Riich Models 1/200 USS Gato

KIT #: ?
PRICE: 3,840 yen at www.hlj.com
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver



When the Japanese strike force left Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, there were two targets they had missed, which would ultimately prove their undoing.  The first was the Pearl Harbor Fuel Farm, the entire fuel reserve of the U.S. Navy in the Central Pacific, and all of it above ground; had this been destroyed, the Navy would have been forced to retreat to the U.S. West Coast, with disastrous consequences for the war in the Pacific.  The second mistake was their failure to bomb the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base and the American submarines then in port.

      Within hours, the Chief of Naval Operations issued the following order: “Execute unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan.”  Thus was the most effective American weapon in the Pacific War unleashed.  Interestingly enough, this order would eventually save the life of Admiral Karl Doenitz, head of the German Navy’s U‑boat force, when he was brought before the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal in 1946 for having waged “unrestricted submarine warfare,” which is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.  Admiral Charles Lockwood ‑ Commander of the Pacific submarine force ‑ intervened on the grounds that if Doenitz was charged and found guilty, then so he should be, too.  Thus Doenitz avoided a death sentence. 

      The Japanese attack left the Pacific Fleet unable to operate offensively, other than the submarine forces.  At the outbreak of war, there were 29 submarines attached to the Asiatic Fleet in the Philippines and 27 submarines with the Pacific Fleet.  The first American submarine, USS Pollock, arrived off Honshu two weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack.

      The U.S. Submarine Force, was, man for man and unit for unit, the most effective force in the American military during the Pacific War. 8.1 million tons of Japanese merchant vessels were sunk by all American forces  during the war; the submarines sank 4.9 million tons, 60 percent of the total.  Additionally, U.S. submarines sank 540,192 tons of Japanese Navy ships including 8 aircraft carriers, 1 battleship, 11 cruisers and numerous destroyers.

      Combined, the two tonnage figures represent 54.6 percent of all Japanese naval and merchant vessel losses. This feat was accomplished by a force that consisted of approximately 50,000 personnel, including staff and other support positions. These 50,000 sailors were 1.6 percent of the entire U.S. Navy. This victory came at a high cost: 288 American submarines were operational throughout the war. 52 submarines were lost ‑ 48 were destroyed in the Pacific war zones, killing 3,500 submariners, which represents the highest loss rate in the U.S. Armed Forces: 22 percent killed in action.

      The submarine force confronted many significant obstacles in achieving this victory. They were not trained or equipped to fight as commerce raiders, since peacetime training had dealt with fleet operations, in accordance with the naval doctrine presented by Alfred Thayer Mahan, who held that  destruction of the enemy's battle fleet was necessary to ensure control of the sea. The U.S. Submarine Force was trained to act as a part of the American battle fleet to sink major enemy warships. The fleet submarine type was designed with this concept in mind, which fortunately resulted in an effective commerce raider with the range and weapons to operate in the expanse of the Pacific.  They were even air‑conditioned, which led at least one British submarine commander, upon encountering U.S. submarines at Fremantle in 1945, to consider his T‑class submarine a “real pigboat.”

      American submariners had to overcome over‑cautious and unrealistic peacetime training which held attacks were to be made from deep submergence, using sonar, in order to avoid detection and destruction by the enemy. It would take the promotion of bold and innovative submarine captains before tactics such as night surface attacks, daylight periscope attacks, and night periscope attacks were accepted. It also took many months for the Submarine Force leadership to understand how vulnerable Japan as a nation was to the destruction of merchant vessels ‑ particularly the tankers used to carry oil from the Netherlands East Indies to the Home Islands.  A country without its own oil supply that was not independently capable of producing all its food requirements was uniquely vulnerable to unrestricted submarine warfare.

      The worst problem the Submarine Force faced was the scandal of defective torpedoes. American torpedoes had never been thoroughly tested against live targets. Early on, it was realized something was seriously wrong when correctly‑aimed torpedoes failed to detonate or exploded prematurely. Initially, the Navy attempted to put the blame for these problems on incorrect firing solutions and ordnance handling by the crews. Only in September, 1943, following political wrangling and many missed opportunities to sink Japanese merchant and naval shipping, was the problem with defective magnetic and contact exploders corrected after a series of live firings against a submerged cliff in the Hawaiian Islands. For the first 21 months of the war, American submariners were forced to fight the enemy with weapons that didn’t work.

      By sinking a significant percentage of the merchant vessels used to import critical raw materials, such as oil, bauxite, rubber, pig iron, and food, the submarines were responsible for Japan never being able to meet the needs of its wartime civilian and industrial economy. Thus, the Japanese were never able to adequately supply the logistical needs of their armed forces. Aircraft production dropped because of the shortage of raw materials and fuel.  By the end of the war, when the submarines even cut off the Japanese supply lines from the Asian mainland in the Sea of Japan, the American submarine forces had effectively cut Japan off from the world, making the Japanese defeat inevitable.

USS Gato (SS‑212), lead ship of her class of fleet submarine, was the first Navy ship named for the Gato, a small cat shark found along the west coast of Mexico.  Her keel was laid on October 5, 1940, at the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut. She was launched on August 21, 1941 and commissioned on December 31, 1941.

      After shakedown Gato departed for Pearl Harbor via the Panama Canal and San Francisco on February 16, 1942.  During her first war patrol from Pearl Harbor (April 20 – June 10, 1942), she unsuccessfully attacked a converted aircraft carrier on May 3. On May 24, she was ordered to patrol the western approaches to Midway during the Battle of Midway.

      Her second war patrol (July 2 – August 29, 1942), saw her patrolling east of the Kurile Islands toward the Aleutians. She experienced the problem of faulty torpedoes when he  obtained four torpedo hits with unconfirmed damage to a ship on August 15 before terminating the patrol at Dutch Harbor. During her third patrol (September 4 – December 23, 1942) she operated off Kiska before returning to Pearl Harbor to receive orders to join the submarine force in Australia. On December 6, off Truk atoll, her attack on a convoy was broken off by an aerial attack and a severe depth charging by three destroyers. She arrived at Brisbane, Australia, on December 23, 1942.

      Gato’s fourth war patrol (January 13, 1943 – February 26, 1943), took her to the Solomons, where she sank a transport and two cargo ships.  Her fifth patrol (March 19 ‑ June 6, 1943) saw her return to the Solomons, where she landed an Australian coastwatcher unit on March 29, and evacuated 27 children, nine mothers, and three nuns from Bougainville, where the Coastwatcher operation was under assault by the Japanese. On April 4,she was so badly shaken in a depth‑charging that she returned to Brisbane for temporary repairs.  She landed more Australian commandos on Bougainville on May 29 to assist in the retreat of the main Coastwatcher unit, evacuated more civilians, and then conducted a reconnaissance of Tarawa before returning to Pearl Harbor on June 6, 1943.  Shortly thereafter, she was sent to Mare Island for a three-month modernization.


             U.S. Fleet Submarines are now popular.  Trumpeter was first off with a 1/144 USS Gato back in 2007, which was followed in 2008 by Revell’s enormous 1/72 Gato boat.  AFV has released fleet boats in all operational configurations in 1/350 which are among the best submarine kits available.  This new kit from Riich Models in China is the first in 1/200.  The scale results in a model that is significantly smaller than the Trumpeter kit, which is big in 1/144 (fleet boats were the biggest submarines of their generation).  Being larger than the 1/350 kits it provides more visible detail.  The parts in the box indicate there will be a release of a late war configuration Gato with additional surface armament, since there are two nice 20mm cannons as well as an early 5-inch 40-caliber deck gun.  From the weapons sprue, and the layout of the hull assembly, it is obvious that Riich is planning a series that will include the post-war Guppy boats. 

             The kit is well-molded in light grey plastic with sharp surface detail.  Being 1/200, it doesn’t need a lot of photo-etch parts, other than to use the photo-etch railings in place of plastic parts that require thread to finish off.  The kit provides a Gato-class Fleet Boat in the original configuration with the large conning tower and the 3-inch deck gun mounted aft, with the large propeller guards.


             As with all submarine kits, construction is not difficult as there are not a lot of parts.  What’s there fits nicely, though it does take a bit of effort to mate the upper hull assembly to the lower hull.  The kit is designed this way for those who want to build a waterline model.  I had to use Green Stuff putty and a couple of sanding sessions to get the hull joint smooth.  Other than that, there were no problems.

             I did find that the photoetch railings were a bit too fragile for me, but given the fact that the railings came down when a fleet boat went on patrol, not adding them does not detract from the final model.

            The 12-part 3-inch deck gun is beautifully detailed for this scale, though the size of the parts gave me fits even assembling it while wearing my magnifier.


             The early camouflage for US Fleet boats was black above the waterline, since it was believed they needed to be protected from aerial search.  I used “Tamiya NATO Black” for the upper color, with Tamiya “Hull Red” for the lower hull.


            I think the Fleet Boat in all its configurations is the best-looking conventional submarine.  This kit from Riich provides sufficient detail without creating a model so large that storage on a display shelf becomes a problem.  I will be looking forward to the future releases of the series.  Recommended for all submarine fans.

 June 2012

Review Kit courtesy of HobbyLink Japan. 

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