Kit Reviews

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Italeri 1/35 scale PT-109

By John Plzak
Published: May 6, 2013
Click the photo for a larger view
Kit:  5613
Scale:  1/35
Price:  $189
Pros:  Photographic reference manual; good use of photoetched metal; 37mm gun with makeshift mount; one-piece hull
Cons:  Photoetched metal thick and hard to cut; markings diagrams were incomplete; instructions provide little information on detail painting
Manufacturer:  Italeri, from Model Rectifier Corp., 732-225-2100
Injection-molded, 420 parts (80 photoetched-metal, 61 miscellaneous screws, clear vinyl die-cuts)

Near the end of April 1943, a young U.S. Navy junior grade lieutenant received his first command, PT-109. Slightly more than three months later, on the night of August 2, PT-109 would be destroyed, cut in half by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri. The actions of Lt.j.g. John F. Kennedy that night in the rescue of all but two of his crew would earn him the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for courage as well as a Purple Heart. 

Italeri has revamped its 1/35 scale model of the Elco 80' PT boat to reissue the kit as the famous PT-109. The kit features a one-piece hull, and several new sprues to backdate the kit to the earlier PT-103-class boat. Just before its last mission, the crew of PT-109 had lashed a 37mm cannon to the foredeck; Italeri has included this option with the kit.

All the clear parts are provided on a die-cut sheet of very clear vinyl. Also included are 80 pieces of photoetched metal. An errata sheet covers corrections to the 40-page instruction booklet. As many Italeri kits do, this one supplies a 24-page photographic reference manual. Decals are provided for the 109 boat only.

I started assembly by drilling out the holes in the deck. About a month before Kennedy took command of 109, a misfire of the stowed forward port torpedo took out the port depth charge rack. It’s not clear if the rack was ever replaced, so I decided to show my model without it. I also did some damage to the toe rail in that area to represent the incident.

I assembled as much of the kit as possible before painting, leaving off small items that would be in the way or required a color different from the base paint. The forward cabin needed a little filling where the roof meets the side walls. All of the hatches can be posed open, but, with no interior to look at, I glued all of mine closed. All of the windows were left out until painting was complete. I also added as much of the photoetched metal as I could before painting. (I find that I get a better bond with super glue on the bare plastic.)

The 37mm cannon is a bit basic, but adequate for the model. The only problem I had with its assembly was the position of the traversing gear (22F). Its location is vague in the instructions. I would suggest leaving the part off until the main shield is attached so it does not interfere with the shield. I also left the gun assembly loose from the carriage so I could better access the carriage when lashing it to the deck.

There is a bit of controversy over the color of 109. Clearly, the boat was painted gray when it left the shipyards in August 1942. But many believe it was painted green once it was in the Pacific theater. The few pictures of it during Kennedy’s command look too dark to be gray, so I painted my model with a base coat of Tamiya NATO green (XF-67 ). Once that layer was dry, I lightened the paint with a bit with cockpit green (XF-71) and used this mix to highlight panels in a random cloud pattern on the deck and hull to break up the solid color of these large areas. I painted the area below the waterline with Tamiya TS-33 hull red from a spray can. The 37mm gun was painted olive drab.

After a coat of Pledge Future floor polish, I found a few problems with the decal placements. The instructions show placing the 109 (Decal 9) on the front of the cabin below the windows. But the box art and a photo in the reference manual of Kennedy’s boat show the 109 just below the roof line, so that is where I placed mine. Also, the instructions tell you to put decal No. 8 on the opposite (starboard) side, but not where to place it. Looking at photos of other boats, I placed my starboard 109 on the gun turret just below the grab rail.

With painting complete, I began adding subassemblies to the hull. Make sure you follow the sequence shown in the instructions when adding the parts to avoid conflicts later on. The most tedious part of the kit was adding all of the deck skylights. I installed the clear vinyl windows with liquid PSA (pressure-sensitive adhesive). Then I added the photoetched-metal grilles, using a drop of super glue in each corner. The photoetched metal is a little thick, making it a bit difficult to cut, but it bends easily.

None of the pictures I could find of PT-109 in the Pacific shows the mast. This was either removed or in the stowed position, so I stowed mine. Also, no photos show 109 with a searchlight in place, so I left mine off, filling the locating holes with putty during assembly. Finally, building the photoetched-metal windshield assembly requires dealing with very delicate parts. You could save yourself the trouble, however — by the time Kennedy was on board, the windshield had been replaced by armor plating (clearly seen in the photo of Kennedy behind the wheel on Page 12 of the reference guide). It would be easy to make replacement parts out of sheet styrene using the vinyl windows as templates.

It took me about 35 hours to build PT-109 — not bad for such a large, complex boat. The finished model matches my references in length perfectly, but it is about ¼" too wide in the beam according to U.S. Patrol Torpedo Boats, by Gordon L. Rottman (Osprey, ISBN 978-1-84603-227-1) — close enough for me not to worry about it. I think average modelers would be able to build this kit as long as they have a bit of experience handling photoetched-metal parts. I suspect Italeri will sell a boatload of these kits, as there has long been a demand for a high-quality, large kit of the legendary PT-109.

Note: A version of this review appeared in the July 2013 FineScale Modeler.

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5 stars
excellent job! great subject; quite a bit out of my price range but still and impressive model
Nice job. I may have to get this kit. Looks great.
What is a cloud pattern and how did you get some of the details darker?
5 stars
Italeri sells figure kits for some of their other boat kits but not for the PT109. Not sure why. Would be nice to have appropriate figures for it
5 stars
Wow, Great job as usual. it looks like a fun build.
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