HMVS Cerberus, what an unusual name. The name Cerberus, a three headed beast guarding the underworld, is not unusual as the Royal Navy had great numbers of warships named after gods, heroes and creatures from Greek and Roman mythology but HMVS is an unusual prefix to the name. HMVS stood for Her Majesty’s Victorian Ship, as Queen Victoria was the only sovereign to rule during the entire life of navy of Victoria . In the mid-nineteenth century, Australia was not a unified nation. Instead it was composed of a number of independent states, the largest of which in population was Victoria on the southeast coast of the continent across the Bass Strait from Tasmania . Before the Australian states were unified as one country, each of the smaller states had a navy of some form. The smaller or less populated states didn’t have much, maybe a revenue cutter or two but Victoria was the largest of the states and her largest city, Melbourne , was the largest city in the entire British Empire . In 1865 the Colonial Naval Defense Act was passed that allowed each colony of the British Empire to maintain their own warships within their own waters. This certainly was not a bit of altruism on the part of parliament, as the Act broadened the sources of funding for warship construction and it was naturally anticipated that colonial ships could be used by the RN in case of war.

Although the Royal Navy kept a force of cruisers on the Australian Station, these were based at Sydney and orientated to the South Pacific. Victoria , as befitting a prosperous colony, wanted her own ships. In July 1853 the Governor of Victoria purchased the colony’s first "war steamer" to protect transports shipping gold from Melbourne , with the seven gun steam sloop Victoria . The navy of Victoria had legal status by 1860, five years in advance of the Colonial Naval Defense Act. Shortly after passage of the Act, the government of Victoria decided that it needed a first class major warship as the centerpiece of the colony’s navy. After entering into a special agreement with the Admiralty, that guaranteed the Royal Navy control of the ship in case of war, the colony had Edward Reed design a breastwork monitor for the Navy of Victoria in 1866. This was at the start of the iron warship era. The first all iron warship for the Royal Navy, HMS Warrior, was completed October 24, 1861. The Warrior was more powerful than any wooden ship of the line but was rated as a frigate, as her guns were mounted on one deck. With the birth of the iron navy the old rates and classes of warships of the days of wood and sail were outmoded but it took some time before ships of the line, frigates, sloops and brigs evolved into battleships and cruisers. The Warrior was revolutionary and yet her armament was mounted in the old broadside format. There were those in the Royal Navy that argued that there was a better method for mounting heavy guns on a warship. Many credit John Ericsson with the introduction of the turret with his design for the USS Monitor of 1862 and the monitor was indeed the first ship actually built with this feature but others had the same idea, long before the Monitor was ever started. Captain Cowper Coles of the Royal Navy had designed an armored battery which had a turret for use in the Crimean War in 1855 and in 1859 prepared a design which featured eight twin gun turrets on centerline with two twin gun turrets abreast at the bow. Neither of these designs were built but in 1861 the Royal Navy did place a revolving turret on the floating battery, Trusty, in order to test the idea of the turret. After being struck 39 times by 40, 68 and 100€pdr projectiles, the turret was still fully operational. Captain Ashmore Powell called the turret, "One of the most formidable inventions adapted to naval warfare, as well as coast defences that has ever come to my notice". Coles boasted that he could design a warship employing the turret that would be more than a match for the Warrior. "I will undertake to prove that on my principle a vessel shall be built nearly 100 feet shorter than the Warrior and in all respects equal to her with one exception, that I will guarantee to disable and capture her in an hour; she shall draw four feet less water, require only half the crew, and cost the country for building at least 10,000€(pounds)less. I am ready to fall or stand on these assertions." (British Battleships, 1971, by Oscar Parkes, at page 45

December 1849 the Royal Navy had laid down the HMS Royal Sovereign. She was to be a steam powered, three deck, wooden ship of the line, mounting 131 guns. She was launched in 1857 but with the appearance of the French Gloire, work was stopped, as it became clear to many in the RN that the long era of the wooden walls of Britain was over. Coles stated that he could give the wooden hulled ship of the line new life by removing the upper decks, by giving them armor plate over the wooden hull and by equipping them with turrets. His ideas were tried out on the Royal Sovereign, which became the first British turret ship to be completed. She mounted five 10.5-inch muzzle loading guns (ML), which fired a 300 pound round shot. The guns were disposed in five turrets, a twin at the bow and three single gun turrets, all on centerline. She was completed in this manner on August 20, 1864. It had taken two years to "razee" her to the lower deck and then to add the iron upper works and turrets. She was an extraordinarily ugly ship with one huge funnel and a very tall ventilation trunk at the tip of the bow. She displaced 5,080-tons and had a top speed of 11-knots. In 1865 her captain reported, "As she now stands she is the most formidable vessel of war I have ever been aboard of; she would easily destroy - if her guns were rifled - any of our present ironclads." The conversion was successful but hardly cost effective. The next step was to add rifled guns to the turrets and build a turret ship from the keel up. 

The first iron turreted ship of the Royal Navy to be built from keel up was HMS Prince Albert completed February 23, 1866. The Prince Albert was classified as a coast defense ship because of her low freeboard and mounted four centerline turrets, each of which carried a single 9-inch muzzle loaded rifle (MLR), firing a 250 pound projectile. Her displacement was 3,880-tons and she had a top speed of 11.26-knots. The Prince Albert had the same length of the Royal Sovereign at 240-feet but only 48-feet of beam compared to the 62-feet of Royal Sovereign. However, unlike USN monitors, which used a steam engine to revolve the turret, the RN design used man power to revolve their turrets. Two smaller turret ships were built as well. HMS Scorpion and HMS Wivern carried two turrets mounting two 9-inch MLR each with both turrets on centerline. Displacing 2,750-tons, they were 224-feet in length with a maximum speed of 11.5-knots. Both were completed on October 10, 1865. As with the Prince Albert and Royal Sovereign, they were rated as coast defense ships based on the low freeboard. 

In 1863 Edward James Reed became the Chief Constructor for the Royal Navy. Although the Royal Navy continued to build battleships without turrets, the trend was to greatly increase the size of each gun while correspondingly reducing the number of guns carried. This started the evolution of ships that would culminate in the 1870s with ships armed with a small number of monster guns. During this early period, central battery ships with guns mounted in broadside arrangements still competed with turret ships. The next two RN turret ships jumped in size from the earlier builds. The HMS Monarch and the ill-fated HMS Captain increased the size of the turret ship and the size of the guns carried. Unlike earlier turret ships, designed for coast defense, these two were planned for deep ocean operation.

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Monarch was 330-feet in length with a displacement of 8,300-tons and a speed of 14.9-knots, while Captain was almost as big at 320-feet in length, 7,767-tons displacement and a top speed of 14.25-knots. Both were equipped with two turrets each of which mounted two 12-inch MLR firing a 600 pound projectile. As secondary they both had 7-inch MLR, three in Monarch and two in Captain. However, unlike the four earlier coast defense turret ships which carried fairly light sailing rig, the Monarch and Captain carried a full rig of sails. Unlike the earlier coast defense turret ships, which did not need a full rig because of their coast line operation, these two were expected to steam anywhere in the world and a full rig was considered a necessary piece of insurance in a period of balky steam engines. There was one very important difference between the two. Monarch had three complete decks with a freeboard of 14-feet, while Captain had only two decks with a freeboard of 8-feet. Monarch, completed in June 1869 and Captain completed in January 1870, were much more powerful than the earlier turret ships because of their 12-inch main battery. Captain completed deeper in the water than anticipated and Reed was apprehensive about her stability, however her builder was unconcerned. On September 6, 1870 HMS Captain was with the fleet when she encountered heavy weather. Although she was taking water over the deck, Coles, who was aboard saw no danger to the ship. By midnight it was a full gale and the angle of heel was such that the upper sails could not be taken down. At 12:15 under the press of wind, the low freeboard Captain heeled over and sank, taking Cowper Coles and another 472 sailors to the bottom. Only 17 crewmen were saved. Low freeboard and a full sail rig proved to be a bad combination. 

While Monarch and Captain were under construction the Colony of Victoria approached the Admiralty about a monitor with Coles turrets to be built for them. The size was to be limited based upon financial restrictions and also because the ship was to be designed to defend the harbor of Melbourne . To meet the requirements Reed designed a vessel that was revolutionary in a number of ways. The main hull had a very low freeboard of 3-feet. However, the two Coles turrets were mounted on a higher position called a breastwork, called this after field artillery works of the day. The hull was 225-feet in length but the breastwork which mounted the turrets, stack and superstructure, ran only 112-feet amidships and was set back from the sides of the hull. The height of the breastwork was 7-feet above main deck. The result was a totally unique combination that provided a low silhouette, small target for the lighter armored hull and yet the turrets were given much better visibility and fighting ability because of their placement atop the breastwork, 10-feet above waterline. The much smaller size of the breastwork and the fact that it was stepped in from the sides of the hull, enhanced stability. HMVS Cerberus was the first of the breastwork monitors.

One of the great disadvantages of the USN/Ericsson type of monitors was that the ventilators, access hatches and other openings in the deck were very close to the waterline. As a result water could easily be taken aboard and sink the vessel as happened to the Monitor herself. The breastwork design eliminated this very significant defect as almost all openings in the deck were confined to the deck at the top of the breastwork. What openings were still on the main deck were heavily sealed against water. Since the ship was designed with harbor defense in mind, Reed dropped all sails, thereby eliminating the source that had doomed HMS Captain. It was another groundbreaking first. Even the first four coast defense monitors of the RN had some form of sail fit, not to mention the Monarch and Captain with their full fit of sail. With her mission in mind, if HMVS Cerberus had an engine casualty, she would be close to a dockyard that could repair the vessel. In some regards, Cerberus also foretold the future standard battleship that would reign from 1885 to 1905 with two twin turrets placed in armored positions, one at each end of the ship, with the turrets commanding the greatest degree of firing arc and uninterrupted bow and stern fire. Another first for the design, which would also be seen in battleship designs of the future was the appearance of a central superstructure. Other designs of the time represented a kaleidoscope of features. Some had no superstructure and others had a structure stuck here and there. One common design had a superstructure running the length of the hull with the turrets located at a lower level. With her central superstructure the design of Cerberus, can again be traced as the direct ancestor of battleships at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries.

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Since the ship was much smaller than Monarch or Captain, the 12-inch guns used in those ships were not fitted. Instead Cerberus mounted four 10-inch MLR. Displacement was 3,340-tons. The distribution of armor reflected not only the desire to protect the most crucial areas and systems in the ship, but also the anticipated likelihood of each area being struck in battle. The low freeboard hull had 6-inches of iron armor at bow and stern and 8-inches at amidships. This armor completely covered the hull of the ship from the deck to well below the waterline. However, since the raised armored breastwork was a significantly larger target, that area received more armor. At the fore and aft end of the breastwork, around the two turrets, the armor was 9-inches of iron with the amidships area being 8-inches in thickness. The turret armor was 9-inches with 10-inches on the face in thickness. Deck armor was 1 ˝-inch with breastwork deck armor at 1-inch. The superstructure was unarmored. Armor on the hull, breastwork and turrets was backed up by teak ranging from 9 to 11-inches in thickness. 

The Cerberus had twin screws and a power plant that developed 1,370€ihp for a top speed of 9.75-knots. She was built at Palmers shipyard and laid down on September 1, 1867. Launched on December 2, 1868, she was completed in September 1870. It was recognized that the extremely long open sea voyage to Melbourne could pose a significant risk. Since HMS Captain had capsized in bad weather the very month that Cerberus was completed, it was thought wise to erect temporary structures to raise the freeboard of Cerberus for her voyage halfway around the world. To this end temporary bulkheads were erected from the breastwork forward to the bow and aft to the stern. They were of such height that they concealed the turrets except for their crowns. Another temporary measure to safeguard against an engine failure in the open ocean was the mounting of three masts for sails. During the long passage, sail was actually used as the prime motive power to save wear and tear on the engines. Cerberus did encounter heavy weather and did experience difficulties but the design was so sound that the maximum roll realized was 15 degrees.

The three masts and temporary bulkheads were removed after she had safely made Melbourne . As originally built the central flying deck overhung both turrets. When the temporary masts and bulkheads were removed the portions of the flying deck that overhung the turrets were also removed so that they would not pose a danger of encumbering a turret by falling on the turret from damage. Also, the original design had two light pole masts, one at either end of the breastwork. At Melbourne she received a single pole mast that was placed amidships. For the rest of her service life she was based at Melbourne and only took to the open sea for short periods of gunnery practice. When World War One broke out Cerberus was almost half a century old but she was spruced up and made battle worthy as far as her ancient design would permit, to fulfill the primary mission for which she was designed, to protect Melbourne against an attack by the SMS Emden or any other German raider on the loose in the Pacific. She was eventually assigned the role of depot ship until July 1926 when it was decided to scuttle her as a breakwater.

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As the building of the Cerberus was underway, the crown government of India decided that they too, needed their own ironclads and the design of the Cerberus was decided to be just right for their purse and purpose. Thirteen months after Cerberus was laid down the HMIS Magdala was laid down at Blackwall on October 6, 1868 to the same design. Although launched on March 2, 1870, she was quick to complete in November 1870, only two months after Cerberus. It was decided to skip the extra precautions taken for the deep ocean voyage of Cerberus so Magdala did not receive the temporary bulkheads erected on Cerberus. However, she did receive the same three masts and rigging as fitted to Cerberus and sailed to Bombay mostly under sail. Although the Admiralty was nervous about the lesser precautions taken for Magdala she was allowed to sail under very strict instructions to lessen risk of loss to the ship. Magdala proceeded alone but was lucky in that she did not encounter any heavy seas. The maximum waves she encountered were 7-feet and she took little water over her main deck. The greatest roll she experienced was 12 degrees. When she reached Bombay she was refitted as Cerberus with the removal of the three sailing masts, fitting of a single light pole mast and removal of the portions of the flying deck above both turrets. She remained at Bombay with occasional ventures into the Indian Ocean for firing practice. Magdala was sold in 1903. 

Another, half sister to the pair, was the HMIS Abyssinia, which was ordered by the crown government of India at the same time that they ordered Magdala. The government did not have the finances to purchase two ships of the Cerberus design, so Magdala was ordered to be of the Cerberus design and Abyssinia of a cheaper modified design to Cerberus. Freeboard was slightly lower and the breastwork was lower and 12-feet shorter than Cerberus. The turrets were larger and the superstructure was more built up than the other two. However, she proved to be more stable than the Cerberus pair and was finished in October 1870, one month after Cerberus and one month before Magdala. The government was so impressed by her stability that she did not receive any additional fittings for the voyage to Bombay , no bulkheads and no masts. With no sail rig, she used her steam plant for the entire voyage and made better time than the other two. As a precaution she was accompanied by a hired steamer. In 1892 both Magdala and Abyssinia had their 10-inch MLR guns removed and replaced by 8-inch breechloaders. Abyssinia was also sold in€1903.

The influence of the Edward Reed design for Cerberus continued to appear in RN designs after his departure as Chief Constructor in 1870 after the loss of the Captain. A whole series of breastwork monitors were built. These designs, through Devastation, Thunderer and Fury, culminated in the HMS Dreadnought of 1879,which became the forerunner of 20 years of William White designs. Although little noticed at the time of her construction, HMVS Cerberus was the direct ancestor of the Royal Navy of Admirals Fisher and Beresford at the dawn of the 20th century. That is not a bad legacy for the short-lived Navy of Victoria.

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HMVS Cerberus is still in existence. After being sunk as a breakwater in 1926, Cerberus started the long decline of rust and ruin but iron armor up to 10-inches thick takes a lot of rust. It has only been in the last 12 years that Cerberus suffered her greatest structural damage as a result of the great weight of her turrets and guns. Before 1993 the low main deck of Cerberus was above water but in that year a major structural failure submerged the main deck. However, the breastwork with turrets and guns are still above water. There is a very active movement to Save the Cerberus. The first step is to remove the 10-inch MLR from the turrets, scheduled for February 2005, to lessen the weight on the breastwork and hull, with the eventual goal of raising and restoring this irreplaceable relict of history. As always with such worthy goals, politicians have difficulty seeing the value of expending public funds on the project. Unlike Mikasa, Olympia or Avrora, HMVS Cerberus is not connected with any particular naval or historical event. It is easy for a member of the general public to see the historical value of the Victory at Trafalgar, Constitution in the War of 1812, Mikasa at Tsushima, Olympia at Manila Bay or Avrora in the 1917 October Revolution, because these ships are connected with specific national events. The importance of HMVS Cerberus lies in her place in the evolution of the battleship. HMS Warrior was restored as is rightful for the first all iron battleship but Warrior with her armament placed on broadside harkened to the past. Cerberus in contrast was a prophet of the future. Her design features were entirely novel when she was laid down in 1867 but became the genesis of the designs of the Royal Navy strength at the height of her power at the dawn of the 20th century. It is a legacy worth preserving for future generations. For all of those who wish to preserve and restore HMVS Cerberus, please visit (History from British Battleships, 1971, by Oscar Parkes; The Navy of Victoria, Australia by Colin Jones, Warship 2000-2001

The Combrig 1:350 Scale Cerberus
Any model can be judged on the fidelity of details in scale of the topic modeled. Just as Combrig did a bang up job with the gem-like 1:700 scale Cerberus (click for review of the Combrig 1:700 scale Cerberus), so to is the Combrig 1:350 scale Cerberus an outstanding kit. In the 1:350 scale Combrig line up some kits are available with a lower 8p9l,hull in order to build a full hull version but with HMVS Cerberus so far only a waterline version is available. Of course it is the waterline version of any monitor that emphasizes the extraordinarily low freeboard and hence unseaworthy characteristic of the type. As mentioned in the history it is the breastwork addition that was included by the designer to improve the seaworthiness of this design over the original flat deck monitor characterized by USN monitor designs of the American Civil War.

The hull is very symmetrical and initially it is difficult to tell which is the bow and which is the stern. They both have short solid bulkheads, however, the bow has some anchor chain guide fittings which the stern does not have. With the very low freeboard there really is not hull side detail with the exception of anchor hawse. Deck detail is far different in that, unlike USN monitor designs, HMVS Cerberus has wooden plank decking. The Combrig kit has executed this decking beautifully although it doesn’t have butt ends. Along the deck edge of the forecastle are four sets of the standard twin bollard fittings but in addition to these each side has an unusual twin square bollard fitting. The other fittings cast on the hull are related to the anchor machinery. There is a locator hole for a separate windlass and addition to the chain guide fittings there are housings at the base of the breastworks to guide the anchor chain to the chain locker. Other locator holes are provided for separate small ventilators.

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The breastwork dominates the hull with walkways on either side connecting the forecastle with the quarterdeck. The most significant features of this breastwork superstructure are the two large recesses for the turrets. Deck detail continues with the deck planking but also includes a number of circular metal coal scuttles. Combrig has cast the locator outline for the superstructure. Locator holes are provided for boat davits, small ventilators and larger J- cowl ventilator fittings. The quarterdeck is very similar in arrangement and fittings to the forecastle with the identical quantity and types of bollard fittings plus a deck access coaming. In addition there are locator holes for two large ventilators, many small ventilators, J-cowl ventilators, and a locator outline for a navigation deckhouse/platform.

Smaller Resin Parts
To call the turrets small is a misnomer, as they dominate the ship. Large, low and absolutely gorgeous the Combrig turret castings are master-pieces in the casters art. The barrels are cast as part of the turret, rather than as separate parts and the result is extraordinarily fine. Where the short stubby barrels there are deep recesses that conceal the fact that they are cast with the turret. The muzzles are hollow to a great degree. The turret crowns have seven cast on features with two large ventilator grates/louvers, three sighting hoods and two circular hatches. There is a small superstructure that fits within the outline on the hull casting. This asymmetrical structure has multiple angles and has cast on doors. A navigation deck fits above this that continues with the subtle deck paneling. This is long and narrow with very long overhangs over each turret. Cast as part of this piece are two skylights with crisp individual glass panes, conning tower, stack base and another deck house. There is a locator outline for the separate pilot house and locator holes for ventilators and other fittings.

The single stack piece is nicely done with lower stack wider than the upper stack. At the division is finely cast, narrow apron or stay guide. The funnel top is hollow to a good degree. The other small parts are cast on runners and will need to removed and cleaned before attachment. The small pilot house has well defined windows an overhanging roof and a larger footer. Also found on the same runner are well detailed large ventilators, the small aft navigation platform and forward anchor windlass. Six more resin runners include other smaller parts. One runner has V-strut supports (open and closed), binnacles, and navigation deck supports. A second runner has twelve small circular ventilators. A third runner has two speed enunciators with handles cast on to them, five small J ventilator cowls and another fitting. A forth runner has parts for four stockless anchors. The other two runners are identical with each containing seven boat davits. Other smaller resin parts are cast separately with castings for a large J cowling and ship’s boats. The boats have beautiful details with bottom planking and cast in thwarts. There is no photo-etch fret included for the Combrig Cerberus, so the modeler will have to provide inclined ladders, vertical ladders, railing and other brass detail desired. Instructions are in standard Combrig format, although my review copy only had the back page with the assembly instructions. This is because I received the kit before the last details were finished like the front page of instructions with plan and profile drawings or box art was ready. Consultation with the plan and profile will be necessary for locating attachment points for some of the smaller separate parts and for location of fittings such as inclined ladders.

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The Combrig 1:350 scale HMVS Cerberus is an absolute gem with outstanding resin castings throughout. Cast in waterline format, when finished the modeler will have the only example of a breast-work monitor commercially available. The only disappointing factor of the lack of a brass photo-etched fret is mitigated by the fact that almost all brass parts are generic such as inclined ladders and railing.