"We are a crippled old ship, rushed out before our engine room was really efficient. We are now unable to condense water quickly enough and cannot steam more than ten knots. So we crawl south…Our shooting was rotten." Ship’s doctor of HMS Kent, (Castles of Steel, 2003 by Robert K. Massie, at page 277)
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 "Jeune Ecole" 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 and the torpedo boat came into vogue.
With the development and production of the new British torpedo-boat destroyers as a type, it was thought that the Royal Navy had overcome the threat of masses of French torpedo boats. "Given three years without complications, I trust that in the great requirements – men, ships, and works – the needs of this Navy for its efficient service will have been met, and the office of the panic-mongers will be gone." (First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Frederick Richards, February 2 1897, The Anatomy of British Seapower, 1940, by Arthur Marder, at page 282) However, the French had another axis in their two pronged approach.
This path was centered around the destruction of British commerce or "Guerre de Course". 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 and reflagging of vessels to other countries that the American merchant marine never recovered. However, the object of this strategy was not to starve Great Britain of food imported from overseas. The target was financial. The goal was to destroy enough merchantmen that the insurance on the rest of the merchantmen would skyrocket and cause economic chaos in Great Britain. However, for the French to send out raiders against the British merchant marine would require a different type of ship. The Royal Navy had many scout and protected cruisers operating on the British trade routes, normally classified as 2nd rate or 3rd rate cruisers. What was needed was a ship that could overcome a typical British trade protection cruiser. To achieve this result cruiser designs were given an armored belt, which became the distinguishing feature of the armored cruiser type and so began the Cult of the Armored Cruiser.
Russia also chose to produce large armored cruisers and it was the Russian cruisers as well as the large French armored cruiser building program that imposed somewhat of a panic in the Royal Navy. Scout cruisers had no armor and protected cruisers had only an armored deck with no side armor. In theory these French and Russian armored cruisers could shrug off hits from the British cruisers, destroy them and continue to wreak destruction among British merchantmen. The Royal Navy had built a handful of armored cruisers in the past but all previous designs were slow and had other significant defects. As the year 1897 went into the spring, the complacency of their Lordships of the Admiralty was disturbed by a new French building program. France had already started building armored cruisers when she ordered six more armored cruisers with another for 1898, plus three corsair cruisers, unarmored but very fast (23 knot) ships specifically designed to destroy commerce.
"On May 1, 1897 the D.N.I. prepared a memorandum on the new French cruiser policy. Everything, he remarked, pointed to the creation by France of a class of vessels superior to those which formed the bulk of their foreign or trade protecting squadrons in war." (The Anatomy of British Seapower, 1940, by Arthur Marder, at page 284) The alarm bells had sounded in the hallowed halls of the Admiralty. What the Royal Navy needed were armored cruisers with sufficient speed, armor and gun power to overcome the French and Russian designs. "Under construction we have twenty armoured cruisers. In the Fleet at present we can number no modern vessels of this important type, though France and Russia have added many to their navies in the past few years. When it was decided to follow in the footsteps of our two rivals, Lord Goschen did not fail to confide to the House of Commons that the need for these ships was urgent, and that no effort should be spared to add as many of them as was necessary to the Fleet at the earliest possible moment. Early in the summer of 1897 the first four of the Cressy class, of 12,000 tons, were provided for in the Supplementary Estimate." (Naval Annual 1901, The Past Five Years’ Warship-Building by Archibald S. Hurd, at page 261-262)
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. The next class addressed that need. The four Drake class were huge ships at the time. Displacing over 14,000 tons and armed with two 9.2-inch and sixteen 6-inch guns, these ships were fast with a top speed of 23-knots but they were expensive and required crews significantly larger than contemporary British battleships because of their large increase in machinery. What was needed was a class of armored cruisers that were smaller, more economical to build and more economical to man to be built in quantity. The solution was the County Class armored cruiser. Compared to the preceding Drake class, the ships of the County class were 1/3 smaller in displacement, shorter, had a thinner armored belt, and reduced the guns carried. The armament was fourteen 6-inch guns with four mounted in twin turrets and five mounted per side in casemates. However, they were not to sacrifice speed as they were also designed for a top speed of 23 knots.
"If in the battleship classes other navies have followed our lead, in the Cressy class we have followed the example of the Russian and other navies by adopting the belt for the protection of the vitals of the ship, instead of depending, as we have done hitherto, on a protective deck." (The Naval Annual 1899, 1899, Recent Warship Construction by T.A. Brassey, Chapter VI, at page 182) In the same volume appeared the text of the First Lord’s Memorandum of March 7, 1899. After describing the armored cruisers of the Cressy and Drake classes, First Lord George J. Goschen mentioned a new class of cruiser. "Two other cruisers were included in the Supplemental Programme. They will be of a new design, and tenders have been invited for their construction. Their principal features are as follows: - Length between perpendiculars, 440 ft. ; breath, extreme, 66 ft.; mean draught, 24 ½ ft.; displacement, 9,800 tons; speed (with natural draught), 23 knots; I.H.P., 22,000. Armament: fourteen 6-in. Q.-F. guns, four in turrets, ten in casemates; ten 12-pdr. Q.-F. guns, three 3-pdr., two torpedo tubes. The 6-in. guns will be of the latest type, and will be protected by armour about 4-in. thick. Vertical side armour of the same thickness will be carried over a considerable portion of the length, with thinner armour on the bows. Strong protective decks will be associated with this side armour." (The Naval Annual 1899, 1899, First Lord’s Memorandum by George J. Goschen First Lord of the Admiralty, at page 424)
The London Times was enthusiastic over the new, smaller cruiser design. They were specifically compared against the protected cruisers of the Diadem class. "These remarkable cruisers are to be 440 ft. in length and 66 ft. in breadth, with their displacement of 9,800 tons, and will be armed with fourteen 6-in. Q.F. guns, ten of which will be in casemate, and two forward and two aft on twin mountings. They will also have six 12-pr. Q.F. guns amidships on the main deck, and two forward and two aft on the upper deck. Thus, on a 1,00-ton less displacement they will be provided with two fewer 6-in. and four fewer 12-pr. Guns than the Diadem class; but they will have many compensating advantages, as not only will they be armoured, but they will have a speed of 23 knots, against 20 ½ knots in the Diadems." (Naval Annual 1900, page 15) However, within a few years, as the first two ships underwent trials, it was discovered that the design calculations were not met.
Although designed for 23-knots, the initial ships of the County class did not live up to their design. "The County class includes ten ships of 9800 tons, and six of 10,700 tons displacement. The estimated speed of the former is 23 knots with 22,000 I.H.P. They have so far failed to attain their contract speed, although the designed horse-power has been exceeded. The failure has been attributed to the unsuitability of the propellers. The changes made in the propellers of the Kent has not had the desired effect, , though better results may still be attained. " (Naval Annual 1903, page 5) Tests at full power reported Bedford with a speed of 22.7-knots at full power of 22,457ihp, while Kent was a knot slower with 21.7-knots at full power of 22,249ihp. The new propellers only increased the speed of Kent to 21.89-knots. The 1903 Annual also stated, "The weakness of these ships is in their waterline protection." In the armor section the belt armor of the County class is criticized. "Even the Monmouth, with her 4-in. belt, which can be riddled by the 6.4-in. French gun at nearly 5,000 yards range, has a 1 ¼-in. main deck some 60 ft. broad, the weight of which would have allowed the belt and casemates to be sufficiently thickened to make the vitals and guns safe from the 6.4-in. shot until the ships closed to 1500 yds. And the smallest gun by which the Monmouth is likely to be attacked is the 5.5-in., which will pierce her belt and casemates at over 3000 yds. As in the battleships, were the armour removed from the main belt, there is nothing that could be materially injured by pieces of shell passing downwards through a thin deck, whilst the top of the belt is so high above the water that there would be little trouble owing to admission of water. It will be very poor satisfaction to the stokers, who, whilst tending the fires, will run the greatest risk from splinters of shot which are liable to enter the stokehold, after piercing belt and ‘armoured’ deck (3/4-in.!), to learn that their clothes, which are stowed immediately beneath the main deck, are safe from the effect of bursting shells….It may not be too late to transfer some of the comparatively useless plating of the main deck of the County class to the slopes of the lower deck. The 4-in. belt can scarcely be modified, but would it not be possible to substitute 5-in. for 4-in. casemates in the ships which are not to be completed till next year?" (Naval Annual 1903, page 353)
Kentand Essex were ordered in the supplementary estimates for 1898-1899 with Monmouth and Bedford closely following in the 1899-1900 Program and the last six in the 1900-1901 Program. However, HMS Monmouth was the first to be laid down on August 29, 1899 at the class became officially known as the Monmouth class. As more modern designs joined the fleet, the ships of the Monmouth class were assigned to foreign stations. In this they were fulfilling the role originally envisioned for them, trade route protection. Because of the lack of any guns heavier than a six-incher, Jackie Fisher commented, "Sir William White designed the ‘County’ class but forgot the guns". HMS Kent was laid down at Portsmouth on February 12, 1900. She was the third of the class to be laid down but was the first to be launched on March 6, 1901. She also was the first to be completed on October 1, 1903.
The armored cruiser craze lasted less than a decade for by 1906 a new type of warship appeared that ended construction of the armored cruiser. This was the battlecruiser. Although HMS Invincible was originally typed as an armored cruiser, her 12-inch gun main armament clearly eclipsed the previous cruiser designs and after a few years the term battlecruiser was coined to describe this new type. Armored cruisers only years old had suddenly became as obsolescent in the face of the Invincible as the predreadnought battleships became with the arrival of HMS Dreadnought. Before long many were placed in reserve, especially the older types. With the coming of World War One they were dusted off and sent back to sea with reserve crews and HMS Kent was one of these.
When Japan joined the allies against Germany, her primary goal was to seize the German possessions in Asia. One prize was the port of Tsing-Tao in China, which was home of the German Asiatic Squadron. Commanded by Admiral Graf von Spee, this force was composed of two excellent armored cruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, as well as five scout cruisers. Although this was a formidable force with superbly trained crews, it certainly was no match for the entire Imperial Japanese Navy. Von Spee steamed out of port and disappeared into the Pacific. The Royal Navy and Japanese Navy sent out squadrons to locate the Asiatic Squadron and Kit Cradock’s cruisers were assigned the South Atlantic. Cradock wanted the modern armored cruiser HMS Defence assigned to strengthen his squadron but this was refused and Cradock was ordered to reconnoiter the coast of Chile in the Pacific. So off went Kit with Good Hope, Monmouth, the scout cruiser Glasgow and auxiliary cruiser Otranto. He also had the predreadnought battleship Canopus but it was reported to Cradock that she was only capable of twelve knots. This was unfortunate, because this old battleship was capable of sixteen knots. Based on the faulty information about Canopus, Cradock left the battleship behind in his search for von Spee. On October 31, 1914 Cradock met von Spee 50 miles west of the Chilean port of Coronel. As night was falling both of Cradock’s cruisers were reduced to wrecks. Good Hope blew up in the night but a critically damaged Monmouth broke contact with the German armored cruisers and tried to struggle to safety. However, she was discovered by the light cruiser SMS Nurnburg. The light cruiser pumped 75 4-inch shells into Monmouth until she capsized.
While her sistership was succumbing to German fire, HMS Kent was cruising peacefully off another continent, preparing for another dawn. Kent had been assigned the duty of patrolling off of the west coast of Africa. She had only been put back into service at the start of October and 3/5ths of her crew were reservists. In crossing the Bay of Biscay in mid-October, half the crew was seasick. As the Admiralty first learned of the disaster of Colonel, Kent was off the coast of Sierra Leone. She was immediately ordered to join the South Atlantic squadron at Albrolhos Rock off of Brazil. On November 28, 1914 the squadron now under the command of Rear Admiral Sturdee who had arrived with the battle cruisers on November 26. All of the ships needed firing practice but especially the older armored cruisers, which had put to sea with scratch crews. On November 30 the squadron had firing practice and Kent and Carnarvon took turns towing targets for each other. Kent expended 144 rounds in an attempt to sharpen her gunner’s skills. Sturdee’s squadron arrived at the Falkland Islands late on December 7. The squadron needed coaling so all of the big ships, except Kent went to the outer harbor of Port William and shut down their boilers for maintenance and coaling. Kent was tasked to stay in the outer harbor with her steam up. She had been designated as a sentry. The auxiliary cruiser Macedonia had the duty until 08:00 December 8 and Kent was ordered to relieve her that morning. That morning would bring von Spee instead.
Von Spee at 5:30 a.m. had detached Gneisenau and Nurnberg to reconnoiter the Port Stanley and Port William anchorages. The weather, which was normally misty, rainy or occluded with sleet or snow in the area of the Falklands was abnormally clear and bright that morning. The Germans were sighted at more than ten miles from Sapper Hill. At 8:45 the smoke of the rest of the German squadron was reported as coming up behind the first two ships. When the Germans were spotted Sturdee ordered Kent to cover the harbor entrance, cover Macedonia and observe the Germans until the British force could get steam up and leave harbor. As the Kent neared the harbor entrance, smoke from the two German ships could be seen over a spit of land. The Gneisenau had spotted the Kent leaving harbor and it was thougth the cruiser was trying to escape. As Gneisenau was steering towards Kent to engage, a round hit her from an unseen assailant, the Canopus. Because the Kent hadn’t fired and the Germans were well outside the range of the six-inch guns on the County Class cruiser, it was guessed that there was something big and dangerous in the harbor. With the hit the Germans turned to rejoin the rest of their squadron. Without this hit the Germans had the opportunity to close the British force. They certainly could have overwhelmed the Kent and perhaps damage the immobile ships sufficiently to allow the German squadron to escape.
The solitary Kent was finally joined by the light cruiser Glasgow at 0945. At 0950 the rest of Sturdee’s squadron weighed anchor and headed for sea. However, it would not be until 10:30 that they were assembled and ready for pursuit. When the squadron took off after the German Asiatic Squadron, it was lead by Glasgow, followed by Kent. However, it was not long before the battle cruisers passed the old armored cruiser. Sturdee signaled "General Chase" and the HMS Kent responded magnificently. A disappointment on her trials and known as the slowest of the Counties, the stokers of the Kent worked wonders. Kent was ordered to fall back and take station off the port quarter of Invincible. Kent proved to be the fastest of the armored cruisers that morning as the Carnarvon limped along at 18-knots and Cornwall managed 22-knots. At 12:20 Sturdee opened the engagement with his battle cruisers. Aboard Inflexible cheers could be heard coming from Kent as the battle cruisers opened fire. Kent had to bide her time as the range was too great for her 6-inch battery. For an hour it was the two British battle cruisers against the two German armored cruisers, as all of the other ships were outside of gunnery range. At 1320 von Spee saw that he could not shake the battle cruisers, so he ordered his light cruisers to break away and escape. His armored cruisers would engage the British to allow the lighter ships a chance to survive.
As the German light cruisers separated from the heavier ships, the British followed the battle plan that had been established more than a week before. That plan called for the battle cruisers to take on the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the other British cruisers to tackle the German light cruisers. Following this plan Glasgow, Kent and Cornwall took off after the three German light cruisers, Leipzig, Nurnberg and Dresden. At this point the Germans had a ten to twelve mile lead. The sluggish Carnarvon, ten miles behind, continued trudging after the battle cruisers. For more than two hours the armored cruisers chased the lighter German ships. Only Glasgow possessed the speed to close quickly but she couldn’t take on three cruisers at once. The German ships would have been faster but after four months at sea their hulls were foul and their machinery creaky from constant use. At 15:45 the German cruisers parted from each other. Dresden, the lead ship turned southwest, Nurnberg turned east and the trailing Leipzig continued on the original southern course. It was decided that two birds in the hand were worth three in the bush and the Dresden was not followed as she still had a substantial lead. While Glasgow and Cornwall continued after Leipzig, Kent turned to follow Nurnberg.
The performance of the engine crew of HMS Kent during her chase of Nurnberg was nothing short of spectacular. The Kent could not hit 22 knots at her trials more than a decade earlier, when she was fresh from the builders, and yet she had to be told to fall back by Sturdee in the general chase. By 11:00 that morning Kent was already hitting the original designed speed of 23-knots. As she chased after Dresden at 16:00 that afternoon the old, worn out Kent, who could only crawl along at ten knots a month earlier, hit 24-knots, only a knot less than the battle cruisers. Captain Allen thought that his command had actually achieved 25-knots as her ihp was exceeded by 5,000ihp. Since Kent had been selected as guard ship, she had kept her steam up and not coaled. As a result, during the chase she was short of coal. To make up for this shortage the enthusiastic crew tore apart anything wooden to feed the fires of the ship’s boilers. Ladders, doors, officer’s furniture, the chaplain’s lectern, the paymaster’s desk and even deck planking went into the fires to allow Kent to close the distance with Nurnberg. However, it paid off and Kent closed the distance. By 17:00 the range was 11,000 yards. Nurnberg fired with her aft 4.1-inch guns and Kent opened up with her forward turret guns but the shells fell short. By 17:09 Kent was in range and fired continuously. The long range firing seemed to get no results but at 17:35 Nurnberg suffered a mechanical failure. The worn machinery could not take the extended stress of operating at top speed. Two boilers burst from salt condensation and Nurnberg’s ability to flee disappeared.
The final engagement resembled two mismatched pugilists in a prizefight. The Nurnberg had a lighter punch with her 4.1-inch guns but her gun crews were highly trained through years of service on that ship and the fact that the Dresden was part of the best firing squadron in the German Navy. She could land punches faster and in greater quantity. On the other hand the Kent was a much heavier opponent. Unlike the nimble, precise Dresden, which was the boxer of the two, the Kent was a bar room brawler. Her green gun crews could not hope to match the precision and quickness of the German gun crews. However, her 6-inch guns were rib crushers, capable chewing apart the light German ship if she could score enough hits. The key to this was to get in close to punch the guts out of the German ship. When Kent had trimmed the range to 7,000 yards, Nurnberg turned broadside to finish the duel. Kent with her belt armor continued to close to 3,000 yards. As Kent bored in, most of the German shells could not penetrate Kent’s armor. Contrary to the earlier observation of the Kent’s chaplain, the armored cruiser scored hit after hit on her lighter opponent. However, Nurnberg still scored damaging hits. One shell wrecked a 6-inch casemate position and another shell wrecked the Kent’s radio room. The casemate strike could have been disastrous. The 4.1-inch shell burst upon hitting the A3 casemate and ignited charges inside the gun position. A flash of flame followed down the ammunition handling trunk but Sergeant Charles Mayes at the bottom of the trunk threw away the open charge at the bottom of the trunk and flooded the compartment. Without that action Captain Allen stated in his after action report that it was entirely possible that the flash could have set up a chain reaction until it reached the magazine, blowing up the ship. The Royal Navy failed to learn from this event, as the losses of RN battle cruisers and armored cruisers to magazine explosions at Jutland were to prove.
The body blows of the 6-inch guns of Kent quickly made a shambles of Nurnberg. Funnels and the mainmast were lost, guns were disabled and by 18:25 Nurnberg was dead in the water. In ten more minutes the last German gun was silenced and Kent ceased fire. As Kent waited alongside the burning Nurnberg, the German cruiser still flew her flag. Kent resumed firing at 18:57 and Nurnberg finally lowered her colors. "Kent closed in through the mist and saw the flames dancing above the light cruiser’s deck and shooting out from portholes and jagged holes in the hull. The rain pattering on the decks and hissing into the fires had little effect because it was accompanied by gusts of wind that fanned the flames more than the rain quenched them." (Castles of Steel, 2003 by Robert K. Massie, at page 278) Kent patched two boats and quickly launched them to recover survivors. At 19:27 the Nurnberg turned over and went down by the bow. Crewmen on Kent threw ropes over the cruisers sides, hoping that some of the German crew could make use of them. Searchlights illuminated the scene in an effort to increase the odds of the British boats and German survivors sighting each other. The water was intensely cold and seas were gathering. Hypothermia undoubtedly rapidly ran through the ranks of German survivors. The British continued their rescue mission past 21:00. The results were meager. Twelve Germans were rescued but five subsequently died of their exposure. Only seven of a crew of 400 were saved and Otto von Spee, son of the squadron commander was not among them.
Kent had won her fight and avenged the Monmouth but did take casualties. The Nurnberg had scored 37 4.1-inch hits but the design theories behind the armored cruiser concept had been proven. The armor of Kent was never penetrated. The armored cruiser had come into being to run down and destroy marauding commerce destroyers, and that is exactly what Kent had accomplished. Emden had already shown how dangerous and destructive the German light cruisers of the Asiatic Squadron could be. Kent lost four dead and twelve wounded. The next morning the ship was enveloped in a thick fog and the captain could not ascertain her location. She could pick up radio transmissions but could not send them. All day Kent heard calls trying to raise her but could not respond. Since Sturdee did not hear from Kent, he thought the ship might have been lost and made for her last known position with his battle cruisers. It was not until the afternoon of December 9 that Invincible received a message from Macedonia that Kent had appeared off Port Stanley. After repairs Kent was sent to the Pacific in the search for the sole surviving German ship, Dresden.
For three months Kent was engaged in her fruitless mission of seeking Dresden. The British intercepted a German telegram ordering colliers to rendezvous with Dresden 300 miles west of Coronel on March 5, 1915 and Kent was directed to close this location. Kent found nothing but on the afternoon of March 8, Kent spotted the Dresden at the range of 12 miles. Again Kent took off in pursuit of the last surviving cruiser of von Spee’s squadron. Kent worked up to 21-knots but could not repeat the heroic performance of December 8. Undoubtedly her machinery was strained from her performance during the chase of Nurnberg and in was unable to come to grips with the faster German cruiser. Dresden had disappeared over the horizon for an hour and as night descended with the Kent short of coal, Kent had to break off the chase. The next day Dresden put into Cumberland Bay in Chile. The cruiser only had 100 tons of coal left and when told by authorities that the ship had to leave in 24 hours and could not await colliers, Dresden’s captain decided he had no choice but to be interned by Chile. Dresden was still flying her flag at that location on March 14 when she was closed by Kent, Glasgow and Orama. Kent came in from the east while the other two lighter ships came in from the west. The British force had been ordered to destroy the Dresden, rather than see her interned and with no Chilean warships present, steamed into Chilean waters to finish the German cruiser. At a range of 8,400 yards Glasgow opened fire on the anchored Dresden at 08:50, followed shortly after by Kent. The Dresden could neither fight nor flee, however, she did open fire at the overwhelming British force. Within three minutes British shell strikes had so damaged the Dresden that she lowered her flag. Captain Ludecke of Dresden sent Lieutenant Canaris, later Admiral Canaris head of intelligence for the Kriegsarine, in a boat to Glasgow to parlay. This was done just to gain time to allow the Dresden to be scuttled. In addition to haggling with Canaris, Captain Luce also had to issue apologies to the Chilean governor because his boat had been fired upon by the British during the short engagement with Dresden. In the meantime the German crew was transported ashore and sea cocks and underwater torpedo doors on Dresden were opened. At 10:45 the forward magazine of Dresden exploded. As the ship settled by the bow, the German crew on shore cheered their ship and the crew of Kent lined her rails and also cheered the Dresden.
The rest of the war had to be an anticlimax for the crew of Kent. The Counties were designed to be trade protection cruisers, a role in which HMS Kent excelled. Larger armored cruisers were also designed for fleet work. It was the bigger cruisers that suffered catastrophic losses at Jutland. Of the 35 armored cruisers built to seven designs, it is ironic that the most successful of the breed would be one of the discredited Counties, whose lack of any gun bigger than a 6-inch was ridiculed by Jackie Fisher and others. However, the Counties proved their worth. Only Monmouth was lost to enemy action and that was against a superior force. In marked contrast none of the 19 RN armored cruisers mounting 9.2-inch guns sank anything and eight of their number were sunk in action against the German Navy. The Counties served everywhere patrolling the long sea routes of Great Britain and serving as convoy escorts. Kent destroyed one cruiser and took part in sinking another. Cornwall also took part in sinking another cruiser. After the war HMS Kent was sold in 1920 and broken up. (History from: (The Anatomy of British Seapower, 1940, by Arthur Marder; Castles of Steel, 2003 by Robert K. Massie: Coronel and the Falklands, 1962 by Geoffrey Bennett; The Naval Annual 1899, 1899, Recent Warship Construction by T.A. Brassey, Chapter VI; The Naval Annual 1899, 1899, First Lord’s Memorandum by George J. Goschen First Lord of the Admiralty; Naval Annual 1900; Naval Annual 1901, The Past Five Years’ Warship-Building by Archibald S. Hurd; Naval Annual 1903;)
Combrig HMS Kent
The first Royal Navy armored cruiser is now available in 1:700 scale. Actually, I should say the first three are now available. Combrig has produced three armored cruisers of the County or Monmouth class, HMS Monmouth, HMS Kent and HMS Cumberland. The Monmouth kit appears to portray the cruiser as she appeared in 1914, although 1903 is shown on the box. Monmouth and Cumberland appear to be identical with a spotting top on the foremast and another lower on the mainmast but Kent appears as she appeared early in her career with a control top only on the foremast and open platform on the mainmast. Although this was the shortest and lightest of the Royal Navy armored cruiser designs at the turn of the century, the Kent hull is still surprisingly large at 7 5/8-inches in length. Another revelation is in terms of complexity. One would believe that any armored cruiser other than that for the Cressy would be rather simple with one large hull and numbers of funnels. Cressy would seem to be more complex on account of all of the deck ventilators that appeared on that class but disappeared with the following Drake class. However, if you are expecting a simple kit with minimal parts in the Kent, you’ll be wrong. The kit has a wide array of resin parts as well as a ship specific brass photo-etch fret.
There are a number of notable features on the hull sides of the Kent. First of all is the narrowness of the bow at the waterline. This cruiser class was given very fine lines at the bow and this is reflected in the narrow waterline, which flares out significantly to the forecastle deck. Secondly there are QF positions on each side of the bow and stern. To allow bow on or stern on fire, the hull sides are cut away with the upper sill horizontal to the waterline and the lower sills angled downward. Another strong feature is the presence of double story casemate positions forward and aft. In reality the lower guns were so low to the waterline that they could not be worked in heavy seas. Both of the double story positions on each side curve outward from the hull sides. In addition to provide end on fire the hull sides were flattened in front of the forward position and behind the aft position. This process created additional interesting architectural features in that there is a sharp angle from the forward position extending upwards to the forecastle. The effect on the stern position is less dramatic but interesting nonetheless. All of the gun ports are portrayed with the armored shutters in closed positions with only the barrel extending beyond the shutters. There is also an amidships 6-inch casemate position on the lower deck. This was also subjected to flooding in heavy seas. There are double rows of portholes at the bow and stern and although the upper row extended a short distance past the double story casemates, there was primarily a single row amidships. Twin anchor hawse on the starboard, a single hawse on the port and of course the prominent ram bow add further strength of character to the design of the hull sides.
Normally with most ships there are minimal distinguishing features on the sides of the hull but a wealth of detail on the decks. With the Combrig Kent you not only get a great deal of interesting hull detail on the sides but even a greater level of detail on the decks than is found on most models. The cruiser has a very short forecastle. The forward half contains all of the anchor gear fittings, chain plates and deck anchor hawse. On each side of this short deck are three twin bollard plates. Right behind this is the barbette for the forward 6-inch gun turret. The aft end of the forecastle has a recess for the lower level of the bridge. Between these two positions are a couple of skylights. To jump to the opposite end of ship, the quarterdeck is also rather short. Here there are five more skylights, three more twin bollard plates on each side and the aft turret barbette.
However, it is the long waist or amidships that packs in most of the detail. The fittings or houses here really have superb detail. Each of the three funnels has a sizable deck house cast into the deck. Each of these is unique in shape and design with significant trunking running into the forward part of each stack house. Aft of the three stacks are two very large coamings with a multitude of access hatches and skylights. In addition to these two large positions there are five smaller coamings scattered along the deck. Further there are three QF positions on each side marked by lower bulkheads at the location of the guns.
Smaller Resin Parts
but with higher pipes. Bedford and Donegal had only three steam pipes, all on the aft face of the stacks. Kent, Cornwall and Lancaster had pipes on fore and aft faces on all three stacks. Berwick, Essex and Suffolk had single pipes on the aft face of stacks one and two and two pipes on the third stack. A rectangle of resin film contains the various decks and the individual parts should be smoothed after removal from the resin sheet. The largest of these is a deck that fits over the aft two-story casemates. This deck is asymmetrical and includes four skylights. Each of the forward casemates also has a top deck that are different from each other. A long resin catwalk is included that connects the forecastle with the aft superstructure. For the forward superstructure/bridge there is a separate lower deckhouse upon which rests an upper deck with conning tower. Has a criss-cross pattern upon which rests photo-etch supports for the bridge itself. The pilothouse on the bridge is well done with square windows on every side but the rear. The bridge has solid bulkheads on the wings and on top of the pilothouse. This would simulate canvas dodgers, since the ship had open railings at these positions. You could remove the solid bulkheads and add photo-etch railing. For even finer detail the canvas could be simulated by using white glue to fill in the openings in the brass rail. The control tops make up the rest of this sheet. Note that each top has a different design. The aft top is rounded at each end but the foretop has a flattened forward end. Also included is an open platform placed above the main top.
The two six-inch gun turrets each have raised commander’s positions with close set openings for each of the two barrels in the turret. Two runners of seven 6-inch gun barrels provide the heavy guns. Minor cleanup will be needed at the muzzle and base of each gun. Combrig also provides excellent open QF guns. Each includes a finely detailed gun and separate pedestal. The large boat complement consists of two steam launches, a large whaler, eleven smaller oared boats and a raft. Since many of these boats rest atop of brass boat skids over the deck they will be prominent on the finished model. However, the steam launches and large whaler rest atop the aft superstructure/boat deck. Six of the smaller boats can be on the skids with davits arranged inboard or swung outboard on the davits, Three large resin runners contain 42 deck fittings. These fittings include seven cable reels, two deck houses, six large circular ventilators, two vertical hull strakes, small round ventilators, binnacles, hawse plates and assorted other parts. Six smaller resin runners contain searchlights, large deck winches, anchors, windlasses and two more vertical hull strakes.
Brass Photo-Etch Fret
As with other Combrig kits, the Kent contains a brass photo-etch fret with ship specific parts. No railing is included and although the fret has inclined ladders, they are without hand railings. It would be better to substitute photo-etch inclined ladder with railings. The positions of the inclined ladders are indicated on the plan included in the instructions. These locations are: two from the deck to the aft upper deck, two from the deck to the forecastle and a series running up the aft face of the bridge. The largest brass parts are for the raised boat skids that run over the deck amidships. Each of the control tops has brass starfish supports provided on the fret. The detail for the bridge includes wing supports, the supports between conning tower and bridge, and chart table. Other brass detail includes numerous boat chocks, reels, anchor chain, boom brackets, ship’s wheel, siren platform and other items.
The Kent kit comes with the standard Combrig instructions. This is one back-printed sheet. Page one contains a short history in English and specifications for the ship. Of crucial importance is the inclusion of 1:700 scale plan and profile of the ship. These drawings are very important to locate the exact positioning of parts and to show locations of some parts not shown in the assembly diagram, such as the inclined ladders. Another benefit of these drawings is the presence of a rigging diagram. The back has two primary assembly diagrams with seven insets for subassemblies. One large diagram is just devoted to the boat skids, catwalk and boat locations with an inset with boats swung out on davits. The other large drawing shows the primary assembly. Photo-etch parts are identified with the initials PE. Insets include foremast starfish; mainmast starfish; brass reels; turrets; and QF assemblies. For the most part the locations for the parts can be located but in some cases it is difficult to ascertain which part goes where. As mentioned above, consultation with the plan and profile on the front page is absolutely crucial in placement of many parts.
Time to revenge the Monmouth. With the Combrig 1:700 scale HMS Kent, you’ll have the most effective of the 35 armored cruisers to fly the White Ensign. This small County class armored cruiser sank two German light cruisers in distant waters and justified the County class design concept as commerce protectors.