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Tamiya 1/700 scale USS Saratoga (CV-3)

Kit:31713 // Scale:1/700 // Price:$68
Sharp molding; fine detail; good fits; clear instructions
Thick radar screen; thick, silvering decals
Injection-molded, 347 parts, decals

Tamiya demonstrates the increasing sophistication of 1/700 scale model production with its accurate depiction of the USS Saratoga, circa 1945, reflecting four years of war repairs and modifications that significantly altered the lines of the carrier that was launched in 1925. Off Iwo Jima in February 1945, kamikazes set Saratoga ablaze. But barely more than four hours after the first hit, the battle-hardened crew had controlled the fires. Sara recovered a few more aircraft that day, then retired to Bremerton, Wash., and was converted to a training ship. Its distinguished career met an inglorious end in 1946, when it was destroyed in an underwater nuclear bomb test at Bikini Atoll.

The kit comprises a two-piece slide-mold, waterlined asymmetrical hull; five medium-gray styrene sprues; one slab of ballast metal; and a sheet of deck decals. The molding has fine detail throughout with no flash or sink marks. The parts count is less daunting when you consider most of them are life rafts (72) and antiaircraft guns (53 mounts including 5", 40mm, and 20mm guns; 128 barrels in all). The 11-step instructions and 22 subassemblies are printed front and back on one sheet.

Building progresses in a logical fashion and will not present fit issues if you follow the instruction sheet. A note regarding parts C8, which have dual radar screens Mk.12/Mk.22 for the Mk.37 main antiaircraft directors: Take care to avoid trimming off the height-finding side screen.

Another two-sided sheet is enclosed for colors and decal placement. On the back side is a history of the ship in both Japanese and English.

The hull fits well, with its two-piece horizontal internal-support flat-bottom section and five internal vertical support brackets plus metal ballast, and the flight deck fits perfectly on the hull.

Building up the superstructure and stack, the only thing I would change would be to substitute photoetched metal for the blocky radar. The funnel top is nicely rendered, with open vents for the stacks. After that, be ready to assemble and place 72 rafts and all those gun mounts while determining aircraft location. Decals include only the flight deck and small No. 3 for the bow. (The camouflaged bow-elevator markings are memorable in that all the kamikaze attacks hit there or forward, not the true elevator location.) The deck decals are thick and easy to lay down, but they silvered on the finely detailed deck. They finally responded to Walthers Solvaset — but use that stuff with caution.

Notably, there is no U.S. 48-star flag included; you’ll have to add your own, as I did using stretched sprue for halyards.

You may wish for more of the well-detailed F6F-5N Hellcats and TBM-3N Avengers (four of each provided), but you should remember that, at the time, Saratoga was running flight operations ’round the clock. Hangar and deck crews were split for coverage, resulting in fewer aircraft on deck.

Tamiya’s accuracy, taking in all the changes to Saratoga after being laid down in 1920, is laudable. The kit scales out correctly to present an interesting look compared with earlier offerings of the Lexington-class carriers.

I spent 41 hours building, painting, and decaling Tamiya’s Saratoga, and I am pleased with the look of CV-3 at war’s end. Everything fits, the instructions are clear, and with a few kits’ worth of experience, any modeler can enjoy building a good replica of this early carrier.

Note: A version of this review appeared in the December 2014 FineScale Modeler.

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