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Liberty Ship SS Stephen Hopkins - BlueJacket Shipcrafters - 1/192 scale While mulling over what kit to select for my next build I was giving some thought to taking a break from warships and BlueJacket’s Liberty ship kit caught my attention because of the amount of rigging on it: Although I never served on any type of cargo or replenishment ship I figured “How complicated can it be?” Doing some photo research I came across the next photo of BIG CHAINS hanging from the masts of the SS John Brown and realized there is a lot I don’t know about cargo rigging and that this might be a good way to learn about it so I will be building BlueJacket’s kit of the Liberty ship SS Jeremiah O’Brian, which is still operating in San Francisco (BTW, I eventually found out that the chains are called Bull Chains). The next decision was what Liberty ship to model. With over 2700 Liberty ships built between 1941 and 1945 there is an embarrassment of ships to choose from but after a little research the choice was obvious. Although the Stephen Hopkins had a very brief life, being sunk on her maiden voyage, she would be a contender in any contest to name the greatest fighting ship in American history, despite being an “SS” vice a “USS.” It’s an amazing story, one that I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t pick up on. So I won’t be taking a break from building warships after all . . . You can read her full story at http://www.armed-guard.com/hoppy.html, but in brief, after fitting out in San Francisco as one of the earliest Libertys, the Hopkins crossed the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, steaming alone and entered the South Atlantic where on 27 Sep 1942, in low visibility, she encountered at the range of about a mile two ships laying to. The ships turned out to be the heavily armed German raider Stier and the blockade runner Tannenfels. With a crew of 340, six 6-inch guns, torpedoes and numerous smaller caliber weapons the Stier had the armament of a light cruiser, in fact ten months earlier the similarly armed raider Komoran sank the cruiser HMAS Sydney off the West coast of Australia, although the Komoran was sunk also. The Stier opened fire immediately and the Hopkins’ Master decided to fight it out rather than surrender as most ships in her position would have done. The Hopkins’ single, obsolete 4-inch gun was moved by hand cranks and manually loaded but her Naval Armed Guard had been practicing at every opportunity and it began to show. The Hopkins quickly knocked out the Stier’s steering and repetitive hits along the waterline soon caused fires to break out in the Stier’s engineering spaces and she went dead in the water, as the Hopkins did too, with her boilers disabled. Both ships continued to drift and fight at about a thousand yards distance, like something out of the War of 1812. The heavy firepower of the Stier began to tell and after about 20 minutes the Hopkins was afire and sinking with two-thirds of her crew of 55 dead. Engineering Cadet Edwin O’Hara, from the US Merchant Marine Academy, made his way to the 4-inch gun after the engineering spaces were abandoned. He found the gun crew dead and the magazine destroyed but was able to locate 5 loose shells and single-handedly fired them at the Stier just before before he was killed. Nineteen survivors from the Hopkins managed to launch the one undamaged lifeboat. Meanwhile the Stier’s crew was unable to control the fires spreading out of the engine room and she had to be scuttled. Her survivors were recovered by the Tannenfels, who made no effort to aid the Hopkins survivors. Under the command of the 3rd Engineer and without any charts or navigation instruments except a compass the Hopkins’ boat set out to cross the Atlantic to Brazil. Amazingly enough they made it 30 days later with 15 men still alive. The ships were built in 18 purpose-built yards, which themselves were constructed in remarkably short time, turning mudflats into complex shipyards in just a few months. Locations of the yards were based on available manpower, however untrained, and political considerations to “spread the wealth” of government contracts across the coastlines. The Libertys were based on the then yet-to be built British “Ocean” design that was, in turn, based on successful coasters. The goal was to design a ship that was both inexpensive and quick to build, simple enough in design that inexperienced shipyards and workers could build them, that could make 11 knots and carry a significant amount of cargo. They departed from the British design in that they were largely welded, most of the accommodations were in a large deckhouse, rather than divided among the foc’sle, midships and aft.. Their boilers were water tube vice Scotch, and were oil-fired rather than coal. Without having to accommodate coal bunkers they could be fitted with heavier masts rather than king posts. Although by 1941 the advantages of turbines over reciprocating steam engines were well known, the technical skill required to build turbines was much greater and the small number of plants capable of producing them were all dedicated to warship construction so the decision was made to go with reciprocating engines. The Ocean design was further simplified to minimize the amount of curved plates in the hull and wherever possible bulkhead penetrations for piping were avoided by running them outside the skin of the ship. Cost saving measures included waiving a large number of US regulations related to Merchant ship safety, comfort and, ominously for the Hopkins, fireproofing. The ships had little in the way of forced ventilation and had the reputation of being hot and uncomfortable in most climates. Although the building time varied between shipyards , the common trend was that as they gained experience the time required to complete the ships steadily dropped. The first few could take up to 5 months to launch, although most only required a few weeks. The record was set by the SS Robert E. Peary, while admittedly a publicity stunt involving a lot of pre-fabrication and unlimited manpower, required only 4 days, 15 hours from keel laying to launch. By the end of the war an average of 3 Liberty ships a day were being launched. If you are interested in learning more about the Liberty ships this URL will take you to a decent study produced by the American Bureau of Shipping: https://www.eagle.org/eagleExternalPortalWEB/ShowProperty/BEA%20Repository/News%20&%20Events/Publications/WorkhorseOfTheFleet and this one will take you to a one-hour, color, wartime documentary film about the ships and the shipyard in Richmond, CA where the Hopkins was built: https://archive.org/details/cubanc_00004# I'll be using the following references: SS John W. Brown, a working Liberty ship berthed in Baltimore. Although she has some modifications from her conversion to carry troops and as a school ship in NYC she is still in remarkably good condition and largely unchanged from her WWII days. I was able to spend a few hours onboard, take a lot of photos, and watch the cargo booms at work. She takes day trips from ports along the East Coast. A Call to Arms by Maury Klein. Although the book covers the entire US WWII industrial mobilization, the chapter on shipbuilding is well done. Ships for Victory by Frederic C. Lane. Thank God I was able to get this from the library rather than spend any money on it. If 900+ pages of meeting by meeting and memo by memo descriptions of bureaucracy at work excites you then this is your book. Even while skimming it I was worried that I would pass out and then drown in the puddle of my own drool. The book provided some insight into the welding problems encountered in the early program but that was about it. Websites devoted to the SS John W. Brown, SS Jeremiah O’Brian, and SS Hellenic Victory all have extensive onboard photos to help with details 5) http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/policy/army/fm/55-17/ch3.htm is a webpage that has extensive info on cargo rigging, it will be my primary reference for rigging. In the next post I’ll give an overview of what comes in the kit