With the advent of steam propulsion and armor, there were three major areas that dominated the design of a warship. Those were machinery, which determined speed, armor and armament. Normally any design was a series of compromises among these three areas. However, sometimes additional requirements were thrown into the mix that could have great impact in the design. One such requirement would be the need for a design to be able to operate in shallow water. In 1870 Imperial Russian had a requirement for an armored ship that would carry heavy guns and was further capable of operating in shallow water.
It was only 15 years since the Crimean War in which France and then Great Britain employed armored warships for the first time. These were armored batteries, rather than full-fledged warships but with their introduction, the genie was out of the bottle. France with the Gloire and then Great Britain with the Warrior, started building armored, steam powered capital ships. In 1870 in the Black Sea there were no armored warships but Russia decided that she needed armored warships mounting heavy guns to protect her southern border. Further, it was decided that any design to steam in the Black Sea had to have a shallow draft in order to operate in and through the Straits of Kerch and around the mouth of the Dneiper River. Vice Admiral A. A. Popov came up with a design that he thought would meet all of the requirements. To maximize armor and carry the heaviest guns possible on the lowest displacement and shallowest draught, Popov designed a ship whose beam equaled its length, a circular ship. Popov had not been the first to advocate a circular ship. Sir Edward Reed, chief designer for the Royal Navy in late 1860s had considered round ships for coast defense of England but they would never built.
Popov used a test tank for experiments with a model of a round warship. He then had a larger model, really a miniature ship, built to further test the concept. This model was 24-feet (7.5m) in diameter and was tested on the Neva River in 1870. The round design showed promise. Popov’s design was chosen as the first armored warship design to be employed in the Black Sea. The original decision was to build ten round "Popovki" to be used as armored steam batteries or floating forts in the Black Sea. The first of these ships was laid down in 1872 and was named the Novgorod. The ship was built in sections and these sections were transported to Nikolaev on the Black Sea for final assembly.
Length or width, with the Novgorod it didn’t matter as the dimension was a constant 101-feet (30.78m). The ship, displacing 2,491-tons, was capable of operating in shallow water with a draught of 13-feet 6-inches (4.11m). Eight boilers provided the steam for a horizontal compound engine, which developed a combined 3,000shp. This engine provided the power for the six propellers that drove the ship at a maximum speed of 6-knots when new, one-knot slower than designed. Two 11-inch/20 guns were on open mounts within a barbette with 9-inches of wrought iron armor. The sides had an 11-inch upper belt and 9-inch lower belt, while bow and stern areas had 9-inch belts. The ship was launched in 1873 and commissioned in 1874. The first three feet of the funnel base also was armored at 4 ½ inches. The main deck was not flat but was convex with the highest point 5-feet 3-inches above the waterline. With such a low freeboard the design would be very vulnerable in deep water in any sort of bad weather.
The design did have some advantages. One was the fairly low displacement for a ship that was heavily armored and that mounted two heavy guns. Another advantage was that the circular design allowed the heavy armor to amount to 20% of the ship’s displacement instead of the 30-40% needed for a conventional design. However, the negative aspects significantly outweighed the positives. A round design maximized water resistance and therefore resulted in a very low maximum speed. The circular design also proved unstable. It was almost impossible to keep the Novgorod steaming in a strait line. The low freeboard, shallow draft ship also pitched and rolled excessively in any sea state other than calm, greatly hindering accurate gunnery. Probably the worst characteristic occurred when one of the eleven-inch guns was fired. One rule of physics is that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. With Novgorod when one of the guns was fired, the ship would start to spin, like a top. Even using some of propellers to counteract the movement could not prevent this rotation. It was obvious to the Russian Admiralty that the round design did not fulfill its promise. The second, larger "Popovki" was already building, so it was completed. Originally to be named Kiev, she was launched as the Popov in honor of her designer.
However, even with all of her negative qualities, the Novgorod was the only armored warship in the Black Sea for a time. She was kept operational until conventional warships started arriving. At one point the two outer shafts were removed, which lowered her to 2,000 ihp with a maximum speed of 5 ½ knots. In 1900 she was stricken as a warship and turned into a store ship at Sevastopol. Novgorod was finally scrapped just before World War One. (History from Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860-1905, 1979, N.J.M. Campbell for Russian Subjects; Warships of the Imperial Russian Navy, Volume 1 Battleships, 1968, by V.M. Tomitch)
The ISW Novgorod
From photographs it is clear that changes were made to Novograd during her career. The ship was initially completed with no flying decks running to the sides from the barbette, had only a small structure aft of the barbette and was conned from an open platform on a short lattice tower. By 1878 the flying decks were added, an aft deck house was added with a deck on top that connected it to the barbette and the open conning position was replaced with an enclosed pilot house. The ISW Novgorod represents the ship after these changes. However, these features may have been in place as early as 1874, as a photograph in a monograph of the Popov designs by V. G. Andrienko shows the wings and pilothouse present. This same monograph has color profiles of Novgorod without these features.
The whole ship is centered on the heavy open barbette. This barbette, which rose 7-feet off of the deck, has an apron running along its perimeter where it descends into the deck. At the top and inside about three feet is the turntable for the two 11-inch guns. ISW has done a very good job at capturing the gun position detail. There are clearly defined carriages mounted on prominent slides. Between the two mountings is the central pivot for the turntable. Ringing the inside perimeter of the barbette is what appears to be a series of deck plates. Forward of this is the largest piece of superstructure on the model, the cabin area. Looking like a half a wheel of cheese angled into the barbette, the outer bulkhead is lined with portholes the circular covers hanging below the portholes. At each end of the line of portholes are entry doors into the superstructure. The top of the cabin appears to have a metal deck, as there is no wooden plank pattern. However, this deck is still dripping in detail. On centerline are two entry hatches but the most prominent features are the great number of coal scuttles. There are 24 of these on the model. The only plan view with which I had to use for a comparison is the one found on page 16 on the monograph on the Popovski by V.G. Andrienko and published in 1994 by Gangut. There are some variances in the pattern of the coal scuttles. The biggest difference is a series of eight scuttles that appear along the perimeter of the deck on the model but not on this particular plan view. However, this is not especially surprising as different plans probably to vary on any subject this obscure. The plan in the monograph may show a subsequent modification in that the forward cabin area extends to a point slightly beyond the deck edge, instead of the curved bulkhead set inboard from the forward deck edge. The color profile of the Novgorod from the same monograph shows the forward superstructure set back as in the model. Flanking the forward edge on each side of the barbette are the stack bases. The bottom is the larger diameter armored portion of the stack, which was the first three feet from the deck. From there the stack cuts in to a smaller diameter with prominent aprons above that. These agree with the profiles, early and late, found in the Andrienko volume. The last part of the superstructure cast as part of the hull is a small deckhouse on centerline near the stern. It has an entry door on the inboard bulkhead, side bulkheads each with four portholes with hinged covers and an aft bulkhead with two more portholes with covers. This feature was not on the ship as completed but was added by 1878 as part as a limited enlargement of the superstructure.
The hull itself resembles a shallow flat-bottomed bowl. The sides of the hull have no detail until you reach the stern. There you find six tapered fairings for the propellers. There is also a V shaped extension from which the rudder post extends. The smooth sides and front to the hull are also found in the Andrienko drawings. There is a little cleanup necessary at the bottom of the casting. There is a slight resin ridge surrounding the flat bottom that needs to be smooth and patches of pinhole voids here and there along the outer edge of the bottom. These only show when the hull is upside down, so its your choice if you wish to fill them with putty or bondo and sand smooth. As with the deck to the cabin superstructure. The main deck as extremely fine wooden plank detail. What is unusual is the pattern. If you think about it, in a circular deck planking must taper as it approaches the center. That is what is provided by ISW on the Novgorod is beautifully tapered. There are 30 coal scuttles scattered throughout the deck. The boat chocks for the four ship’s boats are cast onto the deck. They are on the thick side but of course the boats mostly conceal them. Inboard there are also a couple of plates with twin bollards. The edge of the deck as a clearly defined armored plate pattern where the wrought iron plates start. There are five sets of open block chocks along the rim and anchor gear at the bow.
Smaller Resin Parts
Two of the nicest items are the main guns. They are short and squat. These are 11-inch guns but only 20 calibre and the huge thick reinforcing bands towards the breach adds a lot of character. I received three guns in my parts package, so I can pick the best two to use. One had a nice hollow muzzle but the muzzles of the other two were somewhat filled. As with other small parts there is some flash and you’ll need to sand the seams. Another large piece is the raised deck that runs from the barbette aft to the top of the aft deckhouse. This creates an open passageway between the two structures below. As with the flying bridge wings, there are wooden plank pattern on the deck, plus a nice skylight for the aft deck house. I noticed that the deck was marred in an area right behind the barbette. This the area where there is a pilot house. I figure that originally ISW had a solid pilothouse at this position but removed it on the master when it was decided to use brass for the pilot house to create a open appearance. The marks on the deck are probably reproduced from the master when a solid pilothouse was removed. The brass pilothouse covers this area so it won’t be seen. There is a resin roof for the brass pilothouse. There is also a resin pedestal for the brass ship’s wheel found inside the pilothouse. There are four J-shape ventilator funnels, two large and two small. All four run through the wings of the flying bridge to attach on either side of the stack below. There are our ship’s boats, two of which are steam launches that fit into the cradles/boat chocks on the main deck. They may be in the parts mix but I did not notice any funnels for the steam launches, even though there are locator holes on the launches for the funnels. However, these are easily fabricated from plastic rod. To add more detail at the bow, there are anchor cranes and anchors. Other small parts include propeller mounts that join the propellers to the shaft housings, plenty of propellers, and rudder for the below waterline detail. The propellers come in two designs, one design for the three starboard positions and the other design, with blades at a different angle to counteract torque, for the port positions. In the Andrienko monograph on the Popovski the rudder of Novgorod is shown as being very odd, long rudder. The ISW kit comes with a different, more conventional rudder. This may be the result of the use of different plans or may be a mistake on the part of the monograph or the plans ISW used. A photograph of Novgorod taken prior to launching show the odd, long rudder in place so that supports the monograph drawings, unless it was replaced later with a standard design rudder. ISW also provides a strip of styrene for the stabilizer strips that ran the length of the hull. You’ll need more of these strips because there were actually 15 of the stabilizers running the length of the bottom according to a section plan found in the monograph.
Brass Photo-Etch Set