Every so often, something new will come down the pike that is so perfect that it will set the standard in design for the foreseeable future. Warship designs are no different. When the Board of the Admiralty for the Royal Navy met on August 17, 1888, the Royal Navy had been experimenting with battleship designs for the last 30 years. Low freeboard, high freeboard, guns in barbettes, guns in heavy turrets, guns in a central redoubt, sail or no sail; everything had been tried and no consensus had arisen. The designs of the Royal Navy for that 30-year period had created a collection of samples. The non-homogeneous battleline featured a bewildering series of designs, all of which featured one thing in common, each design had far more cons than pros.

When the board met at the Devonport Dockyard, they were to decide the battleship design for the 1889 estimates. After much discussion certain items were settled. The design would mount four 13.5 inch guns, two forward and two aft; there would be ten 6-Inch secondary guns, mounted 5 per broadside; the main armor belt would be at least 18-inches thick. As far as the details, that was left to the Director of Naval Construction (DNC) William White. The former chief designer (Chief Constructor) Nathaniel Barnaby had been vilified, then and now for his odd designs. However, in large measure this was unfair, as Barnaby had tried to build in accordance to unrealistic goals set for political and financial reasons. He tried to put in too much on a too limited displacement for economy’s sake and had labored under unrealistic constraints. Another detriment to his designs was that quite often the available technology was not up to the goals.

Sir William White (KCB in 1895) had been the chief designer for the firm of Armstrong. He became DNC in 1885 and by 1888 had hit his mark with this design. "While DNC he virtually revolutionized battleship design and created a fleet which was the envy of the civilized world." (British Battleships 1889-1904 by R. A. Burt at page 8) The initial design that created this fleet was for the 1889 estimates and became the seven ship Royal Sovereign Class. The names of all but one of the ships started with the letter R. The names are better known now for another R design that came about 25 years later. Royal Sovereign, Ramilles, Resolution, Revenge, Royal Oak, Repulse and Empress of India were the ships and the design set the standard for the rest of predreadnought battleship designs that were to follow. The design featured a high freeboard barbette design. Turret designs of the period had very heavy turrets that because of their weight would have to be mounted close to the waterline. In heavy seas the muzzles of the main guns of some designs would dip into the water on a roll, making them unworkable in those conditions. Obviously, battleships that cannot use their main guns with heavy seas running are at a great disadvantage. The high freeboard was the most distinguishing trait of this design. Just to be sure that they were on the right track, another ship was built to a similar design but as a low freeboard type, HMS Hood. They need not have bothered, the Royal Sovereigns set the bar. 

The class broke size limitations that had bedeviled Barnaby designs and proved a great success. They were the largest group of ships built to one design in the Royal Navy since the ironclad era had started. When competed in 1892 through 1894, no other battleship design in the world could equal their fighting efficiency. They were exceptionally strong and heavy and upon completion were the most substantial warships ever completed for the Royal Navy. They were also good politically because the British public instantly fell in love with them. They were not perfect. As built they had a tendency to roll. The main guns, although protected from flat trajectory shells by the heavily armored barbette, were open to the elements. Crew efficiency would suffer in any type of inclement weather as well as the crew being vulnerable to plunging fire and quick firing (QF) light ordnance.

Although a new wire-wound 12-inch gun design was considered, the tried and true 13.5-inch design was chosen for the class because the new 12-inch design was not ready or tested. Loading positions were fixed to the rear of the circular turntable, within the pear shaped barbette. Therefore the guns would have to be on centerline for loading, slowing their rate of fire. The six-inch secondary was of a new untested QF design, rather than a slower breech loading design that had been used in earlier battleships. The armor belt ranged from 18-inches to 14-inches in thickness (18 to 16 amidships between barbettes and 14 next to the barbettes) and ran for 250 feet. It came up to 3 feet above waterline to 5 ½ feet below waterline. The barbettes were also armored 17 to 16 inches on the outside of the armor belt and 11-inch within the screen created by the belt. Another outstanding quality of this class was their speed. As completed they were the first British battleships to exceed 17 knots and proved to be the fastest battleships in the world when completed.

With William Watt’s design of the Royal Sovereign class of the 1889 program (click for review of the Combrig Royal Sovereign) it is common to think that the era of the odd battleship design was over. By and large that was true but there were still a few "oddities" prepared even after this design. One was a heavy turret, low freeboard alternate version of the Royal Sovereign. This design had heavy turrets rather than open barbettes. The First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Arthur Hood pushed this instead of the Watt’s design. One ship, named HMS Hood, was built in conformance to Admiral Hood’s wishes. Two other oddities appeared in the following 1890 program, although they were originally part of the same program with the Royal Sovereigns. These were the 2nd class battleships, Centurion and Barfleur. They were intentionally designed to serve as flagships on foreign stations. To use the Suez Canal and to help with navigation of the Yangtze, they had to draw less than 26-feet. They were clearly inferior to the contemporary first class battleships of the Royal Sovereign class, except in one area. They were shorter (360-feet vs 380-feet), more narrow (70-feet vs 75-feet), had lighter armament (four 10-inch & ten 4.7-inch vs four 13.5-inch & ten 6-inch) and had lighter armor (12-inch vs 18-inch belt) than the Royal Sovereigns. One requirement was that the Centurions be faster than 1st class battleships. The same 9,000 shp power plant as the heavier battleships (10,500-tons vs 14,000-tons), they were faster (17-knots vs 16-knots).  

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In 1892 the Royal Navy wanted to build a new battleship design utilizing a new 12-inch gun. Plans called for three of these ships to be laid down. However, the new gun was not ready and two of the ships, which became the Majestic class, were delayed. However, it was decided to build a ship at Pembroke Dockyard to maintain the workforce. Since the Majestic design was not ready and it made no sense to build any more of the 1st class Royal Sovereigns or 2nd class Centurions, it was decided to build an upgraded 2nd class battleship. The result of this "make work" project was HMS Renown, the last 2nd class battleship built for the Royal Navy. The decision to build a smaller 2nd class battleship was strongly urged by two influential officers. One was Captain Cyprian Bridge , who was the Director of National Intelligence. He wished to have battleships of "moderate dimensions", which was normally a euphemism used by politicians to justify construction of smaller, cheaper, less capable battleships. The other proponent of this light battleship design was the Controller and DNO, Rear Admiral John A. "Jackie" Fisher. What Fisher wanted was a battleship with the lightest reasonable main gun and the heaviest reasonable secondary guns. In this desire it is possible to see the genesis in his thinking which would eventually lead to the all big gun Dreadnought, in which medium secondaries gave way to all big guns. Another factor, which Fisher admired, was the extra speed that the lighter design would have. Fisher was so enthused with the design that he wanted a class of six Renowns. However, the rest of the Admiralty balked at this because of the 10-inch gun main armament. 

HMS Renown took the Centurion design, enlarged and improved it. White, who had no use for 2nd class battleships, quickly sketched out three designs varying from 13,050-tons to 12,350-tons. The difference in displacement came from the coal capacity. The lightest design had about half the coal capacity of the largest. The Admiralty chose the lightest design but the actual construction of the Renown was slowed by changes to the armor scheme. Harvey armor was selected as the chief component for Renown. It had been used with limited application on the previous two designs but not for the main belt. The Harvey process hardened the face of the armor so that a thinner belt would have the same shell resistance as a thicker belt of steel or compound nickel-steel armor used in previous designs. Because of this Renown only had an 8-inch belt, compared to the 12-inch belt in the Centurions. One benefit of the lighter main belt was that armor strakes could be added higher up on the hull. Another change was the use of a sloping armored deck instead of a flat one. The main guns were designed to completely enclosed in gun houses rather than having open rears as in the Centurions. However, due to weight caused her to be initially fitted with open back positions as in Centurion. Lastly the 6-inch secondary guns were placed in armored casemates, rather than have lightly armored gun shields as found in the 4.7-inch secondary guns in the Centurions. As completed the Renown had the same length as the Royal Sovereigns and displaced 1,850-tons more than the Centurions. Although beam and draught increased over the Centurions, these were still less than the 1st class Royal Sovereigns. As a 2nd class battleship she was prepared for foreign station service by having here bottom sheathed in copper. 

After being delayed a year with the Renown, the new model 12-inch MK VIII 46-ton gun designed by Vickers was finally available.  Jackie Fisher, who was Controller of the RN, asked White to use his Royal Sovereign design as the basis for a new first line battleship design but to mount the MK VIII 12-inch and to use Harvey process armor instead of the compound steel armor of the earlier design. He asked for a ship of 12,500-tons and a uniform belt of 9-inches. The first ship of the class would be named Majestic. If the Royal Sovereign design is the Abraham of British predreadnought battleships, then the Majestic design is the Issac. Although original projections had only contemplated three in the class and one of these was changed to Renown, subsequent events would dramatically change these plans. By August 1893, following an ongoing public discourse on the falling strength of the Royal Navy compared to the latest French and Russian building programs, the First Sea Lord, Earl Spencer, pushed forward an Emergency Construction Program, which called for building seven more of the Majestic class. Many politicians opposed the Spencer Program because of the greatly increased cost but the program was approved by Parliament in 1894. The result was that the Majestic class holds the distinction of having more battleships ordered to one design than any other battleship design in history. A total of nine Majestics were ordered. 

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The first two, Majestic and Magnificent, had been ordered, along with Renown, the previous year but were delayed due to the delay in the availability of the 12-inch gun. Magnificent was the first to be laid down on December 18, 1893 at Chatham and Majestic was finally laid down in February 1894 at Portsmouth . Five more followed that year with Jupiter April 26; Hannibal on May 1; Victorious May 28; Mars June 2; and Prince George on September 10, 1894. To appease those who objected to the cost of the program it was stated that that the building of ships in the class would be spread out over five years. In reality it was only two years and was front loaded for 1894. Two more Majestics followed in 1895 with Illustrious on March 11 and the last of the class Caesar on March 25, 1895. White’s final design was a spectacular success and a great improvement over the White Royal Sovereign design, which in its own right a record breaking design. “The design and production of the Majestic class was truly Sir William White’s magnum opus in a long and distinguished career.” (British Battleships 1889-1904, by R.A. Burt, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis Maryland 1988, at page 111). The design was so successful the next five classes of RN battleships, Canopus , Formidable, London , Duncan and Queen, consisting of a total of twenty ships, were incremental improvements over the original Majestic design.

The improvements of the Majestic over Royal Sovereign were abundant and obvious. Other than shell weight, the new MK VIII 12-inch/35 gun was far superior in every category over the old pattern 13.5-inch/30 MK III gun carried by Royal Sovereign. The gun was much lighter 44 tons vs 67-tons; greater muzzle velocity 2,367 fps vs 2,061 fps; rate of fire .75 rpm vs .50 rpm. The first seven Majestic ships had the same center line loading arrangement as the Royal Sovereign but the two 1895 ships Illustrious and Caesar were greatly improved with all around loading positions, which would clearly speed the rate of fire. Additionally, the pear shaped barbette required for centerline loading was replaced with a smaller circular barbette and the turret design was modified to a smaller turret for further weight savings. Within the class there is another distinguishing feature. The first four ships were built with the bridge aft of the conning tower. This kept the conning tower free of obstruction. For Hannibal , Caesar and Illustrious the bridge was moved on top of the conning tower, creating the possibility of the conning tower being obstructed due to battle damage on the bridge and personnel on the bridge were more susceptible to blast effects from firing the forward turret. One of the major criticisms of Royal Sovereign designs was that crew of main guns with their open mounts, were unprotected. The answer for that was the armored gun house added to protect the crew. Although this was then called a turret, the Majestic was still a barbette design, rather than a turret design. Secondary protection was also greatly improved. The Majestic mounted twelve 6-inch guns, rather than the ten in Royal Sovereign, and all were mounted behind 6-inch armored casemates. The Harvey process armor of Majestic was much superior in resistance from the Nichol steel compound armor of Royal Sovereign. Better protection could be provided with less weight, allowing for a deep armor belt of a uniform 9-inch thickness with an armored deck behind that. White had originally wanted all 6-inch guns mounted on the upper deck to allow use in any weather but to save weight, the final design had half of the battery on the main deck, which was susceptible to being washed out in poor weather. Barbette armor was 14-inches and gun house armor was 10.5-inch on the face, 5.5-inches on sides and 4-inches on rear face. The machinery plant was the same as in Royal Sovereign but could develop and additional 1,000shp. Although the two classes were rated for the same speed, the additional horse power of Majestic allowed her to achieve the maximum speed more easily. The Majestics also carried more coal and therefore had a greater range.

As mention above, HMS Caesar was the last of the Majestic class to be laid down and she and Illustrious of 1895 were of a modified design with circular barbette and smaller turret because of their redesign for all-around loading. HMS Caesar was laid down at Portsmouth on March 21, 1895 and launched September 2, 1896. Caesar completed on January 13, 1898 actually three months earlier than Illustrious. She was initially attached to the Channel Fleet but in May 1898 was sent to the Mediterranean Fleet where she remained until October 1903. Although she went to Gibralter for a refit in 1900-1901, Caesar sailed for home and on October 6, 1903 went in for an extensive refit, which was completed February 2, 1904. HMS Caesar then replaced Majestic as flagship of the Channel Fleet, which became the Home Fleet on January 1, 1905. She was the last of the class to be a fleet flagship and finally hauled down her fleet commander’s flag in March 1905. She was still distinguished as 2nd flag for the fleet (as flagship for the fleet’s second in command) and held this position until February 1907. On June 3, 1905 she had a mishap with the SS Afghanistan. The collision caused the sinking of the merchant ship but Caesar had her port side damaged in which the merchant ship carried away the bridge wing, boats, davits and net booms. Caesar went to Devonport for repairs and refit. 

Majestic Class Vital Statistics

Dimensions: Length -
413 (126m); Beam - 75-feet (23m); Draught - 27.5-feet normal (8.4m); Displacement - 14,900-tons normal; 16,000-tons full load: Armament - Four 12-inch/35 (305mm) Mk VIII; Twelve 6-inch (150mm); Sixteen 12pdr QF; Five 18-inch Submerged Torpedo Tubes:

Armor: Belt - 9-inches (230mm) Harvey Process; Upper Belt- 6-in (150mm); Barbettes - 14-inches (360mm); Turrets - 10-inches (250mm) on face; Casemates - 6-in (150mm); Armored Bulkheads- 14-12-inches (360-300mm); Conning Tower - 14-inches (360mm); Decks - 4-inches (100mm) to 2.5-inch (63mm): Performance - Two shaft, Triple Expansion; Maximum Speed - 17-knots (31kph): Range - 7,600nm at 10-knots;Complement - 670

On May 27, 1907 Caesar became as a part of the Home Fleet. After another refit at the end of 1907 into 1908, Caesar led a quiet life for the next few years. On January 16, 1911 the SS Excelsior rammed the Caesar in a fog but the battleship was unhurt. In the normal course of events, Caesar would have been at the end of her career but political events overtook the normal course of events. With the outbreak of war in August 1914 Caesar joined other old codgers to form Battle Squadron with the Channel Fleet. In this period all of her operations were in the English Channel . She moved the Plymouth Marine Battalion to Ostend at the end of August and in September provided cover for the movement of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to Europe . In December she was detached to Gibraltar to be guard ship as well as a gunnery training school. However, in July 1915 Caesar was sent to Bermuda to be guard ship of that island. For most of balance of the war was spent riding anchor in Bermuda, however, in September 1918 Caesar was transferred to the Mediterranean . In September into October 1918 she was at Malta being fitted with repair shops, recreation rooms, reading rooms and other leisure facilities to provide repair and recreation for the crews of the ships of the British Adriatic Squadron based on the island of Corfu . She never made it to Corfu because after completion of the fittings, Caesar was sent to the Aegean as depot ship at Murdos. One would think that the old Caesar would have been scrapped right after the war but such was not the case. Probably because of her repair and leisure facilities, her services were still much in demand. From January to June 1919 she was depot ship for Egypt . In June she was sent to the Black Sea to be depot ship for the Royal Naval forces operating as interventionists in the Russian Civil War and operating against Bolshevik forces. This lasted almost a year but in March 1920 time finally caught up with Caesar. In her Ides of March, Caesar returned to Great Britain and was paid off. On November 8, 1921 sold for scrap. (Bulk of History from: British Battleships 1889-1904, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis Maryland 1988, by R.A. Burt)

Combrig HMS Caesar
Combrig has released four models of Majestic class battleships. These are HMS Majestic 1895, HMS Mars 1896, HMS Hannibal 1898 and HMS Caesar 1898. The first three are ships that had centerline loading and larger pear shaped barbettes and the Caesar is the only release of the class with the smaller circular barbettes. The kit has no photo-etch but generic railing, vertical ladders and inclined ladders will work fine, with perhaps some davits thrown in but you’ll need to cut navigation bridge supports to fit. In looking at hull details, one thing that I noticed about the photographs was the top of the cutwater. The model photographs seem to indicate a cleaver bow is present. This is just a distortion in that the actual model has the classic Royal Navy cutwater. There is plenty of detail on hull sides and deck to satisfy the most discriminating. The Magnificent class was equipped with stocked anchors and old fashioned slanted anchor wash plates. The ship is asymmetrical in that the starboard side has two anchor hawse and anchor plates versus one on the port side. I used the two page plan and profile of Majestic found on pages 112 and 113 of the R.A. Burt volume to determine how closely the Combrig kit matched those drawings. The Combrig kit seems to match, feature by feature except with circular barbettes for Caesar vs pear barbettes for Majestic. Further the porthole arrangement was slightly different on the Combrig Caesar than the drawing.  

Tumblehome in the Majestic class was significantly increased over the design of the Royal Sovereign class and this is very noticeable in the kit. This tumblehome is further accentuated by the sponson bases for the casemate secondary guns. There are four of these sponsons on each side. Each side also has two QF tertiary positions, one at the bow and one at the stern, on each side. There are additional square and rectangular hull access doors to provide additional interest to the hull sides. Typical of Combrig, these positions are sharp and clean. The deck detail can be subdivided into three areas, forecastle, amidship and aft/quarterdeck. One striking feature fore and aft is the presence of patterned blast plates with an arch design. These plates were under the muzzles of the 12-inch guns and were designed to prevent muzzle blast from tearing up the deck and accordingly used an arch pattern to follow the training of the guns. Combrig does a superb job in creating this intricate metal deck pattern. Other deck features are equally well executed in the Combrig HMS Caesar. The wooden deck planks are cleanly incised and lack only butt ends. Equipment castings, which include anchor windlasses, deck hawse, open chocks, bollards and deck access hatches, are free for any defects or air bubbles and are crisp. The access hatches have hinge and dog detail. The twin bollards have the prototypical hour glass shape rather than a straight vertical post as is common with most resin manufacturers. 

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Amidship deck detail has less features. The wood planking is present but is found in a rectangle of the main deck and is surrounded by superstructure with bases for the forward and aft superstructures and casemate positions running along each side. Both 01 level superstructure has solid splinter shielding. Clean insets are on the deck to allow accurate and clean placement of the twin funnels deckhouse, another deckhouse and large cowled ventilators. The aft deck or quarterdeck continues with the intricate detail found on the forecastle with another detailed blast plate, drum ventilators, open chocks, deck access hatches, windlass base plate, as well as skylight fittings.

With most predreadnought designs, the ship was mostly hull with limited superstructure but most did have navigation bridges fore and aft and this is true with the Majestic class. Combrig provides a resin sheet with these navigation bridges. Both show solid splinter shielding but would represent canvas covered railing, as the bridges had railing and not solid bulkheads. Both forward and aft bridges have pilot houses integral to the casting with inset windows. Each bridge has another deck/platform of above it. Again, solid bulkheads are shown, which would represent canvas coved railing. It will be up to the modeler but my preference would be to remove the solid bulkheads on all superstructure platform pieces and replace with photo-etch railing. Same is true with the foremast search light platform  and stern walk, however, replacing the sold (canvas covered) bulkhead with railing for the stern walk requires a different type of railing. A much more intricate type pattern was used for the stern walk, after all, it was for use of the Captain or Admiral. Peter Hall’s Atlantic Models has a photo-etch fret suitable for predreadnoughts with the stern walk railing. You’ll notice that the resin sheet has three conning towers, two standard for building Majestic or Mars, with a third conning tower with bridge supports on the crown for use on the Caesar and Hannibal kits. Mars could be distinguished by the location of the torpedo net shelf which on Mars was one deck lower and below the casemate positions instead of on the main deck on the main deck as the other eight. As Oscar Parkes states, this experiment, “proved far more satisfactory” because the weight of the net was carried lower on the ship, improving stability. This different conning tower is provided because of the placement of the bridge on top of the conning tower for the last three of the Majestics. Additional parts on the sheet are the base for the searchlight platform with supports, bases for the military tops with support bracing and separate fighting tops.

When it comes to the armament, you can see through the model design that Combrig thought ahead in their design to maximize use of common parts. If you have any of the Combrig Canopus class kits, you’ll notice that the barbette is cast integral to the hull casting. With the Majestic class kits the barbettes are cast as separate parts, allowing for circular barbettes with the Caesar and pear-shaped barbettes with Majestic, Mars and Hannibal. The circular barbettes fit perfectly in the hull indented locating circles. Turret design was another difference between the first seven Majestics and the last two. Caesar and Illustrious had smaller turrets, as the barbette was smaller. I looked at photographs of Caesar and Illustrious in the R.A. Burt volume, as well as a drawing of the differences found in Oscar Parkes landmark British Battleships volume and the turrets did have an overhang past the rear face of the barbette and the Caesar turrets look right. However, since I don’t have any of the other three Combrig Majestics, I can’t do a direct comparison. All the barrels from the stubby 12-inch/35 to the secondary 6-inch are well cast, with no defects or warp. There are separate parts for the two boxy deck houses amidship, one of which is the base for the twin side by side funnels. Both the funnel base deck house, as well as the funnels have nice top aprons/stay rims. Separate steam pipes are provided for the funnels. One distinction of Caesar was that she had short fore and aft steam pipes, which are provided in the kit per Burt but Parkes shows no steam pipes for Caesar. Burt is correct, as quick look at photographs of Caesar will confirm. 

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Most of the smaller parts come on resin runners. Two runs have various sized J style cowled ventilators, most of which are quite large and were typical of ships designed in this era. Other parts on one of the ventilator runners are aft windlass, QF gun mounts, flag staff and a couple of davits. Another two runners include masts, yards and steam pipes. A fifth runner has four military mast fighting positions, as there were two such positions on each mast. Four more runners provide various deck and hull fittings, one runner for anchors, one for searchlights, one for winches and one for cable reels. The balance of the runners carry ship’s boats and boat related fittings. There are two large and two medium steam launches with separate funnels and eight different open boat patterns from the very large whale boat to the very small dinghy. A total of 19 boats are provided, as ship’s boats were plentiful in the turn of the century designs. One balsa raft rounds out the actual boats. For boat’s fittings there are two runners of eight davits each as well as one runner of boat deck chocks. Torpedo net booms and some yards have to be scratch-built from thin plastic rod.

The Caesar instructions are in the standard Combrig format with one back-printed sheet. The front side has 1:700 scale plan and profile drawing, which are very helpful in assembling the kit. You get the fine details from the P&P, such as torpedo net boom placement, rigging, boat placement and bridge wing support design from the detailed drawings. The rest of the front page is text in English with class history, history of the Caesar and statistics. The back page has the actual assembly instructions with an isomorphic drawing of the assembly. Boat and boom locations are not included, hence the importance of the P&P drawings. Combrig does provide a small inset drawing with scratch built yards but not net booms. There is also a photograph of all the parts (at reduced size) that come with the kit. 

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Now you can have William White’s wonder, the Majestic Class British battleship, which established the standard design for the British battleship for almost a decade. HMS Caesar was the last of the nine ships of the class and is different in barbette design and bridge location from the first six ships in bridge location and seven ships in barbette design. Combrig provides their usual outstanding casting with clean, crisp and detailed parts but no photo-etch.