by: Felix Bustelo [ ]
HMAS Collins is the lead boat of a class of diesel-electric submarines of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). The boats in this class were the first submarines to be constructed in Australia. In the late 1970s, plans were developed to replace the aging fleet of British built Oberan class submarines and design proposals were accepted. In 1987, it was announced that the design from the Swedish shipbuilder Kockums was the winner. The Kockums design, originally called Type 471, was basically an enlarged version of the Swedish Västergötland class. All six boats were built between 1990 and 2003 by the Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC). Collins was commissioned in 1996 and Rankin, the last of the class, in 2003. The boats were named after RAN personnel who had distinguished service during World War II.
The Collins class submarines are 254 feet long and have a beam of 26 feet. At the time of their commissioning, they were the largest conventional submarines in the world. They displace 3,363 tons surfaced and 3,696 tons submerged. The Collins class is armed with six 21-inch (530 mm) torpedo tubes, and carries a standard payload of 22 torpedoes. They are fitted with a Thales Scylla bow sonar and distributed sonar array. The distributed or flank array is made up of six rectangular panels, three secured to each side of the boat. The first two boats (Collins and Farncomb) were fitted with Thales Karriwarra passive towed sonar arrays, while the other four boats could be fitted with the either the Karriwarra or the Thales Namara system. The towed array is approximately 3,300 feet long, 1.8 inches in diameter and is deployed through the horizontal pipe at the stern.
The Collins class project has had its share of controversy. There have been accusations of foul play during the design selection phase and series of incidents and technical problems during the design, construction and early operational life of the boats. Furthermore, the RAN has had trouble retaining enough personnel to operate the submarines to the extent that on average only two or three subs are fully operational at a time. The Australian press has also been very critical of the program which has resulted in a poor public reception to the boats. Despite these issues, the expectation is that the Collins class will remain in service until the 2020s. Plans for a replacement class of as many as twelve boats are currently underway, though they will not be expected to enter service until 2025.
Showcase Models Australia is a relatively new plastic model company based, where else, in Australia. Their first kit release was a 1/35th scale Bushmaster Infantry Mobility Vehicle. Keeping to Australian military subjects their second release is a 1/350th scale kit of a Collins class submarine. It is a simple kit comprised of 25 parts, a complete decal sheet and a photoetch brass name plate. The quality of the plastic molding is very good with crisp raised and recessed detail. The flank sonar panels are very nicely done and the hull has a texture that represents the actual sub’s skin very well. The bulk of the parts, 20 in total, are molded in gray plastic. The hull is split into port and starboard halves, which is different from a lot of the other plastic submarine kits which split the hull into upper and lower hull sections. The deck is a separate piece that fits into a recess when the two hull halves are joined. The remainder of the gray parts includes the dive planes, rudders, periscope, antennas, radar mast, snorkel, propeller and pipe and brace for the unusual towed sonar array fitted on the stern.
The one-piece sail (aka conning tower) and the display stand are molded in clear plastic. At first I wondered why the sail was molded this way. However, after building the model I can appreciate how clever this actually was. The sail has a pair of windows on either side towards the front and an enclosure of some kind at the back end. The careful masking of these sections before painting will give the model a nice bit of realism. The details incorporated into the sail are very crisp and well done. The display stand is comprised of four parts and is marred by injection pins markings.
A decal sheet, printed by Cartograf of Italy, with markings for all of the submarines in the class is provided. Conning tower name plates and badges for all six subs are included, along with draft and rescue hatch markings in two styles and flags as well as some additional markings used on specific boats. The ceremonial markings used on the Collins when she was launched are also part of the sheet. I noticed one small error with the draft markings: they have 7M4 at the top but every photograph that I have seen of a Collins class boat shows that the draft markings have 8M4 at the top. While this is a nitpick, it is still a goof.
A small, etched brass nameplate is provided which unfortunately has the word submarine truncated, spelling out “SUBMARI”. This is unfortunate as the nameplate was otherwise nicely done and would have been good to use.
The assembly instructions are printed on the back of the box. They are comprised of two blown-up assembly diagrams which do the job well since it is a relatively simple build. The bottom diagram illustrates decal placement. Painting instructions are provided on one of the side panels of the box, which basically calls for overall black for the submarine and brass for the propeller. Based on the photos I used for reference, the periscope, antennas, radar mast and snorkel should have the lower sections painted aluminum and the tops darker gray.
I am not going to give a blow-by-blow recount of the assembly of my model, but rather touch upon some of the highlights. Overall the kit went together very well and there were no real fit issues. The plastic reacted well to Plastruct Plastic Weld, though I did have to touch up the seams where the hull halves met with a little bit of Mr. Surfacer Dissolved Putty, applied with a fine brush, and some light sanding with fine grit paper. I have to mention that the sprue attachment points for some of the more delicate parts, such as the propeller, scopes, antennas, snorkel and radar are such that these parts need to be carefully removed to avoid breaking or marring them. In particular, the attachment points for the propeller were four of the actual blades and I had to sand down these down a bit as well. I was able to do this without breaking off one of the blades.
The instructions state to mask off the clear windows of the sail and paint it on the inside, which really didn’t make sense to me. Instead, I glued the sail to the hull, masked the parts that needed to remain clear on the outside. With the main part of the sub assembled, leaving off the propeller and the scopes and other sail parts, I painted it Tamiya NATO Black from a spray can. Looking at some photos, I could see that panel on the top face of the sail and the tip of the sonar head that is fitted on the deck at the bow appear a little darker so I painted them Tamiya Black. I didn’t bother with any weathering since I was displaying the model full hull.
I gave the model a coat of clear gloss in preparation for the decals. The Cartograf decals are excellent. They went on beautifully and reacted great to MicroSet and MicroSol decal solutions. I opted to use the ceremonial decals to model the Collins as she appeared at her launching as I thought it would add some color to an otherwise all black model. As mention above, I painted the lower sections of the periscope, antennas, radar mast and snorkel aluminum and the tops dark gray and then glued them into place. The propeller went on last after the blades were painted brass and the hub NATO Black. The model received a final airbrushing of Testors Dullcote and the clear windows at the front of the sail got coat of gloss and the clear enclosure at the back was painted Tamiya Smoke, which is translucent, followed by some gloss. The model was mounted on a homemade wood display simulating keel blocks.
In summary this is a great little kit that builds up very nicely. I really hope that Showcase Models Australia will tackle another Royal Australian Navy subject in 1/350th scale, like an ANZAC class frigate.