Scale-model warship wage battle at Greenbrier

July 21, 1997


Staff Writer

BOONSBORO - The battle cry rattles across the water:

"Empty your guns with reckless abandonment. Fire more rapidly than you've ever fired before."

Cannon fire spits across the waves, piercing the hull of a hapless foe, sending the mighty battleship to the bottom.

In desperation, its captain wades into the three-foot waters of Greenbrier State Park, tucks the wounded ship under his arm and wades back to shore.

It is the first of many miniature battles to be fought at the 19th annual national competition of the International Remote-Controlled Warship Combat Club.


The club, dedicated to staging battles with radio-controlled model warships from World Wars I and II, will be at the park all week, with action at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

Wednesday there will be one-on-one competitions and a 9 p.m. special night battle. The only charge is the $2 admission to the park.

The battles are being waged between Allied and Axis fleets, according to Frank Pittelli of Annapolis, the president of the Maryland Attack Club.

The ships, 3 feet to 6 feet long, cruise around a one-acre section at the lake's northern tip, firing BBs while water spurts from their miniature bilge pumps. When a ship is sunk, a cease-fire is declared so the owner can retrieve his craft.

"The worst feeling for everybody in the hobby is when you sink because the boat's not working," Pittelli said. "The best feeling is when you're battling with someone and one or the other sinks - it's an adrenalin rush."

Even badly damaged hulls, which are as thin as shoeboxes and much more brittle, can be patched in two hours for the next battle.

Before the start of the 10 a.m. race, Pittelli, owner of the Austrian ship "Viribis Unitis," a replica of a WW I ship, makes last minute preparations, filling carbon dioxide tanks that power the ships' bb cannons, checking radios and remote controls, filling gun magazines, and checking firing systems.

In Monday's tests, the Axis fleet lost two ships to battle, and two to malfunctions during the first battle.

The Allied fleet lost only one ship, the British ship "Tiger," to battle damage.

"It is the greatest arcade game in the world and you don't have to put a quarter in," said ``Admiral'' Martin A. Hayes, 58, an amateur actor and part-time computer programmer.

The cost of building the boats vary, but start at around $180 for the radio alone. Hayes, captain of the Nagato, a Japanese battleship, said it takes three months for a veteran to build a boat. It took him a year to build his first.

The boats have to be a scale of 12 feet to the inch and must be modeled after a ship that was actually launched from 1905 to 1945.

Battle points are scored according to the size of the ship and number of bb holes.

Captains compete to become "most feared."

"We work on strategy throughout the year by e-mail and audio tape," Hayes said. "When your ship sinks, you wade in and get it. The radio equipment is in a water proof box. You pull it out, patch the holes and then it's ready to go again."

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