The origin of the Lindberg “Q-ship/Raider” plastic ship model kit

April 29th, 2009

This kit has always been something of a puzzle. The ship is generic and has no name other than “Q-ship” or “Raider”. It is in no way related to the Aurora kit of the German raider ATLANTIS.

The Rajen ship kit list has the following comments:

Q-ship (RN ??) {780M} [1/390?] (WW1?) Editor’s Note: Said to be 12 inches (30.5 cm) long. Classic Lindberg “box scale”. (DRW) Presumably identical to Decoy Ship kit. Editor’s Note: The kit is said to be 12 inches long, and to have 41 parts. The picture on the box makes it look like a merchant ship of some type. (DRW) Decoy- or “Q-Ships” were WWI combatants; converted British merchantmen, specially equipped with hidden guns to lure and defeat early U-boats in surface gun action. Box art shows a nondescript but too-modern looking – perhaps ’30s or even ’40s vintage – merchantman. (MMS), review dated 5 February 2005.

POOR. I built this one as a child. The Decoy ship bears some resemblance to a circa 1000 grt WWI tramp, or at best possibly a “Hog Islander”. It has ‘arced’ (I should have said “scalloped”) rather than flat (I should have said “horizontal”) gunwales between the fo’c’s’le and the superstructure and the poop, indicating again it is a fairly small vessel. It is in in no way related to the Fleet Oiler kit. It had large cowl ventilators, and seemingly large portholes. The very crude guns are in square ‘box’ deckhouses that look like they have no reasonable function, so it is at best a concept, not a real depiction of any WWI (or WWII) decoy ship. Very crude and toylike. (Brooks), review dated 20 February 2006.

The initials and the name “Brooks” correspond to the various reviewers contributing to the Rajen ship model kit list, including myself.

A photo of an assembled, painted model can be seen here: index.html

One was recently on Ebay, item 320352688098 and the parts on trees can be seen in photos. Also it can be seen the kit comes with a decal sheet showing US style hull numbers of “171”.

Well, this weekend at an antique mall I picked up the April 1942 issue of Mechanix Illustrated magazine. It shows British P-40s in North Africa on the cover.

Many modern ship modelers do not remember that magazines like Mechanix Illustrated and Popular Mechanics often carried plans for scratch-building wooden ship (and other kinds of) models back in the 1930s through perhaps early 1950s. Wooden ship kits and plans were also sold in the classified advertisements in the back of these magazines.

In this issue of Mechanix Illustrated, the monthly model article is “Model Q-Ship, Sea Raider”, by Herbert Crozier. It is subtitled “Authentic model of the type of ‘mytery’ raider and submarine decoy used by both the Axis and the Allies in the Battle of the Atlantic.” This model uses bread-and-butter construction; plans for a 30″ long final product were available for $2.00 from Fawcett Publications, the parent company. A profile and deck plan and body plan templates are included which could be enlarged by the scale squares method if you had more time than money. What is most interesting is that the actual plan corresponds 98% to the Lindberg kit, both as I remember and as confirmed by the photograph above.

The magazine kit shows something more clearly meant as a radar, as there are trainable single torpedo tubes concealed at the aft end of the superstructure. I built this model in about 1965 and the remnants were disposed of years ago, I have no memory of this feature, only the guns concealed beneath their deck structures. One other thing I have no memory of from the Lindberg kit, but is shown in the magazine model, is that like many merchantmen, the magazine version of the ship carries a spare propellor, in this case mounted on the forward superstructure below the bridge. I don’t recall the Lindberg kit featuring that either, and the photo of the sprues and parts in the Ebay listing confirm that these features are not included in the plastic ship kit. But as for the rest, overall shape, placement of superstructure, ventilators, cranes, boats. and booms corresponds perfectly with the Lindberg kit. It thus becomes virtually certain that the Lindberg kit was created from these plans. The ebay box mentioned above also mentions 12 inches for the length and 1″ = 32 feet 6 inches for scale. (A direct lift of the plans in the magazine results in a model 10 inches long.) Using several deck houses, the guns, torpedo tubes, life rings, etc. for reference, I estimated an approximate scale for the wooden model as 1/130 and sure enough the Lindberg model is claimed to be 1″ = 32 ft 6 inches – 1/390!

One more thing these plans feature that the Lindberg kit does not – a name. Nowhere in the article, but on the plans, is the name “Crown Castle”, certainly a British name, and she carries a Red Ensign aft in the drawing. However. this name does not correspond to any RN WWI Q-ship.

However, having solved that one mystery, I have found a new one.

The Lindberg Q-ship also happens to strongly resemble in layout the USS ATIK (AK-101), es SS-CAROLYN, built in 1912, which was a real US Q-ship!

USS ATIK was indeed actually deployed as a Q-ship at the very beginning of US entry into WWII. Her DANFS entry online shows:

Navsource photo here:

She had a length of 382 ft – very close to the Lindberg model’s stated scale result – even more possible if her measurement is a perpendiculars vs an overall length. A rough calculation based on her dimensions and assuming block coefficient and total hull depths gives an estimate of 2500 gross tons (the figure on DANFS is listed as displacement, not registry).

As the DANFS entry explains, ATIK sailed 23 March 1942 – only to be sunk by a U-boat on 27 March.

CAROLYN/ATIK ‘looks’ to be a proportionately larger ship in some ways than the Lindberg kit or the Mechanix Illustrated model, having seemingly a longer midships section, and lacking the scalloped down bulwark/gunwales abeam the cargo hatches. This may be a sign that the Lindberg kit is slightly exaggerated vertically, which would make the kit overall look shorter. But this is a very large coincidence, because the article would have been prepared, prototype built, and plans published, all at about the same time that the actual SS CAROLYN was being converted to USS ATIK.

Perhaps this is just coincidence, as practically all small break-bulk freighters of this era had roughly similar engines amidships configurations. HOWEVER – it is certainly rather peculiar that the ship chosen to represent a Q-ship in the 1942 model plans happens to strongly remember a real US attempt at a Q-ship, both in size and in configuration details. It seems highly unlikely that details of the Mechanix illustrated model could have reached German hands so that the U-boat actually was warned – but it certainly has every appearance of a potential security leak of that day and age.

Brooks A Rowlett

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