The first task was to assemble the hull, decks, and superstructure. A signature feature of the Revell’s 1/720 scale ship kits was snap apart hulls split at the waterline so you could change the display from waterline to full hull and back again. As a kid I thought this was pretty cool, but this time around I chose not to use the feature, so upper and lower hulls were cemented securely together. There was some nice delicately raised detail molded on the hull sides, but unfortunately the less than perfect fit of the upper/lower hull join meant a good amount of filling and sanding which obliterated most of it… oh well. The distinctive twin skegs at the stern are decently reproduced, but the propellers are not very good; I replaced them with better ones from a Trumpeter Missouri kit. The rudder part provided is accurate, but kit has only one where the real ship has two, so I swiped another from a second kit. Hull shape overall is reasonable when seen from the sides, but in retrospect I wish I had taken a bit of extra time here to reshape the bow as the kit parts look a little blunt when seen head-on. Another improvement I wish I had made was to replace the molded-in bilge keels on the lower hull sides, which are accurate but a little indistinct.
After assembling the major components, the next task was to clear away the mass of poorly done detail. The raised deck planking was acceptable so I left it alone, but the 20mm and 40mm gun positions, solid deck edge rails, Aztec temple stairways, molded in anchors, chains, capstans, and other uninspiring details were all ruthlessly scraped and sanded away… leaving the model looking pretty bare!
After clearing off the molded in anchor chains on the foredeck, I added anchor chain chafing plates made from .005 inch Evergreen sheet plastic following Alan Chesley’s excellent drawings in USS Massachusetts (BB 59) Ship’s Data #8. The cables themselves were replaced with gold chain discreetly liberated from my wife’s jewelry box. New capstans came from White Ensign Models’ line of resin upgrade parts (PRO 7023), which are really outstanding. Hose reels on the deck also were WEM resin parts. Hawse pipes (where the chains disappear into the deck) were modified from parts stripped from a derelict Hasegawa 1/700 scale Kaga. Chafing collars to hold the anchors on the hull sides were fabricated from bits of silver solder looped around a small nail, sanded flat on one side and attached to the bows with super glue. The anchors themselves were photoetch metal parts from Gold Medal Models 1/700 Anchors and Chains set (No. 700-20).
Because Revell’s kit actually represents the Massachusetts’ sister Alabama, there are a number of small differences that needed be addressed. One of these areas is the configuration of the 20mm mounts and sensor platforms on the sides of the superstructure. The main platforms with their Mk. 37 and Mk 51 directors on the sides of the smokestack as provided in the kit extended too far aft for the Massachusetts, so I trimmed them down. The four 20mm positions thus eliminated were replaced with two new galleries made from sheet plastic stock and installed at the next lower level. In addition, several kit-provided 20mm positions at the base of the mainmast behind the stack were replaced with a scratchbuilt box structure. Finally, the aft tower for the Mk. 8 director just aft of that structure in the kit was too small and incorrectly shaped, so I replaced it with the corresponding Hasegawa South Dakota parts and some plastic sheet.
The armored tower forward also got some rework. The kit provided decks on the main and upper observation platforms were too shallow and rather roughly molded, so I carved away the floors from the inside and replaced them with .010 inch Evergreen plastic stock. The rest of the platforms on the tower (those which were later fitted with railing) were also cut away and replaced with parts made from .010 inch sheet. These were not only more delicate but also better matched my references for the Massachusetts. The kit didn’t provide searchlights, so these came from Skywave/Pit-Road’s “Equipment for US Navy ships-WW2” upgrade set. I carefully hollowed them out, painted the insides silver and added lenses to the fronts made from clear acetate punched with a Waldron Model Products punch set.
On my visit to the Massachusetts I was impressed with the number of portholes, ladders, stairs, doors, and vents all over the compact superstructure. On the model these surfaces were fairly featureless, so I set about busying them up. Following Alan Chesley’s plans, I drilled out about sixty portholes using a number 70 drill bit, being careful to keep them in line and correctly spaced. A good way to accomplish this is to use a sharp drafting compass to very lightly scribe the horizontal line of the portholes directly into the bulkhead surface. I use the compass again to establish uniform spacing of the holes themselves. Since the compass needle will tend to track along the scribed line, it’s easy to keep the portholes in a perfectly horizontal line. After fixing their locations by pressing the needle a little harder to make deeper pinpricks in the plastic, I drill the portholes out. A final light sanding of the surface removes the scored line, leaving perfectly horizontal, evenly spaced portholes on the bulkhead.
Next came the multitude of photoetch doors and ladders (Gold Medal Models No.700-22) added to the appropriate places on the exterior bulkheads, again following plans as well as photographs I had taken on my visit. Other improvements included carving out the solid-topped kit smokestack and adding grates built up from tiny bits of wire, adding tiny plastic vision slits to the armored citadel, and a sheet plastic roof for the bridge. Bridge windows were represented by a length of spare 1/350 photoetch ladder material bent to shape. Simple details such as these are not all that difficult to add, and they are a great way to build up the busy look one expects on a large ship.
The most dramatic improvement to the model was to replace the armament. The whole point of a battleship was its guns, but Revell’s weapons were a mess. Fortunately, I had a 1/700 scale Hasegawa South Dakota on hand, so I raided its weapons for the Massachusetts. The Hasegawa parts were way better, and I figured that the less than three percent difference between 1/700 and 1/720 scales would not be noticeable. Even they needed some improvements, though: the three 16 inch main turrets received photoetch ladders and life raft grates, plastic auxiliary sights, putty blast bags with wire frames and drilled out muzzles. Also, the big turrets on the real Massachusetts were topped with additional 20mm and 40mm antiaircraft mounts, but the Hasegawa South Dakota turrets had a slightly different arrangement. I used the Hasegawa 40mm tubs and built up the 20mm positions beside them from plastic sheet. As with the main batteries, the ten Hasegawa 5 inch gunhouses also received hollowed out muzzles, putty blast bags, scrap plastic auxiliary range finders and assorted photoetch doors and ladders.
The sixteen 40mm quad guns provided by Revell were also replaced. The new assemblies were comprised of parts from various sources: the guns themselves were from the Skywave/Pit-Road USN parts set and the shields were from the Hasegawa South Dakota. The Skywave/Pit-Road 40mms had come with their own shields as separate parts, but I liked the finer Hasegawa shields better, so I carved the molded guns away and fitted the Skywave guns into them. It was a little extra work, but using the best elements of both made the overall effect much better. They were finished up with photoetch rails from the White Ensign Models 40mm Bofors upgrade set (WEM PE735).
The twenty seven 20mm single mountings throughout the kit were replaced with parts from Gold Medal Models (No. 700-21). These miniscule photoetchings consist of two parts each, a gun and its shield, and are beautifully detailed and delicate. They are a bit fiddly to handle due to their diminutive size, but they look far better than any injection molded representations I have seen. The deck mounted splinter shields surrounding these were shaped from .010 X .060 inch plastic strip, and new 20mm ammo boxes and hatches located throughout the main deck were cut from bits of Evergreen plastic stock.
After the guns, the most prominent feature visible on battleships was the extensive fire direction equipment. The Revell Massachusetts kit versions of the two Mk. 8 and four Mk. 37 fire control directors were crude, and those from the Hasegawa South Dakota weren’t much better. Fortunately, Revell’s 1/720 Missouri kit had good ones, so I used them instead. These were further improved with a few sheet plastic details and photoetch radar screens and other details from the 1/700 scale GMM World War Two USN Battleship set (No. 700-3).
The numerous small Mk. 51 directors presented a problem. The Hasegawa mountings were good replacements for the indistinct lumps of the Revell kit, but they were solid on top and completely without detail, while the actual mountings had open tops with the complex Mk. 51 units very visible inside. I had no desire to scratchbuild a dozen or so pinhead sized directors, so I took a shortcut and used surplus Skywave/Pit-Road injection molded 20mm guns. These were inserted, barrels downward, into hollowed out Hasegawa Mk. 51 pedestal tops. Other Mk. 51 units were installed without the pedestals in various places on the superstructure. It was a compromise, but in this small scale they effectively suggest the complexity of the Mk. 51s.
The kit masts were generally correct, but the simplified single-piece moldings of these complicated structures were not very convincing. I built new ones using various thicknesses of brass wire and .010 inch plastic strip. This was not as difficult as it might seem, the key being to work slowly using good references. Mr. Chesley’s scale drawings of the Massachusetts were a big help, as were the numerous photos I took on my visit. Also, I didn’t try to include every single detail, just the most prominent features to create an impression of complexity. With structures this small (the entire foremast assembly is less than an inch high) not much is needed. The new masts looked better, but it was the etched steel ladders, rails, and radars which really made the difference; the finesse and consistency of the photoetched parts is simply amazing. I was especially impressed with GMM’s 16-part circular SK-2 air search radar on the foremast, and those little etched wind vanes and footropes on the yardarms look very cool too!
As with the radars, the kit aircraft catapults and cranes were replaced with GMM photoetch parts. Etched metal is a particularly suitable medium for duplicating the complex, open frameworks of these fittings. The new parts were surprisingly easy to assemble too, just fold like a sort of simple origami. The complex looking angled crane at the stern, for example, is made up of only three parts! These were all huge improvements over the solid molded kit parts they replaced. Another photoetched part was the boat handling crane on the aft part of the superstructure, which Revell hadn’t even attempted to depict. The GMM set provided the intricate boom, control cables, and hook parts, but the complicated looking base and kingpost had to be assembled from scratch. My onboard photos as well as some pictures of the ship I found at the SteelNavy.com ship modeling website helped here. As it turned out, these parts were fairly straightforward to fabricate, consisting of simple cylinder, disc, and box shapes. The resulting crane looked good, although it ended up almost hidden among the 5 inch mounts and aft sensors! The Skywave/Pit Road set contributed the 26 foot motorboats beneath the crane and on the aft deck.
One of the more impressive aspects of small sale ship models is the railing, which in this case came from the GMM World War Two USN Battleship set. Tiny and delicate looking, GMM’s 1/700 scale rails are actually made of tough stainless steel. Much stronger than the soft brass more commonly used for photoetch parts, this material makes them more difficult to cut from the sprues but also much easier to apply without damage. There are many ways to attach photoetch rails. I get good results airbrush painting them while still on the fret, cutting them out with scissors and attaching them with white glue. Though supposedly not suited to this type of application, white glue is great because it is non-toxic, water based, and dries very quickly. I use Elmer’s, but any polyvinyl acetate (PVA) type adhesive should work fine. It dries clear, flat, and the bond is surprisingly strong. StilI, I do this only after all other assembly and painting are completed to avoid knocking off or damaging the rails in handling.
The final step with most of my ship models is the rigging, since it is the most delicate part of all. I use very fine copper wire I salvaged from a transistor radio (remember those?) as a teen… that single coil has lasted through dozens of projects over the years! I suppose the stuff can still be found; it is just copper wire, but it is fine as human hair. I like this better than fly tippet or stretched sprue because of its relative strength, stability under temperature and humidity fluctuations and general ease of use. It also has enough weight to give the lines a natural looking hang on ship models. When I rig small scale ships, I never try to reproduce 100 percent the rigging of the original ship. Rather, I find it more effective to attach a representative sample of the lines to suggest the full rig. The lines were painted gray to match the hull color, except those hanging from the yardarm on the tower which were light tan for halyard rope. These were attached below to flag boxes from the Skywave/Pit-Road accessories set. I also added lines running fore and aft for the colorful signal flags the museum flies to create a festive atmosphere for visitors. For the flags themselves I used the outstanding 1/700 scale dry transfer signal flags from Archer Fine Transfers (sadly no longer available). The national ensigns, one near the top of the foremast and another at the fantail, came from GMM’s International Flag Decals set (No.700/350-1 D), as did the blue US Navy jack at the bow. To give the flags a natural “waving in the breeze” appearance I sandwiched bits of aluminum foil between the two sides the flags, gently shaping each one into a wave with a toothpick. They were then individually attached to the fore and aft rigging with white glue. Getting these miniscule banners to look natural was tricky and time consuming, but the bright, colorful effect was worth the effort.
Since I wanted to depict the Big Mamie as she appears today as a demilitarized museum ship, there were a few minor changes to be made from her wartime appearance. The simplest difference was the paint. The ship today has none of the fuel, ammunition, and other stores carried in service, so she rides much higher in the water. To avoid an awkward “high and dry” look, the USS Massachusetts Museum Memorial Committee has repainted the black waterline boot topping about fifteen feet lower than it was when the ship was active. I like this look, making the anchored ship appear even more massive. Also, the main mast aft of the smokestack was painted black in service to hide discoloration from stack gasses, but on the inoperative museum ship it is painted haze gray to match the rest of the ship. The funnel cap, formerly gray, is now black. All weather decks were painted camouflage blue during the war, but the steel decks are now haze gray and the teak main deck is natural wood. I used White Ensign Models Colourcoats Modern U.S. Navy Haze Gray (#M033) and Deck Teak (#C01) for these areas.
Markings are also a little different. During the war the ship carried the number “59” in small white numerals at the bow only, but the present museum ship has oversized shaded hull numbers both fore and aft. These turned out to be easy; decals from Gold Medal Models’ 1/700-1/720 scale Naval Ship Decals set (No. 700-1D) worked perfectly. The ship’s name at the stern was a bit more challenging. Painted over in wartime, the name M-A-S-S-A-C-H-U-S-E-T-T-S now appears over the stern in black letters. I knew that convincingly hand painting those one millimeter high block letters for the 1/720 scale stern was beyond my modeling abilities. This detail isn’t that noticeable anyway, and I thought of simply leaving them off. When I mentioned the problem at a model club meeting, a club buddy offered a solution I hadn’t thought of: he helped out by printing a custom decal for me on his ALPS printer—problem solved!