Revell's large scale Spanish Galleon and English Man o' War

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Revell's large scale Spanish Galleon and English Man o' War

  • I was at a yard sale today and found both of these kits, still shrink wrapped, and paid a total of $1.00 for them.  It was quite a find!  However, I am sceptical about the historical accuracy of these ships, given that both kits are of precisely the same molds except that the "English" version has a different rig.  They have no specific names; they are simply generic period galleons.

    Is anyone out there aware of which ships they are supposed to represent?  Does anyone have suggestions about building them into better models?  Does anyone have specific thoughts about these kits?  My goal is to try and build them into what Professor Tilley calls "real scale models".

    Thanks for any input!  I sincerely hope that this thread turns into a productive conversation!

    Bill Morrison

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  • Well, it sounds like the biggest problem will be the hull molds.  If they are the same, then one of them is wrong!  English galleons and Spanish galleons differed fairly significantly, as I recall.   English galleons were quite fast and maneuverable, while the Spanish were often large towering affairs (at least this was generally the case at the time of the Armada), none too weatherly, but heavily armed.  On this note, during the days of the Armada, there are many references to 'race-built' English and Dutch galleons, which differ from the standard by having no fo'c'sle at all, just a clean sweep from the quarter deck forward.  The only model I have seen which represents this well is actually the Swedish 'Vasa,' which was built to Dutch principles some time later, but illustrates the effect.  Has anyone seen another model galleon which demonstrates this principle?
  • I have built both of these ships, there are subtle differences them though, mainly the number of masts. You can forget about converting them into anything even remotley resembling ships of historic accuracy. I built my man-o-war into my rendition of the black pearl, and i must say for a fictional ship the build was quite enjoyable, and i'm pleased with the result.



  • Michael D.,

    Do you have any pictures?


  • I'm inclined to agree with Michael D.  These two kits, in my personal opinion, are of interest mainly as relics of a remarkably dreary period in the history of the plastic model kit - and maybe as sources of spare parts.

    The "Spanish Galleon" originally appeared in 1970.  (The date, like all other specific information in this post, is from Dr. Thomas Graham's outstanding book, Remembering Revell Model Kits.)  At that time Revell had recently gone through a big change of management and, like most other kit manufacturers, was suffering serious financial problems.  The youth market was deserting the hobby, companies were going out of business (or getting bought out by toy companies) right and left, and the survivors were looking desperately for ways to draw in new consumers.

    Here (slightly abridged) is the description of the kit from Dr. Graham's appendix:  "A robust, twenty-five inch long model.  Eagle figurehead, three masts, lower poop deck, row of shields along sides are major differences from H-397 English Man-O-War (1972).  Lloyd Jones researched this model at the reference library of MGM movie studio."

    The last sentence is, I think, significant and ominous.  Mr. Jones was (and I imagine still is; I assume he's still with us) a deeply respected and highly knowledgable aircraft modeler and researcher.  But by 1970, it seems, the artisans and researchers who had been responsible for the beautiful Revell sailing ship kits of the fifties and sixties were gone.  And the idea of a movie studio as a source of information for the design of a ship model...'nuff said.

    The "English Man-O-War" was initially released in 1972.  Again, here's Dr. Graham's description (abridged):  "Big thirty-inch model....Differences from H-400 Spanish Galleon are lion figurehead, absence of shields along sides, extra poop deck and fourth mast.  This kit was designed to look like a traditional old-fashioned wooden ship model."

    That last sentence, again, is pretty eloquent.  I can remember reading, in my humble capacity as a part-time clerk in a local hobby shop, some of the trade literature Revell was sending to its distributors and dealers.  I specifically recall a description of the "English Man-O-War" kit:  "We've zeroed in on the market with this one:  young married couples and interior decorators."  Note the lack of reference to scale modelers - who, in 1972, apparently (and probably correctly) were assumed to comprise an insignificant percentage of Revell's clientele.

    Two phrases are virtually guaranteed to make a serious scale ship modeler's eyes roll:  "pirate ship" and "Spanish galleon."  (I'm tempted to add another one:  "tall ship."  It's utterly meaningless except in the minds of marketers.)  "Pirate ship," as participants in this Forum probably know, has virtually no meaning in terms of naval architecture; a vessel used for piracy almost by definition had been built for some other purpose.  There really was such a thing as a "Spanish galleon" all right, but the term was used for such a long time, and has such a vague meaning, that it doesn't really mean a whole lot.  More importantly, the available contemporary information about Spanish warships of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is extremely scanty; the truth is that we have only a vague notion of what the ships of the Armada of 1588 looked like.  (We do know enough, though, to make it clear that using the same hull as the bases for models of both English and Spanish warships of the period is ridiculous.) 

    I don't know what Mr. Jones found in the MGM library, but the overall shape of both those hulls is, to my eye at least, pretty silly-looking.  I question whether the stern structure of either of them would be capable of supporting itself.  The proportions of the spars are way off.  (There undoubtedly were variations, but in the usual sail plan of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries each square-rigged yard was half the length of the yard below it.) The "English" kit is, if anything, even worse than the "Spanish" one.  (Caveat:  sometime back another Forum member mentioned that he'd converted it into an English warship of a somewhat later period.  He didn't provide any pictures, as I recall, but he certainly seemed to know what he was doing and was satisfied with the results.)

    On the other hand, $1.00 for those two big boxes can hardly be called a bad deal.  If I remember correctly, each of the kits contained a sprue full of crew figures who were recycled from Revell's excellent 1/96 Golden Hind.  The figures in Revell ship kits were, without exception, superb; I wouldn't mind paying a dollar apiece for those little guys.  I don't remember what the guns looked like, but I suspect they'd be usable in other projects.  If nothing else, the deck and hull parts, with their "wood grain" detail, would make distinguished contributions to a box full of parts for scratchbuilding.

    Revell (the American branch of the company that is; Revell Germany's ship releases are another story that Dr. Graham doesn't cover) only released one more genuinely new sailing ship kit after these two horrors:  the excellent little Viking ship, in 1977.  That one, in my opinion, is one of the best sailing ship kits ever.  Its details look like they were done by a completely different group of people than the ones responsible for the two kits we're discussing here.  The Viking ship, according to Dr. Graham, was in the Revell catalog for only two years, and, as of the publication of his book in 2004, had not been reissued.  (Fortunately it reappeared in a Revell Europe box last year, and currently can be found in hobby shops and on some websites; my advice to every plastic sailing ship enthusiast is to grab it while you can.) 

    I'm aware of seven Armada-period plastic ship kits that are worth building.  (Actually that number is, by comparison with other periods in the history of the sailing ship, pretty high.) The Revell Golden Hind is one of my all-time favorites.  The Airfix Revenge is an older kit without as much detail, but the basic shapes of it are sound (clearly based on the famous Matthew Baker Manuscript); it could quite easily form the basis of a good scale model.  Moving a little, but not much, afield from 1588, both Revell versions of the Mayflower are outstanding. They feature some of the finest detail ever put into a plastic sailing ship kit.  The Airfix Golden Hind and Mayflower perhaps aren't quite up to that standard, but, like almost all other Airfix sailing ship kits, they're well-designed, basically sound kits that, with work, could produce beautiful results.

    The late, lamented Japanese company Imai, during its brief heyday in the late seventies and early eighties, produced several ship kits from this period.  I can't claim to be personally familiar with them; at that time my personal circumstances were such that my budget couldn't handle Imai prices.  But Imai never made junk [later edit:  other than the Chinese variety.  Sorry about that; I really didn't mean to do it.  Really.].  I've read in several places that the Imai "Spanish Galleon" is just about the only kit (plastic, wood, or otherwise) floating around under that dubious name that's a reasonable, believable interpretation of a Spanish ship of the Armada era.  I haven't read as much about the Imai Golden Hind, but I suspect it, like all the company's other sailing ship kits, is a good one.  Imai had a knack for combining relatively simple, robust parts with overall accuracy (or at least believability); every Imai kit I've encountered has certainly been worth building, and the best of the company's products are among the best the industry has ever offered.  Several of the Imai kits have reappeared recently under the Aoshima label - unfortunately at extremely high prices. 

    The "wood grain" detail on those Imai kits looks remarkably similar to that on the Revell Viking ship - which doesn't look much like the "wood grain" in any other Revell kit.  One does have to wonder.


    Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • I have always had a personal prejudice against ship model kits that don't represent specific ships. I agree that "Spanish Galleon" and "English Man o' War" are almost laughable titles of kits.  And, I have always hated that term "tall ship" as well. I wonder when the manufacturers will drag that term out and name a kit after it.  By the way, I bought an Aoshima re-release of the old Imai USS SUSQUEHANNA on ebay for the requested "Buy It Now" price of $49.00 from a dealer in Korea.  His prices seem to be okay but it took 9 weeks to receive the kit. His seller ID is bboykorea.  You might want to check out his ebay store for those Imai/Aoshima re-releases.

    JTilley, I was unaware of the dimensions you mentioned, at least the specific ratios for yardarms. That was most helpful! Thanks!

    Bill Morrison

  • Here's a link Bill.  /forums/660663/ShowPost.aspx




  • I have to say I think there's a place for generic, nameless ship models - especially when they're based on plans or reconstructions that aren't identified with specific ships.  I'd be more comfortable with a model labeled "Spanish Galleon of 1588:  A Reconstruction" (assuming the reconstruction was done intelligently, on the basis of sound research) than one labeled "San Martin."  For that matter, I wouldn't object if Airfix had labeled its Revenge kit "English Warship of About 1588, Based on the Matthew Baker Manuscript."  That in fact is what it is. 

    The application of names to kits based on documents that don't have actual names attached to them occasionally produces some amusing results.  In the grand old days of Model Shipways (before the firm got bought out by Model Expo), it was owned by two first-rate gentlemen named John Shedd and Sam Milone.  The company made a couple of quite popular wood schooner kits.  One was based on acontemporary drawing of an unnamed Chesapeake Bay pilot schooner; the other on a contemporary drawing of a Baltimore clipper.  Several generations of modelers have grown up thinking of those two kits as the pilot schooner Katy and the privateer Dapper Tom.  That Katy was John Shedd's wife and Dapper Tom was his college roommate (or maybe it was Mr. Shedd's own nickname; accounts differ) was a not-very-well-kept secret.  In its current reissues of the two kits, Model Expo, to its credit, has let the cats out of the bag.

    I've often thought that a generic model would make a refreshing break from the habit of slavishly following detailed plans and documents.  One of these days I want to build a generic fishing schooner or tugboat, put all sorts of interesting, fun, generic details on it, put my wife's name on the stern, and see how many observers figure out what I've done.  I don't think I'll name an English galleon after her, though.

    In any event, I certainly agree with those whose preferences are for named models based on named sources.

    Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  •  jtilley wrote:


    I've often thought that a generic model would make a refreshing break from the habit of slavishly following detailed plans and documents.  One of these days I want to build a generic fishing schooner or tugboat, put all sorts of interesting, fun, generic details on it, put my wife's name on the stern, and see how many observers figure out what I've done.  I don't think I'll name an English galleon after her, though.


    And certainly don't name a scow or barge after a lady, either!

    I'm from the government and I'm here to help.

  • Michael D.

    Thanks for the link! It is an interesting build!


  • JTilley,

    I do undestand what you are saying about generic ship models. I would have to grudgingly agree with your point that a well-founded and researched generic "Spanish Galleon of 1588" certainly has a place among better ship models.  I would refine that a little by stating something like "1000 ton Spanish Galleon of 1588" or "750 ton Spanish Galleon of 1588," etc.  Afterall, there were many designs reflecting the term "Galleon," in fact, the type can be somewhat differentiated by national origin as well as locale of the design and build.

    That leads me back to the kits in question.  Can they serve as the basis of accurate generic builds?  Please tell me what you (or anyone) thinks.

    Bill Morrison

  • I agree completely that adding any relevant qualifiers to the label of a "generic" reconstruction would be a good idea.  I think what's most important is to clarify that it is in fact a reconstruction.  One of my few complaints about the Revell Golden Hind is that the company gave the purchaser of the kit no hint of that fact, or any hint of the sources on which the model is based. 

    Regarding the two big Revell kits - I think it's useful to rephrase the question slightly.  It is, of course, possible to turn virtually anything, up to and including a beef bone, into a scale ship model.  So maybe the relevant question is:  would turning these kits into scale models be substantially easier than working from scratch?  In my personal opinion the answer is no. 

    One could, I suppose, argue that, because we know so little about real vessels of the period, there's no proof that the Revell kits are "inaccurate."  But a competent reconstruction needs to take into account the information that does exist.  Even taking into consideration the paucity of reliable information about Spanish and English ships of the late sixteenth century, the proportions of those hulls just aren't believable.  I'm sure some of the fittings could be put to good use in a scratchbuilt model, but if I were trying to build a model of an English or Spanish warship from the Armada period I'd literally rather start from scratch. 

    I'll qualify that with my usual caveat:  to each his/her own.  I certainly have no business passing judgment on any modeler who wants to try it.  But from my personal standpoint, even given the much discussed absence of new plastic sailing ship kits on the market, there are enough to keep me busy for a long time without resorting to those two.

    Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • I think that there is one assumption that we can make from what is known; the kit purporting to be English is another variation of the Spanish kit. Given the major differences between English and Spanish ships of the period, modeling it as a generic English "Man o' War (whatever that term is supposed to mean!) is out of the question. I also like jtilley's comment that one can turn anything , even a beef bone, into a scale model. As an historian, I also appreciate his comment that the sources from which these kits are based would be essential to any appropriate build. 

    Bill Morrison

  • And here is an example of a ship model made from bone (French prisoner of war ship model)

  • I thought that it would be appropriate for me to provide a brief synopsis of the differences between Spanish and English galleons of 1588, since both kits claim to represent ships of the Armada era.

    Most frontline warships of the time were broad-beamed in proportion to the length of their hulls, with enormous castellated superstructures fore and aft.  These "castles" functioned as siege towers from which soldiers would fire down onto the deck of an enemy ship that had been grappled alongside.  The combination of low length to beam ratio and the effects of the castles rendered such ships to be very difficult to maneuver and they were very slow.

    When John Hawkins assumed a degree of control over Elizabeth I's navy in the 1570's, he began a series of ship reconstructions to lengthen the ships and cut down those awkward castles, using the highly successful Revenge as his precedent.  His goal was to improve the navy by making the ships more highly maneuverable and faster than its opponents.  Whereas the fighting doctrine of the day emphasized grappling and boarding, Hawkins believed that maneuverability and rapid-fire heavy gunnery from a distance was to become more effective.  By 1588, Hawkins' reconstruction program was complete.

    As a result, at the time of the Armada, the English ships more closely resembled the "race-built" galleon depicted in the famous drawings by Matthew Baker (alleged to be  Revenge).  These ships were sleeker, narrower, and lower to the sea than their Spanish counterparts.

    Therefore, the Revell kits cannot represent both English and Spanish galleons of 1588.  They are basically the same kit with minor differences.  They both have the low length to beam ratio found more likely in Spanish than English ships.  They both have the very high fore and aft castles, again found typically in Spanish ships. The detail differences between the kits have already been identified in an earlier posting and won't be dealt with here.

    It is clear that the English kit is not an English warship of 1588; rather, she represents a Spanish ship with a different rig than the other kit.

    That being said, does anyone believe that these kits are salvageable as Spanish Galleons of 1588?

    Bill Morrison