A model of the Hoche was shown in the Exhibition at Paris in 1889, and an illustration of her is given in this volume. The superstructure in the centre has three decks. The turrets are two storeys in height. The military masts are as tall and as wide in diameter as the minarets of a Turkish mosque. The ship seems deficient in freeboard.” The Naval Annual 1890 at page 181

The French Navy had always been an innovator in naval construction in her long competition with the Royal Navy. In the 18th century new designs, such a large, fast 74 or two deck 80 gun class were designed, while the Royal Navy tended to rest on tried designs. With the coming of steam and iron France was again willing to experiment, this time with iron armor. During the Crimean War, France had built iron clad floating batteries for use against Russian shore positions. The results were favorable and so the French took the next step by adding iron armor to a battleship, the Gloire. Ordered in 1858 and completed in 1860 the Gloire used a wooden hull covered with iron. It was a broadside ironclad with a homogeneous armament of thirty-six 6.4-inch rifled muzzle loaders. The weakness of the design was the wooden hull. The Royal Navy quickly saw the threat of the Gloire design and in 1859 ordered the Warrior. The Warrior design was outstanding, far more powerful than the Gloire and with almost twice the displacement 9,137-tons of Warrior versus 5,630-tons of Gloire. Warrior had double the horsepower, 2,500ihp 12.5 to 13 knots in Gloire versus 5,267ihp 14 knots in Warrior. Warrior mounted fewer but heavier guns with four eight-inch MLR and twenty-eight 7-inch MLR. It may seem that the ships were about equal in armor since Gloire had a 4.7- to 4.3-inch iron belt and Warrior had a 4.5-inch iron belt but that was deceptive. In contrast to the Gloire with her wooden hull, the Warrior was iron hulled making her far more damage resistant than Gloire. The launch of these two vessels inaugurated a new race, this time with iron armored battleships. 

Almost all of the initial battleships were of the broadside design, little different in armament layout than the 74s and 98s of Nelson’s time. However, this time the British stole a March on the French. The HMS Royal Alfred had been laid down as a steam powered wooden 90-gun two decker but with the advent of iron armor was already obsolete on the stocks. She was totaling redesigned. Cut down and lengthened Royal Alfred was redesigned as an ironclad frigate. Like the Gloire and unlike Warrior, Royal Alfred had a wooden hull covered with iron armor. What made Royal Alfred different was the arrangement of her armor and armament layout. Heavier guns than carried by Warrior were provided but were concentrated amidship. Royal Alfred carried ten 9-inch and eight 7-inch MLR in a central armored box, a layout which became known as a central battery design. When Royal Alfred was launched in 1864 the French saw the advantages of the central battery design and dropped the broadside design. Starting with the Ocean Class of 1865, all French battleships for the next twelve years were of a central battery design. 

Profile, Plan & Quarter Views
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However, British design fervent was not limited to the creation of the central battery design. Heavier guns could be carried but they were still limited in their firing arc and many would bear unless the ship maneuvered to unmask them. Another solution, which allowed even heavier guns to be carried was the turret. Many associate the turret concept with John Ericsson and his design of USS Monitor. Captain Cowper Coles of the Royal Navy came up with same idea quite independently of Ericsson. Indeed it was the Cole design, with the turret revolving along a track race, rather than the Ericsson design, with the turret turning on a central spindle, which became the standard. The Ericsson spindle was far more likely to break or be damaged, as the spindle carried far higher stress than a track race. As an experiment the Royal Navy razed a 121 gun three deck ship of the line and finished the design. HMS Royal Sovereign was finished in 1864 with four centerline turrets, three single 10.5-inch guns and one twin turret. Freeboard was a mere seven feet because of the heavy weight of the turrets. This was the problem with all early turret designs. The weight of the armored turrets was so great that the ships had almost no freeboard in the case of the USN monitors, or a very low freeboard in the case of the RN turret ships. The loss of HMS Captain exemplifies this design flaw. Because she came in over-weight, Captain had only 6.5-feet freeboard forward. Completed in January 1870 on September 7, 1870 HMS Captain was off Cape Finisterre , France with a full rig of sail. The wind suddenly increased making the ship heel beyond her safe limit and she capsized and sank, taking Captain Coles and all but 17 crewmen with her.

Across the channel the French Navy had stayed with the central battery design and had not ventured into the realm of turrets. The Courbet class with four 13.4-inch/21 and four 10.8-inch/20 was the last of the line for the central battery design. Courbet and sister ship Devastation were laid down in 1875 and 1876 were followed the next year with a battleship with an entirely new armor design. The broadside ironclad had disappeared in favor of the central battery ship in order to provide heavier guns and concentrate armor for a smaller location but with guns and ships increasing in seize, the French came up with an armor scheme that would further concentrate the heaviest armor at location of the guns and yet would allow the guns to be mounted at a good freeboard height by avoiding the extremely heavy weight of a turret design. Tonnant  laid down in January 1875 was the first ship of this new armor design, the barbette ship.  Tonnant was designed as a coast defense ship of a limited 5,010-tons, limited speed of 11.6-knots and low endurance and range. However, she did carry two 13.4-inch/18 guns mounted singly bow and aft with a gun shield over each gun. It was very low of freeboard with a high superstructure, a design feature that the French would continue to return. 

Hull Details
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The barbette system was clearly a major evolutionary step towards the final “All or Nothing” armor scheme, which came in the 20th Century. By just providing armored tubes leading from the guns to the magazine, armor could be concentrated in just the most critical areas of armament and a thick belt outboard of the machinery and magazine spaces. The guns were in the open and therefore the crew was not protected as in a turret design. However, the heavy guns could be far higher in a barbette ship compared to the low freeboard of turret ships. With Amiral Duperre laid down in January 1877 was the first 1st line battleship with the barbette system.  Amiral Duperre also used a different disposition of armament. In order to provide the most all around fire. She carried four 13.4-inch/18 guns singly in barbettes. The forward pair were placed at deck edge on sponsons in order for two gun bow end on fire. The aft two guns were on center line, so there was only gun that could bear directly aft. However, at most angles three guns would bear on target. The main armored belt was 22-inches of wrought iron but the ship showed another innovation. The Amiral Duperre used steel for the conning tower and shields. It was the French Navy which perfected the use of steel in warship construction. While the French started using steel, the Royal Navy remained wedded to wrought iron. Steel was far more efficient with far less steel with far less weight providing equal protection for a much greater mass and weight of wrought iron. 

Hull Details
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For the next two years the French included a class each year with multiple ships in each class.  The four ships of the Terrible Class used the barbette system for their two 16.5-inch/22 guns with the single guns in the open atop the barbettes. Terrible was laid down in December 1877 and the other three in 1878. These ships were limited displacement ships (7,530-tons) modeled along the lines of the 1875 Tonnant but with a higher freeboard. In 1879 came the two ships of the Amiral Baudin Class, which were first class battleships of 11,720-tons, mounting three 14.6-inch/28 guns in single gun centerline barbettes. The plan view of the barbettes show a curious ice cream cone shape. The guns were open in front but with armored gun shield hoods over the breeches. The class went back to a high freeboard with significant tumblehome and large ram bow. The French designs through the Amiral Baudin had a fairly small superstructure, except for the Tonnant. This trend would change dramatically with the next design.

The Hoche was an extremely curious ship. Laid down in June 1881 at Lorient , the ship took nine years to complete. She started of with two different plans by Chief Engineer Huin. During this extraordinarily long gestation period, designers kept modifying things to the design, like berserk automobile designers. A tail fin here, a chrome hood mount there, things kept accumulating until one of the most bizarre concoctions ever to be conceived was completed in 1890. The Hoche had a very low freeboard coupled with her most distinctive feature, a towering superstructure. Her superstructure was so high and so built up that she was given the nickname, The Grand Hotel. Photographs of the Hoche underway at moderate speed in calm water give the appearance of the ship sinking by the bow. 


Vital Statistics

Length-336-feet 7-inches (102.59m); Beam - 66-feet 4-inches (20.22m); Draught - 27-feet 3-inches (8.31m): Displacement - 10,820-tons:
Armament: Two 13.4-inch/28 M1881 mounted in fore and aft turrets; Two 10.8-inch/28 M1881 mounted in wing barbettes; Eighteen 5.5-inch M1881 secondary guns; Ten 3pdr tertiary guns; Five 15-inch above water torpedo tubes:
Armor: Belt - 18 to 10-inches compound' Upper Belt - 3.2-inch steel; Turrets & Barbettes - 16-inch iron; Ammunition Tubes - 9-inches iron; Conning Tower - 2.5-inches Machinery: Four VC engines, two shafts, eight boilers 12,000ihp; Maximum Speed 16.5-knots: Complement - 611 

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The Hoche also tried a new armor/armament scheme with turrets for single13.4-inch/28 (340mm) guns in bow and stern turrets and single open gun 10.8-inch/28 (274mm) guns in barbettes with wing sponsons. Since the sponsons jutted far outboard from the steep tumblehome of the hull, the Hoche was supposed to have significant end on fire from the waist guns. It was thought that they could achieve 180 degree arc, i.e. pure end on fire bow and stern. However, truth intervened and it was discovered that end on fire still created significant blast damage. Reality limited them to an arc of 90 degrees, half of what was anticipated. Seven 5.5-inch (140mm) guns were in lower structure on both sides with two more of each side mounted two decks higher on the corner quarters of the superstructure. There was an assortment of light QF guns and five above water 15-inch (381mm) torpedo tubes. With the Hoche the French Navy inaugurated the age of the Fleet of Samples in which most battleship designs were one-offs. Displacing 10,820-tons, Hoche had eight boilers, which powered four engines, producing a top speed of 16.5-knots. In furtherance of the towering mass of the superstructure, the appearance of the Hoche was further supplemented with a large slab-sided rectangular funnel and two heavy military masts. Each turret and barbette gun had part of the superstructure built above the gun position, creating a high probability of superstructure hits disabling guns as damaged superstructure could fall onto the gun positions below. Of course this delicious confectionary was topped with flying bridges the length of the superstructure and double decker boat skids. 

Smaller Resin Parts
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The Hoche had a generous armored belt with compound armor ranging 18-inches to 10-inches in thickness.  The top of the belt was only two feet above the waterline and therefore damage right above the belt would ship water in any type of sea state. The bottom edge was better since it ended five and a half feet below the waterline. A compound 3.1-inch with 0.8-inch steel armored deck met the hull slightly below the upper belt edge, sealing the machinery spaces in armor. It too could be pierced by any hit slightly above the belt. Turret and barbette armor was 16-inches of wrought iron. As shown in the first paragraph in this article, observers could see from the start that this puppy had problems. One look at the massive superstructure, topped with towering, heavy military masts and a gigantic funnel mounted on a very low freeboard, severely tublehomed hull, pointed to problems. The high top weight was evident and further amplified by the fact that the 10.8-inch guns were 27-feet above the waterline and the main gun turrets lower at around 15-feet. The high superstructure presented a perfect sail for the wind to act upon. At most speeds both the forecastle and quarterdeck took water over the decks, which would enter the fore and aft turrets. The French Navy also recognized the stability problem because the ship was not allowed to steam at full speed, as the instability increased with the speed.

Hoche was sent with armored cruiser Dupuy de Lome to represent France at the inauguration of the Kiel Canal , at which Kaiser William II was present. As the Kaiser saw the Hoche pass in the naval review, he exclaimed, “What a great target!” In 1892 Hoche was turning off of Marseille and the packet-boat Marechal Canrobert cut in front of the battleship. The Hoche received no damage but things were different for the packet-boat, which had received the battleship’s ram. The packet-boat sank in a few minutes with the loss of 107 passengers and crew.  The first significant modification came in 1894 with the replacement of the old model 5.5-inch guns being replaced by new model quick firing 5.5-inch guns. Twelve of the new model replaced the eighteen of the old model. The broadside count went from seven to four while two guns were mounted in casemates added to each corner of the superstructure. To further reduce weight the aft military mast was replaced by a much lighter pole mast. These weight reductions from September 1894 to April 1895 did very little to improve stability. 

Smaller Resin Parts
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On March 2, 1897 the Hoche was being maneuvered into the dry dock at Brest by a tug. In an error of misjudgment the tug pushed the battleship into the angle of the dry dock causing damage which required two months to repair. On May 13, 1898 while steaming through Teignouse passage into Quiberon Bay , the Hoche ran into an uncharted rock and returned to Brest for repairs. Two months later, in July 1898 the Hoche went to the yard for a complete refit amounting to a rebuild. All of the boilers were removed and replaced by sixteen Belleville boilers. The superstructure was totally reworked, significantly reducing height and weight. The large single rectangle funnel was replaced by two much smaller oval funnels mounted side by side and the forward military mast was replaced with a pole mast. Since it took a decade to build, the Hoche was out of date when commissioned. After 18 years of service and the advent of the Dreadnought, the Hoche had no military value. In April 1908 Hoche was decommissioned and placed in reserve. On January 1, 1910 she was disarmed but hung around for a few more years, until expended as a target in November 1913. 

Smaller Resin Parts
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The Combrig 1:350 Scale Hoche
Time to check into the Grand Hotel with the 1:350 scale kit of Hoche. This is the full hull version with the bottom hull and running gear. Both with the upper and lower hull halves, you’ll have to remove a substantial amount of resin over-pour along the water lines of both halves. Incidentally, the photographs show the parts without this over-pour removed. With the upper hull you instantly notice the majestic Grand Hotel superstructure soaring above the low forecastle and quarterdeck. You’ll also notice the armor belt running the length of the hull. At the forecastle the prominent ram is present and even from the cutwater there is substantial tumblehome. Closely spaced hull anchor hawse fittings are near the top of the hull. There is fair but not abundant detail of the forecastle. There is a circular track run for the bow anchor derrick as that was the method of anchor deployment before the advent of stockless anchors. The prominent turret base is present and two pieces of equipment, which appear to be windlasses but are in reality the base for the starboard and port anchor cranes. The only other fittings are two closed chocks and a deck edge fitting, which is located where the anchors are stored while steaming and may have to do with catting home the anchors by the cranes.

Of course it is amidship where you go on Hoche for detail. There is a row of circular portholes without rigoles (eyebrows) but the line of ports for the secondary gun positions that has the detail. The shutters are cast closed with a locator hole for the 5.5-inch gun barrels. The shutters are well detailed with hinges, portholes with rim fittings and delineated shutter panels. However, in 1:350 scale I would prefer to have the option to have the shutters open with gun mount inside or closed. The second great feature is the very prominent sponson on each side for the open 10.8-inch barbette mounted guns. They stand out handsomely from the steep tumblehome. I do have one question about the sponsons. The model shows a rectangular opening in each sponson but have been unable to confirm its presence in photographs or drawings. At the 02 level there is a line of square windows in traditional French fashion. Combrig has inscribed these lines, which makes them difficult to see. I believe that Combrig could have put more detail into these windows. There is very little equipment on the quarterdeck, except for two pairs of deck-side open chocks. On the stern hull is a series of square windows with nice shutter detail. Standard wood planking detail is present with no butt end detail. The superstructure deck has mostly locator outlines but does have one large skylight. 

Brass Photo-Etch Fret
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Smaller parts are found on two resin casting sheets as well separate runners. The largest sheet continues in piling on additional superstructure items, including a large bridge base with inclined ladder wells and double wide doors with hinge detail. There are flying bridges, mounts for the 10.8-inch guns, fantasy castles above the 10.8-inch guns, mast houses and fighting tops. When I say fantasy castles, I refer to the French design of the original ship. The flying bridge running across the width of the ship, atop the 10.8-inch gun castles, has outstanding deck detail with a herring bone pattern and vision slits at the top of the deck house. It also has inclined ladder openings and what appear to be flag lockers.  Other upper superstructure parts on this sheet are the various deckhouses constructed directly above the main turrets, as well as assorted penthouses resting atop other deckhouses. The lower halves of the turrets are present as well. A smaller sheet includes various platforms. Included here are the centerline flying bridge, platforms built above the main turrets, walkways and 10.8-inch gun mounts. 

Hoche with Dry-Fitted Parts
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Separately cast are the two main gun turrets, which were oddly designed in their own right. Where most turrets would have sighting hoods, these babies have a very large conical structure atop the turrets, almost the size of a deckhouse. The very large rectangular stack has a thick apron at the top with the top being hollow to an acceptable depth. A great many parts come on resin sprue runners, One has the military masts and top masts. A second runner has the 13.4-inch main gun barrels, open 10.8-inch full guns, and three support tubes, which were centerline amidship and appear to support various high-flying structures and platforms. Another long runner provides the 5.5-inch gun barrels, QF guns, QF gun mounts for amidship castles, searchlights, small but tall mushroom ventilators, and five torpedo tubes (the part that extends beyond the hull). A fourth and fifth runner concentrates on freestanding QF guns with pedestals and shoulder mounts. Four anchors are on their own runner. For the full hull kits the are two four bladed propellers with blades canted differently to correctly show that the blades on each propeller would be at different angles to counteract torque. The larger rectangular rudder and two shaft support struts are on another runner. Twelve ship’s boats are cast separately. The two steam launches have separate funnels. They are very well done with cast on detail for rudder, keel, propeller and shaft. Oared boats come in four different patterns with thwarts and bottom planking detail.

Brass Photo-Etch Fret
Before anyone starts fuming on the message board, yes the photo-etch fret comes with ship specific parts only. You will need to get third party railing and vertical ladders for almost all of the railing. Peter Hall’s Atlantic Models produces a nice set for predreadnoughts. The fret includes seven inclined ladders but with so many levels, platforms, deckhouses, penthouses, piled one atop the other, I can’t help but belief that there would be many more inclined ladders. The first thing that jumps out on the fret are the folding, galleried boat davits. You can’t miss them because they are large and appear to be the top façade from the old Yankee Stadium but with a standard boat davit on the top of the narrow end. They would flat with the hull when not swung outboard to launch a boat. This design feature presents a very attractive diorama opportunity. The stack gets a handrail and top grating. The anchor washboards are photo-etch as they extended beyond the hull with cross support structure underneath. There are three boat cranes and numerous support structures for military tops and platforms. Specific railing is provided for the platform above the aft turret. The bow crane has photo-etch deck railing. There are photo-etch platforms, so you’ll wind up with platforms atop platform. Two of the center line columns have strange batwing photo-etch fittings at their crowns. Other parts include anchor chain, smaller davits, multi-stage accommodation ladders, boat cradles and some parts that I have not yet identified, such as two circular structures with three circular supports on each. 

Hoche with Dry-Fitted Parts
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The standard Combrig format for instructions just doesn’t cut it when it comes to superstructure and fittings so bizarre and complicated as presented by the Hoche. There are four sheets. Sheet one has a profile and plan that is of some help, as well as statistics in Russian and short history in English. The second sheet shows the resin parts. The proper placement of the resin parts doesn’t appear to be a problem. Sheet three shows the photo-etch fret but no parts are numbered. Numbering the photo-etch parts and showing their location by number would have helped immeasurably in building the Hoche. Also on sheet three are nine insets, Open is for the open 10.8-inch guns, one for cranes, one for free-standing QF, one for the strange circular platforms mentioned in the photo-etch section (I couldn’t find where they went), one for anchor washboards, one for superstructure mounted QF guns, one for the castles above the 10.8-inch guns, one for lower hull fittings and one with a template for cutting plastic support pillars. The last page shows one isometric drawing of assembling the entire ship with photo-etch parts marked PE. This is where the instructions fall down. If any ship deserves sequential step by step assembly modules, it is the Hoche

Box & Instructions
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Summer is here and it is time to go on vacation and check into the Grand Hotel in the form of Combrig’s 1:350 scale Hoche. Only with Combrig can you build this Disney version of a battleship with her towering superstructure, amidship castles, severe tumblehome, and heavy large structures hanging above each major gun position. With a plethora of resin and ship specific parts Combrig provides all of the cake and frosting for this concoction but the instructions are wanting.