"But such as it was, her value rapidly deteriorated after five years’ service, when an adaptability to the ceremonial side of the Service more or less relegated military qualities to the background, so that she became rated more highly as a yacht than as a ship of war." Dr. Oscar Parkes on HMS Renown, British Battleships, 1972 by Oscar Parkes, at page 372. "Being a good sea boat, steering well and rolling easily, she was well fitted for the duties of battle-ship-yacht between 1902 and 1905." Dr. Oscar Parkes on HMS Renown, British Battleships, 1972 by Oscar Parkes, at page 375.
Can you bring a smile to the face of little Jackie Fisher? Little Jackie has been relegated by the bigger boys to a neglected corner of the Admiralty. There are barely enough subalterns to prepare a proper tea service and only French pastries are available for between the wars snacks. Chucky Beresford is the leader of a gang of troglodyte knuckle-draggers that have been bullying little Jackie by making light of his ideas in battleship design. That "Bwig Bwully Bweast Bweresford" as little Jackie calls his chief tormentor, believes in large guns and heavy armor at the expense of speed and handiness in battleship design. As little Jackie espouses and we all know, speed is the essential characteristic in battleship design. Will your conscience allow this deplorable situation to continue? Can you let little Jackie continue to exist in these hovel-like conditions? Now you can act and relieve little Jackie from this gilded shantytown existence. Through the United Neglected Admirals Fund it is possible through a one-time purchase to bring a smile to the grimy face of little Jackie. True! Unlike other organizations, like the Oar Preservation Consortium, Save the Sails Society, Pneumatic Dynamite Gun Gang and the Torpedo Ram Club, which seek monthly contributions for their worthy causes the United Neglected Admirals Fund needs only a single remission. Rightfully you ask, "How is this possible? How can I bring a smile to the face of Little Jackie?" The simple answer is to be found in the new release of the British 2nd class battleship, HMS Renown, in 1:700 scale by Combrig.
As the 18th century turned into the 19th, the most famous Admiral in the Royal Navy was Horatio Nelson. The ship most closely associated with Lord Nelson was his flagship for his greatest triumph of Trafalgar and site of his death, the 1st Rate, three-decked 100 gun HMS Victory. However, it has been said that Lord Nelson’s favorite ship was not the huge 1st Rate but a humble 3rd Rate, the 64 gun two decker, HMS Agamemnon. At present the name of the most famous Admiral of the Royal Navy as the 19th century turned into the 20th was John A. "Jackie" Fisher. Jackie Fisher is most famous for the introduction of the all big gun battleship HMS Dreadnought. What is most overlooked about the Dreadnought design was its high speed. Battle line speed was 18-knots until the 21-knot Dreadnought raised the standard of battle line speed. However, Fisher’s true love in ship design was the battle cruiser. Fisher’s ideas had evolved from the 1890s when he had been a prime factor in the decision to construct the 2nd class battleship HMS Renown. In spite of the more modern designs for which Admiral Fisher was responsible later, there can be little doubt that HMS Renown was a consistent favorite.
With William Watt’s design of the Royal Sovereign class of the 1889 program (click for review of the Combrig Royal Sovereign) it is common to think that the era of the odd battleship design was over. By and large that was true but there were still a few "oddities" prepared even after this design. One was a heavy turret, low freeboard alternate version of the Royal Sovereign. This design had heavy turrets rather than open barbettes. The First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Arthur Hood pushed this instead of the Watt’s design. One ship, named HMS Hood, was built in conformance to Admiral Hood’s wishes. Two other oddities appeared in the following 1890 program, although they were originally part of the same program with the Royal Sovereigns. These were the 2nd class battleships, Centurion and Barfleur. They were intentionally designed to serve as flagships on foreign stations. To use the Suez Canal and to help with navigation of the Yangtze, they had to draw less than 26-feet. They were clearly inferior to the contemporary first class battleships of the Royal Sovereign class, except in one area. They were shorter (360-feet vs 380-feet), more narrow (70-feet vs 75-feet), had lighter armament (four 10-inch & ten 4.7-inch vs four 13.5-inch & ten 6-inch) and had lighter armor (12-inch vs 18-inch belt) than the Royal Sovereigns. One requirement was that the Centurions be faster than 1st class battleships. The same 9,000 shp power plant as the heavier battleships (10,500-tons vs 14,000-tons), they were faster (17-knots vs 16-knots).
In 1892 the Royal Navy wanted to build a new battleship design utilizing a new 12-inch gun. Plans called for three of these ships to be laid down. However, the new gun was not ready and two of the ships, which became the Majestic class, were delayed. However, it was decided to build a ship at Pembroke Dockyard to maintain the workforce. Since the Majestic design was not ready and it made no sense to build any more of the 1st class Royal Sovereigns or 2nd class Centurions, it was decided to build an upgraded 2nd class battleship. The result of this "make work" project was HMS Renown, the last 2nd class battleship built for the Royal Navy. The decision to build a smaller 2nd class battleship was strongly urged by two influential officers. One was Captain Cyprian Bridge, who was the Director of National Intelligence. He wished to have battleships of "moderate dimensions", which was normally a euphemism used by politicians to justify construction of smaller, cheaper, less capable battleships. The other proponent of this light battleship design was the Controller and DNO, Rear Admiral John A. "Jackie" Fisher. What Fisher wanted was a battleship with the lightest reasonable main gun and the heaviest reasonable secondary guns. In this desire it is possible to see the genesis in his thinking which would eventually lead to the all big gun Dreadnought, in which medium secondaries gave way to all big guns. Another factor, which Fisher admired, was the extra speed that the lighter design would have. Fisher was so enthused with the design that he wanted a class of six Renowns. However, the rest of the Admiralty balked at this because of the 10-inch gun main armament.
HMS Renown took the Centurion design, enlarged and improved it. White, who had no use for 2nd class battleships, quickly sketched out three designs varying from 13,050-tons to 12,350-tons. The difference in displacement came from the coal capacity. The lightest design had about half the coal capacity of the largest. The Admiralty chose the lightest design but the actual construction of the Renown was slowed by changes to the armor scheme. Harvey armor was selected as the chief component for Renown. It had been used with limited application on the previous two designs but not for the main belt. The Harvey process hardened the face of the armor so that a thinner belt would have the same shell resistance as a thicker belt of steel or compound nickel-steel armor used in previous designs. Because of this Renown only had an 8-inch belt, compared to the 12-inch belt in the Centurions. One benefit of the lighter main belt was that armor strakes could be added higher up on the hull. Another change was the use of a sloping armored deck instead of a flat one. The main guns were designed to completely enclosed in gun houses rather than having open rears as in the Centurions. However, due to weight caused her to be initially fitted with open back positions as in Centurion. Her turrets did not receive their backs until 1903-1904. Lastly the 6-inch secondary guns were placed in armored casemates, rather than have lightly armored gun shields as found in the 4.7-inch secondary guns in the Centurions. As completed the Renown had the same length as the Royal Sovereigns and displaced 1,850-tons more than the Centurions. Although beam and draught increased over the Centurions, these were still less than the 1st class Royal Sovereigns. As a 2nd class battleship she was prepared for foreign station service by having here bottom sheathed in copper.
The main guns were 10-inch/40 rather than the shorter 10-inch/32 found in the Centurion. Renown also used hydraulic and electrical power for the turrets, because of Centurion’s difficulties with steam powered guns. Renown was the last British battleship to have manual loading of the main guns and the guns had to be at end on/centerline for this, so rate of fire had to be rather slow. Renown was considered far more satisfactory than the Centurion design just because of the heavier secondary guns. Foreign battleship designs of the 1890s had large areas of superstructure and hull unprotected by armor. The 6-inch guns had a far larger bursting charge and penetrating power than the 4.7-inch guns mounted in Centurion and Barfleur. Placement of these guns did retard their effectiveness. Three were mounted at main deck on each side only 14-feet above the waterline. In any sort of seaway, if they could be worked, the range of vision of these locally controlled guns was very limited. The other two guns were in positions on the upper deck, which was a far better placement. The Renown also marked an upgrade of the quick-firing QF complement of British battleships. Torpedo boats were getting bigger and the 6pdr QF mounted in the earlier designs were now too light to provide the necessary stopping power. With Renown the 12pdr QF gun was adopted, which became the standard Royal Navy QF through Dreadnought.
For Renown a more powerful machinery plant was worked into the design compared to the 9,000shp plants in the Royal Sovereign and Centurion designs. Each of the twin screws was powered by three cylinder vertical triple expansion VTE engines, which developed a total power of 10,000shp on the design. The side by side funnel arrangement was a factor of the boiler layout, as they had been in the previous two designs. Four boilers were placed on the port back to back with four on the starboard with two boiler compartments on each side. The Renown did not have a central passage between the port and starboard boiler rooms, as found in the Royal Sovereigns, so the funnels were placed closer together. Her designed normal maximum speed of 17-knots was easily achieved, with a forced draught design of 12,000shp and 18-knots maximum.
HMS Renown was laid down on February 1, 1893, launched on May 8, 1895 and completed in January 1897. After lengthy trials and a change of propeller blades, Renown was finally commissioned on June 8, 1897. As completed with her long forecastle with marked sheer and the twin closely spaced funnels, the HMS Renown was the most graceful battleship in the fleet. The HMS Renown would not remain a private ship for long. On June 26, 1897 the brand new battleship was selected as flagship for the Fleet Review on the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The commander in chief for the review who selected Renown for his flag was none other than Vice Admiral Jackie Fisher. Fisher clearly fell in love for this design that he had pushed so hard to build. She had grace and speed and met his desires for armament. After the review Renown spent a month in the 1st Division of the Channel Fleet but on August 24, 1897 became the flagship of the newly appointed commander of the North American and West Indies Stations, who was none other than Vice Admiral Jackie Fisher. She served for two years on this station before receiving a refit in spring 1899. After the refit HMS Renown was chosen to be the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet, the most prestigious command within the Royal Navy at that time. The new commander of the Mediterranean Fleet who chose Renown was none other than Vice Admiral Jackie Fisher.
It was during this time, if not before, that HMS Renown became the battleship for the fashionable and upper crust. In the Mediterranean the Renown frequently hosted dances. Jackie Fisher enjoyed these soirees and had the flash plates protecting the deck under the 10-inch gun muzzles removed because the ladies would trip over the plates during the frequent dances. When Jackie went on to a new position on May 20, 1902 the Renown remained in the fleet as a private ship because another ship was chosen for the flag by his successor. However, the Renown remained fashionable. In the fall of 1902 she was chosen to transport the Duke and Duchess of Connaught in a trip to India. It was during this period that she became known as the "battleship yacht". This lasted from November 1902 to March 1903. She returned to the Mediterranean and in August 1903 became temporary flag for the fleet. After being at the center of the social scene since her commissioning in 1897, 1904 was a down year for Renown. She returned to Great Britain, participated in maneuvers but was placed into reserve. Ah but the best was yet to come.
What mission could be considered of the highest social rung for any ship serving in the Royal Navy? Why Royal Yacht of course. HMS Renown reached this lofty pinnacle in 1905 as she was chosen to transport Prince (future King George V) and Princess of Wales to India. Apparently the Duke and Duchess of Connaught had nothing but praise for the ship. Of course with the heir to the throne aboard there would be a bigger entourage than a mere Duke and some concessions would have to be made. So to provide extra accommodations almost all of the six-inch guns were removed. After all the 10-inch guns were more than enough to discourage any ruffians or mischief-makers. In October 1905 Renown left Portsmouth for Genoa, Italy where the Royal couple boarded. This mission lasted until May 7, 1906 when she returned to Portsmouth. From May 1907 Renown was attached to the Home Fleet not as a battleship but as a "Subsidiary Yacht". She still had Royal duty ahead of her. At the end of that year her services as a sea-going taxi were again in call as from October to December she shuttled the King and Queen of Spain to and from the United Kingdom for an official visit. However, that was her last hurrah.
Now the Royal Navy had dreadnoughts and the most fashionable warships were the battle cruisers. Her once fine lines were now clearly dated next to these huge beautiful greyhounds and the aging prima donna was no longer in demand. Like an aged screen star that no longer receives contract offers for movies or an aged race horse that is put out to pasture, HMS Renown was past her prime and no longer drew the praise or admiration of Royalty or the public. She was transferred from her special service as "Subsidiary Yacht" on April 1, 1909 to the 4th Division of the Home Fleet but that was only a very temporary respite to her quick slide into oblivion. The balance of her career was a rather sad series of useful but dreary duties. In September 1909 she lost her commission as a battleship and was given the new mission as a training ship for stokers. From November 1909 to January 1913 she was known as the STS, Stoker’s Training Ship, although in June 1911 she temporarily served as an accommodation ship for visitors of the Coronation Review of King George V, who had sailed aboard her only a mere four years and a month previously. Now she was only a notch above a hulk and had the further ignominy of being rammed by a water tanker in November 1911. Her time finally came in January 1913 when she was put up for sale. On April 2, 1914 she was sold to Hughes Bolcklow and broken up.
As sad as the fall and dénouement of the HMS Renown may have been, her name rose like a Phoenix from the ashes. With the start of World War One in August 1914 as the breakers torches cut into the remains of HMS Renown, further battleship design and construction for long term projects was halted. The last class that would be completed would be the Royal Sovereigns. Five of these had already been laid down but two more that had approved but not started were suspended. However, the Admiralty received a new 1st Sea Lord who had definite ideas of what an ideal capital ship should be composed. With the victory of British battle cruisers at the Falklands, the new 1st Sea Lord gained what he sought. He would use the material accumulated for the last two Royal Sovereigns but not to build battleships. He would use them to complete two huge, greyhounds of the sea, battle cruisers to be named Renown class. In two decades history had come full circle. Just as the lithe HMS Renown of 1892 had been Fisher’s favorite over the 1890 Royal Sovereign design, so now did Jackie favor the HMS Renown of 1915 over the Royal Sovereign design of 1913. However, there was a difference in the two Renown’s histories. The 2nd class battleship Renown won her temporary fame as a social palace and yacht, while the battle cruiser Renown won her enduring fame as a fighting warship. Jackie Fisher would smile at the irony. (History from: British Battleships, 1972 by Oscar Parkes; British Battleships 1889-1904, 1988 by R.A. Burt)
The Combrig Renown
If you look at the photograph on the Combrig box for their HMS Renown it lists the year of the fit as 1897. The photograph shown is of a white and buff Renown, which is not the paint scheme that she had in 1897 upon completion. She was finished in the traditional black, white and buff livery used by most battleships not on foreign stations. Photographs of the Renown in the Mediterranean as Jackie Fisher’s flagship show her still in that livery. Although Renown was painted gray in 1903, when Renown started her career as Royal yacht she was definitely painted in the white and buff scheme with a green waterline and a dark, possibly red line at the top of the sheer. In fact because of this special duty she retained the white paint scheme well past the time that the other battleships had gone to gray paint schemes.
If you consult the two-page plan and profile of Renown in the reference by R.A. Burt (pages 102 & 103) you will notice that these drawings are labeled as 1897 as fitted. If you compare the plan and profile of the Combrig Renown with these plans and profiles, you’ll notice that the Combrig hull is pretty much dead on in details and placement with the R.A. Burt drawings. The hull casting is crisply cast with no voids or other casting defects. The hull sides come with plenty of detail. This includes recessed positions for main deck QF guns, three nicely detailed main deck 6-inch casemates, oval anchor hawse, vertical hull strakes, rows of round portholes/scuttles and a row of small square windows. In a transition from the vertical hull sides to the horizontal forecastle, you have those wonderful fittings known as anchor washer boards. A stockless anchor may be more efficient but is very uninteresting compared to the archaic fittings of stocked anchors. Stocked anchors would have to be winched aft of the hawse and placed on slanted washer boards. Stocked anchors, combined with washer boards add a high level of interest and detail at the bow. The upper deck gun doors, both for 6-inch and QF, are clearly defined. Deck detail is in abundance and very well done. There are plenty of deck coamings, skylights, bollard plates, anchor chain plates and other minutiae to clutter the decks.
However, what if the drawings missed something? For instance, where are the deck blast protection plates that Jackie Fisher removed to save the ladies from tripping? They are not on the R.A. Burt drawing or the decks of the model. Both R.A. Burt and Oscar Parkes mention in their text that Fisher had them removed, while he was commander of the Mediterranean Fleet, probably at Malta from February to May 1900. More than likely they were present upon completion rather than having been added later. There is another problem about the kit representing an as built Renown. According to the text by R.A. Burt at page 104 states that the open backs to the ten-inch turrets were not added until 1903-1904. The turrets in the Combrig kit have closed backs, which would be suitable for 1903-1904 but not before. On the other hand Parkes doesn’t mention that the turrets ever had open backs. All he states is that the turrets on Renown differed from those on Centurion by having closed backs. The QF guns all come with gun shields. Per Burt the QF guns in the tops had their shields removed in 1898-1899 but it is an easy fix to remove the shields from the Combrig pieces if you wish to have a fit after this period. So, the two discrepancies in the kit from an as fitted Renown would be the lack of deck blast plates that follow the arcs of the muzzles of the ten-inch guns. A photograph from HMS Resolution in 1896 included in the instruction photographs shows the appearance of these plates. Also, if the text in the Burt reference is correct, the turrets should be opened backed. The kit also lacks the torpedo nets and booms that were fitted when commissioned.
If you wish to build the Renown as Fisher’s flagship in the Mediterranean, there would be other changes. The lack of deck blast plates would be correct, however, the turret backs should still be open and not closed. Gun shields of QF guns in tops should be removed. There would be visible QF guns on the forward and aft superstructures because Fisher had all main deck QF guns moved there. Combrig provides eight QF guns although only four are used in the as commissioned fit, shown in the instructions. Also the lower top QF guns were mounted one on each turret crown. The signal bridge of the aft superstructure would be moved to aft of the foremast. Burt also indicates that Fisher had most ventilator cowls replaced with canvas windsails. Which, ones are not indicated. Photographs clearly show that Renown retained the two largest cowls amidship, the two on each side of the mainmast and at least four of the small ones located around the forward turret. When the Renown was selected as the transport of the Duke and Duchess of Connaught the main deck six-inch guns were removed. This is no problem as the doors remained. The torpedo nets (and I assume booms) were removed. According to Burt the remaining cowls were replaced by windsails but apparently the nets and some cowls were remounted in 1903. For the mission of transporting the Prince and Princess of Wales to India, the upper deck 6-inch guns were removed. Again, no problem since the doors remained. Torpedo nets (and presumably booms) were again removed. A chart house was added to the aft superstructure.
The smaller resin parts are of the usual excellent Combrig quality. Most of the platforms and decks are a very thin resin wafer/film. Pilothouses have incised square windows. All railings are shown as solid, as if they were equipped with canvas dodgers. If you wish to build the Renown with open railing, it is a simple matter to removed the solid rail and substitute brass. There is no photo-etch supplied in this kit. I’ve already mentioned the problem with the closed backs on the main gun turrets, however, with a power drill and a little caution, the turret rears could be opened up and rectangular gun breeches inserted. The ventilator cowlings are outstanding. No one produces this feature better than Combrig. Stacks are good with a significant upper lip and satisfactory depth to convey a three dimensional image. Ship’s boats are of the usual high quality as well. Some of the steam launches have separate funnels. In this area, the kit contains an assortment of very fine and delicate boat cradles. Small fittings, such as windlasses, anchors, signal lamps and searchlights also have fine detail.
The instructions for the Renown are in the standard Combrig format with one sheet of back-printed instructions. The front side has a 1:700 scale plan and profile of the ship, which is used to pin point locations for placement of the parts. These drawings look exactly like a 1:700 scale version of the larger plan and profile of the ship found in the R.A. Burt reference. Always consult these drawings before making the attachment of any part. The ship’s statistics are in Russian but the ship’s history is in Russian and English. The second page contains a photograph of the parts included in the kit, so that you can verify that you have them all. The actual assembly is shown through two isometric drawings. The first one shows attachment of the superstructure, stacks, turrets and other large structural items. The second assembly drawing shows the attachment of the smaller parts, such as davits, boats, smaller ventilators and masts. The Renown is a very simple kit to build and the instructions appear more than adequate. Always remember to consult the plan and profile on the front page.
The Combrig HMS Renown is a beautifully cast model. Detail is crisp and plentiful. It is somewhat marred as representing the early fit of Renown by the lack of deck blast plates and the presence of rear bulkheads on the turrets. These can be fixed with a little patience by most modelers with some experience. Other fits of the ship can be built but they will require some other modifications in their own right. However, the Combrig Renown offers great opportunities to the Royal Navy modeler as well as being of interest to the naval historian. Just the color scheme options offer a wide variety of choices. Just think of a white battleship, with buff funnels, red striping and a green waterline flying the Royal colors. Who wouldn’t want to model a battleship in that gaudy livery?