I've started a few posts in other forums for my latest build - thought I'd better start one up here for anyone who doesn't patrol the other sites and might want to comment and help guide my progress. (I apologize in advance for the initial brain dump)
I’ve had a Revell 1/96 USS Constitution fall into my stash at a very reasonable price (Overstock.com) and it seems appropriate to take it on in recognition of the upcoming anniversary of USS Constitution’s victory over HMS Guerriere on August 19.
I’ve been spewing forth much hot air in defense of the Michel Felice Corne paintings and their representation of the ship as she first burst into glory against HMS Guerriere, so I feel obligated to back up my tirades with action. I’ll try to make this version align very closely to what we see in these paintings commissioned by Captain Hull immediately after his victory
This does mean that I’ll set aside my Heller HMS Victory build for a time - I haven’t lost a bit of enthusiasm for that project - but I’ll apply what I learn in this new effort towards making that one better down the line.
Like many of us (most of us?) I’ve built this kit before... a few decades (or more) back. It seems to have been almost a rite of passage for anyone wanting to take ship modeling seriously. I’ll call that one the MK 1 version and it still exists in a dusty condition on a high shelf in the garage:
I was never happy with that earlier effort. Much has happened in the intervening years to improve my chances of making a more representative kit - most notably the proliferation of great information on the internet to inform my approach.
This venerable kit was originally issued back... well, back before some of us were born(!)... and I think it still holds up well. Certainly there is plenty of flash and injection moulding marks that we don't see in modern kits, but the kit still makes up into an impressive display as we can see in the various log entries across this forum. It seems to be a copy of the 1/48 George Campbell plan model in the Smithsonian collection (http://www.modelshipgallery.com/gallery/misc/sail/constitution-48-sm/con-index.html) - which itself is a refinement of the famous Hull model built by the crew and presented to Captain Hull following his victory over Guerriere
We see plenty of similarities in the bow and stern between the models and the Revell color guide somewhat follows the original. So the question becomes - does this Revell kit align well to the configuration of the Constitution when she earned her “Old Ironsides” moniker against HMS Guerriere? Well, strictly speaking no... In fact, if built OOB it would not actually represent Constitution as she was configured in any of her wartime cruises. There is a critical difference between the historic model and her modern copy - the Hull model shows 15 gun ports on each side of her gun deck (although the forward most are a bit too far forward) and the Revell kit shows 16. The difference is explained by this journal entry from Frederick Baury - one of Constitution’s midshipmen:
21 Sep 1812 Carpenters cutting bridle ports in bows ‑‑ Lieutenant Morgan and Midshipman Taylor left on recruiting duty.
After returning to Boston following the battle, Isaac Hull resigned and command was handed over to the much despised William Bainbridge. He proceeded to make a few changes including the addition of “bridle ports” up forward to help in towing, anchoring, and to potentially serve as bow chaser positions. Unlike the guidance provided by the Revell instructions, these positions would not normally have had a gun mounted. If needed during a chase, a nearby 24-pounder would be hauled into one of these spots to lob a few shots and try for a lucky hit to take out a spar and slow down the prey. To that end Bainbridge made another change as outlined by Commander Tyrone Martin in his overview of Constitution’s armament:
Following his succession to command of the ship on 15 September 1812, Commodore William Bainbridge eliminated the 18-pounder, simplifying his ammunition loading and handling problem by dropping one caliber. The gun had been virtually useless, anyway, since the ship's bow structure was not well suited to the accommodation of a chase gun.
Bainbridge may have been a jerk of a human being, but he was an astute naval commander and he thought it made more sense to offload the 18 pdr chase gun and make room to store more 24 pdr ammunition for his main guns.
So the 16 gun ports and the spar deck bow chaser as provided in the kit could not co-exist. The easiest solution to bring things into alignment is to ditch the bow chaser and the two forward main deck guns and call it a day. You’d likely have the correct representation of Constitution’s configuration when she scored her victory over HMS Java. Since I am trying to show her during the battle with HMS Guerriere, I will preserve the bow chaser gun, but I will need to take the drastic step of filling in the forward bridle ports.
If you want to represent her last war cruise under Charles Stewart, then you’ll have to revisit the carronades on the spar deck. Here again Commander Martin provides some insight:
[Charles Stewart] reduced the number of carronades to twenty and added two 24-pounder "shifting gunades" recently captured from the British by an American privateer. Designed by Sir William Congreve in 1814, each was 8' 6" long, but being of thinner barrel construction weighed only about 5000 pounds on carriage. The design was an attempt to combine the range of a long gun with the lighter weight of a carronade. The pair sat on carriages like the long guns, and it was expected that, since they were lighter, they could readily be shifted from side to side as combat required.
Apparently Stewart had the two forward most and two aft most carronades removed and replaced with one each of the newfangled gunnades. I have no idea how these actually looked when mounted on a carriage, but it might be possible to find slightly over scale carronade barrels and mount them to the two gun carriages no longer needed on the main gun deck. Oh, and you’d also need to paint her with a yellow band - that is well documented.
Regarding the carronades... As represented in the kit with the wooden quoins, these would seem to be rather quaint. The carriages on the foredeck with their small trucks would also seem to be inappropriate for 1812. Certainly by the time of Trafalgar it would be more typical for a carronade to be mounted with a pin to the bulwark with trajectory controlled by an elevation screw. I think Karl Heinz Marquardt addresses these same concerns in his AOTS book since the restored ship has these outmoded versions still represented. I’ll optimistically try to modify all of the carronades to include the elevation screws and eliminate the funky rolling carriages on the foredeck.
Many folks get caught up in the various permutations of the stern gallery windows. Were there six or five?... or three or eight? The Hull model shows six, but the Corne paintings have five... I’m frankly not concerned either way. I assume there were many chances for the configuration to have changed across the years as different commanders supervised different refits within different time and budget limitations. Perhaps Hull and his crew replaced the six windows with only five after destroying the original gallery windows during their escape from Broke’s squadron (they axed out the windows and some of the transom to position guns to fire at their pursuers). Maybe there were always six and Corne got this wrong. Nobody knows the truth and we likely never will... I’m fine with working with the six depicted on the kit.
The rudder on this kit is a bit perplexing... It is moulded with wood grain without any copper plating represented. Hmmm... That doesn’t seem correct. I’ll ponder the idea of putting some of my extra styrene strips to work and setting that right.
Of course the kit provided plastic eyelets and rings are worthless - easily broken and a bit over scale. Those will be replaced with wire or PE versions. Somehow I managed to not break any of the plastic hammock cranes on my first effort all those years ago, but I’ll replace those with ones fashioned from brass micro-tubing and Jotika eyelets. Some of the thinner spars are also vulnerable to bending/breakage. I’ll try to shape some brass rod for replacements. I’ll need to carefully consider the moulded blocks - some may be usable or otherwise converted to usefulness. I suspect I’ll replace most with online purchases. The gun port lids will be omitted altogether - the Hull model and the credible paintings of the period (including the Corne series) don’t show them mounted (although the Hull model has a lid for the forward most ports).
The pre-formed ratlines, moulded deadeyes, and vacuum formed sails will not be utilized. ‘Nuff said. As for the accuracy of the rig represented in the kit... I am having trouble finding a stable representation of her complete masting and rigging layout. The 1817 Charles Ware diagram may be about the best, but as Marquardt points out it differs in some respects to other seemingly authoritative sources. It is also interesting to note that the Corne paintings are showing crows feet rigged... that is unique. At least it appears that the trysail mast (immediately abaft the mizzen) is authentic - records indicate that Isaac Hull had this added to allow better movement for the boom and gaff. The Hull model clearly shows it fitted as well. I’ll worry more about the rigging when I’m much closer to that phase, but in the meantime I’ll probably fork over the $60 bucks for the Bluejacket manual set and perhaps rely on that for guidance...
The biggest bugaboo in this kit is the multi-part decking. Ugh... The forums are full of attempts to mitigate the unsightly seams with various levels of success. Some folks just don’t worry about them at all and instead try to make the rest of the deck interesting enough to be distracting. I’ve even seen one modeler glue “battens” over them and pass them off as a “feature”. My first attempt was relatively successful in aligning the deck sections and eliminating any meaningful gap, but I was hesitant to fill and sand because I was trying to preserve the moulded wood grain detail. I was attempting to follow the “Les Wilkins” method of using a razor or low-grit sandpaper to remove the top layer of tan paint to reveal the base coat of black and highlight the grain (guidance that is also provided in the Revell instructions). I’ve since decided that the grain is a bit overdone at this scale and it’d be best to smooth everything down and use shades of paint and perhaps some artist pencils to impart the wood tones. Eliminating the seams is more important than preserving the grain.
There are many fine efforts out there... Here’s one that inspires - well known to those of us who prowl the web for impressive builds:
Other useful online resources:
Here are some of the modifications I hope to incorporate along the way:
Fill in the forward Bridle ports.
Thicken the gunport sills.
Add a scratch built galley stove.
Show the anchor cable/messenger cable rigged on the gun deck.
Display Carronades with elevation screws.
Replace rolling carronade carriages with lug mounted versions.
Copper plating on the rudder.
Hammock Cranes fashioned from brass micro-tubing.
Brass Rod for delicate spars.
New capstan on spar deck (and gun deck).
Paint scheme (guidance from Corne paintings and Hull model):
Yellow ochre band ending up forward in a scalloped half-circle.
White trim on bow and stern details.
Red gallery windows.
Red gunport sills/linings,
Green interior bulwarks on spar deck.
White bulwarks on the gun deck.
Green deck coamings/furniture on spar deck.
Yellow ochre lower masts with “natural” above.
Tops in Black.
Black bowsprit with “natural” jib boom.
Let the fun begin.