With the coming of iron and then steel warships in the last half of the 19th Century not only were many experimental designs tried, but also the types and missions of
warships changed. In the age of sail the main combat ship was the ship of the line, as they were fit to lie in the line of battle. As a type the name evolved into
ironclads but not all ironclads could be considered to be fit to lie in line of battle. Finally the name was changed to battleship. The same could be said to be true with
the term of frigate. With sail the frigate was a 5th Rate, distinguished by a single gun deck. Frigates were the jack of all trades from scouting, to trade protection, to
providing signal repetition in battle, to showing the flag in distant waters. They were not considered as the prime warship for battle. Iron changed this. When
HMS
Warrior
was constructed in 1860, it was the most powerful warship in the world. Built entirely of iron, the Warrior was far stronger than the wooden, iron plated
French or British ships of the line and Confederate ironclads and Union monitors would be naval motor scooters compared to the
Warrior. However, the Warrior
was typed as a frigate because she only had a single gun deck. The frigate as a type evolved into the term cruiser.

In 1871 Sir William Armstrong recommended to the Committee for the Design of Warships that heavily armored ships but dispensed with in favor of more numerous
small, fast and heavily armed ships that would use compartmentation and minimal armor. Two Admirals on the committee recommended to dispense with belt armor
and use an armored deck with compartmentation. However, the Royal Navy continued to build ironclads with belt armor. The cruiser remained unprotected until
1878 with the
HMS Comus, which had a thin protected deck only over the machinery spaces. Other partially protected cruiser classes followed. In 1880
Armstrongs built three small ships at their Low Walker Yard that had unique characteristics. They still did not have a full steel deck but carried through with
Armstrong’s recommendation to the Committee in 1871. At only 1,350-tons, they were slow at 16-knots but carried two breach loading 10-inch guns, six smaller
guns and four machine guns. In power of the main guns, they were more powerful than all but two of the world’s battleships. Another characteristic that became
associated with the Armstrong firm was that they were built for foreign navies with
Tsukushi for Japanese and Chao Yung and Yung Wei for China. The Yung Wei
carried 11-inch guns. In 1881 Armstrongs came up with a design for Chile that became the premium design for the cruisers of the world’s navies until the rebirth of
the armored cruiser at the end of the century. It was the first of what became known collectively as the Elswick Cruisers and the protected cruiser as a type.
Between 1881 and 1902 Twenty-Three Elswick Cruisers were built for the navies of the world and they got their name from the Armstrong yard at Elswick,
although the first seven were built at the older yard of Low Walker. The Elswick Cruisers had a full sloped steel deck, protecting the entire ship and not just the
machinery spaces. It was a far more effective design than the previously partially protected cruisers. The Elswick Cruisers also did away with a sailing rig and were
not only significantly faster than Royal Navy designs, but also significantly stronger in gunpower. Contemporary publications would contrast the specifications of an
Elswick Cruiser with a Royal Navy design of the same displacement and publically wonder why the Armstrong designs were so markedly superior to Royal Navy
designs. For one thing, the Elswick Cruisers were built foreign purchase on direct order and two for speculation by Armstrong of finding a buyer. Foreign navies
listened to Armstrong and did not interfere during construction. In the case of a Royal Navy design, the Admiralty frequently changed the design during design by
adding things, causing havoc with the construction and normally adding significantly to the displacement. In the case of the
Orlando Class armored cruisers, so
much weight was added due to design changes during construction that the armored belts were completely underwater. Elswick Cruisers also had slighter
scantlings, although they later showed their ability to take tremendous punishment and survive. Countries purchasing Elswick Cruisers were: Argentina with 3, Brazil
with 1, Chile with 4, China with 4, Italy with 3, Japan with 4, Portugal with 1, Turkey with 1, and the United States with 2.
To build a balanced Fleet the early Imperial Japanese Navy had to rely upon foreign designs and construction. Just as the larger battleships and armored cruisers
were built abroad, so to were the smaller protected cruisers. Protected cruisers had an armored deck slopping to join the hull sides below the waterline protecting
machinery spaces but lacked the armored belt of an armored cruiser. In 1884 three protected cruisers were started for the infant Imperial Japanese Navy, the
Naniwa Class of two ships (Elswick Cruisers) built at the Armstrong yards in Great Britain and the single ship Unebi  built in France. Unebi was unique and hurt
the reputation of French builders due to her fate. French designers tried to out do the Armstrong design and mounted too heavy an armament for her displacement.
During trials off France there was speculation that she lacked stability. The Japanese Navy accepted the ship anyway in December 1886.
Unebi was lost without a
trace somewhere between Japan and Singapore in October 1887 from unknown causes. Speculation was the top heavy design did not overcome a roll and
capsized in bad weather.                 

Nonetheless, Japan returned to a French design for her next design, the
Matsushima Class. With her relations with Imperial China deteriorating, Japan needed
cruisers in a hurry. The noted French designer, Emile Bertin, designed this class with the Japanese requirement of a protected cruiser armed with guns sufficiently
large to penetrate the armor of Chinese battleships. The reason Japan chose France was the 12.6-inch Canet gun. This gun had a very slow rate of fire of one
round every five minutes but that didn’t stop the order. The critics were right, as was proven at the Battle of the Yalu, where the design proved more of a
detriment to their own crews due the almost lack of armor, than to the Chinese Fleet. Two of the class were built in France but the third,
Hashidate, was the first
modern ship of any size to be built in Japan at the Yokosuka Navy Yard.
For the next three single ship designs, the Japanese Navy used either a British design built at Yokosuka, the Akitsushima designed by Armstrong’s Sir William White
as a smaller version of his design for
USS Baltimore, or ships built by Armstrong, for the Yoshino and Idzumi (Elswick Cruisers) protected cruisers. With the
Suma Class of 1892 broke the reliance upon foreign designs and construction. These two ships, Suma and Akashi, were the first cruisers built to a Japanese design
and to be built in Japan, although her guns still were imported from Great Britain. The design used locomotive boilers and were less than successful. With the next
design Japan returned to foreign designs with foreign builders.
Takasago was a Philip Watt design of Armstrong and was one of the Elswick export cruisers. The
Takasago was one of the last Elswick Cruisers, although built at the Low Walker Yard. She has laid down on April 2, 1896, launched May 18, 1897 and completed
on April 6, 1898.  
Her displacement was 4,300-tons with a length of 387-feet 6-inches (118.2m)(oa) 360-feet (109.73m) (pp), beam of 46-feet 6-inches (14.78m) and draught of
17-feet (5.18). Armament consisted of two 8-inch guns main armament capable of four rounds per minute, ten 4.7-inch guns secondary, twelve 12-pdr QF, six 2
½- pdr and five above water torpedo tubes. Harvey Process steel was used, which was designed to withstand 8-inch shell strikes. She was also heavily
compartmented with 109 watertight compartments. The armored deck was 4.5-inches on the slopes and 2.5-inches on the flat crown. The gun shields for the
8-inch gun shields and conning tower had 4.5-inches of armor and the 4.7-inch gun shields had 2-inches of armor. She had two vertical triple expansion engines
(VTE) fed steam by eight boilers, which produced 15,500 ihp for a maximum speed of 23.5-knots. Because of her high freeboard fore and aft and high placement
of the 8-inch guns, the top weight of
Takasago made her somewhat unstable and she rolled badly in any seaway. In June 1898 the British journal The Engineer
published a comparison of the
Takasago with the Royal Navy equivalent HMS Astraea of almost the same displacement that showed the superiority of the Elswick
Cruiser. The
Astraea was shorter and wider with a displacement of only 60-tons more. The Engineer reported the horsepower of Takasago of 15,500 ihp for
24-knots contrasted with 9,912 ihp and 19.75-knots for
Astraea. Instead of two 8-inch guns Astraea had two 6-inch guns and eight 4.7-inch guns instead of ten
with
Takasago. The QF gun arrangement was even more lopsided in favor of Takasago. Why were the British taxpayers getting inferior cruisers when foreign
navies were getting cream of the crop designs built by a British company?
The first deployment for the cruiser came in 1900 supporting naval landings at Tianjin, China as part of the coalition during the Boxer Rebellion. On April 7, 1902
she and the cruiser
Asama steamed from Japan bound for the United Kingdom to be part of the celebration of the coronation of King Edward VII. She took part in
the Spithead naval review on August 16, 1902 and then left to visit European ports. On November 28, 1902 the pair made port back in Japan.  
Takasago was part
of the 3rd Division First Cruiser Squadron at the start of the Russo-Japanese War. As flagship of Admiral Dewa at the start of the war,
Takasago was part of the
force bombarding Port Arthur the day after the surprise torpedo boat attack that initiated the war the night before. She was part of the forces blockading Port
Arthur and captured the merchant ship
Manchuria owned by the Russian Far East Shipping Company, which was taken into Japanese service and renamed Kanto
Maru
. On March 10, 1904 she was part of the force that attacked the Russian armored cruiser, Bayan. On May 15, 1904 the Japanese battleships Hatsuse and
Yashima struck mines and sank. Takasago was part of the rescue force for their crews. She took part in the Battle of the Yellow Sea on August 10, 1904. She
suffered no casualties during the Battle.
Takasao was under a quick refit in October and so missed the Battle of Tsushima. In the extended mop-up of Russian
vessels following the Battle of Tsushima,
Takasago was in company with the cruiser, Otawa, cruising between Port Arthur and Chefoo looking for any surviving
Russian ships. During the night of December 12, 1904 off Port Arthur, she hit a floating mine amidships, which ignited a magazine, and went down early the next
day in a blizzard and heavy seas. Because of the very cold water and weather conditions only 154 of complement of 425 were rescued. The
Takasago was the last
major warship to be sunk in the Russo-Japanese War.

The Combrig Elswick Protected Cruiser Takasago in 1:700 Scale - Hull Details - The Takasago is one of the newest kits from Combrig and the bottom line
is it is spectacular. All components are top notch or close to top notch. The casting of the hull is crisp, clean and free of defects. Hull side detail is abundant with
different bow detail on each side. Incidentally, the cast on detail is not all of the hull detail as
Takasago had large, ornate scroll work at the bow and the stern, as
well as a bow chrysanthemum, which
Combrig supplied in the photo-etch fret. The Takasago uses anchor washboards with two on the port side and one on the
starboard side. On the sharp cutwater is the forward above-water torpedo tube. There is a single prominent oval hawse fitting on each side. Different for warships
of this period is the significant outward flare of the top of the hull at the bow. Two lines of portholes adorn te hull, as well as numerous square window shutters
and hull entrance doors. The beam torpedo tube hatches have hinge detail. There is a light film covering the two openings on each side for the forward and aft 4.7-
inch gun positions. The other open 4.7-inch gun positions line the sides like a sailing frigate but behind crenellated bulkheads. You will have to remove the film
from hull openings for the forward and aft 4.7-inch gun positions. At the stern you’ll find an inset QF gun position on each side.
Deck Details - The hull deck features a raised forecastle and quarterdeck. Fine deck planking detail all three decks but with Takasago butt end detail is included with
the planks. The forecastle is asymmetrical because of the anchor washboards. The tip of the forecastle, above the cutwater is shaped like a fluted spear point. The
two washboards on the starboard side and single washboard on the starboard have anchor chain channels inset into the washboards. Other forecastle detail are very
small, fine open chocks, a single twin bollard fitting on each side and a single mushroom ventilator offset to the starboard. Attachment locater outlines are present for
the conning tower and forward 8-inch gun mount. Locater holes are present for anchor windlass, bow anchor cranes, J-cowl ventilators, and bow staff. The lower
amidship deck has a raised funnel base house with door and port hole detail, as well as large peaked skylight, which has fine hatch and glass port detail. Three locater
outlines are present for the forward superstructure (two) and an aft deck house. Two twin bollard fittings are on each side and the aft part of the deck has two coal
scuttles. The lack of any other coal scuttles is my major complaint about this otherwise superb kit. Each side has nine locater holes for the open 4.7-inch and QF
guns. On centerline is a locater hole for the mainmast. The quarterdeck has detail consistent with the forecastle. For the first time there are two deck hatch fittings of
two different patterns with hatch and hinge details. There are also fittings for twin bollards, open chock and captain’s skylight. Locater outlines are present for aft
deck house and aft 8-inch gun mount. Locater holes are present for J-cowl ventilators, flag staff, and what appears to be a galley funnel, although it appears too close
to the captain’s cabin.

Resin Sheet Smaller Parts - Most larger Combrig kits have their larger resin parts cast singly on resin plugs but since a protected cruiser is not that large the
smaller resin parts are cast on a resin wafer and on resin runners. The thin parts, such as decks and platforms are cast on a resin sheet that is very thin. The 1:700
scale
Takasago kit has twelve parts on a single sheet. The largest of these parts is the deck on top of the funnel deck house. This part has two oval locater holes for
the funnels, with quite a number of deck details including, three small skylights with hatch and port hole detail, two smaller square ventilation openings with grate
detail, seven lockers clustered around the funnel locations and four locater holes for large J-cowl ventilators. The next two largest parts on the sheet are the forward
and aft bridge decks. Both decks have fine plank detail with butt ends and two locater holes on the wings of each deck for QF guns. The forward deck has an
opening for the forward superstructure and the aft deck has locater holes for tall J-cowl ventilators. The bridge chart house is on the sheet and comes with door and
port hole detail. The aft deck house gets a top on the sheet with access hatch, boat cradle and three locater holes for J-cowl ventilators. The forward deck house top
is smaller with two hatches and one hole for a J-cowl ventilator. Additional small deck parts include walkways around forward and aft chart houses and a top
navigation deck, which has locater holes for searchlights. Three platforms are included, which include aft searchlight platform, main mast fighting top with holes for
two QF guns and fore mast fighting top also with two holes for QF guns.
Resin Runners Smaller Parts - There are 17 resin runners of parts with the Takasago. The two funnels are the largest of the runner parts with thin aprons, top
caps and notches for the J-cowl ventilators on the funnel base deck. The tops of the funnels are hollow to a sufficient depth for the illusion of hollow funnels. Five
of the runners have armament. The two 8-inch guns have excellent breach detail and share a runner with five medium and two tall J-cowl ventilators. Two runners
have five 4.7-inch guns on each runner. These single piece guns are hollow at the ends with the detailed gun breaches in the hollow. Ten 12-pdr QF guns are on a
runner and six 3-pdr QF guns are on another runner, The barrels for the QF guns are so thin nd fine that they are susceptible to breakage, as on my sample five of
the 12-pdr barrels and four of the 3-pdr barrels were broken. These can be easily replaced with cut stretched plastic sprue. One runner consists of larger
superstructure parts including; forward superstructure, conning tower, aft superstructure base, fore and aft chart houses with window detail, 8-inch gun bases, aft
chart house base and conning tower base. Seven boat flying deck bulkheads are on a runner. Another runner has five very small J-cowl ventilators, another slightly
larger J-cowl ventilator, three small J-cowl ventilators, a binnacle, a compass and two small bulkheads. Four searchlights are on a runner. Another runner has most
of the smallest parts, along with mast crow’s nests and three anchors. Six runners have the ship’s boats. There is one small steam launch with separate funnel, and
rudder detail. Open boats consist of five medium size boats with transom stern and one medium boat with pointed stern. The last runner has a single balsa raft.
Brass Photo-Etch Fret - For a protected cruiser the 1:700 scale Combrig Takasago comes with a large relief-etched brass fret designed by the guys at North Star
Models
, which addresses issues of past 1:700 scale brass frets in Combrig kits. The bottom line is that the Takasago brass fret is spectacular. First of all, it has a
significant amount of relief-etching with the most beautiful relief-etched parts being the ornate hull scroll work at the bow and the stern, which will have tremendous
impact on the finished model. In addition to the four pieces of scroll work, other relief-etched parts include the bow chrysanthemum, three platforms and two small
hull fittings. The kit provides all of the ship’s railings, which is certainly new to 1:700
Combrig kits. The railings have open lower stanchions instead of a bottom
runner representing a scupper. I prefer having a bottom runner as that type of railing is easier to attach than the type with open stanchions but this is a minor point. I’
m just glad it has full railing in the fret. Another major improvement with this fret are the multiple inclined ladders. Not only do they have fine safety railing and bottom
frame but they also have trainable treads, rather than rungs. The fret gives you a host of fine ship specific parts. Included are parts for: open bridge face and
overhead; 8-inch gun shields, bottom platform and training gear; boat skids; boat deck catwalk; boat chocks; stream anchors; numerous support gussets of different
patterns; ship’s wheel; platform support frames; funnel cap grates; aft hull QF casemate shutters and casemate face plates; QF gun shoulder rests; siren platform;
stern hull fitting; leadsman platforms; windlass wheel; and other small parts. Generic brass parts include two runs of anchor chain and two runs of vertical ladder.

Instructions - Combrig kits have always been criticized about the lack of complete instructions. Combrig has heard the complaints and greatly improved the
instructions for the
Takasago. They consist of four back-printed sheets and one single sided sheet, nine pages for a protected cruiser. Page one has the traditional
scale plan and profile, short history in Russian and specifications in English. As with any
Combrig kit, the plan and profile supplement building the model, plus
provide a rigging scheme and show the light sail rig carried by the cruiser, if you wish to get truly exotic by building this cruiser with sails. Page two has a resin parts
laydown. Page three is the start of the amidship assembly with attachment of secondary and QF broadside guns, aft hull QF casemate, lower forward superstructure,
fore and aft platforms, deck houses and their decks, and flying boat deck. Page four has a drawing of the completed assembly from the previous step as well as a
template for cutting masts, yards, booms and davits. The template provides the number of parts needed with their length and diameter. Page five consists of ten
detailed assembly modules. The modules are for the funnels (2), foremast, main mast, aft upper superstructure and platforms, forward upper superstructure and
platforms, 8-inch gun mounts, QF guns, stream anchors and accommodation ladder platforms. Page six has assembly of sub assemblies from the previous page,
ventilators, brass hull detail and anchor gear. Page seven is a drawing of the model completed through page six. Page eight shows final assembly with attachment of
the ship’s boats and davits. Instructions for previous
Combrig 1:700 scale kits normally did not show ship’s boats attachment. The last page shows a drawing of the
completed model. I see no problem following these instructions and consider them comprehensive.
The Combrig 1:700 scale model of the Japanese Elswick Protected Cruiser Takasago has all of the bells and whistles for an exceptionally well detailed model.
Wherever you look, resin parts, brass parts or instructions, there are very significant improvements over previous
Combrig 1:700 scale kits.
Steve Backer
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