"Sir William White designed the ‘County’ class but forgot the guns." Admiral John Fisher on the design of the County class armored cruiser.
Good things come to those who wait. Clearly the newest releases from Combrig include a more than fair share of "good things". After releasing many Royal Navy predreadnought battleships, Combrig has just released cruisers to go with them. But wait! These are not ordinary cruisers but armored cruisers of the County class. In the 1920s the Royal Navy built a number of County class heavy cruisers and then because of their size and expense tried to persuade Japan and the US to build smaller, cheaper cruisers. The Royal Navy was more interested in quantity of cruisers, rather than the quality of each cruiser. Almost a quarter of a century earlier, the same situation existed but the County class were the smaller, cheaper cruisers produced as a result of the need for quantity.
The very end of the 19th century and first five years of the 20th century saw a veritable armored cruiser craze. They were indeed very fashionable ships. Their reputation was enhanced by the performance of the USN armored cruisers USS Brooklyn and USS New York during the Spanish-American War. France and Russia were building armored cruisers, not to mention the upstart USN. The Royal Navy was falling behind and needed to re-establish the natural order of things, i.e. an all-powerful Royal Navy. From 1898 to 1905 the Royal Navy built 35 armored cruisers in seven different classes.
The first class of ships were the six ships of the Cressy class, laid down in 1898 and 1899. Displacing 12,000-tons the ships had a top speed of 21-knots and were armed with two 9.2-inch and twelve 6-inch guns The armor belt was at 6-inches. In 1899 the four monsters of the Drake class, which eclipsed the still-building Cressys. Displacing 14, 150-tons, the Drakes were huge, in part because of the space needed for the machinery to produce the 23-knot top speed, which was very fast for the time. With a 6-inch belt and armed with two 9.2-inch and a staggering sixteen 6-inch guns. However, the Drakes displaced as much as or more than battleships and required a much larger crew. The Drakes required a crew of 900, compared to the contemporary Canopus class battleships, which required only 682 men. A spirit of retrenchment set in. What the Royal Navy needed were many smaller armored cruisers not more huge and expensive Drakes. Sir William White dutifully set about his task and shrunk the Drake design. He loped off about a third of the displacement, reduced the armor belt, eliminated the 9.2-inch guns and reduced the number of six-inch guns to 14. Voila! The result was the County class armored cruiser.
The County class, also known as the Monmouth class after the first ship laid down, was sixty feet shorter than the preceding Drake class. Displacement was down to a modest 9,800-tons with an armor belt of 4-inches maximum thickness. The fourteen 6-inch guns were arranged with four in twin gun fore and aft turrets and an additional five broadside casemate guns. The fore and aft casemates were double story affairs, as with the Drake design. However, the two lower positions, as well as the solitary amidship casemate 6-inch position would be flooded in any sort of a seaway, reducing the broadside from nine to six guns.
HMS Cumberland was laid down in Glasgow on February 19, 1901, launched on December 16, 1902 and commissioned on December 1, 1904. Cumberland and Cornwall, commissioned the same day, were the last of the class to enter service. In World War One the Cumberland initially served in the 5th Cruiser Squadron. Early in the war she was sent to the west African coast and while operating off the Cameroons, the Cumberland captured ten German merchant ships. In January 1915 she joined the Grand Fleet as part of the 6th Cruiser Squadron. However, the Counties were not considered up to snuff to be on the 1st team, so Cumberland was trundled off to the back-water stations of the West Indies and North America. The Cumberland was sold for scrap in 1921.
Combrig has produced kits of three of the County class, HMS Cumberland, as seen here, HMS Kent and the ill-fated HMS Monmouth, sunk at the Battle of Coronel. At first glance Monmouth and Cumberland appear to be identical with Kent different with no "fighting top" on the mainmast. However, photographs indicate that some ships of the class originally had no enclosed tops as commissioned. Even if tops were fitted, their location on the mainmasts could change. The box photograph of Cumberland shows the main top under the spar, however, a photograph captioned "Cumberland as built" on page 71 of Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860-1905, clearly shows the main top higher on the mast, above the main spar. Another photograph of Cumberland dated 1910 found on page 31 of British Cruisers in World War One by R. A. Burt, shows the main top under the spar as depicted on the Combrig box.
The photographs of the Cumberland in this article, show the components found in the kit. This article is basically a pictorial review/preview of the kit. The hull is surprisingly large with a goodly quantity of excellent resin fittings and equipment. Without a doubt the County class armored cruiser kits will be well received. One can only hope that the Good Hope, Defence, Warrior, Black Prince and all of those other wonderful Royal Navy armored cruisers will make their appearance through Combrig in due course.
Fuller reviews will be found with subsequent reviews of the Kent and especially Monmouth, both of which had more interesting careers than Cumberland. Note that Combrig provides a photo-etch fret with their HMS Cumberland, County Class armored cruiser.