About 1896 the newspapers reported that Russia was building a number of cruisers. The building of second-class cruisers instead of battleships also received some amount of credence from the action of the Czar in connection with the Hague Conference. The vessels were next reported as armoured cruisers, but when the available particulars of the vessels were pieced together it was revealed that they were not cruisers but very speedy battleships – the ships known later as the Peresviet class.’ (J.H. Narbeth, Assistant Director of Naval Construction on genesis of the Duncan class, April 1922) ‘As the naval reference books for 1896 listed the Peresviet class as 12,674-ton turret ships of 17.5 knots and the second-class cruisers of the Pallada type were shown a year later, this special piece of intelligence work responsible for the Duncan design in 1898 does not suggest that the Controller’s Department was kept au fait with progress abroad." (British Battleships, 1972, by Oscar Parkes, at page 408)
In 1896 the two most likely opponents, as seen by the Royal Navy and the British government, were France and Russia, who had very close connections with each other. The battlefleet of France was still in a long slumber, with limited construction of a haphazard collection of "samples". The Imperial Russian Navy on the other hand was involved in a very dynamic battleship construction program. In 1896 the first whispers reached the Admiralty that the Russians were up to something new. At first it was thought that the Russians were designing another class of large armored cruisers and then it was thought the Russians were building new secret "fast" battleships. Oh Heavens! The Royal Navy had to respond. Those new Russian ships could avoid the British battleships, pick off stragglers and do untold mischief! The Royal Navy needed a response and damn quick! Although the Russian ships, which were the three ships of the Peresviet Class, had been correctly identified as second class battleships with a design speed of 18 knots in 1897. In early 1898 as the first two ships were being launched, the Admiralty for some reason credited them with a speed of 19-knots.
Sir William White the chief designer (DNC) for the Royal Navy was asked to prepare a battleship design to counter the Russian "fast" battleships. In February 1898. White proposed that instead of immediately going into construction, that the RN build three new battleships of a slightly modified Formidable design. That way White would have more time to develop the British fast battleship. The Admiralty agreed and the 1898 Program battleship construction was to be three such standard battleships, which were almost identical to the Formidables of the 1897 Program. These ships became known as the Bulwark Class, although they were almost repeats of the earlier class. White continued to tinker with the design of the fast battleship and By June 2, 1898 had the first models prepared. On June 14 he submitted his first design outline for the ships in which every effort had been made to reduce weight in order to make a design speed of 19 knots. A final design was approved in September and bidding on contracts started on October 25.
However, another of the periodic battleship scares, then swept over Britain. The British 1898 Program came out before the French and Russian programs of the same year. When the Russian and French proposals became known, their scope was greater than anticipated. The Admiralty continued to wear blinders and greatly over-rate the capabilities of the Russian Peresviet Class. Because of the new scare, the government undertook to enact a supplementary program for the 1898 program at the end of the year. This addition to the program added four new fast battleships to be called the Duncan Class. Construction was to start as soon as possible. Two more of the class were to be laid down for the 1899 Program. The first four of the class were laid down in the period of March to July 1899 with the 1899 Program ships laid down in November 1899 and January 1900.
In the history of iron and steel warship construction, one of the surest paths to production of a warship to an unsatisfactory design, is to design a ship to counter another specific ship. The result was a ship that had been designed not to obtain the best balance provided by emerging technology, but a ship whose design was inordinately affected by some perceived characteristic of a possible opponent’s ship. In the case of the Duncan Class the all important design requirement was a 19-knot speed, which was thought necessary to counter the Peresviet Class whose characteristics had been greatly over-blown. Another contributing factor in limiting the design was political and economic. The design had to have moderate dimensions so as to use existing port facilities and of a moderate cost. To provide a design of 19-knots with the same level of protection of the preceeding Formidable/Bulwark battleships would have resulted in a heavier and thus more expensive design. This was unacceptable to a government, which was against raising the size and expense of battleship designs. The result of all of these caveats and restrictions under which White labored was a somewhat unsatisfactory design that sacrificed significant armor protection in order to achieve a one-knot increase in speed.
By the time of publication of The Naval Annual 1899, it was already clear that the Peresviet had only a 18-knot speed and 10-inch gun, so the annual attributed that the Duncan design was produced because of the unusually large number of battleships ordered in the French and Russian 1898 programs. "The orders for the four battleships of the supplemental programme, which was introduced in consequence of the large additions that Russia and France, especially the former, proposed to make to their navies subsequently to the presentation of the British Navy Estimates, and was sanctioned by Parliament on July 22nd, 1898, have been allotted as follows: Two to the Thames Ironworks, one to Messrs. Laird, and one to the Palmers Shipbuilding C0., of Jarrow. The chief feature of these new battleships, which are to be known as the Duncan class, is their high speed." (The Naval Annual 1899, Progress of the British Navy by T.A. Brassey, at page 17) Gone was any mention that the Duncans were the direct reply to the Peresviet Class.
Oddly enough, the ships of the Duncan Class were actually longer and wider than the standard battleships of the Formidable/Bulwark Classes and yet they were 1,000-tons lighter. The lower weight was achieved mostly through the reduction in the armor protection of the ships. The larger size and lower weight also resulted in ships of a shallower draft. Some have called this class battleships 2nd class but they were definitely designed as first class battleships. Their armament was fully equal to that of the Formidable/Bulwark Classes and that characteristic was what distinguished RN first class battleships from battleships 2nd class. The last second class battleship designed for the Royal Navy was HMS Renown of 1894 because that ship mounted lighter 10-inch guns. Likewise when the RN acquired the Triumph and Swiftsure being built for Chile, they were listed as second class battleships because they too mounted 10-inch guns as their main armament.
The detractors of the class point out the reduction of armor as the great folly of the class. The Formidable/Bulwark Classes had an armor belt of 9-inches maximum thickness. With the Duncan the maximum thickness was dropped to 7-inches in order to pare down weight for extra speed. However, the thinner armor was not as bad as many detractors have stated. The Canopus Class of the 1896 and 1897 Programs was the immediate design predecessor to the Formidable/Bulwark Classes. The Canopus Class had a maximum armor of only 6-inches, so it is somewhat misleading to roundly condemn the Duncan Class for lack of protection when the design was better armored, faster by one to two knots and better gunned, with Mk IX 12-inch 40 in Duncan and Mk VIII 12-inch/35 in Canopus, than a design only a couple of years older. In fact the formulation for the Duncan design was almost a replay of what had happened only three years earlier. If one examines the armor and speed characteristics of the Duncan and three preceding battleship designs, it is apparent that the Duncans had the same relationship as the Canopus Class had over the preceding Majestic Class. The Majestic Class of 1895 had an armor belt of 9-inches thickness and a top speed of 17.5-knots on a displacement of 14,900-tons. There followed the Canopus Class of the 1897. This class had only a 6-inch belt but with a speed of 18.25-knots on 12,950-tons. The Formidable/Bulwark design of 1898 then reverted to the heavier armor of the Majestic. Therefore, the Formidable/Bulwark design can trace their ancestry through the Majestic and the Duncan design through the Canopus.
Compared to the preceding Formidable/Bulwark Classes the Duncans not only were five feet longer, six inches wider but also their sustained speeds were greater than the one knot design difference in speeds. The speed requirement for the Duncans was for 19-knots over an eight hour period. This requirement incorporated high-speed endurance into the design. In the eight-hour speed test the Duncan averaged 19.11-knots. The high for the class was Russell with a 19.4-knot average and the low was with Montague with an average of 18.6-knots. It was known that the Duncan Class and the Swiftsure and Triumph were the fastest battleships in the fleet. In competition between the two classes, the Swiftsure and Triumph would always sprint ahead of the Duncans but in turn would be passed by the Duncans due to that class having prolonged high-speed endurance. This endurance is also evident in comparisons with the contemporaries of the class in the 1898 program, the Bulwark Class. In 30- hour steam trials the Bulwarks operated at 4/5ths power. The speeds were Bulwark 16.83-knots, Venerable 16.8-knots and London 16.4-knots. The tests on the Duncans for the 30 hour runs used less power at 3/4ths power and the registered average speeds were Russell 17.95-knots, Cornwallis 17.94-knots, Exmouth 17.928-knots, Duncan 17.9-knots, Albemarle 17.75-knots and Montague, again the slowest at 17.83-knots. The slowest of the Duncans, using less power, was still one knot faster than the fastest of the Bulwarks. To achieve the higher speed, the class also had finer underwater lines. The Duncans also sat slightly lower in the water with a slightly lower freeboard. As a consequence they were somewhat wetter ships than the Formidable/Bulwark Classes.
Armament was almost the same as on the contemporary Formidable/Bulwark Classes with four 12-inch/40 Mk IX, twelve 6-inch Mk VII, ten 12pdr quick-firing (QF) guns, six 3pdr QF, two Maxim machine guns and four 18-inch torpedo tubes with eighteen 18-inch Mk V and six 14-inch torpedoes for the ship’s steam launches. The Bulwarks had the same main and secondary guns but mounted sixteen 12pdr QF, instead of ten. Another weight saving measure was to reduce the diameter of the main gun barbettes from 37-feet 6-inches on the Formidable/Bulwark design to 36-feet 6-inches on the Duncans. The turrets were altered very slightly and were given angled faces, rather than the round faces of the Formidable. Along with the reduction of the total number of QF guns, the scheme of protection of the upper deck QF battery was reduced from a high bulkhead with the guns firing through ports, as in Formidable/Bulwark, to the guns firing over a low bulkhead. This saved a small amount of weight but was justified by the statement that the earlier tall bulkheads were insufficient protection anyway and that shortening them on the Duncan design reduced the threat of splinters.
To achieve the sustained 19-knot speed, more had to be done other than reducing weight through a reduction in armor. The machinery plant was of key importance. The Formidable/Bulwark design carried 20 boilers and two sets of three cylinder vertical triple expansion (VTE) engines that developed slightly over 15,000ihp. This plant was substantially bulked up for the Duncan design. The plant design for these fast battleships was 24 boilers and two sets of four cylinder inverted triple expansion engines (VTE), which developed over 18,000ihp. To achieve that one knot of extra speed, the Duncans not only had to be a 1,000-tons lighter, they also had to have engines of 20% greater power. Against criticism over the light armor of the design, White still made direct comparisons of the Duncan design against the Russian Peresviet design. "Comparing with the Osliabia it will be seen that the new ships are much superior in protection. The Osliabia it is true has 9in armour at the waterline for 224ft but maximum thickness only extends about 3ft above the waterline and not more than 1ft below. " (British Battleships 1889-1904, 1986, by R.A. Burt, at page 199) Clearly the Duncan Class with a belt 14-feet 3-inches wide and 238-feet long was a better design than the Peresviet, but White still missed the point that the Duncans had been built, with sacrifices in armor, to counter a threat that never existed.
In appearance the Duncans could easily be distinguished from the earlier battleship designs by their equal size round funnels, open upper deck QF battery, only one QF hull position forward and aft and lack of ventilation cowls. The characteristic J-shape ventilation cowls had been a distinguishing feature in the navies of the world for a generation. The Duncan Class was the first British battleship design to eliminate this feature. Instead of fixed metal cowls, the design called for canvas ventilators to be rigged if needed. At the same time the same change was made in armored cruisers from the Cressy Class, which was festooned with ventilator cowls to the Drake Class that did away with them. The Duncans also marked the end of another tradition, the white, buff and black Victorian livery. This was the last class to receive this traditional paint scheme and then, only two of the six were painted so for a very short period of time. Duncan, during the summer of 1903, and Russell, during trials, were the only two to be completed in Victorian livery and were the last British battleships to be painted in this manner.
On July 10, 1899 the HMS Duncan was laid down at the Thames Ironworks. She was launched on March 21, 1901 and completed in October 1903, taking over four years to build. This abnormally long building period, at least for British yards of the period, was due to delays due to labor problems. As a comparison, sistership Albemarle was laid down on January 8, 1901 and completed in November 1903, a period of less than three years. Upon being commissioned at Chatham on October 3, 1903, the Duncan was assigned duty with the Mediterranean Fleet. She remained there until February 1905, when she was transferred to the Channel Fleet. On September 26, 1905 Duncan and the battleship Albion collided at Lerwick. Duncan suffered damage to her stern. Her sternwalk was torn off, she was holed below the waterline, and she suffered damages to her rudder, some plating and some frames. Repairs only took 22 days.
On May 30, 1906 sistership Montague ran aground at Lundy Island. The RN made strenuous efforts to bring the battleship off the rocks for repair. Duncan was part of this effort. On July 23, 1906 while trying to take Montague off Lundy Island, Duncan herself grounded on the same island. Fortunately for Duncan, she could get off but it still took 72 days to repair the damage. From February 1907 to December 1908 Duncan was with the Atlantic Fleet. Included in this service time was a refit at Gibraltar from November 1907 to February 1907. On December 1, 1908 she was reassigned to the Mediterranean Fleet as 2nd Flagship. She received another refit at Malta in 1909 and was still with the Mediterranean Fleet, when that organization was renamed as the 4th Battle Squadron of the Home Fleet ion May 1, 1912. At the same time the base of the force was moved from Malta to Gibraltar.
From that date until August 1914 Duncan was part of the Home Fleet. In May 1913 Duncan was selected as a gunnery training ship at Portsmouth and accordingly she was transferred to the 5th Battle Squadron, which was part of the 2nd Fleet. She underwent a third refit at Chatham from May to September 1914. With the outbreak of World War One in August 1914 Duncan was transferred to the 3rd Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet, even though she was still undergoing refit. At the start of the war the RN had the lowest strength advantage over the High Seas Fleet that they would have during the whole conflict, so even predreadnoughts were considered for employment until recent dreadnought construction was completed. Duncan joined the Grand Fleet at Scampa Flow in September upon completion of her refit. Her service with the main British fleet was brief, from September until November 1914. During this period she operated mostly with cruisers in the Northern Patrol Area.
On November 2, 1914 she was reassigned to the Channel Fleet, which was a collection of obsolescent ships, rather than the main strike force represented by the Grand Fleet. She received an extended refit from February to July 1915 and was in reserve status during this period. On July 19, 1915 Duncan was assigned to the 9th Cruiser Squadron operating from the Azores, but this was only temporary. In August Duncan was sent to join the 2nd Detached Squadron Adriatic. This force had been formed in May 1915 to reinforce the Italian Navy in bottling up the navy of Austro-Hungary. The formation of the force had been part of the agreement in which Italy joined the allies in the war. This force was based at Taranto and had a mission of supporting the Italian Army in any advance along the upper Adriatic coast. From August 1915 to June 1916 Duncan served in this capacity.
In June 1916 Duncan left the 2nd Detached Squadron and joined the 3rd Detached Squadron, whose area of operations was the Aegean Sea. Based at Salonika, she supported landings near Athens and operated against Greek Royalists from October to December 1916. From January to February 1917 she had another brief tour of duty with theAdriatic 2nd Detached Squadron but in February she was recalled to England. The Royal Navy needed crews for all of the small anti-submarine vessels that were being completed. The value of those vessels was much more than the value of continued employment of an old predreadnought battleship. So Duncan was paid off at Sheerness and her crew scattered to the four winds. Duncan spent the rest of her life in Reserve status. First at Sheerness and then in April 1917 at Chatham. From April 1917 to January 1918 she had her last refit to make her suitable as an accommodation ship, which was her last mission. She served in this capacity as basically a floating hotel for naval personnel from January 1918 until March 1919.
On March 1919 HMS Duncan was placed on the disposal list and was sold on February 18, 1920 to the Stanlee Shipbreaking Company. Her new owners towed her to Dover in June, where she was promptly broken up. The Duncans, although conceived in misinformation, were nonetheless the fastest predreadnought battleships, with the addition of the Triumphs, to be built. They were handsome ships that were the last Royal Navy design totally handled by Sir William White. Although White started the design of the following King Edward VII design, it was finished by his successor as DNC, Phillip Watts. (History from British Battleships, 1972, by Oscar Parkes; British Battleships 1889-1904, 1986, by R.A. Burt; The Naval Annual 1899, Progress of the British Navy by T.A. Brassey)
The Combrig Duncan
The accuracy of the Combrig Duncan appears to stack up extraordinarily well with the plan and profile for the ship printed in British Battleships 1889-1904 by R.A. Burt, which is the required reference for any RN battleship design of the period. You can compare the fidelity of the detail on the Combrig kit yourself by simply looking at the photographs in the comparison sidebar. Click on any photo and compare the deck detail, item by item, and you too will discover that they are matched, item by item. One very nice thing about predreadnought designs is the normal wealth of detail on hull sides. With World War Two and modern ships, features on the side of the hull are normally lacking as the sleek designs almost always have smooth featureless sides. Not so with HMS Duncan. There are all sorts of knobs, knolls, lines and oddities to excite curiosity and delight the eye.
On each side of the bow and stern are found recessed 12pdr QF positions. Even the RN had by 1899 discovered that these low level hull mounted QF positions very of limited, even dubious, value. Fortunately for the modeler, Duncan still has four of them, which Combrig has captured very well in all of their facets and incisions. Adding vertical interest are four heavy strakes per side. However, the highpoints of side detail are the casemate 6-inch positions. These positions were in very prominent sponsons, jutting away from the side of the ship. This was a design feature to maximize axial fire by the secondaries and to minimize blast damage to the hull sides. There are four such positions on each side of the hull with the forward and aft positions being far more prominent than the middle two positions. The reason is that the fore and aft positions would be the ones with axial fire. The middle two positions would not because their line of fire directly forward or directly aft was blocked by the end positions. The end positions themselves are crisply executed on the Combrig hull. Each graceful curving sponson culminates in a recessed inset in the hull to allow end-on fire.
Also present at the stern is a slot for the separate sternwalk included in the kit. When you go up one level to the first level of the superstructure, Combrig has continued with the same level of detail. The last two 6-inch positions on each side are found here and although not as prominent as the hull side casemate sponsons, they also bulge out from the superstructure. Connecting the two positions on each side are the two low bulkheads that provided limited protection for the QF guns on the main deck amidships. These bulkheads are thin and capture the unique notched silhouette of the found at the gun positions. Fore and aft superstructure side detail reflects the different access doors to the superstructure forward and aft faces as well as the different round curves and angular facets that comprised these positions. Also found at the bow are features that belong both in the hull side detail and deck detail categories, as they slope downward from deck level to the hull side. These are three anchor billboards, two positions on starboard and one on port. The Duncan Class was the last RN Class of battleships to mount this old form of anchor. Anchors would have to be hoisted aboard the billboards, well to the aft of the bow for storage. The anchors them selves featured prominent cross tees at the top called stocks. Only the first four of the class had anchor billboards. The two of the 1899 program, Albemarle and Montague, introduced the modern stockless anchor. Without the top stock, the anchor could be hoisted directly into the anchor chain hawse against the side of the ship, rather than be hoisted onto the billboard. This innovation was far more efficient and much faster in securing anchors. These billboard insets in the Combrig Duncan deck/hull add a high degree of interest to the bow level. However, stocks will need to be added to the anchor parts to achieve the correct look.
Of course the Combrig Duncan also has a wealth of fine deck detail. Again, if you look up the photos comparing the Combrig deck to the R.A.Burt plan, you will find that they match perfectly. The foc’sle is dominated by the three anchor billboards but there is plenty of other detail. The anchor chains for the three anchors are cast integrally to the deck. However, these chains run from the openings to the chain locker to the deck exit openings for the hawse. Since these are stocked anchors, using the angled billboards for anchor stowage, to really complete, the anchor rig, you’ll need to add photo-etch anchor running from the anchor chain exit hawse on the hull sides back to the anchors on the billboards. Of course this could be avoided if you wish to portray the ship as anchored with all three anchor chains running from the hawse to the sea surface. Bollards, capstans and deck access coamings make up the balance of the foc’sle detail. On the quarterdeck you’ll find eight distinctive deck fittings, plus bollards and cleats. These fittings comprise access coamings plus skylights. Amidships detail includes forward and aft conning towers with very fine bulkheads that represent canvas covered railing. One possible change would be to remove the solid bulkheads of the superstructure for replacement with photo-etch railing to reflect warm weather operation.
Also found amidships on the hull casting are two locator holes for the two masts. DO NOT USE THESE HOLES TO LOCATE YOUR MASTS! The upper deck resin piece that covers the amidships has two locator marks that correspond to the locator holes below but both the holes in the deck and marks on the upper deck piece are off. When I was taking the accompanying photographs of the Combrig Duncan, with major parts dry-fitted, I did not notice any problem because I did not dry-fit the fasts. However, in taking photographs of the Combrig Montague for a subsequent review on that kit, I decided to dry-fit the masts to that model and used the locator marks. The forward locator hole on the hull casting and locator mark on the upper deck are too close to the forward funnel. If you place the mast there, the lower top will come in contact with the forward face of the funnel. This is incorrect. It appears as if the foremast should have a locator hole on centerline at the forward edge of the upper deck resin piece. Doing this will achieve the proper overhang of the lower top over the bridge. Likewise the mainmast locator hole and upper deck locator mark are also off, being too far forward. The lower top on the main mast should overhang the aft control position. To do this, it appears that a new locator hole will need to be placed on centerline about at the rear edge of the upper deck resin piece. I really don’t know how Combrig missed this, since the error is substantial and apparent once the masts are dry-fitted or built. However, the fix is very easy by simply moving the hole for the foremast forward and that for the mainmast aft.
Almost all of the smaller resin parts are a joy to behold. The multi-angular-faceted turrets with their crown sighting hoods and features, are very nice. The main guns do not have hollowed out muzzles and will need to be drilled out if that is your preference. Otherwise the guns could be modeled as with tampions in place, which is the manner in which they were normally found. The QF guns are extraordinarily fine and delicate. Since the QF deck amidships is open and has a low bulkhead, they will present an especially fine appearance in the completed model. Six-inch gun barrels for the 12 casemate positions are not provided. This is no big deal since these barrels can be easily added with brass or plastic rod but I believe they should have been included in the resin parts mix by Combrig.
The superstructure parts are very nice. The largest of these is the amidships upper deck. The details of the fittings match up with the plan in the Burt book and the stack bases have a very nice and delicate undercut. As mentioned previously, do not use the two locator marks provided on this deck for masts’ location. The marks are very fine and will be completely concealed when painted but they are off in their locations. Both forward and aft bridges come with the Combrig standard solid bulkheads. As mentioned earlier, the solid bulkhead represents a canvas covered railing that could be removed and replaced with photo-etch railing, if the modeler is so inclined. Combrig provides the solid bulkhead simulating canvas covered railing to provide for a fast build for modelers who do not wish to add the complexity and expense of adding photo-etch railing to these positions. However, they are simple to remove for those who want the extra detail. One very nice feature of the forward bridge is the inclusion of a separate pilothouse deck. There are actually two pilot/chart houses on the forward bridge, divided by a walkway. Rather than cast this as one structure, Combrig provided the house deck so that you retain the open walkway with its three dimensional effect. The ship’s boats are excellent, especially the two types of steam launches. Combrig includes resin boat chocks for proper placement of the boats on the upper deck amidships. The included resin davits are so thin and fine, that I prefer them over photo-etched replacements
The funnels have the correct shape and height and further, are hollow to a good degree at the top. They are complemented by their associated steam pipes, which are included as separate pieces. Combrig includes their usual assortment of excellent searchlights, binnacles and capstans, which are among the best, if not the best castings of their type available. The masts are good with no warp and each has two tops. One is a fighting top at the lower level and then a upper top, which is an open platform with cast on support bracing. Some of the yards displayed a slight warp, so you may need some minor replacement with plastic rod or stretched sprue. Combrig provides a separate sternwalk with solid bulkhead, which again represents a canvas-covered railing and two very fine separate breakwaters. Lastly, there are three anchors that are nicely cast. These anchors have a top stock but this stock runs parallel to the flukes at the bottom. I believe that stocked anchors normally had the stocks running perpendicular to the flukes. So you may want to modify your anchors as they are prominently featured on their billboards. There are no parts for the anti-torpedo net and booms, so to portray Duncan with this system, which she carried for most of her career, you’ll have to add the net with suitable sized plastic rod and the booms with thin wire or stretched sprue. Use the profile on the instructions for proper placement locations.
The reverse side of the instructions features a photograph of all of the parts, reduced in size and the assembly diagram. As earlier mentioned the instructions fail to show the location of the breakwaters. They are also in error in showing the incorrect placement of the masts. The location reflected in the diagram conforms to the locator holes in the hull casting and locator marks in the upper deck piece, but as mentioned earlier, these are the wrong locations. Always, always, always, use the plan and profile on the front page to determine the final location of a part, as the assembly diagram only reflects a general area on many parts.