USS Halford

And now for something completely different.... or so the saying goes. Over the years I’ve built a few ships here and there. Not so often anymore though. With me nautical projects seem to always grow out of control and take on a life of their own like Seymour Krelborn's plant in Little Shop of Horrors. My AMS kicks into overdrive and every time I enter my workshop the model seems to call, "Feed me more photo etch and resin!" That being said, I was intrigued when, about a year ago a good friend approached me proposing I build for him a large scale replica of a WW2 destroyer named for his great-grandfather. I took the job not realizing what a huge undertaking it would be on the one hand, or how fun it would be on the other.

The ship was the USS Halford (DD-480), a Fletcher-class destroyer named for Acting Gunner William Halford (1841–1919), a recipient of the Medal of Honor and my friend’s great-grandfather.

USS Halford in 1943

The USS Halford was commissioned on 10 April 1943 and saw action in the Solomons and many other campaigns in the Southwest and Central Pacific and the Philippines. Her real claim to fame however was the action of the night of 24/25 October 1944 in Surigao Strait, better known as the battle of Leyte Gulf. There, as part of DESRON 54 the USS Halford torpedoed and sank the Japanese Battleship Yamashiro with a salvo of five torpedoes. Not a bad night's work for a tin can.

IJN Battleship Yamashiro

The problem I had was finding a ship the size my friend wanted. He wanted a model in the three to four foot range. Yikes! Most kits that size are designed to be made into radio control models which aren’t big on detail. I did NOT want to have to tackle that much scratch building. Luckily Revell came to the rescue with their 1/144 scale USS Fletcher kit. It weighed in at about 33 inches stem to stern which was acceptable. Whew! All in all the kit is quite nice. Some of the details are a bit soapy and oversized but it serves as a nice platform for aftermarket parts.

My next problem was the ship’s configuration. The Revell kit was of the USS Fletcher circa 1942 about the time she was launched. My friend naturally wanted his model of the Halford to be the way she looked on the night of 24 October 1944, which brings me to my dilema; the Halford was refitted twice between her launching and October 1944 with many upgrades and additions. So, in order to do it right I had to add a considerable number of anti-aircraft mounts as well as rework a deckhouse and the bridge. As it turned out, the anti-aircraft mounts involved wholesale reworking of the deckhouse forward of the bridge as well as the midship deckhouses. It was simple, but not what I would call easy. With the help of Evergreen styrene stock and lots of gray Tamiya putty all turned out well though. With the second refit the Halford had her large searchlights moved from the aft stack to the forward stack and directors for the two new dual 40mm Bofors mounts added in their place. This made it necessary to scratch build a new platform on the forward stack.
USS Halford in 1944

I used two Eduard photoetch sets for the kit and both were invaluable. The Mk 32 gun director alone was worth the price. The 5” gun barrels are turned brass from Burkhardt Masch Kleinserien (BMK). They were dimensionally accurate (unlike the kit barrels) added a lot to the 5” mounts. The blast bags were made with Apoxie Sculpt. The Halford had two distinctive markings that were a challenge. The first was a cartoon logo of a dog holding a torpedo in it’s mouth on the protective housing for the after 21” torpedo mount. This housing protected the torpedo crew from the blast of the number three 5” mount. Veterans of the Halford say they referred to this as “The Doghouse”, hence the dog logo. Luckily I had a nice color photo of The Doghouse to use. I simply printed as high a quality copy as possible of this photo and did a reverse tracing on the back side of the sheet. I then scanned this mirror image, flipped the JPEG image then printed it. I was then able to color the black and white drawing with colored pencils and scan the completed image. After that it was a simple matter to shrink the image down to 1/144 scale and print it on Testor’s waterslide decal paper. Please forgive me if I congratulate myself. I think it turned out quite nicely.
The scoreboard on the starboard bridge wing was an even bigger challenge. My printer can’t print white on decal sheets and I just didn’t know how I was going to paint those small Japanese flags and ship silhouettes. I tried about a dozen different ideas pitched to me by friends but all were failures and I had given up when I stumbled across an old decal sheet for a 1/72 scale F4U Corsair. On it were kill markings in just the right size. I was able to take microscopic bits and pieces of white numbers and letters from the same decal sheet and finesse them one part at a time into airplane and ship silhouettes. Success! I took a bit of artistic license and put a mirror image of the scoreboard on the port bridge as well, since the ship was going to display left to right. It would have been a shame to have all that work be on the “wrong” side.
The anti-aircraft armament presented a problem all its own. The Revell kit was for an early Fletcher class destroyer which only had one dual 40mm Bofors and six 20mm Orlekins. In 1944 the Halford had five dual Bofors mounts and seven single Orlekin mounts. I could manage to slap together an extra 20mm mount but I despaired of having to scratch build four new Bofors mounts. I set aside the AA armament and moved to other parts of the ship. Then after a few months passed lo and behold what do I see on the White Ensign models website but a new 1/144 scale offering... yes, you guessed it: dual 40mm Bofors. And as if that wasn’t enough BMK came out shortly after with turned brass 40mm barrels. Add to that the 20mm mounts from White Ensign and the parts really popped when finally mounted on the ship. The only other aftermarket parts were the motor launches, Mk 51 directors, Mk 27 torpedo directors and the peloruses on the bridge wings. The launches and Mk 51s are from Nautilus. The bridge equipment are from L’Arsenal. The safety railings and all of the rigging are stretched sprue.
The camouflage scheme the Halford used in 1944 was fairly drab so I added a few signal flags for color. Try as I might, I could not find a reference with period signal flag codes so I opted to have the Halford flying its hull number, 480. I pained the flags by hand with Valejo acrylics on cigarette rolling paper.
In 1944 the Halford wore Measure 21; all vertical surfaces Navy Blue and all horizontal surfaces Deck Blue. I used Tamiya acrylics almost exclusively. I mixed the paints using the “this looks good to me” method of matching the official colors as closely as possible while lightening to scale. I painted the hull with Tamiya XF-9 Hull Red darkened with XF-1 Flat Black. I post shaded both horizontal and vertical surfaces with lightened and thinned colors to give it a three dimensional feel. Then, using a very thinned mixture of XF-19 Sky Grey I glazed the vertical surfaces paying particular attention to the hull sides using irregular vertical strokes. Period photos of the Halford show the decks being weathered and well trod so I added very light and subtile scuffing on the deck with a #9B graphite pencil. The final weathering was done with mostly washes of black Grumbacher artist oils heavily thinned with turpenoid. After an initial heavy wash I progressively thinned the black streaks until they became very subtle. On the decks these washes further served to blend in the scuffing done earlier with the #9B graphite pencil. After the washes dried thoroughly I brought out the fine details with a drybrush of light gray pastels. I also gave a very sparing hint of rust coming from the anchor housing. The base was made from oak. I added a period photo of the “Doghouse” and a short data plate and history under glass on either end of the base along with a brass name plate amidships. I added a resin White Ensign 21” torpedo on the base in honor of the winning salvo against the Yamashiro. I had originally intended to display one of the 21” torpedo mounts with the loading hatches open and the torpedoes inside. As it turned out, either the WEM torpedoes were overscale or the Revell parts were underscale or both because it just didn’t work. I ruined three of the four torpedoes that came with the set and almost ruined the torpedo tubes trying to make it work before I gave up. I hated to see the last one go to waste so I mounted it there on the base. It might have made the display a tad "busy" but overall I think it worked.
Photographing the finished model proved to be one of the biggest challenges of the entire project. My photo booth is set up for 1/35 scale armor and 1/48 scale airplanes. Not 1 yard long behemoths. But, by clearing off my entire workbench I was finally able to rig something like a workable photo booth. I wasn’t entirely happy with the results but beggars can’t be choosers and I had already knocked off and to reattach more than a few fiddly parts by moving the ship around as it was. I had the acrylic case custom built by Specialty Plastics in Hamilton, OH. They did a fantastic job building a case that looked good but didn’t detract from the model.

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