Building Kombrig's 1/700 Protected Cruiser Avrora in the Battle of Tsushima fit
by Vladimir Yakubov

 One of the most famous ships in the world, Russian Cruiser Avrora embodies in itself all of the tragic history of Russia in the 20th century, together with Russia and its navy it went through the rise and fall of the country and was directly involved in the most important event to happen to Russia in the 20th century.

Throughout the 1890s Russia was involved in the in the mad scramble for colonial possessions in China.  All of the European powers were trying to carve out a piece of China for their bases and trading rights.  Russia's two main competitors in the arena were England and Japan.  Russians realized that they could not match Royal Navy in a stand up fight, so they chose the French strategy of commerce warfare.  To that extent Russian Navy laid down several cruisers designed for commerce warfare.  One of these classes was a Diana class protected cruisers.  These cruisers sacrificed firepower and speed for endurance.  The design was started in 1895 and went through several permutations and finally settled on the 126m long ship that weighted in at 6800 tons, had a speed of 20 knots, was protected by an armored deck of 38-63mm and was armed with eight 6"/45 Canet guns and twenty four 75mm/50 Canet guns for anti-torpedo boat defense.  The class consisted of three ships, all named after Greek goddesses, - Diana, Pallada and Avrora.  All three ship were laid down on the same day 23 May 1897.  Construction proceeded slowly and the first two ships were only launched in Sept 1899, while Avrora took another year to launch.  Fitting out took another two years and the ship was ready for trials in 1902.  Unfortunately even through Avrora's engines produced more horsepower than designed, the speed during trials was disappointing 18.7 knots and coal use was more than twice designed figure.  This was mostly due to the wrong shape of the hull chosen for the ship.  Fixing of defects took another eight months and Avrora repeated the trials (making 19.2 knots) St' Andrew's flag was raised on the ship in July 1903.

As the crisis was brewing in the Far East all of the new ships of the Russian navy were immediately sent to the Far East.  Avrora's two sisters were commissioned a year earlier and were already serving with the 1st Pacific Squadron at Port Arthur.  Avrora together with a new battleship Oslyabya, an old armored cruiser Dmitry Donskoy, seven destroyers and four small torpedo boats were in the transit to the Far East when the Japanese Navy attacked Russian ships at Port Arthur, starting Russo-Japanese war.  For some inexplicable reason Russian headquarters ordered Avrora's squadron to return to the Baltic instead of proceeding the the Far East.  Hence the ships were back in the Baltic by April 1904.  There they were immediately refitted an included in the 2nd Pacific Squadron, which departed the Baltic in October of 1904. The trip of the doomed squadron has been described in the great detail in many other place, so I won't go in the great detail.  2nd Pacific Squadron reached Tsushima on May 14 1905.  Avrora's role in the battle was together with the other cruisers to cover the flanks of the squadron and to protect the transports.  Avrora and Oleg were engaged by up to 8 Japanese cruisers during the day.  At 4PM a piece of shrapnel entered to conning tower and killed the captain.  By 7pm it got dark and the cruisers lost the main forces of the fleet.  At the same time Japanese destroyers launched continuous attacks on them.  By 10pm Avrora, Oleg and another cruiser Zhemchug were totally alone and had no hopes of finding their squadron mates, all of the ships were damaged (Oleg could only make 10 knots) and the coal was running low, so the decision was made to turn back to Manila and try to fix the damages, re-coal and try again.  During the battle Avrora was hit 10-15 times and lost 15 men killed and 98 were wounded out of the complement of 570 men.  Russian ships entered Manila on May 21st.  US authorities told Russian admiral that they could stay only long enough to get enough supplies and to fix enough damages to get to the closest Russian port, and on the 24th of May Russian ships were informed that they had 24 hours to leave port or to disarm.  While the crews were ready to leave Manila in their damaged ships, on the 25th of May they received a telegram from Nikolas II personally allowing then to intern the ships and disarm.  That is what they did and they stayed in Manila until the end of the war.

Soon after the war ended surviving Russian warships returned to the Baltic and as one of the few surviving cruisers Avrora became a training ship.  For next 8 years Avrora spent in the local and foreign deployments, undergoing a refit in 1910 trading four 75mm guns for two 6" ones.  Avrora met WWI as a part of the 2nd cruiser squadron of the Baltic fleet.  Most of the 1914 was spent patrolling the Baltic and in the winter of 1914-15 Avrora went in for a big refit.  Sixteen out of twenty 75mm guns were removed (all of the casemate guns and six of the deck guns) and four more 6" guns, removed from Avrora's sistership Diana (which was at the same time reamed with ten 130mm guns), were added.  Most of the rest war was spent was spent in the boring patrols and exciting minelaying operations.  In mid-1916 Avrora went in for a much needed capital refit, which ensured that Avrora was present in Petrograd during the fateful day on November 7th 1917.  On that night Avrora forever wrote itself into history of the world by firing the shot that signaled the start of the Bolshevik revolution.  Avrora's sailors took part in the storming to the Winter Palace and in the securing of the city immediately after the overthrow of the government.  Avrora's radio broadcast Lenin's proclamation about the change of government to the world. 

Because of the chaos revolution the refit that was started in 1916 was never finished and the ship was put in reserve in 1918.  Most of the artillery and the crew were taken off the ship and went on to arm armored trains and river craft that fought on the side of the Reds during the Civil War.  the ship remained virtually abandoned until 1922 when Soviet Government started to rebuild the fleet.  The ship was examined and it was found out that due to the refit 4 years ago the ship was in a pretty good shape, so it was decided to repair it.  The ship was once again rearmed, instead of the fourteen obsolete 6"/45 Canet guns, ten modern 130mm/55 guns were installed, anti-aircraft battery consisted of two 3" Lender AA guns.  The repair was completed by mid 1923 and the ship spent next 10 years training the sailors for the growing Red Navy.  However the machinery was once again getting worn and by 1933 the ship was due for a major refit, which was started, but the funds were not available and the ship was instead converted into a non self propelled training base.  By 1940 the name Avrora was assigned to one of the new Project 68 Chapaev class cruisers.  It seemed that the ship was going to be scrapped, but WWII interfered...

The ship met June 1941 moored in Oranienbaum, a bay near Leningrad.  From the first day of the war the ship was active in defending the base against German air raids - at the time its anti-aircraft armament consisted of two 76mm/55 34-K AA guns, two 76mm/30 Lender's AA guns and three 45mm/46 21-K AA guns.  As the Germans drew closer to Leningrad, the crew and guns were removed from the old ship to arm the small ships, armored trains and land batteries around Leningrad.  By September the crew only consisted of 30 people.  Through out September German artillery and aircraft hit the ship numerous times.  On 30th of September the ship was hit with several 152mm shells and started quickly taking on water, soon the list reached 23 degrees and only quick actions of the crew who opened the seacocks on the other side of the ship prevented it from capsizing.  The ship settled to the bottom of the shallow bay on even keel.  There were no resources to raise the obsolete ship, so it was left there until summer of 1944.  At the time the fate was Avrora was being decided, most likely fate for the ship was to be scrapped, but several prominent naval officers came to its defense and fought for the ship to be saved and turned into the museum.  At the end the participation of the ship in the revolution was the saving grace and it was decided to repair the ship.

The ship was raised in the summer of 1944 and in July 1945 it was towed to Kronshtadt for repairs.  To make hull waterproof, the inside of the hull was covered in 50-90mm of concrete.  In 1946 the ship played its contemporary Varyag in the movie about the Battle of Chemulpo.  To that end a temporary fourth smoke stack was added and guns were moved around.  On 7 November 1947 - 30th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution - the repaired ship took its place near the Lieutenant Shmidt bridge in Leningrad.  In 1948 it was moved to its permanent place near the Nakhimov Academy (a prestigious naval school for the Russian Youths) and assigned to it.  The ship has been there ever since.  It was completely rebuilt in 1983-87 - entire lower part of the was removed and a brand new one was built.  In the 1990's Avrora came full circle - St. Andrew's flag was raised over it once again and the ship took it's place in the ranks of the Russian Fleet, in it's birth place - St. Petersburg.  The ship remains the fitting monument to the history of Russia and its navy in the last 100 years.

You can see the photo tour of Avrora here

The Kit

One of the latest Kombrig releases, Avrora consists of 104 excellently cast resin parts.  There is no photo etch or decals.  The kit represents the way Avrora appeared during the battle of Tsushima. The hull is beautifully cast with fine detail on both the deck and the sides of the hull.  The guns are all included in the correct numbers and configuration for the time period.  The boats and boat davits are also given in the correct numbers.  While not readily apparent the hull is slightly wrongly proportioned in the middle - stacks are about 2mm farther back from the bow than they should be and the positions of the 75mm guns amidships are slightly shifted forward.  It is a very minor problem and is not noticeable on the finished ship.  The only thing that it affects is the placement of the boats amidships, they will not match the plans.  This however is somewhat minor, and impossible to fix, so I suggest not worrying about it.

The real ship was 123.75m long on the waterline, which gives us the length of 176mm in 1/700 scale, the model scales out to 175mm so the length is spot on.  I did not measure the width of the model. 

Overall the model is fine, the details are excellent and casting of all its parts is flawless.  The kit doesn't have any major problems and is easy to build whether from the box or with additions.

click images
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The Hull

Avrora had 10 75mm guns on each side of the mid-deck in the open gun ports, which were cast closed on the model, so before I did anything else I cut out the gun ports.  Since the top of the gun port was very narrow I cut it out all the way without preserving it and them rebuilt it using thin styrene strips.  After the gun ports were done I sanded down the sides of the hull using  Mr. Surfacer to fill in the line that Kombrig has running through the portholes on virtually every model.  There were various small raised hatches represented on the sides of the hull, but after looking at the photos of the ship I noticed that they were actually flush with the hull and therefore sanded them off and scribed them on the hull.  To easy hull clean up I also sanded off the casemate covers for the hull mounted 75mm guns and after sanding down the hull rebuilt them.  After that was done, I glued on the smoke stacks in my usual way, gluing the first one, making sure that it was straight and then aligning all of the other ones based on it.  Once they were on I sanded their bases to get rid of the seam and then added the small smoke exhaust stacks on the front and back of the main stacks.  Next step was to add torpedo net booms on the side of the ship.  I used the drawing that Kombrig included on the instructions and photos to determine their locations.  At this time I also added the barrels to the casemated 75mm guns made from hypodermic tubing.

Now it was time to paint.  There are three paint schemes that are appropriate for the time period that Kombrig gives - overall white with yellow stacks (from commissioning to April 1904 [6" guns will have to be modified to remove the gun shields to build this version] and during internment in Manila, June 1905 to 1906), overall black with yellow stacks (from Apr 1904 to Jun 1905) and overall medium grey (from 1906 to 1910 [in 1910 the refit changed the appearance of the ship somewhat]).  As I mentioned in my previous articles I like "combat" paint schemes and I hate working with white, so I decided to model the ship in the colors of the 2nd Pacific Squadron as she appeared at Tsushima.  As usual, first I painted the deck using Model Master enamels that I mixed to make the worn wood color.  After the color was dry, I masked off the deck covering minor deck fittings and leaving major ones exposed and sprayed the hull with black PollyS acrylic paint (slightly lightened with white).  After that was dry I masked off the rest of the hull and sprayed the stacks yellow.  It turns out that the yellow I used was too bright, couple of months after painting I had an opportunity to visit St. Petersburg Central Naval Museum and saw that the stacks should be pale yellow as in this photo of Rossiya.  But at that point it was too late to change them, so I left them as is.  After all of the paint was dry I painted small fittings on the deck and did the touch ups, after which I covered the model with Black-It-Out detailing liquid, this spread into all of the crevices and after I wiped off the excess with a q-tip and stiff brush created a very nice appearance.  Last step was dry brushing with appropriate colors.



 After the hull was completed, next step was to add details.  As usual for me I started with the bridges.  Forward bridge was a complex two level structure with a conning tower in the middle.  The bottom deck of the forward bridge was correctly shaped, but the wings were too short, so I removed the splinter shielding in that area and extended the wings of the bridge about 1.5mm.  Since according to the photos that area was supposed to have railings instead of the splinter shields, it worked out well.  After that I added complex supports on top of the conning tower that held the upper deck of the bridge.  The supports can be seen here.  Unfortunately the upper deck of the forward bridge that was provided in the kit represented the enlarged WWI version of it, so I've replaced it with a scratchbuilt one, which was somewhat smaller and had a smaller pilot house, which I also scratchbuilt.  After that I added the ladder between the bridges (note that it was not in the same place as the modern ship has it, refer to the drawing provided by Kombrig), bridge supports and the railings around the bridges.

Next I added that ventilators around the smoke stacks.  After that came the aft bridge, which was also shaped slightly wrong and had splinter shields.  It represented the bridge as it appeared in WWI with slightly enlarged end platforms that were installed to fit the 3" AA guns.  I sanded them off and put railings around it.  I've also scratchbuilt the steering platform on the aft bridge using parts of the PE from the WEM Askold set.  It comes with round platforms and supports for them, while Avrora had an oval one, so I reshaped the platform and modified the PE supports for it.  Various other small details were scratchbuilt in the process of construction like small ventilators that were not included in the kit.  Please note that the boats will be installed later in the build after the guns are installed.


After the major parts of the superstructure were added it was time to add the armament.  Kombrig provides eight 6" guns, six with gun shields and two without.  This is a correct representation for the ship as she appeared during Tsushima.  The gun shields were initially removed from the design to lighten it, and the ship was completed without them, so if you want to build the ship in the white livery of 1902-03 you will have to replace the guns with open mounts.  In April 1904 the gun shields from the coast defense guns were installed on 6 of the guns based on the combat experience.  The two amidships guns didn't receive shields for a simple reason that they didn't fit under the boat skids and there was no time to modify them.  Kombrig also provides twelve very nicely cast 75mm guns for the mid ship open mounts.  While the 6" guns with shields are very nicely cast, I decided to scratchbuild the replacements so that the shields can be open from the back instead of being filled.  I took 8 needed guns without shields from Kombrig Vladimir Monomakh set.  I then made a pattern for the shield and heat formed the shields for the guns.  I also added several small details, like handles and gun sights.  I decided to pose the ship in action and opened the breach on the two of the guns so that I can show the gun crews loading them.  The 6" guns that are currently installed on real Avrora look exactly the right for the period that I was modeling (of course that are wrong for the rest of the real ship, but that is a different part of the story...).

The guns in the middle of the ship didn't have the individual hoists for the ammunition, but rather a complex rail system down which the shells were sent.  The kit didn't provide for it, but it was a pretty prominent part of the ship, so I decided to scratchbuild them.  The rails stretched from the end of forecastle to the aft superstructure.  I used a .01 square rod to simulate the rails and supported it using parts of the boat davits from the WEM Askold PE set as well as other pieces of .01 square rod. 

Once the rails were done, I installed the 75mm into the gun ports that I made earlier.  The installation was very straightforward.  Since I was going to pose the ship in action I decided to put gun crews next to the guns, which had to be done before the boats were installed since they went over the guns amidships.  Each 6" gun has a crew of 8-10 people, while 75mm guns had a crew of 5-6 people, so it was a long and tedious process of putting 100+ figures next to the guns in the somewhat realistic places and poses.  I decided to show the bow and stern guns in the process of loading, so I posed the crew loading the shell into the bow gun with the rammers standing by, while at the aft gun, the shell is already loaded and the rammers are ramming it home.  It was a very tedious process, but it was definitely worth is, since it really brought the ship to life.


Now that the guns were done it was time to install the boats over them.  The kit provides adequate number of boats and I decided not to install the boats on the stern since they would have interfered with the guns and were removed before combat.  The boats were installed on the boat skids that were scratchbuilt using square styrene rod and parts of the WEM Askold PE set.  Boat davits were a combination of the kit parts and the Askold set.


After the boats were installed the last thing to do was to make masts.  I scratchbuilt them using brass rod.  Refer to the photos of the time period you are modeling for the exact location of the yardarms and platforms since the configuration changed many times.  After soldering the masts, I added the platforms that were scratchbuilt, except for the big round gun platform that came from the kit, but was modified by sanding bottom of it flat.  The supports below the platforms came the Askold set - I took the perforated boat skids provided there and cut them in half and glued them upside down below the platforms.  The masts on the ships of the 2dn PS were painted light grey with black platforms.  37mm guns on the forward mast came from the modified 20 mm Oerlikons from Tom's Modelworks set.

The ship was rigged using pantyhose.  Flag came from a Russian decal set and the Imperial crests were printed on the Alps printer.





Once everything was finished I weathered the ship with pastels and drybrushing.  The ships of the 2nd PS were very weathered from the very long trip, so I made white streaks of dry salt and rust stains on the hull sides.  I dirtied the stacks and the masts with black pastels to simulate coal soot.  After everything was finished I sprayed the whole model with Model Master Dullcote to cover all of the glue spots.



This is a very good kit that build up into a beautiful model of a very important and interesting ship.  There are few very minor flaws that do not distract from the quality of the kit and are easily fixed.  The kit was a pleasure to build.  I would recommend this kit to anyone interested in the Russian ships or in the ships of the Russo-Japanese war.