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Sinking The Titanic

By Derek Barrett

The story of the sinking is so well documented that I will not attempt to describe it here but go straight into the making of the model.

I normally build armour subjects, but occasionally like to dabble into other types of model. A local model shop asked me if I would build up a couple of Revell's Titanics for customers. These were "straight from the box" builds and gave me the idea of building one up with more detail. While I was making the two models my local club, Milton Keynes Scale Model Club, hit on the idea of basing the theme for their display at the Nationals on the movies a couple of years back. Thus the scene was set.

After reading up on the liner, in books and on the Internet, I got hold of another Revel 1/570 Titanic and started to build (why is it that as soon as you start on a project something better comes along, in this case the Academy 1/400 kits?).

Having mulled over several possible scenarios, I started by drilling out all the portholes so that I could put some lights inside. I then glued the two halves of the hull together and prepared some of the decks and superstructure.

From the earlier models I knew that the best way to tackle it was to do as much painting as possible before assembly, so I primed the parts with Halfords white plastic primer. The hull was masked and sprayed with Model Master gloss Black and Guards Red below the waterline. The white area was left in the primer. The wooden parts of the deck were sprayed with Humbrol 71 Satin Oak. I assembled the fore and aft decks and the promenade to give some strength to the hull when I cut it up.

Cutting it open

Now to the tricky part, I tried a few experiments to get an idea of how I wanted to show the model and decided on the point where the front end was just about to go under. That way I would be able to complete all of the rigging and also show some of the lifeboats being launched. I scribed a line from a point about 5mm below the very front end (excuse my ignorance of nautical terms but I'm an ex army man) and sloping back to a point just at the end of the bilge keel. I laid a strip of masking tape along the line and across the bottom on the side that I wanted to keep and carefully cut along the line with a hacksaw.

To see how the model would look, I cut out a piece of 5mm foam board the size of the eventual base and played with the positioning until it looked right. Marking along the cut edge I cut a hole in the board for the hull to sit into. The hull now sat with just the very tip above the waterline, just what I wanted.

The cut away hull, with the section removed at the back, resting in the Foam Board base.

"She went down with all lights blazing"

Lighting the interior was going to be tricky, so I bought 4 miniature 6v bulbs and soldered them to a length of Vero Board (strips of copper foil on a fibre backing used for electronics experiments).

This was laid on the baseboard and wired up to a 6v transformer. With the room lights off I could see where the light would shine through. I found that too much light shone through the paintwork on the hull and through the decks, so I painted most of the interior with silver paint, just leaving exposed the vertical deck sides so that light shone through them on to the promenade.

The rest of the kit went together as per the instructions, with the exception that I cut away the skylights and replaced them with thin plasticard, so that light would shine through them. I also scratch built a new compass platform, as the kit item is abysmal.

I debated on the virtue of replacing the handrails with etched brass ones, but cost and time prevailed so I just painted the tops of the rails brown to indicate the wood tops.

As I wanted to show the lifeboats either having been launched or about to be launched, I made new davits from copper wire.

So much rigging

The most complex part of the construction was the rigging. On the earlier models I had dispensed with the thread provided in the kit and rigged it with Lycra thread. To take the strain of the elastic properties I turned new masts from wood (even then one broke and had to be repaired by drilling it out and inserting some piano wire, bent and fixed to the inside of the hull to give it rigidity). Aided by a cutaway diagram I found in the library I started by adding the rigging to the funnels and then on to the main rigging. It is not until you see pictures that you realise how much rigging was still fitted to a steam ship. I certainly don't relish the thought of doing a sailing ship this way.

The passengers

Obviously, I needed to add a lot of figures to portray the right scene. I thought about making them from scratch but soon realised that to produce enough would be a mammoth task in itself. I found some etched brass ones from the USA but, again, cost prevailed.

Almost by accident, while in my local model shop, I came across the Plastruct catalogue. Although most of us know them from the plastic sections they make, they actually produce structures for architectural models in several scales. Among these items I found some 1/600 figures at about £10 per hundred. I ordered two sets.

When they arrived I found that they were rather flat and in only a small selection of poses, but when painted up and placed as groups they looked the part. I added patches of white to represent the lifebelts and stuck them to the decks in fairly random order. Even 200 figures soon disappear and it looks a little sparse in places.

The lifeboats as supplied are only one sided, so I built up the other side with filer. It would have been nice to make them hollow but that would have entailed trying to vac form them. As it was I painted the tops matt black and cut some of the figures in half to populate them. A couple of lifeboats were glued to the hull side and Lycra ropes added, as well as to the empty lifeboat stations.

A closer view shows a couple of the lifeboats being launched.

Setting the scene

With the model complete, it was time to construct the diorama. As it is to 1/570 scale and reports at the time suggest that the Titanic was sailing through calm seas, it would not be proper to model large waves, so I borrowed an idea from one of the club members. Taking a piece of cooking foil slightly larger then the base, I scrunched it up and them carefully unfolded and almost flattened it again. This left small ridges to suggest some ripples in the sea. I sprayed the Foam Board sub base with Photo Mount adhesive and smoothed the foil over it. When dry I carefully cut out the section where the boat was to fit and sprayed the base with Humbrol Satin Black. When dry, I lightly went over it with fine emery paper to reveal some silver at the top of the creases.

The model was glued into the recess and Winsor & Newton Medium Acrylic Texture Gel was carefully applied along the join between model and base, to represent the foaming water. Some was also added over the edge and into the forward well deck. The medium is white when wet but dries almost transparent and gives a realistic water look. When fully hardened it was dry brushed with white to emphasize the watery effect.

A couple of lifeboats were glued to the base and oars added from stretched sprue.

Icebergs ahead!

To set the scene, I decided to add a couple of icebergs to the base. My wife commented on my rather puny first attempts, so I started again with some larger 'bergs. These were roughly carved from a block of polystyrene and built up with plaster. After several attempts at getting the colour right (a bluish sheen is seen in photos of real icebergs) I eventually settled on a sampler pot of pale blue emulsion which was given a wash of diluted blue ink. After fitting in place I added more of the Acrylic medium around the bases and also in a few places on the bergs. Finally, I added a touch of white artists' acrylic and blended that round the bases with blue and black artists' acrylic to give the impression of the bulk of the icebergs below the water.

This view shows some of the rigging around the front end. Being Lycra it is flexible and allowed one strand to be held out of the way while others were glued in place. It also shows the Acrylic Medium used to create the foaming water as she sank.

With all that work going on I found that the edge of the foil tended to lift and tear so I added a border from 5mm wooden strip, which I painted black.

To add a finishing touch I tried an experiment and added some smoke billowing from the three main funnels. I put some cotton wool in a jar with some black pastel dust and shook it up. When removed it was teased out and stuck in place. To retain the shape a length of black painted wire was threaded though the wool. Several people have commented on how realistic it looks

This frontal view shows the general arrangement of the model, the icebergs, lifeboats and smoke.


The final thing was to add a nameplate, scanned from a book title, and a small strip details what the model represented. The wires from the bulbs were taken to a socket at the back of the base where another wire could be taken to a 6v lantern battery or a 6v power pack. It was intended to build a shadow box so that the model could be seen with the lights on. Another couple of lights with blue filters could give a moonlight effect. However, time prevented this final stage, as the Nationals grew ever closer and I had other things to prepare.


This was an interesting model to make. Many lessons were learnt. If I am ever mad enough to try another one I will use this experience to change some things. But that is the way of all models, isn't it?

All I can say is that at it has received a very favourable reception wherever it is shown. I do sometimes put the lights on, but with the ambient light it is only when I pointed the lights out to visitors does anyone notice. Perhaps one day I will build the shadow box to enable it to be seen in its glory.

Update 2008

I had a problem with the lights at ModelKraft so bit the bullet and bought a strip of 12v LEDs from Maplins. These give a much brighter light and allow them to be seen clearly at the lighting levels seen at most shows. Her first outing was at Hinckley in April and  she got some very complimentary comments from the visitors. Unfortunately, one of the masts got damaged on the way home so some major surgery is required. I also plan to take some new photos to show some of the details that are not very clear in these old ones.  Watch this space, as they say.


I borrowed several books on the Titanic from my local library, one I found particularly useful was Anatomy of the Titanic by Tom McCluskie, PRC, ISBN: 1 85648 482 3

There are many Internet sites devoted to the Titanic, one devoted to making models (mainly the 1/350th Revell one) is

Last updated 29 April 2008

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July 2009, Milton Keynes Scale Model Club