Ship-Model Maker Extraordinaire Gerry Westenberg: Maritime Australia 4

April 2023

The fourth episode of our mini-series on the maritime history of Australia takes us to Perth and the workshop of Gerry Westenberg. Gerry has been hand-crafting scale model ships for well over 50 years and has built more than 130 in that time. He started this lifelong job by trying to modify a 1/600 scale Airfix kit of HMS Ajax to be HMAS Perth…with mixed success. Over time he has improved his skills and found a scale that works for him – 1/192 – based on the Empirical scale of 1 inch to every 16 feet. Over the years Gerry has built ships such as RMS Queen Mary, a Roman bireme, an Egyptian Royal Barge, HMS Hood, HMAS Sydney I, II, III and IV, RY Britannia, and HMS Barham, to name but a few. He has had two exhibitions held at the Western Australian Maritime Museum in Fremantle, the first in 2019, with the second held in 2021, whilst a third exhibition will commence on April 8th this year running for approximately 3 months. The centrepiece of Gerry’s collection consists of over 40 Australian fighting ships tracing all major classes from the inception of the RAN to today’s modern fleet. To find out more Dr Sam Willis visited Gerry at his workshop.

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    Sam Willis 

    From the Society for Nautical Research in partnership with Lloyd’s Register Foundation, I’m Sam Willis. And this is the Mariners Mirror podcast, the world’s number one podcast dedicated to all of maritime history. Hello everyone and welcome to the Mariners Mirror podcast. And to this the fourth of several episodes on maritime Australia. Our regular listeners will know that here on the Mariners Mirror podcast, one of the things we love is a ship model. And if you’re interested in these remarkable objects that I believe are so under appreciated, and in particular under used as an historical source by people writing about the past, please do check out the Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s amazing new project, maritime innovation in miniature, where they are filming the world’s best ship models using the very latest camera equipment. If you want to find out more just Google ‘maritime innovation in miniature’ and you’ll find your way to the project’s homepage, it really is quite fantastic. Now it’s impossible to visit either the Western Australian Maritime Museum or the Western Australian Shipwrecks Museum without being bowled over by their wonderful ship models. And I very much hope to bring you those in more detail in the future. Some are old, some are new, some are even made by a model maker, who lives in Perth, and who has devoted his life to making the most magnificent ship models, several of which are on display in the Western Australian Maritime Museum. This remarkable man is Gerry Westenberg. And Gerry very kindly invited me to his house. Well, I think that house is not necessarily the right term. It’s more of a museum of ship models in which Gerry’s family live where you might have a map on the wall Gerry has a ship model where you might have a photo of your family on the wall. Gerry has a ship model where you might have a clock on the wall where you might have wallpaper on the wall. Gerry has ship models. If Gerry’s house was a fish, then the models would be the scales. If his house was a mediaeval Knight, his models would be the armour. Well, I think you get the idea. Gerry has been handcrafting scale models for well over 50 years and he’s built more than 130. In that time, he started his lifelong job by trying to modify a one to 600 scale Airfix kit of HMS Ajax trying to turn it into HMAS Perth. And he claims with absolute honesty that his first attempt was amazing. If you kept both eyes closed and look the other way, Gerry says it was 100% accurate. Over time, he has improved his skills and he’s found a scale that works very well for him one to 192, which sounds a bit weird, but it’s actually from the empirical scale of one inch to every 16 feet. Over the years he’s built such ships as RMS Queen Mary, a Roman Bireme, an Egyptian Royal Barge, HMS hood, HMAS Sydney 123 and four, the royal yacht Britannia HMAS Baron, to name but a few. He’s had two exhibitions at the Western Australian Maritime Museum in Fremantle, the first in 2019, the second in 2021. And there’s a third exhibition coming soon, this April and running for approximately three months. The centrepiece of his collection consists of over 40 Australian fighting ships, tracing all major classes from the inception of the Royal Australian Navy to today’s modern fleet, as ever, I hope you enjoy listening to him as much as I enjoyed talking with him here is the welcoming, very knowledgeable, enormously good fun, Gerry.

     

    Sam Willis 

    I’m in a house in a suburb of Perth in Western Australia, and I’m with Gerry and we’ve just come in, and it’s one of those houses where you you couldn’t come in here and not notice a ship models, but Gerry has been pointing them out to me. And actually, once you get your eye in, you realise they’re everywhere, whether it’s downstairs, I thought there was one, there were five , everywhere into another room, and there were more. Now we’ve come up the stairs to Gerry’s workshop and there are in this this quite small but very nice room are 1234567. Gerry, how many are there, about 40 right? That’s why I can’t count them and they’re all magnificent. There’s a little desk here as well. I don’t really know where to start. Gerry, tell me about the one that’s on your desk and that you’re in the middle of making

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Okay, this one is HMS Melbourne, and I’m building her as she was the day that she sank HMS Voyager by accident, 10th of February 1964. She is a she’s a majestic class aircraft carrier. So we bought them off the British. She was the very first one with an angled flight deck. She’s such a small aircraft carrier that when the Americans cross train, they were almost not wanting to land on her, because like you want to land on that?

     

    Sam Willis 

    All right, let me just describe the desk. This is going to be aired as the day in the life of a model maker. So Gerry’s desk let’s talk about it. There are approximately 100 million different things on this desk, and none of them seem to be in any particular order. There is a pot of tweezers of varying size there are as a pot of either maybe 30 different paint brushes, loads of strips of what is this plastic or wood? Loads of reels of tape, there must be 15 different types of tape. You’ve got reels of what’s that copper wire? Is it the two types of copper wires?

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah, so this one’s the guardrail size, and that’s for the the uprights and the guardrails,

     

    Sam Willis 

    Right, we’ve got a jar full of 30 tiny files, very, very sharp. And we’ve got some pins for marking things and a whole host of other things. Gerry, what what is important here that I’ve missed,

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    There’s 3D printed items there. There’s a mould for a Chinook helicopter, which goes on one of my aircraft or sorry, ships. There’s pliers over there. There’s my patented theme for making sure that my measurements are correct. So as two mil, three mil, so on,

     

    Sam Willis 

    Describe this, right, it’s a piece of plastic is no metal, it’s an inch wide, and it’s two and a half inches long. It’s got various grooves in it, and each groove is a set length that correct?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    So it starts from half a millimetre and goes up to 13 millimetres.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Necessary. So let’s just talk about how Gerry makes these models because the key thing to understand about Gerry’s models is that they are made from scratch. There are no kits anywhere. Is that correct?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Yep, that’s right.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah. And how did you first get into this?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    When I was 16, I used to build Airfix kits and Airfix builds model of HMS Ajax. I really wanted a model of HMS Perth because she’s my favourite ship. And so I butchered this kit. And as long as you kept both eyes closed look, it looked perfect. Since you open it, it didn’t look too good. Then I started changing more Airfix kits to be different ones. So I’ve got better at that. And then I found balsa wood which is really great to work with and it also saves your hands and then I found this scale because this is about three times the size of an Airfix kit. So balsa wood plus this scale and I’ve been doing it ever since

     

    Sam Willis 

    Well let’s just carry on looking at this one on your desk is a good starting point. So that’s at worse  two and a half feet long. At what stage are you with this?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Okay, so I’m finishing off the last two bits of radar.

     

    Sam Willis 

    What are they made of?

     

    Sam Willis 

    So many aircraft you’re gonna put on?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    That’s out of balsa wood, plastic card, copper wire and cardboard. I’ve also made over here the moulds for the aircraft that will go on her.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    I’m gonna put four, two Gannets, Farey Gannets, and two De Havilland Sea Venoms.. And so these white things are directors and I made that and then made a mould. So I just reproduce them. These 40 mil Bofors guns are 3D printed. I used to make them by hand, and I’m getting too old. So I do those.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Where do you get the 3D printed?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    It is a company in New Zealand. And there’s a guy in the UK that I know. They are brilliant.

     

    Sam Willis 

    What you send them the drawings?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Just say I want one of those. And you know, like can you do them up?

     

    Sam Willis 

    Do a bit of research into exactly what it looks like.  I suppose they then draw them online in 3D do they?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    I think it’s always okay. That’s the detail you can get.

     

    Sam Willis 

    That’s phenomenal.

     

    Sam Willis 

    My eye’s are failing me, the problem with all of these miniature things as you get older. I need my reading glasses look at it to kind of Yeah. Gerry has a pair of highly magnified glasses.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Those one’s

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah, so a set of goggles you can attach to your head to look at things in miniature. So he’s just handed me an example of something that’s 3DE printed. I haven’t got a clue what it is. Well, I will try and describe it. So it’s two matching things. One at It’s like kind of a fighting tops style thing is a sort of circular platform it looks like and it seems to be standing

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    on either the threads left and right.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Alright, so you pop those off to that says we’re ready to pop those off. So that looks like a kind of gun in-placement.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    It’s an eight bareled . I used to call them Chicago piano, they were used on British warships. So they used to just spray guns bullets out and fend off the bad guys.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Okay, so what we’ve got here then is a collection of some things which are 3D printed and some things which are certainly not. The model that we’re looking at now this aircraft carrier, it has the flight deck, it’s got the command tower, and how long has it taken you to get to this stage.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    It’s taken me about seven months, because I’m building her, as I said, when she sank the Voyager, but all the plans and all the photographs of her way later on, when she had all sorts of changes made. So I’ve had to go through photographs, plans. Yeah, and try and work out what should be there at that time and what shouldn’t. I always make sure that it’s as accurate as I can be. And then, yeah, that makes problems for me.

     

    Sam Willis 

    I mean, I’m kind of overwhelmed by this. You’ve made all of these models. Yeah. Yes. How many models have you made in your life?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    About 150? Right. There’s 114 around here, and then there’s others in various places like at the WA Maritime Museum?

     

    Sam Willis 

    I’m going to be visiting the Maritime Museum tomorrow. Just tell us briefly about what we’d find there

     

    Sam Willis 

    They’ve got a model of the HSK Kormoran which sank he has Sydney Yeah, I built that. So one side she’s a merchantmen Just for those of us who don’t know the story, tell us about that.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    HMS Sydney was coming back from Singapore in 1941 in November, and she happened upon a merchant ship, which there’s all sorts of theories about what happened but basically, somehow or other Kormoran fooled Sydney and opened fire.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So it wasn’t a merchant ship before. It was a German.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    They’re called merchant cruisers. And so that was disguised so she dropped her disguise open fire and Sydney. Sydney was very badly damaged but fought back. And eventually Kormaron was sunk. Sydney drifted off into the sunset, and was never heard of since from then on. And so that HSK Kormoran I built her so on one side, she’s an innocent merchant ship, then on the other side, all her guns are exposed, so you can see what she’s done.

     

    Sam Willis 

    And what about the other model?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    So HMS Perth, I built her. So she’s depicted, a rough period of she was 1941. She was sunk in the Sunda Straits on first of March, I think it was 1942. Type of ship, Leander, sorry, modified Leander Class cruiser, okay. There’s five submarines that are there. So there are all British types, So an Oberon, an E, a J, an S, and a T,

     

    Sam Willis 

    I should say, amongst these 40. ship models, there are quite a number of subs so we’ll have a look at one of those in a minute. We’re now going to choose the ship model to talk about which I’m quite excited about. And I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to base my decision. There are some interesting colourful ones. There’s a very old one down there. That’s definitely a Brunellian ship.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    That was the Great Eastern.

     

    Sam Willis 

    That’s the Great Eastern. We covered that before in a podcast, so I’m not going to talk about that. Let’s I tell you what, Gerry, you are going to choose a couple of models you can talk about that you’re particularly proud of or you want to discuss. So where are we going first.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    The Royal Yacht Britannia, now that’s the second one I built. The first one I built. I built it for the then governor of WA in about 85. Sir Richard Trowbridge and he had been the captain of that in his last posting, and she was almost finished and the Queen and the Duke came over to Australia and they stayed in Government House around that time, and the governor through his PA asked if I could present the model to him so that he could show it. So he did and a couple of days later the PA said I’ll you know you can come pick it up. And as I’m picking it up, he said His Royal Highness apologises he broken a bit. I’ve often thought of sending a bill just due to the break. I don’t know.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Clumsy Royals,

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    But I did get a guided tour of the Britannia, my previous wife and I. It was so amazing and so funny. So yeah, that’s that one.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Let’s describe the describe the model for those of us. I’ll take the photos of all the ones that we are talking about so you can go online and check them out. But let’s just describe this one first.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Okay, so she was built as a royal yacht, but she could also option as hospital ship. She’s royal blue hull,  a buff funnel, red waterline, and various lifeboats and so on. Around the other side, there’s also a garage for the Royal Rolls Royce, which they would bring out, I didn’t put that inside.

     

    Sam Willis 

    But they’ve got these lifeboats and various other vessels, but also types of smaller vessel. They’re on davits halfway, halfway long, long the ship but they’re kind of you would reflect someone that has higher status as the Queen says they’re beautiful. I presume the original was the Royal Barge. Yeah. That’s a magnificent looking thing. I like the awnings you’ve done at the back.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yes,I’m gonna keep it nice and cool.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Nice and cool. That’s someone who lives in Perth. He knows about the problems of the heat. Yeah, that’s right. So what’s the what are the awnings made out of?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Tissue paper? I’ve put liquid glue on it. And then I painted it.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So that’s that set as it is in 1985? Yeah. This one here. So we were looking up now to a okay, oh, testing my knowledge, but I will say that it’s got very distinctive poles for torpedo nets. Yeah. So thank you very much. That’s about what I’m gonna say. So, early 20th century, something like that. What is this?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Okay, so that’s actually HMS Argincourt She started life as the Brazilian Rio de Janeiro. Then the Brazilians went bankrupt. So they then put it up for sale, and the Turks bought it. But the thing about the Turks is that everybody, every village paid a few shekels or whatever it is for that. And just, it was finished just before World War 1 1914 yet, and Churchill was worried that it would fall into German hands. So he basically nicked off the Turks and the Turkish people who had been allies of the British were very annoyed. And the Germans not being stupid when the British mean and nasty. They took your battleship out for you here have one of ours. So they joined in the, you know, the German side, but she’s the she had the most turrets ever. So seven. And my understanding is normally it’s A,B,P,Q,X,Y. That because it was seven they were all the days of the week, so I’ve been told,

     

    Sam Willis 

    Very good. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are at the stern. There are three there. So I’m very so this class is a battleship.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Yes, she was monstrous. And at the Battle of Jutland when she fired her broadside, they thought she had exploded because the whole line of the ship was just exploded. Well, they both thought it might have been blowing up.

     

    Sam Willis  

    So how big were the guns?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    12 inch guns

     

    Sam Willis 

    And there were three of them alone, although sorry, six guns, three turrets alone on the stern two the bows and then two midships underneath the kind of I don’t know what your call boat deck. Okay, yeah.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    And I built her because I liked what the boat deck, how it looked. And I was able to do it that way. Because the British had it for a week like that before they got rid of the boat deck. So I had a week’s window and I’m like, God, I can build it. So that’s, that’s why I put it like that.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah and it’s got the lovely. Well, you tell our listeners what these bits are.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    So they’re the wireless aerials. They’re fun to build, you got to make circles and then you got to stream the wires around it, and then tighten it up. So that’s that’s exciting work.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So the whole it’s like a rigging the whole ship is connected that go from the bow on wires up to the full mast which is above the I will still work kind of cross yards. That’s extraordinary, isn’t it for 1914 up there and then across between the two masts and back down to the stern so it does make it look you know, almost like traditional aspect of what was once a sailing rig but here it’s all radio.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Yeah. Because at this time the British Admiralty were starting to put their finger into the local pie. And that one there the Monmouth she was sunk at the Battle of Coronel

     

    Sam Willis 

    Right so we’re looking at another completely different ship. This is literally above the one we’re talking about. So up by the ceiling, and it’s got a from where I can see a red hull, it’s got three funnels, and it’s got a very distinctive RAM bow. So what sort of period is this?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    That was 1914 as well. And she was manned by reservist, poor old Admiral Craddick was given two cruisers

     

    Sam Willis 

    it’s amazing So same period, I mean, it looks like something 80 years before. Oh, yeah.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    And so she was trying to stop Admiral Graf Spee. He was in the Chinese area Pacific he was trying to create Hell, one of his ships was the Emden. And she went off and did her thing. But these Monmouth and Good Hope, and a couple of other ships were basically bounced by Graf Spee. And they were sunk with all hands. They were, they just never we’re never going to do anything right

     

    Sam Willis 

    I mean, so not only have they got the Rambo, which looks like something that’s essentially out of date, but such limited armament compared to this monster, a battleship below. So what kind of armament we’re looking at

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    They have six inch guns that you can see down the side there, and they’re in there, they’re all in sponsons. And so gives you a great broadside, but they were not watertight so in anything but a millpond the water be splashing in and so your ability to maintain your fire would have been restricted. And that’s what happened to them. They were revenged at the Battle of the Falkland Islands by Vice Admiral Sturdee, I think was his name. And he had Invincible and Inflexible, two battle cruisers. And they chased and sank all of the German ships eventually. That’s that

     

    Sam Willis 

    Amazing stuff. Let’s let’s have a turn around and have a look at the other side. This is a fairly magnificent thing. Again, a different period we’re looking at here. So this is HMS Vanguard, 48. So 30 years later, different colour different ship, everything is different about this. This is very distinctive kind of light battleship grey. And it’s extraordinary how ship design has changed in the, in the periods between HMS Agincourt, the battleship and what we’re looking at here. So Derek, tell us about about Vanguard.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Okay, so Vanguard was the last British battleship ever built. She was built during World War Two, because Churchill wanted some more heavy ships, because at this stage, aircraft carriers were just starting to make their presence felt in regard to, battles like in the Pacific, Midway and so on. Interestingly, her main guns were leftovers from HMS Courageous and Glorious being made into an aircraft carrier. And so they looked around and went, well, they’re there, and they modify them. But she was, as I said, last battleship ever, she had beautiful lines. She sailed magnificently, and they scrapped her.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Just didn’t use her at all.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    They use her for the Royal Tour. The Queen and then on there. Yeah. But yeah, in about 1960. They just scrapped, right, which was a sad thing.

     

    Sam Willis 

    It was interesting. You talking about planes on ships, because we started off with the aircraft carrier, what sort of remind me which one that was, HMS Melbourne, above this model of Vanguard is another vessel. This is the Rodney but there’s a very distinctive little plane amidships on the deck there. So what am I looking at that?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    I guess so that’s a Walrus. So all battleships and cruisers in the 20s and 30s wanted to extend their range of visual. So that thing there, the turret would be swung around, facing outwards, and then that would be catapulted off via explosives. And then when they were coming back, the ship would swing around to create a calm area. They’d land there and then the crane would pick it up and put it back on there.

     

    Sam Willis 

    And they’d look at a spotter plane is that what we’re looking at? So Rodney, a battleship as well. Yeah, but this is a generation before.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    So she was built in 1928, I think. She was called the Cherry-tree class because there was starting to be a race to build bigger and bigger battleships.  The British and the Americans realised that this was gonna cost them a lot of money. So they got together. They had the Washington Treaty and the London treaty. The Washington Treaty sort of reduced what the British were looking at doing. That’s the result because they were allowed to build two ships. And so they will call the Cherry-tree in some circles.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Now I’ve got my eye in on these models, it’s striking how many little spotter planes there are on them. So we’ve got one on Rodney here. What’s above that?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    That’s Royal Oak, it was sunk at Scapa Flow. 1914 I think she was sunk.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Then down here are another two more vessels. What are we looking at here?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    That’s HMS. York and HMS Exeter, so they were sisters

     

    Sam Willis 

    1941 1942 And they both got these kind of spotter planes as well.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    This one was actually supposed to have it, the catapult was going to be on B turret, which is why the bridge is so tall. But they realised when they were building that that wouldn’t work. So she was built after her. So they changed the bridge. And yeah the catapults amid ship.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Now, for those of you who can’t see this magnificent room, there are, as you say, 14 models here. And there is one framed picture of a warship from the whole history of warships. So tell us about this and why you’ve got it. So

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    That’s HMS Perth, which was my favourite ship. And you know, which sort of started me on this.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Give us a sense of date and the time

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    She was a modified Leander Class that’s about 1933 or four. That photograph plus a few others introduced me to the concept of plans being drawn wrongly.  I bought a set of plans from a certain person who shall remain nameless. The Perth was built modified and refitted. The Admiralty always drew their plans in colour, as it changed, they would draw the changes in another colour, and then they’d very likely hatch out the bits that were wrong. This guy photocopied it so he had no colours. So there were three lines, the original as built, then the refits, and then the modifications. They were all done to the amidships area, so this guy instead of doing his research, which is what I pay him for , he just went on Eeny, Meeny Miny Moe, and chose some plan lines. Because he chose the wrong ones, there was a crew shelter, which was supposed to fit between the two guns and didn’t fit so he drew his own. I was about two thirds through building in these photographs. And it’s like, wow, this is great. One of us is wrong. Yeah, photograph or my ship and I thought, Well, maybe it’s my ship. So I then had to go

     

    Sam Willis 

    On the photograph what bits were wrong Point out to the bits that were

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Between these two funnels is the anti aircraft gun deck. And she started off with singles. And then in her refit and modification they were replaced by twins. And because the twins were bigger, had more people. They had had the crew shelter there and all the boats had to be replaced because the gun deck had expanded. That’s what happened and ever since then, I don’t think except for the Queen Mary, I don’t think I’ve seen a set of plans that I actually just sit down and work through. Don’t work.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Well, I’m for your listeners out there. I’ll make sure I’ve got a photograph not only of the ships we’ve discussed, but also of this photograph of the Perth which is behind behind the Gerry’s desk here. Where’s the photograph taken?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    One of the ports in the UK I’m not sure which one,

     

    Sam Willis 

    See if I can work it out. No, but I’m guessing Portsmouth there are some some houses visible just be on the bow and look, they look Portsmouth me. So walking past that we’re gonna go downstairs now explore some more stuff. Gerry’s got a sort of bin full of circular balsa wood, I would describe them as important part. Oh, there are a couple of beautiful subs here. So we can’t go down, without talking about these I’ve got I’ve got a special thing for models of submarines. I find them very sleek. I was looking at one recently was the first nuclear sub, the British Dreadnought. That’s at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. It’s a massive model and almost no details on it. It’s all just an enormous black tube. Yeah. So what are we looking at here? You’ve got three.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    That’s HMS Repulse, which was the ballistic missile sub. And then HMS Vanguard, which is latest, although they’re building a new Dreadnought class, but that’s the latest that they’ve got ,HMS Vanguard. Then below it is the HMS X1. She was a an experimental submarine, which had four, I think there were five inch guns in two turrets. And she was basically going to go wandering around the countryside, finding, enemy merchant ships, rise to the surface and blow them up. To my understanding is that the British realised it was a really good idea, but they were the ones that had the biggest merchant fleet, so they didn’t want that to work, so they say that’s rubbish. She did have bad diesels and they could have been replaced. They scrapped it because it’s a really bad idea.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    That was very good. Let’s have a quick look at a Vanguard because it’s magnificent. So what can you tell me about this model?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Pain in the neck, around the bow? The subs, in some ways, very simple because they don’t have decks and guardrails, and all that sort of thing. But the way I build them, because it’s got a tight curve that way, and then quite often it’s got a curve going the other way. My method requires an awful lot more sections to make the hull right, as opposed to any others. But yeah, it’s once you get over that it’s fairly simple to build.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Whats the long rectangular section?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    My understanding is that something to do with sonar array. Okay. And it also hid some stuff.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah, pretty good. Well, I’ll tell you what, we’re going to leave this this cathedral of models and then head downstairs, so lead us the way. Oh, sorry. I’ve just seen a three more  models, I hadn’t seen there on the stairs. We’re going down the stairs now. And there are Oh My Goodness me 5,6,7,15 more models.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Just for the fun of it I built they’re really small, but they’re the very first operational submarines ever used. That was the Hunley which was used by the Confederates. That was the Sea Explorer, which was built by the American, State of the Union, but never used. The Civil War had finished before she got operational. That’s my oldest model, because it’s a

     

    Sam Willis 

    Egyptian funerary barge.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    I found plans for that because a friend of mine was into Egyptology and he showed me the book with the plans,  ‘I can build that so I knocked that one out.’

     

    Sam Willis 

    Magnificant. So what else we got here a couple more subs. There’s a steam sub, I’m quite interested in steam submarines. We did I am. Again, for those of you listening onto the mariners mirror podcast YouTube page, there is  an animation of the drawings of the K class Submarine, one of the K2’s, which is fantastic. So these are, please go and check that out. So that’s the K class submarine animation. Here we have HMS Swordfish 1916. I presume it’s bedevilled with the same problems of putting a huge steam engine in the sink.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    I think she was the first one that they did it to. And then went, Oh, that’s a really good idea. So then they build the K Class. Yeah. And you’ve I’m assuming you heard of the Battle of May Island.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yes.  So but for our listeners who haven’t tell us about that.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Self inflicted. Listen to the podcast on the K class submarines if you want more on that. So we’re downstairs now. And we are going into another room which I’m going to guess it’s full of ship models. Oh, my Goodness me. It is absolutely as so. I don’t know another 40. What are we looking at here?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    The Battle of May Island was when a number of the K class went out on exercise at night, and they were escorted by a light cruiser, which was behind them all. The the front lead submarines rather broke, or something happened with the steering. It went broadside, and then everyone’s trying to get out of the way. Two of the subs were sank. Fearless came through and scuttled one of them, I think. Then sadly, a lot of the survivors were in the water. It’s at night and the battle squadron went through, chop them up. So very sad, but it’s the Battle of May Island,

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Something like that. So that wall there is the Australian collection and that there except for that one.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So more, particularly kind of Australian ships that are very strange looking.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    So that’s HMS Canberra.

     

    Sam Willis 

    It’s so it’s an amphibious assault ship. Let’s talk about the Australian collection. Right.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    So that one’s HMS Perth, which I told you about? This one’s HMAS Sydney.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So that’s Perth. That’s the model of the one upstairs, we we’re looking at the photographs?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    And then that’s HMAS Sydney.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So it’s give you give us a date for all of these?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    That was 41 for those two. This is HMAS Canberra.

     

    Sam Willis 

    1942?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Yes, I built her as she was when she was delivered by the British because we bought them off them. And that’s HMAS Sydney, which is the first carrier we had.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So this is 50s. So we’ve got three ships in the 40s, one for the 50s. And then down below at the bottom, a very distinctively different one. This is 1924. This is HMAS Australia battle cruiser. Tell us about the Australia.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    She was part of the very first fleet that we had. The Australian Navy was stood up in I think, 1911 I could be wrong. And she was obviously the flagship. She fought throughout the First World War. She was in the Pacific and then in the North Sea, and that and because of the Washington Treaty and London treaty, we scuttled her in 1924 or something. Because we were part of the Empire and the Empire was allowed that many ships.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Trying to control the amount of these treaties. For those who don’t know we’re trying to control per type and the amount of sea power that was dotted around the world.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Yeah. So, yes, we scuttled her that she was an Indefatigable class battlecruiser and we bought that one, New Zealand bought…

     

    Sam Willis 

    So that was built in the UK?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Clyde somewhere, I think maybe. So New Zealand bought HMS New Zealand and then they had the Indefatigable, but they were actually, so I’ve been told, worse armoured than the Invincible class, which was the first battle cruiser class. So Indefatigable, who blew up at Jutland, just disintegrated. Interestingly, it’s, it’s always claimed that it’s because they were battle cruisers. And you know, they were very poorly armed and blah, blah, blah. But there’s a lot of research now, which is, and they’ve dived on some of these. And the British concept was to smother the enemy with fire. And to do that you had to get a high rate of fire going, which meant they totally disabled all the flash type integrity, because they stacked dozens of shells and cordite in the turret. Still kept feeding it properly, opened door, closed door, it was all up sitting there. So when they got hit on the turret, it wasn’t good.

     

    Sam Willis 

    I can sense, a podcast on the Australian Navy. So what else have we got here, we’ve got some, this very interesting one, you can see it inside the hull. So this is an exposed hull And it looks like an aircraft carrier

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Now she’s the Empress of Britain, which was well done. Well, it’s got she was the flagship of the Canadian Pacific company. And she was the largest merchant ship sank during World War Two, she was coming into I think Liverpool, and she was bombed and set on fire. So they were then towing her into port and German submarines saw her, and went ‘you beauty’ and torpedoed it. So she’s sank, she was beautiful ship, she will have a white hull, a blue band, bright green, sort of emerald hole underneath, and three buff funnels.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So what we’ve got going on here, I’ve just looked down, and there’s a huge pile of bits of both by my feet. In is you’re working on a vessel upstairs, and I assumed you’d be working on one at a time. But that clearly isn’t the case. How many of you got on the go?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Well, I’ve just started 63?

     

    Sam Willis 

    63 ships you? Well, you’ve just started 63?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    So my plan is to finish these ones. Okay, they’ve been on the go for years, and you’re pointing at four. Ark Royal, Glorious, Good Hope’ Edinburgh, and there’s Iron Duke and Manchester. One of the things if there’s a class of ship that served during the war, I’ll try and find one that sank. And I’ll build that one. So I’m known as the person that builds ships that sank, which is not true, because some of them didn’t sink. But it’s my way of saying thank you to the guys, or the people that died. Freedom sort of thing. I thought you meant ship number 63. So then tell me about the 63 ships you’re about to build.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Okay, so all the Australian ships that I’ve got the actual warships, and I’m sorry, I don’t have the support ships. So there’s about 15 or 20 support ships that I’m going to build. So then I’ll have the, basically a collection of the ARN from the start up to today as just one collection. So which

     

    Sam Willis 

    I’m sure we can tell. You’re going to need a bigger house.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Negotiate with my wife. Every time I finish one, I just love the deal. Where’s it going? I’m working on it.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So let’s go back back out through here. And I want to talk about the large model which is in the main room of the house here. So walking through, and they’re all in beautiful boxes, so they’re all safe. I should say that. This is clearly a magnificent model. What have we got here?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Okay, so that’s the RMS Queen Mary. She was built in the 30s on the Clyde.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So it’s a passenger vessel, Cunard vessel from the 1960s?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Well, yeah, she was built in the 30s. She’s actually now a hotel in Florida. But she’s sinking, I think, not doing well. But yeah, she was built in the 30s. The shipbuilding companies were going broke, because it was in the Depression And so the British government wanted to maintain their shipbuilding expertise. So they funded a lot of this. And so it was built. She served with the Queen Elizabeth as extremely fast transports going between the UK or mainly the UK in the US. And she she was taking, I think it was something like ridiculous number like 16,000 US troops from the US to the UK. And there’s such a thing, now that everyone recognises as true, called rogue waves. Up until about 20 years ago, they said, that’s just rubbish.

     

    Sam Willis 

    That’s true. But oceanographers have been working on it. And they were talking about waves almost combining with with each other as a freak moment of fetch or a freak, bit of bit of swell to cause unusually vast waves.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Yep. So she was in a storm in the Atlantic. And out of nowhere, this wave came and smashed her on the broad side, and turned her 50 degrees over. They say that if there had been another two or three degrees, she would have gone, turn turtle, and someone in the 70s must have read about that and thought that make a great movie. So they put out The Poseidon Adventure. And a lot of the footage was actually taken on board the Queen Mary as she is, as I said the motel in in Florida. So yeah, very interesting model.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Wonderful. Well, let’s just describe it for us. Okay, so she’s, a metre and a half long.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Hull red, black sides, white  superstructure. Three funnels. Red and black. Nice, clean outline, colours. Lots of lifeboats. Each one was made

     

    Sam Willis 

    amazing. 1-234-567-8910 11 to 12 on each side, at least 12 on each side with each with a canvas cover.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Yep. Canvas covers are great means that I have to put the detail in. She’s dressed overall with flags. And that yeah,

     

    Sam Willis 

    and all of the portholes are visible. So I mean, four decks, how many

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    was about six decks? I think, Okay.

     

    Sam Willis 

    How do you cut the small portholes in the sides?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    File and my fingers, was fun. The actual portholes are okay, but those ones that you can see in the white, were sort of oval shaped. Yeah. So having to build that was fun. And like cutting the windows, so they are pieces of black paper, all cut to the same size and then glued on. So that’s, that’s fun.

     

    Sam Willis 

    It would be a pure comedy show, just to see what would happen if you let me loose on your desk. I would I would have stuff stuck to me. My fingers would be glued together, I would have broken everything. You must be immensely in control of your body Gerry.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Most of the time, I have been known to say a few choice words. My wife says you still do this? Because it’s a hobby. And you enjoy it. Yes.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Very good. The flags, you’ve got a wonderful flags, you make all of those as well.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Yes, so any marking on the ship,

     

    Sam Willis 

    How many flags there are? On this model? 60? We think there are 60. And they are? I mean, what’s going on with the flags? First of all, how did you make them?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    I just found photographs of the various flags. So I then cut and paste those into Word. And then tidy them up. Make sure they’re the right size and that and then print them off. And it’s just dressed overall. So it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just making it look pretty for the visitors that would be coming in.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah. So you gotta you print them off and then cut them with a very sharp scalpel. Yeah,

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Yes, I can do medical operations on you, if I wanted to.

     

    Sam Willis 

    I want to  leave I wouldn’t get me in one of his boxes

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    that you’ll never be found. Yeah, so that’s that one.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Let’s talk about the propellers because there are obviously propellers on all of your vessels. Most of the ones who aren’t selling actually very few sailing vessels. There’s one over there. So how do you make these propellers?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Just cut out the shape? And then with two pieces of rod? I’ll twist them out of cardboard, they’re not authentically, like if you cut through them, you know you’ve got all the difference shape going through, they just shaped like that. So that’s every one of those is cardboard.

     

    Sam Willis 

    How do you make them look like metal?

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    They’re painted with bronze? Humbrol bronze. What else do you want to know about it?

     

    Sam Willis 

    I think we’re done with this. I’ll tell you what we’ve got. We’ve had a good chat. I’m gonna Gerry. I’m gonna give you the chance to take me to one model we haven’t talked about in your house, and we can talk about it. I don’t mind what it is. I’m quite excited. Whats it gonna be? Straightforward? We’re going to the Australian room back.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    So she’s waiting for her lifeboats that that is the Australian hospital ship Centaur. And she was torpedoed. She’s in there to keep her safe safe because that’s Manchester.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Oh, I see. Right.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    So there was cheating.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So the label the label is wrong here. So what we’re looking at is a hospital, a hospital ship. So let’s just describe the vessel before we talk about what she what she has. So I leave it over to you.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Okay, so she was a, I think a blue funnel, small freighter called the Centaur she operated sort of around the Australian waters. She was then taken over by the Australian Navy to operate as a hospital ship.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So to identify as a hospital ship, white hull, green stripe, on each broadside, there are three red crosses, if seen from above, by an aircraft. There are also the large one at the stern, large one midships to more large red crosses, another one on a hatch. There’s one on the funnel, there’s no way you could misidentify this vessel.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Yeah. And she was sailing up the Australian East Coast, I think in 44. And she was torpedoed at night with loss of 300 people’s lives. That’s very sad. And yeah, the it was lit up. Nobody could miss that she was a hospital ship. But yes, she was so

     

    Sam Willis 

    How to identify her hospital ship at night,

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    She will have spotlights and that on the red crosses on the funnel. So you know, lit up like a Christmas tree. So you know, it’s not something that you’d sit there and go, Oh, I don’t know what that is. So yeah, she’s almost finished. I’ve got to put the lifeboats on which are being 3D printed by my friend in the UK. Okay. But then she’ll go into a proper case, which will have her name,

     

    Sam Willis 

    right here. Yeah. And then the lifeboats that go on these davits.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    Two on each side there, and one on the other side there. And then she’ll be finished?

     

    Sam Willis 

    Well, I tell you what, Jerry, I’m blown away by the amount of work you’ve put into this is real lifetime of work. And all in such minute and magnificent detail. I think it’s a tremendous collection, I think you’ll do wonderfully, I can only encourage you to carry on. Thank you very much for letting me come and see you. I gotta say, I’ll be I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you a certain amount of time.

     

    Gerry Westenberg 

    So that’s the smallest one, which is a 50 foot tug, which is an ARN support ship. And then the where she is, somewhere in there is the Savannah, and the Savannah is the very first profitable nuclear powered merchant ship. She’s now a museum ship in I think Galveston,

     

    Sam Willis 

    Right? I didn’t know about that. I’d say that sounds like a really interesting class

     

    Sam Willis 

    She’s a beautiful looking ship. They made her half  high class, passenger, and half merchant. So she never was one or the other. So she actually made a massive loss. And also there was in the 60s, you know, my goal. Shouldn’t noble sort of, you know, we’re going to die. So lots of people said, well, we’re not going to have you in the board. So I was like, Yeah, whatever. So she didn’t last very long. But she was a beautiful ship. And, you know, when we’re looking at climate change now, yeah. No, smoke, no pollution, if all the ships in the world would powered by that me. Yeah.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Well, I’ll tell you what, I’ll come back in a decade and see how you’re getting on with it. Yeah. Thanks, Gerry. Thank you so much. Thank you.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Thank you all so much for listening. Now, for all model makers out there, all model enthusiasts out there, please search maritime innovation in miniature or go and check out this Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s new project I was telling you about. Please also, don’t let this be the last thing that you do to interact with our fabulous podcast, go to YouTube, find the Mariners Mirror podcast YouTube page, and just have a look at some of the videos we’ve been creating. It’s absolutely phenomenal and ever growing library of some of the most extraordinary and innovative videos showcasing our maritime past in new ways. My current favourite is the clever animation of an original engineers plan of a steam powered submarine, the notorious K class subs of the First World War. The animation shows how the engines fitted in and how In theory, it didn’t leak when the steam funnels were up. As always, please remember that this podcast comes from both the Society for Nautical Research and the Lloyd’s Register Foundation and check out what both of those institutions are doing the Society for Nautical Research. You can find at snr.org.uk and please join up there’s a vibrant international membership is a fabulous way to meet people and also to learn all about the world’s maritime past from the world’s very best maritime historians.

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