Shore Bombardment – When that phrase is used, most naval modelers think of the battleships of the USN and RN during World War Two. When Halsey took the bait and sped north after the bait of Admiral Ozawa’s toothless carriers and again when 45 miles from his quarry, he turned south in a futile effort to intercept the battleship force of Admiral Kurita, the most potent battleships ever produced for the USN, the Iowa Class, missed their final two chances to engage major enemy ships in a gunnery duel. It was the old tired Pearl Harbor veterans, left back at Leyte because of their slow speed, that engaged in the last battleship vs battleship action at Surigao Straits. Throughout World War Two the Iowa Class functioned as carrier escorts and in 1945 shore bombardment. Almost half a century later, members of the Iowa Class were still in service for gunfire support of ground forces.
The use of ships for shore bombardment is nothing new. During the American Civil War, Union ironclads and wooden ships were frequently used to shell Confederate fortifications. World War One also saw the use of capital ships against land targets. The Royal Navy and the French Navy used capital ships to bombard Turkish fortifications in their attempt to force the Dardanelles. The HMS Revenge, the last surviving member of the 1890 Royal Sovereign Class, was used to shell German troop concentrations on the Belgium coast (click for review of the Combrig HMS Royal Sovereign) and the German battlecruisers shelled English sea-side towns to produce panic and in an effort to draw the British battlecruisers into the guns of the High Seas Fleet. However, in the Black Sea, the Imperial Russian Navy used battleships very effectively in an economic/strategic campaign against Turkey.
The genesis to this usage can fairly be said to be caused by the poor shooting of the Russian ships during the Russo-Japanese War. Among the many reasons for the complete destruction of the Russian Fleet at Tsuhima was the fact that very few of the shells fired by the Russian fleet struck their Japanese targets. By 1912 it had become obvious to the Russian Admiralty that within a few years there would be a strategic imbalance in the Black Sea. Turkey had purchased from Brazil a modern battleship being built in Britain mounting fourteen 12-inch guns. Additionally Turkey had contracted with a British yard for another battleship mounting ten 13.5-inch guns. The Russian had dreadnought battleships laid down or planned for their Black Sea Fleet but the Russian Admiralty recognized that their shipyards were far slower at producing a modern battleship, than the British yards building the Turkish warships.
The Russians had to come up with a way to try to counterbalance the Turkish dreadnoughts with the Russian predreadnoughts of the Black Seas Fleet, at least until the Russian Black Sea dreadnoughts came into service. Although there were a number of older battleships available to the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the primary strength of the fleet was found in the five newest predreadnoughts; Evstafey and Ioann Zlatoust launched in 1906, Panteleimon launched in 1900 (Click for review of the Combrig Panteleimon), Tri Sviatitelia launched in 1893, and the 2nd rank battleship Rostislav, launched in 1896. The first four battleships mounted four 12-Inch guns each but the Rostislav had a main armament of four 10-Inch guns.
Second class or 2nd rank battleships had been popular for the last part of the 19th century. The Royal Navy had a few such as Jackie Fisher’s favorite, HMS Renown but as a type, the concept was much more popular with the French and Russian navies. Being a 2nd rank battleship meant that in some manner the battleship was less capable than 1st rank ships. This usually came in the form of poorer seakeeping with a lower freeboard, smaller main armament, smaller size, and lighter armor. However, they were popular because they were cheaper to build than a first class battleship. Rostislav was very much typical of this type of design.
The standard size main guns for battleships of the period were 12-Inchers and Rostislav carried 10-Inchers. The typical displacement of a first class battleship was 12,000 to 13,000 tons, Rostislav came in at 9,000 tons full load. However, the Rostislav did receive armor fairly close to that given a first rank battleship.
To counter the impending threat of Turkish dreadnoughts in the Black Sea the Russian Black Sea Fleet came up with a new doctrine for gunnery. The newest three predreanoughts, Evstafey, Ioann Zlatoust and Panteleimon were formed into a three ship firing unit. The three ships would function as a single unit in firing, thereby concentrating the fire of their combined twelve 12-Inch guns under single control at a single target. They correctly foresaw that the lead ship of the unit would probably be the initial target in any gun duel, as that was what occurred during the engagements of the Russo-Japanese War. Therefore the second ship in line was designated as director or controller of the combined gunfire, which would hopefully allow for fairly unmolested range finding, targeting and gunfire adjustments. Tri Sviatitelia was a substitute. She would only become part of the three ship firing unit if one of the first line ships was unavailable or incapacitated. The Russians had discovered that if they used more than three ships in the firing unit the centralized firing scheme broke down.
Rostislavwas never a member of the firing unit. The trajectory of her 10-Inch shells was so different from the 12-Inch shells of the other four, that she was forbidden from firing on the same target as the firing unit. Her shell splashes could not be used to accurately adjust fire for the 12-Inch gun battleships. Since Rostislav couldn’t play with the big boys, she developed her own niche specialty, shore bombardment.
Rostislavstarted in her specialty, shore bombardment, on the very first sortie of the Black Sea Fleet. In the sortie of 4-7 November 1914, she along with some supporting smaller ships, shelled the coal and harbor facilities at Zonguldak, Turkey. Rostislav would pay many more visits to this facility.
Rostislavwas present in the first action in World War One to feature a battleship versus battleship engagement. On the second sortie, 15-18 November 1914, of the Black Sea fleet, the Russian battleship brigade was tasked to shell facilities in eastern Anatolia and disrupt sea communications.
As they were returning to Sevastopol on November 18, the Russian squadron was intercepted by the Goeben and Breslau 20 miles south of Yalta. It was in this engagement, known as the Action off Cape Sarych, that the German navy discovered that this was not the Russian Fleet of 1904-1905. Goeben received the worst of the 14-minute engagement, being hit 14 times by the three ship "firing unit" and only hitting the Evstafey four times in return. The new Russian firing doctrine worked and worked well. The German commander, Admiral Souchon, had anticipated easy pickings. He thought he would engage the old Russian predreadnoughts and encounter the poor firing of the Russian Fleet of the Russo-Japanese War. When he discovered that the truth was otherwise, he immediately changed his mind. To use a colorful modern U.S. military expression, the German ships quickly un-assed the area by using their superior speed to break contact and then high-tailed it back to Istanbul. Goeben never again tried to engage all five Russian predreadnoughts at one time and instead tried to go after them piece meal. Rostislav was forbidden from engaging Goeben, so she fired at Breslau until Breslau sought the protection of the unengaged side of Goeben.
Throughout 1915 Rostislav continued sorties with the battleship brigade. Sometimes it would be for troop support in the southeastern corner of the Black Sea but mostly it was shore bombardment of facilities, especially coal facilities. Zonguldak was the favored recipient of the shelling. Since Turkey had a limited railroad infrastructure, most coal was moved by sea. The attacks upon the coal facilities, port facilities and shipping did have a significant negative effect upon Turkey and the Turkish navy, including Goeben. Since almost everything was powered by coal, from industry to the boilers of the warships, coal shortages from the actions of Rostislav and the other ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet constrained the Turkish fleet and the industrial production of the country.
By 1916 Rostislav was stationed at Batum, almost exclusively supporting the Russian ground forces in the Caucuses against Turkish troop formations. However, in August Rostislav was transferred to the west to protect the coast of Romania. On September 2, 1916 she was one of the first ships in history to be damaged in an air attack. While at anchor in the Romanian port of Constanta, she was hit by a small bomb from a German seaplane and was slightly damaged. The Romanian army retreated from Constanta on October 22 and was given gunfire support by Rostislav. After losing the base at Constanta, the operations of Rostislav, along with the older predreadnoughts was greatly curtailed.
In common with other predreadnoughts, her propulsion machinery was wrecked by Anglo-French interventionist forces on April 25, 1919. In November 1920 Rostislav was made a floating battery at Kerch by being grounded at the straits. The old Rostislav survived the mass scrapings of 1922-1923 and ironically was the last operational battleship of the old Imperial Russian Black Sea Fleet to be broken up in 1930, although another source states that she was broken up in 1922.
Rostislavalso featured another first. She was the first major warship to burn oil, rather than coal as she was equipped with oil burners to burn crude oil, rather than the otherwise universal coal burning plants of the period. The Admiralty thought sufficiently highly of her to assign Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich Romanov as her commander in 1900-1901. (Bulk of history from Predreadnoughts vs a Dreadnought; Warship 2001-2002 by Stephen McLaughlin; The Russian Fleet 1914-1917 by Rene Greger; Warships of the Imperial Russian Navy: Volume I-Battleships by V.M.Tomitch)
The Rostislav deck is far less cluttered than the decks of other Russian battleship kits from Combrig. Four sets of bollards, two cleats and a capstan forward and four sets of bollards, two cleats and a skylight aft make up the deck detail on this kit. This presents a very "clean" deck compared to other designs. The foc’sle does have an anchor board on each side that was used before the stockless anchor came into vogue.
The hull sides are also very clean. The model has twin lines of portholes fore and aft with a single row amidships, above water torpedo tube opening on the cutwater, anchor plates, a single vertical hull strake on each side and a nicely indented/inset sternwalk with overhanging quarterdeck. Casting is crisp with no air bubbles and well done, thin bulkheads amidships. The lower hull does not have the small ports for the tertiary guns, nor does it have the imperial eagles at bow or stern. The upper hull does have closed gun ports for the four tertiary guns found at that level.
There are some very nice details included on the amidships 01 deck and bridge. The 01 deck piece has boat chocks, skylight, conning tower, and aft pilothouse. However, the two features that I like best about this piece are the two short stack houses with the overhanging baseplates. When you look at the undercut on those baseplates, you have to wonder how Combrig does it. The only "aztec" steps on the model are on this deck but since they stand separate from other superstructure details, they should be easily removed by any modeler who wishes to use brass inclined ladders. Both the aft pilothouse and the pilothouse cast on the bridge deck have crisp, inset square windows typical of the period. They are inset sufficiently to make painting and glazing easy.
The six turrets, two 10-Inch (254mm)and four 6-Inch (152mm) are very nice. As is true with the newer Combrig kits of Imperial Russian battleships, Combrig does an amazing job at creating these one piece castings. The undercuts where the barrels go into the turrets really are amazing. I can’t recall seeing any kit from any manufacturer with undercuts to that degree or precision in one-piece castings. I have to regard Combrig as leading the industry on this point. The barrel muzzles have resin pour vents that will need to be removed as well as the pour vents on the aft half of the turrets. Therefore, the muzzles are not bored-out as they are on the guns of some of the newest Combrig offerings.
The other smaller resin parts (davits, boats, anchors, steam pipes, searchlights, four QF guns, masts and yards) are of the same good quality found on the newer releases from this company. The two stacks are hollow, J-deck ventilator cowlings are hollow with all parts being cast crisply. Sternwalk, searchlight platforms, fore top as well has the amidship deck and bridge deck all have admirably thin bulkheads.
About the only additions that need to be considered, other than photo-etch, are three. Deck Support Posts - Rostislav had very prominent support posts running from the 01 deck to support the bridge deck. These can be easily added with wire or fine, small diameter plastic or brass rod. It would involve cutting lengths, placing them in the correct positions on the 01 deck and then a series of length adjustments as you dry-fitted the bridge, until you achieved a good fit. Tertiary Gun Ports and Barrels – The Combrig kit does provide four 37mm QF open mount guns, two of which are on the bridge wings and the other two being aft and on either side of the aft pilot house. However, Rostislav also had four 75mm and four 63.5mm tertiary guns (eight 75mm in one source) (originally twelve 47mm). The upper hull does have the closed gun positions but the lower hull does not have them. It will be far easier to portray these positions in their closed position but if you want to have them open, it will take some work. Anti-Torpedo Net and Booms – This is really not an omission. Although the profile in the instructions shows Rostislav with nets and booms, every photograph that I have found of her after she went to a gray paint scheme, shows her clean-hulled with no nets or booms, which is at variance with other Imperial Russian battleships of the period. The early photos of Rostislav, in her black and white livery, do show nets and booms but they are hard to make out due to the black hull. Therefore, if you want a very early Rostislav, nets and booms would be appropriate additions but they appear to have been landed at some point before World War One.
Combrig presents a clean, crisp kit with parts ranging from good to outstanding (world leader in the case of the undercuts in the turret gun openings). Easily assembled, her slab sided appearance contrasts nicely with the more prevalent curved sides of most of the other Imperial Russian battleships. The Rostislav model produced by Combrig should prove to be an easy and enjoyable build for any modeler.