Every so often, something new will come down the pike that is so perfect that it will set the standard in design for the foreseeable future. Warship designs are no different. When the Board of the Admiralty for the Royal Navy met on August 17, 1888, the Royal Navy had been experimenting with battleship designs for the last 30 years. Low freeboard, high freeboard, guns in barbettes, guns in heavy turrets, guns in a central redoubt, sail or no sail; everything had been tried and no consensus had arisen. The designs of the Royal Navy for that 30-year period had created a collection of samples. The non-homogeneous battle line featured a bewildering series of designs, all of which featured one thing in common, each design had far more cons than pros.

When the board met at the Devonport Dockyard, they were to decide the battleship design for the 1889 estimates. After much discussion certain items were settled. The design would mount four 13.5 inch guns, two forward and two aft; there would be ten 6-Inch secondary guns, mounted 5 per broadside; the main armor belt would be at least 18-inches thick. As far as the details, that was left to the Director of Naval Construction (DNC) William White. The former chief designer (Chief Constructor) Nathaniel Barnaby had been vilified, then and now for his odd designs. However, in large measure this was unfair, as Barnaby had tried to build in accordance to unrealistic goals set for political and financial reasons. He tried to put in too much on a too limited displacement for economy’s sake and had labored under unrealistic constraints. Another detriment to his designs was that quite often the available technology was not up to the goals. 

Sir William White (KCB in 1895) had been the chief designer for the firm of Armstrong. He became DNC in 1885 and by 1888 had hit his mark with this design. "While DNC he virtually revolutionized battleship design and created a fleet which was the envy of the civilized world." (British Battleships 1889-1904 by R. A. Burt at page 8) The initial design that created this fleet was for the 1889 estimates and became the seven ship Royal Sovereign Class. The names of all but one of the ships started with the letter R. The names are better known now for another R design that came about 25 years later. Royal Sovereign, Ramilles, Resolution, Revenge, Royal Oak, Repulse and Empress of India were the ships and the design set the standard for the rest of predreadnought battleship designs that were to follow. The design featured a high freeboard barbette design. Turret designs of the period had very heavy turrets that because of their weight would have to be mounted close to the waterline. In heavy seas the muzzles of the main guns of some designs would dip into the water on a roll, making them unworkable in those conditions. Obviously, battleships that cannot use their main guns with heavy seas running are at a great disadvantage. The high freeboard was the most distinguishing trait of this design. Just to be sure that they were on the right track, another ship was built to a similar design but as a low freeboard type, HMS Hood. They need not have bothered; the Royal Sovereigns set the bar.

The class broke size limitations that had bedeviled Barnaby designs and proved a great success. They were the largest group of ships built to one design in the Royal Navy since the ironclad era had started. When competed in 1892 through 1894, no other battleship design in the world could equal their fighting efficiency. They were exceptionally strong and heavy and upon completion were the most substantial warships ever completed for the Royal Navy. They were also good politically because the British public instantly fell in love with them. They were worthy successors to HMS Victory and the other great first rate wooden ships of the line that won the Royal Navy the preeminent position that she enjoyed. They were praised not only by the public, but also by the service. In 1895, then Commander John Jellicoe, said of Ramilles, that he had never seen a ship that had turned out so well.

They were not perfect. As built they had a tendency to roll. When Resolution left Plymouth on December 18, 1893, she encountered a gale with 42 foot waves that were 300 feet long. At least twice the seas broke on the upper deck and caused some minor damage. The press, looking for bad news, incorrectly reported that she had rolled 40 degrees in the gale, when in reality it was closer to 23 degrees. The answer was to fit bilge keels which reduced the roll from 23 degrees to 11 degrees. However, this event did give the class a nickname, ‘The Rolling Ressies". The main guns, although protected from flat trajectory shells by the heavily armored barbette, were open to the elements. Crew efficiency would suffer in any type of inclement weather as well as the crew being vulnerable to plunging fire and quick firing (QF) light ordnance. The answer for that was the armored gun house of subsequent designs, which was then called a turret, although they were still of a barbette, rather than a turret design. 

Profile, Plan & Quarter Views
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Although a new wire-wound 12-inch gun design was considered, the tried and true 13.5-inch design was chosen for the class because the new 12-inch design was not ready or tested. Subsequent designs would make use of the new 12-inch model. Loading positions were fixed to the rear of the circular turntable, within the pear shaped barbette. Therefore the guns would have to be on centerline for loading, slowing their rate of fire. The six-inch secondary was of a new untested QF design, rather than a slower breech loading design that had been used in earlier battleships. The armor belt ranged from 18-inches to 14-inches in thickness (18 to 16 amidships between barbettes and 14 next to the barbettes) and ran for 250 feet. It came up to 3 feet above waterline to 5 ½ feet below waterline. The barbettes were also armored 17 to 16 inches on the outside of the armor belt and 11-inch within the screen created by the belt.

Another outstanding quality of this class was their speed. As completed they were the first British battleships to exceed 17 knots and proved to be the fastest battleships in the world when completed. The seven were very similar in appearance to each other but there were differences. Royal Sovereign had low hawse pipes, no stay rim on the funnels and bow scroll work. Revenge and Resolution had stay rims on the funnels, high and low. Ramilles had heavy high funnel caps, when all of the rest had light low caps. Repulse had high hawse pipes. Empress of India had very prominent and heavy bow scroll work and low hawse pipes. Royal Oak was the only unit to have steam pipes aft of the funnels, all of the rest had them in front of the funnels. As they aged, they received other modifications: 1894-1895 added bilge keels; 1899-1902 3 pdr QF removed from upper tops and shielding removed from those in lower tops (except Empress of India), bow scrolls removed, and search lights repositioned. Revenge sported an experimental khaki and light gray color scheme. Between 1902 and 1905 the upper secondary guns had casemates built around them. Originally the upper six of the ten six-inch guns were open mounts with gun shielding. The net shelf was also lowered so as not to interfere with the main deck six-inch secondaries. In the period 1905 to 1909 new fire control was added with changed control tops, removal of light guns and other individual changes were made. In 1910 the aft bridge was removed from all, except Revenge

Hull Details
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Starting in 1911 the class started to be sold off for scrap. Repulse was the first to go in 1911. Royal Sovereign and Ramilles were broken up in 1913 with Empress of India being expended as a target in November 1913. In early 1914, with no clue as to what would happen the following August, Royal Oak was sold in January and Resolution in April. Only Revenge was still around at the beginning of World War One.

The main guns were relined as 12-inch guns and Revenge was used for shore bombardment of the Belgium coast. She was also given a large range finder on the fore top. Also during this period she was given an unusual paint scheme, of light gray, dark gray and white. In 1915 she was refitted at Chatham and became the first ship fitted with anti-torpedo bulges. Compartments could be flooded to create an artificial list, thereby increase the elevation and range of the guns. Her net system was removed at the same time and she was repainted with the camouflage gone and in its place a false bow wave. In August 1915 Revenge was renamed Redoubtable to free the name for the new R Class. After December 1915 she became an accommodation ship and was finally sold in 1919. (Bulk of history from British Battleships 1889-1904 by R.A. Burt. This volume is without question the finest reference on British battleships of this era.)

Iron Shipwright HMS Royal Sovereign

"When the moon is in the Seventh House, And Jupiter aligns with Mars,
Then peace will guide the planets, And love will steer the stars,
This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Age of Aquarius. Aquarius! Aquarius!
Harmony and understanding, Sympathy and trust abounding.
No more falsehoods or derisions. Golden living dreams of visions,
Mystic crystal revelation, And the mind's true liberation. Aquarius! Aquarius!

Hull Details
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If you are of a certain age, you may remember the above lyrics from “The Age of Aquarius” released by the pop group 5th Dimension in 1969. In the resin warship models business, we are currently in The Age of Aquarius with only one company carrying a large listing of topics and frequently releasing new kits of large ships. That company is Iron Shipwright. The present golden age had not dawned ten years ago in the Age of Ares. From time to time what passes to be a flame war on the message board erupts and invariably someone will wail “Of, the Humanity!” Well boys and girls, we are in the Age of Aquarius and peace and love abound in the resin arena and on the message board when compared to the Age of Ares. The Age of Ares was the age of RMS and the age of the epic flame wars. Maybe it had to do with the changing of millenniums or maybe the moon was in the 13th house but ten years ago flame wars were towering infernos compared to the feeble and sputtering match stick of today. Then lived the gods of flame, including the Maestro himself, the legendary Pablo Peaks . There were also more 1:350 scale resin warship manufacturer’s. There was Blue Water Navy, Classic, Commanders/Iron Shipwright, White Ensign and probably a couple of more. Each company would have its own adherents and detractors. Partisanship would frequently erupt into a flame war against another company and the most common target was Iron Shipwright. Pablo especially had a thing about ISW verging on a mania. You could cherry-pick perfect parts of an ISW kit for Pablo and he would still attack it as the spawn of the devil. Every day brought a new forest fire of flaming words, a good share of which were directed at ISW. More likely than not, the complaints were about air bubbles in the resin or malformed parts. Since the ISW casting process has the master upside down in the mold and trapped air bubbles rise as the resin settles in the casting process, it was almost universal that there would be voids on the bottom of the hull casting. Also air bubbles could be trapped in small areas of the bottom of the mold, typically creating voids in bollards.

Well, as the lyrics state, we are now in different, far more peaceful times in the resin warship community. What passes for a flame war now would have been a mere static spark in the Age of Ares, and yet Iron Shipwright has endured. Having had their kits for almost a decade now, there is no question that the quality of kits have significantly improved but then, for the most part, resin casting quality has improved across the board. This long preamble leads me to the topic of this review the predreadnought 1:350 scale HMS Royal Sovereign. Reviews are subjective for a good part but in my subjective and objective opinion the ISW HMS Royal Sovereign is one of the best kits they have ever released if not the best. The objective observations forming the bedrock of my subjective opinion goes into the quality of the casting, quality of detail, optional parts and completeness of the kit. First I compared the hull casting with the two page plan and profile of the ship (Empress of India 1902) found in R. A. Burt’s British Battleships 1889-1904 (pages 64-65). In comparing the plan views, feature by feature, fitting by fitting, the ISW model has the same location and shape as the plan. In comparing the profile, the ram bow, curving stern, casements, doors and other features matched with one exception. The Burt profile shows bilge keels and the kit lacks the bilge keels but includes guides to assist the builder who wishes to add these features with plastic strips. One other, minor discrepancies lies in the lack of the upright bollards. The bollard plates are present but the modeler must add the bollard bits from plastic rod. This was an intentional decision by Jon Warneke because historically the bollard bits were locations very susceptible to trapping air bubble in the casting process, which would result in voids upon the resin cooling. However, plastic rod is cheap and it will not take too long to cut and fit the bollard bits from plastic rod. The casting is much cleaner in the past. It doesn’t have voids along the bottom. There are still casting plugs and flash along centerline of the bottom to be removed and some small amount of resin splash to be sanded smooth from the hull but finding air voids is difficult, as they are few and far between. 

Smaller Parts
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Hull Casting
Royal Sovereign was built in the era of the ram, when many admirals for different navies considered the ram as the ultimate weapon. With ever increasing armor on battleships, these admirals doubted the main guns ability to penetrate the opponent’s armor but had no doubts about the ability of these massive rams when it came to crushing the under water hull of an opponent. The ram of the Royal Sovereign was very pronounced and came to a sharp point, as opposed to the more rounded rams of later designs, ISW has faithfully captured this feature. The anchor arrangement is asymmetrical with two to starboard and one to port. Another feature of this period was the use of anchor washboards, which angled downwards from the forecastle deck. Instead of the anchors being raised until it was flush with the anchor hawse, these anchors had stocks and once raised above the water, cables ran from small derricks on the forecastle were used to haul the anchor backward to be catted onto the washboards. This is great for the modeler, although more complex, because it involves long runs of anchor chain and anchors, although the anchors had gone stockless by 1904.

With prominent anchor hawse and even more prominent washboards, the ISW kit really does capture this arrangement. There are two rows of portholes at the bow and stern and right above the waterline a series of waste water ports through which, bilge water was pumped out of the ship. Modern ships and post World War One warships had generally featureless sides but not so with the Royal Sovereign. The hull has very well executed large hinged doors and two prominent vertical strengthening strakes on each side. Level with the deck, the ever present shelf for anti-torpedo netting is cast integral to the hull. These shelves are admirably thin but the modeler must scratch-build the rolled net. I have found that a mesh fabric, available from any store that sells cloth, wrapped around a bendable rod with a liberal addition of white glue, makes a very convincing rolled net. There are three tertiary gun casements on each side. The one on each side of the bow is recessed but the two on each side amidship are on outboard sponsons. At the stern is a locator indention for fitting the stern walk with door detail, which enabled the captain or admiral access to the peaceful confines of the stern walk, far removed from the ongoing bustle of the crew. The 01 deck level is also cast integral to the hull and is dominated by three 6-inch secondary casement on each side. These casements are actually fixed gun houses with each one separate from connection with the other two. The 01 level is actually open inside so the most of the bulkheads are splinter shielding, interspersed with the secondary gun houses and other deck edge enclosed structures.

The cast details on the deck are even better and more numerous. The centerpiece comes with the fore and aft twin main gun positions. As mentioned above, the Royal Sovereign employed the French barbette system of main gun armoring and unlike later designs did not have enclosed gun houses. Apparently their lordships thought that the manly Jack Tar was unafraid to serve the main guns in the open, unlike the lesser breeds of other navies, which skulked cowardly behind protective armor. This presents a unique opportunity for the modeler, at least in 1:350 scale, as all of the main guns are visible and for the diorama modeler, you can add the gun crew serving them. A very thick and rounded barbette surrounds each main gun position and for further delight they are not round, being pear shaped thicker where the barbette joins the 01 level superstructure because of the fixed loading positions for the main guns. Very wide segmented metal blast protection plates are cast on the deck, curving underneath the muzzles of the 13.5-inch gun muzzles arch of training. These were added to prevent muzzle blast from tearing up the wooden deck planking. There are four plates in from of the bow gun position and seven plates aft of the rear gun position and these perfectly match the numbers and shape found in the Burt plan view. However, deck detail doesn’t end with these beauties. In addition to the bow blast plates, the forecastle is festooned with anchor equipment in the form of windlasses, deck hawse, anchor bed plates and deck access coamings.  

Smaller Parts
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The open deck inboard of the 01 level presents another treat in detail. At deck edge are the six multi-angled secondary gun house/casement positions, each of which has a sighting hood on the crown along with access doors. The middle position also have vertical ladder on the inner face with loops where the ladder arches above and then down into the crown attachment points. Inboard of these positions the deck is littered with deck equipment cast as part of the hull. There are winches, pylons, numerous large access doors, plates, all of which have excellent detail. All of these fittings are dominated by two side-by-side rectangular funnel base houses for the round funnels. The side-by side funnel arrangement is another unique feature in 1:350 scale (with the exception of the ISW Illinois class predreadnought). The round conning tower base is flanked by two deck houses outboard. The most sizable structure is the aft deck houses with an inward curving rear face to not interfere with the use of the aft main guns. Quarterdeck detail is no less luxurious. In addition to the aft barbette and seven segmented blast protection plate, there are four large centerline deck access positions with circular ports to allow sunlight to penetrate the hull. Additionally at deck edge at bow and stern are the bollard plates. Wooden deck planking is very finely done but lacks butt end detail. You will find numerous locator holes along the length of the deck for attachment of separate castings.

Smaller Resin Parts
First thing off, we have to come back to the main guns. With open 13.5-inch Coke bottle guns on top of heavy barbettes, there is no way around getting back to the guns. Each gun mounting consists of four parts, turntable, gun cradle and two barrels. The turntables have rectangular openings for fitting the cradle part. There are 16 strengthening strakes around the circumference. There are another four fittings, two round and two rectangle. From photographs the two round fittings appear to be access hatches leading to the lower levels of the barbette and since the rectangular fittings are to the rear of the gun breeches, they are probably associated with the loading process. The rectangular gun cradles have a centerline strake and two sets of gun cradles proper. The modeler has two options when it comes to the massive main guns. The short barrels have cylinder within cylinder construction with three heavy strengthening bands near the breech. In normal conditions the gun breech mechanisms were stored below deck and were not fitted to the barrels until time that the guns would be fired. Accordingly on most occasions the gun tube was open at the breech as well as muzzle. That is the condition portrayed with these gun barrels. As an option, the ISW kit comes with marvelous brass barrels. In addition to the benefit of being brass, the reinforcing bands appear more accurate in width when examining photographs. The secondary 6-inch guns have nice breech detail, which unfortunately will be wasted, as only the barrels are used. The resin parts laydown and assembly modules in the instructions show that the kit is supposed to have resin 3pdr QF guns, but they were missing from my sample. Major superstructure parts consist of two levels of forward and aft bridges. The lower levels have solid bulkheads with the forward lower level having the round conning tower and the aft lower level a square deckhouse. Both parts have deck access hatches. In both positions the top level is an open navigation platform with a large navigation deck house forward and a smaller deck house on the aft navigation bridge. All deck houses have square deck windows. Another separate deck piece is the stern walk. Both funnels have square base aprons, three, raised reinforcing bands, another apron at funnel top and steam pipes with attachment brackets. Other major resin parts are the open flying boat skids that allow the ship’s boats to be stored above the main deck. 

Metal Parts
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You might as well call the Royal Sovereign HMS Funnel City because there is a huge number of ventilation funnels or cowlings. Large, small, round openings, oval openings, short, tall, the ventilator cowlings come in all shapes and sizes and in generous numbers. ISW provides extra cowlings because some of the fittings, especially the smaller ones, have some voids. Ship’s boats are also abundant, ranging from steam launches with single or two side-by-side funnels and deck cabins to a whole gamut of open boats ranging in size from big whalers to small dinghies. Two different masts are included since the foremast has a tulip shaped base for the open circular foretop and the mainmast a sinple circular base with starfish support for the main top. Both foretop and main top are of the standard open circular design. Other deck and hull parts include anchor derricks, stockless bow and smaller stream anchors, searchlights, signal lamps, boat booms and the hull side booms to deploy the anti-torpedo nets. These are well done with boom fittings and support fixtures, instead of mere straight rods. Parts for the lower hull consist of the running gear of propeller shafts with support struts, propellers and rudder.

Metal Parts & Decals
In addition to the brass main guns, the ISW
Royal Sovereign comes with two frets of brass photo-etch. The more interesting of the frets contain ship specific parts. Included are the funnel top grates, support braces for the forward and aft navigation platform wings, boat davits, wireless antennae, yard rigging and some unique non-standard railing. Other parts included on this fret are the inclined ladders with trainable individual foot treads, two bar railing of different lengths, and generic vertical ladder. The other fret consists of generic detail that is cut to fit the location needed. These parts include six runs of three bar railing in two different patterns, three runs of two bar rail in two patterns, and two runs of vertical ladder. An added bonus comes in the form of a decal sheet with a white ensign for the stern, Union Jack, and name plates in white, black and yellow/gold with the names Royal Sovereign, Queen Mary, Dreadnought, Invincible, Monmouth and Iron Duke. There must be a clue as to future releases somewhere in the name selection.

Another point of criticism of ISW kits in the past has been their instructions. To be charitable it can be said that ISW instructions have been somewhat “Spartan” in the past. Although they are not a the level of White Ensign Models, but then no company’s instructions (resin and plastic) does equal WEM instructions, the ISW instructions for their
Royal Sovereign are far more complete than previous efforts. There are 12 pages of instructions. Page one has general information, while page two has the resin part resin part laydown with each part numbered and described. Page three does the same thing with the brass parts but brass parts are assigned an identifying letter rather than number that is used in the assembly modules. The next eight pages have the assembly modules with separate modules for: forecastle; aft superstructure and main mast; forward superstructure and fore mast; flying boat skids; amidship funnels and fittings; quarterdeck and stern detail; underwater gear; and topmasts detail. The last page has a simplified profile, which is useful for simple mast and yard rigging and more importantly, placement of the anti-torpedo net booms. I would have preferred increased detail for rigging and the use of hull locator holes for the net booms but any way you slice it, ISW has ISW has made a far greater effort to give the modeler more complete instructions with this kit, than most of their previous efforts.

Decals Box Art & Instructions
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Subjective opinion that it is, I believe the Iron Shipwright 1:350 scale
HMS Royal Sovereign 1904 is the best quality kit this company has ever produced. The casting has first class details and minimal casting flaws. The inclusion of brass barrels a decal sheet and significantly improved instructions are only supplementary evidence for my conclusion.