"The slab-sided Oslyabya, Admiral Felkerzam’s flagship, was the first to go. She had always appeared awkward and gawky in the water, like a crude child’s model hewn from a chunk of wood with bits of piping stuck in haphazardly for funnels, and her high, vulnerable sides made a fine target for the Japanese gunners. Kamimura’s cruisers had already leveled her decks to a blazing wasteland when the Asahi sent into her bows three twelve-inch shells, which peeled off the armor plating and let the sea come pouring into her hull."
This passage is found at page 176 of The
Fleet that had to Die
by Richard Hough. More than thirty years ago I checked out this book
from the library. It chronicles the eighteen thousand-mile journey, made by the
Imperial Russian Navy’s Second Pacific Squadron, a motley collection of 42
warships that were mostly obsolete, slow and vulnerable. This gaggle of misfits
left the port of Reval in the Baltic on October 11, 1904 and met it’s fate at
the hands of the crack gunners of Admiral Togo’s Imperial Japanese Fleet on
May 27, 1905 in the Straits of Tsushima. Since reading that book, I have been
enthralled by the warship designs of the Imperial Russian Navy.
Model makers have neglected these designs for years. Now they are coming into their own, reproduced in resin. Both WSW and WEM have produced a model of the cruiser, Askold (click here for a comparative review). ICM has announced a 1:350 styrene model of the Second Pacific Squadron’s flagship, Kniaz Souveroff. Two other companies, Modelkrak from Poland, and especially Kombrig from Russia have produced models of a great number of the Russian ships of the Russo-Japanese War. This review compares and contrasts the models of two sisterships, Peresvet by Modelkrak and Oslyabya by Kombrig.
When laid down, Peresvet, the lead ship of the class, was said to be a
new type of battleship, one with speed. The Royal Navy bought the propaganda and
designed a battleship class, the Duncans, to match the Russians. The Peresvet
and sisters, Oslyabya and Pobieda turned out to be very poor
designs. They were undergunned, lightly armored, of unexceptional speed and
presented a very high silhouette for a target.
There are very few references available on this class in English. Warships of the
Imperial Russian Navy;Volume 1; Battleships by V.M. Tomitch is the best reference in English that I've found. Privately published in 1968, this 102 page, soft cover book covers all classes of Russian battleships from steam powered ships of the line to the Imperial dreadnought classes of World War One. I obtained my copy from Pacific Front. Peresvet, issue 1/1998 in the Morskaya Kollektsia series is the best source that I have found on this class. It has 32 pages that include 55 photos, a two page plan and profile with sheer lines, 12 smaller drawings and full color covers, inside and out. The photos of the color schemes of the three ships of the class, found later in this article are from this title. Very highly recommended. The Russian Fleet of the Russo-Japanese War by Sergey Suliga is 56 pages of drawings of the ship classes of the Imperial Russian Navy, plus full color artwork on the cover, inside and out. Individual drawings of all three ships in the class are included. Both of the last two titles are in Russian.
When the Russo-Japanese War began, both Peresvet and Pobieda were stationed at Port Arthur, Russia’s port in Manchuria. After being bottled up in the harbor by the Japanese, they both suffered the same fate. Japanese Army eleven-inch siege mortars sank them. Peresvet took 23 hits and Pobieda 21. Both were subsequently raised an incorporated into the Imperial Japanese Navy, Peresvet as Sagami and Pobieda as Suwo. Peresvet has the distinction of being sunk twice. In 1915 Russia purchased her from Japan and recommisioned her as Peresvet. On January 4, 1917 after passing through the Suez Canal, she struck a mine ten miles north of Port Said and sank for the second and last time. Oslyabya, after a seven month, 18,000 mile voyage, was the first ship sunk at the Battle of Tsushima.
The three ships of the class had differences that distinguished them from
each other. One difference was the support for the bridge wings. Peresvet
was designed with support pillars under the end of the bridge wings, which I
added with Evergreen plastic rod. Oslyabya had steel bulkheads that
extended from the hull to support
the wings. Each bulkhead had an opening for an eleven-pounder deck gun. Kombrig
has nicely cast these bulkheads as part of the hull; however, they did not have
the gun openings in the bulkhead. I had to drill a hole in each bulkhead and
then expand it to the right shape with a hobby knife. This procedure worked fine
on the starboard bulkhead but when I started using the knife to expand the port
bulkhead, the bulkhead broke off the hull. Reattachment was not difficult but
care and a light hand must be used if you wish to add the gun openings. The
Kombrig kit has slightly better done deck detail. The skylights and hatches are
crisply executed. However, there are no gun mounts for the eleven pounder and
three pounder deck guns. The Modelkrak kit does have these mounts cast into the
hull detail, with the exception of the two forward eleven-pounder positions one
on each side of the bridge. Modelkrak also cast the unique rung ladders running
up the sides of Peresvet as part of the hull casting. These do not appear
in the Kombrig kit. There is more deck detail included in the Modelkrak kit,
than in the Kombrig kit. The Kombrig kit has Aztec steps cast into the hull or as
separate parts for the inclined ladders. The Modelkrak kit has solid resin
inclined ladders, either cast into the hull or as separate parts. With both
ships I cut away the resin stairs and added brass inclined ladders from Tom’s
two-bar rail set. I highly recommend doing this, as the fine brass inclined
ladders add much interest and detail to the models.
This class made use of quite a bit of solid splinter shielding instead of railing. The Modelkrak kit had this shielding where it was used in the prototype and no shielding where railing was used, except for the top platform of the masts, which had railing not shielding. The Kombrig kit had the shielding where the shielding was actually present but also where railing was used. The Kombrig shielding was also very fragile in that it is easily damaged and appears to be too short. Using a hobby knife I removed all of the splinter shielding from the Kombrig kit, except for the hull bulkheads. I used Evergreen strips for the shielding where it was present on the prototype. The class had twelve large distinctive boat davits amidships that are present in the Modelkrak kit but Modelkrak did not include the smaller davits found at the stern and bow. The large davits come in two lengths. Use the four longest for the center boat positions on each side and the eight shorter davits for the boat positions fore and aft of the center positions. The davits in the Kombrig kit are a trifle small and are only used on the fore an aft positions on each side.
The Modelkrak kit has the conning tower but not the pilothouse. To create the
pilothouse, I added Evergreen bulkheads and used 1:350 brass ladder for the
pilothouse windows, which gave it a nice see-through look, rarely found on a
1:700 kit. The Modelkrak kit was also missing two small ventilators, which was
fabricated from resin scrap. All of the parts for Kombrig’s Oslyabya
were present and undamaged. Modelkrak did not have the bowchaser six-inch gun
position. Use a hobby knife to start the hole for the gun barrel and then use a
drill to deepen it. The prototypes had a fairly large bow crane used in hoisting
the anchors. Although both kits had the crane railing cast into the deck,
Kombrig included the crane and Modelkrak did not. The crane on the Peresvet
model was built with sprue and resin scrap. The forward barbette on the
Modelkrak kit is a little bit too close to the bridge. This can be remedied to a
large extent by some judicious sanding but even then, the turret will sit a tad
too forward on the barbette. Modelkrak includes torpedo net booms cast as part
of the hull. I sanded these off and added the booms and net with plastic rod.
The Modelkrak kit’s major parts have large casting blocks and significant
sanding is required to remove them. Lastly the Modelkrak kit has what appears to
be a thick belt of armor running along the waterline from cutwater to stern,
which in scale, would be two feet of armor. Obviously Peresvet did not
have such a belt. This belt also gives the Modelkrak kit too much beam.
Neither kit comes with any gun barrels other than the main ten-inch guns, although Modelkrak does have the hull eleven-pounder guns cast into the hull. Plastic rod was used for the six-inch guns, for Oslyabya as well as Peresvet, and thinner stretched plastic sprue for the other eleven pounders. With the Kombrig kit, the hull eleven-pounders were added with stretched sprue. No three-pounder guns are provided in either kit. The deck three pounders had a gun shield so to duplicate these; I used WEM 20mm guns and shielding. Peresvet had eight one pounder guns in the fighting tops, four in the foremast top and four in the mainmast top. The Modelkrak fighting tops have the notches in the fighting tops where the one-pounders were positioned. Oslyabya only had the four one pounders in the foremast fighting top as she had a pole mainmast, as did Pobieda. The Kombrig fighting top did not have prototype notches in the top. Again I used WEM 20mm, this time without the shields, for the one-pounders on Peresvet and GMM 20mm on Oslyabya. For the deck three-pounders on Oslyabya, I used Tom’s 20mm, which were very easy to install. I again used Evergreen rod to duplicate the anti-torpedo net and booms on Oslyabya. I also added brass funnel gratings and the small platform on the boat deck of Oslyabya from the WEM fret for Askold. Tom’s two bar railing was used for both ships.
The designs of Oslyabya and Peresvet, along with many other units of the Imperial Russian fleet, were directly influenced by French design theories. I find their appearance unique and intriguing. Visually, they have much more character and individuality than the business like; homogeneous, British built battleships of the Imperial Japanese Navy. I personally disagree with Richard Hough’s description of Oslyabya. Although she was vulnerable, with her high tumblehome sides, I find her very attractive.