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
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.
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,
The main guns were relined as 12-inch guns and Revenge was used for shore bombardment of the
Shipwright HMS Royal Sovereign
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!"
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
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.