat boom replaced by 28 gauge copper wire, while the yards were 32 gauge plated iron wire. The crow’s nest is bamboo. Gluing onto the Nylon mast requires finess, as this material does not react quickly with cyanoacrylic glues. Sometimes , I had to let gravity help in the gluing process, turning the model on its side so that a yard would hang straight until the glue set. Note the asymmetrical yards on foremast and mainmast.
8. FARRAGUT AFTER SPRAY PAINTING, resulting in a very attractive model, although I have not yet painted running lights, ships’ boats or waterline. The barrel of X-gun was missing; when I replaced it with Nylon, my nipper was not sharp enough, resulting in a squashed vs clean cut, so the barrel tip is flared. Note only forward guns have shields, with mid-ship/aft guns bare, to save topside weight. The close range AA is limited to 2 forward water cooled 0.50 caliber machine guns in front of the bridge, virtually useless against aircraft of WW II.

However, close range guns/AA were weak in early war DDs, consisting of water cooled 0.50 caliber machine guns, as was British practice. It was not until enough 20mm and 40mm AA became available did US destroyers have more adequate AA protection. According to analyses by the US Navy, it took almost 12,000 rounds to down an aircraft with .50 cal, vs half that for 20mm and only about 1700 rounds for a 40mm gun (Liu 2014).

9. EARLY, MID-WAR AND LATE-WAR USS DDs, of Neptun Sumner with full torpedo and main gun battery of 3 dual 5” 38s, Rezmet Davis with B turret replaced by 40mm, and C turret with single 5” 38, instead of duals. Mastered by the late John Youngerman, this model is unfortunately bowed. Detailed Superior Fletcher, a mid-war DD, before more additions to mast. Clydeside Fletcher, cleaned up and equipped with radar; only one dual 40mm, 8 20mm. Paperlab Winslow has emergency AA augmentations, bristling with 16 40mms and only 2 20mms. Two orange resin models are NMQ Farragut and Mahan, before any alterations, with Nylon masts, booms, main gun battery barrels, good examples of early war US DDs.

While US destroyers carried heavy 21 inch TT loads, our torpedoes functioned poorly until fairly late in the war, and were never as powerful as the 24 inch Long Lance torpedoes of the Japanese Navy. As the war progressed, with fewer opportunities to undertake torpedo attacks, and the aerial threat of kamikazes increased, TT tubes were landed so more medium and light AA guns could be installed, as was the case also with US PT boats, which switched from torpedoes to become gun ships, to attack smaller craft like Japanese landing craft. As sinkings and damage from suicide aircraft increased, even main battery guns were landed to add more 40mm AA, deemed the best for downing
such aircraft, as seen in USS Winslow, which replaced B turret with a quad 40mm and the dual-gun C turret with a single 5”38 turret, to save top weight and increase stability. Such measures still provided 5 main battery guns, like early DDs and even Fletcher class DDs, although Sumner and Somers class DDs carried these guns in fewer turrets.

10. PAINTED AND DETAILED NMQ FARRAGUT, with added yards, crow’s nest; note some yards are asymetrical. NMQ models are finely detailed and readily accept paint without sanding or cleaning. The orange glow under some decks are areas where the paint did not cover entirely. Also, no running lights have been painted, as I do not know their locations and the insides of ship’s boats need to be painted.

In comparing the AA armament of the 3D printed Mahan of 1940 vs the Winslow of 1944/45, the difference is startling. Both retain the same number of 5” 38s, Winslow having 3 gun mounts vs 5 for Mahan, with 4 mgs for the 1940 DD, and 3 quad, 2 dual 40mm for the Winslow. The Rezmet Davis, a Somers class DD, had a similar upgrade. This equates to an enormous difference in throw weight of the shells, in addition to that provided by the numerous single 20mm guns, which were often replaced by duals in 1944/45. Even with such formidable AA, American destroyers in the Okinawa and Philippine campaigns suffered enormous damage and losses to kamikaze aircraft. Between October 1944 and the end of the war in 1945, 42 US ships were sunk by suicide aircraft, which included 25 DDs sunk and 95 damaged (Liu 2014). One can only imagine how poorly US destroyers would have performed if they did not upgrade their AA and radar.

11. LATE-WAR DDs WINSLOW AND SUMNER, both with twin gun main batteries; Winslow has emergency AA program augmented, with replacement of 5”38s with additional 40mm, especially to provide ahead fire in front of bridge. She now has 3 quad 40mm, 2 twin 40mm and 2 single 20mms. Sumner only has 2 quad 40mm, 2 dual 40mm and 10 single 20mms.

In comparison, British and Commonwealth DDs also used 20 and 40mm for close range AA, although their 40mm were either a combination of single, dual Bofors and often quad 2 pounder/40mm pom poms. No British DD appeared to have used the quad Bofors so favored by the US Navy. Japanese DDs used 13mm mgs, and predominately single, dual or three barrel 25mm AA. A few Japanese destroyers carried single 40mm, but these were not Bofors but antiquated pom poms. German DDs used 20mm and 37mm, possibly Norwegian produced 40mm Bofors. The quad Mauser 20mm was one of their most effective AA guns, much feared by Allied pilots.

12. CLYDESIDE AMD SUPERIOR FLETCHERS, at 175 in number, the Fletchers were the largest class of US DDs. The Clydeside was cleaned up, yard and radar added. The foreground Superior Fletcher, a gift from my son Patrick, was considerably detailed with yard, radars, associated electronics, a funnel antenna spreader, smoke dispensers on the stern, cleaned up guns and a bow staff. Recently, I added thin wire V-shaped antenna to the yard, which I believe represent TBS antennas. These are mid-war DDs, as neither has yet had close-range AA augmented, having only single 20mms.

While it is obvious that 3D printing now can produce very fine models, certain structures like yards, radars, other electronic devices and perhaps gun barrels still cannot be done easily by this production method. For larger scale ship models, PE extras can now result in ships of astounding detail. If producers of PE would provide more than radars for 1/1200-1/1250 ships, modelers could achieve more realistic electronics, like that on Sea Vee models, like the frigate in Fig. 13. I have added fine bent wires to the yard of a Superior Fletcher, to simulate TBS antenna, and also some other mast structures, to achieve the cluttered appearance of late war ships (Fig. 12).

13. BOW VIEWS OF WINSLOW, LOCH ACHANALT AND Z25, respectivley a Paperlab early 3D printed US DD, a metal cast Sea Vee British frigate and metal cast Neptun German DD. Note the use of photo-etch (PE) on the US/British models, especially the latter, which has the finest and most detailed PE, especially re the foremast, yard and electronics. Perhaps only detailed PE yards and associated gear like the Huff/Duff antenna by Sea Vee can really show the elaborate electronics of late war DDs.

Most of the mid- to late- war US DDs have radar, with SC and SG on the masts, and Mk12/Mk22 on the forward gun director, although I have not seen any use of the Navalis PE radar version, as it seems too large, being substituted with cast metal ones. Besides the increase in electronics, it is readily noticeable that our destroyers all increased in length and beam, to accomodate more weaponry, fuel, the range required for Pacific operations and resulting often in an increase in speed.


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2021 Naval Ship Models of World War II in 1/1250 and 1/1200 Scales. Barnsley, Seaforth
Publishing: 160 p.
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Order your copy of Naval Ship Models of World War II in 1/1250 and 1/1200 Scales here.