In the early days of World War II Britain’s desperate need for escort destroyers led to her acquiring 50 “ over-age” American destroyers in return for long term leases on British naval bases. The 50 U.S. destroyers were of the type known variously as “Flush Deckers” or “Four Pipers”, officially the Wickes class. These ships were renamed after towns with names common in both Britain or Canada and the United States. As such they were known as the Town Class. These ships were modified in a number of ways for use by the Royal Navy, typically having one or more stacks removed or cut down, and having the gun and torpedo armament considerably altered.
Flash forward twenty years. When I was a kid my older brother and I would always look forward to birthday and Christmas times since we could count on a gift package from our English relatives. Many times these would include plastic model kits and invariably these would be Airfix kits. We didn’t know how accurate, or well made they were, we just knew they’d be fun to build. I have always had a soft place in my heart for Airfix ever since.
Flash forward again about thirty years. Since getting back into the hobby several years ago my only experience with Airfix kits was an ancient 1/600 scale HMS Warspite. This kit had half the pieces broken off the sprues and many of the smaller parts warped and broken. It was, to say the least, not “state of the art.” Every month when receiving the Squadron USA catalog I’d see 1/400 scale ships by either Airfix or the Polish company Mirage Hobby and I’d wonder how good they were. With them often being on sale for under $10.00 I figured I’d take a chance on a couple of kits. I really wanted the USS Ward, of Pearl Harbor fame, but it was always sold out. So I settled for the Airfix HNoMS, His Norwegian Majesty’s Ship, St Albans, along with the Mirage Hobby Mazur.
Upon first receiving the Airfix HNoMS St Albans I wanted to compare it to the Mazur kit to see if they were made by the same company. I did this because Mirage Hobby also makes a 1/400 scale St Albans and I know how Airfix rebadges kits from other manufacturers. While there is no indication on the outside of the box of the kits origins I noticed on the plastic bag containing the parts a sticker with the number MIR02 and the notation “made in Poland” so I can only conclude that Mirage Hobby actually makes this kit and Airfix rebadges it. This really doesn’t take away from the kit but I do wish Airfix would be able to produce their own kits.
What’s in the box? First of all the Airfix box is of the type where you remove the lid and the parts are in the bottom of the box, unlike the Mirage Hobby kit where you open either end of the box to get to the parts. I much prefer the Airfix method as it is much easier to lose parts with the end opening type. The parts are on five sprues, including one sprue for the display stand, and are molded in a medium grey. Molding is crisp, with little or no flash, no obvious sink marks, and the only pin marks I can find are where they will not show on the finished model. The level of detail seems very good, at least on the level of Trumpeter.
This is an “in the box” but I wanted to see the fit of the hull. After removing the two full hull pieces I found one disconcerting fact, there are no locating pins on the hull. This is one of my pet peeves, and my estimate of the kit is marked down for this point. The instructions are of seven pages, including one page of the history of the ship, one page giving general instructions and a list of the icons used, four pages of actual instructions, in 18 steps, and a page showing a single paint scheme. The painting guide gives only Humbrol enamel paint numbers but using an online reference I was able to cross reference these to Testors and Tamiya paints that I already have, or that are readily available in my LHS. Step 18 of the instructions shows how to rig the ship, a step I wish more manufacturers would include.
There are virtually no actual instructions included in the various steps, with just a drawing of the model, the component parts, and lines showing the location of where the parts go. This can lead to some pretty busy drawings, such as step 11 where there are some 30 plus parts being added in one step. The instructions label the parts by letter and number, such as X29, but the corresponding letters on the sprues are fairly small so you have to look carefully for them. There is also one curious step, 13, where the modeler is instructed to “make it yourself from plastic rod.” This refers to where plastic rod, not included, is used to make the supports for the propeller guards. Unfortunately no indication is given on what size of rod to use so some scratch building experience would be helpful. A very small decal sheet is also provided having only three decals, the ships hull number, I15, for both sides and a Norwegian flag.
One thing I was very curious to find out was if the kit would include the changes made to the basic four piper destroyer to represent the modifications made to the St Albans when she was taken over by the Royal Navy. Since Mirage Hobby makes at least three other four piper destroyers, USS Ward, USS Noa, and HMS Montgomery, I was afraid that all they would do is rebox one kit and include different decals or instructions to cover all four ships. This isn’t the case. The modifications made to the St Albans, three stacks cut down, only one four inch gun, only one set of torpedo tubes, etc., are all represented. The only indication I could find that these kits will share some common sprues is that the X sprue contains four sets of torpedo tubes, when only one set is to be used. Presumably this sprue, if not some of the others, will be in all four kits. This will allow you to make four ships, each with differences in details, decals, and painting.
My only fault with this kit is in its somewhat odd scale, 1/400 instead of the more common 1/350 scale. Doing some simple math I figured out the following. The actual ship measured 314 feet 4 inches. In 1/400 scale this is 9.43 inches. The same ship in 1/350 scale would be 10.77 inches. Obviously I’d prefer a common scale but I can live with just over an inch difference. Put another way I checked the length of two items common to both this 1/400 scale ship, and my 1/350 scale USS The Sullivans, the torpedo tubes. The St Albans tubes are 20 mm long, while the larger scale ships are 23 mm. If anybody examining my ships on display gives me a hard time about 3 mm I’m going to throw them out of my house.
The one big advantage in these kits, whether it’s because of their odd scale or their place of manufacture, is the price. With a list price of $10.75 for the Airfix kit, and $20.98 for the Mirage Hobby kit, these ships are really great buys. Even for the more expensive Mirage Hobby kit this is less than half a 1/350 destroyer from Tamiya, DML, or Trumpeter. For those with AMS there is also a White Ensign PE detail set available with a list price of $20.98.
Highs: Needed subject in plastic. Lows: Somewhat odd scale, no locating pins for hull. Verdict: Over all I find this kit highly recommended. Assuming that they are actually the same kit I would recommend the Airfix version over the Mirage Hobby due its lower price and top opening box.
About Rodger Cole (Halfyank) FROM: COLORADO, UNITED STATES
American Father, English Mother. Mum was in some British auxiliary, I'm not sure which, and Dad was a truck driver who ended up on a half track towing a 57mm, in the Big Red One. I was a modeler in the early 70s but got out of it. I'm just getting back into modeling after about 25 years. I'm planni...