click to enlarge Building the SMS Zenta in 1/700 by Jim Baumann
A less well known small cruiser, she nevertheless had an unusually eventful career. For a ship of her size she traveled vast distances around the world, so I felt it  befitting to have condensed the most important events of her active service into an outline history as it makes worthwhile reading !

SMS Zenta was completed in  March 1899  as a small cruiser for the Austro-Hungarian navy as name ship of a class of three, SMS Aspern  and SMS Szigetvar being the sister ships. She was originally  conceived for foreign cruise deployment,  primarily 'to show the flag' abroad despite  the the Austro-Hungarian empire having no great colonial ambitions.

She was 317 ft loa with a full load displacement of 2543 tons. Armed with 8 x 12 cm (4.75in) Skoda guns on single mounts along with 8x 47 mm QF guns as well as MG and TT.  She carried a  full   crew complement of 308.

 She was capable  when new of over 20 knots, however with a coal capacity of 470 tons at 12 knots  giving her a radius of 3800 miles  she was designed unlike her sister ships  to have an auxiliary sailing rig to further extend her range to fulfill her foreign cruising functions more effectively.  She was able to spread  585 sq. meters of canvas with square sails as well as  gaff and flying jibs. She left Pola 10 November  1899 for a cruise  for the far East, calling at  Port Said ,Suez, Aden and Colombo, reaching  Singapore on 3 January 1900 where she stayed for 14 days, continuing her voyage to Hong Kong, Macau and onwards to Shanghai, thence to Japan visiting Nagasaki ,Kagoshima and Sasebo.  News reached Zenta that the Boxer Rebellion in China was fast getting worse, she was recalled to assist in the evacuation of  International embassy staff as well as the Austro-Hungarian delegation. Seventy five  members of her crew were attached to the relief expedition led by Admiral Seymour   headed for Tientsin.... but that is another fascinating story which warrants further reading....

She returned home after a voyage lasting 23 months and placed in reserve until Oct. 1902 when  she was sent on another foreign tour via  the African coastal ports to Capetown. From here she sailed for South America via among other ports of call to Montevideo and then onwards to Buenos Aires  berthing there on 10 May 1903. She called on the 22 June 1903 at Rio de Janeiro before heading across the Atlantic visiting among other ports Funchal, Cadiz, Tangier, Malags, Tunis and Corfu prior  to returning home to Trieste.  An epic voyage for a  such a small cruiser....!

Thereafter she was  placed in reserve and partook in annual naval exercises  until the outbreak of  the First World War.

She was leading a fleet of six torpedo boats blockading the coast of Montenegro. She was trapped by French and British naval units consisting of Battleships and armored cruisers  which prevented her escape North, after allowing SMS Ulan with her higher top speed to get away she was shot up fatally by 17 other ships(!!) with the loss of 179 lives. According to eyewitness accounts she sank with her flag flying and guns firing. Surviving officers and crew swam ashore and were interned as POW until 1916. 

I built the model of SMS Zenta from the very good and accurate  WSW resin kit.  I used  the excellent and explanatory plan 1:100 and booklet of detail drawings from Peter Kovacs of Hungary in conjunction with the 'Typenblatt' (class identity leaflet) from Robert Toegel obtained from the Austrian  site THE  MODELLER along with photo  sources from the book list  at the bottom of page.

From the outset I wanted to show the  ship underway with sails drawing, as the ship  was fitted with an auxiliary sailing rig to conserve coal for her passage to China.  I was advised by Erwin Sieche that no photographs exist of any member of the Zenta class underway with sails, this  for me historically precluded verifiably setting the square sails and probably the loose footed gaff sails, however I reasoned that a small ship such as Zenta would have rolled badly  in the long swells of the Indian Ocean.... so that the hoisting of the jibs with minimum effort to act as steadying sails  would have been desirable, in my opinion.. hence I chose to  present Zenta in this manner!

The kit is nothing short of excellent, with crisp  casting and careful mastering. I used the resin funnels but replaced the steam pipes with wire, the brackets to fix the pipes to funnel  were made by dragging a small amount of white glue  between the two, very easy and crisp. 

I wanted an open see through bridge, the original windows were represented as raised bumps, easy to paint but they did not have the effect I desired, so I cut the fwd  bridge house off along with the solid railings and rebuilt the bridge with brass and  some 1/500 ladder stock for the windows before adding a new roof and wings. The remaining  windows  were also raised bumps, these were carved flat and then I glued on little squares of ladder stock for frames with thinned matte varnish,  these were  then  painted very easily with thinned black paint. I repeated the process for the aft deckhouses but used smaller squares of 1/700 ladder stock from a  WEM set for this.

I used more ladder stock squares to suggest  the timber paneling on the bridge front.

click images
to enlarge

The 47 mm QF guns were totally replaced with scratchbuilt items, the shields were made from paper which  after gluing in place was  soaked with CA making them rigid.

I further drilled out all the cowl vents and made two more  according to plans. Coal scuttle hatches and round ventilators were made from model railway rivets let into countersunk drilled holes. A small skylight  behind the after most deckhouse  was constructed according to the Kovac plan. Tiny  curved brackets supporting the fwd Bridge deck from the conning tower  were made from drawn copper wire. 

The same drawn copper wire was used to make the shrouds for the ratlines. The thinner horizontal foot ropes were made from stretched black sprue, as were the foot ropes on the yards on the fwd mast. Thicker fuse wire wrapped around a small drill shank was cut and flattened to make the life preservers, I could alas not get the lettering S.M.S. Zenta onto them....! The life raft/buoy and davit carried on the stern was made from two pieces of styrene rod and brass.

The sails  furled onto the  stainless  rod masts and brassyards and gaff spars were built up  from white glue suitably painted. I checked and re-checked photos to confirm that the sails were furled as neatly and tightly as I have modeled them;  the jib sails were made of paper onto which I  had previously drawn the  seamed panel lines in with pencil. They were then tinted with watercolor paints deliberately slightly uneven, clew, tack and head reinforcing was painted and penciled in and while they were still  wet  he sails were shaped around cocktail sticks and placed on a warm radiator to 'set'.  When dry, I sprayed them with matte varnish to preserve the shape against humidity and consequent later deformation. The A-H ensign was made of paper with a coloring pencil with the center  band masked, the crest was then painted in yellow...

The sea was made from artists  Acrylic gel medium; the hull was placed in the long swell with a slight  bit of heel and bow down. The void from waterline  to water surface on the windward side was  filled with white glue and later painted to represent the lower hull exposed . The Pink boot topping is correct....!
The model was then rigged  with sprue, weathered and streaked  to give the ship the appearance of  a sooty coal fired ship that had been  on an extended  passage at sea for  some weeks; no  rust,  the ship was virtually  brand new when she was dispatched.
The figures were  GMM painted in tropical garb, the rails were GMM Superfine gold . The only resin items not used from the kit was one boat which was replaced from  WEM. The spoked  PE wheel  on the aft deckhouse was a ships boat wheel from the WEM 1/350  Koenig PE set, the  handrails  cut from the stanchions from the same set produced the brass strips to make the awning stanchions, being metal  they  will take the awning rigging unlike stretched  sprue which bends... I used the same material to make the  companionway  canvas frames. The stairs in he companionways were made from old 1/350 ladder stock painted progressively darker, the illusion works well.
All in all it was an enjoyable  little model to build, the base kit being of high quality and well researched, matching photos and plans as far as I could ascertain and verify well  with no errors, merely some omissions and simplification. Adding the sails gave this little  ship  another point of interest, inspiring me to try some earlier  sail to steam transitional subjects with a more complex sailing rig.
Book sources used:
KUK Dampfschiffe 
Zenta Typenblatt
Mit SMS Zenta in China
Die Schiffe der KUK  Kriegsmarine
im Bild  Vol 2
Marine Arsenal 27
Kreuzer der KUK Marine
By Wladimir Aichelberg
Robert  Toegel  ( THE MODELLER  site)
Claudia Ham & Christian  Ortner

Lothar Baumgartner & Erwin Sieche

Erwin Sieche

Useful links:


I  highly recommend this little ship kit to anyone  who would like to try building a small cruiser away from the norm.

More of Jim Baumann's work.