When John Ericsson proposed the concept of his turret ship to the Navy, it was to break the ability of land gun batteries to prevent naval movement. Ericsson proposed the name Monitor in that it may admonish or "monitor" the rebels. During the American Civil War, ironclad vs ironclad bouts were fairly infrequent. The two most notable occasions were the Monitor vs Virginia and the Battle of Mobile Bay with CSS Tennessee vs the world. However, monitors were used frequently to bombard Confederate forts and gun emplacements. Like HMS Dreadnought 44 years later, USS Monitor gave its name to a type of warship. The designation Monitor described a shallow draft, low freeboard, low speed coastal vessel with heavy armor and heavy armament.
The Royal Navy looked at the monitor and built a haphazard assortment of a few vessels but quickly realized that it was no substitute for a sea going warship. As the premier naval force in the world, Britainís first line of defense was not its own coast but the coast of any enemy. The low freeboard and slow monitor could only be used in coastal and comparatively sheltered waters. Quite correctly, the Admiralty saw that this type of vessel could not project force.
During the last half of the 19th Century, the monitor type of warship was a poor manís battleship. Any country that wished to challenge the Royal Navy did not build monitors, they built battleships. By the start of the 20th Century, except for the last spasm of monitor construction by the USN with their 1903 Florida, the last of 71 monitors built for the USN, the monitor as a type was totally obsolete. That status changed in 1914.
In October 1914 Admiral Jackie Fisher was back as First Sea Lord. Admiral Fisher found a kindred spirit with the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. One of Fisherís pet projects was a Baltic Invasion of Germany with landings 90 miles (150 km) from Berlin. Additionally, both Fisher and Churchill wanted warships that could support the British Army along the North Sea coast. Both operations required a vessel with shallow draft.
In November 1914 Charles Schwab, President of the Bethlehem Steel Company of the US was in London to negotiate and sign a contract to build 20 submarines for the Royal Navy. Fisher and Churchill asked Schwab if his company had any other items that may tempt the Royal Navy. As a matter of fact Schwab did have more. Germany was building a battlecruiser for Greece that was to be named the Salamis. However, the armament of four twin 14-Inch/45 turrets had been contracted with Bethlehem Steel. Since the blockade of Germany precluded delivery of the guns to the German shipyard, Schwab did as any good armaments salesman would, sold the arms to the rival, Great Britain. This marked the moment that the 20th century British monitor was conceived.
Designed from the outset to have a shallow draft and operate close inshore with the primary mission of land bombardment, the mission of the monitor of Fisher and Churchill was very much like that conceived 51 years earlier by John Ericsson. Since the armament of a major warship took the longest time to build, the purchase of the four twin 14-Inch turrets, allowed the Admiralty to quickly build the first British monitors. Four monitors initially identified as M.1 through M.4, were laid down between December 1 and December 17, 1914. In February 1915 all four were named to recognize the USA as the source of their armament. M.1 became the Admiral Farragut, with the other three being the General Grant, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. As a neutral the US declined the honor and asked for the names to be changed. Admiral Farragut and Stonewall Jackson were the first of the type to be launched on April 15, 1915, about four months after being laid down. Four weeks later HMS Admiral Farragut was the first to commission. HMS Stonewall Jackson and HMS General Grant were commissioned into His Majestyís Navy within two weeks thereafter. Although launched as the Robert E. Lee, this ship was not commissioned with that name. She reverted to M.3 as three days before commissioning, as the Admiralty ordered a reversion to M.1 through M.4 because of American objections to the American names. On June 19, 1915 with the approval of King George V the four monitors were given names of former British military leaders. M.1, ex-Admiral Farragut, ex-M.1 became HMS Abercrombie. HMS Abercrombie was the first of 40 monitors to be commissioned by the Royal Navy during the First World War. Carrying guns ranging in size from 6-Inch to 18-Inch, they proved their worth as relatively inexpensive vessels for shore bombardment. However, they quickly disappeared from the RN after the war.
In September 1939 Winston Churchill went back to the Admiralty as First Lord. He wanted to know what happened to all of the monitors. Of course he had to know that they were all gone except for a handful. Only two could be placed back into service in their intended roles, the Terror and Erebus. After Italy entered the war as allies of Germany, Terror again showed the worth of the type by effectively supporting the 8th Army in North Africa. However, because of near misses on more than one occasion, plating and bulkheads on the ship were damaged and weakened. Terror was lost on February 24, 1941 after detonating two acoustic mines and receiving another three near misses from the Luftwaffe. Clearly, the Royal Navy needed some more monitors.
Laid down on April 30, 1940, HMS Roberts was the first of the two monitors built for the Royal Navy during World War Two. The main armament was two 15-Inch Mk I capable of 30 degrees of elevation. One of the first monitors of World War One was the Roberts, ex-M.4, ex-Stonewall Jackson, ex-M.4, so the name was perpetuated with the WW2 design. After the loss of the Terror, it was decided to replace her with a new monitor built to a modified Roberts design. Fittingly, the name chosen for the last of 42 monitors to be constructed for the Royal Navy, HMS Abercrombie, was the same as the first of the monitors to be launched and commissioned.
HMS Abercrombiewas designed to correct some of the faults of the previous monitors. She was given upgraded 15-Inch Mk I/N guns, increased deck armor over machinery spaces, more AA guns, an extended shelter (01) deck for more accommodation and better arcs of fire for the 4-Inch (102mm) twin mounts, a taller funnel, more motor boats and other internal improvements. These additions added 567 tons over the Roberts. The 15-Inch turret was from the original WWI order for turrets for the large light cruiser/light battlecruiser Glorious Class, spares for the Furious in case the 18-inch guns ordered for her were unsuccessful.. The ship was contracted to Vickers-Armstrong on April 4, 1941 with a contract for machinery to Parsons Turbines. Launched on March 31, 1942, completion was delayed by turbine problems, generator problems, turret fit problems and lastly labor problems. Finally completed on May 5, 1943 Abercrombie immediately steamed to the Mediterranean in June to support the landings on Sicily.
The three RN monitors, Erebus, Roberts and Abercrombie supplied the only heavy gun support for the landings as the battleships were guarding against intervention by the Italian Fleet. Abercrombie was tasked to support the eastern most American landing zone , forty miles west of Cape Passero. In order to achieve tactical surprise for the landings of July 10, 1943, no pre-landing bombardment was scheduled. Her targets included Comiso Airfield, gun batteries and an enemy headquarters, which she knocked out at a range of 30,000 yards. Cruisers and destroyers provided close in support. On the 14th accompanied by the cruisers USS Birmingham and USS Philadelphia, she supported the US 7th Armyís west flank. She engaged 10 targets, including an Italian railway gun with spotting provided from the floatplane from Philadelphia. After this her HE ammunition was expended and she had to return to Malta for replenishment. When she returned on the 18th, the 7th Army had advanced so far inland that she only served as a radar warning ship. On July 23 Abercrombie again left for Malta and then to Bizerta to prepare for the invasion of the Italian mainland. During the operation in Sicily she had fired 200 15-Inch rounds in support of American ground forces.
On August 30 all three monitors were together again and steamed to support Operation Baytown to support the British 8th Armyís crossing of the Straits of Messina. The landings were unopposed so there were no calls for gun fire support, except for 10 rounds from Erebus. Abercrombie and Roberts returned to Bizerta on September 7 to sail with the invasion forces that were to land at Salerno. Roberts supported the British landings to the north and again Abercrombie supported the American landings to the south. Abercrombie was under heavy air attack. At one time she was engaging He 111 bombers on one side and Me 109 fighters on the other. She fired a total of 24 15-Inch rounds at troops, tanks and the town of Capaccio. Minesweepers had been tasked to clear lanes for use into the beachhead area but they were not properly marked. At 17:00 on September 9th Abercrombie drifted into an unswept area and hit a mine amidships. It exploded under the starboard bulge abreast of the tripod foremast. The mine opened a hole measuring 20 feet by 12 feet and she took a list of 10 degrees, however, with prompt counter-flooding, she again achieved trim. There was little damage inboard of the bulge. The most significant damage occurred to the fittings. Radar and the main director were put out of commission. She was no longer capable of indirect fire and it was feared that use of the main armament would further weaken her. Machinery was undamaged so on the 11th she left for Palermo. She then went to Bizerta and then to the Taranto dockyard on October 7 after the Italian armistice.
At Taranto significant repairs did not start until January 1944. Because of the 10 months spent in the dockyard, Abercrombie missed the landings at Normandy. Finally she finished repairs and arrived at Malta on August 15, 1944. Bad luck continued to follow her as on August 21st on an exercise south-east of Malta, she struck two mines. One hit on the starboard bow, creating a hole 16 feet by 4 feet but the other struck the bottom. Although, the hole was only 10 feet by 4 feet, the explosion bent both shafts and broke the starboard support strut. Trawlers found four more German mines in the area. She reached Valetta for another 11 months in the dockyard, putting her out of the balance of hostilities in Europe. On left Malta on July 17, 1945 with orders to go to the Pacific. She was approaching Aden (Yemen) when the Japanese surrendered. Arriving back in the United Kingdom in November 1945, Abercrombie was immediately laid up in reserve. She did come out for service as a drill ship but in November 1954 was sent to the scrapyard. She sold for 7% of her original cost. Her older half-sister HMS Roberts, having received less wartime damage, managed to survive until 19 July 1965, when she too made the sad trip to the breakers. Although Abercrombie was the last of 42 British monitors to be built, Roberts proved the last to disappear, having outlasted every battleship that ever sailed for the Royal Navy. (History from Big Gun Monitors by Ian Buxton. This title is the best source available on the history of the 42 monitors of the Royal Navy. Published in 1978, it is long out of print but with diligence and patience, you can find it in the used book market.)
As nice as the detail of the hull, the finest single piece of casting is of the twin 15-Inch turret. The British 15-Inch Mk I barrels flared out at the muzzle. Turned brass barrels do not replicate this flare but Combrig has captured it perfectly. Look at the photographs of the barrel muzzle. They come with hollow muzzle ends. There is no need to drilll them out. A friend of mine examined the turret and asked if I had drilled them out. When I said no, this is the way it came, he said that the casting was so good that Combrig should sell these turrets individually as replacements for the turrets of other 1:700 models of RN battleships and battlecruisers that mounted the 15-Inch. I agree completely. It is an outstanding piece of casting. Additionally the look of the blast bags is very well captured. The HMS Abercrombie carries a heavy load of armament. The open back shielded twin 102mm mounts, 8-barreled pom-pom, quad pom-poms, twin 40mm Bofors and 20mm Oerlikons are all there, ready to be attached to the model to give it the AA kick of a cruiser. About the only addition required will be gun shields for the Oerlikons.
For a small ship the Combrig HMS Abercrombie kit comes loaded with parts. The superstructure is very busy with a mass of decks and platforms. Cranes, davits and towers are everywhere. About the only pitfalls that I observed was the placement and shape of the high barbette. There appears to be an error with the barbette. The part supplied is an angular and multi-faceted, which would be correct for Roberts. However, the text and drawings in the Big Gun Monitors indicate that the Abercrombie had the traditional round barbette. To achieve this it will be necessary to sand off the corners and get a smooth round shape. The plans in Profile Morskie #36 show the faceted barbette, so it appears that Combrig used the plans in that volume as the basis for the model. There are no locator holes or outline on the deck, so carefully study the enclosed plan in the instructions to achieve the correct placement. I recommend using white glue for this part to allow sufficient time to maneuver the part to the correct position. Just look at the space between the barbette and the quad pom-pom shields on either side forward and it should not be a problem. The decks, platforms, starfish, directors, paravanes and carley rafts are all nicely done. Of the smaller parts, I think that it would be beneficial to replace the cast resin radar with photo-etch from White Ensign Models. The kit does not come with photo-etch All in all, it looks like a real treat to build and Iíll find out when I have a chance as it is on my "Must Build" list.