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USS Hornet

Trumpeter 1/350 USS Hornet CV 8

By Dan Pat Hamilton

Date of Review July 2006 Manufacturer Trumpeter
Subject USS Hornet CV 8 Scale 1/350
Kit Number 5601 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Amazing detail Cons
Skill Level Intermediate MSRP (USD) $119.95


When I was very young my father was a Free Methodist minister in West Seattle. The church he pastored, the “Delridge Chapel,” had also been where a man studying to be a missionary after the war had worked while attending Seattle Pacific College. That student, my father’s predecessor, was Jacob DeShazer. DeShazer had been a bombardier in a medium bomber -- a B-25 ironically named “Bat out of Hell”-- that was among the first to bomb Japan and part of the only U.S. Army bomber strike force ever to originate from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. The 16 plane/80 man raid on Tokyo (and a few other major target cities) was named after its leader -- the already famous aviation pioneer -- James (Jimmy) Doolittle. Though the Doolittle Raid was later claimed by Japanese propagandists to be the “Do-nothing” raid because it resulted in relatively minor damage, it has gone down in history not only as a remarkable story of courage and badly needed moral boost but as the first in a series of events that would turn the course of the war in the Pacific. It also, by the way, makes a great subject for modeling.


Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto had predicted he would “run wild” for the first six months of the war, and even he must have been surprised at Japan’s early success in everything they tried during that time. Americans still reeling from the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, read that same month of one defeat after another at the hands of the Empire of Japan: on the 10th Guam surrendered, on the 23rd U.S. Marines on Wake Island surrendered to the inevitable, and on the 25th Hong Kong surrendered. After a disastrous December for the allies, things only went further downhill. In January one of the three U.S. aircraft carriers in the Pacific -- the U.S. Saratoga -- was torpedoed and had to return to the states for repair. In February the British surrendered Singapore and ended their resistance in Malaya, the Allied East Indies fleet was destroyed at the Battle of the Java Sea and the Australian port of Darwin was attacked. In March Java surrendered, the Dutch ended their resistance in the East Indies and General Douglas MacArthur barely escaped on a P.T. boat from what looked to be an inevitable Japanese victory in the Philippines. In early April, the Japanese Navy sank the British warships Dosetshire, Cornwall, Hermes and Vampire. As British Prime Minister Winston Churchill would later write: “Over this vast expanse of waters (the Indian and Pacific Oceans) Japan was supreme, and we everywhere weak and naked.” This was especially shocking because Americans -- many as racist as many Japanese -- had believed the Emperor’s weapons and subjects were pitifully inferior. Americans’ confidence was at its lowest point and they had every reason to doubt whether they could win this war.

Knowing from the beginning that the surprise attack on American territory at Pearl Harbor required an quick answer in kind, American President Franklin Roosevelt consistently had been pressuring his military to somehow strike back at the Japanese home island. However, America had no airfields within a bomber’s range of Japan, neither the Chinese nor Russian governments were interested in cooperating with an American attack from their territories and navy carrier planes could never get close enough to attack. However, the only successes with which America could encourage morale were such relatively minor tactical events as Wake Island’s short lived repulsion of an invasion force and isolated heroics such as those of Colin Kelly who was credited with sinking a Japanese battleship (probably really a near miss on something quite smaller) before he valiantly died at the controls of his B-17 under the guns of several Japanese Zeros -- including that of legendary Japanese ace Saburo Sakai -- so that his surviving crew could bail out.

In January of 1942, however, a navy captain -- Francis S. Low -- was flying over Norfolk Virginia to check on the war readiness of America’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS Hornet, when he looked down and saw twin engine bombers practicing attack runs on an outline of an aircraft carrier painted on a runway. This observation while on his way to the Hornet got Low thinking about whether Japan could be attacked by conventional land based bombers launched from an aircraft carrier. Because he just happened to be on the staff of the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Fleet -- Admiral Ernest King -- Captain Low shared his thoughts with his superior who in turn gave his approval to develop the plan. King’s air operations officer Captain Donald B. Duncan sketched out the logistics and the Chief of the Army Air Corps, General Henry “Hap” Arnold, assigned the most qualified member of his staff to the project -- Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle.

Doolittle was not just the most qualified man for the job on Arnold’s staff, he was probably one of the most qualified men in the country. Doolittle had missed combat in the First World War because he had been more useful as an instructor for the Army Air Corps back in the states. However thereafter he had become famous with the press as “the Lone Pilot” by making the first solo transcontinental flight in less than 24 hours in 1922. After then obtaining first a Masters and then Doctorate Degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Doolittle had gone on to win the Schneider, Bendix and Thompson trophies -- the three biggest prizes of air racing. Thereafter, and before the Second World War began, he would -- among other amazing firsts -- make the first “blind” flight relying only on instruments as well as set a world speed record. For this newest military aviation “first,“ Doolittle in a very short time would have to fully flesh out and coordinate the minute details of the plan, obtain and train the crews who would fly it (volunteers from regular stateside antisubmarine patrol squadrons). He not only did so, but ultimately finagled out of Arnold the authority to personally lead the combat mission.

Though on February 1, 1942 two B-25s successfully took off from the Hornet as an experiment for the mission, they had been stripped down and had used the entire length of the flight deck. With a flight of other planes spotted on deck behind it, no one knew for sure if a B-25 with full crew, bomb load and the necessary extra fuel tank could actually get into the air from what would be left of the remaining carrier deck. Everyone knew however there was no way an Army bomber was designed to land on a carrier after the raid, so plans were made through General Joseph (“Vinegar Joe“) Stilwell for a reluctant Chiang Kai-shek to have radio beacons broadcasting the location of secret airfields in China that were theoretically just barely within the range of the modified B-25s. It was a far fetched, near suicidal plan, but America needed a victory -- and soon.


USS Hornet

By April fools day, the crews had been trained and the 16 B-25’s that would fit on the carrier had been loaded onto the USS Hornet at Alameda California. Because the Army airmen had been told to keep quiet as to what little they knew of the mission, the Hornet’s sailors resented their apparent standoffishness. After all, the Hornet had just entered the Pacific and instead of joining the fleet it was apparently being used to ferry bombers somewhere -- and Army bombers at that. Accordingly, Army/Navy relations on board were frosty. That quickly changed however when, after the Hornet cleared San Francisco Harbor and was out to sea on April 2, the Hornet’s Captain Marc Mitscher had it announced on the ships’ loud speaker and by semaphore to its escorts: “This force is bound for Tokyo.” Sailors cheered (indeed some Army pilots claimed they could hear cheering even from the Hornet’s escort ships), and the Army men found Navy personnel could not do enough for them -- even to the extent of giving them their bunks and sleeping on cots themselves. (This apparently did not apply to nightly poker games, in which the Navy soundly took the Army for everything it had.) Though all were anxious while the Hornet cruised toward enemy territory without nearby air cover (almost all its compliment of planes were in the hanger deck because the flight deck was filled with B-25s -- if the enemy appeared the Army’s Mitchell bombers were to be unceremoniously dumped overboard and the fighters brought up), on April 12th the Hornet’s armada was joined by another under the command of Admiral William “Bull” Halsey and Task Force 16 would now be provided air cover by the planes of its sister ship USS Enterprise.

Unfortunately, radio broadcasts between the two U.S forces before the rendezvous was intercepted by the Japanese who estimated the Americans would arrive within striking distance of the islands by the 14th. But when no further intercepts occurred and nothing showed up on the 14th, the Japanese assumed the Americans were headed somewhere else. Hence, on the day of the scheduled launch, April 18, the Army airmen were preparing their planes for take off in the late afternoon when they would be within 450 miles of their targets so as to arrive over Japanese air defenses at night and be looking for the Chinese airfields in the light of morning. However, at 7:38 a.m. a Hornet lookout spotted a Japanese picket boat and within minutes the carrier’s radio operator intercepted a warning message being broadcast. Escort ships soon sank the picket and Halsey -- unwilling to further risk half the Navy’s carrier force -- flashed an order to the Hornet: “Launch planes. To Col. Doolittle and gallant command good luck and God bless you.” The Hornet’s klaxon was sounded and the order given over its speakers: “Army pilots, man your planes.“ Contrary to their plans, the Raiders would be launching 650 miles from Japan (almost too far to make it back to China), arriving over Japan in broad daylight (after now alerted air defenses undoubtedly would be waiting for them), and -- if they somehow survived -- then trying to land in China at questionable airfields in the dead of night. However, they need not have worried about the airfields -- unbeknownst to the Raiders, the cargo plane that was to have set up the homing beacons had crashed and there would be nothing to home in on even if the fields had not already been overrun by the advancing Japanese Army. Further, as they climbed into their planes many found the unprepared for salt air had affected their land based planes’ systems -- some would be flying without an operative gun turret which was their only defense from a rear or side attack. To top it off, the weather had turned ugly and a 20 knot wind was casting waves onto and over the now pitching Hornet flight deck high above the churning sea. Nevertheless, as the Army pilots and their crews rushed to their planes on what now was looking more than ever to be a suicide mission, even the unneeded reserve Army pilots and crews were desperate to go on the mission and offered last minute bribes to switch places with those 80 men whose planes were preparing to launch. There reportedly were no takers.

But there was some good news. Though this would be the first time anyone had ever tried to fly a B-25 with a full bomb load and extra fuel cell off a crowded carrier, if anyone could, the first in line to try would be the aviation engineer and American hero, Colonel Doolittle. Further, between the 20 knot wind and the 20 knot speed of the Hornet at full steam, the bombers just standing still on its deck already had a 40 knot airflow over their wings. Further, the storm would conceal their wave top approach to Japan and miraculously change direction after the attack to give them a tail wind and perhaps another 250 miles of range. Finally, though the Japanese knew U.S. ships were coming, homeland defense did not know their enemy would be launching land based bombers and therefore believed there was more than enough time to respond because the Americans would have to get far closer because of the limited range of their carrier based planes.

USS Hornet

But first the raiders would have to get airborne. With waves crashing over the pitching deck in front of him, Doolittle in the first B-25 went through the preflight check, revved the engines until he had sufficient manifold pressure and signaled his readiness with a thumbs up. Standing to the left of the plane, the flight control officer -- Lieutenant Edgar Osborn -- waited until the bow of the Hornet had dipped its lowest and then dropped his checkered flag to signal Doolittle and then dropped himself quickly to lay flat on the deck. As the plane slowly lumbered down the deck and its wing passed over Osborn, Doolittle despite the pitching deck and the strong wind expertly kept the front and left wheels on the deck’s newly painted white lines to ensure the right wing would not collide with the Hornet’s island and his left wheel would not slip overboard. With the bow of the ship now on its downward dip, it looked to those in the plane as if they were going to charge right into a wall of ocean and a watching Navy pilot began to yell “He won’t make it! He can’t make it.” But as the Hornet’s bow reached its lowest and started again its upward pitch, Doolittle passed the ship’s island, lifted the nose of the Mitchell and then the rest of the plane gently off the rising deck. “The old man” had taken off with yards to spare.

Having been shown by their leader and hero how it was done, each of the remaining fifteen planes repeated Doolittle’s dramatic feat after he had once circled the ship and headed toward his target. Halsey would later write, having personally witnessed numerous acts of wartime heroism: “In my opinion, their flight was one of the most courageous deeds in military history.” As the number 16 and last B-25 was being positioned by the Hornet’s deck hands -- the plane of my father’s missionary predecessor DeShazer -- Seaman Robert Wall slipped and fell into its whirling left propeller. The ships doctors later would have to amputate. With this fateful beginning to its mission, the “Bat out of Hell” followed its companions and was the last Mitchell to take leave the pitching deck.


USS Hornet

All but one crew of Doolittle’s planes would successfully complete their bombing mission (crew # 4 was forced to jettison their bombs into a Japanese bay) and all but one crew (# 8 was forced against orders to land in Russia where they were interned for over a year until they escaped to Iran) made it to China only to either ditch there or bail out into the dark night during a storm. Of the 80 raiders, three died as a result of their landings and eight were captured by the Japanese. The rest escaped to friendly territory with widespread help from courageous Chinese townspeople – perhaps hundreds of thousands of which would be killed by the Japanese Army in retribution. One of the pilots, Ted Lawson who flew plane #7 – the “Ruptured Duck” -- would see his story published a year later and a year after that Hollywood made it into a movie with Van Johnson, Spencer Tracy and Robert Mitchum (i.e. “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.”)

Doolittle, who was sure he would be court-martialed for having lost all his planes, was instead awarded the Medal of Honor, promoted to brigadier general and given command first of the 12th Air force in North Africa, then the 14th in the Mediterranean and finally the mighty 8th in England and Okinawa. Of the eight taken prisoner, three were executed as war criminals (!) after a kangaroo trial in which they were neither allowed to present a defense nor told what was being said, and one was starved to death in prison. The remaining four prisoners – including DeShazer – were tortured mercilessly and kept in solitary confinement for the rest of the war, resulting in one raider going insane. DeShazer however kept his sanity by finding and memorizing a Bible and promising God that after the war he would return as a missionary to the Japanese (after serving in West Seattle at the Delrigdge Chapel, he fulfilled his vow and helped convert to Christianity Mitsuo Fuchida – the man who had lead the air attack on Pearl Harbor and who unknowingly had set in motion the Doolittle raid).

President Roosevelt got his victory, which he on April 21 facetiously told the press had originated from America’s secret airfield in the mythical “Shangri-La.” From tortured raiders and captured documents, however, the Japanese knew the planes actually had come from the Hornet. From then on, Imperial pilots were fixated on sinking the “Grey Ghost,” which they finally accomplished six months later at the Battle of Santa Cruz. Most consequentially, the Doolittle Raid convinced the Japanese high command that its homeland was not invulnerable from air attack as it had told its people and that a decisive battle destroying the remaining American fleet had to occur quickly before the United States’ industry overwhelmed Japan in planes, ships and other weapons of war. Accordingly, Yamamoto’s plan to attack Midway Island and draw out the American carriers was approved. However, Americans had broken the Japanese Naval code sufficiently to know the Japanese plan and, though outnumbered, destroyed four Japanese carriers on June 4, 1942 which dramatically and permanently turned the course of the Pacific war against Japan. In short, the very turning point of the war was made possible by a single heroic joint Army/Navy mission from an aircraft carrier by sixteen Army medium bombers flown by 80 courageous Americans.

The Build

USS Hornet

As someone who just got back into modeling after a 20 year hiatus and had last built a 20th Century warship back in the 20th Century when he was around 12, my reaction when I opened the box was: “Boy is 1/350th a big scale for an aircraft carrier (over 28” long)!” The shelf my wife has granted [er, . . . tolerated] me to use for model display is now far too small. On the other hand, boy is this scale small for all the airplanes (my project has 16 B-25s [18 parts each!], and one each of a token F4F, Devastator and Dauntless) and men (103) that I have chosen to build, paint and put on! My fingers are too big, my vision too dull and my patience too short! Welcome to modeling in the 21st Century! The kit provides only enough aircraft parts to make two B-25s, two fighters, two dive bombers/scouts and two torpedo bombers. Hence, because I wanted to do the Doolittle raid, a supplemental kit containing a set of 10 extra B-25 parts are not enough – I needed two sets -- which left me with many more extra B-25’s than I needed to cannibalize for all the microscopic parts that disappeared when they slipped out of my fingers.

There were few decals needed for the ship, though the ship’s name on the stern seems to have been in the wrong color according to dry dock pictures in Warship Pictorial # 9 at p. 45 (white instead of back). The decals for the planes were good for the carrier based aircraft, but a major headache for the B-25’s. This is because only some of the serial numbers reflected those on the actual planes – while the majority were made up numbers! You would expect a kit designer either to not care and make them all up, or try to do everything authentically (like Accurate Miniatures' kits). But why did the Trumpeter designers put in the effort to be right on some serial numbers (e.g., Doolittle’s, Ted Lawson’s) and simply pretend about the others? No photo-etch parts are included in the kit and in this scale they are needed. Hence I used a set from Tom’s Model Works which were great and, though not as detailed as others that I lusted after, they were far more reasonable in cost – especially as the total costs of this massive project (for me anyway) added up.

USS Hornet

For a novice at massive ship models with massive detail and photo-etch, construction of the ship itself was amazingly smooth. Far less filling and sanding than I expected. The parts fit well and the pictures only instructions were quite helpful. Being inexperienced with photo etch railing, Tom’s instructions took some time to get used to but I finally figured it out and they looked good after I got the hang of how to do it – however there were no instructions telling me what to do with all that railing so I just guessed from photos and did my best. (Like working on a car, its bothersome when you have some parts left over!) Now for the complaints: the designers again made some odd choices. Much internet comment was given to the apparently inaccurate bow shape (to be honest, I could not tell), but nowhere have I seen anyone complain about some real obvious design errors. They range from relatively minor mistakes like the mislocation of the deck crane (which, if not changed to where photos show it should be, would in real life be an obstacle to flight operations!). More obvious, the designers for some reason added a second yard arm to the island’s aft mast – which every photo of the Hornet and Yorktown class ship shows only had one. This becomes obvious when trying to rig the masts which, again, must be done from photo research in that NO guidance is provided.

Besides the above noted necessary changes for accuracy, I found a fortuitous mention in “The Ship That Held The Line,” at p. 70, that a hanger deck door was open at the time Doolittle took off. Because all the Hornet’s ship based planes were in the hanger at the time, an open hanger deck door would allow me to show off an example of each kind of the three types of Navy plane. However, the only pictures and films taken of the ship during launch seem to show the starboard side and that the roller doors were closed on that side (understandable because of the storm they were in at the time). Hence, I chose to open the roller doors on the port side only. A hot x-acto knife did the trick to cut away the molded in place doors. In that the kit provided only two of each type of carrier plane and little of the ship’s interior can be seen away from the doorways, things worked out fine. The airplanes are amazingly accurate for their scale, but when you have to build 16 of the same kind the joy evaporates over time and I had to fight the urge just to slap the little suckers together! However, patience, patience, patience and a purposeful decision to act in shifts over time was my salvation. The same is true for the 1/350th scale photo-etch sailors from Tom’s Model works. Another hundred or two would have been great, but there are limits to my now Zen-like purposeful patience! However, the extra ships railings that I did not know what to with from Tom’s Model Works were perfect for use -- after being cut down -- as double machine guns for the B-25’s. A missing touch that I can’t believe the after market folks seem to have so far overlooked.

Finally came the “spotting” of the bombers on the deck. After studying photos and reading accounts, it is clear at the time of the launch that the tails of the last two Mitchells extended precariously over the stern of the ship while the rest were cheek to jowl on the deck in two lines at an angles facing each other. (Indeed, DeShazer’s B-25 #16 was discovered at take off to have a hole in its Plexiglas nose -- making his bombing duties over the city of Nagoya exceedingly unpleasant with a couple hundred mile an hour wind in his face).

Camouflage and Markings

USS Hornet

The single item that was most time consuming however was dealing with the B-25 decal problem. I could find no 1/350th scale after market decals of the Doolittle planes. My only solution was to buy Accurate Miniature’s 1/48 B-25B model that has a wonderful set of decals containing markings for EVERY ONE of the 16 planes – including the way cool nose art for those planes that historians think had them! Only problem of course is that they are WAY too large a scale. Hence, much time was spent scanning the decals into my computer (after having first gotten written permission from the company), reducing them to the proper miniature scale and laboriously using Corel Print Office software to outline them to be visible at 1/350th scale. Its not as sharp as properly designed 1/350th scale decals but better in my mind than having phony serial numbers -- plus I got to put on some really microscopic nose art. Someone PLEASE fill this need! The Accurate Miniatures B-25 kit’s painting instructions also came in handy – not only telling me where to paint what, but giving me the exact paint numbers from various manufacturers that would be appropriate. (Why doesn’t Accurate Miniatures do ships?) I chose the Model Masters Acrylic Olive Drab (4728) and Natural Grey (4757). The rest (e.g. leading edge de-icers, prop warning stripe) was hand painted with artists acrylic tube paint.

As to painting the ship, Trumpeter provided a nifty glossy color profile -- ignore it. It shows only two colors for the MS 12-modified camouflage pattern, but in reality the photos show and the resources confirm it used three colors (Navy Blue 5-N, Ocean Gray 5-0, and Haze Gray 5-H). Again, Model Masters had just what I needed (4241, 4239, & 4238, respectively). The flight deck was, according to Warship Pictorial # 9 at p. 53, the color “Norfolk 250N Flight Deck Stain.” The closest I could find to that description was what Model Masters calls “Flight Deck Grey” (4243). Guides for the wave-like contours of the camouflage were found in the great colored picture on the cover of Warship Pictorial #9 and several B&W photos inside it. As to the flight deck, the Hornet crew had painted two white lines of different widths and lengths for the Army pilots to follow so as not to collide with the island or overcompensate and runoff the other side. I did --as some resources suggest -- and masked off lines using tape and then painted the surface exposed between them which produced two nice straight lines (though perhaps too wide for the scale). But still being a newbee I stupidly used regular scotch tape which took off all the deck paint beneath it when I removed the tape. (I blush to admit this now -- please don‘t hate me!)

Finally because of the heavy seas, and I think some defective paint, the real Hornet came back from the raid with serious chipped paint at the waterline on the bow. See e.g. Warship Pictorial #9 at pp. 56 & 57. Because the underlying molded plastic seems to be similar to the color showing under the chipped paint in the photos, I simply scratched the paint off like the real thing and I think it passes. Though I found a reference in “The Ship That Held The Line” and in “The First Heroes” to the words “REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR” being painted on the Hornet’s stack (which would be a really nice touch to add to the model), I could find no pictures of the same and the scholars and vets (who were actually there) graciously responded to e-mails sent via the Battle Of Midway Roundtable

that it simply was not there. Though disappointing, that settled the issue for me. Likewise, help from Doolittle discussion groups (e.g.

and pointed out the prominent presence of non-skid squares on the flight deck that can clearly be seen in the photos of the launch, but for which I have found no other reference. Modeling in the 21st Century does have some advantages apparently after all.

Finally, the question I seldom see discussed: what the heck do I do with it when its finished so that it can be seen but not destroyed by dust fixated housekeepers and curious children? I still have “issues” from childhood memories of coming home waiting to learn of the latest in the slow attrition of my models from my mother’s efforts to dust “Danny’s models.” Decades later, I’ve learned to protect my other more workable size models from my wife and children by using cheap car model display cases. With a little creativity, you can make some interesting (and dust proof) mini dioramas. But what do you do with a 28 inch aircraft carrier with fragile 1/350th scale planes in precarious positions on its deck? My solution: buy a baseball bat memorabilia case -- a bit long and a tad narrow, but with some modification and building the Hornet in a waterline version, it just fit. However a carrier launching planes while steaming through a nice wood stained base just would not look right. So, with some advice from a local hobby store, I painted the base dark blue and placed a cut piece of plastic fluorescent light cover (easily obtained from a hardware store) on top -- creating a great rippled sea look. I then used white silicon from a caulking gun for the wake (as suggested in “How to Build Dioramas,” at p. 90) and was done.


USS Hornet

In that even an unsophisticated and retro modeler like me could make something presentable speaks volumes about the Trumpeter Hornet’s quality as a kit. Further, though sometimes irritating, the little historical inaccuracies that I fell across were kind of satisfying finding and correcting. If I could complete it, it certainly is not beyond the average modeler. However, you definitely have to do it as a long term project and not as a short term fling. As the phantom voice said to the hero in the movie and book “Field of Dreams“ -- “GO THE DISTANCE.” I also would plead, PLEASE do your research -- the story of the Doolittle Raid, the USS Hornet and the brave men involved more than deserve your study and will give meaning to what you build.