Diesel engines have always been the favorite surface propulsion system for submarines, at least until the introduction of nuclear propulsion. However, they were much less frequent on surface warships, which almost universally used steam plants. In the early 1930’s Germany’s Deutschland Panzerschiffe was seen as a very innovative design for selecting diesel engines with a fuel capacity giving her a huge range. What warship design first used diesel engines for propulsion. The answer is the Kars Class, also called the Ardagan Class gunboat built for the Imperial Russian Navy.
In 1908 the Imperial Russian Navy laid down a two ship class of gunboats at the Admiralty Shipyard in St. Petersburg. Both were launched in 1909 with Ardagan on September 12, followed two weeks later by Kars on the 25th. These 623-ton twins were the first surface warships in the world to use diesel engines for propulsion. Both were completed in 1910 and then moved presumably in sections by rail to the Caspian Sea as part of the Caspian Flotilla in July 1911. In the landlocked Caspian, these two gunboats could rule this isolated sea for Imperial Russia. Originally this pair mounted two 4.7-Inch/45 (120mm) guns in casemates, one on either side of the hull, four 75mm/50 in open mount deck positions and four Maxim machine guns.
On March 1, 1919 they surrendered to the British at Baku but were recaptured by the Red Army in 1920 with Ardagan returning to Soviet service on April 28, 1920 and Kars on July 5, 1920. On May 19, 1920 the pair were renamed to honor the two most prominent Soviet Leaders at the time. Kars became Lenin and Ardagan became Trotski. After Trotski lost out to Stalin in 1927, the Trotski, ex-Ardagan became Krasny Azerbaidzhan. The pair were refitted in the late 1920s with Trotski from 1924 to 1926 and Lenin from 1925-1927. This involved an overhaul rather than any type of modernization.
Modernization came with the second refit of Krasny Azerbaidzhan in 1937 and Lenin from 1938 to 1940. At this time the casemate 120mm guns were removed, the positions plated over and existing guns replaced by more modern pieces. The forecastle was extended further aft, the bridge superstructure was modified, a single funnel replaced the twin diesel exhaust tubes, a new tripod mast was fitted forward and a new mainmast was fitted very far to the aft.
Kars Vital Statistics
Dimensions: Length - 200 feet (61m); Beam - 28 feet (8.5m); Draught - 8 feet (2.4m): Displacement - 623 Tons
Armament - Two 4.7-Inch (120mm) Hull Mounted; Four 75mm Deck Mounted: Four Maxim Machine Guns
Machinery - Diesel Engines, Two Shaft, 1,000bhp; Top Speed
- 14 Knots: Complement - 128
By World War Two the class were anti-aircraft ships and mounted three 102mm/60 AA guns, two 45mm AA, two 37mm AA, four .50 cal machine guns and two .30 cal machine guns. After the war they served as training ships and later accommodation ships from December 29, 1954. On March 13, 1959 both were again renamed. Krasny Azerbaidzhan became PKZ-101 and Lenin became PKZ-100. Subsequently both were broken up. (History from Soviet Warship Development, Volume 1: 1917-1937 by Siegfried Breyer; and Conway’s All The World’s Fighting Ships 1906-1921)
The Combrig Kars
Historically, she was the first surface warship to use diesel engine propulsion. Further, at the height of the Russian Civil War, she was named after the father and leader of the Soviet State, Lenin, and carried that name for almost four decades. It is odd that a 623-ton gunboat on the landlocked Caspian Sea, should bear the name of the icon of the Soviet Union, Lenin. Architecturally, Kars, laid down only three years after the end of the Russo-Japanese War, was significantly modern in appearance with the unique addition of the casemate gun positions. Another item that you don’t pick up right away, is the absence of a smokestack. Instead Kars has two thin Diesel exhaust tubes. If you entered it finished model in competition, probably nobody else would know the subject but they would know that it is different.
The kit is fairly small at 3 ½-Inches in length. With only about 40 pieces, it also appears to be an easy build. There is practically no clean up, as almost every part is very cleanly cast and almost all are free of any flash. Although not shown on the instructions, it appears that the 4.7-Inch (120mm) gun barrels are on the same piece with the masts and yards. You will have to drill out locator/placement holes in the casemate positions as none are on the hull. Useful additions will be brass photo-etch two-bar railing and four inclined ladders. There are no resin aztec steps to remove, so the four ladders will go on easily. Their positions can be seen on the plan in the included instructions. Their locations are two going from the quarter-deck to foc’sle deck and two from the foc’sle deck to the rear of the bridge. The most difficult part of any brass additions would be cross-braced supports under the bridge wings.
As you can see from the photographs, the hull is finely done with a great amount of detail for such a small size, thin bulkheads amidships and above all, those wonderful casemate positions that dominate the hull sides. Of the smaller parts the shielded 75mm guns command the most attention but none of them let you down. I find the resin davits commendably thin but some may want to photo-etch davits in their place.