In the first decade of the 20th Century the weapon that distinguished a major naval power from a wantabee was the battleship. Strength was measured in capital ships not cruisers. Every country that could build their own battleships, built them as quickly as possible. Russia contracted with yards in France and the USA for additional battleships, as the Russian yards were already at capacity. If a country did not have the facilities to construct their own battleship, they would go shopping on the world market. China and originally Japan in the east, Turkey and Greece in the Mediterranean and the richest market of all, the big three of South America, Chile, Argentina and Brazil.
With the introduction of HMS Dreadnought, the smaller navies also desired their own versions of the all big gun battleship. All of the big shipyards had traveling designers/salesmen that would go from one smaller country to another selling the newest designs for a battleship. Krupps and Blohm und Voss in Germany, New York Shipbuilding, Fore River and Cramps from the USA, Ansaldo from Italy and Chanticler de Nantes and La Seyne from France. However, the most experienced salesmen in this game were those from the great British firms of Vickers and Armstrong. The life of Newcastle was tied with the fortunes of Armstrong, Whitworth and Co. The yards, gun shops and metal working facilities of this great arms manufacturer extended up and down the river Tyne from Newcastle. When times were good and the company had contracts in hand for new construction from the Royal Navy and overseas buyers, 30,000 men would be employed in this massive arms complex in northeastern England. "The prosperity of this chill, dark city rose and fell with international anxiety. A peace conference spelt depression: a rash of South American jingoism, a spot of trouble in the Balkans, could put colour in the cheeks of the children playing between the workmen’s dwellings of Westmorland Road and Bell Terrace. The Great Dreadnought, 1966, by Richard Hough, at page 14"
Since 1904 Armstrongs had Eustace Hugh Tennyson d’Eyncourt as one of their chief designers/salesmrn. D’Eyncourt had the pedigree and intelligence to surpass in this position. With one of his uncles an Admiral in the Royal Navy and Alfred Lord Tennyson as one of his cousins, his background was impeccable. After completion of his formal education he had his formal introduction to Sir William White DNC. With connections like these Armstrongs quickly took Tennyson d’Eyncourt in as an apprentice. For the next six years, he learned from personal experience, all of the steps and processes that went into completing the hull, fittings, machinery, armament and all other items required to produce a warship. This was followed by more formal education in naval architecture at the Royal Naval College, and assignments in the design departments of Armstrongs-Elswick and Clydeside Shipbuilding. His first foreign assignment came when Armstrongs sent him to Turkey to conduct the formal handover of three ships built by Armstrongs for Turkey. The Turks were so impressed with Tennyson d’Eyncourt that they kept him over for him to conduct a complete survey of the Turkish Navy.
Most of the large warship export firms relied upon lavish parties for possible purchasers in their efforts to secure contracts. Tennyson d’Eyncourt was not like that. He relied upon his tremendous talent and the Armstrong’s reputation to make his sales and he was very successful at it. It is somewhat odd that South America provided the most fertile ground for large warship sales. The big three of Brazil, Argentina and Chile had some territorial disputes in the past accompanied with minor wars. However, most of these had been resolved and relationships among the three largest South American powers were at their most friendly state ever. Chile was the first off of the mark when in 1901 Sir Edward Reed of Armstrongs designed two fast battleships for that nation, who felt that their navy was greatly outgunned by the navy of Argentina. These two ships, Constitution and Libertad were ordered from Armstrongs. After tensions eased between Chile and Argentina, Chile put the unfinished construction up for sale on the international market. To prevent their acquisition by Imperial Russia, the Royal Navy acquired the pair as Triumph and Swiftsure. Argentina had also acted as a result of the tensions with Chile and ordered armored cruisers from Italy of the Garibaldi design.
However, now Brazil felt threatened and she wanted a major navy. She didn’t need it as she had no ambitions against her neighbor and was not under any threat. She certainly couldn’t afford it as modern battleships were extremely expensive propositions not only to manufacturer but continuing costs in maintenance. That didn’t matter as it was the prestige of possession of modern battleships that was desired by Brazil. To insure her status as the preeminent naval power of South America three battleships were authorized. Tennyson d’Eyncourt of Armstrongs was quickly at the forefront of the bidders for this new construction. He counseled the Brazilians towards patience. Something was in the works that was new and different. Brazil’s navy would be better served by waiting for this unknown development. That development was HMS Dreadnought and since Brazil had followed the counsel of Tennyson d’Eyncourt and waited, Brazil was first of all other naval powers to order dreadnought style battleships. Two were ordered, the Minas Geraes and Sao Paulo, to an Armstrong design which reflected many improvements over the Dreadnought. As a consequence Brazil had dreadnought battleships in her navy before Germany, Italy, France, Russia or Japan.
Argentina instantly felt threatened and immediately authorized the construction of two of her own dreadnoughts. More than twenty firms jumped into the competition but here Armstrongs was on the outside looking in. Argentina had not ordered a warship from Armstrongs in 20 years and all indications reflected a favoritism to Italian companies. For months Argentina played out the competitors, one against the other. Four different waves of designs were invited all to the expense of every competitor. With each step Tennyson d’Eyncourt duly redesigned the Armstrong tender. Some of the governments of the bidders endeavored to see their native companies get the bid by sweetening the pot with favorable trade agreements. The US and Italy were especially active in this manner. In the end Fore River of Quincey, Massachusetts, decided to offer their design at a minimal profit to get the bid. The Argentines accepted the American proposal and the Rivadavia and Moreno were the result.
The Argentine purchase triggered another wave of South American acquisitions. Chile decided that now she needed a dreadnought and other smaller South American powers such as Uruguay, Peru, and Venezuela bought assorted cruisers and gun boats. In Brazil, the government had already approved three dreadnoughts. The first two were not even delivered from the yards and already been trumped by the more powerful twins just purchased from America by Argentina. Navy Minister Admiral Alexandrino de Alencar wanted not just another battleship but one that was more powerful than any found in or building for any other navy. He wanted a ship armed with twelve 14-inch guns, fourteen 6-inch, and fourteen 4-inch guns on a displacement of 31,600-tons. Armstrongs and Tennyson d’Eyncourt were delighted with the prospect. A new super battleship for Brazil would clearly upset all equilibrium among the navies of the continent and the jump in size and armament couldn’t be ignored by the other navies of the world. Nothing is more conducive for more sales than an imbalance and the new Brazilian giant would create a huge imbalance in South America and was calculated to upset any number of apple carts across the road. After some negotiation, Armstrongs, which was always the favorite of the Brazilian Navy, secured the contract for the third Brazilian dreadnought, designed to the requirements of de Alencar. Brazil was going to name the ship Rio de Janeiro but along the Tyne this new windfall to local shipbuilders was called Deign 690 or "The Big Battleship".
In October 1910 the keel plate for the 31,600-ton giant was laid down along the Tyne. Materials were accumulated and three years of full employment glimmered ahead for the thousand’s of workmen that would be required to complete the giant. The new contract between Armstrongs and Brazil did contain an odd escape clause. In fall 1910 when the contract was signed a change in administrations was scheduled in Brazil that November. The contract stated that the contract must be ratified and approved by the incoming Brazilian naval administration. The new minister of the Navy was to be Admiral Marques Leao. While Armstrong’s had been dealing with de Alencar and the outgoing administration in the summer of 1910, Leao had been touring the shipyards of Europe. The German firm of Krupps laid aside everything to go after Leao. Although the Germans knew that Armstrongs had already snagged the contract for the 3rd Brazilian battleship, they also knew of the escape clause and that Leao was the key man to convince. In a thoroughly systematic campaign Krupps used every effort to undermine the Armstrong contract and seize the design of the new Brazilian battleship for Germany. Why get 14-inch guns when a Krupp 12-inch shell could penetrate any armor known? The Germans argued persuasively that Brazil would be better served with three ships using 12-inch guns as this would simplify and reduce in expense of resupply. They then launched a campaign for a scaled down Rio de Janeiro armed with Krupps 12-inch guns and built in Germany. As icing on the cake Krupps arranged an audience between Admiral Leao and the Kaiser. During their interview the Kaiser assured the Brazilian that the 12-inch Krupp guns were magnificent weapons and that Krupps would do a superb job on the third Brazilian dreadnought.
When Admiral Leao took office in November, he took a few days before making an announcement on the 3rd Brazilian battleship. Armstrongs, Tennyson d’Eyncourt and de Alencar had all expected a prompt ratification of the huge Rio de Janeiro and were totally shocked and dismayed when Leao announced that the new battleship would be, "a powerful unit which will not be built on exaggerated lines such as have not yet stood the test of experience." He then unveiled the Krupp’s design for the Rio de Janeiro. However, when the disastrous news was transmitted to Armstrongs from their agents in Brazil, no one realized that the weapons system now wanted by Brazil was the 12-inch gun. Armstrongs immediately ginned up a whole series of new designs, eight in all, smaller than the 31,600-ton de Alencar design but mounting weapons from 13.5 to 16 inches. Tennyson d’Eyncourt was quickly dispatched to Brazil to seize the contract back to Armstrongs from Krupps.
When Tennyson d’Eyncourt finally saw Leao, it soon became obvious that the Kaiser had imposed a strong influence on the Brazilian admiral and that the Krupp’s design incorporating twelve 12-inch guns was almost a lock with the Admiral. Tennyson d’Eyncourt was undismayed that none of his eight designs met the requirement for guns of 12-inch. He persuaded Leao to wait a few days just to see the new Armstrong’s design that would exceed in all expectations the Krupp design and be affordable to boot. In his conversation with Leao, Tennyson d’Eyncourt detected a lingering regret that Brazil would not have the biggest battleship in the world as she would have with the 31,600-ton Rio. Tennyson d’Eyncourt in a masterpiece of design effort, sat down that night and worked up a design that incorporated not the twelve 12-inch guns of the Krupp design but fourteen of the guns all mounted on centerline, more than any other battleship. Plus add twenty 6-inch guns for the secondary battery and that would be another world record. To do this required a hull of extensive length, so the Armstrong design would not only offer two more guns than the German design but also would be the longest and heaviest battleship in the world, playing up to those Brazilian desires. All of this could be given to the Brazilian Navy at a price several hundred thousands pounds cheaper than that of the earlier Armstrong Rio design. This was a master-stroke as here in this design Brazil would spend less than originally planned but also have a ship that would be the world’s greatest in four areas; number of main guns, number of secondary guns, length and displacement. Armstrongs had pulled off a coup and seized the contract out of the jaws of Krupp. Leao had to have the new 12-inch Tennyson d’Eyncourt design just as de Alencar had to have the Tennyson d’Eyncourt design the previous year. Time to celebrate along the Tyne. This coup by Tennyson d'Eyncourt had another unforeseen consequence. As he announced that Armstrongs had seized the new contract, he in turn received news that the Royal Navy was looking for a new Director of Naval Construction DNC. Tennyson d’Eyncourt, who had never been a constructor at the Admiralty, thought that he would have no chance at this most prestigious of all design positions. However, he submitted for the post anyway and after an interview with the new First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, was given the post.
By October 1911 metal workers and naval craftsmen of every stripe were being signed on by Armstrongs. They had promised a battleship in 1913 and to do this night-shifts and overtime were required. As scaffolding went up in November it was clear that this ship would be a monster in size. To those that paced out the length it was clear that it was longer than any ship ever built on the Tyne, but only a few knew that she was larger than any battleship anywhere. Formerly known as 690A, the workmen called her the "Rio" or the "Big Battleship". When a workman at Newcastle stated that he was "Working on the Giant" everyone knew which ship he meant.
By 1912 there was economic uncertainty on the horizon. Brazil had a monopoly on rubber but years earlier a British consortium had smuggled rubber trees out of Brazil and artificially raised them at Kew Gardens. They were then transferred to a specially prepared plantation in Malaysia, where they flourished. It was not evident in 1912 but the Brazilian monopoly on rubber had been broken with disastrous consequences for the Brazilian economy. However, building continued apace. In late 1912 the first of the 12-inch guns for Rio de Janeiro were shipped up to the moors at Ridsdale at the Armstrong proofing range. Each gun was tested to the satisfaction of the builders and the Brazilian observers. Launching of the giant was scheduled for January 22, 1913. Armstrongs wanted to meet the schedule. They already were building a battleship for Chile next to the Rio and the Rio's slip was needed for the 2nd Chilean battleship. Armstrongs knew how to put on a good show for their best clients, of which Brazil was one and pulled out the stops for the launching festivities. Of course representatives of Chile and Argentina were invited to witness the launch of the newest symbol of Brazilian power, as well as representatives of every major and minor power. Shortly after 3:00 PM on that day the new battleship was christened Rio de Janeiro and launched into the Tyne. Even as toasts were being made by Armstrong management to the Brazilian Navy and Rio de Janeiro, Armstrong workmen were busily clearing the slip recently vacated by Rio for one of Rio's possible opponents, the 2nd Chilean dreadnought.
Payments to Armstrongs from Brazil continued as normal through June 1913. However, while Brazilian exports of rubber could have purchased three dreadnoughts in 1912, they couldn’t afford one in 1913. The Malayan rubber had seriously reduced sales of Brazilian rubber, Brazil reduced taxes on their rubber in a series of reductions designed to regain market share. However, it didn’t work and Brazil no longer had the funds for the Rio. De Alencar was now back in the post of Minister of the Marine and made the announcement that the new battleship did not harmonize with the present fleet and would be sold to the highest bidder. He also hinted that the other two Brazilian battleships might be up for sale. In an instant the South American battleship race had come to an end. 800 workmen at Armstrong were instantly terminated from employment. Although worried for the future due to the loss of the South American market, a new market had emerged for battleships, the eastern Mediterranean.
In 1911 Turkey had gone to war against Italy over Italian colonial policy and in 1912 there was the Balkans War involving Turkey against Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and Montenegro. In 1912 the Greek ship which had made a difference was the Italian built armored cruiser Averoff, which was handled aggressively throughout the conflict. For the Turks the only ship that showed any aggressive spirit was the cruiser Hamidieh built by Armstrongs and delivered by Tennyson d’Eyncourt nine years earlier. During this war the Hamidieh was commanded by Raouf Orbay. As a result of the war Turkey lost most of her European holdings as well as most of her Aegean islands. War in the Aegean is a naval war and Turkey had no modern warships other than the protected cruiser Hamidieh. British Admirals with their staffs advised both the navies of Greece and Turkey. For Greece it was Mark Kerr and for Turkey is was Rear Admiral Sir Douglas Gamble. Gamble arranged for the purchase of two old predreadnought battleships from Germany but advised the Turks that what they really needed was modern battleships. Turkey ordered two battleships in 1911 but with the Balkans War of 1912 only one, the Reshadieh, was continued at Vickers, which was launched in September 1913. Although Kerr recommended against the purchase of battleships, Greece inked a contract to have the battlecruiser Salamis built in Germany armed with 14-inch guns supplied from the United States.
In this heated environment the Rio de Janiero was put on the block. From the start there were only two serious contenders in the sale Greece and Turkey. Sure other countries were interested in the giant but the starting price of around three million pounds put the others out of the bidding. Both countries scrambled for financial backing but the Turks proved far more astute than the Greeks. Turkey secured a loan of 4 million pounds and on December 28, 1913 bought the Rio de Janeiro for 2,750,000 pounds. The next day Turkey proudly announced that it possessed the largest battleship in the world, the Sultan Osman I, ex-Rio de Janeiro to be commanded by Raouf Orbay. Both Sultan Osman I and Reshadieh were expected at Constantinople in June 1914 and no later than July. The Greeks scrambled looking for their own battleships. New York Shipbuilding suggested that if Greece contracted for a new super-battleship with them, then they could help Greece obtain five old USN battleships now. When Greek officials looked into this deal, they found that the ships included the ancient Kearsarge and Kentucky. No, Greece didn’t want ships that old.
Greece complained to Britain about allowing Armstrongs selling the ship to Turkey but the British government crisply replied that since Greece chose to build her battlecruiser in Germany, HM Government had no control over what an independent firm did with their products. Finally Greece signed a deal for two dreadnoughts of 23,000-tons, mounting ten 13.5-inch guns and built in France with delivery in 1917. But what would Greece do in the meantime, before her modern battlecruiser and battleships arrived? Oddly enough the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, man of peace himself turned into an arms dealer and let the Greeks know that in order to maintain stability in the Aegean, the US may be persuaded to part with two of its newest predreadnoughts, Mississippi and Idaho, if the price was right. The price amounted to the costs of constructions of both ships when new. There was no discount for age or deficiency. It was that or nothing. Greece was desperate and jumped at the offer. The funds of this purchase allowed the USN to expand the New Mexico Class battleships from two to three units. Although there was some small opposition this sale for a total of $11,500,000, was passed by Congress in June and arrangements immediately made to transfer them to Greek crews. They should be in the Aegean by mid July.
As indecision hung about the Rio de Janeiro in the fall of 1913, she was tied up at the quay but no work was done on her. By early winter she had acquired a deep red color and was now known as HMS Rust. But with the new year surprising news arrived on the Tyne. The Turks had bought the Giant! It was time for a rush job! Employment soared again at Newcastle as workers were hired on to complete what was now called The Sultan. After four months of inactivity, the ship was completely filthy. The first few days were needed just to clean her from her rust and dust. In June 1914 Sultan Osman I first preceded under her own power down the Tyne for her final fitting out. To do this her tripod masts had to be hinged downward to slip beneath several bridges. However, she made it without incident and it was hoped to put the ship on trials by the end of June. Captain Bey was assured that the Sultan Osman I would be completed by July 7, except for the last two 12-inch guns for #5 turret, a few 6-inch guns and gun sights. However, down at the quay workmen wondered why the last two 12-inch guns and the gun sights were just sitting there and were not being installed. At first the brass instruction plates were written in Portuguese. A new batch of course would have to be etched in Turkish, but why was there an inscription in English on the back of every Turkish plaque? "Even with two of her guns still absent, she offered an overwhelming handsome aspect: an impression of lordly arrogance combined with pugnaciousness – a credit to her builders and to the unique talents of Eustace Hugh Tennyson d’Eyncourt." (The Great Dreadnought, 1966, by Richard Hough, at page 96)
In Constantinople the British naval legation was entrusted with the job of finding 500 crewmen as a nucleus for the Sultan Osman I. The recruits were drafted out fishing villages and coastal town with a leavening of herdsmen from the interior. There was no way to adequately train them with the material at hand but the legation did the best that they could until May 1914 when the nucleus crew was dispatched to Britain. At this time the Turkish military posed a clear division with the Turkish Army solidly for Germany and the Turkish Navy solidly pro-British. With the impending delivery of the Sultan Osman I and Reshadieh, the public tended to be wild for the navy.
On July 7, 1914 Sultan Osman I took to the North Sea for the first time for trials. By the 8th she was cruising south through the English Channel and by the 9th was off Devonshire. She went to the Devonport Drydock in order to check her under water fittings. After being in the water for 18 months, mostly stationary, the bottom of the battleship was filthy and needed cleaning. As the ship returned to Newcastle she passed Spithead which was in the midst of a review of the British fleet by King George V. The horizon was lit with searchlights of 59 British battleships and 40 miles of British warships during that night. She steamed 80 miles north of the Tyne for her measured mile. For that test she developed 40,000 shp and hit 22.42 knots. However the Sultan Osman I continued to steam north after the trials, rather than to return to Newcastle. In response to queries from the Turkish officers, the response was that they were just following the orders from Armstrongs. On July 18th she anchored at Forth in Scotland. For three days the battleship lay anchored here. The reason for all of the mysterious delays was the simple fact that Europe was sliding towards war. Ever since the Austrian Grand Duke had been assassinated in Sarajevo prior to the battleships departure for trials, the political situation had only worsened.
One benefit to the British government of having foreign battleships constructed by British yards was that they provided insurance for the Royal Navy. Whether built at Armstrongs, Vickers or any of the smaller yards, there was always a provision in the contract that allowed the Royal Navy to take over the ship in time of war with sufficient remuneration to the foreign power whose ship was seized. In the summer of 1914 the lead of the Royal Navy over the German fleet was at its slenderest with 24 dreadnoughts/battle cruisers for the British and 17 for the Germans. Since June Armstrongs had been asked to slow the finishing of the Sultan Osman I as Vickers had been asked to slow the completion of the Reshadieh. However, that game was up on July 27, 1914 as the Turkish steamer Neshid Pasha anchored in the Tyne. She carried the Turkish crew for the battleship. August 2 was promised to Raouf Bey as the day of turn over and the 13th 12-inch gun was fitted on August 1 as well as the gun sights. However, there was still no sign of the ammunition for the guns. However, the die had already been cast. On July 31 Churchill had sent a letter to both Armstrongs and Vickers that the two battleships could not be turned over to the Turks. In light of the strong pro-German sympathy of the Turkish Army two modern battleships in the eastern Mediterranean under the Turkish flag could pose a threat to the Royal Navy and worse was the possibility that the Turks may immediately sail the ships to Germany. Before noon on August 1 armed guards suddenly appeared at the yards. On August 2nd an infantry company boarded the Sultan Osman I and all of the Turks were conducted off of the ship and to the Neshid Pasha. Winston had seized the Sultan.
The effect of these seizures was immediate in Turkey. As never before a ship, the Sultan Osman I had become associated with the common people and national pride. There had been countrywide drives to raise money to buy the ship. Everywhere in Turkey the peasant, fisherman and tradesman had done what they could to contribute money to buy this ship. Peasant women had cut of their hair as a contribution in the battleship drive. It didn’t matter what clauses were in the contract, to every Turk the seizure of the two battleships by the British government was a national humiliation and slap in the face of Turkey. For years Germany had been warning the government about Perfidious Albion and now her was proof in its fullest. The Sultan Osman I was completely paid for by Turkey and yet the British had thrown off every member of her rightful crew at bayonet point. Any and all pro-British feeling was transformed into resentment or hatred and the pro-German party became supremely dominant. In a very shrewd move Germany sent the Goeben and Breslau, which had been stationed in the Mediterranean for the past six months to Turkey as a gift from the German Kaiser, government and people for the injuries inflicted on Turkey by those lying and stealing English. Of course, it was likely that the pair would have been destroyed if they had tried to leave the Mediterranean and rejoin the High Seas Fleet. Although the Goeben may have flown a Turkish flag and had a Turkish name, Sultan Selim, later Yauvaz, she was still commanded and crewed by Germans. One of her first actions upon raising the flag of Turkey was to go out into the Black Sea in a Russian hunting expedition, thus making sure that Turkey entered the war on the side of Germany.
Who knows what had happened if the two battleships had been delivered to Turkey? They may have still entered the war as an alley of Germany as the pro-German Army was very strong. On the other hand they may have remained neutral with a pro-Britain navy as a counterbalance. What is clear is that with this seizure, Britain acquired two dreadnoughts but also destroyed whatever influence and goodwill she had developed in Turkey. Although it would be only a matter of time, it surely locked in Turkey as an alley of Germany. This in turn spawned other events. The failed Gallipolli Campaign, which in addition to huge loss of life, led to Churchill’s resignation as First Lord. The war added another theater for the already over stretched Russian Army to cover and denied to Russia a possible rout of resupply to her. These were just two more factors that eventually caused the Russian Army to fall apart. Of course any of these events could have branched off in alternate directions but the seizure of Sultan Osman I and Reshadieh was the rather large pebble that started the avalanche.
The Royal Navy was not exactly eager to crew their new battleship, whose name was selected as HMS Agincourt, after the great victory of King Henry V over the French in the 100 Years War. It was not built to RN specifications, and was too lightly armored for RN tastes. The British ratings soon gave Agincourt her new nickname, The Gin Palace. To provide the over 1,000 men for the crew, the Admiralty went from the highest to the lowest rungs of the navy. As Sultan Osman I was returning to the Tyne from Devonport she had passed the great naval review in which King George V had inspected the fleet from the Royal yacht Victoria and Albert. The core of the new crew for HMS Agincourt was made up of a near total transfer of the crew of the Victoria and Albert from the commanding officer, Captain Douglas Romilly Lothian "White Nick" Nicholson on down. As the former crew of the Royal yacht boarded their new ship on the last day of peace for Britain, all from ratings to wardroom were impressed with the size and grandeur of fittings of Agincourt. "Like the ruddy Mauretania!" The last 12-inch gun was finally fitted to number 5 turret as the ship geared for war. The crew quickly named the seven main gun turrets after the seven days of the week from turret #1 Sunday through turret #7 Saturday.
In addition to reversing instructions from their Turkish side to their English side other internal changes were made such as removing Turkish latrine facilities to common English WC fixtures. There were some other important structural changes. As built there was a massive and distinctive flying boat deck that spanned the two middle turrets, #3 and #4, on which ships’ boats were stowed. The problem with these structures was that any battle damage could cause this structure to collapse onto the turrets below, rendering them unusable. Called the Marble Arch, the flying boat decks were quickly removed. Other immediate changes were the removal of the anti-torpedo nets and booms, the addition of two shielded 6-inch guns one on either side of the forward superstructure, top masts and top gallants were removed and the bridge wings were shortened in length. In the midst of changes, White Nick didn’t strip the Gin Palace of all of her luxuries. Although the Turkish carpets and some mahogany fittings were removed, enough of the ruddy Mauretania luxury remained for the Agincourt officer’s quarters to remain the most spacious and luxurious of any ship in the Royal Navy.
It didn’t take long to finish off these changes and by August 20 she was ready. Germany of course didn’t like the RN’s instant reinforcement by seizing the two Turkish battleships. A German minelayer was dispatched to lay a mine field 30 miles north of the Tyne in an effort to sink or damage the Agincourt when she steamed north to join the Grand Fleet. Early in the morning of August 25, 1914 Agincourt was towed stern first down the Tyne by five tugs. Upon reaching the North Sea she turned her prowl to the north and started the voyage to Scapa Flow. She passed the German minefield without incident. By mid morning in clear sunlight, she cleared her decks for her first gunnery practice. For safety it was decided not to fire a full 14 gun salvo and only half charges were used for the gunnery. The gunnery training was a failure. None of the guns fired correctly under the installed electrical firing system and the crews had to go to a more primitive percussion firing system to get their charges to fire. The new experimental "churn lever" designed to speed up loading failed to work. Many of the 12-inch rounds fired by Agincourt simply broke apart in flight. A number of causes were examined from shells that were from the bottom of supplies and marked "Repaired 1892" to the gun chamber design, which was finally chosen as the reason for the shells’ break up in flight. Early in the morning of August 26, 1914 The Gin Palace arrived at her home for the next four years, Scapa Flow where she joined the 4th Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet.
Under the eye of gunnery officer Commander Valentine Gibbs, Agincourt gunnery rose greatly. Val Gibbs used every opportunity to engage in gunnery practice. Instead of waiting to go to open sea, he consistently employed tugs and drifters within Scapa Flow to engage in sub-caliber practice in which 2-pdrs were inserted into the breaches of the 12-inch guns. This allowed for full battle training for spotters, gun layers, sighters and the entire gunnery system. Only the loaders had a lighter job than they would under normal conditions. These were punctuated with open sea shots in which rarely were more than four guns fired at once. Agincourt had yet to fire a full 14-gun salvo. There were still some that thought that a full salvo would break her back. Yet White Nick and Val Gibbs now had every confidence in their battleship, which had developed an aggressive reputation among the battleships of the Grand Fleet. One day north of Ireland it was decided to give a full salvo a try. "The result was shattering and memorable, and justified every fine calculation made by Tennyson d’Eyncourt, Perrett, and the design team of Armstrongs. There was not a stoved-in bulkhead, not a twisted plate or rib in the vessel. But it was a nerve shattering business that was not to be repeated until the need arose. The broadside of ten big guns in a British battleship was a thunderous business not often indulged in. Many of the Agincourt’s company had never suffered even this impact. With almost half as many guns again the concussion was well-neigh unbearable. No one escaped it, even down in the engine room. The Turkish crockery and glass were smashed in hundreds, and the coal dust found its way out of the bunkers and percolated everywhere. For days afterward the men were still picking it out of their bunks and hammocks and their clothes. Once was enough. But of course none of the other ships believed the story, and the Agincourt retained her reputation that she was the only ship the Germans could never sink because she would do it herself first." (The Great Dreadnought, 1966, by Richard Hough, at page 160)
The battleships rode at anchor at Scapa Flow for months with occasional sweeps of the North Sea. As the time grew it became difficult to keep the crew motivated. The Gin Palace was a spic and span ship, as befits the core crew coming from the Royal yacht. In the darkness of a bitterly cold January morning, the crew would be turned out at 05:40 and would fall in by 06:00. Then they would start holy-stoning the decks to gleaming whiteness. The morale of the crew was not helped by the schedule of the HMS Erin, formerly the other Turkish battleship, Reshadieh. The command philosophy of the Erin, which always anchored close to Agincourt, could have not been more different. No battleship coaled, or shot, or signaled or drilled more efficiently than the Erin and as long as the Erin excelled in those operational sectors, her command could care less that she displayed rust and looked down at the heels. The crew of Agincourt would have been scrubbing their decks for over an hour when they would hear across the water the first turn-to of the crew of the Erin. During the long months at Scapa, the crews of the two Turkish battleships, Agincourt and Erin became archrivals in friendly sporting events. The Agincourters were particular favorites of Queen Mary.
With the assumption of command of the High Seas Fleet by Admiral Scheer, German naval activity increased significantly. Scheer instituted a series of plans designed to draw the Grand Fleet over prepositioned U-Boat picket lines but none of them worked. Early on May 31, 1916 another of his operations was underway but the Royal Navy already knew of it because of the lax German wireless discipline and the fact that the British had the German naval code. Jellicoe knew the Germans were coming out and had the Grand Fleet out of Scapa Flow before the German Fleet departed their harbor. As the sun came up early on the 31st Agincourt was the fourth and last ship in the starboard column of the Grand Fleet, cruising at the fleet speed of 15-knots. This was the 6th Division of the 1st Battle Squadron and comprised Marlborough (flag), Revenge, Hercules and Agincourt.
Everything was cleared and ready. Extra White Ensigns were run up in case some were carried away. Ready use ammunition was placed next to the guns. Fleet speed rose to 18-knots and the entire ship vibrated, as the throbbing of the engines was heard throughout the ship. One mile to port was the next column of dreadnoughts, Colossus, Collingwood, Neptune and St. Vincent. At 15:45 Agincourt picked up the message that Beatty was engaging German battle cruisers and fleet speed climbed to the maximum of 20-knots, as the fleet turned towards the action. One hour later at 16:47 came the news that the High Seas Fleet had been sighted by Beatty’s light forces. Beatty turned north to lead the German ships right to the Grand Fleet speeding south. Finally at 17:33 Beatty’s advance forces going north sighted Jellicoe’s ships coming south and Beatty made for the east to mask the approach of the Grand Fleet from the Germans. From the sighting hood of Wednesday (Turret 4), the four surviving ships of the 1st and 2nd Battle Cruiser Squadrons could be seen crossing ahead of them, punctuated with flashes of fire as they fired southward towards the unseen Germans. Rippling orange flame was seen on the horizon as tall water spouts mushroomed among Beatty’s ships. They were close. Away to the south west could be faintly seen the Queen Elizabeth’s of the 5th Battle Squadron.
The order went out from Iron Duke to deploy to the port with the ships of the port column heading the line. The fleet formation went from a series of columns to a lone line headed by the port column. Since Agincourt was last ship in the most starboard column, under this formation, she would be last in line. One by one the ships of her column pivoted into line at the same turning point. When it came time for Agincourt, German shells were churning the area. At this turn she was closer to the German battle line than any other British battleship and was the first to spot the German battleships in the mist. Although never a handy ship, because of her extreme length, the Gin Palace made her 90-degree turn perfectly and remained untouched. By 18:40 the six columns of battleships had deployed into a line led by King George V and with Agincourt at the rear a curving six mile long line of heavy cannon, which crossed the T of the German fleet.
The fire control crew picked up a silhouette five miles to the south and in unison fourteen 12-inch barrels turned towards the unknown target. Bearings and elevations were flashed down to the gunlayers and finally the gong of the firing bell as all guns recoiled backwards. The electric loaders worked perfectly this time and new charges were quickly in place. New elevation and deflection information were received, adjustments made and again the fire gongs sounded. The target, now clearly a German battle cruiser, probably Lutzow, was closer now. "These were full broadsides that the Agincourt was firing. Each time her structure shuddered under the immense recoil impact. But she withstood it all with massive unconcern; and ‘the sheet of flame,’ as one eyewitness in a nearby ship commentated later, ‘was big enough to create the impression that a battle cruiser had blown up; it was awe-inspiring.’ If she survived the battle, ‘The Gin Palace’ could never again be mocked for the supposed weakness of her ostentatious size and length." (The Great Dreadnought, 1966, by Richard Hough, at page 181)
Scheer saw that he was in a trap, executed a battle turn in which each of his ships executed an 180 degree turn at the same time away from the British. The turn was executed flawlessly and it took some time before the British realized that the Germans had completely disengaged from battle. One minute the German fleet was steaming northwards towards the British line and then in the next minute, there were no targets as they had all disappeared into the mist. The Germans launched a torpedo attack from massed destroyers and torpedo boats as a diversion. As Agincourt’s 12-inch battery fell silent from lack of targets the ten 6-inch guns of the starboard secondary battery opened up. The Gin Palace made two hits on German destroyers. As torpedo tracks approached, the ship heeled over to evade. Three tracks passed the Gin Palace and the 4th track stopped just short of the ship as the torpedo had run out of propellant. Division flagship Marlborough was not as lucky and listed from a torpedo hit. Scheer timed his next move to get behind the Grand Fleet. He executed another battle turn but his timing was off and by 19:00 his ragged formations again ran into the Grand Fleet. By 19:15 the German battle cruisers and leading battleships again popped up in British sights at ranges extending from 6 to 12 miles. A Kaiser Class battleship was selected as Agincourt’s next target from the controlling fore top position at a range of 11,000-yards. Again the Gin Palace cut loose with full salvoes. Soon it became apparent that the range was increasing. When range hit 15,000-yards the target disappeared. Scheer had executed his third 180-degree battle turn to take his battered fleet away from the guns of the Grand Fleet. To cover this turn he sent what remained of his battle cruisers on their famous Death Ride charge against the Grand Fleet.
During the night unexplained flashes were seen from Agincourt and at one point an unidentified large ship loomed out of the darkness, only to disappear as quickly as she had appeared. By daybreak the four ships of 6th Division, 1st Battle Squadron were alone. Marlborough was damaged to such extent that the flag was transferred to the Revenge. The damaged Marlborough was detached and sent back to the nearest British base under destroyer escort as the other three battleships sought out the balance of the Grand Fleet. However, the only things observed were debris covering the water and a German Zeppelin on the horizon. Finally it was realized that the battle was over and the three battleships turned towards Scapa Flow. During the battle Agincourt had fired ten full salvoes, a total of 144 twelve-inch shells. As the Gin Palace cruised towards home a thorough damage survey was conducted. There were no direct hits. The remaining Turkish crockery had been smashed by the concussion of the Agincourt’s own salvoes. There was some splinter damage to the aft superstructure and it was discovered that the cage to the five pet white ferrets of the ship was broken open by a splinter and that there was no sign of the animals. Weeks later the ferrets, now black in color, were discovered alive and well, inhabiting a coal bunker where they had fed on a diet of rats. On June 2, 1916 as the Gin Palace again anchored at Scapa Flow, it was not realized that her war was over.
When the war ended a foreign buyer was again sought for her. Brazil thought about it and turned her down. Plans were put in hand to convert her to fuel oil and add more protection but these came to nothing as there were no buyers to be found. It was then decided to use the ship for gunnery testing by 1922 as the result of the terms of the Washington Treaty, she was scheduled for breaking. The Great Dreadnought was gone before the end of the year. No ship in the Grand Fleet had been better loved by her crew than the Gin Palace and for years afterward the Agincourters mourned her passage. (History from British Battleships of World War One, 1986, by R.A. Burt; The Great Dreadnought, 1966, by Richard Hough)
The Combrig Agincourt
The Combrig hull measures in at slightly less than 11 ½ inches (292mm), which seems to track closely with the 671-feet (oa) of the ship. I used the starboard side profile from page 248-249 of the R.A. Burt’s volume for comparison purposes with the Combrig kit. For the bulk of the kit, they match, although there are a few minor differences. With the drawing there are five hull side doors, three forward and two aft but with the kit there are the three forward doors but only one of the stern doors, the aft most missing. A quick count of the lower run of port holes at bow and stern reflects an exact match, nine at the stern and 22 at the bow with the arrangement appearing as the same. The 6-inch casemate doors are very well done with doors and hinges clearly defined. The ship id portrayed with doors closed and only the barrel protruding beyond the doors. It would require a substantial investment in time to open any of these up. One other item present in the drawing but not on the model is what appears to be external degaussing table at bow and stern. This poses no problem. If you wish for your model to exactly match the Burt drawing, the remedy is rather simple. Add the fifth hull door under the muzzle ends of the guns of the 7th turret and add very fine plastic strip for the missing piping.
One interesting feature that I noticed right away was that the torpedo shelves of the anti-torpedo net was still present in 1918. Although the net and booms were removed in August 1914, the shelves apparently remained. A quick check showed that the shelves were still present on the Burt plans for the 1918 Agincourt, so this feature conforms on both drawing and model. It appears that the shelf itself was frequently left in place even after the nets and booms were removed. Another example of this is HMS Invincible, whose net shelf was present and impeded rescuing German survivors of SMS Gneisenau after her sinking at the Battle of the Falklands, even though the nets and booms had been removed.
When it comes to comparing the plans between the model and drawing, the detail seems to conform, fitting by fitting. For the Agincourt there are a huge number of deck fittings. Most of these are deck openings or other coamings but there are a lot of them. Of course at the forecastle you get the anchor chain run plating. Agincourt shows a unique plate pattern here and the model matches this pattern perfectly. Of course there are various windlass base plates that are also found here and the deck hawse, all of which match from drawing to model. The model has a finely done breakwater. With this breakwater there appears to be a discrepancy. The Burt plan indicates that the inside face of the breakwater had a series of support gussets. These are not present on the resin breakwater. Amidships the deck coamings increase in frequency and here again the location and patterns found in Burt’s plan are replicated on the Combrig deck. When you get to the long run of the quarterdeck, the fittings really bloom. A quick count reflected 39 fittings, including bollards, on the quarterdeck alone. Again location and shape between Burt plan and Combrig model seemed to match exactly. The Burt plan also shows all of the coal scuttles located on the decks. At first I thought that they were not present on the kit’s deck but if you use a good magnifier under good light, you’ll discover that Combrig has these scuttles on their deck as well. They are very faint incised small circles on the deck. Before painting the deck, it may be advisable to darken these scuttles so that their location will be readily noticeable once the deck is painted. All in all the hull sides and deck detail is excellent and with a few minor exceptions, a dead on match for the R.A. Burt plan and profile.
Smaller Resin Parts
The Main Event
The main purpose of a battleship was to carry greatest amount of heavy guns possible and no dreadnought design carried this off with such glorious excess as HMS Agincourt. Everything about this design was subordinated to the massive artillery battery, main and secondary, that was carried by this ship. Fourteen 12-inch/45 guns carried in seven turrets. More guns in more turrets than any other battleship ever built. On top of this was the heaviest secondary armament ever mounted with twenty 6-inch guns. So how is the Combrig Agincourt packed? With all of the detail, quality and quantity that any gun enthusiast could want. The seven turrets come in two styles. Three of them have a full width sighting hood at the rear, which according to the R.A. Burt plan, are found at positions 2,3 and 6. The other four turrets have abbreviated sighting hoods on the left side to centerline. With both types there are a full set of three sighting hoods on the forward edge. In profile and plan the Combrig turrets seem to follow the lines and detail found in the Burt drawing. All seven turrets have a casting cylinder that snugly fits inside the barbette, except that the turret for position four (half rear hood version) will need this cylinder reduced in height to fit into the shallow barbette at that position. Two of the barbettes are cast separately. The completely even and circular barbette piece fits snugly in the incised position for the superfiring #6 turret. The barbette for #2 turret is notched at the rear where the barbette fits over 01 deck of the forward superstructure. The important point here is to make sure this barbette fits flush and snug with the forecastle deck, 01 level forward bulkhead and 01 deck. It night be best to use white glue for this attachment as that glue provides enough time to adjust the fit.
The 12-inch/45 guns appear on two resin runners. All of these guns were uniformly straight with no warp and have the outward tapered muzzle found in the original ordnance. He muzzles are not hollowed out and have very thin resin pour lines that need to be removed. Will kit supplied guns will do very nicely for almost any modeler. Three runners of resin 6-inch gun barrels provide 30 of these barrels, which gives you ten spares in case of breakage. As mentioned earlier, the six-inch positions are shown with gun shutters in a closed or raised position. Accordingly, all of the secondary barrels portray the extent of the barrel that protrudes beyond the shutters. The 3-inch barrels are on a resin runner and appear as miniatures of the 6-inch runners. Additionally there are two freestanding 6-inch guns with gun shields. These are cast with the base, breach block and gun shield as one piece with the barrel attached separately. These two positions are found one on each side of the forward superstructure. For the 1918 Agincourt mounted two unshielded 3-inch HA AA guns at centerline at the end of the quarterdeck, one at the extreme stern and one slightly forward of that. In looking at the parts and more specifically at the instructions, it appears that these guns are not included in the kit. Combrig does include two small shielded mounts that appear to be shielded 3-inch guns but no unshielded ordnance. The shielded small guns appear to be the mounts that appear on top of the aft superstructure. The Burt plan appears to show four shielded guns on top of the aft superstructure, so it may be that you will need to fabricate two more of these mounts. As for the two unshielded 3-inch HA, an unshielded Oerlikon mount may provide a shortcut to represent this ordnance, although little bit more substantial ordnance would be preferable.
One aspect about any RN ship in an 1918 fit is a more built up superstructure and control top. These additional platforms are found on a resin sheet. There are two additional levels for the forward superstructure with clearly incised bridge windows for the lower level and wooden platforms for the upper level. The foretop is a complex affair with main position, armored roof, supporting starfish, lower platform with director and a separate director platform below this that juts forward from the forward edge of the center leg. An additional deckhouse and searchlight platform for the aft superstructure and also found. All of these parts can be easily removed and smoothed from the resin sheet. Another feature of late war British designs were the appearance of coffee pot search light towers. Four of these are included in the Combrig kit and are clustered around the aft funnel, which rises from the aft superstructure. The instructions have two versions of the aft superstructure, one as in 1918 with coffee pot search light towers present and a pre-1918 version before the addition of these features. The after pair of these towers were added in the summer of 1917 with the forward pair added later. Since the mainmast was removed in 1917, it appears that the Agincourt can be built in any of her appearances from late spring 1917 to the end of the war in 1918. The two stacks are of very different designs. The forward stack is large and slightly oval in shape, while the aft stack is thin and slab-sided. Both stacks have nice lower aprons and stack caps. The first 1/8 inch is hollow so an appearance of depth can be achieved. Both have resin pour plugs at the bottom that will need to be removed prior to assembly.
There are plenty of other detailed deck fittings to be added from separate resin runners. These come in all shapes and sized, circular windlasses, square fittings, rectangular fittings, paravanes, two balsa rafts, searchlights, anchors, davits, directors, mushroom vents, masts legs, boat derrick and yard arms. Combrig provides the rectangular derrick base but what appears to be a circular control station near the base is not included. That could be added with the appropriate diameter straw cut to shape. To round out the kit Combrig provides fifteen ships’ boats, which is more than enough for the 1918 fit. In comparing the deck plans of the two steam launches with the drawing in the Burt volume, the resin launches appear to match the design. There are two resin runners of boat chocks included in the kit to attach to the bottom of the boats before attaching these assemblies to the deck.
Combrig has expanded the format of their instructions. In the past Combrig instructions were always found on two pages with the assembly diagram printed on the back of the P&P. Now there are two back-printed sheets. The first page follows the earlier Combrig format in that it provides a nice 1:700 scale plan and profile drawing, ship’s history in Russian and ship’s statistics in Russian. As with any Combrig kit, the included P&P is designed to be a material part in the assembly process. The drawing included in the instructions appears to be a 1:700 scale copy of the Burt drawing. Always refer to the plan and profile for the exact location of any part found in the assembly drawing. Page two has a slightly reduced photograph of the included parts and list of White Ensign Models Colourcoats paints needed to paint the model. In this case RN03 AP 507C Light Gray, RN01 AP507A Dark Gray and C01 Teak Wood Deck.
Page three contains three assembly modules. One is for the aft superstructure with two variations/options, one for early 1917 and one for 1918. The second module is the forward tripod with control top with all of the additional platforms found in a late war control top. The third module is the forward superstructure with B barbette, including attachment of the completed forward tripod. Page four shows the attachment of all of the other parts including superstructure modules, to the hull. By expanding the size of the instructions to four pages, Combrig makes it easier to see where the parts go but it still essential to refer to the included plan and profile drawing.