When I was younger I picked up a copy of "Run Silent, Run Deep" at a yard sale. Written by Cmdr (later Captain) Edward L. Beach, USN, it told the story of the USS Walrus and it's exploits in the Pacific theater of WWII. Not only was the book very accurate in it's depiction of submarine warfare in WWII, but there were other details that stood out. One I recall quite well was that every time Walrus put in after a war patrol, the superstructure was cut down or modified as much as possible. The chapter headings showed a silhouette of the sail, with modifications made to the periscope guards, cigarette deck and any other area that could be cut off in progression. As time has passed I have read about the exploits of the real submarine force, and the Gato class subs on which the fictional Walrus and her crew were based. Names like Barb, Silversides, Wahoo, Seawolf, and the sub that currently hols my interest, the Harder, should not be forgotten. I regret passing on the Revell 1/72 release, but never could figure out where I would display the kit. I finally settled on a smaller scale kit, the AFV club release of the Gato class sub in 1943 configuration, in 1/350 scale.
The Gato class subs were part of a continual development of US submarine doctrine that determined submarines would serve more as scouting vessels to find the enemy and direct surface forces towards them, taking out any ships they could along the way. After Pearl Harbor and the destruction of the battleships that were supposed to work with the submarines, sub doctrine changed. The Gato class subs were already ideally suited for their operational role, long range patrols deep into enemy territory to strike at their shipping where no other forces could reach.
The Gato class submarines were 311'9" long (95m), 27' (8m) at the beam, and had a 17' (5m) draft. Propulsion was provided by 4 diesel engines that powered 4 electrical generators that then drove two shafts and propellers. Speed was 21 knots on the surface, 9 knots submerged. Range was 11,000 miles and endurance submerged was 48 hours at 2 knots with a wartime patrol of 75 days. A good crew could get from the surface to periscope depth in 30 seconds. Maximum depth was 300 feet, though several subs went deeper. They were armed with either a 3", 4" or 5" gun, with late ships carrying two 5" guns, plus a 40mm Bofors gun, one or two 20mm guns, and anything else the crew could devise. USS Barb carried out an attack on Japanese targets with 5" rockets fired from a special mount. They had 10 torpedo tubes, 6 forward and 4 aft, and 24 torpedoes, arranged (I believe, from the book, with either 14 or 16 forward and 10 or 8 aft. Crews were appproximately8 officers and 72 enlisted men. The submarines had air conditioning that served as a dehumidifier when submerged, plus refrigeration to preserve food that would be needed on long cruises. There were three general modifications of the sail on the Gato submarines. The original configuration featured a covered navigation bridge, high bulwark around the cigarette deck and covered periscope housing. The first modification cut down the bulwark around the cigarette deck. The second modification cut away the cover on the navigation bridge and removed the plates over the periscope frame. The final modification lowered the height of the bridge, exposing the I beams around the periscope shears and frame. These modifications could be carried out during overhaul or done piecemeal as Cmdr Beach indicates in his book. Subs of this class and the following Balao and Tench class were named for marine creatures. The Balao and Tench boats were nearly identical externally, with improved steel used for the pressure hull and some other internal modifications.
For additional information, you can do a search for "Gato class submarines" online. Two of my favorite websites are at hyperwar.com http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/ships/ships-ss.html
which has a listing of all submarines in service from 1940-1945, and links each submarine to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, also this link http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/Japan/IJN/JANAC-Losses/JANAC-Losses-6.html#harder
which contains a listing of all Japanese Naval and Merchant ships sunk by submarines in WWII, with each submarine listed in alphabetical order. The US Navy also maintains an archive site, http://www.navsource.org/archives/08/08257.htm
In Dry Dock
The AFV Club kit I purchased is of the Gato class sub in the 1943 fit, which appears to be the final modification with the cut down bridge, exposed I beams at the periscope shears, and open navigation and cigarette deck. There is one 4" or 5" gun mounted forward of the sail and a 20mm mount and 40mm mount on the navigation and cigarette decks respectively.
The kit comes in a small, end opening box with artwork showing a sub surfaced and underway, ay PB4Y providing escort. Inside the box there are two free floating parts-the lower hull molded in red styrene and the upper hull in gray styrene. The forward deck area is a separate part. Details are very good and clear, with recessed hatch and deck areas. I mated the two parts to check the fit and everything lined up nicely. The gap visible on the bow will close with glue without issue and is visible simply because I wanted to keep my fingers out of the picture. Based on the few photos I could see of the deck area, it appears correct. All the details I could see in photos of Harder during her refit at Mare Island also seem to match the hull sides of the kit.
The other sprues are contained in a plastic pouch. The "A" sprue features the inner pressure hull, not visible after assembly but still a nice feature, plus the rudder, bow planes, bitts and shafts. There are also 7 torpedoes included.
The "B" sprue has the navigation deck, 20mm and 4" guns, styrene railings, screws, and parts of the periscope assembly.
The "C" sprue has the forward main deck section, periscopes and I beams, cigarette deck, 40mm mount, sail and details for the deck. The sail appears to include the modifications carried out on Harder after overhaul at Mare Island in 1944 with the gun access door present.
All styrene parts are cleanly molded, with no flash or sink marks, minimal mold seams and very fine detail. Parts count is small, as are the parts themselves, but sprue attachment points are well positioned to allow easy removal of the parts. My immediate impression is that this is as nicely molded a kit as I have seen.
Not Just Plastic
The photoetch sheet is sealed in a separate plastic sleeve inside the larger sleeve that held the sprues. It contains railings, propeller guards, and a few optional parts such as the travel lock for the deck gun and persicope frame.
The decals, also in a separate plastic sleeve to protect them, have hull numbers, 48 star flags and US flags with the 48 star pattern. They are well made, appear thin and have good register.
There is one small nylon bushing included.
Instructions are printed in a fold out style, divided on both sides of the paper. They are cleanly drawn, have drop boxes showing sub assemblies and clear indications for optional parts. Rigging instructions are also shown. Painting is called out in two colors, flat black and dark gray (2). I did not see specifications for brand of paint.
Considering that there were no two Gatos alike because of the different modifications, this kit appears to be as good a general representation of the later configuration of the sub as I could want. To get the Harder, I will need to add a reinforcing guard to the front of the #1 scope but it appears everything else is there.
If you are looking for a good Gato kit I believe this will fit your needs. I picked it up at Lucky Model for $25.00. AFV Club also offers the Gato class sub in 1941 and 1942 fit if you are looking for an earlier edition. I'm in the process of moving, so my kit building is on a temporary hold, but I'm anxious to get started on this build.