In February1934 the German high staff informed the development office of their minimum requirements for Germany’s first heavy cruiser design. Since the Kriegsmarine had been restricted to cruisers of 6,000 tons before, there previously had been no need to design the type. Most foreign navies had already launched large number to Treaty Cruisers so the Navy staff could examine their characteristics. The new requirements mandated that the new German heavy be at least equal to the strongest new foreign construction and particularly specified at least parity with one ship. The ship specifically named was the French heavy cruiser Algérie.
The Washington Treaty of 1921 had placed maximum limits on any new cruiser construction. No cruiser could exceed 10,000 tons or have guns greater than 8-inch. There was no separate mention of light cruisers. That designation and definition came about in the London Treaty of 1930. The result of the maximum limitations in the treaty was that all major powers built new cruisers at the limit of the characteristics. The USN and Japanese navies eyed each other as likely opponents in a Pacific War and exclusively built 8-inch gunned cruisers with the exception of the experimental Japanese Yubari. The Royal Navy also followed suit with a series of heavies until the end of the 1920s when to increase the quantity of cruisers, they reverted to the 6-inch gun smaller type.
"The first ships built for the US Navy, the British Royal Navy, the Imperial Japanese Navy, and the French and Italian Navies were all markedly similar in their general characteristics. All were seen as essentially ‘eggshells armed with hammers’, fast ships with heavy firepower which would nevertheless be unable to sustain an engagement with their own kind because of their flimsy construction and light protection." The French Cruiser Algérie, Warship 2001-2002, by John Jordan, at page 103.
France and Italy were in competition in their designs. Unlike the larger navies both powers also built smaller light cruisers but main arena of competition was with the 10,000-ton heavy cruiser. Both navies started with similar designs that emphasized speed and armament at the expense of protection. Indeed the early designs for both countries were almost without protection. By the end of the decade, many thought that cruisers would bear the brunt of fighting in any new war as the existing battleships were too slow. Both France and Italy initially drew up plans to use their remaining Washington Treaty capital ship tonnage for fast battlecruisers, capable of swatting treaty cruisers, rather than build traditional heavily armored battleships.
In 1929 Italy broke the pattern with the Zara Class. These four cruisers sacrificed some speed in return for significant armor protection with turrets and maximum belt armor at 150mm (5.9-inches). These cruisers came in with displacements ranging from 11,680 to 11,900 tons, significantly over the 10,000 maximum, so Italy, like Japan with their Nachi and Atago Classes, lied about their true displacement and claimed they were 10,000 tons. France followed in 1931 with a heavy cruiser design, which also radically broke with past designs and incorporated significant armor. In a very delicate series of trade-offs France created probably the best heavy cruiser that fell within the limits set by the Washington Treaty, the Algérie.
The preceding French heavy cruiser design had been the four ships of the Sufferen Class. The first two, Sufferen & Colbert had adopted 50mm armor over machinery and magazine spaces, while the second two, Foch and Dupleix, added additional armor and protection features. They were designed more with making the ships immune from the gunfire of the most modern Italian destroyers, the Navigatori Class with their 120mm (4.7-inch) guns. However, the appearance of the Condottieri light cruisers with their high speed and six-inch guns changed the equation. More armor was needed on the next design, the Algérie.
Unlike the Zaras, which cheated by 16% to 19% over Treaty maximum, or the Japanese, which were well over 20% over Treaty, the French navy honored the Washington Treaty and designed the Algérie to conform with its requirements. The German Hipper, designed to be the equal of the Algérie came in at a whopping 40% over treaty limits. The Algérie came in at 10,000 tons standard. The French design department had gained a great deal of design experience in the 1920s in producing cruisers within the very tight Treaty parameters and incorporated every lesson learned in their Algérie design. In so doing they also created a design of exceptional beauty and formidable appearance, as well as excellent operational characteristics.
In one trade-off, to create extra deck space, the Algérie discarded the unit propulsion system that had been adopted by most navies and went back to a four-shaft in-line system. Using the older system, in which the three boiler rooms were clustered together, they could design a ship with only one stack, which freed deck space for more armament. Only one catapult was incorporated into the design and to limit loss of deck space, it was set on the port side, rather than centerline. Maximum speed was a modest but respectable 31-knots, so that a comprehensive armor scheme could be incorporated. To increase hull strength a flush deck design was selected rather than the prior use of a higher forecastle deck. This reduced seakeeping abilities but saved 80-tons. Aesthetically, the biggest change was the selection of a tower forward superstructure in place of the tripods used in prior designs.
The Algérie had a comprehensive armor scheme that accounted for 2,035-tons of armor in the 10,000 design. This was a 33% leap in armor from the 1,553-tons of the newest French heavy cruiser, the Dupleix of 1929. Using an exterior belt with a maximum thickness of 110mm (4.33-inches), the Algérie had an armor belt more than twice as thick as the 50mm of the Dupleix. The use of an external belt also saved 370-tons. Turret faces and conning tower had 100mm of armor and the deck had 80mm armor between the torpedo bulkheads, over the machinery spaces, magazines and shell rooms, which was thicker than any other heavy cruiser design.
The Algérie was designed to develop 84,000 shp for a maximum speed of 31-knots but on trials on February 2, 1934, actually developed 93,230 shp and hit 32.93-knots. Five Indret boilers were used to provide steam for the A.C. Bretagne turbines for the inner shafts and Indret turbines for the outer shafts. The extra deck space created by the inline propulsion layout and the overall efficiency of the French design, allowed for a particularly heavy armament for cruisers of the time. There of course were the standard four twin 203mm (8-inch) gun turrets with separate cradles for the guns. For the time Algérie had a particularly strong AA armament. The secondary gun fit was twelve 100mm (3.93-inch) DP guns mounted in six twin mountings. The 100mm/45 M1930 was developed specifically for the Algérie and was a great improvement over the HA secondary of previous French designs. Its range of elevation was –10 degrees to a maximum of 80 degrees. They had a range of 15,600-15,800m at an elevation of 45 degrees for surface fire and 10,000m for HA AA fire. The light AA fit included four M1925 37mm guns and sixteen 13.2mm Hotchkiss heavy machine guns in M1929 quadruple mounts. Originally it was planned to equip the ship with the new M1935 37mm design but it was not ready, so the older design was used as a temporary expedient, pending final development of the new model. She also carried six 550mm (21.7-inch) torpedo tubes in two triple mounts. Unusually for a cruiser, the Algérie carried torpedo reloads. Three extra torpedoes were stored in a steel locker. They were moved to the tubes by the aircraft crane to a trolley that ran on rails to the tubes. For the port side catapult two seaplanes were initially carried. First the seaplanes were the Gourdou-Leseurre 810, then the 812 and finally the Loire-Nieuport 130 was shipped in December 1938. One was stored on the catapult and the other on the starboard spar deck amidships aft of the funnel on deck rails, as there was no hangar.
The order for the Algérie was placed with the Brest Navy Yard in August 1930 and she was laid down on March 19, 1931. She was launched on May 21, 1932 and completed on September 15, 1934. Algérie was commissioned as the flagship of the first Light Division of the 1st Squadron in the Mediterranean, which included Algérie, Colbert and Dupleix, as well as the 1st Escadre, the main French force in the Mediterranean. The value placed on the ship is reflected by the fact that Algérie served as a flagship throughout her career. She had been designed from the start as a flagship with the incorporation of significant staff facilities and an admiral’s bridge. The adoption of the tall solid tower in lieu of a tripod allowed the Algérie to carry her main director in a center position at the top and two secondary directors on sponsons to the rear of the main director, much higher than preceding designs. Two of the four main turrets were also fitted with 5m range finders.
After less than three years service, she went in for a minor refit between January to March 1937. There were some minor alterations to the bridge and the main director 5m rangefinder was replaced by an 8m version. In 1938 all of the 37mm guns were grouped on the quarterdeck and the two aft boat deck 13.2mm mounts were moved, one to conning tower and the other to the aft end of the quarterdeck. At the end of 1938 X turret received a 8m rangefinder in place of the 5m version, the AA control position was modified and the larger Loire-Nieuport 130 seaplane replaced the Gourdou-Lesseurre 812.
In September 1939 at the start of World War Two, Algérie was flagship of the 1st Cruiser Squadron, which was a combined force of Algérie, Dupleix, Foch, Duquesne, Tourville, Colbert and the 5th, 7th and 9th CT (destroyer) divisions. On of her first missions was to form part of a force hunting the Graf Spee. Algérie, Dupleix, battlecruiser Strasbourg and the British carrier Hermes were based in Dakar in West Africa. The ships operated as Forces M and N in the hunt for the Graf Spee. On November 26, 1939 Algérie arrived back at Toulon for a refit. The first refit during World War Two changed the appearance of the Algérie. Between December 1939 and January 1940 the four single 37mm mounts were replaced by twin M1937 twin 37mm mounts and she received a prominent rounded cowl on top of her stack.
After her refit the first mission of Algérie was to transport French gold to Canada. On March 11, 1940 Algérie with 1,179 cases of gold and the battleship Bretagne with 1,820 cases, left for Canada to return on April 10. Algérie went back to the Mediterranean and when Italy went to war against France, Algérie shelled Genoa on June 13 and 14. On the 17th and 18th of June she was a convoy escort in her last mission before France fell to the German Army. Algérie remained with the Vichy French navy and was part of the Vichy High Seas Force from October 1940. Her only mission for the Vichy navy was to escort the battleship Provence back to Toulon, after the battleship escaped from Oran in 1940. Additional 13.2mm machine guns, this time Browning, were added in summer 1941.
Her last refit as between May to August 1942. The light tripod mainmast was removed and an AA position, called a pergola, consisting of two twin 37mm mounts, two 13.2mm quadruple Hotchkiss machine gun mounts and an additional two Browning 13.2mm machine guns was located in its place. This multi-platform structure provided much better arcs of fire for the AA guns located there and was not susceptible to degradation through spray, as many of the main deck positions were. The balance of the AA guns were moved to new positions. Two twin 37mm were moved to the Admiral’s bridge, two quad 13.2mm were mounted one forward of the first 100mm positions on each side, and a single 13.2mm aft of the third 100mm positions on each side. Algérie was part of the great sabotage at Toulon on November 27, 1942. Her own crew blew her up. After burning for two days, the Algérie was a gutted hulk. On March 18, 1943 Italian experts raised the wreck but she was too far gone to be repaired and so was broken up. However, the last of the hull was not disposed of until 1956. (Bulk of history on the Algérie from Cruisers of World War Two, An International Encyclopedia by M.J. Whitley; The French Cruiser Algérie; Warship 2001-2002 by John Jordan)
The Combrig Algérie
The Combrig Algérie is an excellent kit. It is one of the more complex kits in the Combrig lineup but is very attractively priced for a kit of its size, detail and quality. The casting is flawless. There are no voids to be found, even on the bottom of the hull where such voids can be found with other manufacturers. The hull has very nice lines, especially with the gracefully curving, undercut stern. Another feature of the hull sides that is different from other ships and adds uniqueness to the Algérie is a series of horizontal bands, which I assume to be hull strengtheners, found along the hull sides. They can be clearly observed inmost photographs of the ship and Combrig has captured them in the model. The two lines of portholes appear to match the pattern and placement of published profile drawings of the ship. The profile of the hull of the kit matches with the profile of the actual ship in photographs and drawings.
The deck actually has even more detail. Look at the photographs of the model’s forecastle and compare them with the photograph of the actual forecastle. The forecastle is made with a pattern of steel plate rectangles and that is exactly what is captured in the Combrig kit. However, there is a lot more on the forecastle than just the steel plate pattern. If you talk about the quality of deck fittings in 1:700 scale warship kits, the Combrig Algérie packs some of the finest to be found anywhere. The anchor hawse plates are extraordinarily well done and clearly delineated. The wooden plank main deck is subtly engraved and adds to the contrast furnished by the steel plate forecastle and multitude of deck fittings.
The quarterdeck comes with a whole series of raised comings and other details that match shape and location of published plans. If you count them, you’ll find the deck is equipped with 30 bollards and cleats to round out the detail of the deck. The 01 deck is cast integral with the hull and you will quickly notice the asymmetrical forward 01 level with a notch in the port side aft just to the rear of the catapult pedestal. Another new feature found in Algérie, as well as in the new Combrig kit of the German Aviso Grille (Click for review of the Combrig Grille), are a series of locator circles very delicately scribed on the deck that show the locations for structures attached to the decks. These seven circles show the placement locations for the catapult pedestal, two torpedo mounts and four support pillars for the amidship 100mm mounts. There were no defects or breakage of any character. What is more amazing is that absolutely no cleanup is required. There was not even a minute vestige of flash at the waterline. It is positively one of the cleanest castings that I have seen from any company.
After marveling at the detail and quality of the hull casting, you then pull out the zip-lock bag containing the smaller resin parts and notice that there are a lot of them. After the hull the next largest piece in the kit is the 01 deck. It runs from the forward point of the forward 01 level to rear point of the aft 01 level, leaving a covered walk-through area where the deck housings separate. This piece is also loaded with detail. Starting and ending with the barbettes for the superfiring turrets, you’ll find a detailed tower base, stack base housing, raised coamings, incised deck plates, detailed structures at the base of the crane tower and platforms for the aft inclined ladders. On the port side, you’ll notice that the deck is cut back where the catapult is positioned on the pedestal from the main deck and on the opposite side you’ll notice a series of rails used to move a pair of the ships boats and where the second floatplane was stored. Some observers have thought that the Algérie had two catapults, since they would see floatplanes on the port and starboard. What they saw was the floatplane on the port sited catapult but the floatplane to starboard was on the storage rails. This deck also has ten small areas that are slightly covered by a resin film. These should be opened up with a hobby knife. Six are for the bases of the twin 100mm gun mounts and four are for deck openings for inclined ladders coming up from main deck. The amidships area from just aft of the tower to the crane tower will be a very interesting area, since it is very asymmetrical with the catapult to the port and boats, spare plane and railing to the starboard. In my view this asymmetry adds great interest to the finished model.
Next you’ll find a rectangular resin film with various superstructure levels. Most of these are the different bridge levels of the forward superstructure but also you’ll find the catapult base, main director base, searchlight platform for the forward tower and top and side platforms for the crane tower. The two main bridge levels are very well detailed with doors, side fittings, top fittings, and subtlety done bridge windows. Not only is the splinter shielding very crisp but also, if you look closely, it flares outward at the top. I don’t recall seeing outward flaring bridge splinter shielding in any kit before. This point of detailing surpasses anything that I have seen in 1:700 scale. There is a second smaller resin film sheet that has the platforms for the after superstructure. These platforms also feature splinter shielding that are a series of curves and angles, all crisply captured with no defects. The gun tubs for the single 13.2mm machine guns even have crew access openings.
The forward tower is of course one of the focal points of this design. Combrig has really captured it well. The first thing to notice is the dramatically flaring sponsons for the secondary directors, however, this is a lot of minute detail on this piece. You’ll also find doors for the mid-tower platform and forward face searchlight platform as well as a series of portholes at the base, for the mid-level platform and at the top. The stack with its very prominent cowling is also a significant focal point. It features prominent aprons at the base of the stack and at the base of the cowling. The stack opening is slightly hollow. Although the depth is fine for me, some may want to hollow it out further to add more three-dimensional aspect to the stack opening. Steam pipes are separate fittings that are attached during assembly. The crane tower features very delicate ventilation louvers as well as a series of walkways.
The turrets come in two versions. The superfiring turrets have large flanged pedestals for 8m rangefinders with the lower turrets having a smaller circular fitting at this point. Other details are the same with multi-angle roof crowns, rear face entry door and forward face armored vision ports. The six 100mm secondary mounts are each of three pieces, two barrels and the mount. The mount has an open gun deck to the rear with detail on the top and front of the mount. The secondary mounts do not have open backs. The torpedo tubes have as much detail on the bottom as on the top. There are clearly defined torpedo openings with hollow protective sheathing above them. The mount turntables even have an operators position. Smaller AA comes with the barrels separate from the mount. At this time Algérie carried twin 37mm mounts. These mounts have separate arms for each barrel. The quad 13.2mm machine gun mounts are similar in design to the US 1.1-inch AA mount, Chicago Piano. There is a one-piece gun part with four barrels abreast, which rests inside the twin arms of the mount. Here is one area where there was some damage in shipment. Because of their very fine and delicate casting, the 37mm barrels had broken off of the sprue during shipment and some of the quad machine guns had missing barrels. However, all of this is easily fixed by recovery of the barrels from the plastic bag or with plastic sprue. The single 13.2mm guns are separate resin castings. The tower top main and secondary directors are fully detailed with entry ports, hatches and other fittings crammed on these small parts. The Loire 130 seaplane is a miniature model in its own right. With the major parts in resin and support struts in brass photo-etch. Fifteen parts go into making up this jewel and it is one of the most delicate assemblies in the kit. Unfortunately, you only get one Loire 130 with the kit as it would be nice to have one on the catapult and one on the storage rails.
Since the Algérie was designed from the start as a flagship, it had a full set of ship’s boats. Combrig provides those boats in the kit. From the large whale boat to the small dinghies, there is a wide variety of all shapes and sizes. The large motor launches are of a unique design that match profile drawings. There are separate boat chocks in resin and brass. There is also a liberal supply of carley rafts and the castings for these small items clearly show the pattern for the raft bottoms. There are plenty of other small resin castings of excellent detail, including searchlights, signal lights, paravanes, anchors, capstans as well as the mainmast tripod and yards. The very thin yards did have a degree of warp.
Brass Photo-Etch Fret
The Algérie is no exception. The kit comes with a substantial brass photo-etch fret of ship specific parts. There are no railing, vertical ladder or inclined ladders on the fret. Combrig has done everything necessary for you to incorporate third party generic parts such as including inclined ladder landings on the 01 deck or the inclusion of deck openings for the inclined ladders but you have to get that from another source. What Combrig does provide on the fret are all of the intricate details specific to the Algérie. Not only do they provide a wealth of detail on the fret but also they are now using relief-etched detail.
A listing of the brass pieces starts with the catapult. This part has the looks of the uniquely French catapult with the large circular cutouts on the top and bottom and lattice-work sides. There are two different cranes. One on the aft face of the crane tower for the ship’s boats and a larger bent version on the forward face for handling the aircraft. In both cases the brass cranes have a top rung ladder, detailed sides and bottom and even separate handrails. The forecastle breakwater is a separate brass part instead of being cast as part of the hull. This allows a greater thinness for the piece. All of the cable and hose reels are three-piece brass assemblies, rather than being solid resin pieces. Yards; block and tackle; anchor chain; propeller guards; seaplane cradle, propeller and support struts; platform supports; DF loops and large boat chocks are all part of the brass parts on this fret. The fret includes two relief etched range clocks but these are only the clock bases. For the clock face Combrig includes another innovation, thin plastic microfilm clock faces.