In 1856 the Kingdom of Prussia had a new warship design laid down at Le Havre, France. Although Prussia had a strip of coastline along the southern shore of the Baltic Sea, the Kingdom had been known for the last century for the prowess of her army. The army of Frederick the Great in the Seven Years War and the army of Marshal Blucher at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Sea power was something that was not considered the army was all-important. Besides, Prussia had no significant yards in which to build modern warships, accordingly she went to France for this new ship, the Grille.
The first Grille was typed as an Aviso, which is a quite specialized ship. Smaller than a cruiser but more habitable than smaller ships, the type was normally constructed for distant operations. France had a long history of building the aviso type of ship. France would build the ships primarily to operate in the waters of distant colonies and territories far from France. They were the prototypical colony or distant station ship. Their prime requirements were range and habitability and to accomplish both, they needed size. They needed long range to operate in areas where naval bases were widely separated and much greater emphasis was placed on crew comfort and habitability for the same reason. The Royal Navy in contrast had much less need for the type because of the extensive world-wide facilities that it enjoyed. The Prussia of 1856 had no foreign colonies but the fledgling Prussian Navy had other uses intended for their new 491-ton ship.
When launched in 1858 the first Grille was equipped with a full three masted schooner sail rig, which at the time was as important if not more so than the two-cylinder single expansion English steam engine that was fitted. Steam power was still in its infancy and was not completely trusted. When commissioned on June 3, 1858 the Grille was designated as the yacht of the King of Prussia. Since the Prussians were very practical, the ship had more useful missions as well. She became the flagship of the Prussian gunboat squadrons and later served to guard Prussian fisheries. After the Franco-Prussian War, the King of Prussia also became the Emperor, Kaiser, of the new German nation, which was composed of a significant number of previously independent German kingdoms, duchies, principalities and minor states. The Grille then became the Imperial yacht. In 1889 Grille became a training ship for the German Admiral’s staff voyages. During World War One she became the tender for the Freya, naval cadet training ship. The first Grille was stricken from the German navy on January 7, 1920, sold and broken up.
For the next decade the German navy was a minor force. The Treaty of Versailles had imposed harsh restrictions on the size of any new German navy and constrained the size and type of new German warship construction. By 1930 the situation had changed in large measure. Because of the 10,000-ton limitation on new German battleships, the Kriegsmarine designed the Deutschland Class panzershiffes. Nominally at 10,000-tons, the ships were in fact significantly heavier and were an ingenious combination of cruiser and battleship. By 1935 the situation had changed further. Germany and Britain signed a new treaty in which Germany could build a fleet up to 35% of that of the Royal Navy and Germany again started to design true battleships. With a new larger navy in the offing it was time to again provide a state yacht, this time for Hitler’s regime. The new construction was again typed as an aviso and named Grille.
The new Grille was far larger than the first. Over 135 meters in length, she had a displacement of 3,430-tons. Her two engines developed 26,400 shp and gave Grille a maximum speed of 26 knots. Although sometimes called Hitler’s yacht, the Grille was an operational component in the Kriegsmarine. In a repetition of the history of the first Grille, she was designed to many other missions. Grille was commissioned on May 20, 1935. She became a floating fleet staff headquarters, training ship and target ship in the development of German aerial torpedoes. She was well armed with three 5-inch/45 (127mm L/45 C/25 guns) changed to three four-inch/45 (105mm L/45 C32) guns in 1939. During the war she also was fitted with four 37mm AA guns in twin mounts as well as four 20mm light AA guns. When World War Two erupted Grille became a fast minelayer for mine laying, as the Kriegsmarine had not invested in that type of specialized warship, and anti-commerce operations in the Baltic. For mine laying missions Grille carried between 120 to 228 mines.
Early in 1940 Grille collided with and sank the merchant steamer Axel. As a result of damages of the collision she was under repair from February through May 1940. She then operated with the light cruiser Koln and several destroyers to lay mines in the North Sea. In the summer of 1940 she was transferred to Ostende on the Dutch coast and planned to lay defensive minefields to protect the anticipated invasion of England in Operation Seelowe. When the invasion was cancelled, she sailed back north and with the invasion of Russia in summer 1941, Grille engaged in mine laying operations off of Finland in August 1941. From March to August 1942 she was out of active service. In autumn 1942 the German Navy sent Grille to Narvik to serve as headquarters for the naval staff and then for the flagship for the U-Boat commander in Norway, FdU-Nord in spring 1944. She was moved from Narvik to Ankenes later in the summer.
When Germany surrendered in May 1945 the British took over Grille. The following year she was sold to a private firm and became a Mediterranean cruise ship. Her service in this capacity did not last long however, for in March 1947 she was involved in another collision, this time in Beirut, Lebanon. The Grille was seriously damaged and the hulk was sold to an American firm in 1948. Grille was broken up in 1951. (Bulk of history is from German Aviso Grille Instructions by Combrig for second Grille and German Warships 1815-1945, Volume One, 1990, by Erich Groner for first Grille.)
The Combrig Grille
The original design of the Grille facilitates the beauty of this kit. The hull casting totally exudes the slim, graceful appearance of this yacht/staff headquarters/mine layer. The stem is very elegant with a curving, graceful cutwater, culminating in an anachronistic non-functional bowsprit. The stern features an extreme undercut. There is an elliptical flat transom which bares the German eagle clutching a wreath and swastika, that was a common feature on the sterns of prewar Kriegsmarine ships. Both bow and stern are sharply flared with the stern flare being extreme. The hull sides are clean with anchor placement indentations and rows of portholes adding points of contrast to the smooth flowing lines of the hull. The long amidships deckhouse is a pleasing continuous line of square windows, interspersed with a great number of square doorways. These are executed very well and clearly reflect the state yacht appearance and mission.
The deck detail is also finely crafted with a number of different focal points of interest. Above and behind the sharply pointed upper cutwater, the forward point of the main deck is rounded. The short forecastle deck comes with a series of small bollards and cleats with the prow having a slightly raised slanting solid bulkhead. The anchor chain plates, windlass and capstan bases have incised detail and contrast to the incised deck planting on the bulk of the deck. The deck brakes about 40% down the length of the ship with two long narrow gangways on either side of the long deckhouse amidships, culminating in a short quarterdeck. The quarterdeck detail also includes the numerous bollards and cleats, plus some specialized fittings and steel deck plates.
The Grille comes with quite a number of deck and platform pieces. The largest runs from the forecastle to the end of the long deckhouse on the hull. This piece has further deckhouses cast on top of it. The largest of these is asymmetrical and forms the base for the large platform aft of the funnel on which two of the 37mm AA guns are placed. The smaller decks and platforms are found on a very thin sheet of resin film. Parts are easily removed by hand and only require minimal clean up. Found here are three-bridge levels plus director platform, plus the previously mentioned amidships AA platform. An addition by Combrig to the deck pieces are delicate outlines for attachment of other superstructure parts. Now there is no guessing about placement. All splinter shielding is very thin and crisp. Also on the sheet are small AA platforms, searchlight platforms and a couple of small deck houses. There was no evidence of breakage or defects in any part of this kit.
The smaller parts also exhibit the dedication to quality casting found in the larger pieces. The minute 37mm guns are amazing. These two-piece gun mounts are equal in the amount of microscopic detail lavished upon them as is found in the equally amazing 1.1-inch guns found in the Combrig Porter Class destroyer kits. The main guns with detailed breech mechanisms and hollow gun shields are not far behind. The stack, although tall and long, is extremely thin. Combrig has cast the steam pipe on the forward apex of the funnel. The funnel top is hollow to create the impression of depth. The ships’ boats deserve mention in that they represent the German ship boats design. Combrig has even included deck planking at the bottom of the ships’ boats. Two of the motor launches feature very delicate windscreens. Separate chocks are provided. All of the smallest parts are also of exceptional quality. Capstans, windlass, searchlights, signal lights, binnacles, anchors, directors and other tiny fittings are extremely clean with no flash, no voids, no breakage and just no defects period. The resin parts to the Combrig Grille are fully equal to the best examples of casting to be found in any 1:700 scale warship kit with only two exceptions. The deck planking detail is at least equal to any other kit, except for the new White Ensign Models HMS Renown deck, which is in a class by itself. Some of the mast and yards do have a slight warp. These could be straightened by heating or replaced by appropriately thin brass rod or wire.
The reverse comes with the standard photographs of all the resin and brass parts provided in the kit. The big change comes with the assembly drawing. Combrig uses their standard isometric drawing to show the assembly but adds seven separate drawings to show specific detailed assemblies. The seven drawings show assembly of the amidships AA platform, main guns, 37mm guns, 01 bridge level, 02 bridge level and two different cable reel assemblies. These separate drawings do greatly ease assembly. The use of separate subassembly diagrams is apparently the new Combrig format as they are also used in the latest Combrig kit of the French heavy cruiser Algerie.