"Gangut was Ďa vile ship, itís good that she sank, and it is pointless to raise her." Rear Admiral A.A. Birilev, former commander of the battleship Gangut, Russian and Soviet Battleships, 2003, by Stephen McLaughlin, at page 58.
Since ancient times mariners have been a superstitious lot. Ancient Phoenicians and Greeks painted eyes on either side of the bow of their ships in the belief that those eyes would guide the ship through rocks and shoal water. With the coming of the age of sail other myths and legends of unlucky or haunted ships arose, such as the Flying Dutchman. Even with the coming of the age of steam some ships were considered unlucky. One such ship was the Russian predreadnought battleship Gangut.
In many ways the Imperial Russian Fleet was slow to develop, as was the case of the United States Navy following the American Civil War. Armored floating batteries had appeared in the Crimean War. These were the forerunners of the armored ships of the 19th and 20th centuries. Built by the French and used against the Russians in Crimea, the superiority of the British and French warships over the Russian ships in the Black Sea allowed the western powers to land troops when and where they chose. In the next decade, while Great Britain and France flirted with the Confederate States during the American Civil War, Imperial Russia was by far the most friendly major European power with the United States. The development of the USN series of monitors was watched and the basic design was adopted for a series of ships for the Russian Navy. However, after the USN went into a two decade slumber following the Civil War, Russia continued to develop armored ships but at a rate far below that of Britain and France.
Most notably was the construction of the battleship Imperator Petr Velikey, which was very advanced and powerful for her time. Laid down in 1869 and launched in 1872, her/his design was more advanced than contemporary British and French battleships. Armed with four 12-inch guns mounted in pairs in centerline turrets, the armament was placed in the same format as would become standard three decades later. Although Russia continued to develop cruisers with armor and other armored ships, such as the odd Popov circular batteries, actual Russian battleship construction stopped with the Imperator Petr Velikey. A decade would pass before Russia constructed her next battleships. The Ekaterina II Class was laid down in the Black Sea yards in 1882 and the Imperator Aleksandr II and Imperator Nikolai I were laid down in Baltic yards in 1885 and 1886.
The Baltic pair were less ambitious and smaller than the three Black Sea battleships. They were constructed to counter German and Dutch ships in the 7,000 to 5,000 ton range and that were armed with 9-inch guns. However, due to constant changes in design, largely prompted by Admiral Shestakov, Director of the Naval Ministry, the displacements of this pair increased considerably during construction. Shestakov thought the first two were too big and heavy and required a smaller ship for the 3rd Baltic Sea battleship. This ship was the Gangut, named after the first Russian naval victory when the Russian fleet defeated the Swedish fleet near Gangut point on July 27, 1714.
Gangutwas a small battleship of 6,500-tons compared to the 9,700 and 9,900 ton predecessors. However, as with the first two, the anticipated foe of the Gangut was the German Navy, which still was developing small, lightly armed battleships. It was considered that the 9-inch gun would be the optimum ordnance for the new design. It was thought that this piece could penetrate German armor at battle ranges and yet the piece was small enough as to not require hydraulic machinery to rotate the gun. Three designs were submitted and the one selected was by E.E. Guliaev. This design had a main armament of six 9-inch/35 guns. Four were mounted in amidship casemates and the other two were carried in a single twin turret forward. The order was placed with the State owned New Admiralty shipyard and laid down in 1889.
However, in keeping with the track record of the earlier two Baltic battleships, significant changes were made to the shipís design during her construction. The hull was lengthened by three feet, two stacks were reduced to one stack, two masts were reduced to just a foremast and the twin 9-inch gun turret was replaced by a single 12-inch/30 gun turret. The final 12-inch gun design was not approved until a year after Gangutís launch in 1890. Not surprisingly, the Gangut was very slow to complete. Trials in July 1893 were halted because of defects. In fall 1893 the Gangut again underwent trials, which were not a ringing success and were completed in 1894. Her defects were numerous: she buried her bow in rough seas; her high sides and shallow draft allowed wind to push her off course; internal bulkheads were weak; she was 600-tons overweight and her armor belt was submerged; watertight gaskets for doors were missing and open rivet holes were numerous. The chief inspector reported that Gangut was unsafe to send on a long cruise. The ship was only capable of a maximum speed of 13.79-knots on trials, instead of the required 15 knots.
Her overweight condition and complete submergence of her main armor belt were of course addressed with proposals to correct the condition. With her main belt under water, the waterline of Gangut was only protected with an upper strake of armor of 5-inch thickness, which was abysmal. At first the remedy was to run the ship in light condition but that solution gave her such a short range as to be useless as a fleet component. Other permanent solutions were advanced. One was to thin the 16-inch belt by machining off part of the armor thickness. Another more practical solution was to completely remove the belt and replace it with a 9-inch belt of Harveyized steel, which was more shell resistant to penetration than the old belt of the same thickness. Another proposal was to replace the 12-inch gun with a 10-inch gun. With an emphasis on mine warfare, even at this time, the Gangut was designed to carry mines. Another solution was to eliminate 20 mines and land steam launches. Although the 9-inch guns were considered the main armament in the original design, another solution was to land those guns and replace them with 6-inch guns. At the end of the discussions, what did the Admiralty do? Nothing. Gangut was left as she was. The Russian Navy was really ramping up in construction and all yards and ordnance factories were engaged in new construction. Indeed, Russia was actively engaged in purchasing additional warships overseas because her facilities were taxed at maximum capacity. Why waste time and money, tying up a facility on an inferior design?
As if the trials were not bad enough, events soon proved that Gangut had further defects undiscovered during trials. In September 1896 she struck an uncharted rock in Bjorko Sound. Her pumping system was disabled and soon was threatened by uncontrolled flooding. However canvas was fitted over the hole and flooding came under control. Under steam she returned to Kronshtadt for repairs. Additional fleet tests in June 1897 provided further omens for Russiaís Flying Dutchman. Designed to be able to pump and expel 66 tons of water per minute, Gangut was discovered to be limited to 24 tons per minute because the diameter of the pipes was too narrow.
The day after this test Gangut was sent for target practice. After finishing she was making only 2.5 knots and turned to rejoin the rest of the fleet. Gangut should have followed the practice of the ancient Greeks and painted eyes on her bow to guide her past shoal water, because she promptly grounded. Water quickly filled her forward boiler rooms. Captain 1st Rank Tikhotski examined the watertight doors and saw that they were properly closed. However, water kept rushing into the hull. The water was coming through doors that had not had gaskets fitted and through open rivet holes. By 1600 things were getting desperate. Water had flooded the forward boiler rooms and power was lost. The crew was trying to warp a collision mat to the lower hull but it was hung up on the ram bow.
She developed a 7-degree list to starboard, which was righted by counter flooding. Shortly later Gangut started heeling over to port, so they counter flooded to starboard. All this counter flooding on both sides also added to weight as the ship sank further into the Baltic. A steam launch was sent to find the fleet and get help. A deck awning was finally worked over the hole but the water continued to get in. Bucket brigades were organized to bail out the battleship and rags and wooden plugs were stuck in open rivet holes, but the Baltic still gained on the crew. Power was restored by 1800 as the aft boiler rooms finally had steam up. The main pumps were now fairly useless as steam to operate them had to pass through areas that were already under water. As the steam passed through these pipes, the heat from the steam was greatly dissipated by the water cooled pipes. By 1630 the already overweight ship was a further 6-feet deeper in the water.
The first help to arrive was the torpedo boat 108 but she was too small to offer much assistance. By now Gangut had a 10 degree list. When the fleet arrived the commander ordered a cruiser to tow Gangut to shallow water. However, by 2020 it was clear that Gangut was going to capsize in the not too distant future. The crew was ordered to evacuate. All important documents were transferred and the crew assembled on the deck. There was a very orderly evacuation, as numerous small boats from other fleet units transferred the crew to other ships. By 2105 all power was again lost and the captain made one more inspection of the ship to make sure that no one else was left. He then left his command. Gangut then turned turtle and sank in 95 feet of water with no crew casualties. Tsar Nicholas II congratulated the officers and crew of Gangut for fine manner in which they had conducted the evacuation.
Higher ranking officers of Gangut were quickly charged with dereliction of duty. However, the court was somewhat hamstrung since the Tsar had already thanked those same officers. The navy already knew of the great defects of the ship but in bureaucratic tradition, it is better to blame individuals than the organization. An inquiry quickly established that Gangut had struck an uncharted rock, which had opened her hull bottom. A gash three to eight inches wide ran a good length of the hull. This let all of the officers off the hook except for the shipís engineer. Since he counter flooded the shipís magazine without consulting the captain, he was given the mild punishment of five days in a penal battalion.
Since the ship was within diving distance it was planned to raise her. A Swedish firm was contracted in fall 1897 to raise the ship. Since she was on her port side, the plan was to get her upright first, then build a caisson around her and pump out the water. Then the holes would be patched and Gangut refloated. By late summer 1898 the Gangut had been rolled 45 degrees to an upright position but further work was halted due to early freezing of the Baltic in the fall. By summer 1899 the holes in the hull were sealed. The plans were changed to just pump the sealed hole full of air and let the battleship rise to the surface like a submarine. By now, true to all government contractors, the Swedish firm was now over 50% over budget. Since the ship was of dubious value when commissioned, the Admiralty wisely cancelled the contract and the Gangut was left where she was. Undoubtedly that was the best course of action as the ship would probably been slapped in with the rest of the antiquated designs of the 3rd Pacific Squadron in 1904 in the relief expedition which led to Tsushima, where she would have been easily sunk with probably a high loss of life. (History from Russian and Soviet Battleships, 2003, by Stephen McLaughlin.)
The Combrig Gangut
The Imperial Russian Navy certainly experimented with producing ships of almost every conceivable design. From the monitor to the breast-work monitor to the graceful curving lines of extreme tumblehome designs. They even produced some unique vessels, such as the circular Popovs. Although most designs had a purposeful design and some a graceful design, Gangut was certainly not one of these. Aesthetically, Gangut was left behind the door. However, the ugliness of the ship is one of the chief attractions of building the Combrig Gangut. Since the upper deck is cut well inboard of the main deck, there are substantial shelves of deck space. The hull sides are extremely angular. There is a mix of design features found on the ship. The lower hull has traditional round portholes but the upper row is composed of square port doors. The square windows have the outside perimeter lines incised on hull but Combrig did not hollow out the center of these widows. Of course this would represent those positions with closed shutters. The 9-inch gun positions have closed doors with horizontal seam lines. These doors, along with the oval doors covering the above water torpedo positions, are somewhat heavy but this only accentuates the unusual design, rather than detracting from it. The bow anchor hawse are of the typical heavy collar design. There are horizontal strakes running the length of the lower and main decks and heavy vertical strakes amidships. Another feature conferring curiosity is the significantly indented stern cabin and slot for the customary stern walk.
Although the Combrig Gangut does not come with a photo-etch fret, it will not take much generic railing to outfit the model. Since there is a solid bulkhead running ĺ the length of the upper deck, only the forecastle and four open portions of the lower deck require railing. The short, angular forecastle has a very blunt bow. Deck fittings include two deck edge open chocks at deck edge and two sets of twin bollards inboard. One coaming rests just in front of the single turret. Amidships, the model seems to show linoleum panels around the conning tower position with wooden planking aft of that. This planking is dominated by a raised stack house a very large skylight, followed by a second deckhouse. The stern has a short raised poop deck with deck access coamings just forward.
As unusual as the hull form appears, it is further accentuated by the very large boat deck found on the separate resin wafer. This deck provides very strong architectural interest. The conning tower is present forward with a separate armored screen protecting the rear entrance. A locator hole for the single mast is just to the rear of the conning tower. Behind this is a pilothouse with indented square windows. Two large rectangular openings are in this deck and the model will have significant deck space seen on the deck below. A smaller deckhouse is fitted just aft of the second opening. At the extreme rear of this deck and also flanking the sides are boat skids for the shipís boats that add further character to the finished model. Also found on this resin wafer are the stern walk and two fighting tops for the mast. The stern walk has a solid bulkhead but this position would be better served with the resin bulkhead removed and with a photo-etch stern walk railing placed there instead.
Other resin fittings continue to hold interest. The slab sided oval stack is nicely hollowed at the top and has a large apron at the base. The sides of the single turret are conical with a flat crown with a single sighting cupola at the rear. The 12-inch gun barrel continues with the architectural curiosities in that it has four reinforcing bands at the base. The nine-inch gun barrels have two reinforcing bands and twelve excellent QF guns are included on two resin runners. The single mast does not taper but instead has three segments of increasingly smaller diameter. Other parts are five stocked anchors, conning tower roof, search lights, signal lamps, anchor cats, four different davit designs, tertiary gun barrels, yards, two steam launches, eight oared boats, eight ventilator funnels , angular elbow ventilator, windlass, three other deck fittings and four additional hull vertical strakes.
The instructions are one sheet and back-printed in the standard Combrig format. The front has a 1:700 scale plan and profile used in the assembly process. Always use this drawing in assembling any Combrig kit as the drawing clarifies positioning of the parts shown in the assembly drawings. The shipís history is in Russian and English but the ship'í statistics and painting instructions are in Russian only. The back of the sheet has a photographic lay-down of all of the kit's parts and one isometric drawing of the parts attachment. With only one assembly drawing, consulting the plan and profile on the front side for exact location of fittings is especially important.