SMS M27 (1916)

Completed in October 2010.
Primarily paper.
1/75th scale.

My sixth build with be the small WWI-era German minesweeper M27. I've stepped forward out of the Victorian Era for this one, more than anything just to have some variety, and I'm hoping it works out. The M27 was the leadship of the Minensuchboot 1915 class (also known as the M27 class) of steel-hulled, coal-fired minesweepers for use in clearing mines in Germany's coastal waters. She had a very short life, commissioned on May 31, 1916, she only survived 73 days before being sunk in the Baltic Sea after colliding with a merchant ship in heavy fog.

As such, zero photographs exist of the M27. However, several of her 29 other sisterships were photographed at various times and so I do have a very few images to work with. Sadly, none of these photos show anything up close or on deck, but I do have a fairly accurate set of builder's plans for the M27's class, which is what will make this model possible.

The M27 was a small ship for 1916, around 510 tons heavy, 191 feet long, and 24 feet wide. I'll be building her in OO scale 1/75th, which will produce a model that's around 30 inches long and around 4 inches wide (which is just about the perfect size for my cramped work area). I'm going with OO scale, which is another popular model railroad scale, because of the availability of figures and widgets to be found for cheap.

Anyway, below is the only three decent photo I've been able to find of this ship's class, so you can see what I've got to work with...

M27 Build Day One:

Day one! The hull I will be building the same way as the last two paper models, making what is essentially a boat-shaped box with internal supports. As before, I'll be using cardstock exclusively, along with generous amounts of Elmer's white glue and Scotch tape. Measuring and cutting out the hull shapes is a simple matter of scaling up my deck plans and tracing them onto cardstock. The internal supports (the deck will have to carry some weight) are just transverse bulkheads of cardstock, glued down tightly. While each piece of paper individually is weak, fifty of them set side-by-side make a pretty strong base.

With the bottom and bulkheads in place, I want to get a good start on the sides today. Thankfully, the M27 had a relatively 90 degree slab-sided hull, which might have provided better stability for the task of minesweeping, or maybe had more to do with the desperate state of German shipbuilding by late in WWI (many simple ship designs were cranked out in 1916-18, trying to get as many hulls in the water as possible to counter the Royal Navy). The ship has 52 portholes in total, 26 a side, and I'm going to try hard on this build to make them look good. Thankfully, my lone hole-puncher makes a hole that's exactly 6mm across, and I have a bag of 6mm jumprings which will fit inside the holes perfectly. To create the illusion of in inset porthole ring, however, the hull sides will have to be three layers thick. I'll punch holes through the outside two layers of cardstock, and the inside layer will actually be a thin sheet of clear plastic to simulate the glass of the porthole. But hold that thought, as I want to paint the hull first before I set in the rings, that way they will retain their silver color. To complicate things further, on the aft 2/3rds of this boat there are no railings. Instead, the side hull extends up three feet or so to make a solid wall or sorts (not sure why this was done this way, but many smaller ships of this era are build this way. Not a problem to model, I just extend the paper hull sections up another 14mm, but there are a number of sculpers and such that need to be cut out. These would presumably allow for water to drain off the deck in rough seas. The hardest part was just lining up everything so it matches side-to-side.

With all the sides cut and punched, I taped and glued everything in place (using Scotch tape and masking tape to hold pieces in place until the glue dries). This is a good sized model, bigger than I anticipated at 31 inches long, but amazingly light at just a few ounces. After I let it set a while, I'll start laying the main decks on my next work day. All of what was done on this page took a grand total of three hours or so (I've got this down to a science!).

M27 Build Day Two:

Day two! After adding a 3mm rubbing strake along the sides of the hull (sort of a bumper for riding at anchor while in port) and a 2mm coaming along the top edge of the bulwark, it's time to paint the hull. By 1916, the Germans were painting their warships exclusively in a boring, yawn-inducing Medium Gray, which, while excellent for the perpetually gloomy North Sea, makes for a dull model. After two coats I could place the porthole rims. These are just 6mm silver jumprings, set into two layers of cardstock with a Scotch tape backing (to simulate glass). After some touch-up painting around the rims, I have to say that these are by far the best portholes I've ever made.

Next step was to lay down the main deck. This is just three layers of cardstock glued together and cut to shape. Gluing the deck down on the ribs while keeping everything lined up and at the proper level turned out to be a cussing, hair-pulling nightmare, but after several botched attempts I got it down. A few hours with some weights and masking tape to hold it all together and it should look ok. Next up is building the forecastle deck, the forward one-third of the ship that rises up another 31mm deck level. I built it the same way as the main hull, with paper supports inside and a two-ply cardstock deck on top.

This deck has some holes that need to be put in before gluing down, including two hawser pipes and a companionway. Super easy to cut out with my hole-puncher and my ultra-sharp Xacto knife.

And that's all for today, the baby is waking up. More another day.

M27 Build Day Three:

Day three! My first step today was to draw with pencil all the assorted structure outlines and placemarkers on the main deck. This will give me a good visual reference as I build stuff. My line plans and the few good photos I have helped a lot, but there are still areas of the ship that are somewhat confusing and objects that have no known purpose (yet). The big project for today will be the after deckhouse, a complicated structure near the stern. I build the basic shapes out of folded cardstock, as usual. I then cut out hatches, set in portholes, added in some squarish engine skylights, slapped on a few rolled-paper funnels, a big cable reel drum, and some other assorted doo-dads, and finished it all off with a couple coats of Medium Gray paint.

On top of this I added a rounded platform out of cardstock. Around the rounded part I built a railing out of jewelry eye-hooks, linen string, and a lot of glue. I realize I'm going to have to replace the string with some smaller sewing thread as it looks out of scale somewhat. A smaller rectangular platform extends back from the circular platform. This holds the auxiliary steering gear, which consists of a large helmsman wheel, a compass binnacle and a repeater station. Around this is another railing, attached to the other. More paint, more glue, more cussing, more hair-pulling, and it's done. Well, sorta. Still need to replace the railing string with something thinner and do some painting detail work, but it's 95% done.

All for today, my eyes hurt and my fingers are glued together...

M27 Build Day Four:

Day four! With the after deck house mostly done, I can now move forward to the engine house, which is a long rectangular structure amidships. I built it the same way as always, out of folded paper. To the sides I added doors, hatches, and portholes, as well as margin strips along the top and bottom to break up the field a bit. To the top I added a few ventilators of various shapes and sizes, a few large access hatches of dubious use, a large cable drum and pulley, a small skylight bank, and a few other bits and wits.

The biggest challenge on the roof was the compass stand, a raised circular platform that held a large compass and binnacle (as to why these old ships had such things, I have no idea, but since nearly all vessels of every size and nationality had something similar, I assume they were vital). The railings took some cussing and growling, but they turned out well.

The other big thing on the engine house roof is the main smokestack funnel. As always this is just rolled up cardstock with a lollipop stick steam pipe and some braces and brackets out of assorted bits of paper and cardboard. The paint scheme here, throughout so far, is Medium Gray on the sides and fixtures, and Steel Gray on the roofs and upper surfaces. On WWI German ships the “walking areas” were coated with some sort of rubberized material similar to linoleum, and this faded in the sun to be a dull lightish gray.

And that's all for the engine house until I can get some ladders and railings figured out.

M27 Build Day Five:

Day five! Moving forward (and up), today's project will be the pilothouse, the bridge if you will, where the ship's captain would command and the helmsmen and navigators would keep a steady course. This will come in three pieces; a bottom base, a large boxy structure on top of that, and an open-sided glassed-in observation area in front of that. The bottom base is pretty simple, just cardboard and Scotch tape with a couple hatchways cut out and glued open. The second structure is also just a box, but more complicated and larger. There are square windows on this structure, which will be backed with clear plastic once I paint everything to give it the look of glass. Between the upper and lower buildings will be a platform that extends along the sides, that's just cardstock cut to size. Eventually there will be railings along this platform.

About here I realized that I needed to build the breakwater on the bow so that these wing platforms have somewhere to sit. The breakwater is just a one-piece strip of cardstock, stepped on the beams, that in real life broke the water that washed over the bow, keeping it from sloshing up against the pilothouse base.

And lastly the observation deck, which is really more of an overhang with open sides and four large glass windows in the front, overlooking the bow. Inside this area is the command center, which I've outfitted with various bits and pieces of nautical-looking metal and paper. The highlight is a superb helmsman wheel (thanks, mom!), though I'm hoping that the shadows under the overhang will hide the other, decidedly more crappy, widgets.

And that's all for today. The last thing I did was lay everything down on the deck (no glue) to see how it looks. It looks great, but I see now I'm going to have to put a space under the whole thing to raise it up about 2mm to make it all match up. Later for that.

M27 Build Day Six:

Day six! Started today by painting the pilothouse a variety of grays and whites. Realizing fast that I need to find smaller diameter eye-pins for the railing stanchions, as these are about twice over-scale. I need to find that mailorder jewelry catalogue...

This boat has a short wooden deck amidships (the rest of the decks are metal). Not sure why just this area was decked with wood, but it does break up the color scheme a bit. To make it I just cut out a piece of paper the right size, painted it Coffee Latte, and used a ruler and a brown colored pencil to mark the pitch lines between the planks. All in all not too bad.

I then glued down all the sub-assembly structures to the deck, both because I'm impatient and because my work area was getting too cluttered. Once the glue dried (and that Beacon stuff dries fast...) I started painting the decks, Medium Gray on vertical surfaces and Steel Gray on horizontal surfaces. Overall this ship is pretty bland on the colors, but that's historically accurate for a wartime vessel. Worked next on some of the fittings on the stern, including bollards, a couple access hatches for the steering gear, the rudder linchpin casing, and a round paper tube under the stern overhang to simulate the roll-off for the mines. All of these are made with a variety of materials, from paper to lollipop sticks to jewelry bits.

Lots of painting and detail clean-ups last, just trying to tie loose ends up. All I have left are the tedious deck details, cranes and railings, anchors and chains, that sort of thing.

M27 Build Day Seven:

Day seven! All the big projects are now done, just a bunch of little stuff left. First up is fleshing out the forecastle deck, which will end up being quite crowded. In the age before air conditioning and widely available electric lighting, the crews' cabins and the galley had to be ventilated by funnels that ran up to the deck. I made a number of these small funnels, each no bigger than a man, out of rolled-up paper with a 45 degree cut-off turned around backwards and glued on (easier to do than type...). Then I finally worked on the railings, which were causing me all sorts of trouble with trying to keep the eye-pin stanchions leaning the right ways. In the end I ditched the threads and cut a 1.5mm strip of blackish colored paper. This I thread through the eyes of the stanchions and dabbed each with a bit of glue. The end result is pretty crappy, but I see now that this is the way to go. For the next model I will find smaller eye-pins and use a stronger paper for the strips, but this produces a vastly better looking railing that saggy threads.

I then took a few minutes and painted everything up to this point, taking advantage of a rare warm sunny day to help dry the paint. Later in the day I went to work on the bow again. At work the other night I happened upon some old egg cartons. These are made of fairly sturdy 3mm Styrofoam which is easy to cut with an Xacto knife and has a lot of strength to it. And it's free! I am planning on cutting these up and making all sorts of fittings out of them that require some heft and durability. The alternative is cutting out eight layers of cardstock and gluing them together (which still wouldn't be as strong). So I cut out two anchors from the egg cartons, and they turned out well. Anchors have always been a problem for me with my lack of proper materials, but I think I solved the issue now.

Then I went back to the deck and put little egg carton spokes around the capstan on the bow. The capstan was how the hauled the anchor up when they were leaving port, a very laborious process of five guys manually turning this crank for hundreds of rotations (nowadays the capstans are electrically powered). I also added a couple of chain guides and painted everything. Will do chains later. Ok, while the glue/paint is drying I can move on to the main boat cranes. These two long poles extend back from a brace on top of the pilothouse and serve to deploy/retrieve the lifeboats (to be added later). They are just lollipop sticks cut to shape, with paper/metal/plastic bits at either end (including a wire hook).

While I'm making cranes, back on the stern are three small davit cranes that are used to move around the heavy minesweeping gear. These are curved, and after several failed attempts at bending wood and plastic, I hit upon the idea of using thick copper wire bend to shape and wrapped with white sticky paper. A wire hook on each end and a generous dollop of glue and they are now waiting for some paint. And...that's all for today. Busy day, got a lot done in the fifteen minute increments that I have. I'm thinking that I'll be done with this boat by the end of the week. Frankly I'm ready to take the lessons I've learned and move on to another challenge.

M27 Build Day Eight:

Day eight! Home stretch now, yay! First up today will be the two masts and the rigging lines. They are just bamboo skewers cut and glued down, with simple black sewing thread from a little sewing kit I found in the closet. I cut little slits in the deck and glued in eye-pins to anchor the lines to the deck, securing them with dabs of glue. Of course the masts should be much more festooned with wires and aerials, but I have a height limit on my building area so compromises have to be made.

Next up will be the ladders and staircases, of which I need to make five of various sizes. For the staircases I made the sidewalls out of strips of egg carton and then glued 1mm cardstock strips down for the rungs. The ladders were just strips of paper laid flat on a frame. Crude, but effective in the end, even if I had some issues with the rungs being different sizes (need to measure better). Perhaps I'll look into making handrails out of wire or something (maybe not, I'm wanting to get this boat done...).

Next I finished up the anchors, using a length of gunmetal chain (thanks, mom!). The two chains come up from the inside of the forecastle through the chain ports, go directly over the chain guides to the hawserpipes and attach to the anchor. To raise an anchor (you have to do one at a time) you just wrap the chain back around the capstan and crank it up. The anchors themselves look horrible, and I really must try and find some pre-made ones in the future.

Next up are the two lifeboats, both amidships on either side of the smokestack. This ship had a crew of just 50 men, but even so these two smallish lifeboats don't seem like enough. I suspect that there are some collapsible canvas boats stored somewhere (they were common on warships of the era). I made both boats from paper, folded and wrapped around an egg carton frame. For my first attempts, they turned out pretty well. I painted them Bark Brown with some tan and gray accents and placed them on the engine house roof on cradles. The two boat cranes swing out to lower/raise these. They have canvas covers over the tops, which i wasn't able to model very well.

The last big detail for the ship will be the windlass motor, which would reel in/out the cables used to sweep for mines. This is a fairly complicated set of gears, levers, spin drums, and such, and I've not been able to find a good photo of what it looks like. Going on the limited line drawings I have, I whipped it up with paper, metal and some glue and it looks passable. In the future I hope to make cable out of twine or something.

And lastly this boat needs some crew. My last model was 1/87th H/O scale, but this one is 1/75th O/O scale so I had to buy different crewmen figures. I got these from the same Hong Kong mailorder website and they only cost me around seven bucks for a hundred. After some research, I found out what colors German Navy uniforms were in 1916. In general, sailors wore white shirts and pants with blue hats and black boots. Their overcoats and foul-weather gear were blue. I think I'll paint them all in this summer attire, just to add some welcome color to the decks.

A bit of detail painting on the odds and ends and with that, I'm done! This has been a very rewarding build and I've learned many, many lessons and am quite proud of the end result. I made a lot of mistakes, but through them I know what to do better next time.

Total cost of this model, just what I purchased during the build...
1 package of eye-pins $2.00
1 package O/O scale figures $6.78
1 tube of craft glue $3.74

Total spent on this build... $12.52

The glue and figures, of course, I can use on later models, so all in all this was a pretty cheap project.

Below are the final photos of the German minesweeper M27 from 1916...

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