Call me Ishmael.” So begins the early 19th century novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville. It chronicled Captain Ahab’s quest to find the great white whale. However, if you are looking for the greatest Imperial Russian ship actually laid down and launched call him Izmail. The Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905 was a watershed event in Russian history. It was a catastrophic failure for the Imperial Russian Government and set the path for revolution in 1917. For the navy it was also a catastrophe, as almost every battleship in the navy was lost at Port Arthur or the Battle of Tsushima. Russia had fallen from the status of a world naval power to that of a second rate or even third rate navy. On the other hand the Imperial Russian Navy now had the freedom to start fresh, unencumbered by old designs or high maintenance costs for obsolete warships. Of course at first there were little funds for new construction, as the cost of the lost war had also been ruinous. Gradually the economy improved and when it did Imperial Russian ordered new battleships incorporating all centerline, triple gun turrets.

In 1909 the four ships of the Sevastopol class were started. All were being built in St Petersburg with two at Admiralty Works and two at Baltic Works. Of a flush deck design, this class inaugurated the classic Imperial Russian dreadnought design of four centerline triple turrets, ice-breaking bow and minimal superstructure. One lesson learned from their defeat at the Battle of Tsushima was the value of speed. There the smaller Japanese force had a great speed advantage over the Russian force and dictated the engagement range and terms of battle. Using his superior speed Admiral Togo had easily crossed the T of the Russian fleet, every fleet commander’s dream or nightmare, depending upon whose T is getting crossed. The Sevastopol class was designed for 23-knots, two knots faster than either the British or German dreadnought speeds. Speed was not the only lesson learned by the Russians at Tsushima . They had noticed that Admiral Togo had incorporated armored cruisers into his battle line. This was forced upon Togo by the loss of two of his battleships to mines. Nonetheless the Japanese armored cruisers had performed well at Tsushima . The Russian naval staff saw value in a Brigade of very fast, heavily gunned armored cruisers to speed ahead, independently from the main battle fleet, to cap the head of the column of an enemy fleet and target enemy flagships, as the Japanese had done to the Russians at Tsushima . This concept was very much like one of the stated missions of the British battlecruisers but with the British, their mission was for the armored cruisers to go after damaged battleships. The name battle cruiser wasn’t used until about 1912, as the Invincible and Indefatigable classes were ordered as armored cruisers. The Russians called their armored cruisers, Cruisers of the Line, reflecting the mission to stand in line of battle and did not adopt the battle cruiser term until 1915.

Consequently, as early as 1907 the Admiralty started pushing for new armored cruiser designs. With the four Sevastopol class under construction in 1910, the naval staff could look at future construction to begin after launching of the four battleships. Accordingly, in May 1910 the first “Requirements” list for a future armored cruiser design was released. At this time the requirements were more in line with a lightly armored, very fast ship with maximum speed of 28-knots but with only a 7.5 inch (190mm) belt and an armament of at least eight 12-inch or 14-inch guns. This puts the design more on par with the Indefatigable class with slightly thicker armor and higher speed. Nothing really came of this first fishing expedition but the Admiralty kept refining the requirements, slanting the design more to a cross between a fast battleship and the British battle cruiser concept.

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On April 22, 1911 the naval minister sent the Tsar a memorandum on the importance of new armored cruisers in line with British armored cruisers (battle cruisers), The Tsar approved the memorandum. With the Tsar’s approval formal invitations were issued to Russian private yards. Based on prior building costs it was anticipated that the new design would come in around 40,000,000 Rubles per ship. The private yards high-balled their response with estimates as high as 51,000,000 Rubles per ship. The naval minister experienced sticker shock. Money and cost per ship was crucial because new dreadnoughts for the Black Sea had to be ordered because Turkey had placed an order with Vickers for a dreadnought (later HMS Erin). The Duma was very unlikely to approve new ships for the Baltic at the estimated price per ship advanced by the private yards. The Duma session ended in 1911 before the naval ministry could reconcile the high costs, so it wouldn’t be until 1912 before the Admiralty could have another go at the new battle cruiser design. This loss of a year would prove to be pivotal in the subsequent history of these ships.

In March 1912 the request was presented to the Duma for the new construction and the naval minister personally appeared before the Duma and promised that no further funds would be sought for the design. The Duma did approve the construction of four ships with a maximum costs of 45,500,000 Rubles each. This promise and determination to stay within budget would further slow construction. After having been gouged with private yard estimates and now that the two St. Petersburg naval yards had space available due to the launching of the Sevastopol class ships, the bid invitations were expanded to include state yards and foreign yards. This had actually been done in August 1911 with invitations issued to six Russian yards and seventeen foreign yards. The design had morphed since the 1911 design. The armor belt had increased to 10-inches (254mm) while the maximum speed had dropped to 26.5-knots to compensate. Since the British had gone to 13,5-inch guns and the Americans and Japanese to 14-inch guns, the 12-inch gun was discarded and nine 14-inch guns in triple turrets selected. The secondary was to be twenty four 5-inch (130mm) guns and in anticipating the future there were to be four 2.5-inch AA guns.

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Only three Russian and foreign yards responded in time. Two state yards replied with seven designs from Admiralty Works and six designs from Baltic Works. The  private Putilovskii Works 12 designs, helped by the company’s German partner, Blohm and Voss. From the UK came three designs from John Brown and one each from Vickers and Beardmore. From Germany came two designs from AG Vulcan and another German company Schichau responded but missed the deadline. Designs with 12-inch guns or that departed from the three triple 14-inch gun format were thrown out. The naval staff was most impressed with an Admiralty Works design, which matched the requirements on a displacement of 29,350-tons and length of 669-feet 4-inches and beam of 88-feet 7-inches. While this was going on the Artillery section of the naval staff had concluded that four triple, not three, were necessary because tactically, the Russians preferred numerous four gun salvos. One additional turret would allow three salvos in the same time period that the previous design would only allow two salvos. At first this change was rejected because of increased costs but naval minister came around and in May 1912 the surviving designs from the first fall 1911 competition were invited to submit designs based on four triple turrets.

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Admiralty Works won with a design that basically inserted a section with an additional turret to their three turret design. To accommodate the increased cost of an additional turret other requirements had to be reduced. Speed dropped a knot and the belt was thinned to 9.5-inches (242mm). Even with these reductions price jumped by 7 million per ship. Since the naval minister had promised not to go back to the Duma for more money, the additional expense was found by reducing speed requirements for the Svetlana light cruiser design, which were meant to operate with the new battle cruisers. In September 1912 two ships ( Borodino and Navarin) were ordered from Admiralty Works and two (Izmail and Kinburn) from Baltic Works for completion by July 1916. All were laid down in December 1912.

Even before the start of World War One construction on the four ships was delayed by a shortage of raw materials and certain fittings were ordered from foreign yards. Among these were the crucial roller bearings for the turret tracks, which were ordered from Germany . Oops! Early in 1914 the launch of the first two ships was delayed from April 1914 to October 1914. When the First World War started in August 1914 Izmail was in the most advanced state 43% finished. Work further slowed because of the Army receiving the priority for raw materials. Izmail launched in June 1915, followed by Borodino in July and Kinburn in October. Navarin was tail-end Charlie, launched November 1916. However, by the end of 1915 it was clear that the ships would not be completed during the war. When the design lost the 8-inch roller bearings that were to be provided from the German firm, British and Swedish firms were approached to provide these crucial items but they were not forthcoming. The turrets couldn’t be mounted without these roller bearings. The construction of these ships was down-graded to 2nd class priority. Work came to a stop.

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The February 1917 revolution replaced the Tsar with a provisional democratic government. Izmail was still the most advanced with 2/3 of the work done, except only 36% of the armor present. To maintain jobs for the workers, in the summer 1917 it was decided to continue work on Izmail. The provisional government officially discontinued work on the other three in October and after the Bolshevik revolution that fall work on Izmail was halted in December 1917. The ships were ordered to be preserved for completion at some undesignated future date. In the meantime the Soviets made peace with Germany and then had to face the Whites in the Russian Civil War. There certainly was no money to finish expensive battle cruisers. When the civil war ended in 1920 the Soviet Union was broke. The industrial infrastructure was torn apart and the navy was virtually non-existent. Due to their preservation, high speed and due to the fact that they were to have 14-inch guns, the Soviets were highly interested in completing the four Izmails.

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Designs were prepared to use the ships, other than Izmail, for 16,000-ton freighters or 22,000-ton oil barges. There was even a design to convert the battle cruisers into passenger liners. In 1921 the new “Naval Forces of the Workers and Peasants Red Army” considered one Izmail worth two Sevastopols. They wanted at least two of the ships completed and figured that there would be no strain to at least complete the Izmail. Vickers still had twenty-four 14-inch guns completed during the war and it was anticipated that Izmail could be completed in 24 months. The choke point was turret completion because the specialized factories were closed and had to be reconstituted and workers trained. It was decided to complete the Izmail as designed and look into redesigning the other three with twin16-inch gun turrets replacing the triple 14-inch gun turrets.

It was finally decided that the funds were not available and on August 21, 1923 all of the ships except Izmail were sold and towed off to Germany for scrapping. Izmail remained, however, and plans were completed to convert her as an aircraft carrier, just as the USN, RN, French Navy and IJN had done with incomplete battle cruisers or battleships. As a carrier the displacement would be 20,000-22,000-tons and carry 50 aircraft. Armament would have been eight 7.2-inch (183mm), eight 4 orv5-inch (102mm-127mm) and four quintuple 20mm-40mm AA guns. This change was approved on July 6, 1925 with completion by 1928. The Army was strongly opposed to spending anything on the Navy. In December 1925 a special commission, overwhelmingly dominated by the Army was convened and on March 16, 1926 canceled the conversion. The incomplete Izmail was finally scrapped in the early 1930s. (Bulk of History From: Russian & Soviet Battleships, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2003, by Stephen McLaughlin)

Vital Statistics

734-feet 5-inches (223.85m)(oa), 729-feet 8-inches (222.4m)(wl); Beam: 100-feet (30.5m); Draught: 29-feet (8.81m): Displacement: 32,500-tons normal, 36,646-tons full load: Armament: Twelve 14-Inch/52 (356mm)(4x3), Twenty-Four 5.1-Inch/55 (130mm) 24x1, Four 2.5-Inch (63.5mm) AA 4x1, Six 17.7-Inch (450mm) underwater torpedo tubes.

Armor: Belt – 9.35-Inches (237.5mm) main belt 4.9-Inch (125mm) bow and stern ends, Upper Belt – 3.9-Inch (100mm) with 3-Inch (75mm) forward, Transverse Bulkheads – 3.9-Inch (100mm), Longitudinal Bulkheads – 1.97-Inch (50mm), Turrets – 11.8-Inch (300mm) on sides 5.9-Inch (150mm) on crown, Barbettes – 9.7-Inch (247.5mm) to 5.8-Inch (147.5mm), Conning Tower – 11.8-Inch (300mm) sides 9.8-Inch 250mm crown 3-Inch (75mm) floor, Armored Decks – 1.48-Inch (37.5mm) upper deck, 0.79 + 1.57-Inch (20mm+40mm) middle deck, 1.97 + 0.98-Inches (50mm+25mm) slopes; Machinery: Twenty-Five Yarrow boilers and four Parsons turbines, 66,000shp (70,000shp forced); Maximum Speed: 26.5-knots (28-knots forced); Range: 2,280 nm at 26.5-knots; Complement: 1,174


The Combrig Izmail
The 1:700 scale Combrig Izmail is a really fine kit. It is beautifully detailed and provides an excellent scale replica of this striking Imperial Russian battle cruiser design. Although the ship has all of the hall marks of an Imperial Russian Dreadnought design, four evenly spaced triple turrets on centerline, minimal superstructure and ice breaking bow, the ship is far larger than the Sevastopol class and has a dramatically tapered bow. From the two widely spaced anchor hawse and icebreaker bow there are many unique features to the hull sides of the Combrig Izmail. The secondary guns are arranged in double story casemates for the first three positions on each side, which concentrates armor but two guns can be taken out with one hit. You will have to use a pin vise to add locator holes for the secondary gun barrels. I would have preferred to have locator holes already present but by drilling their locations the modeler can select their training. There are minimal portholes but plenty of shelves and angles to the secondary positions to provide interest to the hull sides. To add further interest one of the secondary positions on each side aft extends beyond the hull sides.

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Deck detail is toe-curling good. The deck paneling separated by metal lateral reinforcing strips is outstanding. There is plenty of forecastle detail with four anchor hawse, bollard plates, deck access coamings, open chocks and anchor windlass base plates. The graceful horseshoe breakwater is very thin and finely cast. Amidships is an assortment of ventilator positions clustered around the stacks and multiple coal scuttles, which will provide a striking contrast of metal scuttles against the wooden decking. Additional single and twin bollards provide more detail. Aft detail includes multiple deck coamings, twin bollard plates, single bollards, open chocks and a single stern anchor chain base plate.

Smaller Parts
The turrets are well cast and have locator positions on the turret crowns. Two of these on each crown is for beautifully cast two-piece QF guns. The main gun barrels are finely cast with a slight flare at the muzzle and hollow muzzles. Superstructure parts are minimal in number, consisting of two stack each of two pieces and a tall circular conning tower. The funnels are in two pieces because each has large platforms surrounding each funnel. There are a large numbers of platforms. One is a large searchlight platform, which separates the upper and lower aft funnel. There are four platforms connected to the conning tower. The upper two form flying bridges between the conning tower and forward stack and the lower two fit on the aft face of the conning tower. Additionally there is a navigation bridge atop the pilot house on the uppermost flying bridge. Altogether it presents a most unique appearance. The platforms appear to have splinter shielding but this would actually represent canvas covered railing. The platforms are cast on a very thin resin wafer and require minor cleaning to smooth the edges where they were attached to the wafer.

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There are plenty of other smaller fittings. The largest in numbers and size are the tops of the various rectangular and square ventilators. The four anchor windlasses and eight searchlights are very well detailed. Other resin parts include crane bases, detailed anchors, masts, yards, small ventilators, mast platforms, various navigation fittings and equipment, boat chocks, eight open boats with two each in four different patterns and four large steam launches with two each in two different patterns. These parts are cast on runners and require only minor cleanup after they are removed from the runners.

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Photo-Etch Fret
Combrig includes a brass photo-etch fret with most of the additional parts that you’ll need for a very detailed model. What is not included is deck railing, however, it appears any two bar (three bar if you include the bottom scupper) can be used. You may wish to remove the solid bulkheads/splinter shields on the platforms in order to use open railing there. The largest brass parts are the cranes and lattice work boat towers. Included for the lattice towers are boat chocks that are fitted on the towers. Each funnel gets its own unique shaped funnel grate. Although railing is not included, Combrig does include inclined ladders and anchor chain. Other brass parts include platform support triangles, vertical ladders and crane pulleys.

The instructions are in the standard Combrig format. My sample came with two pages with printing on one side, rather than the standard one back-printed page format. Page one is the profile and plan of the ship. As usual these drawing materially assist the modeler in parts attachment locations, as well as rigging scheme. A short history is provided in Russian and English, as well as statistics in English. The second page has the actual assembly instructions with a bow starboard quarter view. There are separate small insets for the sub-assembly of the bridge/forward funnel complex, cranes, turrets, QF guns, boat tower and aft funnel.

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The Combrig 1:700 scale Izmail is a large and striking kit. Armed with 14-inch/52 main guns, this Russian battle cruiser design had longer 14-inch guns than those found in any other navy. If it had not been for a twist of fate, they could have been ordered in 1911, instead of 1912, and completed shortly after the start of World War One. Four powerful Izmails and four Sevastopol class battleships would have certainly complicated the Baltic balance of power immensely. Combrig provides full resin and brass parts, excluding railing, to build a scale replica of one of the largest Imperial Russian warship ever launched.