3. U-Boat Type VII - 1941
"The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril."
German "U-Boat" submarines sunk some 3,500 Allied merchant vessels and 175 Allied warships during the war, but some 30,000 German submariners lost their lives in the process.
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Kit: 1/350 German U-Boat Type VII C
Decals: I used the kit’s decals
Date: Nov 2010
History: One of the most notorious weapons systems employed by the Germans against the Allies during World War II, the U-Boats wrought a wave of undersea terror against merchant convoys in the North Atlantic. The island nation of Britain depended heavily on imported goods for her survival, and the U-Boat proved to be just the weapon for the job of destroying Britain’s essential supply ships. Winston Churchill famously said that “The only thing that really frightened me during the war was the U-Boat peril”, and statistics would bear him out. While 783 U-Boats were sunk during the war, they took with them 3,500 merchant supply ships and some Allied 175 warships. It was not until mid-1943 that the Allies had built up their surface and air patrol forces to the point where they could mount unceasing patrols against the U-Boats and thus start to turn the tide against them.
The Type VIIC U-Boat formed the backbone of Karl Donitz’s submarine force throughout the war. While numbers vary, some 601 of them were built with 591 actually being commissioned. When the war started 152 Type VIIC boats were on order with construction taking place in thirteen different shipyards, and the first Type VIIC was commissioned in June 1940. The Type VIIC had many qualities; chief among them was that it was large and rugged enough to handle the North Atlantic but small enough to be mass produced.
I chose to model U-96, one of the most famous U-Boats of the war. U-96 achieved its fame not only through its success, but also because it was the subject of Das Boot, a book that became so popular it eventually spawned a miniseries and a hit movie in 1982. Its first commander, Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, would go on to become the sixth highest scoring U-Boat ace in the Kriegsmarine during the war.
The Kit: AFV Club has recently been issuing new kits of the various U-Boat types in 1/350 scale. Molded in their usual olive green plastic, this kit consists of three sprues of parts, the upper deck section, one fret of photo-etch parts, and a small sheet of decals. AFV Club gives you the option of building the kit as a full model or a waterline model, and I chose to build the full version.
One thing that surprised me upon opening the box is how small the kit is, and thus how small a real U-Boat was. A few years ago I built a DML/Dragon 1/350 Los Angeles Class submarine model and in comparison it positively dwarfs the U-Boat. That such a small vessel could wreak so much havoc is something worth pondering.
The quality of the molding is excellent, and includes some of the thinnest and smallest parts I’ve seen in injection molded plastic. The hull parts are beautifully detailed, and the detail on the decking is exquisite. AFV Club deserves to be commended for putting so much detail into such a small kit.
Construction: Construction began with the upper pressure hull, which is then trapped between the halves of the lower hull. The deck goes on next, followed by the bow planes and the 8.8cm deck gun. AFV Club cleverly devised a way to let the gun swivel once construction is complete, but I glued mine so it was pointing straight ahead.
Assembling the conning tower was next, and it is beautifully rendered. The fineness of the various antennas and masts is impressive, but also a bit difficult to work with because the parts are so small. A good pair of tweezers is a must.
After the conning tower there were various small parts to go onto the deck, followed by the propellers and rudders. When it comes to the various railings that go on the deck and conning tower AFV Club provides them in both photo etch and finely molded injection plastic.
I left off the net cutter on the bow of the ship, as most U-Boats did away with those by the start of the war anyway. Off to the spray booth.
Painting & Markings: After wiping the model down with Polly S Plastic Prep I sprayed a primer coat of Mr. Surfacer 1200 onto the sub and then checked all of the seams, as tiny as they were. I next pre-shaded some of the panel lines with Tamiya Flat Black XF-1, and then lightly sprayed some Testors Acrylic Gunship Gray (FS36118) on to the lower hull areas below the waterline, letting the pre-shading show through. That was masked off, and then I sprayed Tamiya XF20 Medium Gray lightly above the waterline.
With only two tiny decals to apply, I didn’t apply any Future to the model. Of course the decals, the two famous “laughing swordfish” that adorn the conning tower, fought me and wouldn’t settle down over the detail on the tower, even with large amounts of Walthers Solvaset. Luckily AFV Club has the foresight to give you two sets of each decal, so I scraped off the offending decal and the offending detail, dabbed on some paint, and reapplied the second decal. Incidentally, AFV Club portrays the swordfish as blue. They might be right, they might be wrong, nobody really knows. It seems the swordfish over the years has been portrayed as red, green, gray, and now blue. I must say that blue goes nicely with gray, for what it’s worth.
Up next was the weathering, and on a very small model like this I wanted to keep it subtle. I gave the entire model a wash of MIG Productions “Dark Wash” to bring out the recessed details. I then used a very small brush to apply some tiny rust streaks here and there using Testors Enamel Rust. A few detail items had to be picked out by hand. The screws were painted Testors Enamel Gold, and the tiny horseshoe-shaped life preservers on the conning tower were painted Testors Enamel Red. The 20mm AA gun and the tips of the masts on the conning tower were painted black, and then I dry-brushed a little black around the diesel exhaust on the rear of deck.
Conclusions: After a string of some long, drawn-out models I was looking for a “quick kill”, and this turned out to be just the thing. The AFV Club kit was a very pleasant surprise, beautifully detailed yet simple to build. Yes there are some very small parts to contend with, but they are too few in number to make assembly tedious. If you’re looking for a quick, fun weekend-style build of a very important part of maritime history, you can do a lot worse than this kit.
- Osprey Publications, “Wolfpack”, Gordon Williamson
- Squadron/Signal Publications, Warships in Action #1, “U-Boats in Action”
- Wikipedia, the Online Encyclopedia