The last half of the 19th century witnessed a blossoming in international arms sales. An American, Hiram Maxim, invented a machine gun and then sold production rights to the gun to Great Britain where the design was manufactured by Vickers, to Imperial Russian and to Imperial Germany. The combatants employed the same gun design on both the eastern and western fronts against each other. When it came to the arms industry, the monarch of all arms sales was the sale of warships. The industries of each major naval power and some not so major, were more than happy to sell warships of all sizes to those countries that could not build them themselves or else wanted more warships than their internal infrastructure could produce. Even Denmark got into the act by selling cruisers to Russia. Some yards specialized in a type of ship, such as Italian yard’s production of armored cruisers. National governments were more than happy to encourage other countries to purchase warships from their yards. It kept their warship infrastructure in peak shape, created and kept specialized jobs. One other plus was that shipyards could experiment with new designs and concepts on some other country’s ship. If the experiment was successful, the result could be incorporated into the warships of their own navy.
However, the yards of Great Britain were the undisputed masters in the production of warships for sale on the international market. Large or small, the private yards of Britain produced more warships for more countries than the rest of the world combined. In naval world of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the battleship was still king. For decades the battleship remained the most complex, expensive and deadly creation ever devised by mankind. When the Royal Navy built the HMS Dreadnought, all other naval powers had to follow suit. The dreadnought battleship became the universal gage of national power. The more you had the greater your international standing. However, to have even a pretense of being a regional power, you had to have at least one dreadnought. If your neighbor acquired one, you had better go shopping fast for one of your own.
In this competitive environment, Ottoman Empire of Turkey was at a distinct disadvantage. Turkey had been receding as a European power ever since her failure at the siege of Vienna. The 19th century had been an unmitigated series of disasters as provinces in the Balkans and North Africa broke free or were pried free by other countries. The Turkish navy was in an abysmal condition. All she had was a polyglot selection of antiques and old worn-out castoffs from other countries. In 1911 the Turkish government decided that her naval status had to change. Turkey had to have the most modern dreadnought battleships for her navy. When it came to shopping for dreadnoughts, of course the emporium of choice were the huge private yards of Vickers and Armstrong in Britain. The British advisor to the Turkish Navy assured the Turks that Britain was the only place to go, to buy the most modern and powerful battleships.
After discussions and examination of warship options, Turkey entered into contracts for two battleships. One contract was with Vickers for a battleship to be named Reshad V and the other was with Armstrong for a battleship to be named Reshad-I-Hamiss. The design for both ships was started by Sir Richard Thurston of Vickers but the final result was a collaborative effort by Vickers, Armstrong and John Brown Shipyard. The design called for the newest, most powerful guns available and that was the excellent 13.5-inch gun first mounted in the British Orion class of the 1909 program. Orion, the first of the class only started trials in September 1911 and was not commissioned into the Royal Navy until January 1912. Although the Orion was built at the Royal Yard at Portsmouth, the second ship, HMS Monarch, was built and almost finished by Armstrong, when that company was helping to design the Turkish dreadnoughts. The design for the Turkish pair benefited from the lessons learned in the construction of the Orion and follow-on King George V class battleships.
Both battleships were laid down in the fall of 1911 but the plans and financial stability of Turkey drastically changed in 1912. The Balkan War of 1912 pitted Turkey against her old Balkan opponents, chief among them Greece and Serbia. With the exception of one Turkish cruiser, the Greek Navy completely dominated naval warfare in this short war. As a consequence of the loss of this war, Turkey was financially destitute. The construction of both battleships could no longer be afforded so the contract with Armstrong was cancelled. However, with only one battleship to pay for, the work tempo on the Reshadieh, as Reshad V was renamed, at Vickers was increased. Turkey was humiliated by the 1912 war and was determined that the Greeks would pay for it in the next round of Balkans conflict. In 1913, as the Reshadieh was building Turkey had a chance to acquire another battleship, the Rio de Janeiro from Brazil. Reshadieh had been laid down at Vickers on December 6, 1911. Only two months earlier the Rio de Janeiro had been laid down at Armstrong. Through huge loans and a strenuous donation campaign in Turkey, the Turkish Navy purchased the ship. So now they had a battleship to replace the cancelled Reshad-I-Hamiss. The new ship was renamed Sultan Osman I and later became HMS Agincourt. (Click for a review of the Combrig HMS Agincourt)
The designs of the two Turkish dreadnoughts could not have been more different in philosophy. It is interesting to compare the design characteristics of Reshadieh, later Erin, with not only the Agincourt, but also contemporary battleships of the Royal Navy. In this comparison the excellent combat qualities and capabilities of Erin come to the fore. The Agincourt was designed to be a ship of superlatives. She was the world’s longest battleship, with the most turrets and the most guns. The price paid for the superlatives was an armor fit more in line with a battle cruiser than a battleship. One writer called her nothing more than a floating magazine. She was designed to overawe Argentina and Chile in the South American battleship race. On the other hand the Erin was designed from the start with her combat qualities as first priority. She was not flashy like the Agincourt but she displayed a remarkable combination offensive power, survivability and sea-going handiness.
More instructive is a comparison with the battleships being built by the Royal Navy. The last RN battleship laid down before Erin was the HMS Audacious of the King George V class. The Audacious was the last of that class and was laid down in March 1911. The Erin carried the same main armament of ten 13.5-inch/45 guns but was completely superior in her secondary armament. The King George V class as well as the preceding Orion class mounted 4-inch guns as secondary armament. Since one of the main purposes of a battleship’s secondary armament was to defeat torpedo boat/destroyer attacks, the 4-inch gun lacked stopping power against the larger destroyers being built for the world’s navies. The Erin had no such problem as she mounted 6-inch guns for a secondary. The RN returned to the 6-inch gun with the Iron Duke class. The lead ship, HMS Iron Duke, was laid down in January 1912, one month after Erin. Even in comparison with the last class of RN battleship with 13.5-inch guns, the Erin had a 25% greater secondary armament. The Iron Dukes, as well as the Tiger, mounted twelve 6-inch guns while the Erin mounted sixteen of the weapons. The 6-inch gun deck of Erin ran the length of the superstructure from B barbette to X barbette. It was not until the Royal Sovereign class that the RN built a battleship with the same number of 6-inch guns as Erin. The guns of Erin were a one-off design, Vicker’s Special, which was designated Mk VI, compared to the Mk V guns in the battleships of the Royal Navy. Only ten Mk VI guns were made, all mounted in Erin, and differed from the Mk V in weight. The Mk VI weighed 77 tons while the Mk V was 76 tons. The inner gun tube was also a little bit different but the guns were very similar to each other. The Erin would use the standard Mk V guns as replacements.
Armament was not the only area in which Erin showed a significant difference with contemporary RN designs. One of the greatest constraints in battleship construction for the Royal Navy was a limitation on maximum beam. Rather than spend for new dry docks and infrastructure, the Royal Navy limited the beam of new battleships to fit existing Royal dry docks. Private yards had larger facilities but the RN preferred to use their own facilities. This practice fit the old saying of being "a penny wise and pound foolish". Because of this constraint RN designs were narrower than those of many other countries. This caused less subdivision and diminished survivability. The German Navy in contrast bought the infrastructure to support better, beamier designs. Probably the greatest reason for the superior survivability of German design was the wider beam, which allowed for improved subdivision. The design of Erin was not hampered by Royal Navy constraints and Vickers could produce a ship with a slightly greater beam than those ordered for the RN. Orion had a beam of 88-feet, upped to 89-feet with the King George V class. Iron Duke further increased it to 90-feet but this was still less than the 91-feet 7-inch beam of Erin. On the other hand the Erin was far shorter than all of the 13.5-inch gun RN designs. Erin was 559-feet 6-inches in overall length. Even the Orion class laid down two years earlier was significantly longer than Erin. In this comparison the Orions were 581-feet oa, King George Vs 597-feet 9-inches oa, and Iron Dukes at 623-feet 9-inches oa. Erin had a unique cleaver bow, which kept her forecastle drier than British designs with traditional ram bows. Q turret was also mounted one level higher than British designs, which gave the turret a better view for target acquisition.
Normally a short, wide ship would be slower than a longer, narrower ship but with the Erin there was no deficiency in speed. At 26,500shp, 500shp less than King George V, Erin still could achieve 21-knots. As an additional bonus of her short length, Erin was a very handy ship with a short turn radius. One deficiency of Erin was in her coal capacity. She held 2,120 tons of coal versus 3,100 tons capacity in the King George V. Erin had shorter legs but this was discounted because she would be operating in the North Sea. Even with 2/3 the capacity of King George V, Erin’s range was not that far removed from the RN design. Erin’s range was 3,400nm with coal only, 5,300nm with coal and oil. The range of King George V was somewhat greater with 3,805nm with coal only and 5,910nm with coal and oil.
When it came to armor fit, the Erin was slightly inferior to her British contemporaries. Although she had the same 12-inch main belt of the British designs, the main belt and overall belt was shallower in Erin. Additionally the maximum armor of 10-inch on the barbettes outer face above the main deck. Once the barbette went below the deck, it dropped to 5-inches. Clearly Erin was vulnerable to plunging fire. However, Erin was well armored compared to the other battleships being built for foreign countries. Both Agincourt and Canada had maximum belts of 9-inches, the same width as the Lion class battle cruiser.
Erin, still Reshadieh, was launched on September 3, 1913 but after the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand in Sarjevo, Vickers was ordered by the government to slow the completion of the ship so that her departure for Turkey would be delayed. First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill didn’t want Great Britain to loose control of the ships with the outbreak of war. The ship was seized pursuant to a clause in the contract, as was Agincourt, on August 22, 1914. Renamed Erin the ship was quickly inspected and some alterations were ordered. For one thing the Erin was cramped because of her short length and some of the internal arrangements were unsatisfactory. Jack Tar could stomach many things but the latrine facilities for Erin were not among them. Designed for Turkish custom, the facilities were short inverted cones designed for squatting. These were taken out for standard British water closet (WC) fittings. Some WCs opened directly into the junior officer’s mess and that was thought unseemly. Such an arrangement may be sufficient for the young gentlemen but not for a commissioned officer’s mess by Jove! Other disconcerting arrangements that had to be changed were the location of the cabins for the ship' Commander (XO), chief petty officers and paymaster. As built they were in the area of the general mess and that had to be changed. Externally a short pole main mast was removed, searchlights were removed from a platform on the foremast and placed on the aft superstructure and signal struts were added to the starfish.
It didn’t take long to make these changes and Erin joined the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow on September 5, 1914. At first she was assigned to the 4th Battle Squadron but in October 1914 was transferred to the 2nd Battle Squadron. During the long months, stretching into years, at Scapa Flow resulted in boredom for ship’s crews. For those in command, it could be a problem to maintain the spirit of the ship’s crew. "The Captain of the Erin. Lord Derby’s brother the Hon. Victor Stanley, took little interest in the day-to-day running of his ship, which was properly in the hands of his Commander, Reggie Henderson. Henderson was marvelously efficient, and a first-class organizer. He was also adored by the whole ship’s company. No ship coaled or shot or drilled or signaled more efficiently. She was also a ‘chatty’ ship, a term that suggested carelessness both in appearance and cleanliness. ‘His ship’s company’, wrote a lieutenant from the Agincourt, ‘would do anything for Reggie Henderson, and his organization was superb, but as long as they drilled well, shot well, coaled ship well, he didn’t mind what they or their ship looked like." (The Great Dreadnought,1966, by Richard Hough, at pages 162-63) The crew of Erin was rewarded for their stellar performance in completing the crucial combat tasks. Without arduous spit and polish work to do, they were allowed to sleep longer than their compatriots on other battleships.
Since the Captain and Commander of Agincourt were ardent devotees of spit and polish, there was disapproval of Erin’s crew policy on their part. At Scapa Flow, winter or summer, the crew of Agincourt would be scrubbing and holy-stoning the deck by 06:00. In winter it would be still be dark when some time after 07:00 the crew of Agincourt would hear the crew of Erin being turned out. This naturally created dissatisfaction with the crew of Agincourt. Why did they have to get up early to scrub the deck in darkness if the crew of Erin didn’t have to do so? At one point the quarterdeck crew of Agincourt threw their holy-stones overboard in protest. The Erin may have looked shabby and down at the heels but she was supremely efficient in battle tasks and the crew’s morale was among the highest in the fleet. In May 1916 Erin was in the 1st Division, 2nd Battle Squadron, along with the three surviving ships of the King George V. For the Battle of Jutland the flag for the Division was King George V, followed by Ajax, Centurion and Erin. The 1st Division was posted on the Far Eastern end of the British formation. Agincourt was the last ship in the 6th Division, 1st Battle Squadron and those four ships were at the western most end of the British formation. It was on the western end of the six four-ship columns of the British formation that the German battle fleet appeared so it was Agincourt, not the Erin that saw significant action at Jutland.
After the war Erin was transferred to the 3rd Battle Squadron of the renamed Home Fleet. However, in October she was placed in reserve. In December she was taken out of reserve and became turret drill ship at Chatham. In March 1920 she became flagship at the Nore. This lasted for only a few months before she went into Devonport for a short refit from July to August 1920. Originally Erin was to be retained after the Washington Treaty of 1921 but Thunderer took over her role as training ship. In May 1922 she placed for disposal and scraped in the spring of 1923. (History from British Battleships of World War One, 1986, by R.A. Burt; The Great Dreadnought,1966, by Richard Hough)
The Combrig Erin
The Erin hull has the torpedo net shelves cast as part of the hull. These run most of the length of the hull. They are slightly too thick but this provides sturdiness. If they were exactly 1:700 scale in thickness, they would have to be done as separate pieces in brass or extremely thin resin, easily subject to breakage. I personally prefer the Combrig approach, as it is far more builder friendly. Neither the box nor the instructions reflect the particular year of the fit for Erin but Combrig seems to include the torpedo net booms as optional parts in the kit. The placement of these booms are not shown in the assembly instructions but the parts seem to be there. The profile in the instructions depict Erin with these booms with 13 per side. There are two resin runners of 13 booms each. These must be the optional net booms. Erin was built with the anti-torpedo net system but this was initially removed in 1914. Later in 1915 the system was reinstalled for a period of time. Since booms are provided the modeler can choose to model the Erin from a time when she had this system or choose to build her without it. Even when the system was removed it seemed to be standard practice to leave the net shelve in place. If you choose to add the net booms, you’ll have to fabricate your own rolled nets to place on top of the shelves.
The long 6-inch gun deck shows another clear departure from traditional RN practice. It runs uninterrupted from A barbette to X barbette. Each of the eight casemate positions on each side are very nicely executed. You will need to use a pin vice to drill locator hulls in the rounded casemate shields as they are not on the casting. Other features of the hull sides are the three vertical strakes found on each side and a slot at the stern for the stern walk. There is a minute amount of flash at the bottom of the hull casting but three minutes of light sanding will fix that very minor cleaning.
As with the other releases by Combrig in their RN series, there is abundant detail included on the decks of the hull casting. If you compare the deck fittings with the plan of Erin found in British Battleships of World War One, by R.A. Burt, the model appears to be dead on in quantity, location and shape with a few exceptions. The forecastle is dominated by the anchor apparatus. The anchor chain plates seem to be a little bit narrower on the casting than in the plan and one coaming between these plates appears on the plan but not on the model. The anchor windlass plates and coverings for the chain locker entrance are superbly done on the kit and are only further complemented by the extraordinary detail of the windlasses themselves. Of course Combrig includes standard fittings that were present but are not shown on the plan such as the open chocks at the bow and plates with twin bitts found on every warship. These bitts flare out at the top and are prototypical rather than just being represented by a straight column. One coaming on the port side of A barbette and two coamings found on each side of B barbette on the plan are not found on the model. There are a number of possibilities for these variances between model and plan. First the plan could be right and the Combrig designer just missed adding the missing coamings to the master. If that is true, then they are easily added with very thin plastic card cut to shape. Second, the plan could be wrong and Combrig based their Erin on another set of plans. If that is true, nothing needs to be done. Third both are correct but reflect different fits. Of the three possibilities, I really can’t say which is correct.
Amidships, around Q turret, there is also a good match between the fittings on the Combrig kit and the reference plan, again with a few exceptions. Size, shape and location match but the Combrig model has four additional fittings. Three of these are on centerline. As two seem to be underneath the gun bustles of Q and X turrets and one between the guns of Q turret, they may not have appeared in the reference plan because they were concealed by the bustles or for the purposes of clarity. The 4th addition on the Combrig deck is an additional fitting on the starboard side of the barrels of Q turret, which is clearly not present on the reference plan. However, it is interesting to note that the Vicker’s large builders model on display in an UK museum reflects the Combrig arrangement for this particular fitting. On the quarterdeck there are 22 coamings and other fittings that match between the reference plan and the casting. Here Combrig was two open chocks at the very stern, not reflected on the plan. There are three items also found on the plan but not the model. Two are very small coamings, one on each side of Y barbette and what seems to be a breakwater to the rear and connected to the aft face of Y barbette. However, if you look at the brass photo-etch fret, you’ll notice that this aft breakwater is present in brass on the fret. It comes as two parts, one to be attached on either side and connected to the aft face of Y barbette. Before you think that I am being too critical of the Combrig effort, I’m not. I am just noting the differences between the plan in the R.A. Burt reference and the model. Combrig has included a wealth of deck detail in this kit and it is all well done.
Smaller Resin Parts
The 13.5-inch turret sides reflect the rounded face and sides and angular faceted rear found on the main turrets of Erin. The real turret detail comes into play with the turret crowns. Each armor plate slab is delineated, along with the three forward sighting hoods and aft range-finder fitting. Common with other Combrig kits a resin wafer contains most of the platforms found on the bridge and elsewhere. Each part can be easily removed from the very thin resin casting film and should be gently sanded to smooth the edges where the part was attached and to have the slightest reduction in thickness. Most of these parts are for the forward superstructure and bridge. Due to the length constrains and compact design of Erin, these levels were clustered within the legs of the tripod. Also included are a very well done conning tower with deck, foretop parts, starfish, searchlight platforms and stern-walk. The twin stacks are hollowed out at the tops to a significant depth and have prominent cap fittings and base aprons.
Although I have listed a lot of smaller resin parts so far, that is only a small fraction of the resin parts that come with this kit. I have not done a count but the Combrig Erin may hit a new high in the sheer quantity of resin parts that come with the kit. The many ship’s boats are well detailed and are provided separate resin boat chocks. The steam launches even have separate resin stacks for their unique design. Of course there is a multitude of gun barrels from the big 13.5-inch main armament, to the forest of 6-inch secondary guns to finely done QF guns. Each QF gun has a separate detailed gun with breach and a separate mount with cradle and base plate as part of the casting. As mentioned above there are 26 fittings that can only be optional net booms. Boat davits are a little thick and you may want to use brass davits in their place. There are two spare net booms on the resin runner that contains the boat booms and yards. Four different resin runners contain a wide assortment of mushroom ventilators, reel/winch heads, sighting binocular mounts, binnacles and a twin bitt fitting. Sixty parts are found on these four runners. The anchor windlasses have individual ratcheting ribs on their sides and top detail. The numerous searchlights have considerable detail. There are separate well done cable reels with cable/hoses. There are a number of large ventilator heads for some of the deck fittings. Other parts include the searchlight position aft of the second funnel, aft conning tower, two small deckhouses for different levels of the bridge, tripod legs, anchors and a small director.
Brass Photo-Etch Fret
Page three of the instructions starts the assembly of the kit and concentrates on fittings for the hull casting. In the lower left corner of this sheet, Combrig shows the profile of two sets of the resin runners found in the kits and numbers the parts, 1, 2 or 3. This differentiates, which of these parts goes where, since Combrig shows the parts’ location by number. In a large inset is the complex bridge/forward tripod assembly. Page four finishes the hull assembly and shows the assembly for the superstructure parts, turrets, and QF guns. There are separate inset drawings for intricate photo-etch assembly/bending, searchlight positions, QF guns, and main turrets.
The HMS Erin was a unique ship. Thirteen 13.5-inch gunned, all big gun battleships served in the Royal Navy in World War One and Erin was the 13th. For Erin 13 was not an unlucky number in that she was a very efficient design with a unique appearance that distinguished her from her cousins of the Orion, King George V and Iron Duke classes. The Combrig HMS Erin kit in 1:700 scale provides a beautiful and somewhat complex kit in brass and resin. The instructions still leave pitfalls but are more than compensated by the excellent quality of this kit. The fineness and detail of the hull casting, the quantity and quality of the smaller resin parts and the additional detail of the brass photo-etch parts will make for a very impressive and detailed model.