Many things are known about the epic voyage of the Russian fleet from the Baltic Sea to disaster at Tsushima. After leaving Russia on October 2, 1904 the fleet was jittery because of wild rumors of squadrons of Japanese torpedo boats operating out of fjords in Norway. The fleet was on edge as it passed into the North Sea and was a bomb just waiting for a fuse to be lit. On the very early morning dark of October 22, 1904 the Russian Squadron encountered what they believed was an attack by Japanese torpedo boats and cruisers on the Dogger Bank of the North Sea. Lookouts on the Suvorov thought that they sighted two red signal flares. Searchlights from almost every ship in the squadron searched for Japanese attackers and Suvorov flashed the signal, "Engage Enemy". They opened up with everything they had to protect the fleet. "Wild scenes occurred on every ironclad, and there were shouts on all sides of ‘Where are they?’ ’Dozens of them – over there, look!’ ‘It’s a full-scale attack.’ ‘Those aren’t torpedo-boats, they’re cruisers!’ – and, as the Borodino opened up with a heavy gun, ‘That was a torpedo exploding!’ "We’re hit! We’re hit!" (The Fleet That Had to Die, 1958, Richard Hough, at page 40)
What they had in fact encountered was the Gamecock Fleet of small fishing trawlers from Hull. There they were, a group of vessels only half a mile from the Russian battleships and every searchlight beam was fixed upon them. In a short furious bout of gunnery the trawler Crane took the brunt of the fire, which only ceased when she was clearly sinking, with two dead. The Japanese cruisers that were seen and fired upon were in fact Avrora and Dmitri Donskoi, which had been hit. The chaplain of Avrora was mortally wounded. As Rozhestvensky ordered the buglers to sound cease-fire, searchlights were switched off except one solitary beam from Suvorov pointing straight up, which was signal to break off action. Almost every officer and sailor in the squadron who had seen the action believed that there had been Japanese torpedo boats darting in and out of the formation of trawlers.
The Russian fleet had already passed the channel when news of the Dogger Bank Incident swept over Britain as the first of the crippled trawlers reached port. The English were infuriated and newspapers trumpeted for revenge. "Is this wretched Baltic Fleet to be permitted to continue its operation?", questioned The Standard. In St Petersburg the press reported that the squadron had indeed beaten off a Japanese attack. There it was reported "…the lessons of the first days of the war have not been wasted, and the new and treacherous attack by the Japanese has been met with the vigilant and pitiless eye of our admiral and the straight fire of our guns." Britain and Russia were on the brink of war as 28 battleships of the Royal Navy raised steam. The Channel Fleet under Jackie Fisher’s nemesis, Lord Charles Beresford, followed after the Russian battleships, as they steamed across the Bay of Biscay towards Vigo, Spain. After the 2nd Pacific Squadron cleared Vigo, it was followed by Lord Charles Beresford’s Channel Fleet, who had stationed themselves outside Vigo to await the Russians in case of war. The British followed the Russians for three days, with British cruisers sometimes passing in line within a half a mile. "Its disgusting to treat us like this following us about like criminals!" one midshipman stated. An officer wrote in his diary, "They are cunning and powerful at sea and insolent everywhere. How many impediments has this ruler of the seas put on our voyage."
Those are the widely known facts of the incident that brought Imperial Russia and Great Britain perilously close to war. However, as with most history, there are important stories that go unreported and disappear in the mists of time. Through the discovery of one rare photograph, taken aboard the Kniaz Suvorov as she entered the Bay of Biscay, the SteelNavy team of investigative reporters has managed to piece together a lost footnote in history. As the fishing trawler Crane disappeared beneath the cold dark waters of the North Sea, one solitary figure was spotted paddling towards a nearby Russian destroyer. He was taken aboard and questioned. This survivor presented an odd and perplexing appearance as he was dressed in the summer whites of a rating in the Royal Navy. Even odder, his cap talley stated "HMS Queen Elizabeth. The Russians consulted their reference books but couldn’t find the ship listed as part of the Royal Navy. When questioned, the individual only stated his name as "Mad Pete".
The next day the destroyer was ordered to close with the Kniaz Suvorov and transfer what was considered then to be a prisoner from a sunken Japanese torpedo boat. The ensign that had questioned the prisoner came with him and when questioned by a lieutenant as to the identity of the individual, the ensign stated in English "Crazy Pete". When that response was translated from English to Russian in order to inform Admiral Rozhestvensky of the identity of the prisoner, the English identity was unfortunately mistranslated as "Krasny Piotr". Krasny is the Russian word for "Red" so Rozhestvensky naturally thought that the prisoner, now identified as "Red Peter", was a Bolshevik Agent Provocateur sent by the Japanese government with designs to subvert the crew of the Russian Fleet into mutiny. It was decided to treat the prisoner as a captured spy, mutineer and revolutionary and to blast him from the muzzle of one of the main guns of the battleship.
The morning after the Russian fleet had cleared the channel, "Krasney Piotr" was jammed down the muzzle of one of the 12-inch guns of Kniaz Suvorov. However, just before the ordnance was fired, lookouts spotted a trailing Royal Navy warship. Just in case the prisoner turned out to be a member of the Royal Navy, it was then decided the most prudent course of action would be to release the prisoner and drop him off at Vigo. As the Russian Fleet slowly steamed south towards Spain, the now freed prisoner was allowed the run of the flagship. He produced a tape measure and some strange small instrument that clicked, and proceed about the ship examining various fittings. In fact in the next few days, he was adopted by the crew of Suvorov as the ship’s mascot and affectionately called Petya. When the Russian fleet pulled into Vigo, he was transported to the British counsel’s office but oddly once there, he seemingly disappeared into thin air.
In an earlier SteelNavy investigative coup, it was reported that the team of White Ensign Models had access to a Way-Back-Machine. Photographs in the review of the WEM 1:350 scale Nimitz Class Photo-Etch set, (click for review) clearly showed that John Snyder and Peter Hall had used the machine to travel back in time and get accurate information on the Nimitz class, as originally built. Now, it became crystal clear that Peter "Mad Pete" Hall had again used the machine in order to join the crew of the ill-fated trawler Crane. The purpose of course was to gain access to the Kniaz Suvorov, in order to prepare a new photo-etch set for release by White Ensign Models. Now some may scoff at this story but how else do you explain the fidelity of the new WEM Borodino/Kniaz Suvorov brass photo-etch set, PE3567, designed for the Eastern Express 1:350 scale kits of the Russian battleships? Of course, there is the other exhibit of proof of the photograph of Mad Pete taken aboard the ship. No matter what history may reveal, the photographs of the new set make it abundantly clear that there is a lot to this new WEM product.
The most important question which must be answered is; "How far do you want to go?" How much brass detail do you wish to add to your Suvorov? With this photo-etch set the modeler can take the 1:350 scale Borodino class battleships to extreme heights of detail. As always with Mad Pete’s photo-etch designs for specific warship models, the parts can be divided into two groups. Some of the parts add features that are not found in the kits and the other group replaces generally clunky plastic parts with crisp brass. There are always very sound reasons to use both groups of parts, even though using parts from the replacement group involves some work. Normally I start a description of a photo-etch set with a listing of new parts not found in the kit. However, with the WEM set for the Borodino battleships, I'll reverse the format and discuss replacement parts first. The sole reason for this reversal is the opportunity offered by a very humble fitting, the porthole fitting.
If you examine the generously rounded tumblehome of the Suvorov, you’ll undoubtedly see rows of portholes/scuttles. On the kit they appear as slightly oversized circles. The circle is the fitting that held the glass of the porthole. With WEM PE3567 Mad Pete had included 270 individual replacement porthole fittings. To use these you must sand off the plastic circle and attach the brass replacement part. Why would you want to undertake such a time consuming operation? In Mad Pete’s instructions for the set, he states, "Porthole rings, etched parts 83, can be fitted in lieu of the moulded on ones on the kit parts. The moulded plastic portholes must first be removed but a note of their position must be made so that the replacements can be fitted. As the ships sides were painted black the portholes surrounds were left as polished brass and contrasted rather smartly." Now that is a piece of legendary British understatement, rather smartly indeed. That doesn’t begin to cover the effect that can be employed by using these brass portholes. To mark the placement of the portholes, I would recommend an additional step. It may be time consuming but before removing the plastic porthole fittings, I would recommend that a pin-vice be used to drill out each porthole. This serves two purposes. It marks the location of every porthole so that it is easy to see where the brass fittings are affixed once the plastic circles are sanded smooth. It also allows greater depth and a third dimension to each fitting. Just imagine the finished appearance. Each porthole position will have a gleaming natural brass fitting surrounding the open porthole on the black background of the hull. To add another step, Micro-Klear could be used to glaze portholes that were closed. The entire process will take a considerable period of time to accomplish but the results should be spectacular.
Another couple of features to be sanded smooth on the plastic hull are the hawse pipe rings. This set actually provides two sets of these rings. One set is for Borodino and a slightly different set is for Suvorov. The kit included solid plastic cap grates. Rather than use these over-scale parts, you’ll achieve a much finer appearance with the grates in the WEM set. If you examine the QF guns that come with the kit, you’ll find that the guns are on the thick side with thick slabs for gun shields and mounted on solid pedestals. In reality the mounts were an open conical frame. WEM provides parts for 25 47mm QF guns. Each gun consists of three parts, the gun, shield and frame mount. There are thirteen replacement deck skylights. As with the portholes, the plastic skylights must be sanded first. This presents another chance to drill out the round skylight portholes and again use Micro-Klear for the glass panes.
WEM corrects the shape of the anchors. This is an important consideration since the old style stocked anchors are very prominent on the forecastle. It is necessary to snip of the tops off the plastic anchors and add the relief-etched stocks. In addition to the anchors with other replacement parts it is necessary to keep or modify the existing plastic structures. With the bow anchor crane assembly, you keep the base of the plastic part but replace the crane arms with brass parts. Other replacement parts, which require some modification to plastic parts are: crane pulleys; jib pulleys; turret entry doors; jib trestle; and platform supports. Probably the most complex modification is the rebuilding of bulwark sections on each side of the hull. This will allow installation of eight-piece gun platforms on each side. To fit two inclined ladders leading to the lower bridge, it will be necessary to cut deck access rectangles in the deck. The brass photo-etch parts add much greater detail to the thwarts on the ship’s boats. These simply fit on top of the top of the plastic boats with no need to alter the plastic parts. If you want crisp starfish on your masts, replace the plastic parts with the WEM brass replacements. Each WEM starfish consists of five brass parts, the platform and four support platforms.
In spite of the strong emphasis on replacement parts, there are essential brass parts that are essential additions to the Borodino kit. Number one is the sternwalk. The walkway for the sternwalk is actually a ledge on the hull, rather than a thin platform. However, the brass railing provided in the fret is a very intricate beautiful design. The sternwalk is further embellished with a canopy frame and stern access doors. There are four different relief-etched ship’s crests. These include large bow crests for Borodino and a different design for Suvorov and smaller crests that fit on the stern. These are left natural brass and will even be more visible than the brass porthole rings on the black background of the hull. Another set of essential additions is the torpedo net shelves found on each side of the hull. There are nine sections for each side. These solid and relief-etched. The etched pattern resembles the open grid shelves, as found on the Japanese Mikasa. My only question would be whether these shelves were solid or of an open bar pattern. However, I have been unable to find any photographs of the shelves. There are two styles of aft compass towers. These are optional designs. One uses all brass parts with a four-sided pyramid mount with a circular platform. The other optional tower uses the plastic platform from the kit but adds a lattice structure mount.
There is a host of other supplemental parts included in this set. Some are very significant in appearance and others add fine small detail. Included are: catwalk railings; oat deck railings; anchor chain; paneled superstructure doors; hull gun-port doors; inclined ladders; 2-level flying bridge access ladders; boat rudders; steam launch keels with propellers; accommodation ladders; rigging eyes; block & tackle; inclined ladder deck coamings; yardarm foot-ropes; turnbuckles; davit falls; boat hooks; boat oars; vertical ladder; six runs of two bar railing and six runs of three bar railing. Of course White Ensign Models includes six pages of instructions, which elaborately detail in text and drawings the usage of the set.