"Since the Ďseventies French designs had exhibited a strong leaning toward the bizarre and "fierce-face." Piled-up superstructure, preposterous masts, uncouth funnels, tumble-home sides and long ram bows without any attempt at achieving any symmetry or balance in profile produced an aggressive appearance in marked contrast to the more restrained and more harmoniously efficient ensemble of our own ships. They favored small turrets which made the guns look overlong, and grouped their secondary guns near the main armament for reasons of protection and magazine distribution Ė although providing grounds for criticism that one well-placed shell could put the whole group out of action." (British Battleships, 1971, by Dr. Oscar Parkes, at page 376

For centuries France and Great Britain had been naval competitors and possessors of the two greatest fleets in the world. French warship designers were generally more innovative, while British designers took a conservative approach with the attitude of if it ainít broke, donít fix it. Throughout the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, ship for ship, French ship of the line designs were generally superior, although British crew quality so much higher, that any defects in the British designs were hidden by the uninterrupted series of British victories. With the Gloire of 1858 France introduced a truly innovative design that used iron plates placed over a wooden hull, to create the first ocean going ironclad. They thought that they had upset the balance of power and that they had at last achieved an edge over their British competitor. The edge didnít last long as the Warrior of 1859 became the ancestor of the modern battleship. Of all iron construction, unlike the wooden hulled French vessels, the Warrior was of far greater size and capability than any of the French designs. The Royal Navy had developed the most formidable warship in the world. She was capable of overtaking and destroying any other warship. With the Gloire and Warrior a new ironclad race developed that would last for over 40 years between the two powers. 

The last half of the 19th century was characterized by experimentation on both sides. Technology was evolving at such a dizzying pace that any design became somewhat outmoded in the long period that it took from design to completion. There were all sorts of competing theories. Should you have a large number of broadside small guns or a much smaller number of large guns? Should large guns be in barbettes or turrets? What type of armoring scheme should be employed, complete from bow to stern or a central citadel with unarmored ends? How should the ship be powered, by steam and sail or just steam? The choices seemed endless. Then to add a little spice to the mix, one group of French naval officers advocated large masses of torpedo boats to overcome the British advantage in capital ships. That added a whole new category of question to use in battleship design debates. British designs were as initially as varied as the French designs. A change in design philosophy for the Royal Navy occurred with the Admiral Class of 1882. For the first time in a long time, there were four RN battleships built to the same design. Although there were a few more years of experimentation, the overall basic design of the RN battleship had been set and with the Royal Sovereigns of 1889 confirmed as the standard battleship of the RN, hence the world.

Across the channel the French would have none of this English standard. French designs continued to run pell-mell in the direction of curious innovation and individuality for the individual ships. Indeed just because two French battleships were ordered as sisterships from a common design, did not ensure that they would look the same upon completion. "Incidentally there were considerable differences in general appearance between ships which were nominally the same class, as although the broad features of design were supplied the Chief Constructor a good deal of latitude was allowed to the principal constructor at each Dockyard in the matter of detail Ė superstructure, masts, funnels, etc. Hence a sequence of ships which would have been of a class in our Service bore but little outward resemblance to one another and gave the impression of a fleet of samples. To those interested in the appearance of ships this latitude had everything to commend it." (British Battleships, 1971, by Dr. Oscar Parkes, at page 376

Plan & Profile
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However, French battleship designs, although different in appearance from one another, developed some common tendencies that could be observed throughout. They all had a tall superstructure with very pronounced tumble home, heavy military masts and used very small turrets for the size of gun carried. The military mast was a throw-back to the age of sail when marine sharpshooters were stationed in mast tops to mark down officers on opposing enemy ships. Military masts of the period, French, German, American, continued with this theory but instead of sharpshooters used the large platforms for gattling or QF guns. By contrast the British design theory was to use mast positions for observation and fire control. However, the most observable characteristic of French battleship designs was the use of steep tumblehome. British battleships also had tumblehome but it was of such a minor degree compared to the French ships, that British ships appeared slab sided in comparison.

Tumblehome is characterized by a hull that recedes inward as it rises from the waterline. The size of the hull at deck level is far smaller than the circumference of the hull at the waterline. This feature evolved because of the need to balance two competing needs. Stability is an essential need in a warship. This in turn can be further divided between stability of the warship as it takes damage or encounters heavy weather or stability as a gun platform. Guns placed close to the waterline where they could not observe the enemy ships on a bucking hull could not possibly hit the enemy in a period when a hit was difficult to achieve with the slow firing heavy guns of the time. The second need that created tumblehome was the need to place guns high so that they could be fought in rough weather and have enhanced ability to track a target. To place heavy guns high on the superstructure of a fairly normal hull would greatly raise the metacentric height of the design and greatly decrease stability. If on the other hand, the hull decreased in size of circumference as it climbed the metacentric height could be lowered and stability maintained. That was the theory at least and it worked in theory. Almost all French ships had this design feature, as well as Russian and American ship designs that bought into the French theory. This theory was not disproved until 1905 when the damage sustain by the tumblehome Borodino Class showed that as damage occurred to a ship, resulting in some flooding, tumblehome magnified stability problems.

Hull Details & Quarter Views
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At the end of the century gun layout and arrangement was another source of experimentation, especially in the French and American navies. The Royal Navy had adopted the standard of four 12-inch and twelve 6-inch as the common pattern for all of their battleships and really did not experiment. That was left up to the small fries of other navies. If against all odds the French or Americans came up with something good, it could always be adopted into the RN. In 1897 the French government decided to build a coast defense battleship of rather small displacement. This design was entrusted to the foremost French naval designer of the day, Emile Bertin. The design produced by Bertin would be unique. It would be a fresh design that took different approaches to hull stability, gun stability and gun arrangement. The name of the ship was Henri IV.

Instead of using tumblehome, Bertin used a high freeboard, narrow central superstructure that ran down the centerline of a very low freeboard hull, very similar, although far wider, to the low freeboard USN monitors. The hull was far wider than the central superstructure and provided width and stability with a low center of gravity, enhancing the shipís stability. The high freeboard, narrow centerline superstructure provided high locations for the armament for good sighting and all weather firing, while the broad hull acted as a bilge keel and greatly reduced rolling, providing gun stability. This wide low freeboard hull with high narrow superstructure were the features of Henri IV most noticed at the time. Although mentioned was another innovation, which although discounted at the time, proved to be the most significant contribution of Henri IV to warship design history, the superfiring turret. At the stern of Henri IV Bertin had placed a small 5.5-inch single gun turret forward and above the stern 10.8-inch gun turret. This was the first true superfiring turret incorporated into any warship design.

At the time the stability arrangement was the prime topic of discussion with the Henri IV. The Naval Annual had been the chief English language yearly publication since 1886, that discussed warship design developments. The 1900 edition devotes a considerable space to a discussion of the Henri IV. "The Henri IV, which was launched at Cherbourg in August, after having been in hand twenty-five months, belongs to a special type. She took the water with a displacement of 4,000 tons towards her total of about 9,000. She was designed by M. Bertin, at it is believed, according to the Yacht, that if she should prove satisfactory, she will mark the point of departure for the construction of a series of ships. The length is 354 ft. 4 in., beam 72 ft. 3 in., and maximum draught 22 ft. 11 in. The peculiarity of the ship is that she resembles the ordinary high freeboard type at the bows, but from about one-fourth of the length from the stem and abaft she resembles the monitor type. The proportion of length to beam is about 4.8 to 1. From the bows the superstructure follows the outline of the hull until a width of some 46 ft. is attained, and from that point, on both sides of the ship, the topsides, rising from the armour deck, become vertical and parallel to the middle line, and extend to the after turret, turning inward as they approach it. On each side of the superstructure there is thus a low-freeboard space about 13 ft. wide, as well as the center space abaft the after turret, this low-freeboard space being 3 ft. above the waterline. The citadel is amidships, with a quick-firer at each angle, and before and abaft it the upper works are narrower to admit of direct fire ahead or astern, and form another stage in the superstructure. The Henri IV will offer a great contrast to most modern French vessels from the fact that her structure above water is of very reduced dimensions, and that the target she will present to an enemy will be smaller than in the case of any other vessel of like displacement. (Naval Annual 1900, edited by John Leyland, at pages 26 to 27

Hull Details
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With so much deck space only three feet above waterline, it would of course be subject to flooding while traveling at speed or in rough weather. This has always been the bane of the monitor designs. However Bertin designed the Henri IV to handle this flooding. "A notable feature of the ship is that no difficulty is anticipated to arise when her decks are flooded, special provision being made for the water passing off as she steams ahead. Exceptional stability is assigned to her, but for greater security there is a thin steel deck below the armour deck descending very low at the sides, and covering the machinery. (Naval Annual 1900, edited by John Leyland, at page 27) This last feature was one of the earliest forms of true underwater protection.

In the same volume, the Naval Annual 1900 discusses in depth the two-story gun arrangements of the USN battleships USS Kearsarge and USS Kentucky. The discussion weighs the pros and cons of this arrangement, which was placing two eight-inch guns above two 13-inch guns. The eight-inch guns turned with the 13-inch guns and could not be fired independently. In reality this USN design innovation, although repeated in the Virginia Class battleships was an evolutionary dead end. This of course was not known at the time and the two story design created much excitement. On the other hand the true path of evolution was to all intents unappreciated if not downright overlooked. Henri IV incorporated a true superfiring turret. "The heaviest guns are two of 10.8-in., severally in hooded in turrets forward and abaft, which are protected by 9.4 Ėn. of Harveyed steel at the base, and of 11.8 in. in the parts which revolve. The turrets are to be worked by electricity. The turret forward rises high above the water, and though the base is protected, there would appear to be some danger of the turret falling over, owing to the pillar-like character of the structure if the ship should be seriously damaged below. Above the after turret and a little forward is another turret for a 5.5-in. Q.F. (Naval Annual 1900, edited by John Leyland, at page 27) Although the superfiring 5.5-inch gun turret in the Henri IV marked the true introduction of superfiring gun arrangements adopted by every navy, this paragraph shows that its design implications were completely missed in all the hoopla over the evolutionary dead end of USN two story turrets. 

Bridge, Stacks & Foremast
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The French navy also had their doubts about Bertinís superfiring design. Would the blast from the upper 5.5-inch gun injure the crew of the lower 10.8-inch turret? To test blast effects, the lower turret was crammed with sheep prior to a gunnery test and buttoned up. During the test the superfiring 5.5-inch turret was fired a number of times on different axis over the sheep infested 10.8-inch turret. After the tests the 10.8-inch turret was opened up and it was discovered that two of the sheep were dead. One sheep had a heart attack and the other had a brain hemorrhage. The probable cause was shock rather than blast but this fine point was lost upon the French sailors who would have to man the lower turret. Perversely, the unscientific sheep test only served to discredit the true evolution in gun arrangements and design feature was not repeated. The Japanese had been considering a cruiser design with superfiring guns but after the test on Henri IV, Sir John Biles successfully talked them out of it in favor of the conservative broadside approach. It was discovered that maximum blast damage was caused at right angles to the muzzle. The answer to minimize blast damage to a lower turret was to have the sighting hoods of the lower turret placed behind the muzzles of the superfiring guns but that was not possible in Henri IV and was not even considered. "Hence the influence of the Henri IV experiment was largely of a negative nature Ė although accepted in toto years afterwards Ė a common fate of innovations appearing before their time." (British Battleships, 1971, by Dr. Oscar Parkes, at page 402)

Henri IV was laid down in July 1897, launched in August 1899 and completed in 1902. As a coast defense battleship or battleship 2nd class, she was not in the forefront of French naval activities. However, she was still in service when France declared war against Germany in August 1914. She was in the backwater of Bizerta in the Mediterranean and stayed there as guard ship until February 1915. At this point in time Henri IV was sent to the Dardanelles to support the Anglo-French fleet and ANZAC landings. In 1916 she joined the Complementary or Reserve Division of the 3rd Battle Squadron. Subsequently she was transferred to the French eastern division in Egypt and then in 1918 to Taranto as a depot ship. In company with almost all other predreadnoughts she went to the scrapyard after the war. Sent to Toulon, Henri IV, an unheard prophet ahead of her time, was stricken in 1921. However, she had served long enough to see all navies adopt the superfiring turret arrangement that she had introduced at the turn of the century. (History of Henri IV from Battleships of World War I, 1972, by Anthony Preston; British Battleships, 1971, by Dr. Oscar Parkes; French Battleships 1876-1946, 1990, by R.A. Burt; Naval Annual 1900, 1900, edited by John Leyland)

Armament, Vents, Anchors & Clock Faces
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Combrig Henri IV
Including this new kit of the Henri IV from Combrig, you can count all of the models of French predreadnought battleships on one finger. It is about time that someone has produced one of these glorious creations. It is no surprise that the company that would be first to produce a subject as off the beaten track as the Henri IV would be Combrig. After all Combrig was the first to produce a British predreadnought kit.

The hull casting captures all of the architectural novelty of the ship. Seeing photographs of the Henri IV taken at water level cannot convey the true appearance of the ship. The characteristics of the Bertin design are only truly appreciated when one sees the ship in the three dimensional perspective presented by this model. If the USS Monitor could be called the cheese box on a raft, the Henri IV was more like an apartment block on a raft. The hull can be divided in two parts, the low freeboard hull and the narrow superstructure. The towering superstructure rises like a cliff from the broad low freeboard hull. The superstructure is piled in a series of tiers with each higher level being narrower.

The bow is high and unlike other French designs, there was no pronounced ram. The profile of the cutwater of the Combrig model perfectly matches the profile of the ship as seen in photographs. About 2/3 rds of the way up from the waterline there is a strong crease in the hull where the bow flares significantly. The flare was designed to reduce the amount of water that could over the focísle. Where the crease terminates a narrow walkway starts on each side of the hull, one level lower than the focísle. This feature is clearly shown in the photographs of the bow of the Combrig kit. The superstructure rises another level just forward of A turret, with the front face in an unusual V shape. About halfway down the ship, each side has a step arrangement that contains three 5.5-inch secondary guns with two in casemates and the middle gun raised on a small open deck and protected with a gun shield. The sides of the superstructure are dominated by three long lines of portholes. This raises a question. Photographs and drawings, including the profile in the Combrig instructions, show that there were lines of square windows, at least in the two upper levels. However, the Combrig kit portrays the ship with the traditional round portholes. Square windows were common in many turn of the century designs. Most of these designs had a shutter that could be closed over the window and shutter had a traditional porthole in the middle. If you look at the box top photo, it is clear that Henri IV had these shutters. Therefore, the kit portrays the ship with the shutters in a down position. Using squares cut from photo-etch vertical ladder, you could add square windows, although they will stand out from the flat hull sides and the raised shutters can be added with cut plastic strip. It would take some time to do this but the end result of rows of square windows with raised shutters. An additional attraction of doing this would be for the upper row, which would have black windows on the white of the upper superstructure. 

Yards, Boats & Fittings
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The stern is dominated by the low freeboard raft portion of the hull, which indeed shows the very low freeboard of the design. Deck detail is rather sparse on the raft section. The detail is limited to two sets of bollards, four sets of cleats and rows of coal scuttles on the raft portion on each side of the superstructure. However, this is hardly surprising as it was recognized during the design that the low raft deck would be frequently awash. Therefore, it would be expected to minimize deck fittings here. How they limited water intake at the coal scuttle positions is unknown to me. Oddly enough, there is no wooden planking on any of the decks. I have not seen any deck photographs of Henri IV to verify that there was no wooden plank decking. If the low deck at the stern has limited detail, the high focísle has plenty of detail. With cowlings over the chain locker for anchor chain, capstans, bollards, cleats, anchor hawse and other deck fittings, youíll get your share of fittings on the short focísle. Even more detail comes in the form of photo-etch fine detail for the focísle. The barbettes for the 10.8-inch positions are rather unusual in that they are beveled rather than going straight up. Two other interesting aspects of the modelís deck detail are found amidships. There are two stairwell recesses, each of which has up and down inclined ladders. Those recesses add extra interest to an already very interesting design. The only defect in the castings was a missing bollard set on the quarterdeck, which is easy to restore through plastic rod.

Smaller Resin Parts
If you think the superstructure and hull designs are odd, some of the designs of the fittings are downright bizarre. Number one on the hit parade are the two stacks. They are square with very prominent flanges near the top. Ventilators are very unusual as the are narrow at the base and widen as they go up, presenting the appearance of louvered mushrooms. The small main turrets with over-size sighting hoods emphasize the length of the guns and the small 5.5-inch superfiring turret resembles a pith helmet. Another three levels of superstructure come in the form of a two story bridge topped by a pilot house and resting atop the conning tower. This structure also forms the base for the very prominent, heavy military mast crowned by multi platform fighting positions. The lower top is made of 13 pieces (one resin and 12 photo-etch) plus another 16 parts for the four QF guns found on this platform. With a total of 36 parts for the foremast alone, the kit is not really suitable for beginners. By contrast with the huge foremast, the pole mainmast is a very modest six parts. Both masts are fitted with photo-etch range clocks that come with numbered plastic clock faces. Although the centerline superstructure deck is narrow it really is crowded with all sorts of fittings, boats, raised sky-light deck houses, QF guns, ventilators not to mention the forward multi-level bridge and aft pilothouse. There are also small parts protruding from the sides of the hull. The 5.5-inch casemate guns, boat davits, anchors, side boat booms and four odd structures, whose function is unknown to me. It all adds to the exotic nature of the beast.

Brass Photo-Etch Fret
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Brass Photo-Etch Fret
Almost all Combrig kits now come with their own fret of ship specific brass photo-etch. In common with many other manufacturers, Combrig does not supply railings or inclined ladders, although vertical ladder is supplied. There are 72 parts found on the fret for all of the smaller fine detail. The three largest brass parts are two boat cranes and the folding bulkhead for the lower platform on the foremast. Also included in the list of parts are two flat square stack grates & two domed stack grates; 12 boat chocks; two range clocks; bow anchor crane; bow anchor crane rail; 8 QF base rings; 8 QF pyramid mounts; 12 QF shoulder rests; 2 runs of anchor chain, mainmast platform; two runs of vertical ladder; four stairwell (sounds better than inclined ladder well) hatch covers; four pieces for the two odd life ring fittings that hang over each side of the aft quarterdeck; and nine QF cradles. Almost all of these parts are very small and as mentioned before not really suitable for the beginner. Quality and fineness of detail of the fret is excellent.

Box Art & Instructions
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The instructions for the Combrig Henri IV follow the new standard format with the inclusion of detail insets showing some subassemblies. The front side follows the same format that Combrig has used almost since its beginning. The plan and profile is in 1:700 scale and is used in assembly to verify exact placement of different assemblies. Also included of the front are the shipís statistics, history and painting information, all written in Russian. The reverse has a photograph of all resin parts and a reduced size photograph of the photo-etch fret. As usual an isometric view of the model is shown for assembly. For parts whose location is not obvious, this drawing is fine to identify the general location but to verify the specific location, the plan and profile should be consulted. Combrig includes six subassembly inset drawings that address the stacks, life ring fittings, foremast lower fighting top, amidships boat and chock assembly and two insets showing the assembly of the two types of QF guns found in the kit. Although some believe that there is not enough information included in the assembly drawing, I for one have no problem with the instructions for Henri IV with the assembly drawing being used in conjunction with the plan and profile.

It really depends on your taste in warships, whether youíll be indifferent or enraptured by the Combrig Henri IV. If missile cruisers or big deck carriers are in your dreams then the archaic Henri IV may not be your ideal. If however, you are interested in turn of the century warship designs or just in the bizarre and strange, this Henri is for you. Packed with enough quirks and oddities to stump all of the experts at Ripleyís Believe It or Not, the Combrig Henri IV is an odd bird presented in a deluxe fashion.