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
Although the Royal Navy kept a force of cruisers on the Australian Station,
these were based at
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
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
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
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
The three masts and temporary bulkheads were removed after she had safely
the building of the Cerberus was
underway, the crown government of
Another, half sister to the pair, was the HMIS
Abyssinia, which was ordered by the crown government of
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.
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,
The Combrig 1:350 Scale Cerberus
Any model can be judged on the fidelity of details in scale of the topic modeled. Just as Combrig did a bang up job with the gem-like 1:700 scale Cerberus (click for review of the Combrig 1:700 scale Cerberus), so to is the Combrig 1:350 scale Cerberus an outstanding kit. In the 1:350 scale Combrig line up some kits are available with a lower 8p9l,hull in order to build a full hull version but with HMVS Cerberus so far only a waterline version is available. Of course it is the waterline version of any monitor that emphasizes the extraordinarily low freeboard and hence unseaworthy characteristic of the type. As mentioned in the history it is the breastwork addition that was included by the designer to improve the seaworthiness of this design over the original flat deck monitor characterized by USN monitor designs of the American Civil War.
The hull is very symmetrical and initially it is difficult to tell which is the bow and which is the stern. They both have short solid bulkheads, however, the bow has some anchor chain guide fittings which the stern does not have. With the very low freeboard there really is not hull side detail with the exception of anchor hawse. Deck detail is far different in that, unlike USN monitor designs, HMVS Cerberus has wooden plank decking. The Combrig kit has executed this decking beautifully although it doesn’t have butt ends. Along the deck edge of the forecastle are four sets of the standard twin bollard fittings but in addition to these each side has an unusual twin square bollard fitting. The other fittings cast on the hull are related to the anchor machinery. There is a locator hole for a separate windlass and addition to the chain guide fittings there are housings at the base of the breastworks to guide the anchor chain to the chain locker. Other locator holes are provided for separate small ventilators.
The breastwork dominates the hull with walkways on either side connecting the forecastle with the quarterdeck. The most significant features of this breastwork superstructure are the two large recesses for the turrets. Deck detail continues with the deck planking but also includes a number of circular metal coal scuttles. Combrig has cast the locator outline for the superstructure. Locator holes are provided for boat davits, small ventilators and larger J- cowl ventilator fittings. The quarterdeck is very similar in arrangement and fittings to the forecastle with the identical quantity and types of bollard fittings plus a deck access coaming. In addition there are locator holes for two large ventilators, many small ventilators, J-cowl ventilators, and a locator outline for a navigation deckhouse/platform.
Smaller Resin Parts
To call the turrets small is a misnomer, as they dominate the ship. Large, low and absolutely gorgeous the Combrig turret castings are master-pieces in the casters art. The barrels are cast as part of the turret, rather than as separate parts and the result is extraordinarily fine. Where the short stubby barrels there are deep recesses that conceal the fact that they are cast with the turret. The muzzles are hollow to a great degree. The turret crowns have seven cast on features with two large ventilator grates/louvers, three sighting hoods and two circular hatches. There is a small superstructure that fits within the outline on the hull casting. This asymmetrical structure has multiple angles and has cast on doors. A navigation deck fits above this that continues with the subtle deck paneling. This is long and narrow with very long overhangs over each turret. Cast as part of this piece are two skylights with crisp individual glass panes, conning tower, stack base and another deck house. There is a locator outline for the separate pilot house and locator holes for ventilators and other fittings.
The single stack piece is nicely done with lower stack wider than the upper stack. At the division is finely cast, narrow apron or stay guide. The funnel top is hollow to a good degree. The other small parts are cast on runners and will need to removed and cleaned before attachment. The small pilot house has well defined windows an overhanging roof and a larger footer. Also found on the same runner are well detailed large ventilators, the small aft navigation platform and forward anchor windlass. Six more resin runners include other smaller parts. One runner has V-strut supports (open and closed), binnacles, and navigation deck supports. A second runner has twelve small circular ventilators. A third runner has two speed enunciators with handles cast on to them, five small J ventilator cowls and another fitting. A forth runner has parts for four stockless anchors. The other two runners are identical with each containing seven boat davits. Other smaller resin parts are cast separately with castings for a large J cowling and ship’s boats. The boats have beautiful details with bottom planking and cast in thwarts. There is no photo-etch fret included for the Combrig Cerberus, so the modeler will have to provide inclined ladders, vertical ladders, railing and other brass detail desired. Instructions are in standard Combrig format, although my review copy only had the back page with the assembly instructions. This is because I received the kit before the last details were finished like the front page of instructions with plan and profile drawings or box art was ready. Consultation with the plan and profile will be necessary for locating attachment points for some of the smaller separate parts and for location of fittings such as inclined ladders.
The Combrig 1:350 scale HMVS Cerberus is an absolute gem with outstanding resin castings throughout. Cast in waterline format, when finished the modeler will have the only example of a breast-work monitor commercially available. The only disappointing factor of the lack of a brass photo-etched fret is mitigated by the fact that almost all brass parts are generic such as inclined ladders and railing.