by: Jay Massey [ ]
Originally published on:
"This inbox review is of Trumpeter Models new 1/700 scale New Orleans class cruiser, USS Astoria CA-34 1942."
The USS Astoria CA-34 had a brief but interesting history. Originally she was a development of cruiser design that was attempting to stay within the limits set forth by the Washington Treaty of 1921 of less than 10,000 tons displacement and armed with a main battery of 8 inch guns. The first cruisers that were designed to meet these criteria were woefully inadequate in terms of armor protection as well as poor sea keeping qualities due to their light weight which led to less than desirable accuracy as gun platforms, these were the Pensacola class. The next group, the Northamptonís were decidedly better in armor protection and fueled an alarm in Great Britain over a seemingly developing race in Naval Cruisers. When Congress allocated funds for a further seven ships, two to be built in civilian yards and the remaining five in Navy Yards, pressure was brought to bear on President Hoover to slow this progression.
The two ships that had been contracted by the Navy to be built in civilian yards, the Portland CA 33 and Indianapolis CA 35 were much more heavily armored and satisfied some detractors in that respect but still lacked an armored side belt of sufficient strength. The New Orleans CA 32 and Astoria CA 34, the first two to be laid down in the Navy Yards were designed to rectify this lack as well as greater armor thickness in other areas. To still come in under the weight limits the design was shortened by 14 feet over the Portlandís as well as 4 feet narrower to allow for the armored belt. This led to the machinery layout to be changed as well from a unit layout to the older inline layout. The extra armor protection figured to be sufficient to protect the machinery.
The Astoria was laid down on September 1, 1930 with the New Orleans on March 14, 1931 followed by the Minneapolis on June 27, 1931. And thereby is another little anomaly, the numbering of the ships. It was due to the political wrangling that the civilian designed ships were allowed to proceed in construction since they were contracted for legally, while the Navy Yard ships were left to sit incomplete and their designs improved upon even more. The Astoria, even though first to be laid down was not completed until after the other two Navy Yard ships were. So now we have an older design, the Portlandís numbered ahead of the newer designed New Orleans ships.
While improved in armor protection the ships were still deemed lacking in Antiaircraft protection, their main battery in this case being eight 5 inch/25 guns in open mounts amidships on either side without any splinter shielding as well as eight .50 caliber machine guns. This was amended slightly in April of 1941 when the ship received four quad mount 1.1 inch AA guns in a refit in Mare Island Naval Yard. They also added a radar platform in anticipation of an air search radar system to be added.
The ship had a rather lengthy shakedown cruise under command of her first skipper Captain Edmund S. Root that led her from one side of the Pacific to the other and back. She had been first assigned to Cruiser Division 7 but was later switched to CD6 which she remained for the rest of her career. First assigned home port in San Pedro, she participated in training and patrol exercises commensurate with the peacetime Navy at the time. In 1938, she received a new skipper, then Captain Richmond Kelly Turner who would later gain fame or infamy depending on who you asked as the planner and ramrod of the ďGatorĒ Navy of amphibious attack forces in WWII. He came over from Naval Aviation since he realized that without the command of a capital ship he would be unable to reach flag rank. In 1939 at the culmination of Fleet Problem XX the ship was assigned a special duty that would take her from the east coast of the US all the way to Japan. The then current ambassador from Japan, Hirosi Saito had passed away and as the Japanese had in 1925 returned the remains of our ambassador, Edgar A. Bancroft aboard one of their Naval ships with all the ceremony they could muster, the Astoria was given this duty.
With the remains of the late ambassador and his second secretary, Naokichi Kitazawa on board she sailed from Annapolis to the Panama Canal Zone with a brief stop to allow the Japanese Colony there as well as other dignitaries to pay their respects to the late ambassador. From there they continued on to Hawaii arriving in Honolulu the same day that the late ambassadorís wife and daughters arrived on board the Japanese liner Tatsuta Maru. Following in the wake of the liner all the way to Japan they were met by the IJN destroyers Hibiki, Sagura, and Akatsuki forming an honor guard into Yokohoma Harbor. Upon arrival the Astoria fired a 21 gun salute that was returned by the light cruiser Kiso and that afternoon an honor guard of sailors escorted the ceremonial urn ashore. Following a lavish state funeral the next morning the ship and her crew received the grateful hospitality of the Empire for some 9 days.
After her mission she was reassigned to home port in Pearl Harbor in October of 1939 and participated in Fleet Problem XXI, the last one prior to hostilities commencing. In April of 1941 she returned stateside for her refit and AA upgrades then right back to Pearl Harbor. On December 7th she was some 700 miles southwest of Hawaii as part of the group ferrying Marine Vindicators to Midway. The following morning she was met by the Indianapolis with Vice Admiral Brown commander of Scouting Force and the mission changed to one of patrol southwest of Oahu searching for any enemy forces.
She was assigned to various task forces operating out of Pearl Harbor as escort to the carriers in the whirlwind patrols that followed the opening of hostilities seeing action on a number of occasions. Participating in the Battle of the Coral Sea she was part of TF 17 with the Yorktown. She was acting as an AA screen for the Lexington at the beginning of the battle and as the carriers separated she had to switch to covering the Yorktown. The Lexington was struck and at first thought to be able to be salvageable. As the day wore on internal damage proved to be far too great and the ship succumbed to her fate. After participating in rescue efforts the remaining ships left the Coral Sea having inflicted a severe tactical defeat while losing the Lexington. They did however stop the IJNís plans for the invasion of Port Moresby.
The Astoria returned to sea with the Yorktown for the Battle of Midway and was screening the carrier with her aircraft returning from their successful strikes on the IJN Fleet when an attacking force of 18 Val dive bombers swept in to attack the Yorktown. With the cruiser Portland and other destroyers they managed to account for two of the Valís with 10 others falling victim to VF 3ís Wildcats. Six of the Valís did get through to strike the Yorktown with three of them actually hitting the carrier. One of the hits was on the stack of the carrier that effectively smoked Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher and his staff out of flag plot and they transferred his flag to the Astoria.
While efforts to save the Yorktown went on at two in the afternoon a flight of Kateís escorted by Zeros came in and three of the Kateís managed to get through the screen of AA put up by the cruisers and destroyers to further damage the already stricken aircraft carrier, she was ordered abandoned. The Astoria sent out her lifeboats in the rescue efforts and as night fell she retired east leaving the aircraft carrier with the destroyer Hughes standing watch on her. The next morning the destroyer Hammann came alongside to supply power to further efforts to salvage the ship when the IJN submarine I 168 found her and firing a spread of four torpedoes, one missed, two exploded on the hull of the Yorktown and the third broke the back of the destroyer sinking it in less than four minutes.
With the loss of the Yorktown Admiral Fletchers flag stayed on the Astoria until the afternoon of the 8th when the Saratoga arrived and he transferred his flag to the carrier. The battle was over with and on the 11th Admiral Nimitz ordered his ships back to Pearl. The Astoria was repaired, underwent further training and patrol duties until the beginning of August when she was assigned to Task Group 62.3 Fire Support Group L. It was in this capacity that the ship was sent out to the Solomonís to support the Marines landing on Guadalcanal. On the night of the 7th and 8th she helped to defend the transports against air attacks from Japanese forces.
The following night a Japanese task force of cruisers and a destroyer came through the channel west of Savo Island and began attacking the cruisers Chicago and HMAS Canaberra then separating into two sections and headed northeast. Both sections went on either side of the Astoria, Vincennes and Quincy. At 0150 they began to fire on the three cruisers, the first four salvos missed the Astoria entirely and as the ships began to return fire the skipper of the Astoria came on the bridge to order the ship to cease fire thinking that they were firing upon the Chicago-Canaberra group.
This became evidently not the case when the fifth salvo hit the ship and he returned fire again. That fifth salvo hit her midships and turned her into a blazing inferno, in quick succession her number one turret was put out of action and a hit on her aircraft hangar lit her up for the Japanese forces to pound her with a punishing fire. In the confusion of the battle the Quincy ran across the bow of the Astoria and she was forced to turn to starboard, this put her in the path of the Kinugasa put a searchlight on her and she fired her 12th and final salvo of the battle attempting to put out the light. The shells passed over the Kinugasa and hit the number one turret of the Chokai instead.
As the ships separated and the night battle ended the blazing inferno aboard the Astoria was fought with bucket brigades as their wounded were gathered first in the Captains Cabin then moved to the forecastle as the fires forced them out of the cabin itself. The USS Bagley DD 386 came alongside and took off the wounded from the forecastle and then a small light from the stern let them know that there were more wounded there. They got them off as well as survivors from the Vincennes on rafts who had managed to paddle over seeing the fires from the Astoria.
The following morning the Bagley returned to the Astoria and continued efforts to fight the fires still raging on board. A salvage party of 325 men was soon aboard as the destroyer Wilson DD 408 and Hopkins DMS 13 came along side. The Hopkins attached a towline to swing her around intent on towing her to shallow water off Guadalcanal. Before this could be accomplished the two ships were called off to search for a suspected submarine, leaving word to the work parties aboard that the Buchannan and sea tug Alchiba were on the way to help in further efforts. By the time the Buchannan arrived explosions below decks and further damage caused by them had caused the ship to list so badly that the Buchannan could not get close.
She was ordered to stand off to the starboard quarter and as the Astoriaís port waterway soon went underwater all hands was ordered to abandon ship by Captain Greenman. As the ship went down the Buchannan rescued most of the salvage party and when the Alchiba arrived she picked up the remaining 32 men in the water. Not a man of the 325 member salvage party was lost in this valiant effort to save the doomed ship. The Astoria received three battle stars for her efforts in her short career.
the kit, and inside the box....
The New Orleans class has been represented by Kombrig with a resin offering in 1/700 that allows you to build a prewar Astoria or a Minneapolis but Trumpeter has come through for us all with an injection molded series starting with a 1/350 scale USS San Francisco which was downsized to the divine scale of 1/700 early in 2008. Not being able to resist I picked up a USS San Francisco early on. This last month we were all treated to the release of the Astoria the subject of this review.
The kit comes in the standard 15 Ĺ X6 Ĺ by 1 ĺ inch sized box with the upper and lower hull sections held together with a wrap of foam strip taped together. The sprues are sealed in plastic bags to protect the parts in shipment and the single decal sheet is covered over with a glassine sheet in its own little bag.
One little oddity on the decal sheet, they have the USS New Orleans listed twice on there in black lettering and do include the numerals 32 in white if you want to use them to build that ship, but right below them are the correct numbers, 34 for the Astoria. They also include the numbers for the Minneapolis and the Tuscaloosa.
The kit's instructions include a three view, full color sheet of the ship in her Measure One Camouflage, as well as a four page double sided instruction sheet in the usual Trumpeter pictograph style. The first page being devoted to a black and white image of the ship with all the warnings and decal instructions as well as the codes for the assembly markers in English and Japanese. The next two pages are a parts tree breakdown with the remainder being the construction steps involved.
The upper hull section is reinforced with a thick web and cross pieces molded in place to prevent any deformation in construction. The web does not affect the outside of the hull shape with any shrinkage as might have been the case a few years back with this design. They do include a hull bottom plate in the plastic wrapped deck section sprue for those of us who prefer a waterline build.
The main deck is comprised of two separate sections fore and aft. The steel foredeck section has molded on anchor chain detail which is a little on the light side as well as the capstans and winches. The wood deck sections are nicely done and the side splinter shields for six of the side mounted 5 inch/25 AA guns are molded in place. These do appear to be just a little thicker than needed and some may prefer to remove them for paper and CA replacement.
The turret bases for the number one and three main turrets are also molded on deck as well as the aft quad mount splinter shields for the 1.1 inch AA gun mounts. Again, these splinter shields look a tad bit on the thick side for the scale.
The main gun turrets will require a bit of drill work to start with for mounting the life rafts to the top surface while the ones mounted to the sides require that you remove the pins molded to all the rafts in the kit. The main gun barrels have blast bags molded on and the optical range finders are separate parts to be attached on the aft sides. The eight 5 inch/25 AA guns are two part assemblies with a gun and base for each, these can be up detailed with some PE if you would like for the training wheels and sighting equipment for those of us with AMS.
The aircraft hangar section is a five piece affair with a closed roll up door, this looks to be fairly easy to open up if one would like to add a little interior work. The 20mm guns with this kit are nicely rendered for the scale but could be improved if that is your aim. The ships small boats mounted atop the hangar roof are two piece units to avoid the dreaded sinkhole syndrome and look pretty decent. They also include molded ladder ways to attach to the front of the hangar section to get to the roof. These are okay for molded assemblies but can be replaced with PE for a better look if desired.
The midships searchlight tower section is molded with openings between the cross bars but are a little on the thick side, scraping them down or replacement with PE would be two options. This goes together in four main sections with platforms and side houses as well as rafts and lights added. The main Pilot house/bridge section is a multi piece affair in sections allowing for some extra detailing and again, no Aztec stairs to deal with; separate ladder ways molded in styrene are included. The splinter shielding for the Pilot House mounted 5 inch/25 guns are a little thick here as well. There are a lot of extra fittings to allow for a rather busy area in this section.
The cranes and catapults are molded up and not too badly done but PE would help in this area as well as fill in for missing railing. The two catapult towers are made up in three parts and include some nice detail in the square windows with shade on one side. The two small boats that mount midships off the catapult towers and one davit are molded a little on the heavy side with very little relief. The stacks are nicely done with a separate set of steam vent pipes for the forward stack and the hooded shield mounted on the top of the forward stack.. The masts are a little on the simple side and could be improved with some PE and craftsmanship assistance. The molded gun directing radar sets are okay but like most things can be improved upon.
They include two SOC seaplanes molded in clear styrene, these are five part designs and with some care in painting should look quite nice. Decals for the pair are included on the decal sheet. You could also use a PE prop for each for a better appearance as well as a set of trolleys as these seem to be missing entirely. With the addition of the trolleys you could place them on either the deck or mounted to the catapults for take off.
All in all this is a pretty nice kit of an important ship in US Naval History. With no Aztec steps to fiddle with it is a step forward in kit design. The two part small boats are also another step up that avoids the usual sinkholes found in older kits of this scale. The make up of the deckhouses with separate sides allows for a lot of molded in details on the bulkheads including nicely shaped hatches and doors. The internal webbing in the upper hull section is a nice touch to prevent any sort of warpage that often occurs when working over a ship in this scale.
I only noticed a couple of ejector pin marks in one or two parts and the only place that I noticed a parting line was in the top surface of the catapult rails, sides of the masts and tops and bottoms of the main gun tubes but nothing that couldnít be taken care of with a pass of a #11 blade one time. That and the missing seaplane trolleys are really the only beefs that I could spot in looking the kit over.