by Chris Smithers
1/700 Marine Nationale Le Malin (WSW)
"Going at 45 knots with the wind in your face and brine on your lips. Le Malin on speed trials off Cape Cod, 1944."
The contre-torpilleurs - literally anti-torpedoers, in other words torpedo-boat destroyers, or just destroyers - were unique to the French navy. With the largest of them displacing up to 3,400 tons at full load, they were considerably bigger than the destroyers (typically 1,600 tons) of other navies. They sat somewhat uncomfortably between destroyers and light cruisers, and were difficult to categorise under the various naval treaty definitions. When in service alongside the Allies from 1943 they were re-classified as light cruisers.
The Le Fantasque class of contre-torpilleurs was in many respects a remarkable design. On trials in 1935 one of the class (Le Terrible) established a world record for a displacement vessel with a speed of more than 45 knots (50 miles/hour). They carried an ample torpedo armament and heavy firepower for a destroyer-type vessel of five 5.5-inch guns compared with four 4.7 or 5-inch guns on contemporary British and US destroyers.
Nevertheless, they lacked the good points of smaller destroyers (manouverability, fast acceleration, shallow draft, and relatively low cost) and also lacked the good points of light cruisers (endurance, sea keeping, stability, longer range main armament and sophisticated fire control). As built, the contre-torpilleurs' anti-aircraft armament was woefully inadequate and subsequent refits by the French did little to improve this. They were also hopeless in the anti-submarine role on account of light-weight and outdated depth-charge throwers and sonar that simply didn't function. This weakness in AA and AS capability was also a characteristic of the smaller French torpilleurs d'Escadre (fleet destroyers).
However, the French persisted in the development of the concept from 1922 right though to the outbreak of World War 2, completing a total of 28 vessels across six classes. They were all very elegant and impressive ships but only the Japanese built anything similar.
Le Malin, the subject of my build, suffered serious injury at Casablanca at the hands of the battleship USS Washington which was bombarding ships in the port. She was repaired sufficiently to cross the Atlantic and was fully repaired and refitted at the Charlestown Navy Yard. This included fitting: two twin and one quad 40mm Bofors with associated directors and remote power control; ten 20mm Oerlikons (altogether a very formidable AA fit for a ship of this size); Canadian Asdic; British depth-charge throwers; British/US pattern depth-charge rails on the quarterdeck; American SA air and SF surface surveillance radars; British radio transmitters and receivers; internal de-gausing cables. Diesel generators were exchanged for up-rated American models and the rather luxurious officers' accommodation was reorganised and reduced in size to allow more space for ratings.
The only models of contre-torpilleurs seem to be either the Polish Kartonowa Flota 1:300 Jaguar (see my build here, the little Neptun die-cast metals or the Kombrig 1:350 scale resin kit of Le Terrible. I was lucky enough to pick up a 1:700 waterline resin kit of Le Triomphant made by WSW (Wings Ships Wheels) of Germany at IPMS ScaleModel World, Telford UK, in 2008. This year I thought it was about time I got round to putting it together.
Having consulted my copy of French Destroyers 1922-1956 (John Jordan and Jean Moulin), I was very much taken by the form and appearance (particularly the aggressively armed, piled-up rear superstructure) of Le Fantasque, Le Terrible and Le Malin following their refits in the USA and decided to model the latter. This involved a fair amount of conversion work and scratch building. The Gold Medal Models photo-etch set for USN cruisers/destroyers was invaluable - as well as all the regular fittings, the tripod lattice mast was made up from an etch intended as a crane for a USN cruiser and the set also contributed the 20mm. Oerlikons. 40mm Bofors were from Nikko and I scratch built an additional 5.5-inch mounting to match those in the kit (Le Triomphant as modelled by WSW had landed one which was replaced with a single 4-inch British AA mounting).
This was a challenging build because of the small scale and I hope the result conveys the sense of power and speed of these impressive vessels.