HMVS Cerberus, what an unusual name. The name Cerberus, a three headed beast guarding the underworld, is not unusual as the Royal Navy had great numbers of warships named after gods, heroes and creatures from Greek and Roman mythology but HMVS is an unusual prefix to the name. HMVS stood for Her Majesty’s Victorian Ship, as Queen Victoria was the only sovereign to rule during the entire life of navy of Victoria. In the mid-nineteenth century, Australia was not a unified nation. Instead it was composed of a number of independent states, the largest of which in population was Victoria on the southeast coast of the continent across the Bass Strait from Tasmania. Before the Australian states were unified as one country, each of the smaller states had a navy of some form. The smaller or less populated states didn’t have much, maybe a revenue cutter or two but Victoria was the largest of the states and her largest city, Melbourne, was the largest city in the entire British Empire. In 1865 the Colonial Naval Defense Act was passed that allowed each colony of the British Empire to maintain their own warships within their own waters. This certainly was not a bit of altruism on the part of parliament, as the Act broadened the sources of funding for warship construction and it was naturally anticipated that colonial ships could be used by the RN in case of war.
Although the Royal Navy kept a force of cruisers on the Australian Station, these were based at Sydney and orientated to the South Pacific. Victoria, as befitting a prosperous colony, wanted her own ships. In July 1853 the Governor of Victoria purchased the colony’s first "war steamer" to protect transports shipping gold from Melbourne, with the seven gun steam sloop Victoria. The navy of Victoria had legal status by 1860, five years in advance of the Colonial Naval Defense Act. Shortly after passage of the Act, the government of Victoria decided that it needed a first class major warship as the centerpiece of the colony’s navy. After entering into a special agreement with the Admiralty, that guaranteed the Royal Navy control of the ship in case of war, the colony had Edward Reed design a breastwork monitor for the Navy of Victoria in 1866. This was at the start of the iron warship era. The first all iron warship for the Royal Navy, HMS Warrior, was completed October 24, 1861. The Warrior was more powerful than any wooden ship of the line but was rated as a frigate, as her guns were mounted on one deck. With the birth of the iron navy the old rates and classes of warships of the days of wood and sail were outmoded but it took some time before ships of the line, frigates, sloops and brigs evolved into battleships and cruisers. The Warrior was revolutionary and yet her armament was mounted in the old broadside format. There were those in the Royal Navy that argued that there was a better method for mounting heavy guns on a warship. Many credit John Ericsson with the introduction of the turret with his design for the USS Monitor of 1862 and the monitor was indeed the first ship actually built with this feature but others had the same idea, long before the Monitor was ever started. Captain Cowper Coles of the Royal Navy had designed an armored battery which had a turret for use in the Crimean War in 1855 and in 1859 prepared a design which featured eight twin gun turrets on centerline with two twin gun turrets abreast at the bow. Neither of these designs were built but in 1861 the Royal Navy did place a revolving turret on the floating battery, Trusty, in order to test the idea of the turret. After being struck 39 times by 40, 68 and 100€pdr projectiles, the turret was still fully operational. Captain Ashmore Powell called the turret, "One of the most formidable inventions adapted to naval warfare, as well as coast defences that has ever come to my notice". Coles boasted that he could design a warship employing the turret that would be more than a match for the Warrior. "I will undertake to prove that on my principle a vessel shall be built nearly 100 feet shorter than the Warrior and in all respects equal to her with one exception, that I will guarantee to disable and capture her in an hour; she shall draw four feet less water, require only half the crew, and cost the country for building at least 10,000€(pounds)less. I am ready to fall or stand on these assertions." (British Battleships, 1971, by Oscar Parkes, at page 45)
December 1849 the Royal Navy had laid down the HMS Royal Sovereign. She was to be a steam powered, three deck, wooden ship of the line, mounting 131 guns. She was launched in 1857 but with the appearance of the French Gloire, work was stopped, as it became clear to many in the RN that the long era of the wooden walls of Britain was over. Coles stated that he could give the wooden hulled ship of the line new life by removing the upper decks, by giving them armor plate over the wooden hull and by equipping them with turrets. His ideas were tried out on the Royal Sovereign, which became the first British turret ship to be completed. She mounted five 10.5-inch muzzle loading guns (ML), which fired a 300 pound round shot. The guns were disposed in five turrets, a twin at the bow and three single gun turrets, all on centerline. She was completed in this manner on August 20, 1864. It had taken two years to "razee" her to the lower deck and then to add the iron upper works and turrets. She was an extraordinarily ugly ship with one huge funnel and a very tall ventilation trunk at the tip of the bow. She displaced 5,080-tons and had a top speed of 11-knots. In 1865 her captain reported, "As she now stands she is the most formidable vessel of war I have ever been aboard of; she would easily destroy - if her guns were rifled - any of our present ironclads." The conversion was successful but hardly cost effective. The next step was to add rifled guns to the turrets and build a turret ship from the keel up.
The first iron turreted ship of the Royal Navy to be built from keel up was HMS Prince Albert completed February 23, 1866. The Prince Albert was classified as a coast defense ship because of her low freeboard and mounted four centerline turrets, each of which carried a single 9-inch muzzle loaded rifle (MLR), firing a 250 pound projectile. Her displacement was 3,880-tons and she had a top speed of 11.26-knots. The Prince Albert had the same length of the Royal Sovereign at 240-feet but only 48-feet of beam compared to the 62-feet of Royal Sovereign. However, unlike USN monitors, which used a steam engine to revolve the turret, the RN design used man power to revolve their turrets. Two smaller turret ships were built as well. HMS Scorpion and HMS Wivern carried two turrets mounting two 9-inch MLR each with both turrets on centerline. Displacing 2,750-tons, they were 224-feet in length with a maximum speed of 11.5-knots. Both were completed on October 10, 1865. As with the Prince Albert and Royal Sovereign, they were rated as coast defense ships based on the low freeboard.
In 1863 Edward James Reed became the Chief Constructor for the Royal Navy. Although the Royal Navy continued to build battleships without turrets, the trend was to greatly increase the size of each gun while correspondingly reducing the number of guns carried. This started the evolution of ships that would culminate in the 1870s with ships armed with a small number of monster guns. During this early period, central battery ships with guns mounted in broadside arrangements still competed with turret ships. The next two RN turret ships jumped in size from the earlier builds. The HMS Monarch and the ill-fated HMS Captain increased the size of the turret ship and the size of the guns carried. Unlike earlier turret ships, designed for coast defense, these two were planned for deep ocean operation
Monarch was 330-feet in length with a displacement of 8,300-tons and a speed of 14.9-knots, while Captain was almost as big at 320-feet in length, 7,767-tons displacement and a top speed of 14.25-knots. Both were equipped with two turrets each of which mounted two 12-inch MLR firing a 600 pound projectile. As secondary they both had 7-inch MLR, three in Monarch and two in Captain. However, unlike the four earlier coast defense turret ships which carried fairly light sailing rig, the Monarch and Captain carried a full rig of sails. Unlike the earlier coast defense turret ships, which did not need a full rig because of their coast line operation, these two were expected to steam anywhere in the world and a full rig was considered a necessary piece of insurance in a period of balky steam engines. There was one very important difference between the two. Monarch had three complete decks with a freeboard of 14-feet, while Captain had only two decks with a freeboard of 8-feet. Monarch, completed in June 1869 and Captain completed in January 1870, were much more powerful than the earlier turret ships because of their 12-inch main battery. Captain completed deeper in the water than anticipated and Reed was apprehensive about her stability, however her builder was unconcerned. On September 6, 1870 HMS Captain was with the fleet when she encountered heavy weather. Although she was taking water over the deck, Coles, who was aboard saw no danger to the ship. By midnight it was a full gale and the angle of heel was such that the upper sails could not be taken down. At 12:15 under the press of wind, the low freeboard Captain heeled over and sank, taking Cowper Coles and another 472 sailors to the bottom. Only 17 crewmen were saved. Low freeboard and a full sail rig proved to be a bad combination.
While Monarch and Captain were under construction the Colony of Victoria approached the Admiralty about a monitor with Coles turrets to be built for them. The size was to be limited based upon financial restrictions and also because the ship was to be designed to defend the harbor of Melbourne. To meet the requirements Reed designed a vessel that was revolutionary in a number of ways. The main hull had a very low freeboard of 3-feet. However, the two Coles turrets were mounted on a higher position called a breastwork, called this after field artillery works of the day. The hull was 225-feet in length but the breastwork which mounted the turrets, stack and superstructure, ran only 112-feet amidships and was set back from the sides of the hull. The height of the breastwork was 7-feet above main deck. The result was a totally unique combination that provided a low silhouette, small target for the lighter armored hull and yet the turrets were given much better visibility and fighting ability because of their placement atop the breastwork, 10-feet above waterline. The much smaller size of the breastwork and the fact that it was stepped in from the sides of the hull, enhanced stability. HMVS Cerberus was the first of the breastwork monitors.
One of the great disadvantages of the USN/Ericsson type of monitors was that the ventilators, access hatches and other openings in the deck were very close to the waterline. As a result water could easily be taken aboard and sink the vessel as happened to the Monitor herself. The breastwork design eliminated this very significant defect as almost all openings in the deck were confined to the deck at the top of the breastwork. What openings were still on the main deck were heavily sealed against water. Since the ship was designed with harbor defense in mind, Reed dropped all sails, thereby eliminating the source that had doomed HMS Captain. It was another groundbreaking first. Even the first four coast defense monitors of the RN had some form of sail fit, not to mention the Monarch and Captain with their full fit of sail. With her mission in mind, if HMVS Cerberus had an engine casualty, she would be close to a dockyard that could repair the vessel. In some regards, Cerberus also foretold the future standard battleship that would reign from 1885 to 1905 with two twin turrets placed in armored positions, one at each end of the ship, with the turrets commanding the greatest degree of firing arc and uninterrupted bow and stern fire. Another first for the design, which would also be seen in battleship designs of the future was the appearance of a central superstructure. Other designs of the time represented a kaleidoscope of features. Some had no superstructure and others had a structure stuck here and there. One common design had a superstructure running the length of the hull with the turrets located at a lower level. With her central superstructure the design of Cerberus, can again be traced as the direct ancestor of battleships at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries.
Since the ship was much smaller than Monarch or Captain, the 12-inch guns used in those ships were not fitted. Instead Cerberus mounted four 10-inch MLR. Displacement was 3,340-tons. The distribution of armor reflected not only the desire to protect the most crucial areas and systems in the ship, but also the anticipated likelihood of each area being struck in battle. The low freeboard hull had 6-inches of iron armor at bow and stern and 8-inches at amidships. This armor completely covered the hull of the ship from the deck to well below the waterline. However, since the raised armored breastwork was a significantly larger target, that area received more armor. At the fore and aft end of the breastwork, around the two turrets, the armor was 9-inches of iron with the amidships area being 8-inches in thickness. The turret armor was 9-inches with 10-inches on the face in thickness. Deck armor was 1 ˝-inch with breastwork deck armor at 1-inch. The superstructure was unarmored. Armor on the hull, breastwork and turrets was backed up by teak ranging from 9 to 11-inches in thickness.
The Cerberus had twin screws and a power plant that developed 1,370€ihp for a top speed of 9.75-knots. She was built at Palmers shipyard and laid down on September 1, 1867. Launched on December 2, 1868, she was completed in September 1870. It was recognized that the extremely long open sea voyage to Melbourne could pose a significant risk. Since HMS Captain had capsized in bad weather the very month that Cerberus was completed, it was thought wise to erect temporary structures to raise the freeboard of Cerberus for her voyage halfway around the world. To this end temporary bulkheads were erected from the breastwork forward to the bow and aft to the stern. They were of such height that they concealed the turrets except for their crowns. Another temporary measure to safeguard against an engine failure in the open ocean was the mounting of three masts for sails. During the long passage, sail was actually used as the prime motive power to save wear and tear on the engines. Cerberus did encounter heavy weather and did experience difficulties but the design was so sound that the maximum roll realized was 15 degrees.
The three masts and temporary bulkheads were removed after she had safely made Melbourne. As originally built the central flying deck overhung both turrets. When the temporary masts and bulkheads were removed the portions of the flying deck that overhung the turrets were also removed so that they would not pose a danger of encumbering a turret by falling on the turret from damage. Also, the original design had two light pole masts, one at either end of the breastwork. At Melbourne she received a single pole mast that was placed amidships. For the rest of her service life she was based at Melbourne and only took to the open sea for short periods of gunnery practice. When World War One broke out Cerberus was almost half a century old but she was spruced up and made battle worthy as far as her ancient design would permit, to fulfill the primary mission for which she was designed, to protect Melbourne against an attack by the SMS Emden or any other German raider on the loose in the Pacific. She was eventually assigned the role of depot ship until July 1926 when it was decided to scuttle her as a breakwater.
As the building of the Cerberus was underway, the crown government of India decided that they too, needed their own ironclads and the design of the Cerberus was decided to be just right for their purse and purpose. Thirteen months after Cerberus was laid down the HMIS Magdala was laid down at Blackwall on October 6, 1868 to the same design. Although launched on March 2, 1870, she was quick to complete in November 1870, only two months after Cerberus. It was decided to skip the extra precautions taken for the deep ocean voyage of Cerberus so Magdala did not receive the temporary bulkheads erected on Cerberus. However, she did receive the same three masts and rigging as fitted to Cerberus and sailed to Bombay mostly under sail. Although the Admiralty was nervous about the lesser precautions taken for Magdala she was allowed to sail under very strict instructions to lessen risk of loss to the ship. Magdala proceeded alone but was lucky in that she did not encounter any heavy seas. The maximum waves she encountered were 7-feet and she took little water over her main deck. The greatest roll she experienced was 12 degrees. When she reached Bombay she was refitted as Cerberus with the removal of the three sailing masts, fitting of a single light pole mast and removal of the portions of the flying deck above both turrets. She remained at Bombay with occasional ventures into the Indian Ocean for firing practice. Magdala was sold in 1903.
Another, half sister to the pair, was the HMIS Abyssinia, which was ordered by the crown government of India at the same time that they ordered Magdala. The government did not have the finances to purchase two ships of the Cerberus design, so Magdala was ordered to be of the Cerberus design and Abyssinia of a cheaper modified design to Cerberus. Freeboard was slightly lower and the breastwork was lower and 12-feet shorter than Cerberus. The turrets were larger and the superstructure was more built up than the other two. However, she proved to be more stable than the Cerberus pair and was finished in October 1870, one month after Cerberus and one month before Magdala. The government was so impressed by her stability that she did not receive any additional fittings for the voyage to Bombay, no bulkheads and no masts. With no sail rig, she used her steam plant for the entire voyage and made better time than the other two. As a precaution she was accompanied by a hired steamer. In 1892 both Magdala and Abyssinia had their 10-inch MLR guns removed and replaced by 8-inch breechloaders. Abyssinia was also sold in€1903.
The influence of the Edward Reed design for Cerberus continued to appear in RN designs after his departure as Chief Constructor in 1870 after the loss of the Captain. A whole series of breastwork monitors were built. These designs, through Devastation, Thunderer and Fury, culminated in the HMS Dreadnought of 1879,which became the forerunner of 20 years of William White designs. Although little noticed at the time of her construction, HMVS Cerberus was the direct ancestor of the Royal Navy of Admirals Fisher and Beresford at the dawn of the 20th century. That is not a bad legacy for the short-lived Navy of Victoria.
HMVS Cerberus is still in existence. After being sunk as a breakwater in 1926, Cerberus started the long decline of rust and ruin but iron armor up to 10-inches thick takes a lot of rust. It has only been in the last 12 years that Cerberus suffered her greatest structural damage as a result of the great weight of her turrets and guns. Before 1993 the low main deck of Cerberus was above water but in that year a major structural failure submerged the main deck. However, the breastwork with turrets and guns are still above water. There is a very active movement to Save the Cerberus. The first step is to remove the 10-inch MLR from the turrets, scheduled for February 2005, to lessen the weight on the breastwork and hull, with the eventual goal of raising and restoring this irreplaceable relict of history. As always with such worthy goals, politicians have difficulty seeing the value of expending public funds on the project. Unlike Mikasa, Olympia or Avrora, HMVS Cerberus is not connected with any particular naval or historical event. It is easy for a member of the general public to see the historical value of the Victory at Trafalgar, Constitution in the War of 1812, Mikasa at Tsushima, Olympia at Manila Bay or Avrora in the 1917 October Revolution, because these ships are connected with specific national events. The importance of HMVS Cerberus lies in her place in the evolution of the battleship. HMS Warrior was restored as is rightful for the first all iron battleship but Warrior with her armament placed on broadside harkened to the past. Cerberus in contrast was a prophet of the future. Her design features were entirely novel when she was laid down in 1867 but became the genesis of the designs of the Royal Navy strength at the height of her power at the dawn of the 20th century. It is a legacy worth preserving for future generations. For all of those who wish to preserve and restore HMVS Cerberus, please visit http://www.cerberus.com.au. (History from British Battleships, 1971, by Oscar Parkes; The Navy of Victoria, Australia by Colin Jones, Warship 2000-2001)
The Combrig Cerberus
It is the exquisite detail of the decks, both main and breastwork, that really jump out at you, when you view this casting. Deck planking at both levels is well above average. In spite of a design that limited the number of deck openings on the lower main deck, there are still quite a few fittings and other detail to be found on the main deck. Both bow and stern have six pairs of bollards, three pairs per side, which are small but very finely done. These are not mere posts but have an hourglass silhouette, which was used for securing cables. The bow has large position locators for the anchor windlass and also what appears to be an elevated circular skylight. There are also smaller locator holes for cable reels and other fittings. On the quarterdeck the treatment is repeated but here you'll find two of the raised circular skylights, a raised deck house for the aft control station with binnacle atop, and smaller locator holes for a couple of J-ventilator funnels and other, smaller deck fittings. The ventilators, skylights and other fittings on the lower deck were designed to be secured in a watertight condition in the likely situation of taking water over the low main deck.
The breastwork deck continues the detail with locator holes for more J-ventilator funnels, other fittings, plus a series of coal scuttles cast on the deck. The coal scuttles were located on the breastwork deck rather than the lower main deck to prevent the ingress of water through them. A couple of unique items are also found at this level, inside the two turret wells. Although, I have not noticed this before on a Combrig model, the Combrig logo is inscribed in the forward turret well. The well of the aft turret has what appears to be a monogram in cursive Cyrillic. My guess is that these are probably the initials of designer of the master of the Combrig Cerberus. Of course with the turrets in place, you don't see them, but the hull casting is of such outstanding quality that it deserves a "Maker's Mark".
All of the smaller resin parts continue with the same painstaking execution in detail and fineness in resin casting. From a large J-ventilator funnel rising from the flying deck to the small J-ventilator funnels found on the main deck, each cowling is hollow at its mouth to a significant degree. Each deck fitting from the round circular skylights, to the anchor windlass, to the raised aft control station has a remarkable amount of detail for their small size. To really appreciate the detail, you must see the parts magnified, as the unaided eye is unlikely to notice a lot of the fine detail worked into these parts.
Because this model is of a subject from the dawn of the iron warship era, there are many details found with the Combrig Cerberus that are not found in any other kit. There are bow and stern anchors, which were hoisted aboard the main deck with the aid of inverted V shape rigs for each anchor. The flying boat deck rests not only on the diamond shape deckhouse but also there are four support posts running along each side of this thin deck. A series of pyramid shaped platforms run out from the flying boat deck and provide the upper connection and support for the davits of four of the six boat stations. Only the two amidships positions do not have these platforms. The six ship's boats are all oared powered, not steam launches on the 1870 Cerberus. Each is well done with cleanly incised thwarts and seating. The boat davits themselves are remarkably thin and do not need to be replaced with brass photo-etched substitutes. The kit, as previously mention, shows the ships as completed, which includes two light pole masts, one forward and one aft of the breastwork. There is no photo-etch brass fret with this kit. However, given the design of the ship, it appears that only a minimum number of third party photo-etch would be required for augmentation. Basically this would consist of generic parts such as railing and a few inclined ladders.
Save the Cerberus
These Photographs & the Cerberus Crest Are from Save the Cerberus
The reverse shows a photograph of all of the parts in the kit, smaller than scale. Of course the major portion of the reverse side of the instructions is the assembly diagram done in the standard isometric Combrig format. With some Combrig kits the usage of a single assembly diagram can be confusing because of the number of parts included. That is the reason Combrig started including smaller detail blow-ups in their instructions on their more complex kits. However, with the 1870 Cerberus, this is not necessary as the small size and extensive use of locator holes and locator outlines appears to cover attachment of all of the parts.