Most of the items that I showcase are models, which, according to one encyclopaedia, are “a three-dimensional representation of a person or thing or of a proposed structure, typically on a smaller scale than the original.”. In other words, they are meant to represent a real thing. And given this, the question of accuracy naturally arises. Is the model a true likeness or does it just have a vague resemblance to the subject it portrays?
The Minic Vanguard
To investigate this let’s take a close look at the Minic model of HMS Vanguard, the last battleship of the Royal Navy. Launched in 1946, she led a relatively quiet service life before decommissioning in 1960, roughly simultaneously with the release of the model in the Minic range!
Tri-ang Minic M741 HMS Vanguard
Year first produced: 1976
L206 x W27 x H27, Metal 106g, Scale 1:1200, Features: 3
Like all Minic ships, the model is essentially a single Mazak casting. To this hull are attached four turrets for the primary armament, and 8 smaller ones for the secondary. Two plastic cranes are fixed into the hull amidships, and two plastic tripod masts fit into the top of the superstructure, one in front and one behind the funnels. The turrets and cranes rotate (though it has to be said that some of the smaller turrets tend to stick).
The Vanguard was first made by Tri-ang Minic in c1960, but our model comes from a later era. In 1976 manufacturing of a limited range of Minic ships, including the Vanguard, was restarted in Hong Kong under then owners Rovex Limited, part of Hornby. Although the mould remained unaltered, some ‘improvements’ were made to the finished model to increase its attraction.
The most noticeable is the paint scheme. The 1960 blue or light grey colour scheme has been replaced by mid-grey, but with a brown main deck, and a bright red section at the bows. In addition, a red plastic base was attached under the hull, into which two rollers are fixed, so that the model can move across a surface without friction. On this base is marked the new Minic ships logo, an anchor within a rope circle, together with
“M741 H.M.S. VANGUARD” and “MADE IN HONG KONG”.
So, how accurate is the model? To help in my investigation, I have used ‘The Last British Battleship: HMS Vanguard, 1946-1960’ by Ray Burt (Seaforth Publishing, 2019), which has many useful photographs and plans.
Let’s begin with the overall dimensions and scale of the model. The real battleship was 814ft 4in long overall (i.e. as measured at the longest part) and 108ft wide, while the model measures c206mm long by 27mm wide. I won’t bother you with the maths, but the model scales out correctly to the 1:1200 scale that Minic claimed for all of the range.
The Vanguard’s freeboard (the distance amidships between the waterline and the deck) was 23ft. On the model this is about 7mm deep including the baseplate, and not unexpectedly, the latter makes the model sit higher than it should. However, I think the visual impact of this is minimal.
The hull of the Vanguard had a number of distinctive features. The bow had a distinctive upwards sheer starting just in front of ‘A’ turret (the foremost), and the stern ended in a square-cut transom. Along the sides the armour belt protecting the machinery spaces and ammunition handling areas lower in the ship stood proud of the unarmoured areas, like an applied slab. The model clearly shows the correct bow and stern shapes, but the armour belt is missing.
The main (primary) armament on the Vanguard consisted of eight 15” guns housed in four turrets, identical except that ‘A’ turret did not have an integral rangefinder on the rear roof. Examining the model we can see that they are a reasonable copy of the original, except for a rather strange and rather ugly circlet of raised bumps on the turret roofs. Quite what this is trying to portray is unclear – massively oversized rivets? In addition, like the other turrets, ‘A’ turret has a rangefinder. Possibly Minic felt the cost of making two types of turret, and ensuring that the correct ones were fitted into the different locations, was not justified.
The secondary armament was of sixteen 5.25” guns in eight turrets, which appear in their correct positions on the model. The turrets themselves were fairly complex shapes, roughly circular with a sloped frontal roof, through which the guns could elevate to a high angle when engaging aircraft. On the model however, we encounter simple rectangular boxey shapes that are just plain wrong. Oh dear!
Perhaps the single most distinctive feature of the Vanguard, especially when seen from the front, was its imposing bridge structure. The model simplifies this by blocking in various indentations and extending lower levels upwards, and by reducing in extent the angled sides to the front. As a result, the already impressive bridge structure becomes on the model a truly massive slab-sided block. This is accentuated by the lack of detail decoration on the superstructure – there are no windows, just flat walls. I don’t think it’s a good look.
The two funnels of the Vanguard were tall, and raked rearwards at the top, and are well-rendered on the model. Strangely, they are shown open – you can see inside them – but in fact the real ship had grills which would have prevented this.
The central area of the ship was the most ‘cluttered’ area, with the secondary gun turrets, AA (anti-aircraft) guns, radars, boats and cranes clustered on varying levels of superstructure. The model makes a good job of placing the main features, but portrays them in a very simplified way. Projecting platforms are turned into solid columns and complex structures rendered into simplified shapes (and, in extreme cases, blobs).
Various other details that affect the look of the ship are missing entirely. For example, the masts are missing the various radar aerials which festooned the tops, and the anchors and anchor chains are missing. On the other hand, and more annoyingly, the occasional detail is invented, like those on the turret tops, or the excessive number of bollards arranged along the main deck edges.
Turning now to the paint scheme, I find the grey used is a little dark. This is probably just a matter of personal taste, but I far prefer the light grey used on the original 1960s models. See my story about HMS Devonshire for a fine grey ship (and for some other observations on accuracy).
The brown colour on the main deck can reasonably represent the wood decking laid over it, but it mysteriously stops short of the mid-section of the model (presumably owing to limitations on the spraying technology of the time). The red frontal section of deck is far too bright and cheerful and should have been seriously dulled down. The red base plate looks quite smart, but unfortunately the real ship carried a wide black band along the waterline.
The cranes and masts were left in the original black of the plastic – unfortunate because this is largely inaccurate, and gives the cranes a visual prominence which they didn’t have on the real ship. There doesn’t appear to have been any hand-painting of details on the model, and characteristically with Minic warships the portholes and windows are not marked.
Phew! I hope you have some stamina left after that examination, because I want now to set the Minic model in context by taking a quick look at how other manufacturers have treated the same subject. Let’s look at the competition.
Let’s begin with the sort of model that was around in the years before Minic first produced their attempt. Crescent Toys produced their model soon after the real ship was launched, probably in the late 1940s. It is smaller than the Minic at c17 centimetres in length, and scales out to roughly 1:1450.
It’s quickly obvious that the Crescent Vanguard is a relatively naïve model. Although everything has been grossly simplified, the model does pick out the essential features of the Vanguard. The bow sheer and the transom stern; the armour belt; the bridge structure; the funnels, boats and secondary turrets amidships. It has been painted a sober nautical grey.
However, there are numerous limitations. The bows are squat, the 15” turrets are poorly shaped and have been visibly nailed (!) on to the hull, and most of the above decks features have been gathered into a single strip running down the centre of the hull, leaving a wide expanse of unused flat deck either side. The secondary armament and boats are modelled in relief against the side of this superstructure, rather than existing as separate 3D objects, so they are discernible only when viewed from the side. A liberal sprinkling of raised portholes has been applied to the model (even to the armour belt along the hull side – let’s hope the enemy don’t get a shell through the window!).
Well, the Crescent is certainly recognisable as the Vanguard, but accuracy was obviously not the main objective of this mass-produced toy. By comparison, the Minic model must have seemed the height of sophistication when it was released!
Turning next to a near contemporary of Minic, we come to the German company Delphin which produced models through the 1960s and 1970s. At first sight, the Delphin model is of a similar size to the Minic model, but in fact is very slightly smaller. This is because it follows the ‘continental’ scale of 1:1250, the scale established by the early European ship makers such as Wiking.
At first sight, the Delphin model appears broadly comparable with the Minic model. It captures the main features of the Vanguard well (including the armour belt omitted by Minic). In the bridge and midships area, the Delphin is comparable with the Minic model in that all of the main features (secondary gun turrets and AA guns, associated radars, boats & cranes) are present and in the right positions.
However, there is a fundamental difference. Where the Minic model greatly simplified these items in order to allow the ship to be modelled in a single casting, the Delphin model is assembled from multiple parts. The superstructure consists of several components fitted together, to which the turrets and main radars, moulded separately, are attached. As a result of this approach, more sophisticated shapes can be modelled and a much higher level of detail capturedon components, including inscribed door and window detail, and even the anchor chains on the foredeck.
Nevertheless, there are some drawbacks. Some some features such as the main turrets are very Spartan, and in addition, some of the detail is wrong. For example, the 40mm AA mounts and secondary armament radars are the wrong shape, and the foremast tripod is reversed.
The paint scheme of the Delphin model is a conservative overall grey, with just a little detailing in black and white on the funnel tops and boats. No attempt has been made to represent the decks using a different colour.
Moving forward into the modern era, and continuing the approach of hand-building from component parts, we come to the model made by the German firm Albatros. As with the Delphin model, this scales out to 1:1250. The ship is well-proportioned, all of the major features are captured correctly, and a stunning level of detail is achieved. For example, note how the masts have cross-trees; the lifeboat davits are open; and the cranes show an open girder structure. All of the armament turrets and radars are correctly shaped, and the bridge structure is a masterpiece!
The Albatros Vanguard shows just what it is possible to achieve in 1:1250 scale. It’s difficult to find anything much wrong with this beautiful model! Except for one thing – once again, the ship is finished grey overall, with some minimal detailing amidships. No attempt has been made to paint the decks.
Let’s conclude this comparison by taking a closer look at a single area cross the 4 ships. The image below shows the area between the funnels where the ship’s boats are stored, as well as the cranes for moving them. Next to the left-hand (fore) funnel can just be seen the rear part of a 40mm AA gun mount on a platform, while just in front of the right-hand (aft) funnel stands a MK37 director for the secondary armament.
The Crescent model shows an impression of the boats in relief, with a somewhat strange rendition of the cranes above. The AA mount and gun director are completely absent. On the Minic model everything is present but not necessarily recognisable. The plastic cranes are oversized and unduly prominent owing to their black colour; the AA mount sits on a solid column; and the director is not modelled although its column is present.
The Delphin model has a similar level of detail to the Minic, except that the AA mount is clearly set on a platform and the director is separately depicted. This improvement is taken to another level by the Albatros model, which has finely crafted cranes and boats.
I hope you have been able to see that the Minic HMS Vanguard was a vast improvement on what went before, and overall an accurate model. There are some inaccuracies that I find hard to forgive – the boxey secondary turrets and the missing armour-belt for example – but the main limitation of the model is that it is heavily simplified. This puts it at a disadvantage when comparing accuracy with the more detailed German models: the Minic simply isn’t in the same league.
Why might this be? The answer lies mainly in the differing purpose and intended audiences for the models. Minic ships were mass-produced toys, aimed at children. They had to be cheap and tough; accuracy was desirable but not at any cost. Delphin and Albatros, on the other hand, were producing limited-run display models for adults. Accuracy and detail were essential; the collectors could afford the higher prices, and the models would be treated with care.
The Minic Vanguard is a good-looking and clearly recognisable battleship, usually available at a modest price and, thanks to the simple construction and use of Mazak, as tough as old boots! It’s a personal thing, but on the whole, that’s the way I prefer my models.
In addition to resurrecting some of the Tri-ang Minic ships and harbour components, the Rovex Hornby range introduced a handful of new models of battleships from World War Two. These included M742 KM Bismarck, M743 USS Missouri & M744 IJN Yamato.