Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Airfix's 1/400 "Mary Rose" - At Last, A Nice (Albeit Small Scale) Tudor Warship

In the realm of plastic model sailing ships, some eras seem to be better represented than others. For instance, there are several Viking ships available from different manufacturers, yet only one 13th-14th century cog. There have been plenty of late 16th through early 19th century warships, yet very few early 16th century vessels at all. In total, this writer is only aware of three from old Pyro dies (the "Santa Catarina do Monte Sinai", the "Henry Grace A'Dieu", and an early Spanish galleon, all derived from Landstrom, apparently), one from Heller (the "La Grande Hermine"), and one from Zvezda (the "Conquistador" and its various guises). If you consider the old Pyro "Santa Maria", based upon Duro's 1892 design, which more resembled a ship from the early 16th century, you have a total of six vessels, and only a very few of them are what I would consider accurate out of the box.
Not too long ago, Airfix released the first model of an early 16th century vessel that, rather than being based on scholarship alone, was based upon the remnants of a ship of the period; the famous "Mary Rose". There is no point in covering old ground about that vessel, suffice as to say that it is the sole surviving example, what is left at least, of a "carrack". 
Airfix chose to make this a small model for reasons unknown. It is the spiritual heir to their long gone "Historical Ships" Series I kits, which peaked during the 1970's with those wonderful bubble packs. In some ways, it is so like one (and in one aspect in particular, something we shall see later). It is being sold as a starter kit, complete with plastic cement and four small tubs of acrylic paint, all Humbrol branded. 

The back of the box is that painting guide, again rather reminiscent of the old Series I kits. Humbrol paint numbers are called out, in the event one chooses to go that route instead of using the included acrylics. The only complaint I have here is that the area below the waterline (or at least the lowest wale) is not a color indicating an attempt at sealing the hull. In this case, I'd recommend an off white or, my preferred choice, a very light gray. 

It is the contents therein that we are most interested.

The instructions are rather typically modern Airfix, if perhaps a bit simple, keeping with the beginner's nature of this kit.

The model is made up of three complete trees molded in light gray.

The hull is crisply molded. Some things to note here. The anchors, instead of being separate pieces, are molded into the hull halves. Also, no attempt has been made to represent planking in any way, however that is a minor grievance. Like many models this size, some of the weaponry has been cast into the hull halves as well. The lower gundeck is open, however. A personal observation; as this model was based upon the starboard remnants of the prototype, please note the bow below the waterline. The image of bluff-bowed carracks, in this case, is likely not always accurate, for this ship had a nice entrance. The overall length of the hull is a shade under 5"(125mm), almost 3 3/16" (80mm) at the keel. As the exact overall length is unknown, we can only rely on the preserved keel, which is 32 meters (105'). Based on those numbers, this model is truly 1/400 scale.

There really is no deck detail on this model. The lower gundeck, with a total of eighteen cannon, will be mostly obscured, while the upper decks are effectively hidden beneath molded anti-boarding netting. The latter seems a bit heavy handed, but is none too obtrusive. The only section of decking molded is really the forecastle top.

There are five fighting tops for the four masts, and these have nice detail. On this tree as well, one finds the inner faces of the fore and stern "castles". Additional cannon are molded for the latter.

Which brings me to the stand, and a salute to those old Series I Historical Ship kits. The stand is very much the same design, dating back over fifty years. The base of it can be seen here. It is designed such that the model can only mount one way. 
The masts are very fine looking, if just a bit simple. The sails, whilst molded, are rather thin, reminding me of those I encountered on the Zvezda 1/350 "Santa Maria". However, there the resemblance ends; they are molded to their yards. Still, the yards look well enough, and the fore and main are even equipped with grappling hooks (note; the foremast sails are on the tree with the hull halves and stand uprights). Sharing the tree with the masts is the transom, which is also nicely detailed, as well as the rudder.

Another very welcomed addition to this kit are the decals for those wonderfully complicated patterns found on ships from this era. A little trimming might be in order to get them the fit properly, but otherwise they are in proper register. The flags are printed onto a self-adhesive sheet, and are perhaps a bit too thick as a consequence.

The big question, though, is what is the fit like. Elsewhere, I have read that this model goes together with little incident. Using two of my miniature spring clothespegs/clothespins, I put the two halves of the hull together, and am happy to report that the fit is good and fairly solid.

What do I think of this model?
For one, it is very nice to finally have a decent representation of a carrack. I do not know if this was done to see if there was a market for such (the model is officially endorsed by the "Mary Rose" people). Maybe they intend to produce a larger scale model of the grand old ship eventually, or perhaps are planning a new series of "Historical Ships". Regardless of what they are planning, I feel that this model is very nicely done in its simplicity, and once I set aside a few more projects, am looking forward to building it.


  1. Waiting to see you model it, Robert. Inspired me to look into the smaller scales. Have a couple of the old Airfix series ones in my stash. Never thought I'd so them. Now I'm not so sure.
    Tom W

    1. Thank you, Tom. Not sure as to when I will be starting on it, as I have a couple of other things lined up ahead of it. I will tell you that it will probably be a little bit simplified, fairly straightforward build, except where the rigging plan is concerned. The build, though, will be documented thoroughly, on that you may rely.

  2. Hello,

    I just bought this model, largely due to your review. One question: How accurate do you think is the forecastle? I've seen pictures showing it both with and without a built-up structure forward of the stem post; this model shows it as built-up, like this picture:

    The other type of forecastle:

    Is one type more likely than the other? Just wondering what your opinion is.

    Christopher O.

    1. Hello Christopher,
      I'd lean towards the Geoff Hunt painting, as it, as well as the kit, were based upon the best information at the time. There have been additional findings since the JoTiKa kit (which is still a great kit, from the looks of it). I suspect that in a few years the design of the old vessel will yet again be revised, but I think this kit and Hunt's work is closest to date.
      - Robert

    2. My name is Jim Baumann from England

      I have detailed theAiorfix 1/400 model as far as I could , all new decks, masts, sails et al

      You can see my finished model and the build process here

      Do feel free to contact me if you wish or if you want more photos;


      Jim Baumann