Wiking Ships – Introduction

Pioneer Shipwrights

Wiking

The German firm of Wiking (pronounced ‘veeking’, and meaning “Viking”) are nowadays known for their range of detailed plastic 1:87 vehicles. However, they first made their name as a pre-war pioneer of metal waterline ship model production, in 1:1250 scale.

The heyday of this production ran from the beginning of Wiking in 1932 to the outbreak of World War 2, during which period an extensive range of contemporary civilian and naval ship models was created, complemented by wooden harbour sets. Not surprisingly, while the navies of other nations were represented by a good selection of ships, the resurgent German Navy of the 1930s was comprehensively covered, including a full range of auxiliary vessels.

“Wiking models” as printed on pre-war boxes.

The very earliest models could be fairly basic, but as Wiking improved their production methods and gained experience, these were quickly replaced by improved versions. Although limited in detail and quality by the production methods then available, the models were tough, accurate and recognisable. Indeed, they can be considered as setting a benchmark for 1:1250 waterline ship models that was not really superceded until the 1960s.

Let us pause a second for a word about scale. We have already seen how Tri-ang Minic used a scale of 1:1200. This had been established before World War 2 by Bassett-Lowke. It was convenient because it kept the larger models to a manageable size, while retaining a reasonable amount of detail, and also very neatly translated into 1 inch on the model for every 100 feet on the original subject. For Wiking, it was more convenient to slightly tweak the scale down to 1:1250, as this was already a standard used in Germany and other countries with the metric system.

During the war, Wiking was employed on war production. In the grim aftermath it took some years for the German economy to recover. Post-war, Wiking development focussed on the production of road vehicles, a subject perhaps of greater appeal after the horrors of wartime. Wiking continued to sell some of their pre-war ship models (and improved some of the moulds), and, in the years after 1958, they even introduced a small range of entirely new models of contemporary ships. Demand was not as strong as for the vehicles, however, and by 1972 production of ship models ceased.

The ‘Pocket Battleships’

The Deutschland in 1936 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1973-077-63 / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

The Deutschland (“Germany” in German), launched in 1931, was the first ship of a new class of cruiser, armed with two triple turrets of 11” guns plus a smaller secondary battery, making her the most heavily armed cruiser of the day. Her two sister-ships, the Graf Spee and Admiral Scheer, followed soon after. The offensive power of these ships lead to their description in popular culture as ‘pocket battleships’, despite the fact that they didn’t have the armour to match.

The Deutschland made several foreign trips during the 1930s to show the flag, and participated in the Spanish Civil War, protecting German supply ships. During this period she was bombed by Republican bombers, and in retaliation bombarded the port of Almeria.

When the Second World War broke out, the Deutschland was stationed in the North Atlantic with the intention of conducting attacks on merchant shipping, and sank three merchant ships before returning to Germany. Over the winter of 1940, she was renamed Lützow (supposedly to avoid the propaganda damage if “Germany” were to be sunk), and her simple straight bow was rebuilt with a forward rake and flared at the top, which reduced the amount of water shipped in ocean swells.

The Lutzow as documented by the US Office of Naval Intelligence in 1942.

In the early part of the war, the Lützow was twice torpedoed, and spent long periods in repair. After a spell in Norway, she saw the war out in the Baltic, finally being bombed and sunk by the Royal Air Force in April 1945. In a strange postscript, to her career, she was raised post-war by the Soviets and sunk definitively in 1947 during weapons tests.

The Model

Wiking H023 Deutschland

Year first produced:1936

L150xW18xH28, Metal 99g, Scale 1:1250, Features: 1

Our particular model was probably made in 1937, and is fairly typical of Wiking production thereafter except for the new models created in the 1950s. The model is a solid, single-piece, waterline representation, made in a hard alloy like mazak.

The midships section of the model. Note the aircraft catapult between the bridge and funnel, and the wire beside it representing the aircraft crane.

Like most Wiking models, the edges to structures on the model have a slight but very distinctive rounding, and complex shapes are often simplified. Nonetheless, the major structures are easily discernible and appear accurate. The bow has a slight forward rake rather than the strictly vertical stem visible in contemporary photographs, but the curved stern and prominent side bulges are well-portrayed.

The only moving parts are the two main turrets, cast separately, with lugs that are inserted into holes in the hull, and then splayed from below to secure them in place. The secondary armament gun barrels, cranes, mast, forward rangefinder arms, and even a flagpost at the stern are fashioned from wire inserted into the mould before the metal is poured.

Underneath the model are a simple set of marks:

“DEUTSCHLAND”, “WIKING-MODELL” and towards the rear of the ship, “D.R.G.M.”

The underside of the model. D.R.G.M. to the left, the others in the centre. Note also the splayed lugs holding the turrets in place.

The mysterious D.R.G.M. stands for “Deutsches Reichs Gebrauchs Muster”, or German Empire Registered Design. This is not, as one might suppose, anything to do with the infamous Third Reich of Adolf Hitler, but simply a designation used in Germany from 1891 through to World War 2 denoting copyright protection.

The model is painted overall an attractive gloss mid-grey. Some details, such as the top of the funnel and the tips of the guns, are painted black, and the bridge windows at the front are suggested by a black strip flecked with white. The top surface of the ship’s boats are picked out in a darker grey, and a spot of colour is painted onto each end of the bridge representing the navigation lights carried by ships – red on the port side, and green on the starboard. At the rear of the ship, the name is hand-painted (a time-consuming process, soon replaced by transfers) on each side.

Note the ship’s name, carefully hand-painted!

So, there we have it. This is, for its time, a beautifully crafted model. For me, the Wiking output of the late 1930s set a baseline for accuracy and attractiveness in mass-produced metal toy ships that remained unsurpassed for at least 20 years!


SEE ALSO…

As mentioned above, Wiking produced a comprehensive set of the German Navy of the 1930s. Naturally, this included a model of the slightly differing sister ships of the Deutschland, H024 Graf Spee/Admiral Scheer. Other warships include (amongst many!) the light cruiser H029 Leipzig, the heavy cruiser H026 Prinz Eugen and the battlecruiser H021 Scharnhorst.

Author: hexeres

Amateur photographer, military toy enthusiast, footslogger, dog lover, history buff and ebay trader to mention just a few...

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