by: Felix Bustelo [ ]
In the late 1930s, it was becoming quite apparent that war with Nazi Germany was imminent. The Royal Navy recognized that it had too few escort vessels to protect shipping in coastal waters against Kriegsmarine U-boats. What was needed was something larger and faster than trawlers that could be militarized for escort duties, yet inexpensive enough to be built easily and in large numbers at smaller merchant shipyards to ease pressure off of larger commercial and Royal Navy yards. Several design options were considered, but a proposal presented by Smiths Dock Company of Middlesbrough, a specialist in the design and construction of fishing vessels, was eventually accepted. The design was essentially based on their whale catcher Southern Pride, but fitted with modern anti-submarine equipment, a main 4” gun, a Type 12B wireless outfit and a standard steam engine with oil fired boilers. Additional benefits that could be realized from this relatively simple design were that they would economical and easy to operate and could be crewed by Naval Reservists and HO ratings with very basic training.
The original batch of Flowers was short forecastle versions. Experience soon uncovered some shortfalls, so wartime modifications were made. To improve sea keeping and increase space, the design was improved by extending the hull plating and forecastle deck aft to the funnel. As the war progressed and needs changed, the Flowers were used to escort convoys out in the Western Approaches, far from the coastal areas they were designed to patrol. The introduction of the Type 271 radar lantern, improved sonar equipment and the fitting of 20mm Oerlikons on the bridge wings required the redesign of the bridge and compass platform. Through new construction and refits, there were many variations to the bridge design that a total of six different types appeared throughout the ships in this class. Armament changed over the course of the war as well. The location of the mast also varied with some placed forward of the bridge and others aft. Some Flowers were modified for minesweeping and fleet tug duties. Whatever these ships were tasked to do, the overall design was versatile enough to meet these different requirements. Though 267 Flower class corvettes were built during the war, only one remaining today is the HMCS Sackville, which is preserved as a museum ship in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Spiraea is the third Flower Class kit that Mirage has released to date. All three are the long forecastle hulls, but Spiraea sports the Type “B” bridge, with the wider compass platform to accommodate a pair of 20mm Oerlikons, the early offset placement of the Type 271 radar lantern housing and a compass house. The model is full-hull with no real waterline option other than cutting the hull down.
The kit parts come on three sprues, labeled “A”, “B” and “E”, molded in a medium gray. The parts are a mixed bag ranging from some that are actually fairly well done and others that are downright clunky. When compared to injection molding in Dragon and some Trumpeter kits, this kit doesn’t really meet the current standards. There are lots of smaller parts which will require carefully removal from thick sprue attachment points to prevent damage.
Sprue “A” contains hull halves, the forecastle deck, the display stand, the 4in gun and shield, 4in gun bandstand and splinter shields, cable reels, mooring bits and cleats, anchors, rudder, propeller, foc’sle break bulkhead, dinghies and davits, Carley floats, life rings and other fittings. The hull halves are the best parts of the kit. The prominent hull plating that these vessels had is reproduced here rather nicely in my opinion. Painting and some good weathering will help them pop-out. The forecastle deck is also well done and has the wood planking section where it appears on plans. The 4in gun and shield are adequate and the mooring bits and cleats are actually pretty good. On the other hand, the Carley floats are solid and there isn’t even an attempt to reproduce any of the netting and the cable reels are not very fine at all.
Sprue “B” contains the funnel, the sides for the bridge and compass house structures, cowl vents, 2-pounder gun, shield and bandstand, depth charges, depth charge racks and throwers, mast assembly and other fittings. Again some of the parts are good enough, like the structure components, but the depth charges are clunky and the racks look thick and out of scale. The larger cowl vents are actually comprised of two parts, the stem and the actual vent openings. This is an unusual approach which adds some extra efforts and I really don’t understand why these could not be molded as one piece. The funnel cap is solid which is very disappointing and the inclined ladders look like house stairs.
Sprue “E” contains the main deck, with the aft superstructure molded into it, superstructure deck, the funnel casing structure, the compass platform, the Type 271 radar lantern and platform, bridge wing supports, 20mm Oerlikons and shield and other fittings. The deck main deck is pretty well done but I don’t like that the bottom of the depth charge racks are molded into it. This is not accurate at all as this is not how that racks are fitted. The compass platform deck looks accurate especially the area around the 20mm guns , but the platform looks like it is enclosed by solid bulwarks when in fact the sides and aft had railings with canvas covers. The 20mm guns and shields look over scale as do the bridge wing supports, but to be fair, it is hard to produce these in plastic. The funnel casing has Aztec steps for an inclined ladder!
A small photoetch fret is included with railings, 4in gun depression rail and a length of vertical ladder. However, I find the quality of the photoetch to be very poor. The openings in the simulated covers on the 4in gun platform railings are for the most part not etched all the way through. The railings have individual stanchion ends with I personally do not like but that is a matter of taste.
A small decal sheet is provided with pennant numbers and name plates only for the Spiraea as well as the White Ensign. The decals look good and appear to too thick. It would have been nice to have more than one option for markings.
The instructions are provided on two separate fold-out sheets. The first sheet has the historical background and specifications for Spiraea as well as some general modeling tips and painting instructions in both Polish and English. The center spread has two sets of full color port and starboard views illustrating two different camouflage schemes. The color references are for Admiralty color names (MS 4, MS 4a, MS1, Pb10) but no real information is given about the deck colors. Comparing the camouflage patterns to those drawn by Alan Raven in “Warship Perspectives Flower Class Corvettes in World War Two” by John Lambert there are some serious discrepancies. The book states that in April 1942, Spiraea wore different port and starboard patterns which were comprised of MS1, MS4 and MS4a. The Mirage kit instructions show two different patterns for 1941/42 and 1942/43 which were identical on both sides. Comparing the two, it looks like the Mirage took the starboard pattern from Alan Raven’s drawing an applied it to both sides for the earlier pattern and port pattern from the Raven drawing and applied it to both side for the later scheme. Also there is also some disagreement with which colors were used in some spots. I am no expert in Royal Navy camouflage, but I have more faith in Alan Raven’s knowledge of the subject matter.
The actual assembly instructions are printed on the second fold-put sheet which breaks it down into 25 steps. The individual blow-up diagrams are well-done CAD renderings which clearly show where everything goes. That being said, some of the part references appear to be incorrect. For example, in step 19 the bulwark identified as part A24 is actually part B24. In a few steps some parts are prefixed with “C” but there is no sprue “C”, these parts are actually on sprue “E”. Step 26 has views of the completed model from a few different perspectives with a rigging diagram, which is helpful.
Overall, this kit is good but not great. The quality of the molding can be considered subpar when compared to the current state of the art. The Mirage moldings are a throwback to older Heller and Revell kits. The hull is especially well done as some other parts but others, especially the smaller parts are not that good. The photoetch that comes with the kit really doesn’t add any value and I would highly recommend purchasing the photoetch detail set produced by White Ensign Models for the Mirage Flower kits. With work and aftermarket products, this could be built-up into a nice model but straight out of the box it will be somewhat disappointing.