When the United States acquired the Philippines as a territory after the Spanish-American War, naval bases were established in Manila and Subic Bays. These bases were considered vulnerable to attack from an enemy fleet so there was a need to build up harbor defenses.
El Fraile Island, a rocky spot of land situated at the mouth of Manila Bay, was considered an excellent location for a fortified position. A plan was developed to level the island and then build a concrete fort on top of it armed with a pair of armored battleship-style
turrets. Initially these were to mount 12-inch guns but later revised to 14-inch guns supplemented by two pairs of 6-inch guns in armored casemates of each side of the structure. The “deck” would be made of 18 foot thick steel-reinforced concrete and the exterior walls,
or “hull”, were to range from 25 to 60 feet thick. This would be a formidable obstacle for an invading armada. Construction began in April 1909 with the leveling of El Fraile Island over which the layers of the steel-reinforced concrete where built-up to resemble a massive
hull. The work was done by U.S. Army engineers and took a total of five years to complete. The pair of custom built 14-inch  gun turrets, named Batteries Marshall and Wilson, were delivered and installed in 1916.The secondary 6-inch casemates, dubbed Batteries
Roberts and McCrea, were installed the same year. Barracks and living quarters for the approximately 240 officers and enlisted men were built towards the “stern” of the fort along with various support and machinery structures. Ammunition magazines were located deep
inside the fort. A tall cage mast was erected which added to the battleship appearance of Fort Drum. The cage mast provided observation posts and placements for the 3 searchlights. A large derrick was also erected.
In anticipation of war with Japan, the barracks were dismantled to provide Battery Wilson an unobstructed field of fire. Japanese Imperial Army forces gained ground quickly and were within range of Fort Drum and other harbor defenses by late December 1941. Fort
Drum was subjected to heavy bombardment beginning on January 2, 1942. In early February Japanese forces began constant bombardment with 150mm artillery and by the middle of March heavy 240mm siege artillery was brought in to add to the barrage. The fort’s 3-
inch guns were destroyed and one of the casemates heavily damaged disabling one of the 6-in guns. Huge chunks of the concrete were blasted away by the bombardment but the main batteries were undamaged and remained in service. With the fall of Bataan, only Fort
Drum and other harbor forts formed the final line of U.S. resistence. Gunfire from Batteries Marshall and Wilson sank several Japanese troop transports during the second wave of attacks on Corregidor. Fort Drum eventually surrendered to the Japanese on May 6,
1942 shortly after the fall of Corregidor. As a testament to the construction of Fort Drum, the U.S suffered no fatalities and only 5 men were injured during the siege. Japanese forces quickly occupied the fort after the surrender. When U.S. forces launched an offensive
to recapture Manila in 1945, Fort Drum was again subjected to heavy aerial and naval bombardment. On April 13, U.S. troops invaded the fort, gaining access to the deck and keeping the Japanese garrison confined below. To avoid heavy U.S casualties in an attempt to
flush out the enemy, a mixture of diesel oil and gasoline was pumped in the spaces below via the numerous air vents and ignited. The Japanese garrison was annihilated and the fires burned for several days. With the fall of Fort Drum and other harbor forts, Japanese
occupation of the Manila Bay area ended. Today the ruins of Fort Drum remain at the mouth of Manila Bay along with her disabled main turrets.
Fort Drum is quite an interesting subject for a model kit and up until now only available in 1/700 scale in the form of a resin kit from OKB Grigorov. Classic Warships also had a kit in this scale which is long out of production. Fort Drum was originally slated as the
debut for
Blue Ridge Models, but last minute tweaking caused delays so now it is the second release and another winner from this new resin kit producer. Just like the Nautilus, the Fort Drum kit is packaged using die-cut foam inserts which eliminate shifting during
shipping and help prevent parts breakage or damage. This method of packaging the contents is something
Blue Ridge Models plans to do with all of their releases. The main part is the “hull” and it is quite a chunk of resin! Now one would think that a fort would be
massive in size, probably because a land installation would naturally come to mind. Fort Drum was only 350 feet long so in 1/350 scale the model measures 12 inches long. The fort’s width at the widest point was 144 feet which measures to just below 5 inches,
making the model a manageable size. I didn’t break out my atomic ruler but the dimensions look correct to me. The kit is obviously a waterline model, but I guess one can build it without a seascape around it if they so desire. The casting is well done and will require
minimal cleanup. The stone slab mosaic that made up the deck is reproduced well. Openings are present for placing turrets and vents and the areas where the various structures are supposed to go are outlined. The modeler will need to drill openings for the 6-inch
barrels in the side casemates. The very back of the fort is cast as a separate piece and when joined with main structure a rectangular opening referred to as the sally port is formed. Based on dry fitting these two parts some cleanup and seam filling will need to be
done to blend them together. A boat/loading dock that was fitted on the portside is provided and there is a little slot to fit this part into.
The next largest set of parts is the turrets, living quarters, water towers and other structures. These are all extremely well cast with lots of details. You can see the rivets on turret roofs and the corrugated metal roofs of the barracks and smaller structures are
reproduced convincingly. All of these parts are joined on a casting wafer, so you will need to remove them with a sharp razor and probably do a little bit of cleanup along the bases. There is a multitude of smaller resin parts which include over two dozen vents in
several styles that were fitted to the main structure and the roofs of the barracks and officer quarters. A long vent pipe and three large searchlights round off the smaller parts. All of these are also done well but require more in terms of cleaning up due to thin wisps of
resin and some rough surfaces. A neat addition is three lenses produced by MV Products for the searchlights. MV lenses are typically used by model railroaders but they can be used in other types of modeling. This will add a nice touch of realism to the searchlights
when painted and assembled. Turned brass barrels are included for the 14-, 6- and 3-inch guns. There are done well with open muzzles and they are much sturdier than resin and less apt to warp. There is small decal sheet with the names of the main turrets and “E”
efficiency markings in white lettering. As a precaution I would apply some liquid decal film to seal the decals better. Some .002” fly fishing tippet line is provided for rigging purposes. An extensive array of photo-etch parts are provided in two different frets. The
first fret contains all of the main structure railings in pre-measured lengths, ladders, shutters for structure windows, porches for the barracks, 3-in gun bases and the parts for the derrick. The second fret contains all the parts for the cage mast. The relief-etching is very
well done and having pre-measured railings is a big help. The parts for the derrick and support arms are done individually where some producers would provide these as one part that would require folding it into essentially a box. Each approach has its pros and cons.
I find that when folding parts like this, sometimes things don’t line up quite right. Gluing each side together as required with the kit’s photo-etch has its own set of challenges. Until I actually build it I will not pass judgment as to which is the better approach. The
cage mast promises to be the most challenging assembly of this kit even for experienced modelers. I think the way the assembly is broken down is logical but will still be a daunting task at least for me. Very slow going is the way to proceed here but once assembled it
should be quite a sight to see. The assembly instructions are laid out in a 22-page color booklet and they are very well done with excellent illustrations. Assembly steps are broken down logically and clearly, especially the section on the cage mast, with paint color
references made throughout the pages. Instructions like these could set a new benchmark. For those purchasing the kit directly from
Free Time/Pacific Front Hobbies you will get as a bonus a copy of Francis Allen’s book “The Concrete Battleship” which is not
only a great reference to build this model but also a interesting addition to your library. I have been told by Brandon Lowe, co-owner of
Blue Ridge Models and Free Time/Pacific Front Hobbies, that this is a limited time offer, until the supply of the book is
Producing a model kit of Fort Drum is a bold move.  It is a very interesting and perhaps obscure subject to some and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. However the quality of the kit and that it is such a unique piece of World War II history will appeal quite a
number of modelers who will take the plunge. Given the complexity of the photo-etch, I would recommend this kit to more experienced modelers. I personally am looking forward to what else
Blue Ridge Models plans to release in the future.