This model of the H.L. Hunley (often incorrectly identified as the C.S.S. Hunley – it was operated by the Confederate Army, not the Navy) is from Cottage Industry Models, Ltd, (cottageindustrymmodels.com) a home operation that produces a number of resin/white metal models for the Civil War period. This will not be the last of their kits I will be putting together.
The H.L. Hunley was the first submarine to successfully sink an enemy ship when it sunk the USS Housatonic on the night of February 17, 1864, outside of Charleston Harbor, in an effort to break the blockade that had been in existence for years. The brave eight Confederate soldiers/sailors were led by Lt. George E. Dixon, who is famous for carrying around a good luck gold coin in his pocket from his sweetheart . . . a coin bent from a musket ball that slammed into his leg at the battle of Shiloh and though it damaged the nerves in his leg, it saved him from amputation. The H.L. Hunley disappeared after its successful mission on February 17th and became a mystery for over a hundred years. Thanks to the author Clive Cussler (one of my favorites) the H.L. Hunley was located in 27 feet of water about 1000 feet from the final resting place of the USS Housatonic in 1995. It was raised from the ocean floor on August 8, 2000 and resides in its own museum operated by The Friends of the Hunley in Charleston, SC (Hunley.org).
The question of what happened to the H.L. Hunley and why she sank after her successful attack has been debated for as long as the submarine has been missing and became even more of a debate after the raising and continuing conservation efforts. A more recent book by Rachel Lance “In the Waves” would appear to solve the mystery (though the museum will not recognize her theories and work . . . maybe competing Universities at play here), but her analysis shows that the shock wave generated by the explosion of the torpedo against the Housatonic’s hull produced an internal shock wave inside the submarine that then passed through the crew members bodies and resulted in the deaths from internal injuries. It gets into some advanced science, so if you are interested, read the book as it is written for even us layman to understand.
Now to the kit. Working with resin is not that bad . . . though I reserve further judgement on aircraft resin as my first experience with aircraft resin parts was not a good one, but that is another story for another time . . . and this kit was molded nicely and included a number of white metal parts for the details.
The instructions were fair, not great, but not bad. B&W picture illustrations were provided with modeling notes. It is safe to say that the manufacturer has an interest in the topics he produces and takes the time to include as much information as possible. He also included a website (http://www.VernianEra.com/Hunley) to gain insight from someone who has studied the construction of H.L. Hunley extensively and provides a number of theories, drawings and even more information links.
The first challenge I faced was what to do about the main body of the submarine. The resin casting had wide deep panel lines around the entire body (I’m guessing to give it texture?), but the original submarine was actually quite smooth. Made of old cast iron boiler plate, the body was attached to a frame with countersunk rivets to provide greater streamlining in the water. So any seams between panels would small and there would be no rivet detail to see (you will find pictures of the what some people think the Hunley appeared like with giant rivets all over the outside shell – totally wrong) and this is what I wanted to duplicate.
I filled all the seams on the resin with superglue (again and again and again) until I ended up with a smooth body. I then followed drawings found on the noted website to layout new seams. For the first time I used my Tamiya scribe to make the seams between panels, but I find out it is sharp and works only too well. I believe I scribed the seams too deep, but at this point I was done filling and sanding, so I was hoping paint would fill in a bit and maybe it would not be noticeable from a distance.
On to adding the white metal parts. I wanted to have the hatches open (you have the option obviously to go either way), but to do that I need to hog out the interior of the hatchway so it looked like there was an opening. I also drilled out all the ports on the sides of the conning towers, figuring to add some Krystal Kleer later. All the white metal parts required clean up, but some metal files took care of that pretty easily. There were a number of holes that needed to be drilled on the body to attach the dive planes and other parts. I had to cut the brass rod provided to make up the boom and torpedo spar. I determined the length of these parts by using the instructions and comparing to what had been found when the Hunley was found and Dr. Lance’s book on her studies of the submarine.
Picking a color to paint the sub was another tough one. The manufacturer chose to paint his model based on a famous painting by Conrad Wise Chapman (this is the picture shown on the box art) which shows the submarine on a dock with two soldiers standing guard. This was a brownish color, which didn’t sound right for something made of cast iron and wanting to be stealthy while approaching a ship during an attack. I used Tamiya XF-85 Tire Black for the main body and inside the conning towers (I have seen models built with white painted inside the conning towers, but once again I could find no evidence of this taking place. The torpedo I painted Copper as it was made from copper. At this point I couldn’t decide what type or how much to weather the model, so I left it as painted.
Setting up the rigging for the torpedo (so it could be raised or lowered from inside the submarine) was based on best information. There was a spool attached to body near one of the conning towers and there was a spar that stuck out and some fitting on the top of the bow, but how it was actually rigged is anyone’s guess. I made up a small pulley for the end of the top spar and ran some rope from a ring on the torpedo up through the pulley, around the fittings and to the spool. How it really worked we really don’t know. There is also debate about whether it had any additional rigging to provide lateral support for the torpedo. I chose not to include any of this because I could not find definitive proof of how it was rigged and if one looks at the lower spar that held the torpedo, it has a clevis attached to the body and would appear to be able to handle any lateral loads . . . especially when one considers how slow this submarine traveled being hand cranked. If I find additional evidence of other rigging, I can add it on later.
The assembly was straight forward once all the pieces were cleaned up and painted. I had to make new hinges for tower hatches as the molded in ones were for closed hatches. I used wire bent to the proper shape for the shroud supports on the rudder/prop assembly as the white metal pieces were too bulky. It was a challenge to get the lower spar glued into the proper position. Based on Dr. Lance’s book, the torpedo would have been set at 11 degrees downward position to hit the Housatonic below the waterline . . . note that the Hunley attacked on the surface as it had limited air supply when submerged (though it did have a snorkel system on top, it never worked properly) . . . and this angle was perfect for a shock wave to be transmitted unimpeded back the body of the sub itself.
But having solved all the little challenges that came up during this build, I set about providing a proper way to display my model. As stated earlier, the kit provided a base (looking like a section of dock) and two resin soldiers, but I didn’t want to go that way . . . I mean the torpedo was probably not attached in that 11 degrees down angle so I could go into the whole “why did they die” discussion.
So I bought a base at Hobby Lobby, cleaned it up a bit, drilled some mounting holes for stands and finished it with some stain. I then took the name from the kit box and glued it to the base and added the card with Dixon’s gold coin (replica) to provide another interesting story and coated all with polyurethane clear to seal everything. I added a couple of coffee cups I picked up from Friends of the Hunley and a couple First Day Covers (since I collect stamps as well . . . too many hobbies).
Dennis advises when building a model of a historically significant vessel be sure to do your research.
. . . research, research, research.
The hull, here, is mostly complete with hatches open for fresh air and awaiting fiddley bits such as the spar torpedo, various bracings and the forward diving planes.
A detail shot of the business end of the Hunley. After all, she was a ship of war and her armament was this spar torpedo, a singularly dangerous weapon for any boat to use. (See also Lt. Cushing’s history among others)
The full display complete with gold coin, (replica) coffee mugs, (real) and first day covers. (stamps, also real) Dennis is nothing if not thorough.
A reproduction of the famous "Dixon Gold Coin" complete's the display.