1:700 H.M.S. “Ludgar” (Pennant I 07), Royal Navy Trebuchet-class monitor, Mediterranean Fleet/Force H; North Africa, early 1942 (What-if/modified Hobby Boss kit)

+++ DISCLAIMER +++
Nothing you see here is real, even though the model, the conversion or the presented background story might be based historical facts. BEWARE!

Some background:
A monitor is a class of relatively small warship that is lightly armoured, often provided with disproportionately large guns, and originally designed for coastal warfare. The term "monitor" grew to include breastwork monitors, the largest class of riverine warcraft known as river monitors and was sometimes used as a generic term for any turreted ship. In the early 20th century, the term "monitor" included shallow-draft armoured shore bombardment vessels, particularly those of the Royal Navy: the Lord Clive-class monitors carried guns that fired the heaviest shells ever used at sea and saw action against German targets during World War I.
Two small Royal Navy monitors from the First World War, Erebus and Terror survived to fight in the Second World War. When the requirement for shore support and strong shallow-water coastal defence returned, new monitors and variants such as coastal defence ships were built. Allied monitors saw service in the Mediterranean in support of the British Eighth Army’s desert and Italian campaigns, and they were part of the offshore bombardment for the Invasion of Normandy in 1944.

During the First World War, the Royal Navy developed several classes of ships which were designed to give close support to troops ashore through the use of naval bombardment. The size of the various monitor classes of the Royal Navy and their armaments varied greatly. The Marshal Ney class was the United Kingdom’s first attempt at a monitor carrying 15 in (381 mm) guns, two of these ships were eventually built and showed a disappointing performance. The Admiralty immediately began the design of a replacement class, which incorporated lessons learned from all of the previous monitor classes commissioned during the war. Some of the main modifications were an increase in the power supply to guarantee a speed of 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph) and a change to the angles and lines of the hull to improve steering. Another significant change was to raise the top of the anti-torpedo bulge above the waterline and reduce its width; both changes would improve the stability and maneuverability of the ship at sea. The new design would later be named the Erebus-class, the first ship being launched in June 1916. Two ships were built and took part in WWI, but the Admiralty was not fully convinced with these ships, which also had shown major operational flaws, and requested in early 1918 three ship from another monitor class with higher firepower and better performance at sea, which led to the Trebuchet-class – even though it came too late to take part in any hostilities.

The class’ ships were to be the name-giving HMS Trebuchet, HMS Mangonel and HMS Ludgar. The latter would be the first and eventually become the class’ only ship, because Trebuchet and Mangonel were quickly cancelled. HMS Ludgar was named after the famous, probably largest trebuchet ever made, also known as “Warwolf”, which had been created in Scotland by order of King Edward I of England, during the siege of Stirling Castle, as part of the Scottish Wars of Independence. Still seeing a need for this specialized ship for local conflicts in the British Empire around the world, Ludgar was proceeded with and laid down at Harland and Wolff’s shipyard in Govan on 12 October 1918.

Due to the lack of wartime pressure, though, Ludgar took three years to complete and was launched on 19 June 1920. The new design was a thorough re-modelling of the earlier Royal Navy Monitors, even though most basic features and the general layout were retained — with all its benefits and flaws. Overall the ship was slightly larger than its direct predecessors, the Erebus-class monitors. Ludgar had a crew of 224, 9,090 long tons (9,185 t) loaded displacement, was 436 ft (133.1 m) long, 97 ft (29.6 m) wide with a draught of just 11 ft 8 in (3.6 m, less than a destroyer) for operations close to the coastline. Power was provided by four Babcock & Wilcox water-tube boilers, which would generate a combined 6,000 ihp (4,500 kW) that were produced by triple-expansion steam engines with two shafts. The monitor had an operational range of 2,480 nmi (4,590 km; 2,850 mi) at a speed of 12 knots.

HMS Ludgar’s deck armor would range from 1 in (25 mm) on the forecastle, through 2 in (51 mm) on the upper deck and 4 in (102 mm) over the magazine and belt. Unlike former British monitors, the Trebuchet Class featured two main turrets, which were each armed with two 15 in guns, what considerably improved the ship’s rate of fire. With the main 15 in guns being originally intended for use on a battleship, the armor for the turrets was substantially thicker than elsewhere in the design; with 13 in (330 mm) on the front, 11 in (279 mm) on the other sides and 5 in (127 mm) on the roof. The main guns’ barbettes would be protected by 8 in (203 mm) of armor. Learning from the earlier experience with Ney, the turrets were adjusted to increase elevation to 30 degrees, which would add greater firing range. The 15 in guns had a muzzle velocity of 2,450 feet per second (750 m/s) – 2,640 feet per second (800 m/s), with supercharge. Maximum firing range was 33,550 yards (30,680 m) with a Mk XVIIB or Mk XXII streamlined shell @30° – 37,870 yards (34,630 m) @ 30°, with supercharges.

Just like on former British monitor ship designs, the turrets had to be raised high above the deck to allow the small draught, what raised the ship’s center of gravity and required a relatively wide hull to ensure stability.
The tall conning tower was protected by 6 in (152 mm) of armor on the sides and 2.5 in (64 mm) on the roof. The former monitors retrofitted anti-torpedo bulges were integrated into the Trebuchet-class’ hull, extending the deck’s width and giving the ship a more efficient shape, even though the short and wide hull still did not support a good performance at sea. The outer air-filled compartments under the waterline were 13 ft (4 m) wide with a 9 ft (2.7 m) wide outer section and an inner compartment 4 ft (1.2 m) wide containing an array of protective, air-filled steel tubes which would take the blast from an eventual broadside torpedo hit.

Ludgar conducted sea trials on 1 September 1921, during which the ship was faster than her predecessors at 16.5 knots (30 km/h; 19 mph) compared to 13 knots (24.3 km/h; 15.1 mph) for the Erebus-class monitors. However, like her ancestors, the wide and shallow hull of Ludgar made the ride rather unstable, and under practical conditions the ship’s top speed rarely exceeded 14 knots, making Ludgar only marginally faster than older monitor ships. The inherent flaws of the ship class’ design could not easily be overcome. However, Ludgar was officially commissioned on 2 September.

Upon entering service Ludgar was immediately deployed to the eastern Mediterranean as part of the 1st Battle Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet to mediate conflicts between Greece and the crumbling Ottoman Empire. While in the Ottoman capital Constantinople, Ludgar and the other British warships took on White émigrés fleeing the Communist Red Army.
The 1922 Washington Naval Treaty cut the battleship strength of the Royal Navy from forty ships to fifteen. The remaining active battleships were divided between the Atlantic and Mediterranean Fleets and conducted joint operations annually. Ludgar remained with the Mediterranean through 1926. On 4 October 1927, the ship was placed in reserve to effect a major refit, in which new rangefinders and searchlights were installed and the ship’s original secondary armament, eight 4 inch naval guns against enemy destroyers and torpedo boats, was replaced be anti-aircraft guns of the same caliber.
On 15 May 1929 the refit was finished, and the ship was assigned to the 1st Battle Squadron of the Mediterranean Fleet. The squadron also consisted of Royal Sovereign, her sisters Resolution and Revenge, and Queen Elizabeth, and based in Malta. The only changes made during the Thirties were augmentations to Ludgar’s anti-aircraft batteries.

Fleet exercises in 1934 were carried out in the Bay of Biscay, followed by a fleet regatta in Navarino Bay off Greece. In 1935, the ship returned to Britain for the Jubilee Fleet Review for King George V. In August 1935, Ludgar was transferred to the 2nd Battle Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet, where she served as a training vessel until 2 June 1937, when she was again placed in reserve for a major overhaul. This lasted until 18 February 1938, after which she returned to the 2nd Battle Squadron.

In early 1939, the Admiralty considered plans to send Ludgar to Asia to counter Japanese expansionism. They reasoned that the then established "Singapore strategy", which called for a fleet to be formed in Britain to be dispatched to confront a Japanese attack was inherently risky due to the long delay. They argued that a dedicated battle fleet would allow for faster reaction. The plan was abandoned, however. In the last weeks of August 1939, the Royal Navy began to concentrate in wartime bases as tensions with Germany rose.
At the outset of war in September 1939, Ludgar was assigned to the 2nd Battle Squadron of the Home Fleet but remained at Plymouth for a short refit. In May 1940, painted in an overall light grey livery, she moved to the Mediterranean Fleet. There she was based in Alexandria, together with the battleships Warspite, Malaya, and Valiant, under the command of Admiral Andrew Cunningham.

In mid-August 1940, while steaming in the Red Sea, Royal Sovereign was attacked by the Italian submarine Galileo Ferraris and lightly damaged. Later that month, she returned to Alexandria for repairs and she received false white wakes at front and stern to simulate speed and confuse enemies. At the same time the conning tower was painted in a very light grey to make it less conspicuous when the ship was lurking behind the horizon. These were combined with periodic maintenance and the stay at dock lasted until November 1940.
Ludgar then moved to North Africa where she supported Operation Compass, the British assault against the Italian Tenth Army in Libya. The monitor shelled Italian positions at Maktila in Egypt on the night of 8 December, as part of the Battle of Sidi Barrani, before coming under the command of Captain Hector Waller’s Inshore Squadron off Libya on 13 December. During the successful advance by the Western Desert Force Terror bombarded Italian land forces and fortifications, amongst others the fortified port of Bardia in eastern Libya on 16 December. After the Bardia bombardment concern was raised about the condition of the 15 in gun barrels which had been fitted, having been previously used, in 1939. The barrels were inspected by Vice Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham and the order was given for Ludgar to reduce the amount of cordite used when firing the main guns, in an attempt to extend the weapons’ useful life. In a further attempt to conserve the monitor’s main guns, her duties were changed to concentrate on providing anti-aircraft cover for the rest of the squadron and to ferry supplies from Alexandria. The ship also served as a water carrier for the advancing British and Commonwealth army.

Along with the flotilla leader Stuart, the gunboat Gnat and the destroyers Vampire and Voyager, Ludgar supported the assault on Tobruk on 21 January 1941 by the 6th Australian Division with the port being secured on 22nd. By this point the monitor’s main gun barrels had each fired over 600 rounds of ammunition and the rifling had been worn away. While the main guns could still be fired, the shots would rarely land accurately and frequently exploded in mid-air. Ludgar was now relegated solely to the role of a mobile anti-aircraft platform and her light anti-aircraft armament was supplemented by two triple two-pounder anti-aircraft guns, mounted in armored turrets in front of the bridge and on a small platform at stern. To make room for the latter the original locations of the ship’s lifeboats was moved from stern to the main deck behind the funnel, and a large crane was added there to put them afloat. The crane was also able to deploy a light reconnaissance float plane — and for a short period in early 1941 Ludgar carried a Fairey Seafox biplane, despite having neither catapult nor hangar. However, since the aircraft was exposed to the elements all the time and quite vulnerable, it soon disappeared.
At this phase the ship started sporting an unofficial additional camouflage which consisted of irregular small patches in sand, brown and khaki over her basic grey livery, apparently applied in situ with whatever suitable paint the crew could get their hands on, probably both British Army and even captured Italian paints. The objective was to better hide the ship against the African coastline when supporting land troops.

In March 1941, Ludgar was involved in Operation Lustre, the Allied reinforcement of Greece. The turn of fortune against the Allies in April required the evacuation of most of these forces, Operation Demon. On 21 April Ludgar was in Nafplio and accounted for the evacuation of 301 people, including 160 nurses. Following this, the ship became involved with the Tobruk Ferry Service, and made 11 runs to the besieged city of Tobruk before engine problems forced her withdrawal in July. Ludgar sailed again to Alexandria for repairs, which lasted from September 1941 to March 1942.

Ludgar – now re-fitted with new main gun barrels and two more Oerlikon AA machine cannon to the original complement of eight – was then assigned to Force H in the Mediterranean. Operation Torch saw British and American forces landed in Morocco and Algeria under the British First Army. Force H was reinforced to cover these landings and Ludgar provided heavy artillery support for the land-based ground troops. The end of the campaign in North Africa saw an interdiction effort on a vast scale, the aim was to cut Tunisia completely off from Axis support. It succeeded and 250,000 men surrendered to the 18th Army Group; a number equal to those who surrendered at Stalingrad. Force H again provided heavy cover for this operation.

Two further sets of landings were covered by Force H against interference from the Italian fleet. Operation Husky in July 1943 saw the invasion and conquest of Sicily, and Operation Avalanche saw an attack on the Italian mainland at Salerno. Following the Allied landings on Italy itself, the Italian government surrendered. The Italian fleet mostly escaped German capture and much of it formed the Italian Co-Belligerent Navy. With the surrender of the Italian fleet, the need for heavy units in the Mediterranean disappeared. The battleships and aircraft carriers of Force H dispersed to the Home and Eastern Fleets and the command was disbanded. Naval operations in the Mediterranean from now on would be conducted by lighter units, and Ludgar was commanded back to Great Britain, where she was put into reserve at Devonport, enhancing the station’s anti-aircraft defense.
At Devonport Ludgar was repainted in a dark grey-green Admiralty scheme and on 2 June 1944 she left Devonport again, joining Bombardment Force D of the Eastern Task Force of the Normandy invasion fleet off Plymouth two days later. At 0500 on 6 June 1944 Ludgar was the first ship to open fire, bombarding the German battery at Villerville from a position 26,000 yards offshore, to support landings by the British 3rd Division on Sword Beach. She continued bombardment duties on 7 June, but after firing over 300 shells she had to rearm and crossed the Channel to Portsmouth. She returned to Normandy on 9 June to support American forces at Utah Beach and then, on 11 June, she took up position off Gold Beach to support the British 69th Infantry Brigade near Cristot.
On 12 June she returned to Portsmouth to rearm, but her guns were worn out again, so she was ordered to sail to Rosyth via the Straits of Dover. She evaded German coastal batteries, partly due to effective radar jamming, but hit a mine 28 miles off Harwich early on 13 June. The explosion ripped her bow apart, leaving a gaping leak, and she sank within just a couple of minutes. Only 57 men of Ludgar’s crew survived.

General characteristics:
Displacement: 9,090 long tons (9,185 t)
Length: 436 ft (133.1 m) overall
Beam: 97 ft (29.6 m)
Draught: 11 ft 8 in (3.6 m)
Complement: 224

Propulsion:
4× Babcock & Wilcox water-tube boilers, generating a combined 6,000 ihp (4,500 kW) via
triple-expansion steam engines with two shafts

Performance:
Top speed: 16.5 knots (30 km/h; 19 mph)
Range: 2,480 nmi (4,590 km; 2,850 mi)

Armament:
2× twin BL 15-inch L42 Mk I naval guns
8 × single QF 4-inch Mk V naval guns
2 × triple two-pounder (40 mm) anti-aircraft guns
10x single Oerlikon 20mm (0.787 in) anti-aircraft machine cannon

The kit and its assembly:
This was another submission for the "Gunships" group build at whatifmodellers. in late 2021 — and what would such a competition be without a literal "gunship" in the form of a monitor ship? I had wanted to scratch such a vehicle for a while, and the GB was a good motivation to tackle this messy project.

The idea was to build a post-WWI monitor for the Royal Navy. From WWI, several such ships had survived and they were kept in reserve and service into WWII, some even survived this war after extensive use. However, the layout of a typical monitor ship, with low draft, a relatively wide hull and heavy armament for land bombardments, is rather special and finding a suitable basis for this project was not easy — and I also did not want to spend a fortune just in donor parts.
Then I recently came across Hobby Boss 1:700 kit of the USS Arizona (in its 1941 guise, w/o the hull barbettes), and after some comparison with real British monitors I found my starting point — and it was dirty cheap. Righteously, though, because the model is rather primitive, comparable with the simple Matchbox 1:700 waterline ships. There are also some dubious if not cringeworthy solutions. For instance, in order to provide the superstructures with open windows, the seams between the single levels run right through the windows! WTF? These seams can hardly be hidden, it’s really an awkward solution. Another freak detail: the portholes on the lower hull protrude like pockmarks, in real life they’d the 1 1/2 ft (50 cm) deep?! Some details like the cranes on the upper deck are also very "robust", it is, in the end, IMHO not a good model. But it was just the starting for me for "something else"…

Modifications started with shortening the hull. Effectively, I cut out more then 3 1/2 in from the body, which is an integral part with side walls and main deck, basically any straight hull section disappeared, leaving only the bow and stern section. My hope was that these could be simple glued together for a new, wide hull — but this did not work without problems, because the rear section turned out to be a bit wider than the front. What to do…? I eventually solved this problem through wedge-shaped cuts inside of the integral railings. With some force, lots of glue and a stiffening structure inside the new hull could be completed.

Next the original turret bases had to disappear. as well as two of the four anchors and their respective chains on the foredeck. I retained as much of the original superstructure as possible, as it looked quite plausible even for a shorter ship, but since the complete hull basis for it had been gone, some adaptations had to be made. The main level was shortened a little and I had to scratch the substruction from styrene sheet, so that it would match with the stepped new hull.
At the same time I had to defined where the main turret(s) would be placed — and I settled for two, because the deck space was sufficient and the ship’s size would make them appear plausible. A huge problem were the turret mounts, though — since a monitor has only little draught, the hull is not very deep. Major gun turrets are quite tall things, on battleships only the turret itself with the guns can be normally seen. But on a monitor they stand really tall above the waterline, and their foundation needs a cover. I eventually found a very nice solution in the form of 1:72 jet engine exhausts from Intech F-16s — I has a pair of these featureless parts in the spares box, and with some trimming and the transplantation of the original turtret mounts the result looks really good.

In the meantime the hull-mounted gun barbettes of USS Arizona had to disappear, together with the pockmarks on the hull. A messy affair with several PSR rounds. Furthermore, I added a bottom to the waterline hull, cut from 0.5 mm styrene sheet, and added plaster and lead beads as ballast.

Most of the superstructure, up to the conning tower, were mostly taken OOB. I just gave the ship a more delicate crane and re-arranged the lifeboats, and added two small superstructures to the rear deck as AA-stations, behind the rear tower — the space had been empty, because USS Arizona carried aircraft catapults there.

For the armament I used the OOB main turrets, but only used two of the three barrels (blanking of the opening in the middle). The 4 in guns were taken OOB to their original positions, the lighter 20 mm AA guns were partly placed in the original positions, too, and four of them went to a small platform at stern. For even more firepower I added two small turrets with three two-pounder AA guns, one on the rear deck and another right in front of the bridge.

Painting and markings:
The ship might look odd in its fragmented multi-colored camouflage — but this scheme was inspired by the real HMS Terror, an monitor that operated in early 1941 on the coast of North Africa and carried a similar makeshift camouflage. This consisted of a multitude of sand and brown tones, applied over an overall light grey base. I mimicked this design, initially giving the ship at first a uniform livery in 507b (Humbrol 64), together with an unpainted but weathered wooden deck (Humbrol 187 plus a washing with sepia ink) and horizontal metal surfaces either in a dark grey (507a, Humbrol 106) or covered with a red-brown coat of Corticene (Humbrol 62). As a personal detail I gave the ship false bow and stern waves on the hull in white. Another personal mod is the light grey (507c, Humbrol 147) conning tower — as mentioned in the background, I found that this light grey would be most useful when the ship itself was hidden behind the horizon from view, and only the conning tower would be directly visible in front of a hazy naval background.
On top of the grey hull I added several other paints, including khaki drab (FS 34087 from Modelmaster), red brown (FS 30118, Humbrol 118), khaki drill (Humbrol 72), mid stone (Humbrol 225) and light stone (Humbrol 121).

The model received an overall washing with dark grey and some rust stains with various brown and red shades of simple watercolors. The waterline was created with long and thin black 1.5 mm decal stripes, a very convenient and tidy solution. Finally, all parts were sealed with matt acrylic varnish, and after the final assembly I also added some rigging to the main mast with heated black sprue material.

Phew, this was quite a challenge, the result looks good overall, but I am not happy with the finish. Ships are not my strength and you see the Hobby Boss kit’s flaws and weaknesses everywhere. Then add massive bodywork, and thing look even more shaggy (*sigh*). Nevertheless, the model looks like a typical monitor ship, and when I take the rather crappy USS Arizona kit as basis/benchmark, the "new" HMS Ludgar is not a bad achievement. It’s surely not a crisp model, but the impression is good and this is what counts most to me.

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