Trumpeter 1/350 Liberty Ship Build Review

Trumpeter 1/350 Liberty Ship Build Review

Lovely kit of an interesting, historically significant, and under-represented subject.  I enjoyed this very much, though realistic ship weathering remains elusive.

Liberty ships remain an unsung hero of WWII: American industrial capacity was the real “war-winning weapon” while the various warships, tanks, planes and other equipment are well known.  However, with everything produced in the USA having to be transported across an ocean to reach the battlefield, the vast numbers of rapidly-built Liberty ships enabled the war to be fought.

I think these ships are seen as unglamourous because they were utilitarian and common: mass-produced based on old designs in a world where enthusiasts prefer the cutting edge of technology or the rare “wonder weapons”.  However they are actually a far better symbol of the “total war” that WWII became than any of these, having been largely built by a workforce largely comprised of women and who had little or no previous welding or shipbuilding experience.  It was truly a “war-winning” ship, as in the Atlantic the Liberty ships were able to compensate for the tonnage sunk, while in the Pacific we see that the Japanese lost such a large proportion of their merchant fleet that they had to detail warships to deliver relatively small amounts of supplies.  After the war this supply of cheap cargo ships helped new shipping entrepreneurs get global trade moving, so they really are a remarkable and significant type.

Based on older British designs for simple cargo ships, the American manufacturers introduced widespread welding which made the ships stronger, lighter, and quicker to build.  They were powered by old triple-expansion steam engines such as might be found on a steam locomotive rather than the turbines that had become common for maritime use: these were cheap and easy to build and operate, were serviceable for slow constant-speed convoy work, while also not competing with warships for expensive and rarer turbines.

Over 2,700 Liberty ships were built before being superceded by the further-improved Victory ships, which enlarged and modernised the design.  These were able to include turbine engines as war production had ramped up sufficiently, while further improvements to welding techniques and design iterations allowed more extensive prefabrication and ever shorter construction times.  However they appeared after the Battle of the Atlantic was all but over, so it was the Liberty ship that made the difference here.

The kit

This is another nice ship kit from Trumpeter.  As with other kits of theirs, I found the engineering is generally simple with most superstructure elements being formed of four walls and a roof which mostly fit together.  The hull is a two-piece design split at the waterline which offers easy modification to a waterline design at the cost of a more annoying seam to clean up for a full hull version.

My biggest gripe with this kit is that it doesn’t come with a stand, which all other ships I have seen do.

This kit is offered in two variants which allow the modeller to easily reproduce two Liberty ships which are operated as museums today.  This means there are a few details which should be removed to represent a wartime vessel: the name boards, campaign ribbons and artworks for example are all post-war additions.

I used Eduard’s photoetch detail set, but was judicious about which parts to use.  Mostly this ended up being the railings.  I think that was a good decision: the railings add quite a bit of realism to the model but many of the other parts would have involved cutting away a fair bit of detail for no huge gain.

Rigging was done with Uschi elastic thread, following a layout for the cranes taken from wartime photos.  Again, the kit instructions are accurate for the museum ships but these have their cranes in a “ready” rather than stowed position.

Realistic ship weathering continues to prove elusive.  As previously, I am finding it very hard to get visible yet subtle effects in this scale.

I really enjoyed this little kit, and would love to see more cargo ship kits.  Given the relatively small size of this one (only about 30cm) I also think it would be a good option for a 1/200 or even 1/144 kit where it would have far more presence (but at 50 or 70cm respectively would still be smaller than a 1/350 battleship) and representing things like deck cargoes and accurate rigging for the cranes would be more viable.  Sadly, I suspect there isn’t a lot of demand, so I hope that this has piqued your interest in a very significant part of WWII history.

Further detail photos

1 comment

Beautiful! My Grandfather spent the war as a Gunner’s Mate in the US Navy Armed Guard detachment assigned to the Liberty ship SS Richard J. Gatling.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *