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In-Box Review
HMS Illustrious

by: Martin Ramsden [ BRANDYDOGUK ]

Originally published on:
Model Shipwrights

The Illustrious class of aircraft carriers were designed prior to WW2. As they were expected to operate within range of land based aircraft, the design incorporated armoured flight decks and hanger sides. This restricted the numbers and types of aircraft that they could carry to 36.

The armoured carrier concept proved itself when the ships were hit by bombs and, later in the war by Kamikaze, but the restricted air-group of these ships always proved to be a major weakness. The final ship of the class, HMS Indomitable, had an extra half-length hanger worked into the design allowing 48 aircraft. Late in the war the use of deck-parks and outriggers allowed up to 54 aircraft to be carried.

HMS Illustrious is probably best remembered for the Taranto raid when, in a single strike by obsolete Swordfish torpedo aircraft, major units of the Italian fleet were badly damaged whilst at anchor. All the ships in the class saw action throughout the war, but only HMS Victorious had an extensive post war career, and then only after a refit which saw her almost completely rebuilt from the hanger deck up, this allowing her to operate the new generation of jet aircraft.

The kit
This a reissue of an older kit from the seventies. It has been quite eagerly awaited by warship modelers. All the parts are molded in light grey plastic. The kit comes in a very large box to accommodate the hull parts. Inside are the pieces for the hull, and seven sprues which hold parts for the island superstructure, armament, various fittings and aircraft.

The hull comprises three parts, the left and right halves and the flight deck, and is a full hull. Those who wish to build the kit as a waterline model will have to get the razor saw out.

There is some flash evident; some of the small openings in the hull sides will need cleaning up as will many of the smaller parts. One obvious blemish in the parts is a rather large sink hole on the funnel cap but, considering the age of the molds, it is not too bad. Many of the smaller part also have ejection marks so again some filling and sanding will be needed.

The amount of detail included is not to the standards of manufacturers such as Tamiya but there is enough there to build a decent model. Raised lines are used to denote the flight deck arrester wires and forward windbreak. The catapult is depicted with engraved lines as are the aircraft lifts. There is no provision to show the lifts lowered.

Only nine aircraft are included in the kit; six Swordfish and six Martlet. (This is a real bugbear for me, why oh why don't manufacturers include more aircraft with kits of aircraft carriers?) The Martlets have the option of folded wings and all have propellers, although they don't have any true depiction of undercarriage - just the usual plastic stubs under the wings as found in 1/700 scale sets.

The eight masts for the radio antennas are molded solid, although in reality they were lattice. The crane on the starboard hull side is slightly more realistically depicted. A set of railings are included for the flight deck edges, although thickly molded they look to be usable. The main AA armament looks to be good, some of the secondary armament not quite as good.

The decals look to be nice and thin. The only flight deck markings are a row of white lines for the flight deck centreline. Decals are included for the black demarcation line along the hull sides at waterline level, a nice touch. Two "nameplates" are on the sheet, HMS Illustrious and HMS Victorious along with one battle ensign. The rest of the sheet contains the markings for the aircraft. Most of them are in register, but the roundels for the aircraft sides are slightly off centre.

The instruction booklet is comprised of assembly diagrams with multi-lingual notes. There is a brief history of the ship along with some specifications. There are 19 assembly diagrams followed by two camouflage options. One is for HMS Illustrious serving in the Indian Ocean late '42 to early '43. The second is HMS Victorious serving with the Home Fleet mid '41. My references show Victorious had a complement of Swordfish and Fulmars at this time, reducing the number of aircraft in the kit that can be used to six. As with most classes of warship there were detail differences between each unit, more so as the war progressed and they underwent refits, so checking of reference material is necessary if total accuracy is required.

Both schemes give left, right, and plan view camo diagrams, and hull front and rear camo diagrams. Paints are given as paint numbers (presumably Heller paints?) and colour name such as 90-Matt Beige Green and 123-Matt Extra Dark Sea Grey. The final pages show pictures of all the parts on their sprues with part numbers printed to help identify them.

This kit looks like it will build into quite an impressive one. Although detail is not as crisp as we have come to expect from the latest "Tamigawa" offerings, there is enough there to build a reasonable depiction of the ship. For the more experienced modelers it is crying out for aftermarket detail sets, and luckily enough White Ensign Models are due to release an etched set for this kit; if it is up to their usual quality it should allow a real eye catching model to be built.

Click here for additional images for this review.

Although detail is not as crisp as we have come to expect from the latest
Percentage Rating
  Scale: 1:400
  Mfg. ID: 81089
  Suggested Retail: 19.99
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Aug 21, 2004
  NATIONALITY: United Kingdom

About Martin Ramsden (brandydoguk)

I've been modelling off and on for 25 years. Thanks to this site I'm really into the hobby in a big way, and although I've a long way to go my skills are definately improving.

Copyright 2020 text by Martin Ramsden [ BRANDYDOGUK ]. All rights reserved.


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Click image to enlarge
  • Illustrious_boxtop
  • Illustrious_Sprues_1
  • Illustrious_Sprues_2
  • Illustrious_Sprues_3
  • Illustrious_hull_deck
  • Illustrious_Hull_side_openings
  • Illustrious_Funnel_cap
  • Illustrious_Flightdeck_detail
  • Illustrious_AA_gunbarrels
  • Illustrious_Decals
  • Illustrious_Instructions_1
  • Illustrious_Instructions_2
  • Illustrious_Camouflage