New model project

I’ve got a new project for the winter. 
Model Boats magazine has asked me to do a kit review of the Billings (Denmark) kit of HMS “Warrior”, the first ironclad built 1860. 

It’s  a large  kit and is expected to take me several months.  I will photograpgh every stage of the construction and write copy for articles for Model Boats. 

The first part is below.

HMS “Warrior” (Part one)

HMS Warrior, Portsmouth
The original HMS "Warrior", Portsmounth

Although the Napoleonic wars ended in 1815, there remained a significant distrust of the French. At the time, naval vessels were traditional “wooden walls”; wooden-hulled sailing vessels armed with batteries of cannon firing round-shot. But from about 1850 an arms race was triggered by the introduction of new technology. Steam propulsion was beginning to make it’s presence felt, and experiments were being conducted on the effectiveness of armour-plate against incoming shot. New guns were being developed which fired explosive shells instead of round-shot.

In 1859 the French warship “Gloire” entered service, marking a revolution in maritime warfare technology. This vessel, designed by Dupoy de Lôme, was converted from a traditional wooden-hulled warship, cut down by one deck and equipped with extensive armour plating protecting the wooden hull and her machinery. She was steam powered with engines developing around 1,500 HP giving her around 11 knots.

Although “Gloire” was the first armoured vessel, she was essentially a wooden-hulled warship.  In Britain the Royal Navy was building a much more revolutionary and effective response. HMS “Warrior” would be the first iron-hulled fully armoured steam powered warship, and when introduced she would be the most powerful warship afloat. Designed by Isaac Watts, Chief Constructor to the Navy, “Warrior” represented a move into a new generation of warship development and construction.
Three elements were utilised in this vessel; iron hull construction, steam power to a screw propeller, and armour plating. The vessel was built by the Thames Ironwork Company and launched in December 1860. The contract price was £190,225. The steam machinery was contracted separately to John Penn & Sons of Greenwich for the sum of £74,409. Cost overruns resulted in a significantly higher price of the completed vessel to the Admiralty.

 “Warrior” was rigged as a three-masted fully-rigged ship, but her main propulsion was by steam power. Steam was provided from ten tank boilers to a twin-cylinder trunk engine of 5,772 ihp. This gave her a speed of 14 knots under power alone. The engines and boilers were all located below the waterline, as was the lifting propeller. Some earlier wooden-hulled steam warships were propelled by paddles, but these were vulnerable to battle damage.

Armament consisted of ten Armstrong 110 pounders, rifled and breech loading, firing 7″ shells to a range of around 3,800 yards. Additionally 26 muzzle-loading Armstrong 68-pounders and four 40-pounders were installed. All the guns were able to fire solid shot or explosive shells. Her armour plating consisted of 4½” hammered tongue-and-groove wrought iron plate backed by 18″ of teak hardwood. The armoured section of the vessel covered the midship 213ft of the ship, extending 16 feet above the waterline and 6 feet below. This armour was mounted onto the conventional iron structure of the hull.

 “Warrior” is 418 feet overall length, 380 feet on the waterline. Her beam is 58 feet while her draught is 26 ‘ 4″ forward, 26’ 10″ aft. She displaces 9 ,210 tons. She carried 705 crew. She carried the designation “Armoured Frigate”, but was more powerful than any vessel afloat at the time of her introduction.

“Warrior” entered service with the Channel Squadron on 1st August 1861 under the command of Captain the Honourable Arthur Cochrane. She was based at Portsmouth for the whole of her commissioned service, and, indeed, is located there today, restored to her original condition.

Sea trials lasted over a year with many modifications made. Not surprising, considering she was the first of a new and very different class of vessel to that which the majority of the RN was familiar with! During her first commission she was visited by Royalty, British and foreign diplomats and many senior RN personages. She visited Cork, Lisbon and Gibraltar, escorting Queen Alexandra to her wedding with the Prince of Wales.

One of her officers was John Arbuthnot Fisher, gunnery officer and later to become First Sea Lord. Decommissioned in 1864 she underwent a refit at Portsmouth during which her armaments were strengthened. During her second commission under Captain Henry Boys one of her more unusual tasks was to tow a floating dock to Bermuda. Very few drydocks existed capable of stemming a vessel of “Warrior”s size. By 1875, “Warrior” had been overtaken by more modern technology, and was placed on the reserve list. She was paid off for the last time in May 1883. She then became a stores “hulk” at Portsmouth. Various auxiliary duties ensued, until 1929 when she was taken to Pembroke dock in Milford haven to act as a floating jetty for the Admiralty Fuel depôt. 

 She was now known as Hulk C77 and remained there until 1979 when her ownership was transferred to the Ship Preservation Trust and she was moved to Hartlepool. Her restoration was a lengthy process with much research carried out to allow her to be restored to her original condition. The restoration was an epic undertaking involving many organisations and individuals, too many to detail here. She finally arrived at Portsmouth on 15th June 1987, taking up the berth she occupies today. Open to the public she is a superb example of this iconic type of vessel, bridging the wooden wall sailing ships with todays modern warships.

The Billings kit for “Warrior” comes in a large box, as befits such a large model. As is always the case with Billings kits, the box art is attractive, and the contents are well packaged. The drawings and instructions are comprehensive and well laid-out. Several languages are catered for. A complete numbered list of all components is provided, each component referenced to the particular ply sheet. The ply sheets are illustrated and themselves numbered. All construction stages are illustrated but not described in the form of text. This kit is described as at “expert” level, and I would concur with that.

The vessel is depicted at a scale of 1:100 giving an overall length of around 59″ or 1.47m. Construction i single-skin plank-on-frame built onto keel, deck and bulkhead elements from high-grade ply. All plywood elements are crisply and accurately laser-cut and it is a simple matter to carefully separate them from the ply sheets, afterwards trimming and cleaning edges with a file or rasp. I find it useful to number each element of the with pencil, identifying each from the drawings, before separation from the ply sheet. This obviates the possibility of locating a bulkhead, for example, into the wrong keel slot.

Assembly of the framework of the vessel is best done using a flat plank some 1.0 – 1.25m in length. This is not part of the kit; it is essential that this board is flat and straight. Once construction is underway, this board may act as a useful temporary mounting for the model.

Assembly of the hull framework elements was straightforward. All the bulkheads, keel, deck stringers, stempost, sternpost and other ancillary items were carefully separated from the ply sheets and cleaned up. The bulkheads for the bow and stern sections were roughly bevelled, then the units were assembled. All the laser-cut elements fitted together with great precision, enabling a tight and fair fit. Once assembly  was complete, further bevelling was carried out on the bulkheads to ensure a fair landing for planking.

It was now possible to see the size and scale of this build. This is a big project! Easily the biggest I’ve tackled.

The next step was to fit the deck substrate. This is the 2mm sheet ply base upon which the deck planking will be laid. The ply deck is fitted in four sections, again, very accurate laser-cut forms. It must also be said that all the plywood from which the pre-cut components are formed is of very high quality. The deck was glued into position. I was now contemplating the most difficult part of the hull construction; the fitting of the topsides. These are the sides of the hull from the waterline up to the top of the bulwark rails. Laser-cut sections were provided in 2mm ply, eight sections in all. Exquisitely and accurately shaped, these components were carefully separated from the ply sheets and prepared for fitting. Many apertures and cut-outs were pre-formed but needed to be cleaned up prior to fitting. The topside panels need to be steamed in places in order to fit the curvature of the hull. The tightest curves are on the upper forward panels which form the bulwarks and sheerstrake. The extreme forward ends require a bend of approximately 70° over around 3cm. I assisted the bending by making a number of shallow saw cuts; about half the 2mm thickness of the ply. It is very easy to break the panel at this point, so I was quite relieved when the required bend was achieved. The forward topside panels were fitted and glued into place. Where port and starboard bulwarks met, I shaped and glued a scrap piece of wood to connect the two sides more securely in way of the aperture for the bowsprit. The aftermost panels fitted with no problem. The next items to fit were the outer stem together with its triangular braces. These had to be bevelled to match the adjacent bulkheads.

The lower panels of the topside provided the biggest challenge so far. The forward ends needed to be steamed, then given a complex shape comprising a bend and a twist. After some trial and error, a suitable shape was formed. The outer stem was bevelled using a file, to give the topside panels a fair landing surface. Having applied glue, a variety of clamps and clothes-pegs was used to secure the forward ends. Once the forward ends were secure it was a straightforward matter to progressively work aft until the forward panels were secure. The aft panels were much easier. The topside panels were very accurately laser-cut, and made a quite precise fit onto the hull. A minimum of filling and sanding produced a perfectly faired topside. Now to tackle the stern galleries.

In the real HMS “Warrior” the stern galleries aren’t all they seem. In a sailing warship these galleries give onto the spacious Captains’ cabin, giving him a panoramic view. But in “Warrior” not all is as it seems. Behind the windows is located the upper part of the propeller trunk. “Warrior” was of the “up funnel down screw” era. When under sail the 26 ton 2-bladed propeller could be lifted within a trunkway, reducing drag. The propeller was fitted within a vertically sliding “banjo” frame which itself weighed 8 tons. It took the whole crew around half-an-hour to raise the propeller. When lifted there was still a portion of the lower blade in the water, but drag was reduced significantly.

In the model the stern galleries are constructed from a series of precision -cut parts. Firstly, the counter stern shell is constructed. This is formed from two sheets of ply, pre-formed with all window apertures pre-cut. The inner laminate is applied first, after steaming to the required curve. When secure, the outer laminate is attached. The windows are represented by a sheet of clear acetate which is carefully marked with the glazing bars. The acetates are cut to shape and carefully glued to the inner face of the outer laminate. This is then glued onto the inner, care being needed to ensure the window apertures co-incide. A small amount of fettling and filling is needed to fair this assembly into the existing topside.

The side galleries are now constructed. The parts are prepared and cleaned up. Side- and aft- facing windows are fitted as described above, and the parts carefully glued into position. Again, a small amount of fettling is required to obtain a perfect fit, with a minimal amount of filling to make good. At this point it is advisable to paint the internal structure of the hull in the stern area matt black, otherwise the structure might be visible through the windows. After planking is complete, of course, it is not possible to do this.

It is now necessary to complete a few details around the sternpost. A sole piece is fitted to the lower part of the stern frame, and a series of small discs are fitted to comprise the propeller bossing. It is now necessary to construct the propeller housing. As mentioned before, the propeller on this vessel is intended to retract upwards into the counter. A flat rectangle of ply is steamed and formed into a flattened cylindrical shape. This is fitted into a recess in the upper part of the stern frame. In this case the rectangle of ply was not quite long enough, requiring a small amount of fiddling to obtain a good visual fit.

The inner bulwarks were now fitted, in five sections. Again, very precisely laser-cut with all the cut-out ports matching those in the outer bulwarks exactly. The stern section fitted easily without having to steam the component.

The upper part of the hull is now substantially complete, the next job is to plank the lower part of the hull, beneath the waterline.

The planking is straightforward. Lime strips 6mm x 1.5 mm are provided for the hull planking. A small number required steaming in order to achieve a good fit at the stern, beneath the counter. The normal array of short planks and stealers need to be fitted to complete the shell. The run of planking is unimportant in this vessel, as we are actually simulating a hull constructed from iron. Once planking is complete the hull will be filled and sanded smooth with no visible trace of the individual strakes. This process takes time and patience. When planking is complete, the hull surfaces will show considerable roughness and unevenness. It is important that, prior to commencing planking, the frames and bulkheads are carefully bevelled. Even so the finished planking will show irregularities which must be filled and sanded. The same applies to full-sized wooden construction hulls. The shipwright would systematically work around the whole surface of the hull with his adze and plane. In Lowestoft shipyards this was known as “scrubbing down”. Hard, back-breaking work. Fortunately, easier for us model-making types!

Once the “scrubbing down” is complete, the hull can be given a coat of primer, and she begins to look like a warship! That’s the first stage of construction complete. The hull can now be brought iinto the infamous kitchen shipyard for fitting out and rigging.

Part two will appear here!