Wiking Ships – Relaunch

Modernising the Range

After the War

Following the dislocation and destruction of WW2, the German economy and Wiking itself slowly recovered. The moulds for most of the pre-war ships seem to have survived the war, and some were made available again. However, the real profits were made from new ventures making plastic models of aircraft and vehicles, and in fact it is the range of 1/87 vehicles for which Wiking became famous in post-war Germany.

As a result, ship production languished, until 1960 when Wiking made an effort to kickstart a new range of waterline ship models. Coincidentally, it was at this time in Britain that Tri-ang Minic created their range of waterline ships and harbours.

The 1960 Wiking Ship Models brochure.

A brochure from 1960 is a useful departure point in understanding the range. A new logo is apparent, a capital W over a capital M, standing for ‘Wiking Modelle’.

Sample models from the new range.

The main part of the leaflet showcases some of the range with ‘technical’ line drawings and brief statistics. The ships illustrated are a mixture of older wartime or pre-war castings where the subjects were either recently retired or still in active service, and new castings of contemporary war and merchant ships. Understandably, there was no harking back to the war fleets of the 1930s.

Inside the brochure, the models are catalogued with ‘S’ (presumably ‘ship’) numbers, an identification system introduced after the war. NB: Since these numbers were only adopted post-war for models produced during that period, most Wiking collectors use ‘H’ numbers, taken from an encyclopaedic handbook published by Ulrich Haevecker in 1989 (and updated here) – and I follow suit.

On the back page, a message from Wiking to their loyal base of ship collectors.

On the back page there is a message from the founder of Wiking positioning the new range. This apologises for the delay in restarting the ship range, which it attributes to a concern that the quality of the new models should be of the highest (“good or not at all”) and certainly an improvement on those of the 1930s. As an example of this, reference is made to improving the representation of masts, which pre-war were simply lengths of wire.

Initially, the range would consist of a mixed offering of older castings with a selection of new models, but the intention was to phase out the former as soon as possible. Plastic or metal would be used, to be determined on a case-by-case basis – but in fact most of the larger new models were produced in plastic, which offered greater possibilities for adding detail and was heavily used by Wiking for their other ranges.

Unfortunately, as with Minic, Wiking found that the post-war market for ship models was limited and after creating a range of about 40 new models, the range again languished and was gradually withdrawn. So, what did the models created around 1960 look like? To answer that question, we should take a look at a ship that in that year would have seemed very modern, the Swedish freighter Rio de Janeiro.

The Rio de Janeiro

The Rio de Janeiro was launched in 1957 in Gothenburg, Sweden. She was to be the first of 7 sisters built by the Johnson Line, and was employed on carrying mixed freight between the Baltic and the River Plate in South America. The Rio de Janeiro was a stylish vessel, low and sleek with a long foredeck, and could make 19 knots.

The Rio de Janeiro under way with flags flying.

A lot of thought was put into making the ship as flexible as possible. The cargo area was divided into separate holds, some refrigerated, and provided with multiple hatches to enable easy access to the different cargos. On deck were 12 powerful cranes, arranged in 6 pairs along the length of the ship, that could be used to transfer cargo to and from the quayside if harbour cranes were not available. Provision was also made for a small number of passengers, accommodated in stylish modern cabins.

The back of a deck of Johnson Line playing cards includes a map of the routes they operated.

In the 1960s, the economics of commercial shipping were changed forever by containerisation, the practice of shipping goods in standard-sized containers. I have described this elsewhere in this website. Even a comparatively modern ship like the Rio de Janeiro was behind the times, and in 1968 she was duly converted to carry containers on a strengthened space forward of the bridge, losing some deck cranes and gaining a heavy lift crane mid-deck capable of hoisting them. In this configuration she served until 1980.

The Wiking Model

Wiking H486 Rio de Janeiro

Year first produced:1962

L118xW16xH23, Plastic 7g, Scale 1:1250, Features: 0

The first thing that strikes you about this model when you pick it up, is that is it as light as a feather! This is because it is one of the new breed of Wiking models entirely made of plastic. In fact, the model is assembled from several parts. Now, I haven’t disassembled the model to ascertain exactly how many parts are involved, but an external inspection suggests the following:

  • a base plate
  • the hull
  • the deck
  • the superstructure and deck hatches, consisting of at least 2 and perhaps 5 pieces
  • the funnel
  • two masts
  • 12 cranes
Note the detail on the cranes, and the complex shape of the masts. A vast improvement on the bent wire of pre-war Wiking models!

Not only is this a complex construction, but the parts are pre-coloured so the model does not require painting. The baseplate is red, the hull grey, the deck ochre and other parts a darker grey. Moreover, many of the parts are finely detailed – for example, the bracing on the crane booms. Originally, a sheet of transfers would have been included, allowing an owner to apply windows to the bridge structure, and Johnson Line markings to the funnel. Sadly, these are missing on my example.

The smart red underside of the Rio de Janeiro.

Underneath the baseplate are the marks “M.S. RIO DE JANEIRO” plus the WM logo.

The new design of box – refined and ‘technical’, suggesting great attention to detail and accuracy.

The cardboard box shares the same design used in the 1960 brochure described above. On the left side is a dark band with the Wiking name and logo, and model scale, and on the right a line drawing of the ship enclosed, and the catalogue number S136. The name of the model appears only on the right end of the box, where we also find the price (4.5 German Marks).

The box end.

The new model is sleek and crisp with full colour and some impressive detail. It’s a world away from the simpler 1930s models, which seem clumsy in comparison despite being, for their time, high quality products. What the new model with its precision manufacture cannot replicate, however, is the charm of the earlier hand-decorated models, but then this really belongs to a different era. Do you know, I really like both the early and modern models created by Wiking, but for different reasons. It’s just a shame there were so few of the latter!


SEE ALSO…

Other models made by Wiking of post-war ships, in plastic, include the liners H131 Bremen and H132 Europa, the Russian cruiser H493 Sverdlov, and the truly impressive US aircraft carrier H519 USS Forrestal. In metal, examples include the freighters H162 Goldenfels and H165 Hornberg, as well as the Cunard cruise ship H417 RMS Caronia and the destroyer H390 HMS Daring (both also modelled by Triang Minic).

Author: hexeres

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

2 thoughts on “Wiking Ships – Relaunch”

  1. The FORRESTAL model came with decals so it could be done as any of her sister ships. This was the best 1:1250 scale model of the ship commercially made for more than 40 years.

    FORRESTAL was not a nuclear carrier.

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    1. Agreed Paul, the Forrestal model was a tour de force, but then I like all the ‘modern’ Wiking models. And thanks for pointing out that she wasn’t a nuclear carrier – I’m always making that mistake! I’ve edited the story to reflect that.

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