The advent of ironclad warships in the American Civil War instantly changed the rules of naval warfare. The menacing hulks were difficult to destroy and shore batteries see their cannon shells bounce off the iron sheathing without harming the upper decks. Even ironclads fight each other to a standstill without much apparent damage unless shortage of ammunition and supplies force one side to retreat. New methods were devised to sink these floating steel fortresses. The idea of detonating a powerful explosive charge beneath the waterline where the ironclad is more vulnerable became a viable option. Such a daring endeavor require small vessels, not large warships to approach and get close enough to jam the charge against the hull at a safe distance, and then detonated by a long rope connected to the firing fuse.
The US Navy started experimenting with these 45 footer picket boats (what we will call a launch today) powered only by steam engine and using a long spar to hold the torpedo charge. Defended by one single bow-mounted howitzer, the crew has to muster the spar into position pointing forward of the boat angled below the waterline of their target ship. On 27th October 1864, Lt. Cushing and a force of three picket boats launched an audacious night operation to sink the Confederate ironclad ram CSS Albemarle along the Roanoke River in North Carolina. The attack succeeded but only Lt. Cushing and one other crew member managed to escape capture. Here is a link where you can read about the Attack on the Albemarle. However, it was the first real “torpedo boat” ever deployed by the US Navy and was the beginning of a whole new concept of naval warfare.
This 1/96th scale kit is made by a small resin kit manufacturer, Cottage Industry Models based in South Carolina. They specialize in a series of Civil War boats, ironclads and even some early submarines like the Hunley and the Alligator (future projects that I hope to show here). The way the small parts are molded onto a common thick plate, a lot of careful cutting and sawing will be needed to preserve the parts. This is a mixed media kit, including white metal parts, brass and aluminum wires, thread, and even a little bag of real coal granules. This kit is a more suitable for intermediate and advanced resin kit builders.
First task is to separate the boat hull from the casting bar that is fused with the keel. This has to be done carefully or the entire keel would be accidentally cut away or misshapen. I used colored markers to mark where the keel should be, so that I can carefully cut away extra resin material. I grind away the larger portions with a Dremel wheel tool. As we get closer to the keel, I use a micro plane blade and straight razor cutter. Then I use fine grade 600 and 1000 sandpaper to finish the keel.
Once the keel is completely clean, I check the fit against the display cradle. I also clean up the resin interior of the boat.
Next, I build the boiler assembly. The main boiler block is a single detailed cast, while the smoke stack and valve are made from white metal.
Then the engine and driving gear assembly is put together.
A delicate piece of assembly is the howitzer mount onto the gun plate. The two mounting legs are not evenly formed, so care had to be taken to adjust the elevation and alignment by trimming off bits of the legs, and bending the U-shaped brackets to get the barrel to sit level.
The method of removing parts from the flat resin plate: To ensure that the line of separation is minimal, I use a fine scribing tool to cut a parting line along the thinner sections. For the thicker block section, a micro-saw is used to perform a flat cut across the face of resin plate.
For thick sections, I use the hard nippers to cut away some sections of the resin plate. This will leave the component with some thickness directly under the part . I cut this last section off with the same nippers. For larger parts, I would use a a piece of sandpaper backed with a solid flat surface to grind off the extra section below until I achieve an even thickness.
Once all the sub-assemblies are ready, I prime them with Tamiya NATO Black XF69.
The underside of the boat hull was sprayed with Model Master Acrylic Light Gray. The freeboard area of the hull is lined with Flat White FS37875, and Flat Black FS37038.
The interior of the boat is painted with Tamiya Wooden Deck Tan XF78.
Then I covered the tan area with Burnt Sienna oil paint, then the excess is removed with cotton buds. Only allowing enough to tint the surface and collect in the recesses, I place the pieces under a lamp to quicken the drying.
The torpedo spar support brackets are eyelets inserted into drilled holes. When the eyelets are installed, the alignment will have to be checked using the spar itself.
After the hull has been coated with a satin varnish, it is given an oil wash of 50:50 Lamp Black and Naples Yellow.
The coal granules that come in a sachet are then carefully poured into the coal bunker, and then fixed in place with an eye drop dispenser using diluted white glue. After that, the cover of the bunker is closed. I left one door removed to show the coal inside.
The engine and screw unit is painted Metalizer Gun Metal, and then installed against the aft bulkhead.
Now we mount the 12 pound howitzer at the forecastle. One can only imagine the kind of recoil reaction on the boat when it fires, since it lacks a pulley recoil arrangement to absorb the shock. The reaction force must have been passed directly into the boat hull itself. The barrel is painted Metalizer Gun Metal, while the rest of the body is painted Tamiay NATO Black with silver pencil highlights.
All the main fittings, rudder and the spar torpedo are in place. The only thing missing now is the boiler unit.
Now comes the tricky part of installing the spar torpedo’s tether ropes and the firing cord. The thread has to pass through a hole in the tackle block that is in turn attached to the top of the spar mast. In order to help the thread flop like real maritime rope would, I infused them with diluted white glue. Note the finer brown thread that is the attached to the torpedo. That would be the firing cord.
After the spar tether ropes, I finally installed the boiler unit. For the four diagonal guy wires attached to the boiler smoke stack, I use .008″ phosphor bronze wires with the ends bent into a tight hook.
The paper flag supplied in the kit has a modern 50-star US ensign pattern on it. Instead I printed a decal using the old 13-star ensign used during the Civil War, applied to aluminum cooking foil. This would be the finishing touch to this feisty little picket boat that sank a might ironclad.