During the 1920s and 1930s, the United States Navy experimented with rigid airships. The use of airships of military purposes really took shape in World War I. The German, French and Italian military all operated airships in scouting and tactical
bombing roles early in the war but they soon learned that the airship was too vulnerable for operations over the front and their real impact was negligible. Still the rigid airship was uniquely qualified to perform long-range scouting in support of fleet
operations at a time before long-range aircraft and advanced radar. For this purpose U.S. Navy built four airships, the
USS Shenandoah, USS Los Angeles, USS Akron and USS Macon. To provide support to these airships, the Navy needed a
tender and the
USS Patoka was selected for this task. The Patoka was laid down on December 17, 1918 at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock, Co. in Newport News, Virginia and was launched on July 26, 1919. She was acquired by the
Navy from United States Shipping Board (USSB) on September 3, 1919 and commissioned as Fleet Oiler No. 9 on October 13, 1919 and later as AO-9 on July 17, 1920. The early part of her career she operated as a fleet oiler in the Adriatic and
Mediterranean Seas and steamed as far east as Constantinople.  She returned to the United States and served on both the east and west coasts until 1924 when she was selected as a tender for the
Shenandoah. Patoka went to the Norfolk Navy
Yard to have the necessary modifications made. A mooring mast some 125 feet above the water was erected. Additional accommodations for the crew of
Shenandoah and for the men who handle and supply the airship were constructed as well as
storage facilities for the helium, gasoline, and other supplies necessary for
Shenandoah. Lastly handling and stowage facilities for three seaplanes were added. The work was completed shortly after 1 July 1924. Although Patoka was now an airship
tender she retained her classification of AO–9.
Patoka engaged in a short series of mooring experiments with the Shenandoah and the first successful mooring was completed August 8, 1924. In October of that year, Patoka and the cruisers Milwaukee and Detroit were assigned to mid-Atlantic
stations to provide weather reports and forecasts to the airship
Los Angeles as she made her transit for Germany, where she was built, to Lakehurst, New Jersey. During 1925 Patoka operated with both Shenandoah and Los Angeles in
demonstrating the mobility of airships. A planned polar flight by
Shenandoah, with Patoka as her base of operations, was cancelled when the airship was lost in a storm September 3, 1925. From 1925 through 1932, Patoka served as the supply and
operations base for the
Los Angeles. During 1932 Patoka also served as the base for new airship Akron. When Los Angeles was decommissioned on June 30, 1932 the Patoka soon followed suit and was decommissioned on August 31, 1933. On
November 10, 1939
Patoka was recommissioned as a seaplane tender, AV-6, retaining her mooring mast. In 1940 she was again reclassified as AO-9 and the mooring mast was removed. She was outfitted as a minecraft tender and reclassified as
AG-125 in June 1944.
Patoka served in this capacity until she was decommissioned on July 1, 1946. She was struck from the Navy List later that month and sold for scrap on March 15, 1948.
The Kit - I am not usually a 1/700 scale modeler but I have built a few. I will say that I have admired Loose Cannon kits “from afar” so to speak. I have read reviews, looked at photos of build-ups and I have been intrigued with their choice of
subjects. So when Steve Backer gave me the opportunity to review the latest offering from
Loose Cannon I jumped on it and I am glad I did. The Loose Cannon Patoka is easily one of their more ambitious kits. The waterline hull and other resin
castings are good but require varying degrees of clean up and the photo-etch fret is comprehensive. This is par for
Loose Cannon kits. Since this is essentially a merchant/auxiliary vessel, the hull would be pretty basic and the casting is a good
representation. There isn’t much detail on the hull aside from the hawsers and portholes. The main deck is flush from stem to stern and it has the main deck housings, hatches, breakwater and anchor windlass integral to the hull casting. The faces of the
deck structures have portholes and plain-faced watertight doors. Optional photo-etch doors are provided to replace them if you care to.  The hull and deck has some air bubbles that need to be filled and smoothed out and some other areas will require
some attention with a razor knife and sandpaper. A few resin casting sheets that contain decks, additional deckhouses, platforms and fittings are included. All parts will need to be removed from the sheet and gently sanded to remove any remaining sheet
bits. The main section of the upper deck (kit part K) is found on a casting sheet along with several boat davits. This sheet was accidentally omitted from my sample so the photo found in this review was taken by
David Angelo of Loose Cannon and
that piece is on its way to me as I write this. The other resin casting sheet contains the aft upper deck along with another deck section, forward gun platform, bridge deck and wings, deck housings, rafts, twin bitts and various winches. The only parts to
use from this sheet are the rear deck, (part 9), gun platform (part 3), deck housings (parts 4 and 5), the rafts, bitts and winches. The third resin casting sheet included in a bag labeled “Kit 130 Addendum” contains the correct bridge parts (parts 2, A and
C) to use with this model as well as extra winches. This is all a little confusing so close attention to the instructions is required. The reason for the alternative parts contained in the “Addendum” bag is that a different approach was taken with the photo-etch
parts for the bridge that required revised parts. Overall the casting of these parts is good but will need some clean-up. The “Addendum” bag also contains some loose small parts and a length of brass and plastic rod.
Several runners of parts are included which contain the funnel, cowl and mushroom vents, ship’s boats, boom king posts, anchors, searchlights and a 3” gun. The casting of these parts is also good and require only minimal cleanup after they are carefully
removed from the runners. The photo-etch provided with this kit is very impressive and teeming with parts. The centerpiece of the photo-etch is the parts that make up the mooring mast. Parts are provided to build the original 1924 mast and the later
taller 1931 version. Over twenty-five different parts are needed to build the original mooring mast and a few extra are needed for the later version. Did I mention that these parts include the different platform levels with access ladders and railings that
were fitted inside the mooring mast?  This bit of detail is astounding to me especially in 1/700 scale but also a bit daunting. Then again, no pain no gain!  The mooring mast is clearly the most outstanding part of the
Patoka and will naturally draw one’s
eyes so this attention to detail will stand out even more. The bridge front and wing parts are also a multi-part assembly and will provide a very nice amount of detail. Other parts contained on the comprehensive photo-etch sheet include the basics like
railings in various style, ladders, doors, hatches and platform supports to items like catwalks, boom rigging, safety netting and supports and various other bits including a movie screen!. The brass is nice and thin but will require careful handling. Fourteen
double-sided pages of instruction are included. Page one is general instructions and references to the appropriate
White Ensign Model Colourcoats paints. Page two has the Patoka’s history and page three a parts layout. The actual assembly steps
begin on page four with three pages covering general items and major sections. This is followed by four pages dedicated to the assembly of the mooring mast – the first two pages focusing on the original 1924 mast and the latter two covering the
modified 1931 mast. These pages also address the assembly of the mooring booms, placement of the safety netting and supports and other amidships details. The next page covers the deck booms and additional amidships details. The last page of
diagrams provides three detail drawings covering the placement of specific items. A color plan and profile drawing with
WEM Colourcoats references and a photograph of the Patoka with an airship floating nearby round out the assembly guide. An
addendum page with notes, tips and lessons learned from
David Angelo’s experience with building the model was provided with my sample. If you purchased one of the first run kits chances are this was not included so contact Loose Cannon to get a
copy sent to you.
Overall, I think this is a very good and complex kit of a very unique ship in the U.S. Navy. You are certainly going to see a kit of the Patoka in any fit or scale from any of the plastic kit producers. Due to the complex assembly of the photo-etch
mooring mast, I would recommend this kit to experienced modelers but I do recommend this model to anyone wishing to build an obscure ship from era of significant experimentation. I am looking forward to venturing again into the realm of the “divine
scale” with this model.
Felix Bustelo
High Marshal of The Hamptons