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CVE 73 Kit

Hasegawa 1/350 USS Gambier Bay CVE 73 Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review December 2010 Manufacturer Hasegawa
Subject USS Gambier Bay CVE 73 Scale 1/350
Kit Number 40047 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Very nice detailing Cons Nothing noted
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) $149.95

First Look

CVE 73 Kit
CVE 73 Kit
CVE 73 Kit
CVE 73 Kit
CVE 73 Kit
CVE 73 Kit
CVE 73 Kit
CVE 73 Kit
CVE 73 Kit

The USS Gambier Bay (CVE 73) was a Casablanca-class escort carrier, one of fifty built over a two-year period between 1942-1944. The Casablanca-class carriers, like its CVE predecessors, were built upon lighter designs and less powerful engines which made them too slow to operate with the fleet carriers. Nevertheless, these 'jeep carriers' were essential for providing air support beyond the reach of the fleet carriers as well as providing in-theater replacements as needed.

The USS Gambier Bay saw numerous combat actions in its operations in the Pacific including support of the Philippine invasion in September 1944. Operating with USS Kitkun Bay (CVE 71), the Gambier Bay provided air support for the Marines that went ashore. When their task was ended, these carriers, long with their destroyer escorts, escorted the invasion fleet to Leyte Gulf.

At Leyte Gulf, the USS Gambier Bay joined 17 other escort carriers and numerous surface combatants to support the invasion of Leyte. The Imperial Japanese Navy responded with one of the largest surface actions of the war. Admiral Sprague divided his fleet into three task groups with Taffy 1 north of Mindanao, Taffy 2 off the entrance to Leyte Gulf, and Taffy 3 (including USS Gambier Bay) off of Samar. The Japanese fleet was divided into three prongs attacking from the north, center, and south. Admiral Halsey, in command of the faster fleet carriers, blunted the attack of the center prong and deemed them ineffective. The following day, the southern force also came under attack by US forces and was seriously damaged. Halsey took his carriers and went after the northern force. Unbeknownst to Halsey and Sprague, 20 IJN heavy combatants, including the battleship Yamato, emerged undetected from the San Bernadino Strait and left Taffy 3 with the job of holding off this threat until reinforcements could arrive.

The six escort carriers launched everything they had at the oncoming Japanese while the destroyers laid smoke screens to provide some cover. The destroyers fought the Japanese battleships and cruisers with their five-inch guns and one even conducted a mock torpedo attack on a Japanese destroyer squadron breaking up that action. Nevertheless, three US destroyers were hit at point-blank range and sunk by the Japanese fleet. The escort carriers each had one five-inch gun mount on their stern and these were also brought to bear on the Japanese as they pursued the fleeing carriers. As the cruiser Chikuma closed to 5 miles, it started landing shells on the flight deck of the Gambier Bay. When the carrier went dead in the water, three Japanese cruisers closed to point-blank range and shot up the ship until she capsized and sunk. USS Gambier Bay was the only US carrier to be lost to surface action.

As Taffy 2 drew close enough to the battle to get its aircraft into the fight, USS St. Lo was sunk by numerous kamikaze hits, the Japanese fleet disengaged from the remnants of Taffy 3 and withdrew. Badly shot up, the remaining ships continued to press the battle, and seeing the Japanese suddenly withdraw, one sailor near Admiral Sprague yelled "Dammit boys, they're getting away!"

Hasegawa has been producing an interesting array of ship kits in 1/350 including their impressive Akagi aircraft carrier, Nagato battleship, the Soya Antarctic observation ship, and a number of smaller IJN combatants. This is their first US ship subject and is a very interesting choice of subjects. While other manufacturers have tackled the Essex and earlier classes of US aircraft carriers in 1/350, nobody has addressed the 'jeep carriers' in 1/350 styrene. Several Casablanca, Bogue, and similar class escort carriers have been produced in resin, but this is the first Casablanca-class kit in plastic. It is interesting that DML has released their own 'jeep carrier' in plastic, but focused for now on the Independence-class.

Well here is Hasegawa's USS Gambier Bay kit in 1/350 scale and I must say, they've done a nice job! I didn't know quite what to expect in this box since I haven't seen any of Hasegawa's previous ship kits, but if you're concerned about over-engineering or over-complex assembly, don't worry. There is some nice engineering in this kit to make it a pleasurable build, but you won't be bulding the head or galley below decks where you won't ever see your work. Hasegawa really laid this kit out well.

According to the specs, there are 458 parts in this box, all in styrene with the exception of a very fine chain to be used for the anchor chains. When built, the kit will be 17.6 inches (447mm) long. Molded in light gray styrene, this kit is presented on 19 parts trees, plus three small trees of clear parts and the aforementioned anchor chain.

Construction starts with the hull and here is where I get impressed right away. There are five frames that simply plug into holes molded inside both hull halves to provide strength to the model. Two of the frames also have receivers for the display stands that plug into the bottom of the model. This is a very nice feature so you won't hear that hull snap open when handling the model later in the build process or taking it to contests.

As mentioned above, there are over 450 parts in this box, but as you can see in the images to the right, most of these are small details that include guns and their gun mounts, boats and life rafts, flight deck structural frames, and a simple superstructure.

The aircraft compliment in this kit includes:

  • 6 x FM-2 Wildcat
  • 3 x TBM-1C Avenger

The kit provides two sheets of decals, one specifically for the Gambier Bay's unique markings, the other is a generic air wing decal sheet that provides three different types of national markings to cover the early, mid, and late war designs (all except for Operation Torch, which doesn't apply here anyway).

The instructions provide an excellent paint reference for the ship to replicate its Measure 32/15A pattern. Paint references in the instructions are for Gunze (GSI) paints, but we'll put up a color profile with the various paint alternatives and scale effect colors as well.

With a street price of around $129.99, this is a good example of what happens to kit pricing when the US Dollar is weak against the Japanese Yen. Nevertheless, Hasegawa took the wise approach of offering the basic kit and then different super-detailing options for more advanced modelers as separate items. The basic detail set provides photo-etched handrailings and safety nets which the advanced detail set adds radar mast, radar, ladders, props, and nameplate, also in photo-etch. The advanced detail set does not include the railings and netting of the basic set. One really interesting feature is the wooden deck which comes pre-colored and is self-adhesive. If you want more aircraft on your deck, Hasegawa also has an aircraft set with 12 aircraft including 3 x SBD-5 Dauntless, 6 x FM-2 Wildcat, and 3 x TBM-1C Avenger.

This is a really nice looking kit and imagine that we'll be seeing other releases of this kit to represent others of the Casablanca-class. Kudos to Hasegawa for taking on this previously overlooked portion of naval carrier aviation in styrene.

My sincere thanks to Hasegawa USA for this review sample!