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Last Liberty at Pearl Harbor

Rob Bracci’s tribute to the men of the USS Arizona
RELATED TOPICS: SHIPS
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Enlisted men stand in ranks, turn out to salute the officer of the deck and the flag at the stern, then clamber down the accommodation ladder to a launch and a short ride to Honolulu. Business as usual — for one last day. Rob’s 1/48 scale vignette forces perspective with compressed depth and “demi modeling” (such as the halved Kingfisher) to emphasize the foreground and, thus, the figures.
With an unrelenting dedication to research and detail, Rob Bracci spent 10 years building a diorama to portray one moment in a day in the life of a U.S. Navy battleship. Officers on deck, performing their customary duties … sailors going about their usual jobs up and down the ship … another contingent decked out in whites, queuing up for liberty on a Saturday evening. The scene would be ordinary, even mundane, except for the place and time:

USS Arizona, Pearl Harbor, Dec. 6, 1941.

No further dramatic device is needed. In context, each of the 97 figures is worthy of regard and every detail is important. Indeed, that may be why it took Rob so long to complete this project. Considering his lifelong interest in World War II, and Pearl Harbor in particular, who could blame him for not letting go of the moment?

“Just another day in paradise with the Pacific Fleet,” Rob says. “Arizona’s crew was anticipating another routine weekend within the safety of the Pearl anchorage and the prospect — at least according to scuttlebutt — of being sent stateside for the holidays. Sadly, for most aboard it was not to be.”


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Rob’s battleship started with scale plans and several 2'-long plastic-foam 2" x 4" blocks. Choosing 1/48 scale opened a lot of possibilities for figures, but the whole ship would have been 12.5' long! Instead, he showed the stern with its nameplate for instant recognition.

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Rob sheathed the foam form in 1⁄16" basswood sheet to which he super glued .010" sheet styrene to plate the hull. He scratchbuilt most of the ship’s fittings from styrene sheet, strip, tube, and structural forms, adding Grandt Line bolts and brass elements to the aircraft catapult. The boat boom was a bamboo chopstick.

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Basswood planks 1⁄8" thick cover the deck. Rob used more than 10' of scale chain for lifelines spanning the quarterdeck.

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Rob carved basswood masters to vacuum-form cabin enclosures for Arizona’s auxiliary boats, which he made from styrene sheet and strip.

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Brass railings and fittings were formed in segments and soldered …

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… before being installed on the auxiliary boats. Rob painted textured acrylic sheet for water and floated the boats on two-part epoxy.

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Despite all of Rob’s shipbuilding, the stars of his show are the figures — all 97 of them! He collected a variety in 1/48 and 1/50 scale, then used his razor saw to mix and match parts.

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The 1/48 scale figures from K-Lineville’s “Presidential” collection were difficult to work with, Rob says, but useful for the enlisted ranks. He used epoxy putty for bellbottoms and sailor caps, adding .002" styrene strip to the cap brims.

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Nearly all the figures were modified in one way or another for the variety of poses needed in the scene. Rob made the accommodation ladder from styrene rod and strip; surgical tape stiffened by diluted white glue served for the windbreak.

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Seeing most, but not quite all, of the figures gives some idea of the scope of Rob’s undertaking. Rob made more than 80 sailor caps …
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… and there were Navy officers and Marines yet to come. He made their hats from styrene sheet and strip.

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Good thing Rob used forced perspective, compressing the depth of his display. That Plexiglas case is big enough as it is: 49" long, 17" high, and 12" deep.

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Sailors head aft to set up a canvas awning on the fantail for the next morning’s Sunday services (which were never held). Forcing perspective, Rob sawed off Monogram’s OS2U Kingfisher at 1 o’clock and 5 o’clock on the port side — not quite a wall mount, but almost — and shortened the starboard wing. Decals are from AeroMaster.

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Rob’s figure conversions and attention to detail enabled him to convey the upbeat mood as sailors scamper down the ladder, share plans, trade jibes, and get set for a night of liberty in Honolulu — for many of them, their last.

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Acknowledging debates of the final paint scheme, Rob went for sea blue (5-S) and painted the turret top insignia red. Among the numerous oft-repeated scratchbuilt details are the 27 portholes, each made from two pieces of telescoping styrene tubing and a window punched out of clear styrene. Time-consuming, yes — but Rob was willing to spend 10 years in his desire to honor the 1,177 who perished on the Arizona

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