Airfix E Boat Kit Review Schnellboot Archive

What's really wrong with the Airfix "E-Boat"?

The well known Airfix model is sliced and compared to the plans.

The Airfix 1/72 scale "E-boat" kit was released in 1975. For its era, it was large and impressive and its classic box art still makes the kit a tempting impulse buy. But those interested in a serious scale model will find their enthusiasm quickly evaporating during assembly. Instead of the clean lines and graceful curves of the prototype, the finished model is clunky and unsatisfying. Its major flaw is a misproportioned hull which fails to convey the speed, power and lethality of the original design.

I occasionally hear hobbyists claim the model is accurate or that it could easily be made accurate with a little cutting, sanding and putty. I've always been skeptical of such claims because the hull lines are too far off the prototype for cosmetic fixes. Besides the well-known missing bow knuckle, it is clearly lacking the right curves and proportions. Relying only on visual inspection, it is difficult to say precisely what is wrong with the hull, where and by how much. In order to settle the matter and see exactly what was wrong, I cut one apart and compared the contours to the original KM plans, side by side. This article documents my methods and findings.

The kit does not refer to a particular class of Schnellboot, but the dimensions, deck layout and ventilator arrangement match only the first type S 7 Class (despite the decal sheet which provides markings only for 2nd type S 7 Class boats). Harald Fock's excellent 1978 book "Fast Fighting Boats 1870-1945" provides original boatyard drawings for the first type S 7 Class on pp 116-117. These are very accurate drawings, more than adequate for this purpose. I scanned and enlarged them to 1/72 scale, then printed them on paper. Using the 1/72 scale plan view I marked off the position of each of the frames (cross sections) on the model's keel. I then cut the hull into corresponding sections using a miter box and saw. Problems with the hull contours and proportions were then clarified by placing the sections over the plans.

In order to make the deviations clear to web visitors, I scanned the cross sections...

...and used Adobe Illustrator to precisely trace the scans. These were then placed over the matching 1/72 scale KM plans to produce the drawings below. I removed the supestructure details from the KM plans for clarity.

The red colored shapes show the Airfix kit hull sections.

Surprisingly, although the major criticism of the hull among model makers is the absent bow knuckle, the contours are actually closer to scale at the bow, than further aft. This is especially clear at frames 30 - 40 near the wheelhouse. The bottom is too flat and too wide, as unattractive as it is inaccurate. It is also clear that the Airfix hull has too much freeboard (too tall) by about 5 mm (about 36cm in 1/1 scale). I have diagrammed this problem in the drawing below, as well as other deviations in hull profile (the stern end of my diagram can be disregarded as it reflects the Airfix hull without the transom part glued on).

In plan view, the Airfix deck is fairly accurate. Unfortunately, the wheelhouse is slightly too long, and pinched towards the bow. The torpedo cut outs are incorrectly shaped and placed. These problems are shown in the following diagram.

There are numerous other problems. The depth charges are about 200% oversized in diameter, and the rack is atypical (the closest prototype I've seen is in Bundesarchiv photo MN/1634/10a.) Far more common was a small frame which held a maximum of three charges (see for example, p 63 "Schnellboot in Action" 2nd edition). The 2cm Flak platform was a shallow inverted cone, but the kit supplies a flat platform. This platform and the wooden walkways are not perforated as on the prototype, the torpedoes do not resemble G7 types, wheelhouse windows are too small, aft deckhouse portholes too large, and so on. But these are all minor points compared to the basic and rather extreme contour problems with the hull.

Given the high quality of the two other model boats in the series, how could Airfix have committed such a SNAFU? It appears the designers lacked easy access to good German plans in 1975 and used what was readily available in the UK. A very likely culprit is a set of plans which were published by "Model Maker and Model Cars Magazine" in the UK in December 1961, then reprinted as a commercial plans set afterwards. These were intended for a gas powered RC model and have the clunky lines and pinched wheelhouse of the Airfix model.

These in turn appear to be copied from a German set published by Loef's in 1942. (Its tempting to assume the Loef's plans series is reliable, based on their German origins, but they were intended for youngsters and are only fair to poor.) The Loef's plans show an incorrect, slab sided and flat bottomed hull, but a fairly accurate deck plan. Due to the similarities, it seems highly likely Airfix's problems originated here. Loef's errors, plus some new ones, were then transmitted through "Model Maker" magazine to Airfix. The story does not end here, because through the Airfix kit, Loef's mutant Schnellboot DNA continues to circulate. For example, the cover of the popular 2002 Osprey book "German E-Boats" is illustrated with a profile drawing that more closely resembles the Airfix model than the prototype.

In fairness, it should be remembered that the 1970s were an era when kids built models for fun, Airfix were not then catering to the serious scale model hobby of today. More importantly, the long-lived "German E-Boat" kit appears to have been a commercial success for Airfix. Nevertheless, a scale model boat can only be as good as its hull, its a pity this hull is no good at all. Perhaps someday a kit manufacturer will offer a kit that better captures these fascinating and attractive pre-war boats.