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USS/SS Leviathan 1914 by shipmodel - FINISHED - 1/200 - troop ship/ocean liner

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Hello to everyone who followed me from the SS Michelangelo build log.  I hope that you will enjoy this one as well. 


This is the first of what will be 7 models built over the next 4 years for the museum at the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings’ Point, NY.  It is a gem of a small museum, open to the public, well worth visiting for the history of the US merchant marine during war and peace, as well as dozens of beautiful and informative ship models.


This first model is of the most famous ship that I knew nothing about until I started this commission.  The USS/SS Leviathan was, in her day, the largest ship in the world and a major contributor to the allied victory in World War I.  Built in 1913 by Blohm & Voss Shipyards in Germany, she began service in 1914 as the SS Vaterland for the Hamburg-American Line.  Displacing 54, 282 tons she was 100 feet in breadth and 950 feet long, some 67 feet longer than RMS Titanic, yet her engines could push her along at a very respectable 26 knots.


After only one and a half trips from Hamburg to New York she found herself here in August when the war broke out.  She was interned by the USA, a neutral country at the time, and spent the next three years in Hoboken, NJ.   When America joined the war she was seized (stolen, the Germans say) and taken into the US Navy as a troop ship, renamed the USS Leviathan


As a troop ship she made a major contribution to the allied victory.  In her 14 round trips she carried over 100,000 soldiers to the front, and the same number back, some wounded, some with the Spanish flu, but most just glad to be going home.  On one return trip she carried over 12,000 troops plus another 2,500 officers, sailors and nurses, a total of over 14,500 souls aboard.


During her first transit she stopped off in Liverpool where she took on a coat of ‘dazzle’ camouflage paint.  Dazzle was developed by British marine artist Norman Wilkinson and used complex geometric patterns and contrasting colors to disguise the outline of the ship from German submarines and torpedo boats.  The scheme for the Leviathan was particularly bizarre, but seems to have worked, since she was never attacked.


After the war she was taken into the United States Lines as their flagship.  She was completely renovated by Gibbs & Cox, with little help from Blohm & Voss, who were still smarting at the seizure of their masterpiece.  Restored to her former splendor by 1923 she cruised from New York for the next decade before the newer, sleeker ships, the SS America and the SS United States, took her place.


As I mentioned in the Michelangelo log, my contract is to provide a model that reflects, on the port side, her dazzling appearance during the war, while the starboard side will show her civilian colors. Down the centerline things will get dicey, and there will be many puzzles and challenges along the way.  It should be an interesting trip.


Next, research and plans.


Be well



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So, your model will truly be a Leviathan, coming in at just under 5’, in length!  Is that correct - 1/16” to the foot?


This will be primarily an upstate build, no?


Well, I look forward to following this one, as the large scale affords you endless opportunities to add detail.  Although, I can’t help but wonder whether the museum has provided you with perameters on the level of detail they are interested in seeing and paying for, of course.

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I, too late, I see the chairs in front row are already taken by some popcorn addicts.

I will happily take a chair in the back row :)

Are you going to do the civilian colours 'as build' or those after the war? (I think I know the answer :))


The other dazzle-side was also rather bizarre


athene-6oqtfz546gwpcieec5u_layout.jpg.ad3b18fc1d0f881b2ee402fc05905728.jpg (the bundesarchiv has some, but not many pics of her)


Edited by amateur
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Hi Dan,

congrats to your new project, it sounds promissing and to be very interesting.  :)  

 I`ll definately be following along on your ride. 

I was a bit surprized that Marine Museum requirements for the scale to be 1:96 is obviously not a requirement for the first 7 waterline models any more, as you are planing to go for scale 1:200....., is that so ?

Good luck and all the best...



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As a teenager I enjoyed reading books about submarine rescue, and marine salvage written by Commander Edward Ellsberg, so when the Naval Institute Press published a biography of him (Salvage Man by John D. Alden) I bought it.


I learned that Ellsberg  had graduated from MIT’s Naval Constructor program and was assigned to the Boston and New York Naval Shipyards before becoming a diver.


While at New York he was lent to the United States Lines to investigate problems with Leviathan’s ventilation system- high temperatures and lack of ventilation in passenger staterooms.  He found that work done by Gibbs and Cox had restricted air flow.  He also found very high temperatures in areas of the boiler rooms.  In converting the ship from coal to oil fuel, Gibbs and Cox had provided inadequate forced draft.  Ellsberg’s report caused a squabble between Gibbs and Cox and the Navy but the changes that he recommended eventually corrected the problems.


Ellsberg’s project required that he travel on the ship and on one particularly rough passage a large crack appeared across the weather deck.  The crack’s origin was traced to square corners in ventilation trunk openings left by her German builders. Ellsberg directed repairs to this structure, kept quiet by United States Lines to preserve customer confidence in the ship.


This looks like a fascinating project.



Edited by Roger Pellett
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Count me in, too! Last year or the year before, I read through "A Man and His Ship", the biography of William Francis Gibbs, and in the book the Leviathan refit featured as a significant formative experience for him and for Gibbs and Cox. Excited to see what you come up with for your unique challenges of a wartime/peacetime combo model!

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Hi all, and welcome to this build log.  I am honored by the many excellent modelers who are in my audience.  


Marc - yes, she will be a big one, but skinny.  She will be exactly 57" long but only 6" max breadth.  This is in 1/200 scale.  In 1/192 (1/16"=1') she would be 59" long and 6 1/4" wide.  I chose the smaller scale so I could source the wood much more easily, and the 4% difference is not noticeable.  I did clear it with the powers that be.  I did the heavy woodworking of making up the lifts and shaping the hull in the upstate house, but she is now in the Brooklyn drydock with decks and deckhouses going up.  I will catch up the log with the construction at some point.


Jan- yes, the starboard side dazzle was also quite bizarre and I am a bit glad that I don't have to do both sides.  The civilian side will be the post-war colors of the United States Lines, since this is for the American Merchant Marine Academy museum. 


Nils - this museum has models in all sorts of scales.  I never heard of a 1/96 requirement.  If I had to build at that scale, the Leviathan model would be almost 10 feet long! Yeeesh !  Not only don't I have that kind of space in my city apartment, but I couldn't get it into the elevator after it was built.  The smaller scale is better.


Back soon




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9 hours ago, shipmodel said:

Hi all, and welcome to this build log.  I am honored by the many excellent modelers who are in my audience.  



Nils - this museum has models in all sorts of scales.  I never heard of a 1/96 requirement.  If I had to build at that scale, the Leviathan model would be almost 10 feet long! Yeeesh !  Not only don't I have that kind of space in my city apartment, but I couldn't get it into the elevator after it was built.  The smaller scale is better.


Back soon




Hi Dan,

sorry, and thanks for correcting here, I was only taking ref. to the information of member Maurice de Saxe (scale 1:96) some time ago......., and was a bit confused because otherwise it would turn out a monster ship in length !!!!



Regards, Nils

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  • 3 weeks later...


Hi to those of you who are following along, and those just looking in.  I hope to make this journey informative and enjoyable for all, as it has been for me.  Just hit the 'like' button if I am succeeding.  


The research for the project started, as with all my models of modern ships, by surfing what could be easily reached on the internet.  Wikipedia gave me the basic history that I summarized in segment one, along with a few photographs. 


I always look at the research notes and sources at the bottom of a wiki article, which led me to the photo archives of the Naval History and Heritage Command (www.history.navy.mil), also known as the Naval Historical Center.  This is a site maintained by the US Navy, and any of the photos that can be seen there are in the public domain.  Fortunately, they had over 200 photos of her taken mostly while she was a troop ship during WW I, including this shot of one of the 6-inch guns that were installed so she could defend herself. 


Another excellent site is NavSource Naval History (www.navsource.org), an organization of volunteers who put together histories and photographs of US Navy vessels.  Here there were many more photos, not just limited to those of her as a troop ship, but included those of her as the SS Vaterland before the war and as the SS Leviathan after the war.  However, many of the images are copyright protected and so I used them only for research. 


A wider net was cast by searching Google images under all three names of the ship and a flood of photographs were found.  Everything from high-resolution images of the liner’s deckhouse to low res blurry shots of the troop ship being filled with coal. 



Side branches led me to even more images.  One of those was to an image of the cover of a huge six volume set of books by Frank O. Braynard, a noted maritime historian, prolific author, and one of the founders of South Street Seaport museum and historic area New York. 


The books were available on the net, but for a minimum of $200 for the set.  Fortunately, the Merchant Marine Academy museum has a set, which I devoured.  Here I found many more photos that I had not seen before.  Unfortunately, the books had been produced in sepia-tone, and the images had lost some resolution in the process.  I scanned those that gave me viewpoints that I did not already have, converted them to greyscale and played with contrast and lighting to get as much information out of them as I could.


My final resource for images was a man I was introduced to by Professor Smith.  Richard Rabbett of Boston is a liner enthusiast, especially Leviathan.  He has studied her for years and has an impressive collection of artifacts, photos and knowledge.  He even moderates a Facebook group about the ship at  https://www.facebook.com/groups/ssleviathan/     He has generously given his time and advice to the project.  Even now I rely on him when there is a particular perspective or camera angle that I do not have.


From all of those I selected about 200 that cover just about every square inch of the exterior of the ship in as much detail as possible.  Some, like this aerial view, from Richard, are unique and had to be included, despite the long range and some resolution problems.   


Getting a good set of plans was less easy.  There are no complete ones that could be located either through a plans company or on the net, although some individual deck plans were found.  They were incomplete and some were poorly rendered.  I did find a good cross-section drawn by Gibbs & Cox during the conversion from troop ship to liner, but only a few deck plans.


Nor was there a full set in the Braynard books.  Some were printed on the inside covers, but they ran across the fold so some dimensions are questionable.  Some others are labelled in German, so they must be plans of the SS Vaterland, before two conversions, and could only be relied on for the general outlines of the decks.  Even the historian at Newport News Shipbuilding, where the last conversion took place, could not find a complete set, yet I know that it must exist, because Richard Rabbett has a set from the conversion.  But his are both too large and too fragile to flatten for a scan.  He took photos of them for me, but they would need a lot of work before they could be used to base a model on.


Nonetheless, I managed to assemble digital images of almost all of the deck plans from the waterline up.  They were dropped into Photoshop, cleaned up and cropped.  Then each one needed to be straightened out, since most were scans of paper plans which had warped over time.  A centerline was established and each warped segment of the plan was returned to center using the skew and distort functions of the program.  They were resized to the 57” LOA of the model and assembled vertically in one image.  I used the G&C cross section as my guide, and adjusted each deck plan to match it.  Ultimately, this is what I came up with.  It is highly reduced here, but it scans as 19,500 px by 27,000 px (119 megabytes) and would be 6’ x 9’ if printed full size.


This plan got taken apart and assembled into two ‘cutting plans’ for convenience, then taken to the blueprint service company where three sets were printed out. 


At the top of cutting plan 1 is what I call the ‘porthole plan’.  I took the plan for the exterior hull which I mirrored vertically so I would have the locations of every porthole, door and fitting on the hull, both port and starboard.  Small sections of the bow and stern were also included from which I made templates to help shape the hull.  Finally, I put together a triple image of the exterior plan, an exterior photo, and a plan view of the ship which I could easily consult during construction.


This process took several weeks, during which I also ordered wood, surfed the net for fitting and fixtures, and got the shop in the upstate house cleared and cleaned.  Next segment, we start cutting wood.


Till then, be well





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As if your modeling skills weren’t enough, your photo-shop skills are second to none, Dan!  It is amazing when you consider the deck to deck complexity of such a large vessel, that you can re-align all of that detail, and come up with a coherent set of plans.  That effort, alone, is invaluable to the community.


You are off to a tremendous start, here, Dan!

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Hello again and welcome to the next segment of the build.  In this one the hull block will be roughed out.


First, to determine what wood to order, I laid out the lifts.  Taking the profile view I adjusted it until it was exactly level, then drew in horizontal lines to divide the hull from the waterline up to the level of the working deck at the bow – D deck.


I started with a ¼” lift at the waterline and just below.  This will later be attached to the building board which will become the base for the ocean.  Four ½ inch lifts follow.  Each lift is labeled to show its thickness and the deck plan that will be used to rough cut each to the outline of the hull.   Above the fifth lift is another ¼” lift and then two upper layers that are tapered to account for the rise of the sheer at the bow.   


At the stern the lifts are similar, although the open working deck here is one level down, at the level of E deck.  There is a similar taper in a lift for the sheer.


The model was going to be just under 5 feet long, but basswood only comes in lengths of 2,3,4, and 6 feet.  I could have ordered 6 foot planks, but they are significantly more expensive and there would be a good deal of waste.  Instead, I pieced the hull together by alternating 2 and 3 foot lengths, staggering the joints from layer to layer.  I also only ordered a few pieces in the full 6 inch breadth of the model.  The rest were 3 inches wide and would be joined together in the construction process.


The plans for each lift were cut from the printed sheets and laid out on the wood.  A spray photo mount glue was used so they could be easily removed later.  For each lift the wood pieces were clamped together without glue and the plans were attached.  While still clamped in place the paper was cut along the joints.  Here are the first three lifts laid out in a somewhat confusing composite photo.  Hope you can understand it well enough.


The lifts were cut out along the perimeter of the plans, leaving them a bit oversize for later shaping.  The base waterline lift was left intact, but above that the lifts were hollowed by removing most of the interior wood.  I do this so that wood movement is minimized and the stresses have some where to go other than deforming the exterior shape.  Using the narrow planks meant that I had open access to the middle of the lift, so I could remove the wood with my band saw and did not have to drill, chisel, or rout it out.  Two bridges were left at the 2 and 3 foot positions along the lift for structural strength.  Here is the waterline lift with the next lift above it.


Each lift was glued to the one below with woodworkers’ yellow glue that was colored black with a few drops of acrylic paint.  They were individually clamped and secured, making sure that each was exactly on the centerline.  Here I have built them up to the last fully horizontal lift, which is also the last one that was hollowed.  I glued a penny to the center of the ship for luck.


The tapering lifts were cut to shape and planed to the proper profile.  When all were set a power sander was used to shape the hull.  Here at the bow you can see that tapered lift.  Using the black glue always gives me reference lines, no matter how much wood is removed.


At the stern the shaping was a bit more complex.  I did not have any cross-sections for this area from the plans, just the stern profile.  I used the photographs to refine the shape, setting them up on my laptop so I could look at them as I worked.  Even with all my planning I found that the first thick lift was too narrow in one spot, so a strip of wood was glued in and shaped to fill the gap.


Using the black glue also let me see the symmetry of the hull as it was being shaped, especially at the stern.  There is still a bit more refining to do in this shot, but it is getting close.


The issue at the bow is that Leviathan carried not only the usual two anchors on the sides of the ship, but a third larger anchor which ran out from the nose of the ship.  This meant that the bow flared out in a long diamond shape so there was room for the hawse hole.  This is a detail that cannot be seen on any of the plans, but only on the various photographs.


The location of the hole was carefully drawn on with the oval shape that the angled hawse pipe makes, and then carved into the excess wood that had been left at the bow.  The black glue that secured the narrow lift pieces together established an indelible centerline that I used to guide the shaping of the bow.


When the basic shaping was done I gave the hull a first coat of primer to show me where I needed more fairing and smoothing, some of which you can see.


Where I was satisfied with the shape the wood was given a coat of Minwax wood hardener.  I like this product because it dries quite hard and protects the cut and shaped edges from dings and nicks.  I only use it where I am very close to final shape because it is a bear to try to sand after it has set.  You can see from the darkened areas that I have only used it at this point on the edges of the hull block and the thin area above the rudder.


The hull block was built up in this way up to D deck plus the forward portion of the deckhouse of C deck.   Although I cut out the shapes of the decks and deck houses up to A deck, they were left rough but stacked in place to give me an idea of future work to do.  So here is the model at this point in front of the triple image.


Next time, plating, rivets, and portholes.


Be well




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Hello again all.   Here is the next segment, posted quickly since I will be leaving for the NRG conference in Las Vegas tomorrow morning.  Hope to see some of you there.


Now that the hull block has been shaped and primed, I had to decide how detailed I wanted to make its surface.  From a distance – even by modeling standards – the liner hull is a fairly undifferentiated black.  The troop ship hull is a riot of colors and shapes.  In both cases I believe that I could have left the surface fairly clean without compromising the educational value of the model to the museum.  However, that is not my way, as anyone who knows my mania will tell you.


The hull was built up out of steel plates that appear to be about 8 feet tall and 25 feet long.  The upper strakes overlap the lower ones, so there is a step up with each successive plate from the hull to the sheer.  Judging from the shadows that they cast, the plates appear to be about 1 inch thick.


These plates were attached with rows of rivets along their bottom edges and through the overlapped plates of the strake below.  They were secured to each other along the same strake with narrow vertical connector plates that covered the joints and were riveted to both plates.  I resolved to replicate this look as best I could.


Extra-high resolution photos showed that the plates were also secured with a number of lines of rivets in the middle of the plates.  This was a step too far for me, but perhaps I will attempt it if I do another hull where I have more building time.


I started with 0.005” styrene sheet, which scales out to 1 inch thick.  The sheet was cut to 6 inches wide, which scales out to 100 feet, or 4 full sized plates.  To make the lines of rivets I butted the edge of the sheet against a straight metal rule which had been taped down to a cutting mat.  A second rule was placed on top of the sheet and adjusted so it was parallel with the first, then it was clamped in place.  The shaft of a Dremel circular saw bitt was slipped into a hole in a piece of scrapwood so it could spin, then rolled along against the edge of the top rule.  This left a line of indentations pushed down into the soft cutting mat.  The top rule was moved out and a second line of indentation was made, then a third.  Then the sheet was placed in a wooden cutting jig and a ½” strip parted off with the triple line of rivets along one edge.


To keep the lines of rivets consistently spaced from each other, and from strip to strip, I made up a quick rivet spacer with three steps.


The end result was a plating strip with three parallel rows of bumps that were close enough in scale to approximate the real rivets.


These strips were applied to the hull block from the waterline up, following a series of drawn lines that matched the lines of plating strakes seen in the photographs.


At the bow they ended before the edge of the stem.  In the photos these areas do not have rivets and look to have been welded.  The drawn circle is the future location for the housed anchor.


At the stern the strakes fair upwards and taper slightly to cover the complex curves and to match other photos.


The connector plates were made from ¼” wide self-adhesive copper foil on a paper backing.  This is available from any stained glass supply company in every width up to a full half inch in 1/32 inch increments, so the right one can be found whatever scale you are working in.  A 5 inch length was cut off the roll and 4 lines of rivets impressed from the back through the paper and into the mat.


Short lengths of the riveted foil were cut off and applied to the plating strips.  They covered each joint between strips and then in a staggered pattern to define the individual plates.


Some of the copper plates had to be adjusted forward or aft, but I could set up a pretty regular pattern that never had one joint directly above another.


The developing pattern clearly defines the curved sheer of the ship.  I left the uppermost strake off at this point because the final strake will be thicker and will incorporate the solid bulwark around the open deck.


Here is the starboard side for the liner with all the plates and connectors applied.  The port side was done the same way.  Without counting precisely, I estimate that there are over 200,000 “rivets” on the model.


The port side was sealed with another coat of dark grey primer and the lines of portholes located according to the photos and plans.  These were drawn on the hull and adjusted as needed to make smooth, fair curves that matched the plating strakes.  Then the “porthole plan” from Cutting Plan 1 was cut along the line of one row of portholes and taped to the hull so I could get the location of each porthole.


Here you can see the process in one view, from the bottom up.  1) the lines were drawn; 2) a small nail was used to make dimples at each porthole location; 3) a hole was drilled at each dimple that was deep enough to accept the shaft of a small brass grommet; 4) the holes were painted with white glue and the grommets slipped in; 5) any grommets that were out of line were corrected and they were all tapped down flush.


At the bow you can see how the lines of portholes relate to each other and to the stowed anchor and a pair of auxiliary hawse holes.


In the midships area there are two sizes of portholes, some of which are set in a square pattern of four.


By actual count there are more than 2,500 portholes on the model.  Inserting them individually into their proper holes aggravated a carpal tunnel-like problem that I get, which my doctor calls “porthole thumb”.   It requires a somewhat painful cortisone injection to the base of my right thumb, but it does clear up.   So here is the troop ship port side with all of its portholes set up almost to the sheer. 


After the starboard liner side was done the hull was basically complete, and I turned to some of the detail work on the bow and stern working decks.  I will post that when I get back from Vegas.


Till then, be well.



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Excellent project! Your method of plating the hull caught my interest.


I will soon be working to plate a 1:96 scale hull for a Cleveland class cruiser. I am fortunate to have the blueprints (hull plate thickness) and 81 pages of mold loft offsets that give the shell sight edges (positions of the edges of each hull plate) to work from. But I have been wondering how I would make the individual plates and all the rivets - very similar to the Leviathan's hull construction, including the backing plates with lots of rivets. I think your choice of styrene is a good one, but I may make the upper strake with 0.003" and 0.005" brass because it rises above the main deck edge about 0.050" in places and I'm afraid very thin styrene would be too fragile.


Did you rely on the adhesive backing on the copper strips (backing plates) or did you use another glue? I have used the copper strips before and I am not confident that the adhesive will remain sticky years down the line.


I'll be following your build.



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