German Z-39 Destroyer

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Review Author(s)
Product / Stock #
DRA 7103
Company: Dragon Models - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Dragon Models USA - Website: Visit Site
Box Art

Bottom Line

Dragon’s first foray into 1/700 WW2 German Navy destroyers sets the standard for “Narvik” class models. None better. One of the best injection-molded plastic 1/700 warships kits I have seen.

DKM Z-39

Die Deutsche Kriegsmarine (German War-Navy or DKM) built 40 destroyers that saw service in WW2. The most evolved DKM destroyer to see service was Z-39 (Zerstorer-39), the last of seven Type 36A(Mob) ships. She was laid down in 1940 and commissioned in August, 1943. As built, she packed 5 150mm (5.9 inch) guns for surface targets, a variety of 37mm and 20mm antiaircraft (AA) guns, and eight 21-inch torpedo tubes. After being damaged by aircraft bombs in the Baltic in 1944, Z39 was given a “Barbara” refit, which removed one 150mm turret and upgraded the light AA fit dramatically. New radars were also added. In 1945, Z39 did not see much action, survived hostilities, and was given to the US Navy as a war prize, where she became DD939. Unimpressed with her, the US Navy sold her to France for spare parts to keep other ex-German DDs going. She was eventually scrapped in 1964.

Like Japan, Germany realized she would always be numerically inferior to Great Britain and the United States in ship numbers, so each ship had to be superior to her counterparts. Thus, Type 36A German destroyers carried a heavier main armament of 5.9 inch guns instead of the usual 4- or 5-inch guns carried by Allied destroyers. However, in WW2 this was more of a liability since these weapons were not dual-purpose (useless for AA), and never became radar-controlled, thus detracting from the comparative value of these otherwise large and handsome ships. Furthermore, the propulsive machinery was unreliable and prone to breakdowns and extensive maintenance. Being large at 2600 tons, their turning radius was larger than smaller destroyers, meaning they could not maneuver as effectively to dodge torpedoes or aircraft. They were poor seaboats and frequently were sent back to port when smaller Allied destroyers were still operational. After the disastrous Battles of Narvik in April, 1940, German destroyer strength was virtually wiped out and never re-attained the numbers needed to accomplish much. Nevertheless, it was lucky that so many German destroyers survived WW2, including Z39.

What You Get

Dragon has used the services of two veteran modelmakers – Rob McCune and Timothy Dike – to create the computer designs for this kit, a scaled down version of the Dragon 1/350 scale Z39. These gentlemen deserve a lot of credit for researching the look of this class of ships and Z39 in particular. In April 2008, I reviewed the Tamiya 31908 reissue of old Skywave molds of Z37-Z39 Type36A(Mob) Zerstorers for IPMS/USA. Although the Barbara upgrade was welcome and had new parts, the same hull and most parts were carried over from the old Skywave molds. These molds had noticeable flaws in the bow section and missed other details, such as portholes and strakes, along with incorrect shapes for turrets and chunky AA guns. At that time, I decided to use extensive photo etch and scratchbuilt parts to accurize Z39 as much as possible, rather than build OOB. I even obtained and built the H-P Models resin Z30 kit, which was noticeably different and more accurate, but also suffered from missing details. Dragon has corrected all these problems and got the look of Z39 right. Dragon has included details not found in other Z39 kits. And the molding is fantastic. You can cut yourself on the hull bow, it is so sharp. Very nice job indeed!

Dragon 7103 is a SmartKit and contains extra detail parts. It contains two hulls: one waterline and one full hull, but only one deck and parts for one ship. Thus, you have a choice to build either a waterline or full hull version. I prefer waterline versions so this choice was easy for me. And it is very tempting to one day use the beautiful full hull to scratchbuild another zerstorer and cut it to waterline status. Overall, there are 193 parts, with only a few not used. Sprue B holds the deck and deck fittings. Sprue D provides superstructures and other fittings. Two Sprues K supply weapons and boats. A stand completes the plastic parts (same as used in other Dragon kits). A small brass photo etch fret has grills, radars, ladders, and other fine parts, but no railings, a deficiency of this kit, in my opinion. The same tactic is used in Dragon’s excellent US Navy destroyer kits (reviewed in IPMS/USA December, 2010). A decal sheet has DKM and USN flags so you can depict Z39 as DD939. No swastikas on the DKM flags, although the separate arms for you to add decals on decals are available – an unworkable solution.

The detail on parts is as good as it gets in plastic. The hulls are perfect and, incredibly, do not need any sanding (although the propeller guards are solid and, surprisingly, no PE parts were included). Other parts are very fine and look more to scale than previous kits. The only problem is chunky 20mm and 37mm barrels, which is endemic in 1/700 scale plastic parts. Overall, the quality of parts, attachment points and level of detail is superb. Mouthwatering. However, the inevitable sprue attachments to masts and spars will need careful sanding.

The Build

After washing all parts with soapy water, I removed larger pieces from their sprues and airbrushed the hulls, larger pieces, and sprues with a newcomer to WW2 warship paints – Lifecolor Acrylic Hobby Paint UA601 Hellgrau 50 Silb. Smaller parts were left on sprues and airbrushed, and will need touchup when assembled. I then realized I should have used the UA 603 Hellgrau 50 Var. color, since it more closely approximates other DKM Light grey paints. Hellgrau 50 Silb is slightly darker than Var., but not dark enough to be a detraction. This paint is thick and needs more thinning than other brands, but coats well and has a matte finish (although the box says satin finish).

Deck areas were painted by hand with Lifecolor UA605 Dunkelgrau (dark gray). This is suitable for DKM deck colors, although true deck colors were slightly darker (but there was no other darker grey in this paint set). Wood deck areas (bridge, lifeboats, motor launches) were painted with Tamiya XF-52 Dark Earth.

Bottom of the motor launch was painted with Lifecolor UA606 Schiffsbodenfarbe Rot 5 (hull red), and Tamiya Flat Red XF-7 and Green X-15 were used for starboard and port running lights on the bridge, where a thoughtful depression was molded. Humbrol 11 Silver was used to paint the searchlight. A Koh-i-Noor drafting pen with 0.030 tip and India ink was used to fill portholes, windows and gun barrel tips.

I tried to follow the order of assembly in the instructions against my better judgment and paid the price. Step 1 includes weapon subassemblies, but the instructions illustrate building each superstructure component as a separate subassembly, and then adding them to the deck in the final step (12). Big mistake. Superstructures (bridge, midships, and aft superstructures) were a tight fit into their deck insets, and trying to press them into position and/or modifying the superstructure assemblies will result in destroying delicate parts and/or paintwork. At least I saved the foremast for last, a wise move. Plus, the forward torpedo tube mount and fore funnel did not fit well when the sequence of assembly was followed. I had to tear everything out and start over. My experience has taught me over and over to build from the deck up. I should have glued all the superstructure pieces to the deck first and built on them, avoiding all the fit issues and keeping the ship intact. This would have helped align the bridge support struts, boat crane, and ladders more easily. With the quality of detail, the fit problems were unexpected. I am sure that the fit problems would be minor at worst if I followed my instincts – but that is what review kits are for, so you can avoid potential pitfalls.

Some of the photo etch parts were very small and delicate, and require care when handling. But they do look good. As usual, use cyanoacrylate (CA) adhesive for photo etch parts. I find that a thick CA glue works best for small plastic and photo etech parts. I use either CA glue or Tamiya Extra Thin Cement for large pieces (such as gluing the deck to hull).

I added extra photo etch ladders to the small cranes at the stern to simulate their arms. Another addition was a scratchbuilt shield from plastic card for one of the midships 37mm twin mounts, just to see how it compared to the kit shields (kit shields are much better). I did not find photographic evidence for photo etch parts M21 so I left them off (some very fine davits or braces – instructions were not clear). I added the leftover triple liferaft stack to the front of the aft funnel as seen in photographs.

One oddity of this kit is parts B18 – liferaft platform connected to the midships superstructure. I could not find any photographic evidence of these platforms on any German WW2 destroyer, but put them on anyway. The boat crane arm (B33) was missed in the instructions, so do not forget to add it. I added very thin brass rod to connect the crane mast to the arm tip, and another thin brass rod to replace the kit piece connecting the lifeboat davits (B16). Other minor details were different from other kits and reference photographs, but are not noticeable and do not detract from the look of the kit.

I added tiny dots to the swastika area of the Kriegsmarine flag with the drafting pen and when dry, attached it to a small length of fishing line and positioned it on the mainmast as all photographs of DKM destroyers showed – the instructions show the flag on the bowsprit, which is inaccurate. I weathered the funnels with Soot Black and the hull with Medium Rust from Bragdon Enterprises Weathering System powders. A coat of clear flat from Testor’s rattle can completed the build.


At a retail price approaching $30, this kit is as expensive as Type 36A(Mob) resin kits (H-P Models DKM destroyers), but with better detail and all parts included (except railings). Tamiya 31908 (former Skywave molds) kits have two ships per box, and are about one-third the price of Dragon’s Z39. However, the amount of detail and increased accuracy of this Dragon kit are unparalleled. If you want the best Type36A(Mob) 1/700 scale model, it is Dragon’s.

Because the detail is fine and delicate, comparing Dragon’s Z39 to Tamiya/Skywave Z39 and H-P Models Z30 might be difficult to see unless staring at them side-by-side in person. The photos show how they look together. Keep in mind that the non-Dragon Z class destroyers were highly modified with scratchbuilt and photo etch parts. Dragon is the clear winner when building German Z class destroyers out-of-box (OOB).


My thanks to Dragon Models USA for the review kit and to IPMS/USA for the opportunity to build it. Dragon has produced another excellent plastic WW2 destroyer model kit. Overall, the build was easy and straightforward excepting the fit problems resulting from the order of assembly in the instructions. The finished model looks more like line drawings and photos than Tamiya/Skywave models, making Dragon 7103 the most accurate Z class destroyer available (with apologies to H-P Models, their resin kits also have accurate hulls but less detail everywhere else). The hull beam is thinner and the stern is not rounded (correctly), unlike other kits.

The look is more accurate, the detail stunning, photo etch very welcome, and, except for the order of assembly, the fit was decent, although some modifications might need to be made to superstructure attachment points. Puzzling is the lack of photoetch railings. The light AA gun barrels would be better replaced by photo etch or even scratchbuilt barrels. Overall, an excellent kit OOB and the best-looking TypeA(Mob) Z class destroyer available.


  1. Best-looking hull for this ship class anywhere with a bow sharp enough to cut yourself.
  2. Accurate appearance and molded-on details on all parts of the ship.
  3. Many fine parts that are close to scale.
  4. Photo etch fret with additional fine details.
  5. Accurate Barbara AA refit from March 1945.
  6. Extra parts (including a very nice 150mm twin turret)


  1. No railings, although other excellent photo etch parts are included.
  2. Propeller guards are solid and should have been from PE parts like Dragon US destroyer kits.
  3. No history or text about Z39 herself (although there is ample data on the web and in books).
  4. No swastikas on DKM flags. Flags are not in proper location in Painting Guide.
  5. Instruction assembly order is not ideal – superstructures should be built up from deck instead of as separate subassemblies added at the end of assembly.
  6. AA guns are as thick as the 150mm barrels, and shields are thick and difficult to file thinner. But still an improvement over other kits.


  • Patrini SV. Destroyer Type “Narvik.” Morskie Collection No. 10, Moscow, Russia, 2004. ( [in Cyrillic]
  • Whitley MJ. German Destroyers of World War Two. 2nd ed., Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1991. ISBN 1-55750-302-8

Other References

  • Beaver P. German Destroyers and Escorts. Aztex Corporation, Tucson, AZ, 1981. ISBN 0-89404-060-X
  • Jones DH. Kriegsmarine destroyers. Pt. 1. Plastic Ship Modeler 1994; 1(1):9-11.
  • Jones DH. Kriegsmarine destroyers Part II. Plastic Ship Modeler 1994; 1(2):18-19.
  • Jones DH. Kriegsmarine destroyers Part III. Plastic Ship Modeler 1994; 1(3):22-23.
  • Jones DH. Kriegsmarine destroyers Part 4 Z 31 onwards. Plastic Ship Modeler 1994; 1(4):12-13.
  • Jones DH. Kriegsmarine camouflage 1939-1945 Part I. Plastic Ship Modeler 1995; 2(2):27-29.
  • Jones DH. Kriegsmarine camouflage 1939-1945 Part II. Plastic Ship Modeler 1995; 2(3):26-28.
  • Jones DH. Kriegsmarine camouflage 1939-1945 Part III. Plastic Ship Modeler 1995; 2(4):26-29.
  • Kemp P. The Russian Convoys 1941-1945. Warships Illustrated No 9. Arms and Armor Press, Poole, UK, 1987. ISBN 0-85368-733-0
  • Lenton HT. German Surface Vessels 1. Doubleday & Co., Garden City, NY, 1966.
  • Lenton HT. German Warships of the Second World War. Arco Publishing Company, New York, NY, 1976. ISBN 0-668-04037-8
  • Preston A. The Narvik Flotilla. German Destroyer Design 1936-45. Part 1: Z23-30. Warship, Vol. 1, No. 1, Preston A, Ed., Conway Maritime Press, London, UK, 1977, 24-33. ISBN 0-87021-975-8
  • Preston A. The Narvik Flotilla. Part 2: Z31 onwards. Warship, Vol. 1, No. 2, Preston A, Ed., Conway Maritime Press, London, UK, 1977, 45-53. ISBN 0-87021-975-8
  • Preston A. The Narvik Flotilla. Conclusion. Warship, Vol. 1, No. 4, Preston A, Ed., Conway Maritime Press, London, UK, 1977, 26-30. ISBN 0-87021-975-8
  • Whitley MJ. Destroyer! German Destroyers in World War II. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1983. ISBN 0-87021-143-9
  • Whitley MJ. Destroyers of World War Two. An International Encyclopedia. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1988. ISBN 0-87021-326-1
  • Williamson G, Palmer I. German Destroyers 1939-1945. Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2003. ISBN 1-84176-504-X



  • Figure 1: Box cover for 1/700 Dragon Models DKM Z39 Destroyer 7103. Notice the green camouflage on Tirpitz in the background which was only used during a 1942 refit in Norway and not in 1945 when Z39 was in Barbara refit (not to mention the fact that Tirpitz was sunk in November 1944).
  • Figure 2: Reverse box side showing computer drawings of kit details.
  • Figure 3: Instruction sheet showing all sprues and major pieces.
  • Figure 4: Instructions showing Step 12 final assembly – a plan disagreed with by this reviewer.
  • Figure 5: Dragon Models 7103 DKM Z39 Destroyer.
  • Figure 6: Waterline view of Dragon 7103 Z39
  • Figure 7: Overhead view of Dragon 7103 Z39
  • Figure 8: Port stern quarter view of Dragon 7103 Z39
  • Figure 9: Starboard quarter view of Dragon 7103 Z39
  • Figure 10: Close-up of bow and bridge. Bridge shape and size accurate.
  • Figure 11: Close-up of midships area
  • Figure 12: Comparison of Tamiya 31908 Z39 and Dragon 7103 Z39. Differences in stem, stern and bridge AA gun platform are apparent as is the better shape and detail of the Dragon kit.
  • Figure 13: Comparison of H-P Models G009 Z30 and Dragon 7103 Z39. Notice how much higher the H-P kit hull is, the bridge looks identical to Tamiya/Skywave molds, and lack of fine detail for Z30.
  • Figure 14: Overhead view of Dragon, H-P Models and Tamiya/Skywave Z class. Differences are apparent between kits, but the Dragon Z39 model looks closer to photographs than the other two.

Reviewer Bio

Luke R. Bucci, PhD

Luke built all kinds of models starting in the early '60s, but school, wife Naniece, and work (PhD Clinical Nutritionist) caused the usual absence from building. Picked up modeling to decompress from grad school, joined IPMSUSA in 1994 and focused on solely 1/700 warships (waterline!) and still do. I like to upgrade and kitbash the old kits and semi-accurize them, and even scratchbuild a few. Joined the Reviewer Corps to expand my horizon, especially the books nobody wants to review - have learned a lot that way. Shout out to Salt Lake and Reno IPMSUSA clubs - they're both fine, fun groups and better modelers than I, which is another way to learn. Other hobbies are: yes, dear; playing electric bass and playing with the canine kids.

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