A nicely detailed kit of an obscure topic - WW2 Japanese Navy Chinese river gunboats.
IJN Katata and Hozu were from the four-ship Seta class, assembled in China in 1923. They weighed 400 tons and were capable of 16 knots. During the 1920s and until the Sino-Japanese war, these ships practiced gunboat diplomacy on the major rivers and in ports in China. They participated in the China Incidents of 1937-1938. In 1940, their armament was upgraded to two single 3 inch guns and 13.2mm machine guns, later replaced by 25mm mounts. Main armament was mounted in shields fore and aft, and AA guns were in tubs on the roof and machine guns in windows. When WW2 started, they changed their livery from traditional gunboat white to typical Japanese Navy grey. They patrolled rivers in China and occasionally were attacked without results by aircraft in 1943-1944. Katata was bombed and damaged on December 18, 1944, by USAAF aircraft on the Yangtze River. She was towed to Shanghai where her armament was removed and she remained immobile until end of hostilities. She was taken over by the Chinese, but scrapped in 1947. IJN Hozu had a similar career to Katata. She was grounded near Anking on the Yangtze River November 26, 1944, and bombed and sunk by Chinese aircraft.
Two identical ships per box. Your choice to decide which is which. This kit is a companion to the prewar versions of this class - Seta and Hira. Three sprues and 39 parts per ship. Smaller pieces have good detail, and molding is crisp. Sprue A has superstructures, small fittings, and guns. Sprue B is the lower hull plate. Sprue C has the hull with superstructure, sides, and funnels. Two flag/window self-adhesive sheets and one set of instructions mostly in Japanese. No metal weights for these craft. Two pieces are intended for Katata and not Hozu - the port superstructure siding (C3 in place of C2) and the little deckhouse on top of the roof (part C4).
The ships are barely 3 inches long, scaling out to 188 feet, a little longer than the 182 feet listed in references. Beam scaled out to 28 feet, close to actual beam of 27 feet.
After washing all parts with soapy water, I removed and cleaned up the larger pieces from their sprues, and glued the lower hull plate to the hull. Sure enough, there was a noticeable seam, so I applied Tamiya putty, let it dry, and then carefully sanded the seam. There was very tight quarter with the upper hull overhang and I had to reconstruct the overhang in a few places. I used a Dremel tool with a small burr head to open up the funnels and ventilator cowl openings. Opening up funnels and ventilators makes a 1/700 scale ship model look more realistic. Next, I airbrushed the hulls, larger pieces, and smaller pieces left on sprues with Floquil 110131 SP Lark Light Gray enamel. This paint is a close match to IJN Grey, applies well, and dries thinner than acrylics (important for 1/700 scale). The decks were painted Tamiya XF-59 Desert Yellow for Katata (a darker light brown) and Model Master Acryl 4232 Buff for Hozu (a light tan shade). Going back and touching up the numerous and extremely tiny deck fittings was very tedious. I am glad these were not battleships! That means the deck detail is very fine on these kits. So be sure to use a very fine-tip paintbrush. I also used Model Master Acryl Buff to color the insides of lifeboats and bridge wing decks. Floquil Engine Black enamel was used for black areas (funnel tops, masts), Tamiya acrylics for the red and green running lights, and Humbrol 11 Silver for the searchlight.
I decided to build the Katata OOB (Out-Of-the-Box) and to embellish Hozu a bit with scratchbuilt and aftermarket pieces for comparison's sake. The builds were straightforward and the directions are a good path to building these kits. Some of the parts are very small, so good tweezers are needed. There were typical seams on superstructure pieces, but the tiny size of these models meant thick CA glue was used to fill the more noticeable seams. The masts were rather chunky and dominated the look of the model. With the small number of pieces, the build went almost too fast.
Brass rod (0.015 & 0.008") replaced masts, flagstaffs, and the crane on Hozu. I added spare plastic pieces for the crow's nest on the foremast. The kit 25mm guns in the rooftop tubs were overscale, so I used Finemolds photoetch twin 25mm mounts from their AM-10 set. I cut off the bases so that the mounts would fit in the tubs. They looked more to scale than the kit pieces. I also added braces from 0.008" brass rod under the bridge wings as per photos and an article in Model Art 838 (February 2012) [reviewed in IPMS/USA]. IJN two-bar railings from a Tom's Modelworks set was used, and ladders added to the foremast and bow access to the forward main gun.
Each ship is about $12 retail, which seems high for such a small ship, but in line with today's pricing. The models are a fast build and very detailed, which also makes the price seem like a value.
These two little ships are obscure subjects for injection-molded plastic kits, but nevertheless, Aoshima did a very good job detailing these models. OOB they look detailed, but still have oversize masts and AA guns. Ventilator cowls are probably not the right height, type, or orientation, but I did not find photographs of these ships during the war as depicted in the kit. Scratchbuilding replacement masts out of brass rod or plastic rod can achieve a more to-scale look. Adding other aftermarket pieces (such as railings) further enhances the delicacy of these very small models. Assembly is fast, but painting the deck details is tedious. The results are worthwhile and the ships look "busy." Dioramas of Chinese rivers with these models would be interesting and unusual. Recommended if you want to build everything that floated for the Japanese Navy in WW2.
I'd like to thank Aoshima and Dragon Models USA for supplying the kit, and IPMS/USA for allowing me to review it.