On June 26, 1897 the press and population of the United Kingdom basked in the knowledge that their Royal Navy was superior to the most likely combinations of enemy powers, lead by France and Russia . The French had made a run of it in the preceding ten years but the tremendous building programs of the Royal Navy in the 1890s had put paid to their pretensions of achieving anything close to parity with the Royal Navy. June 26 saw the Spithead Naval Review honoring Queen Victoria 's Diamond Jubilee. Only the newest and most powerful British units were present but these were so numerous and powerful that Vanity Fair published on July 1, "The pride of the seas is ours now as it has been for centuries, and regarding Saturday's evidence of the fact few Englishmen can have felt unready to attack by sea any combination that could possibly be formed for the lowering of the Union Jack....We are a great people, and we realised it on Saturday as we have never realised it before." However, there was trouble brewing in paradise. Earlier that year some members of the Admiralty had expressed disquiet over an apparent change in the building policy of the French navy. It had been clear that the French had discontinued an effort to build large numbers of battleships but now they had shifted to a new type of vessel, the armored cruiser and were building a lot of them.  

As the French navy fell further behind the Royal Navy in construction of battleships in the last two decades of the 19th Century, some French officers devised ways to overcome their numerical inferiority. Called the "Ecole Jeune" the Young School , these officers thought outside of the box to develop new strategies to overcome the British preponderance in numbers. One path was to develop small, cheap ships that could sink expensive battleships.  This path resulted in the development of the torpedo boat. Another path was centered around the destruction of British commerce. The Confederate Navy had been very successful during the American Civil War in dispatching raiders to attack Union merchant and whaling fleets and the depredations of CSS Alabama, CSS Shenandoah and other raiders caused such destruction that the USA merchant marine never fully recovered.

As the British reveled in the strength of the Royal Navy at the Diamond Jubilee, there indeed had been a change in French building policy. The French navy had realized that they had no hope of winning a building contest of battleships for direct confrontation against the Royal Navy, so they changed directions and strategy. Instead of a direct attack against the overwhelming power of the Royal Navy, they would use an oblique attack against English commerce. This was centered around the construction of cruisers superior to those possessed by the Royal Navy. Two types of cruiser types were selected for construction, both were designed to attack British merchant ships. One was for a corsair cruiser, which emphasized speed. It was not designed to take on British cruisers on the trade routes and was given the highest speed possible to avoid British adversaries. The sole mission for this design was to sink merchant ships. Best symbolized by the Guichen, protected cruiser laid down in 1895, these raiding cruisers were lightly armed and armored for their size. However, their two strongest qualities were top speed and bunker capacity. Guichen had a top speed of 23.5 knots, which was extremely fast for the time and could carry twice to three times the amount of coal of more conventional cruiser designs. This would provide a very long range compared to conventional designs. High speed gave the ships the ability to avoid British combat forces, as well as the ability to overtake even the fastest British merchantman, the large liner. The long range clearly pointed to their sole mission, raiding far-flung trade routes. The reborn USN also had Minneapolis and Columbia , built for the same mission with the same characteristics. The second cruiser design was built for combat to overcome British forces on the trade routes. The armored cruiser added a belt of armor at the waterline, as well as having the armored deck of the protected cruiser. Their armament and protection made them superior to the British cruisers assigned to far flung stations with the mission of protecting trade routes and in fact made them superior to all of the existing RN cruiser designs. The first such ship was the Dupuy de Lome laid down in July 1888 and by the time of the Diamond Jubilee, the French navy had ten armored cruisers finished or building.  
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The Royal Navy had experimented earlier with armored cruiser designs but these early designs were plagued by the armor technology of the day. In the 1870s and 1880s armor came in the form of wrought iron. Wrought iron armor was very heavy and to achieve adequate protection in the race against the rapidly developing ordnance of the time, armor belts had to be very thick. The trend towards massive wrought iron armored belts reached its peak with the British battleship HMS Invincible, which had a full two feet of armor at the thickest point of her belt. The weight of wrought iron armor doomed early British armored cruiser designs. Only a very thin armor belt of a short height could be provided, so that the ship was still very vulnerable to shells striking above or below the belt. The weight of the wrought iron belt also caused the ships to be slower than other cruiser designs. The Royal Navy only produced a handful of such ships and invariably had a low opinion of their all around qualities. It was the French navy that started using steel instead of wrought iron and the Royal Navy was slow to follow. Steel was more difficult and expensive to cast, so for awhile the Admiralty penny-pinchers held ascendancy over Royal Navy designs. No need to invest large sums in new technology when it was still unproven. Let those crazy French waste their money on this new fangled steel technology, while John Bull stayed with the tried and true wrought iron. Of course after some time even the most antediluvian admiral realized that the French were onto something. A practical armored cruiser only came into being in the last ten years or so of the 19th century, when technology allowed a face-hardened steel belt. Whether it was the Harvey process or subsequent Krupp process of casting steel armor with a especially hardened face, the new technology allowed all types of warships to employ the same protective qualities of warships carrying more than twice the thickness of wrought iron armor. What's more, the weight of face-hardened steel armor was less than half that of wrought iron armor.

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The first class of new armored cruisers was the Cressy class. Comprised of six ships, the Cresseys could easily be distinguished by the multitude of J-shape funnels blooming from their decks. Armed with two 9.2-inch and twelve 6-inch guns, they seemed to be adequately armed but they were too slow. With a top speed of 21 knots, it would be difficult to run down opposing cruisers of similar speed, let alone the very fast French armored and corsair cruisers. Even bigger cruisers were needed to address a requirement for high speed. However, to provide the requisite speed, these cruisers would be as expensive to build as contemporary battleships and would be far larger, which limited the number of docks that could accommodate them. There was another downside. To feed and run the massive coal fired power plants required for high speed in a huge warship, faster cruisers would need crews far greater than that required in a first line battleship. First Lord of the Admiralty Goschen objected to very large, high speed armored cruisers not because of their high cost or great size but because they would drain the available manpower for the rest of the fleet. Partly to justify the high costs of large armored cruisers, the Admiralty added another mission to the large cruisers not found in previous cruiser designs, that of participation in fleet actions. When Sir William White, Chief Contractor of the Royal Navy, reported on the Cressy design, he commented that if correctly designed, an armored cruiser would be capable of engaging battleships in fleet actions. This predates by almost a decade, the very same concept justifying the direct descendant of the armored cruiser, the battle cruiser.

  Although the First Lord was opposed to a very large, high speed armored cruiser, the Sea Lords were in favor of such a design. In the end the Sea Lords' views prevailed and the next class of armored cruiser addressed that need for high speed. Four gigantic armored cruisers, capable of 23 knots were ordered. This was the Drake class. In size and appearance the Drake class was in many ways an armored cruiser version of the huge Powerful class of protected cruisers laid down in 1894 but with a much greater armor fit. At over 14,000 tons displacement, they were 3,000 tons heavier than the preceding Cressy class. This greatly increased weight and size bought two additional knots in speed and four additional six-inch guns. For their size they were under gunned, with two 9.2-inch guns mounted in single gun turrets and a broadside of eight 6-inch guns mounted in double level casemates. In an effort to reduce the target of these high freeboard ships, to[hamper above the hull was kept to a minium. The prominent ventilator cowls of the Cressys were eliminated in favor of windsails of canvas, which would catch the wind for ventilating the hull. With a high freeboard, they were good seaboats and all four exceeded their designed horsepower by at least 1,000ihp on trials. Early in their careers, it was common for service speeds to exceed their trial speeds. They could all run at high speeds for long periods of time, absent a machinery breakdown. Their great size made them popular as flagships for cruiser squadrons. Even with their high freeboard the four lower guns on each side of the double story casemates were unworkable in a seaway of any significance.

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All four were laid down in 1899 and launched in 1901. HMS Drake was the name ship for the class. Drake was the first of the class to be laid down on April 24, 1899 at Pembroke Royal Dock Yard. Launched on March 5, 1901, she was also the first of the class to be completed on January 13, 1903. Drake was the only one of the class to substantially exceed the designed speed as she attained 24.11-knots. While King Alfred and Leviathan were sent to foreign stations, Drake along with Good Hope served in home waters up to the First World War. In 1906 Drake was the flagship of the 2nd Cruiser Squadron in the Atlantic Fleet. In 1908 she became the flagship for the 1st Cruiser Squadron but in 1910 was transferred to the 5th Cruiser Squadron. By 1913 Drake was well past her prime and to save crew for newer construction, she was placed is reserve at Portsmouth in 1913.

By a happy twist of fate, the Royal Navy was well prepared for the start of World War One. The normal yearly training pattern was for the various fleets to set up maneuvers, where the various squadrons divided into opposing forces and participated in war games. Reserve ships stayed in reserve, with only minimal maintenance crews. However, in 1914 First Lord of the Admiralty Winston S. Churchill decided that something new would be tried for 1914. In connection with a Royal Naval review in July 1914, a test mobilization of the Reserve Fleet would be undertaken. As a consequence, the Drake and her sisters were manned by reserve crews and were in service for training when Austrian Arch-Duke Ferdinand was assassinated that summer. After the review, instead of sending the Reserve Fleet back to reserve, in light of the deteriorating European situation, Churchill kept the reserve ships and crews on active service. Therefore, all of the older ships of that fleet were ready to go with the crews partially trained when war came in August. Initially all four units of the Drake class formed the 6th Cruiser Squadron of the 2nd Fleet based at Harwich. This fleet was composed of predreadnought battleships, armored cruisers and various other older units. When the Grand Fleet was formed, the Second Fleet was merged into it. However, by August 11 she was part of the Grand Fleet as squadron flagship under Rear Admiral W.L. Grant. With all sorts of rumors flying about and Germans spotted everywhere, Drake was tasked to examine the coast of the Faroe Islands in search of secret German bases. None were discovered and Drake remained in patrolling the northern blockade, joined by two other cruisers. She stayed there until August 17, when she was ordered back to Scapa to recoal. By August 21, 1914 the 6th Cruiser Squadron was down to just Drake and King Alfred as Good Hope and Leviathan had been dispatched for other duties. The pair patrolled between Scotland and Norway for the remainder of the month and into September.  

HMS Drake Vital Statistics

Dimensions: Length - 533 feet 6-in (162.61m)(oa), 500 feet (152.4m)(pp); Beam - 71 feet 4-inches (21.74m); Draught - 26 feet (7.92m): Displacement - 14,150 tons load: Armament - two 9.2-inch, sixteen 6-inch, fourteen 12pdr, three 3pdr, two 18-inch submerged torpedo tubes:

Armor: Belt - six to two inches, Decks - 2 1/2 to 1 inch, Bulkheads - 5 inches, Turrets - 6-inches; Barbettes - 6-inches; Casemates -  5 to 2 inches, Conning Tower - 12-inches: Machinery - Two Shafts, Four Cylinder Triple Expansion Engines, 43 Belleville Boilers, 30,000ihp, Maximum Speed - 23 knots: Complement - 900

On September 1, 1914 Drake was with the rest of the fleet in Scapa Flow . It was thought that the tricky currents made it impossible for submarines to penetrate the anchorage submerged. However, on the evening of the first the fleet went through a massive submarine scare with numerous periscope sightings and some ships firing in the darkness. Drake contributed to this fiasco by reporting a periscope. “At about 6.30 P.M. the Drake reported a submarine in sight from that ship, thus confirming the earlier reports.” (The Grand Fleet 1914-1916, George H. Doran Company, New York, 1919, by Viscount Admiral Jellicoe, at page 116) Leviathan rejoined the squadron at the end of the year but of course the Good Hope would never come back, having been sunk at the Battle of Coronel in November. In January 1915 the Drake was still flag of the 6th Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet, now comprised of Drake, Leviathan and Cumberland .  Drake and the rest of the class continued to have mechanical problems due to their age. On November 23, 1914 one of her engines had broken down and she underwent refit in October 1915. By 1916 Drake was active in service as a convoy escort. Since the lower casemate guns were useless in any significant weather, they were removed and reinstalled in gun shields on the shelter deck, four on each side. On October 2, 1917 Drake was off Rathlin Island , Northern Island when she was torpedoed by U-79. She drifted powerless for a while into Rathlin Sound before sinking. Fortunately this delay allowed most of the crew to be saved. The wreck stayed in the sound until 1970 when it was demolished and cleared.

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The Combrig Drake
Combrig has just released 1:700 scale resin and brass models of three of the four ships in the class. These are Leviathan, Drake and Good Hope. This article presents a review of the Combrig Drake. All three have the same brass photo-etch fret of specialty parts for the class. Railing, inclined ladders and other generic parts should be acquired to finish full detail treatment of these models. I confess that I have always had a love of armored cruisers and the Drake class in particular. At an early age I read the volume by Richard Hough on the Battles of Coronel and the Falklands and ever since that time have loved this type of warship that was only in vogue for less than a decade. Being a card carrying member of the “Cult of the Armored Cruiser”, as Arthur Marder called the enthusiasm for this type of warship as the turn of the 19th century into the 20th century, I think that the Drake class is symbol of the excess of design of this class. With her high freeboard, double story casemates and minimal superstructure, the Drake design is long and sleek. Four large funnels jut high above her enormous hull and reflect the need to expel the huge amounts of smoke generated by her numerous boilers, boilers and size required to generate a speed of 23 knots, which created the fastest warships in the world at that time. Until 2007 lovers of this class had only one source for their fix, the excellent 1:1250 scale metal model of the HMS Good Hope from the German firm of Navis. Combrig is the alpha and omega of the turn of the century Victorian Navy in 1:700 scale, just as they have always been for the Russian Navy. Predreadnoughts came first and then dreadnoughts and battle cruisers and now armored cruisers with three County class and now three Good Hopes.

What most impresses with the Combrig Drake, is the size of the cruiser, the clean lines of the hull and the Spartan upper works. Of course it starts with that elegant ram bow but then what warship worthy of her name didn’t have a ram. It was the manly thing to have, the testosterone thing to have. We know what the feminists will say about a ram bow but they sure look cool. There is a significant flare to the bow as the hull lines widen to the first double story casemate. Of course the series of double story casemates on each side of the hull for the 6-inch secondary guns are one of the signature architectural features of this class. Each side of the bow is different with one anchor hawse on the port and two on the starboard. Another bow hull feature is the presence of tertiary gun positions on each side, high on the bow. The hull flattens before reaching the first casemate to allow bow on fire from the forward four 6-inch guns. As Craddock found out at the Battle of Coronel, the lower 6-inch guns were unworkable in any type of seaway, even though the design had a high freeboard. Casemate gun positions are modeled as closed, covered by armored shutters, which have latch detail. The gun barrel will project from the shutter. The ship is long-waisted and other than the casemate positions it is almost slab sided but actually has a slight tumblehome. There are four double story casemate positions with the fore and aft positions much prominent than the amidships positions. At the stern the smooth hull surfaces taper to the sternwalk groove. Forward and aft there are two rows of portholes but only a single row amidships.  

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In contrast with the large smooth sides, the decks have quite a bit of detail amidships even though the design was centered around reducing the profile over the preceding Cressy class. Deck fittings on the raised forecastle were kept to a minimum. The major item is the curved breakwater curving around the forward 9.2-inch gun turret. In front of the breakwater is a large deck access coaming. Offset to the port, behind the turret position is a large skylight, which also served for ventilation when opened. A small square fitting is offset to the starboard of the turret. Along each deck edge are two open chocks and one twin bollard fitting. In addition of the barbette ring for the forward turret there is a well in which the bridge base part fits. Immediately behind this position there is a deck break from the raised forecastle deck to the weather deck. It is here that you will notice an abundance of fine detail. First of all, there are numerous circular coal scuttles incised on the deck, which is to be expected in a ship so coal-hungry as the Good Hope class. The main attractions are the four deckhouses for the stacks. Each one has an angled trunk leading into the square stack house. The trunk for the first position is shorter than those for the other three. In front of the first, third and fourth funnel positions are ventilator hatches. The positions are shown with lids closed but with a little work and some thin plastic card a super-detailer could modify them to show the lids in their open positions. Each lid has a wheel cast on its top. A further ventilator position with sloping crown is found aft of the last funnel. To add further to the numerous ventilator doors, the sloping funnel trucks also have ventilator lids on each side. The second pair of upper casemate positions are separate gun houses with four angular planes forming their inward faces and a single curved surface forming their outward face. Between this pair of gun positions and the third pair of gun positions the weather deck expands to hull edge with a solid bulkhead rising from the hull at deck edge. A few smaller, lower coamings make up the balance of the deck detail amidships.

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Another nice characteristic of the Good Hope class was that the upper deck 6-inch gun positions were completely enclosed with the lower weather deck forming a narrow valley between the raised casemate positions. Just before the break deck to the quarterdeck, the superstructure rises slightly for a short deck upon rests the aft control position. On the deck of this raised position are a couple of more deck coamings and an additional three coal scuttles. For the aft double story casements the hull pinches inward to a vertical surface to allow stern on fire for those four guns with a small shelve at the bottom of the lower gun positions. The aft face of the aft control position is formed with three angular surfaces, rising above the quarterdeck. A large twin bollard fitting is found at the base of each outward face. The next feature is the barbette for the aft 9.2-inch gun turret. Aft of this are three crowned skylight positions and a taller square deckhouse. Other quarterdeck detail includes two capstan drums inboard and two open chocks and one twin bollard fitting at deck edge on each side.

Smaller Resin Parts
The major superstructure components are the four tall funnels. Three of the stacks are of the same design. Oval in shape the ovals are arranged athwartships or side to side rather than along the centerline. The first funnel is smaller in cross section and is circular. Each stack has a prominent lip at the top and apron raised slightly above the base. Since there are to control positions, one in the traditional conning tower position in the forward superstructure, and the other for the aft position, separate deckhouses are provided, which slip into the wells on the decks. The larger forward position as a curved face to accommodate the armored conning tower but the aft position is made up of seven angled
planes. The balance of the superstructure is found on a thin resin wafer. Both forward and aft bridges feature deck planks, bridge wings and solid deck-edge bulkheads, which simulate the positions with canvas dodgers. These bulkheads can easily be removed to add railing at deck edge to reflect their warm weather appearance. A separate 02 level piece connects the forward bridge to the 01 position below. The forward bridge is larger with solid bulkheads atop the navigation cabin. The aft control position has a separate piece for the top deck, which also has solid bulkheads representing the canvas covered railing. Other parts include spotting positions for both masts with separate tops. Each position has a different shape with the larger of the two for the foremast; three rectangular deck houses placed one between each pair of funnels; mainmast top platform and stern walk, which again has a solid bulkhead reflecting canvas covered railing.

Combrig Drake - Parts Dry-Fitted
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The two 9.2-inch guns were mounted signally in turrets fore and aft. They feature a high flat crown at the rear with a second plane angled downward to the forward face of the turret. The forward face is curved to the sides with a squared off rear face. Two observation positions are found on each turret crown. The two 9.2-inch gun barrels are found on a separate resin runner and are unmistakable with long heavy reinforcing jackets at their bases. Although the Drake carried an impressive sixteen 6-inch guns, Combrig provides twenty guns found on two resin runners of ten. Eight stand alone light QF deck guns are provided comprised of a separate mount and gun. One long resin runner has a mixed bag of fine parts. Included on this runner are a small signal light, observer telescope mounts, cable reels; small circular ventilators and tertiary gun barrels for the four hull positions. Four impressively detail notched anchor windlasses are found on another short resin runner. Two other runners contain three anchors on one and four searchlights on the other. Ship’s boats and equipment make up a sizable number of the smaller resin parts. Included are one large steam launch, three large whaleboats, and eleven more smaller boats in five different designs. Other resin boat equipment fittings are two runners of davits and one runner of deck boat chocks. There are three more runners of resin parts, one is for the masts and booms and the two others are yards.  

Combrig Drake - Parts Dry-Fitted
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Brass Photo-Etch Fret
In common with most Combrig kits, their
Drake contains a brass photo-etch fret of ship specific parts. The Drake fret has fewer parts than most Combrig kits, therefore it will be easier to build than their kits with a large number of small brass parts. Most dominant are the cap gratings for the four stacks. There are two pairs of support lattices for the bridge wings, with the large braces provided for the forward position and smaller ones for the aft control wings. There are twelve boat skids for the boats stored above the weather deck. There are six double triangles for the masts’ platforms and three runs of anchor chain. In numbers, the 24 boat chocks for the most numerous components on the fret. Other parts are ship sirens for the first funnel, mast boom brackets and boom pulleys. No vertical ladder, inclined ladder or railing is included.

Drake instructions are in the common Combrig format. There is one back-printed sheet. The sheet has a 1:700 scale plan and profile and plan, as well as the ship’s history and specifications in Russian. Use of the included plan and profile as a reference is essential. They are absolutely necessary in the specific placement of various parts. On the back of the sheet is a photograph of all of the parts that should be included in the kit so it easy to see if you are missing something. On the back are two isometric drawings of the ship. One is the main assembly diagram and the other provides a view of attaching ships’ boats and boat fittings. Detail insets include drawings for boat skids, main gun turrets, and QF guns. 
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Combrig presents another winner with their 1:700 scale model of
HMS Drake. The cruiser hull is large and impressive and yet with less parts on the included photo-etch fret than found in most Combrig release, the Drake should prove an easy build.