The following particulars of the Orion, laid down at Portsmouth on November 29th, are given with reserve. Displacement, 22,500 tons; length, 545 ft.; beam, 88 ¼ ft.; draught, 27 ½ ft.; I.H.P., 27,000; speed, 21 knots. The five turrets will be all on the centre line, and will be armed with 12-in. guns, although there seems no reason, in the view of naval engineers, why the same mountings should not suit guns of larger bore, although not of the same length.”  Naval Annual 1910, by T.A. Brassey, at page 4.

At the close of the predreadnought battleship era, the Royal Navy was complacent. The Admiralty had developed a standard pattern of battleship with four 12-inch guns as main armament and a 6-inch gun secondary. They were content with letting other navies experiment with new ideas. If an idea was a failure then the country that designed and implemented it would be saddled with the consequences. If an idea was successful, the Royal Navy could adopt that idea and simply out build the competition. As a consequence of this very conservative policy, the British designs were in danger of falling behind the designs of other countries. This mindset changed dramatically when Jackie Fisher became first sea lord. Against more hide-bound opposition, he pushed through the HMS Dreadnought and stole a march on the world.

Other navies were dumbfounded. Their future construction designs were obsolete before they were even laid down. German battleship building came to a stop to allow their designers time to adjust to the new standard. In the meantime the Royal Navy popped out the Bellerophon Class, which were only slightly improved Dreadnoughts. The Royal Navy always emphasized the offensive characteristics of their warships, which primarily meant gun power, so the following battleship design was built to increase the firepower of their battleships. The St. Vincent Class was still based on the Dreadnought layout and design but the main guns were lengthened from the 12-inch/45 of the Dreadnought and Bellerophons to 12-inch/50 guns. Designers forecast increased range and greater penetrating power because of a higher muzzle velocity of the shells. The benefits were there but there also substantial detriments. The high muzzle velocity resulted in greatly increased barrel wear. This in turn resulted in a significant loss in accuracy. The next two designs, that of Colossus and Neptune , kept the 12-inch/50 and theoretically increased firepower by placing the wing turrets in echelon to allow cross deck fire, and by mounting X turret superfiring over Y turret. The arc of fire of the far side turret was so limited that there was little increase in actual fighting power over the St. Vincents. After jetting ahead of all competition with Dreadnought, the following four British battleship classes had been mere adjustments to the original and allowed other navies to catch up.

Also found in the Naval Annual 1910 was an article entitled “Types of Warships”, written by Vice-Admiral Sir S. Eardley-Wilmot. He assessed the battleship designs of foreign navies and contrasted them with British designs. In his analysis of German designs he stated: “If the art of warship-building is one easy of assimilation and capable of acquisition in a few years, one would expect to find in the Nassau , Westfalen, Rheinland and Posen elements of superiority to our first Dreadnought. But they do not present these to my mind. They are certainly larger, being 18,200 tons, and that is a novelty in German policy, for she has hitherto kept to smaller dimensions than we required, but the disposition of the armament appears faulty.” He further states, “There is no doubt, however, that these first German Dreadnoughts are fine vessels, and if they exhibit some defects this casts no discredit upon the designers, who had a most difficult task. The general principles of warship design, as of gun destruction, are well known and no monopoly of any nation; but it needs many years’ experience, practical as well as theoretical, gained at sea and in the office, assisted by the traditions of centuries, to produce a craft in which everything is located to the best advantage, with the result that besides being the most efficient machine she is not rendered unsightly, lumbered with top hamper, or crowded with weapons which impede each other.” (Naval Annual 1910, at pages 100 & 101)  


Plan, Profile & Quarter Views
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It was time for the Royal Navy to pull out another surprise. Given the Royal Navy’s emphasis on offensive power, this of course meant another increase in firepower. The result was the Orion Class. It would be easy for Admiral Eardley-Wilmot to see that this design would further throw the Germans into disarray with their smaller main guns. After all, what country could meet his qualifications for efficient battleship design of “many years’ experience, practical as well as theoretical, gained at sea and in the office, assisted by the traditions of centuries…”, other than Great Britain. As part of a deception plan, the Royal Navy let it be known that the new Orion Class would mount 12-inch/50 guns in five centerline turrets. However, as can be seen from the statement at the start of this article, no one was fooled. The Orion Class proved to be the largest forward leap in offensive power and displacement since the introduction of the Dreadnought.

The original design for the Orion did in fact contemplate the mounting of 12-inch guns but all on centerline, unlike the previous Colossus. The first area of dispute for the design concerned speed, rather than armament. One design was for a battleship with the standard 21-knot speed but a competing design called for a 23-knot ship. In spite of wide spread support for the faster ship, the shorter 21-knot design was selected but gun size was changed from the 12-inch/50 to a new 13.5-inch/45. The new gun was only slightly longer than the 50 caliber 12-inch piece, so the same size barbettes could be used. The broadside weight of shell of the new Orion was 12,500lb, compared with 6,800lb for Dreadnought and 8,500lb from the Neptune/Colossus. It would take two years before her weight of broadside would be surpassed, by USS Texas in 1914. Because of the vast leap in offensive power, the press immediately dubbed the class “Super Dreadnoughts.”  


Forward Hull Detail
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Another aspect of the British battleships designs between Dreadnought and Orion was the decrease in armor protection. As the Admiralty sought to increase offensive power, maintain moderate dimensions and keep down the costs, survivability in form of the armor thickness was reduced. In the Naval Annual 1911 in an article called The Dreadnought Era, Commander C.N. Robinson wrote: “For several reasons, less has been said and written about the defensive qualities of the armoured ships of the Dreadnought era than about their other elements of war worthiness. The Navy Estimates do not contain particulars of the armour of the new ships, and therefore even about British vessels authentic information is scanty. This, coupled with the fact that up to the present time there have been few, if any, changes in the nature and quality of the protection, and that the gun has absorbed the greater part of attention of naval students, has caused the matter of armour to be somewhat neglected.” (Naval Annual 1911, The Dreadnought Era, 1911, by Commander C.N. Robinson, at page 150) With Orion the vertical armor plan was significantly increased and Orion’s maximum armor belt thickness of 12-inches was the thickest so far. As battle range was considered 9,000 to 10,000 yards, the increase in belt thickness protected against flat trajectory fire. In a retrograde step the deck armor and internal subdivision of the Orion Class were actually less than on the previous Colossus Class. The contemporary German class of battleship, the Oldenburg , had a slightly thicker belt but with five feet greater beam, a much better subdivision.

The design was part of the 1909 program, which included the Colossus and Hercules. However, there were all sorts of rumors floating about that the Germans were up to mischief across the North Sea . They had accelerated their building! They were laying down secret battleships! The sky is falling! Something must be done! For this program the government insisted to limit capital ships to be laid down for the year to four but the Admiralty wanted six. The press and the public became involved and the slogan “We want eight, and we won’t wait!” was coined. Although Winston Churchill was one of the members of the cabinet who insisted on limiting construction to four, he later ate his words. “In the end a curious and characteristic solution was reached. The Admiralty had demanded six ships; the economists offered four; and we finally compromised on eight.” A supplemental program was introduced and the eight capital ships of the program were Colossus, Hercules, the four Orions, Lion and Princess Royal. Orion was laid down in November 1909 and the other three of the class were laid down in April 1910.


Aft Hull Detail
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Admiral Eardley-Wilmot had stated that the Royal Navy had the requisite experience “to produce a craft in which everything is located to the best advantage”, however, some design characteristics of the Orion tended to show that the good admiral was somewhat myopic. Previously mentioned was the decrease in deck armor and internal subdivision. Although the Orion had superfiring turrets, they raised turrets, B & X, had to have stops installed to prevent end on fire. The RN had retained sighting hoods at the front of the turret and the firing of guns of the superfiring turrets would cause concussion to personnel in the sighting hoods below. Another retrograde feature was the placement of the foremast. With the Dreadnought, Colossus and Hercules, the foremast was placed behind the forward funnel. The result was the same, the heat and fumes of the forward funnel made the foretop almost untenable. Since sighting and gun direction came from personnel in the foretop, this was a serious defect. The Admiralty already knew this when Orion designed and yet they repeated the same faulty layout. Why? It was another example of false economy. With the tripod behind the funnel, the middle leg could also serve as a base for operation of the boat boom and a separate boom would not be required. This in turn would save weight and marginally decrease the expense of the ship. This was hardly an example of locating something to the best advantage.  

HMS Thunderer was the last of the class to be laid down. On April 13, 1910 she was laid down at the Thames Iron Works. The contract was given to this firm in an effort to keep the London based manufacturer in operation. However, the yard continued to be plagued by labor unrest and HMS Thunderer was to be the last battleship built on the Thames . She was second of the class to be launched on February 1, 1911 and third to be completed in June 1912. After commissioning, she became part of the 2nd Battle Squadron. The First Sea Lord, Prince Louis of Battenburg used the Thunderer as his flagship during fleet maneuvers in July 1912. As part of the building process, Thunderer was given the Scott’s director system in late 1911. The central director controlling main gunfire was placed on a platform right underneath the foretop. The other three were completed without the central director. In November 1912 a firing contest was staged between Orion, without the director, and Thunderer with the director. The Orion had been in operation for nine months longer and had the reputation as the best firing ship in the fleet. The range was 9,000 yards and the target traveled at 12 knots. After three minutes of firing Thunderer scored six times more frequently than Orion. After this the director system was adopted and retrofitted to earlier capital ships. Before the war, in addition to the director platform, Thunderer could be identified by the presence of three white bands on each funnel.  





HMS Thunderer Vital Statistics


Dimensions: Length - 581 feet (oa), 576 feet (wl), 545 feet (pp); Beam - 88 feet 6 inches; Draught - 27 feet 6 inches mean normal, 31 feet 3 inches mean deep: Displacement - 21,922 tons, 20, 797 tons light, 25,596 tons deep, 27,416 tons (1918):
Armament - Ten 13.5-inch/45 Mk V; Sixteen 4-inch/50; One 12pdr; Three 21-inch Torpedo Tubes

Armor: Belt - 12-inches amidships; Turrets 11-inches maximum; Barbettes - 10-inches maximum; Conning Tower - 11-inches maximum; Decks - Two 1 1/2 -inch armored decks: Machinery - 4 shafts, Parsons Marine Turbines, 18 Yarrow boilers, 27,000shp, Maximum Speed - 21 knots: Complement - 738 (1912), 1,107 (1917)

 

In August 1913 Thunderer again served as force flagship during fleet maneuvers as flag for Admiral Jellicoe, commander of Red Force. When World War One erupted in August 1914 Thunderer was sent to Loch-na-Keal, while Scapa Flow was prepared to serve as the base for the Grand Fleet. On October 27, 1914 she was involved in the training exercise, during which Audacious struck a mine and sank. On December 8, 1914 she sailed into Devonport for a short refit. During the Battle of Jutland Thunderer and the other three ships of the Orion Class were the 2nd Battle Squadron. At one time during the battle she found herself firing over the bows of Jellicoe’s Iron Duke. During the night portion of the battle a German light cruiser challenged Thunderer at 22:30 but the Thunderer did not open fire so as not to reveal the location of the British battle line. Throughout the rest of the war she made the endless patrols with the rest of the fleet. In April 1918 she was transferred to Rosyth and was present as the High Seas Fleet steamed to internment on November 21, 1918. The class was transferred to the 3rd Battle Squadron of the Home Fleet in March 1919. In October 1919 she was placed into reserve and stayed in this capacity during 1920, except for a brief period of carrying relief crews to the Mediterranean .

Of course in line with all British battleships a number of changes were made to Thunderer during World War One. In September 1914 the white funnel bands were painted out. In late 1914 splinter shields were fitted to the four-inch guns, topgallant masts were removed, and short poles added to aft superstructure derricks to improve radio reception. In 1915 the net and net booms were removed and the navigation platform was extended around the forward funnel. In 1916-1917 there were modifications in searchlight placement, a reduction in the number of 4-inch guns to 14 and range baffles were added. In 1917-1918 modifications included enlarging the foretop, range clocks added, coffee box searchlight towers were added and aircraft ramps were added over B and X turrets. On this last point, it is interesting to note that the class had three different arrangements. Thunderer and Conqueror had the ramps on B and X, Orion on B and Q and Monarch on B only.  


Superstructure
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During the mass reduction of the battleships of the Royal Navy following the Washington Naval Treaty, the Thunderer was retained as a training ship. She was refitted from February to May 1921 as a cadet training ship. The secondary fit was reduced to eight guns to add to the accommodations and extra cabins were built on the aft superstructure. Aircraft ramps were removed. Originally Erin was selected for this service but that battleship did not conform to the standard Royal Navy layout and Thunderer replaced her in this capacity. For the next five years Thunderer served to train the young cadets of the Royal Navy. However, her time finally came on August 31, 1926 when she was paid off. On November 6, 1926 she was sold for breaking. Like other ships, Thunderer did not go to the bone yard peacefully. En route to the breakers, she ran aground on December 24 and on the 31st was taken back to Rosyth. Finally in April 1927 she was taken from Rosyth to Blyth and reached the breakers on April 14. (History from British Battleships of World War One, 1986, by R.A. Burt; Naval Annual 1910, Naval Annual 1911)

Combrig HMS Thunderer
Combrig has produced 1:700 scale models for all four ships in the Orion Class. A number of modelers have asked, “Are they the same kit?” no, they are not, or more precisely three of the four are different. Although Thunderer and Conqueror appear to be the same, Orion and Monarch have parts that make each of them unique. The differences among the four kits involve the details in four areas: bridge, navigation or compass platform, tripod and shelter 4-inch gun positions. Orion is as built. The bridge face is a three-sided square in photo-etch, open to the rear. Associated with this is the bridge deck, which is the horizontal component to the vertical bridge face. The Orion bridge deck has a small square on the front side on which the bridge face is placed. The other three models have a larger bridge. The bridge face is larger and the sides go backward at about 45-degree angles, rather than the 90-degree angles on Orion. The front edge of the resin bridge deck also has a larger surface area of a different shape than the Orion piece. Orion may be the only one of the four to have received the small bridge. In British Battleships of World War One by R.A. Burt, photographs of Orion on completion clearly show this small bridge. Photographs of Monarch and Conqueror on completion show the larger bridge already in place. Since Thunderer was completed after Monarch, the odds are that she too was completed with the larger bridge.

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There are three different variants with this part. Orion is the only kit that has a small platform that basically provides the overhead for the bridge and juts slightly above and in front of the bridge face. Thunderer and Conqueror have a full-fledged navigation deck that runs on both sides of the forward funnel to the tripod. Monarch has a platform that runs past the funnel on the port side but not on the starboard side, almost as an intermediate step between the small platform of Orion and full decks of Thunderer and Conqueror, although it is much closer to a fully developed deck than it is to the small platform. There are two tripod designs found in the kit. Orion and Monarch have the early tripod without a platform for the main gun director. Thunderer and Conqueror have a tripod with the director and platform. There is more difference between the two types of tripods than just the director platform but that is the major distinction. All of the kits provide optional net booms but given the modifications to the ships as listed by R.A. Burt, it is possible to classify them as follows. Orion represents that particular ship as built before her bridge was enlarged, compass platform extended or she was given a director and associated platform. Accordingly, she best represents Orion in the 1912 to 1914 time period and should have net booms. Monarch represents that ship about 1914 to early 1915 as the navigation platform was extended but before she received her central director. Net booms may or may not be in place depending upon the time they were landed, compared to the time the navigation platform was extended. Since Thunderer and Conqueror both have the director platform and extended bridges, they best represent the class from 1915 to early 1916 and probably should not be built with net booms for, and definitely not for 1916. The Orion and Monarch have open four-inch gun mounts at the forward corners of the shelter deck. These were later enclosed in splinter shield positions around these guns. These are the wedge shaped parts on the resin film found in the Thunderer and Conqueror kits.

The hull sides are very clean with minimal odds, ends and architectural features, unless you are building a version with the net booms. There is one anchor hawse on the port and two on the starboard. Also found at the bow and stern are pairs of open chocks with the base plate extending on the hull sides below deck level. Actually the most noticeable features are the net shelves, which are profile as well as plan features. After the nets and booms were landed, they were still part of the ship. The transition of these shelves from the forecastle to the quarterdeck level creates an interesting diagonal line on each side. The only other features breaking the smooth sides are double rows of portholes at bow and stern.

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From the plan view, the model is loaded with excellent and plentiful detail. A lot of it is cast as part of the hull but an equally large amount is comprised of smaller resin parts. The forecastle has beautiful base plates for windlasses and deck hawse, which angle downward. Also at the bow are the rounded lead fittings for the anchor locker. Access hatches and flat anchor chain run plates are also found. A thin and low breakwater separates the anchor fittings of the forecastle from the A turret area. There are ten fittings clustered around A turret and this does not include the separate winches, ventilators and other separate deck fittings. Four sets of twin bollards run down each side of the forecastle. At the deck break the detail continues with eleven fittings cast around Q turret. Another eleven fittings are found adjacent to the aft superstructure, X turret barbette, Y turret and the quarterdeck. Two more sets of bollard sets are found here on each side. Everyone of these numerous fittings are very crisp with no defects of any type. Even on small fittings, individual hinges are seen. The deck planking is subdued and executed so minutely that it is hard to see. The bottom line is that the hull is a remarkable casting, loaded with detail and free of defects. A little bit of sanding will be required at the waterline as the hull appears to have been open face casting or cast on resin film.

The aft superstructure is a separate piece that fits into a well on the deck of the hull casting. The fit is flush with the deck and no cleanup is needed. This aft superstructure has the doors for the 4-inch gun positions closed and the individual panels and hinges for each panel are easily seen. Both levels of this part have superbly thin splinter shields, which is executed as well or better than any other kit to be found. Although there is a well in the hull forward, no superstructure part fits into it. Rather the large superstructure part forward rests on top of the forecastle. Care should be used here to ensure that this part is in alignment with the hull casting. This is easy to do as the rounded V shape of the aft bulkheads of this part are flush with the same rounded bulkheads found at the deck break on the hull casting. Although it is easy to make this alignment, use white glue to ensure that you have the time to make minor adjustments. At the rear 60% of the forward superstructure are tall bulkheads surrounding a resin film deck. Do not remove this film as it is boat deck, as there will be a small void along the forward edge, where it overlaps the well in the hull. Once this part is dried, open up the area over the locator hulls for the tripod legs. As with the aft superstructure, this part has 4-inch gun positions with closed doors of outstanding detail. Eight deck access hatches are found in the forward part of the deck of this piece and the boat deck bulkheads supporting rib detail.


Comparison With R.A. Burt Plan
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The barbettes for B and X turrets are separate pieces. I don’t know why Combrig designed the barbettes this way as it seems that it would have been just as easy to make them part of the forward and aft superstructures. In any event, they pose no problem as they sit flush with the deck and superstructure. Again, it is better to use white glue to attach these parts to give yourself time for minor adjustments. Eleven superstructure parts are cast on a resin film sheet. Two are wedge shaped armored positions for the open 4-inch guns that were enclosed in 1914. These positions are very nicely done with recesses in which gun casemates are found. The other parts are the conning tower surrounded by a small deck; bridge deck, which fits over the forward funnel; chart house with square windows, which rests at the aft end of the bridge deck; navigation or compass deck, which rests atop the bridge, aft superstructure lower platform; aft superstructure upper platform; director platform; starfish; and foretop. All of these parts are finely done with a number of openings for inclined ladders. They will need to be cleaned slightly after being removed from the resin film. There are two unequal size funnels with thin aprons and capping. Both are suitably hollow at the top.

  The five turrets appear correct in profile and plan with the drawings in the Burt reference, except that they all have fittings on the aft crown. This feature appears to have only been on Q turret when completed and was added on to other turrets latter. The turret roofs have quite a few features. There is a centerline crown, faceted armor slabs and three sighting hoods at the forward part of each roof. The 13.5-inch guns have small resin plugs at the muzzles that will need to be removed. The four-inch barrels are very fine castings, although in my copy on was slightly warped and one other appears slightly under-cast with a tad too little resin. Also found are four open 4-inch mounts but with the Thunderer, you only need to for the aft superstructure because the two forward open mounts are replaced by the armored positions included on the resin sheet.  


Brass Photo-Etch
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Deck fittings abound on this kit. My personal fittings are the deck winches, which are truly extraordinary in the amount of detail on these small parts. One runner includes the larger of these fittings with aft conning tower, structure at point of deck break, director, two windlasses and three-square deck fittings. The bridge is festooned with twin signal lamps or searchlights. I was unsure about these fittings until I found them in the Burt drawings. In most photographs they are covered by canvas. Five of the resin runners contain a total of 68 ventilators in four different styles. Paravanes, binocular positions, binnacles, windlasses, balsa raft, resin cable reels, derricks, optional net booms, anchors and a host of other small fittings make the Combrig Thunderer a very detailed kit. The Burt plan shows 17 boats fitted but Combrig provides 19. Three are large steam launches each with detailed rudder and propeller and separate funnel. The others include a large whaler, and various cutters, launches and gigs. Separate resin boat chocks are provided deck stored boats and davits for the others. The resin parts are rounded out by the three tripod legs, topmasts and yards.

Brass Photo-Etch Fret
The Combrig Thunderer comes with the same brass photo-etch fret as found in all four models of the battleships of this class. The parts are almost all ship specific parts, although four inclined ladders are included. The two types of bridge faces are relief-etched with indented panel lines. They are also etched with crease lines in place to make the necessary bends crisply. Other brass parts include two chart tables, foretop roof, anchor chain, hose reels, small anchors, platform supports, stack grates, lower tripod platform, navigation platform supports, two sets of aft platform supports and a few other odds and ends. There is no railing included. I would substitute other inclined ladders for those included on the fret because they lack handrails. Two of these inclined ladders have triangular platforms at the top. These run at deck edge at the deck break. I would still use the platforms but substitute the ladder. I strongly recommend using 3rd party railings because not only would the main decks have railing but also various decks of the upper forward superstructure use them.  


Box Art & Instructions
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Instructions
The instructions for the Combrig Thunderer are in the new format used by Combrig for the more complex kits. They come on two sheets, four pages. Page one is the ship’s history and statistics in English with 1:700 scale plan and profile drawings. Page two is a photograph of all of the components and listing of White Ensign Models Colourcoat color/colours to be used. Pages three and four contain the actual assembly instructions. Page three has hull casting deck fittings. The various types of ventilators are shown in profile with numbers assigned to each type. These numbers show the placement of the various ventilators. Three different detail inset drawings are included on this page. These include the aft superstructure, bridge/navigation decks and forward superstructure. The inset on the forward bridge assembly shows the base of the conning tower as a separate part. This is in error as the base is integral to the forward superstructure part. Also the insets can be pitfalls in assembly unless the plan and profile on page one are consulted for the exact placement of some of the parts. The inset drawing shows the general area of attachment but the plan or profile should be consulted for the exact placement. The last page shows the attachment of the major subassemblies. There are also eight inset drawings that show assembly of open gun mounts, brass hose reels, main turrets, aft superstructure supports, tripod and a couple of photo-etch details. The detail for the aft superstructure supports should have been included on page three as it is necessary to assemble these before you can complete the aft superstructure subassembly.

Verdict
When a modeler first looks at the Thunderer with a somewhat minimal superstructure, it is natural to think that the kit may be a quick and simple build. However, since Combrig provides a wealth of fine detail in quantity as well as quality for this 1:700 scale kit, a level of detailed richness is provided that commands a deliberate and thoughtful build. Any Royal Navy modeler should be thrilled to build Combrig’s rendition of the world’s first class of super dreadnought.

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