by Robert Apfelzweig
1/350 HMS Ark Royal 1941 (Merit International)
Six years ago I submitted photos of my then newly completed model of HMS Ark Royal, a warship with a very busy if tragically short career in World War II. At the time, there was no detail set for this model, and so it was almost entirely an OOB build (I did use NorthStar octuple pom-poms and quad Vickers .50 cal. machine guns). What presumably is the same plastic kit is now available from the I Love Kit brand. A couple of years ago Very Fire released an extremely detailed brass photoetch and resin upgrade set, which I purchased and then put aside until several months ago, when I decided to do something I had never done before --- update a previously completed model for the sole purpose of improving its appearance and historical accuracy. I had to do relatively little "demolition" of my plastic model; had I wanted to use the kit's wood decks (for covered forecastle, quarterdeck and sponsons beneath the twin 4.5-in. gun mounts) and replace the 2-bar railing in the hull slots with Very Fire's 3-bar railing I would have needed to remove the flight deck, which would likely have destroyed the model. As it was, the only major task was to remove the island, which was then significantly modified with the upgrade parts. The last two pairs of photos show after and before images of the port and starboard sides of the island.
Very Fire's set includes all railings, catwalks (with one exception), mast platforms and yardarms, boat cradles and boat tops (for both rowboats and motor launches), both cranes, numerous porthole frames with "eybrows", flight deck windbreaks and arresting cables, liferafts, numerous island parts (including wind baffles for the bridge and a brass external cover for the windowed section), a large photoetch fret of degaussing cable segments (the Merit International hull has these molded in; the brass parts make it more pronounced), flight deck antennae and mounts more detailed than the plastic kit's brass versions, windlasses and cable reels, duplicate 2-pdr. and .50 cal. AA guns that I did not need and brass barrels for the eight twin 4.5-in. guns that I couldn't use without destroying the plastic gunhouses in the process of their removal. The kit also has photoetch framing for the Blackburn Skua, Blackburn Roc (the illustrated instructions confuse these two) and Fairey Fulmar aircraft with enclosed cockpits, but I chose not to use these because their installation could have meant too high a risk of damage to the aircraft. Curiously, Very Fire includes 4-gun ball turrets for the Blackburn Roc, even though this airplane never flew from the Ark Royal, certainly not by November 1941 (the detail set allows one to depict the ship at its sinking). I did at least use the brass tailhooks and rear cockpit machine guns where needed.
Very Fire's instructions are provided on three large sheets of glossy paper. The large colored illustrations are very helpful because the means of assembly are not always clear; a number of parts, particularly catwalks, are misnumbered and many small brass and resin parts are included but not shown in the instructions and thus their purpose and positioning is often uncertain. One catwalk seems to be missing from the Very Fire set, so I used the slightly smaller analogous brass one that came with the plastic kit. One "feature" of the Very Fire instructions is that they seem to have been printed with photo-sensitive ink; leaving them out on my work desk beneath an open window led to some serious bleaching of the pictures over a couple of weeks where sunlight could fall upon them.
The final upgrade to my newly detailed HMS Ark Royal was an attempt to simulate the extreme weathering of the 507C paint on the ship's hull, especially at the bow and stern; it was an improvement over my original attempt six years ago, but not very close to what some high-resolution photos, taken shortly before her sinking by a German submarine, showed. I also added a bit of weathering on the flight deck. Fortunately, I still had paints from my original build to work with.