HMS ARK ROYAL, BRITISH AIRCRAFT CARRIER (1939-1941)- Don's update

Editor’s Note: I should explain that I asked Don to give us some background to his building of this model. In particular, Don has built several models of capital ships, mostly British, from WW II, and while it is really great to see and appreciate his skilled construction it is interesting to know something of the history of the ships he has chosen to build. I also asked him to comment on the kit itself and, especially, the build. In recent years, there has been a major shift in the source of some model kits that we build and not always for the better. The quality of the parts and clarity of the instructions are key to a successful and satisfying build, and I thought it would be helpful for have Don’s views on these. Comments will be updated on completion of the model. Thank you Don.

The History -

HMS Ark Royal was built by Cammell Laird at Birkenhead (UK). Construction started in 1935 and the ship was launched in 1937, it was commissioned a year later. In many ways, the design was transitional, in particular it was limited by an international treaty (Washington International Treaty of 1922 and later revisions) and, of course, by the performance of the aircraft it carried. These were kept on two hanger decks and transported by three lifts to the flight deck which was more than 60 ft above the waterline. The waterline length was constrained by the length of the naval dry docks at Gibraltar and Malta and that necessitated the flight deck to extend nearly 120 ft beyond the stern. A steam catapult and arrestor were used to launch and land the aircraft and the ship had to turn into the wind to do that. Powered by three turbines and driven by three propellors, the Ark Royal could make 30 knots and had a range of about 7,250 nm. Naval thinking at the time suggested that the carrier would be most vulnerable to attack by air and that it would be largely protected from submarines by a combination of its speed and escort vessels. The ship had a complement of about 1600 personnel and a displacement of 22,000 tons; the LOA, beam and draught were, respectively, about 800ft, 24ft and 27ft. Although other aircraft were carried, they were mostly Blackburn Skua (as fighters or dive bombers) and Fairey Swordfish (used as torpedo bombers or for reconnaissance). Defence armament included 8 twin 4.5 inch universal guns, 4 quadruple 1.57 inch pom-poms, and 8 quadruple 0.5 inch Vickers anti aircraft machine guns.


The carrier played a significant role during the early part of WW II, assisting with planned and opportunistic attacks on German capital ships (notably the Bismarck that was sunk in 1941), and convoy support in the north Atlantic and Norwegian sea. It also provided key support for convoys in the Mediterranean and especially to Malta. The carrier was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine in November 1941. The wreck was not located until 2002 when it was found at a depth of more than 3000ft and at about 30 nm from Gibraltar. Amazingly, there was only one loss of life during the attack and sinking.


Don's model shows the carrier as it would have been during the search for the Bismarck, in May 1941. At that time it also carried Fairey Fulmar fighter aircraft. Although originally designed to carry 72 aircraft, they usually numbered 50-60.

The Kit -

The kit is an “I LOVE KIT” from China and it has the same model number (65307) as the Trumpeter model kit. It contains 13 sprues of ship parts, the 2 pc hull, flight deck, recessed sections for life boats and 2 small decks (bow and stern with wooden inlay), and various other parts. There are 13 sprues of aircraft parts (Fairey Swordfish, Blackburn Skuas, and Fairey Fulmars MK1). The kit also contains 8 sheets of etched brass, however I purchased a detailed set of etched brass with 14 sheets ( A - L) from VERY FIRE TECHNOLOGY CO. LTD in China. I was not impressed with the kit’s instructions in spite of their use of colour. They were vague on how to shape and bend pieces and where to place them. I had to really hunt on the hull to find where they should go. Also in the kit was a sheet of decals with roundels for aircraft and a white stripe for the flight deck (in 3 sections) and decals for the 3 elevators. As far as the kit goes, the pieces did fit very well and with very little flash.

The Build -

After reading the reviews of some builds from model magazines and forums, I decided to start with the 2 pc hull. With a 3/64" drill bit set in a pin-vise and that, in-turn, set in the chuck of a cordless drill, 258 portholes were drilled on each hull piece and then put aside!!! Following the kit’s instructions the recessed sections were assembled and painted Dark Sea Grey, the inside was highlighted with Light Grey, and the 10 life boats with Light Grey hulls and White tops. The life boats were glued to the recessed sections which, in turn, were glued to each side of the openings in the hull. Once these were dry, 3 triangular reinforcements were to glued to the inside of the hull pieces. The two pieces of hull fitted perfectly. I ran a bead of glue along the edges of hull at the bottom and upwards at bow and stern, taped them and added elastic bands. I let them dry overnight.



After the hull was dry, i started on the 2 small decks, at the bow and stern. I had to assemble parts from the kit as well as etched brass, and the real wooden decks with anchor chains etc. These two decks were detailed, painted and glued in place; they were a good fit, but once the Flight Deck was in place they could only be seen through the openings in the hull.


Next, I assembled the 8 Mk1 universal guns from the kit and etched brass, with the brass barrels all painted Light Grey. I cut a patten of the 8 bases (4 on each side) with some spare wooden deck pieces and set them in place. The 8 guns were glued to these bases. Two brass railings were installed inside the hull at the bow and stern, again painted Light Grey. Next the three shafts and props and rudder were added.


Assembly of the 6 pom-poms required a combination of kit parts and etched brass (that was tricky with just the "finished" pics to work from). Next I started cutting out etched brass pieces for platforms, railings, search lights, 2 cranes, and numerous small boxes etc. I tried to bend them into the correct shapes, and then locate where they should go. I needed to rest my eyes after this, so I started on the island and funnel (again from kit pieces and etched brass). At least the kit pictures showed where these pieces should go......so with railings, reinforcements, ladders, and railings attached, the island was set aside (not yet painted).


The Flight Deck was next and it was nicely detailed with outlines for the 3 elevators. I test-fitted it onto the top of hull and it was a good fit. My intention at first was to have a "working elevator", but things got too complicated so I decided against it. The Flight Deck was too thick to cut with knife, so I drilled holes near, but not touching the elevator outlines, and then filed the edges until the outline was matched. Now I had a rectangular hole in the Flight Deck. I built a small box with no top, a bit larger than the hole in the deck It was painted and detailed and glued to the underside of hole in the Flight Deck. I made the box to look like the elevator was half-way up and it would carry a wing-folded Swordfish. The Flight Deck colours that I used were U.S Dark Green, Blue-Grey and a touch of Yellow Ochre (mixed well and applied with a wide flat brush and then left dry thoroughly). The hull was next painted to the waterline with French Mirage Blue, the waterline was painted black and the hull below was Red (again with a wide flat brush, and left to dry). Decals were then applied to the Flight Deck.


I cut out the 3 strips that made up the white centre line from bow to stern, and with a pencil I drew a very faint line marking the Flight Deck centre line. The white strips were joined and put onto the Flight Deck to form a single straight line. Outlines for the tops of the elevators were cut from the decal sheet and applied around the edge of the elevator cut-out. Two other markings for take-off were applied at the front of Flight Deck and left to dry.



There were 5 Fairey Swordfish, 4 Blackburn Skuas, and 4 Fairey Fulmars in the kit. I also ordered and received a kit of 6 Fairey Swordfish complete with etched brass wing braces for "extras". Although assembly of the aircraft from the kit and the detailed set was straight forward, placing the brass braces for the biplane wings was a bit tricky! The Swordfish were painted Blue-Grey on the wing tops and fuselage, and Green-Blue on the underside of the wings. The Blackburn Skuas were Black-Green, with a Green-Grey strip along top of fuselage. The Fairey Fulmars were Black-Green. All props had Yellow tips and the guns were Gun Metal. I made 3 extra Swordfish in addition to those for the Flight Deck (one with folding wings to go on the elevator, one for approaching the carrier, and one taking off from Flight Deck).



Each one flying had the prop replaced with a small, round, clear plastic disk the same diameter as the prop (representing a prop in motion). A thin piece of wire was epoxied to the underside of the fuselage of two planes (1 landing, 1 taking off). Before the Flight Deck was attached, two very small holes were drilled at an angle at the bow and stern, and through the small decks and into the open space inside the hull. A thin tube was inserted through the holes and epoxied in place. The wires of each aircraft were inserted into a tube (with a nice tight fit). The two planes were now removable for travel. With these in place and the Swordfish set on the elevator, the Flight Deck was glued to the hull and ready to add the remaining etched brass pieces.




Metal shields were placed at different places on the hull, level with the Flight Deck, and painted Light Grey. Railings were added to the edge of the universal gun mounts. Some platforms, (already formed) were glued to the top edge of hull and railings were added. All of these were painted Light Grey.

I built 5 - 6 torpedo carts from Evergreen pieces I found and I used pulleys for wheels from the left-overs of other models; the carriers are 1/2" overall and have handles, they are painted Yellow and have Black wheels. Vallejo paints were used throughout.




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