Ironclad conversions

By Rob Morgan

Older, much older, naval and ACW wargamers will recall that in the 1960s, Revell made a pack of two ironclads, “Monitor” and “Virginia,” indeterminate scale, and “full hull,” but capable of easy no-cutting, reduction to water-line at a time when any decent wargames ship models were at a premium. They may still be around in the USA.

'Matilda,' formerly 'Virginia.'

I bought two packs, and have used them for years. One a straightforward build of  “Virginia,” which in the guise you see here is being used as a fictional ram, known as “Matilda,” under the colours of an up-and-coming central European kingdom.


Now “Monitor,” which in this case is around 25cm (10”) long, (“Virginia’s” a mere 2cm longer) is really just the turret on a raft, with a few deck fittings, and once you’ve built one that’s it. The rather weary looking example shown here is currently being examined for conversion into the Austria-Hungarian Danube River monitor “Maros” of 1871 — a design which owed a lot to the original “Monitor.” We shall see!

A floating Confederate river battery, made from a 'Virginia' model.

Of course, having bought two kits, I had a second pair of hulls, one, the second “Virginia,” became a floating Confederate river battery, a bit like the “CSS Georgia,” slow, capable of moving, armoured but not an outstanding man-o’-war. Painted all black and rust she looks fine on the table top, and of course, fortunately will fit in with 15mm figures, her guns in this case are smaller than normal for an ironclad, maybe only 32 pdrs. and even 12 pdrs. All I did to make her was lose the waterline base plate, cement the superstructure straight onto a similar shaped piece of plasticard, and add a tall funnel from tube. I lost the ship’s boats in both cases, using them for other wargame purposes.

'Jubal Early' conversion from 'Monitor.'

The second “Monitor” eventually lost its turret and guns, the turret’s still waiting use, and the guns are now in a shore battery, manned by 6mm figures. The simple hull, waterline, gave me an idea. The hull is broad enough to take a 6cm x 6cm cheap plastic light fitting “top,” of the sort which comes in two parts, one lower broad bit to accommodate the light bulb, and a smaller section 3cm high which slips over the top. I bought a white one from a local shop for a pound, then simply cemented the piece centrally on the hull, adding a roof for the new casemate from a square of thick plasticard scored to look like planks or plates.

With this in place, it began to look like the “CSS Albemarle” of blessed Confederate memory.

On top of the casemate, the central funnel was a plastic handwriting pen top, about 25mm high, superglued to a plastic counter for stability, I drilled a 30mm-long screw through the centre down to the hull for added strength. The ironclad, late-war of course, was to have only two heavy guns, and I cemented four old Airfix ship’s gunport lids, squares of 10mm plasticard would have done, the forward and aft gun ports centrally, the port and starboard offset slightly. The forward gun fired to port as well, the aft to starboard. A small circular pilot house just in front of the funnel — I left the original block pilot fitting in the bows, for no real reason, it looked fine there. Added a couple of deck fittings, a spare anchor and a ship’s boat (optional in both cases), which more or less completed the ironclad. At a late stage, I made up a torpedo boom, using two 10cm lengths of sprue, cemented to a base frame 20mm wide which sat on the foredeck with tiny oval toy beads for the explosives.

A quick spray of Humbrol light grey, some rust and a black funnel and that was it. The CSA naval ensign incidentally eluded me until my good friend Mike Crane of Texarkana provided one.

On one occasion, the “CSS Jubal Early” — a nice name I thought — by now a powerful river ram, engaged a group of Essex (or were they Donnington?) 15mm-scale Union mortar rafts, exchanging heavy fire with a battery of Yankee 12 pdrs., and scattering their cavalry, before withdrawing up river, boldly. For this game, I added a 15mm old ‘Peter Laing’ Williams gun and crew to boost the ram’s firepower. A field gun or mountain howitzer would have sat there just as well, but not permanently fixed.

I could, I suppose, have super-detailed the “Jubal Early” but that’s a matter of taste, a jack forward at the bows perhaps? Or perhaps a couple of crewmen and officers standing signalling on the casemate, or bracing wires from the funnel?


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