Tuman (1941)

Completed in July 2011.
Primarily paper.
1/180th scale.

Check this out...

So I found this painting (above) the other day of a ship in combat. Something about it stirred me, always loved the underdog and the loser. After some hunting I found out that the painting is of the last moments of the Soviet patrol boat Tuman, fighting a losing fight against the fascist Nazis in WWII. Since I need a new boat to model, I decided to try and track down this ship and find some plans. As it turns out, that's much harder than anticipated. I did find out some info on the ship and the incident portrayed in the painting, but I was only able to find a single photograph of it...

I did find a fairly bare-bones line drawing of the ship in civilian form in a Russian modeling magazine from 1968, and from this (and that one photo), I'm going to give the Tuman a go. It's a story that needs telling in model form. There's just something about a small ship going down swinging against much bigger opponents that intrigues me (my second built, the Gilyak, also had a similar story).

The Tumun started out in life as a simple fishing trawler working the chilly waters off Northern Russia. When the Germans invaded in April 1941, they were critically short of warships so a lot of commercial trawlers and merchantmen were drafted into military service. Tuman was one of these, being taken into port, her fishing gear mostly removed, a couple of deck guns installed, and sent out into the maelstrom to defend Mother Russia. Given the designation SKR-12, she served as a picket boat on the watch for the dreaded Huns.

She didn't last very long. On August 10, 1941, less than two months after the Great Patriotic War began, the Tuman was caught by three big German destroyers while patrolling alone near Kildin Island in the Barents Sea. The Tuman put up an extraordinarily gallant fight, dragging out what should have been a simple shoot-and-sink by the Germans into a epic 10 minute long vastly unequal gun battle. But the Tyman never really had a chance, and after 270 rounds were fired at her, she eventually went down. The Russians love a good underdog story and all sorts of legends have sprung up around this battle, most certainly untrue, but it adds to the mythology of the brave sailor giving his life to defend his country.

The boat was originally named the Lebedka (which means "Hoist" or "Crane") and was built in 1931, having been renamed Tuman (which means "Mist" or "Fog") in 1941 when converted to a military vessel. A modern design for the times, she was 180 feet or so long and around 1,000 tons (though sources differ on her actual displacement, it might have been as low as 575 tons or as high as 1,200 tons). As a patrol boat she had a crew of 52 men, including one "Political Officer" to make sure everyone was following the Communist line. Her armament was two small 45mm cannons and racks for small depth bombs.

What scale to build her in? Well, I originally wanted to do something larger, maybe 1/75th or 1/96th, but then I'd be looking at something near 3 feet long and that's way too big for my kitchen table workspace. I think I'm going to go with 1/180th scale, which will make a model that's almost exactly one foot long and two inches wide. This is both big enough for detail work and small enough that I can store it up on my wall shelf to keep little toddler fingers away from it. Materials will be paper and cardboard primarily, with surely some small bits of other stuff when needed. I'm totally done trying to make anything with plastic, it requires special glues and paints and I just don't have the cash or the patience to deal with that. Now I can use typing paper and my kid's Elmer's glue!

First up the hull. I need some thick but pliable cardboard to make long, solid sides and the top deck. Guess what is the perfect size? A box of Frosted Flakes (which made me eat seven bowls full to empty the box, I'm going to barf now). The hull is a box essentially, with some clay supports inside, set a little lower because I need to make a 3mm bulwark inside. These fishing boats had such a low freeboard (easier to fish), that I had to chance the way I usually build ships (warships, by design, have high freeboards). Portholes and scuppers were cut out with a hole punch. The bow is stepped up, which was easy to make with a little blob of clay for an internal support. Liberal amounts of white glue and masking tape to hold it all together and I can let it dry all night. Since I don't want to damage the hull by holding it too much, I'm going to mount it on a base now. I found a scrap piece of wood at work and I cut it to size with my dull hacksaw. I took a chance and glued the hull down on the board, I'll just have to be careful making the sea later. Once the glue has had a chance to settle, I can do some detail work on it. The first thing I want to make are porthole ringoles out of copper wire twisted around a screwdriver shaft and glued on with Beacon. For the deck level scuppers I made the hatches out of cereal box. There is no rubbing strake or propeller guards to worry about.

On to the deck. Since part of it is wooden planked, I had to do that first. Painted paper with lines drawn on with pencil and then smudged. The main superstructure element is a two piece affair. The bottom was made with paper, hatches all modeled open and wire-rimmed portholes. On top of that is a thick cardboard "floor" with overhangs. Some parts of that are also wooden planked. Added a raked funnel and assorted cable reels, cargo hatches, ammo ready lockers, and such with little bits of clay and paper. Added railings from cut up cross-stitch grid, looks good in this scale. Much more details to be added in time.

More stuff added. Ladders and staircases out of small grid. Masts from bamboo spears. Ventilators from rolled paper. Hatch covers and latches from paper. Steam pipe from a toothpick. Two big windlasses from paper and toothpicks with brass wire handles. Anchor chains from jewelry chain. Yardarms are brass wire. Anchors out of wood and paper. Aft davits are copper wire with paper tackle. Front cargo boom is a popsicle stick with thin brass wire supports. Centerline engine skylights from grid over a wood chip. Getting cluttered!

As converted to an auxiliary warship, the boat had two 45mm cannons, one on the forecastle and on the rear of the superstructure. Made from bits of wire, toothpicks, clay and paper. There were two small depth charge racks hanging off the stern also. Those made with bits of paper and paper. The bombs were made from cut up popsicle sticks. My plans were inexact about the way the bombs were loaded and launched, so I fudged it. The pilot house is cardboard and paper with strips of paper to make the window panes. On the roof are a ventilator and a search light. Because of the depth charge racks and the stern gun, it seems the ship's two lifeboats were moved from davits on the stern to the open spaces amidships where the fishing gear was. I think, the plans are unclear, but that's what I'm going with because it makes the most sense. One small and one large boat made out of clay with faked canvas tarp covers.

Final details now. Rigging was strung, using nylon sewing thread. Thought seriously about trying to make some 1/180th people, but my first attempts looked horrible so I axed the idea for now. And with that, it's time to paint (finally!). Using basic acrylic paints, diluted with water to help them smooth over the cardboard. Hull is Medium Gray, upper works are Sky Gray, decks are Cinnamon, portholes are Rusted Pipe, lifeboats are Burnt Umber, and tarps are Linen.

I was going to make a water base with clear acrylic caulk, but I ran out of caulk and I'm determined to not spend a penny on this boat! So I just painted the base a deep navy blue and dry brushed on some white for the wake foam and called it a day. Cheating, yes, but cheap!

And with that, this one is done. Total cost to build was zero dollars and zero cents, as I used only existing stocks of supplies (fuzzy accounting, yes, but the goal is to not buy anything new anymore). Total time to build it was about 7 days, at a few hours at a time.

And here are the final photos of the Soviet gunboat Tuman...

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