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Build Report: Tim Reynaga’s 1/700th Pit-Road USS Duluth

Tim Reynaga sent in this very well researched and documented build of the USS Duluth, which he gave to his stepdad as a gift. His stepdad served on the Duluth. Thanks for sending this in, Tim!


The USS Duluth (CL-87) was a Cleveland class light cruiser launched on January 13, 1944 and placed in commission on September 18, 1944. The ship was destined to win two battle stars for action against the Imperial Japanese Navy, but the greatest threat she would face would prove to be that perennial danger facing all mariners–the restless sea. During shakedown the Duluth had her first encounter with difficult seas when the ship entered a gale with 60 knot (69 mile per hour) winds which carried away her port motor whale boat. After completing shakedown the ship served as a training cruiser at the U.S. Naval Training Station Newport, Rhode Island. This consisted of embarking 200-300 men from a cruiser or carrier crew taking pre-commissioning training and making five-day training cruises in Long Island Sound. During her stay in Newport, crews from the cruisers Dayton, Amsterdam, Bremerton, Saint Paul and the carriers Lake Champlain and Boxer were trained aboard the Duluth.

Kit: Pit-Road 1/700 scale USS Miami
Kit # W-23
Price: US $30.00
Decals: options for multiple ships and flags
Reviewer: Tim Reynaga
Notes: kit built as USS Duluth

After overhaul and a period of extended availability, she sailed for the Pacific in April 1945, rendezvousing with the fast carriers of the 5th Fleet on May 27. She joined Task Force 58, which was providing air support for the invasion of Okinawa. Operating as part of Task Group 58.1 (screening group), the Duluth suffered no combat damage despite intense enemy air attacks. However, in the early morning of June 5, 1945, task force encountered a typhoon which wrought considerable havoc to the fleet, including the Duluth. Typhoon Connie’s 122 knot (140 mph) winds and 60 foot seas buckled Duluth’s bow upward, ruptured shell plating & several 2nd deck longitudinal stringers, and reduced her maximum safe calm sea speed from 33 to 25 knots. It could well have been worse: the heavy cruiser USS Pittsburgh had her bow section torn away entirely. Another cruiser, a destroyer, and four carriers were also damaged, and six sailors and 76 aircraft were lost to the tempest. As a result of this storm damage, the Duluth sailed to Guam where she remained until July 1945 undergoing permanent repairs to her bow. In late July 1945 the ship rejoined the carrier task forces screen during the final air strikes on Japan which continued until the end of the war. After the collapse of the Japanese Empire, Duluth operated with TF 38 which provided radar picket and combat air patrol for aircraft flying occupation forces into Japan. The Duluth’s war ended on October 1, 1945, as she sailed for home.

After the war, the Duluth was based at San Pedro, California, serving again in the Far East for most of 1946. During this time she visited Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, Truk, Guam, and Manila. She patrolled the China coast between September 1947 and May 1948, after which she returned to her new home port of Long Beach, California. Her final duties included carrying NROTC midshipmen on a training cruise to British Columbia in the summer of 1948, and in February 1949 she joined in cold-weather operations off Kodiak, Alaska. During these North Pacific winter exercises the Duluth encountered seas so heavy that at one point she actually took water into her forward funnel severe enough that it shut down one of her boilers. Shaken but undamaged, the cruiser steamed to San Francisco at the conclusion of the exercise to be inactivated. Despite being a state of the art light cruiser less than five years in service, the war for which she was built was over and USS Duluth was no longer needed. She was decommissioned June 25, 1949 and sold for scrap on November 14, 1960.


My USS Duluth was built using Pit-Road’s 1/700 scale USS Miami kit, first released in the late 1990s. Just over 10 inches in length, the Pit-Road Cleveland class models were among the better injected plastic waterline kits then available. They still build easily into attractive replicas with sharp molding and accurate details. The Cleveland class cruisers were built in round and square bridge variants, and Pit-Road released two separate kits to reflect the two types. The USS Cleveland (kit W-22) represents the earlier round bridge design, and USS Miami (kit W-23) represents the later square bridge variant.

Round Bridge Cleveland Class Ships that can be built using Pit-Road’s USS Cleveland kit (W-22):

  •  CL-55 Cleveland
  • CL-56 Columbia
  • CL-57 Montpelier
  • CL-58 Denver
  • CL-59 Santa Fe
  • CL-62 Birmingham
  • CL-63 Mobile


Square Bridge Cleveland Class Ships that can be built using Pit-Road’s USS Miami kit (W-23):

  • CL-64 Vincennes
  • CL-65 Pasadena
  • CL-66 Springfield
  • CL-67 Topeka
  • CL-80 Biloxi
  • CL-81 Houston
  • CL-82 Providence
  • CL-83 Manchester
  • CL-86 Vicksburg
  • CL-87 Duluth
  • CL-89 Miami
  • CL-90 Astoria
  • CL-91 Oaklahoma City
  • CL-92 Little Rock
  • CL-101 Amsterdam
  • CL-102 Portsmouth
  • CL-103 Wilkes Barre
  • CL-104 Atlanta
  • CL-105 Dayton

Pit-Road’s kit instructions have Japanese language text, but the exploded-view diagrams are simple and clear. There are also camouflage design drawings showing dramatic multi-color dazzle schemes for CL-89 Miami, CL-67 Topeka, CL-103 Wilkes Barre, and CL-87 Duluth. In addition, there is a color rendering of the scheme for the Miami on the back of the box.

The hull is crisply molded with convincing overall proportions, although the model is reputed to be a bit undersize in both length and width. I didn’t actually measure it for myself, but I found any discrepancy to be unnoticeable. Delicate lines representing the wood deck are scribed into the horizontal surface, and chocks, bitts, capstans, anchor chains and other fittings are cleanly molded to the deck.

Superstructure parts are good too, with ladders, doors, scuttles, and other details molded on the surfaces. These details are heavier than scale, but they are clearly defined and look good under paint. The splinter shields are also molded on, although they are less successful. These features are reasonably thin, but the draw (the narrowing towards the top of plastic parts to allow them to be pulled from the molds) is noticeable in this small scale. Fortunately, they can be improved with a little careful trimming.

For the guns, directors, rafts, boats and other fittings Pit-Road provided two of the Skywave E9 “Weapons for US Navy Ships-WW2 (set II)” sprues. These are generic for USN WWII-era ships  and include MUCH more than you will need to complete a single ship, so there’s a ton of stuff left for the parts box. Very cool. Some of the parts included are:

  • 6 inch/47 Mk.16 triple gun turrets with separate barrels (with blast bags) and rangefinder hoods
  • 5 inch/38 Mk. 32 twin mounts
  • 40mm quad mounts
  • 40mm double mounts
  • 20 mm single guns
  • 40mm and 20mm gun tubs
  • quintuple torpedo launchers
  • depth charge racks
  • numerous air search and fire control radars
  • gun directors
  • director tubs
  • 24 inch search lights
  • 40 foot motorboat
  • 26 foot motor whale boats, liferafts
  • boat cranes
  • seaplane catapults
  • OS2U Kingfisher seaplane (with separate floats and propeller-yes!)
  • flag bags
  • floater nets
  • hawser reels
  • paravanes

Finally, the kit includes a generalized USN decal sheet with hull numbers plus the flags of  numerous countries. There is also a sheet of US aircraft national markings for the floatplanes. As with the weapons/fittings set, there is much more here than you will need for this project, to the benefit of your spares box.


 I had decided to build a USS Duluth model as a gift for my stepdad’s 80th birthday, and since Duluth was a typical square bridge Cleveland class cruiser, the 1/700 scale Pit-Road Miami kit was a natural choice. Not only was the basic kit excellent, but the Miami (CL-89) and the Duluth (CL-87) were very similar, differing from each other only in minor details. This would be a  straightforward build, requiring only minimal alterations and some additional photoetch details.

I began with the hull, attaching the forecastle deck and baseplate as per the instructions. I liked the fine details molded on the foredeck which included chocks, bitts, hatches, and some very nicely rendered ground tackle including capstans, deck hawsepipe collars, and anchor chains. These last were accurate, sharply molded, and would have looked fine without alteration, but I scraped them away to make room for some very fine chain I would install later. I had decided to make this a quick build, but using real chains to represent anchor chains is one of those small upgrades that make a big difference.

Next came the superstructures. Pit-Road designed them logically to build up level by level, and they fit well. I assembled them bulkhead and overhead/deck above, but I didn’t attach the bulkheads to the decks below to ease painting later since the bulkheads and decks were different colors. The only deviation from the kit instructions here was to leave off the smaller details such as searchlights and gun directors until later, again to facilitate painting.

Turning to the armament, the four main 6 inch/47 cal Mk.16 triple gun turrets assembled easily with the separate barrels (with blast bags) and rangefinder hoods all fitting perfectly. The only thing to watch here was to make sure the individual barrels were mounted straight. Also, the instructions would have the rangefinder hoods on all four turrets, but my references indicate that the aftermost turret did not have them, so I left them off. In addition, I replaced the oval rafts on the turret sides with square ones as shown in photos of the Duluth. The only other change I made here was to gingerly hollow out the tips of the barrels with a No. 11 X-acto knife. Next came the six 5 inch/38 cal Mk. 32 twin mount gunhouses. These too went together without a hitch, the only change being to hollow the barrel ends. The 40mm twin and quad mounts went together easily also, but with these smaller weapons I didn’t bother to hollow out the barrels. The weakest guns in the kit were the injection molded plastic 20mm single mounts, which were a little chunky. No problem here, though, as I replaced these with stainless steel photoetch parts from Gold Medal Models (set 700-21), which were far superior.

Along with the weapons came the gun tubs. These simple parts merely required some minor clean up and slight reshaping to reduce the mold draw and bring them more closely to the vertical. Also, one of the differences between the Duluth and the Miami involved exchanging four of the double 20mm positions in oval tubs on the main deck for twin 40mm positions in round gun tubs. This was easy since the additional 40mm twin mounts and tubs needed were supplied among the numerous spare parts provided in the kit.

The gun directors were well represented, but they did require some modest modifications to accommodate the photoetch upgrades. The Mk. 34 directors (above the bridge and abaft the mainmast) required removing the support arms and discarding the Mk.8 radar units, which would be replaced with more delicate photoetch parts. Similarly, the two Mk. 37 directors required only junking the plastic Mk. 12 radars and supports (kit parts C42 and C47) in favor of the photoetch upgrades to come. I used the kit provided plastic Mk. 51 directors unchanged.

Among the more visible differences between the Duluth and the Miami were the masts and radars. The foremasts were the same, but the mainmast behind the funnel on the Duluth did not have the platform of the Miami as depicted in the kit, so I left it off. Also, the Miami had the square CAXM-1 air search radar on the foremast where the Duluth had the round SK-2. These differences were simple to achieve as the kit contained all the necessary parts, although I opted instead to use aftermarket replacements. The photoetch of choice was Gold Medal Models 1/700 scale World War Two USN Cruiser/Destroyer (GMM 700-8), a fantastic etched stainless steel set which would contribute an absolute wealth of additional details to the build.


During the Pacific War the Duluth wore a spectacular Measure 32, Design 11a multi-color dazzle camouflage scheme designed to confuse enemy surface ships and submarines. I was initially looking forward to taking on that elaborate scheme, but my stepdad had been part of the postwar crew. To replicate the ship he knew, I had to forego the elaborate camouflage for the more placid peacetime scheme of overall haze gray with black funnel caps and natural wood decks. I began with the wood decks. During the war the wood covered main deck was painted over with matt blue stain to reduce visibility from the air, but postwar this was scraped off and the bright wood uncovered. To simulate this I used a coat of slightly lightened Model Master Armor Sand enamel. I didn’t attempt to indicate any color variation among the individual planks because of the small scale; at normal viewing distances the planks would blend into a unified color anyway. The bland armor sand simulates this well, and airbrushing it on gives a nice even finish. After the wood deck was dry I masked it off, then proceeding to paint the hull and other vertical surfaces of the ship Model Master (Testors) Dark Ghost Gray, which is a good stand in for postwar USN gray.

After the gray hull and superstructure were dry I proceeded to the steel decks. As with World War Two practice, these surfaces were deck blue or gray. I used Model Master Gunship Gray. This dark color contrasted strongly with the lighter gray vertical surfaces, making the junctions between them very visible. Sharp, straight demarcations would be essential for a neat looking model. Fortunately, the structure of the model lent itself to easier painting. This is why I had waited to attach many of the elements of the stacked superstructure to each other. In many cases the contrasting colors on adjacent parts would make perfect lines when they were bonded together. Other places (like the turret tops, gun tub floors and the waterline of the ship’s boat) required a steady hand, but the Model Master enamels are easy to work with and very forgiving if you work slowly with appropriately thinned paint. Miscellaneous details included black for the hollowed out gun muzzles, funnel caps, anchor chain, and the blast bags on the 6 inch guns

I chose not to weather the model as my stepdad remembered his ship as very clean (what old sailor doesn’t?), but I did do pin washes of Gunship Gray to highlight the doors, ladders, and other details molded on the vertical light gray surfaces. For those unfamiliar with this technique, pin washes are simply applications of highly thinned paint, usually in a darker color, to recessed or border areas of raised details to mimic the shadows the eye sees on full sized objects. To do this, just take small amounts of thinned paint on a small brush and apply it to the edge of molded details. Capillary action will draw the paint around the recessed edges, outlining the detail. Dab away any excess with a tissue and let dry. Finally, dry brushing lightly over the part with the base color will sharpen things up and make the detail pop.

Postwar markings for the Duluth required some fairly large “87”s for the hull, but despite the very extensive decals provided in the kit, there weren’t any of the correct size. Fortunately the Gold Medal Models 1/700 scale Naval Ship Decals (set 700-1D) had some perfectly sized USN shaded style numbers which did the job nicely.


After the basic components of the model were assembled and painted I turned to the more fragile assemblies, most of which were upgraded with photoetched metal replacement parts.

The masts were from the kit, but I replaced the oval platform on the foremast and small round one atop the mainmast with plastic card. The platform supports were wire, and the tiny safety rails were made from cut-down photoetch handrails. The elaborate 16-part SK-2 parabolic antenna with open work metal grating on the foremast was a photoetch assembly from the GMM set. Though impressively intricate, this tiny radar was actually fairly straightforward to build and is a huge improvement over the simplified solid part supplied with the plastic kit. The miniscule SG microwave surface/low air search radars at the very tops of both masts were also from the GMM set, as were the fighting lights on the sides of  the upper foremast. Yardarms (the cross pieces on the masts) including foot ropes, anemometers and other details were photoetched parts from the GMM set as well. Etched steel upgrades also improved the fire directors, with the crude plastic Mk. 12 rectangular double curve and Mk. 22 “orange peel” fire control radars atop the Mk. 37 gun directors being replaced with delicate photoetch screens. In addition to the sensors, the set also supplied replacements for the plastic aircraft crane, catapults, and prop guards, as well as adding keel and rudder detail to the 26 foot motor whale boat, photoetch boat davits, and of course safety railing throughout the ship. Sailor figures are from Gold Medal Models too, in this case photoetch brass set 700-17.


Pit-Road’s 1/700 scale Miami is a well designed and nicely detailed kit that builds easily into a convincing square bridge Cleveland class cruiser. The numerous alternate parts included make it simple to depict other ships of the class as well. While the constraints of plastic injection molding technology may limit the scale fidelity of some of the smaller parts, the addition of aftermarket photoetch metal details can make this good kit even better.

Having completed the model I placed it on a Das Pronto modeling clay ocean showing the ship cruising briskly through a placid sea. Even though the harrowingly rough waters off Alaska were among my stepdad’s most vivid memories of his time aboard the Duluth, I thought placing her in a calm sea would show off her graceful lines to better advantage and perhaps remind him of more tranquil moments. Judging by the smile on his face when I presented the model to him I think he may have agreed.


Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1922-1946  Roger Chesneau (editor), Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1980.

U.S. Warships of World War II  Paul H.  Silverstone, Ian Allen Press, London, 1965.