In both World Wars, the German U-boat was a deadly menace. Even with the advent of nuclear weapons and the SSBN’s (or “boomers”) that carry them, it is safe to say that the world has never felt more keenly the threat posed by these lurking marauders more than in the dark days of the Second World War. Despite the fact that the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) didn’t have all the U-boats that it wanted before going to war, it made good use of what it had, and early operations were very successful.
As the war dragged on, though, and Allied patrol aircraft gained in range and effectiveness, the balance of power started to shift. Whereas the U-boats were once free to roam the oceans nearly at will, largely remaining surfaces until convoys were spotted, by the time the second half of the war dawned, this was no longer the case. The problem for the Germans was that the original U-boats weren’t designed to operate underwater for extended periods of time; in essence, they were old technology. They were from the era when deck guns were still a useful weapon and a submarine could attack surfaced as much as submerged. Clearly, the answer was a new kind of U-boat.
That’s precisely what the Germans came up with. Known as “Elektroboote” (electrical boats), the new Type XXI subs were a radical departure. Gone were deck guns and all other vestiges of the past. New streamlined hulls and minimal deck clutter was the new way. These frightening monsters of the deep were the ancestors of all modern sub design, and they look it, even now. They made use of massive battery banks and the German “Schnorkel” innovation to charge them from a small diesel generator, making them able to stay submerged almost continuously. Finding them was a lot harder than finding the older style U-boats.
Still, the Type XXI had its faults. One of which was that it was big. It was an ocean-going boat, not designed for “knife fighting” in shallow coastal waters. Still, that was where a lot of action could take place, especially as the Allies continued to make amphibious landings and have a lot of ships close to shore. Thus, another “Elektroboot” was proposed. This was a “little brother” to the Type XXI, known as the Type XXIII. This was a small boat with only a crew of about 18. It had only two torpedoes as armament, and these had to be reloaded externally.
While it might sound like the boat was unnecessarily limited, that’s not entirely the case. Also, it handled well and was both fast and maneuverable. You can think of it like an F-5 of the submarine world. It is small, lightly armed and short-ranged, but nasty in a close-in fight. Only 61 were produced before the end of the war, but six managed to sink Allied ships. In fact, U-2336 sunk the last two ships of the European war only an hour or so before the war was over. Given more time, it is sure that these small, piranha-like subs would have evolved into a separate terror of their own.
Because it is a low-volume, late-war German subject, the Type XXIII has been kitted a surprising number of times, and in a variety of scales. Its small size makes it perfect for issuance in larger scales, and there’s a Bronco kit in the nearly unheard of (for subs) 1/35! Usually, that’s a scale reserved for Midget Subs, like the Biber! On a more normal scale, there has been an ICM (repopped as Revell Germany) and a Trumpeter in 1/144. Given my limited shelf space, and the fact that it’s in scale to my Gundams, I tend to gravitate towards the 1/144 versions. I came across the Trumpeter first, so I picked it up. Let’s see what you get, shall we?
Submarine boxes can be fairly dramatic. You can create all kinds of cool and dramatic art with waves crashing over the hull of a surfaced sub, you can have missiles and torpedoes firing… you know, all kinds of excitement. However, in a lot of ways, that’s not very realistic. Think about it; most of the time, a sub is just lurking around underwater, patrolling or hunting like a shark. A good sub doesn’t spend much time on the surface, and hopefully it doesn’t have to fire its weapons in anger.
That’s why I was so taken by the Trumpeter box. It’s a very reserved affair. It has a nice, almost watercolour-looking image of a Type XXIII doing what it does best; slowly maneuvering through the water, avoiding the perils of littoral operations (rocks, plants, etc. on the shallow floor of the coastal sea) and just waiting. One gets a sense of tranquility, but also of malevolence. The colour palette is muted, all greys and blues. Not much is distinct in the background, and even the sub seems to blend in a bit. It looks peaceful and alien. However, it’s worth noting that the torpedo door is open, at least on the starboard (facing) side. This is the one indication that something big is about to happen. Is it in the next second? The next minute? No one will ever know.
Thus, while it might not be as visually dynamic as, say, old Matchbox box art, the box on the Type XXIII is actually quite a nice piece of work, and is something worth taking a few minutes to appreciate. There’s no missing what the kit is of, since there is bold white lettering proclaiming it’s a German Type XXIII U-Boat, and there’s a colourful Trumpeter logo at the top right corner. There’s some Chinese in the lower right, but I don’t read Chinese, so I can’t tell you what it says.
The one side of the box shows two versions, A and B, as well as giving a brief history of the boat in Chinese. The other side shows a third option, C, and has an English write-up of the Type XXIII. This is not as bad as some of the Trumpeter and Hobby Boss write-ups. I was actually disappointed; I was expecting more comical mistakes and odd wordings, but instead I got something that, I’m pretty sure, is cribbed directly from Wikipedia! Still, the gist seems right, and it is actually somewhat useful.
Like nearly all submarine kits, it seems, the Type XXIII is very simple. Inside the top-opening box of only moderate strength one finds three sprues of parts. One contains the hull, in halves as expected. One contains all the “fiddly bits” like the masts, conning tower tops, propeller and two uprights that pass for a stand. The third sprue contains three different pairs of conning tower halves, corresponding to the three options shown on the side of the box.
All the parts are nicely formed in a light grey plastic, exactly like what one would find on a model plane. There’s no visible flash anywhere, and the panel lines are all recessed where applicable. There’s also some raised detail where appropriate, for things like access hatches, and while very simple, the kit looks like it’s of good quality. As far as subs go, this one wasn’t overly expensive, although I always find subs are more expensive than they ought to be.
The three versions that can be built are all very similar. The difference is in the conning towers, clearly, since you get three of those. They are all subtly different, although since I can’t read Chinese I can’t tell from the box or instructions what the differences represent. Two of them are open-bridge designs and one has the front part closed in (option C). More on this shortly.
The most disappointing thing is the stand. The ICM has a conventional “stand” with a base and a couple of arms to hold the sub. This kit, though, has only two uprights designed to cradle the boat. These are neither detailed nor impressive, and I can easily see them giving out should the shelf upon which the completed model is displayed be subjected to any kind of bump or jarring. It would be wise, I would say, to lay some kind of strip styrene between the two uprights to act as a spacer and constraint. I’ll definitely be doing that!
Since the kit is so simple, the instructions are too. There’s a small booklet with a one-page part inventory and two pages of assembly instructions. These are not difficult at all. It’s mostly gluing halves anyway, so not a lot of instruction is needed! What’s there is well drawn and clear. There’s no confusion as to what goes where. I do wish there was some description of what the significance of the three bridges were, though.
Bridging the Gap:
The three different bridges bug me. I like having options, but I don’t like not knowing what they’re all about. It was like the three engines in the Daytona; without any explanation, how are you supposed to know what you’re up against?
Thankfully, there’s a great Russian site that has a lot of photos and information on the Type XXIII. Why this info doesn’t exist in English, I’m not sure. Thank goodness for Google Translate, though! (Note; Bing Translator sucks, so don’t even bother.) For the raw info, go here:
Still, even with the information at hand, it’s not easy to tell exactly what’s what. This is what I’ve deduced, and if it’s wrong, please, someone, let me know!
This has a collar on the bridge and another wrap-around strake midway down the bridge. This appears to be an early design of the bridge, and is not one that apparently entered production in any numbers, if at all. There are also more holes in the bridge, and from what I can tell, as many of these as possible were done away with to improve the speed of the sub.
This seems to be the most “normal” version. This has fewer holes in the conning tower, the open bridge and no mid-tower collar. This is the bridge that is seen in most photos, and therefore if you want to build a “combat” boat, this is likely the option to choose.
This is the one with the closed bridge. On the above-mentioned site, there are two pictures of Type XXIIIs like this. Apparently, this rounded and closed bridge was used to try and get more speed out of the sub by streamlining it further. However, it didn’t have much of an effect and therefore was only used on the two boats.
There were also two boats (U4704 and U4708) completed under project “Alberich”. This gave the boats a special double-layer rubberized coating, to reduce their reflection to enemy sonar. It was apparently proposed to make modification to about 1/3 of the fleet, although it increased build time significantly. Only the two were completed, though. The photos show these subs as being a predominantly dark colour. Not really a surprise, given they’re coated in rubber, though.
Paint Plan and Decals:
Like most Trumpeters, the Type XXIII comes with a full-colour paint plan. However, “full-colour” is stretching it! The plan shows all three options, but there’s really no choice: they’re all-grey boats with nothing in the way of markings! The boats are all one-colour, too; there’s no demarcation line for a light/dark split.
This contrasts sharply with the recent Revell Germany repop of the ICM, which comes with conning tower numbers and flags, and which is shown as being light grey on top and almost black on bottom. Looking again at the awesome Russian site listed above, it is possible to see that most of the production boats seem to be two-colours, either red or black on bottom and grey on top. That lower colour is a contentious point on its own. I know from building Natters that it is often assumed they are black on the underside, but since red looks black in black and white photos, it’s impossible to say which is correct.
It is more logical to have the underside be anti-fouling red, than it is to make it black, to be honest. I mean, what’s the point of making it black? No one is going to be looking for it, visually, from beneath, so cammo’s not the reason. I personally am leaning towards painting my lower half Hull Red. If anyone out there has info to support this or contradict it, let me know!
As for decals, there are none in this kit. Again, this is at odds with the Revell kit, which has little flags and some markings. However, the photos on the Russian site show many Type XXIIIs unadorned, so maybe, in this case, Trumpeter was right?!
What’s really weird is that the A, B and C options in the instructions and on the box don’t match the side views in the paint plan! What the… Still, It’s no loss because the schemes are all the same. Still, it shows a sloppiness and lack of continuity checking that does give me pause.
The Trumpeter Type XXIII is a nice, simple kit of a surprisingly popular subject. The detail is good and the part count is low, as on all submarines, and I don’t think the kit is anything special any more than I think it is bad. It’s just a very pedestrian kit that looks like it will build up nicely and display well.
I think it is safe to say that any modeller could handle this kit. There’s no photoetch to worry about and all the pieces are pretty much solid enough to withstand even rough handling. The masts are a bit delicate, but overall, this thing should build well no matter who tries it. The surface detail means that it will look good if you used advanced tactics on it, but at the same time, even if you don’t weather it, it will look fine. It would make a great project for someone just getting interested in modelling, or for someone who (like me) likes ship kits to be simple and brass-free.
Despite this, there are a few issues. The stand is, honestly, utter crap. Come on… two supports, and that’s it? A conventional stand would have been a lot nicer. When building a submarine kit, a good stand is a must. Thus, the lack of suitable stand here is actually quite important to me. Also, while I do like the three bridge options, I can’t be sure they’re completely accurate. The “B” bridge should have some kind of flared collar at the top, to keep spray down. However, it’s straight walls on the conning tower. Maybe a bit of putty will fix this? I don’t know if I’ll bother, but it’s a significant failing at this scale. I do like having the three bridges, though, and that’s a big advantage over the Revell/ICM kit, even if the shape is a bit off.
So, overall, this seems like a pretty good kit. As to whether you should satisfy your Type XXIII cravings with this kit or the Revell is really up to you. It all comes down to bridges and decals, really. I’m glad I have this kit, and I’m in no rush to get the other. The Type XXIII is a cool little boat and it will look nice on display. Even better, it matches the scale of my Zeon amphibious suits! What more could I want?