As a kingdom, Prussia had a very limited need for a navy. Faced in the east with Imperial Russia and to the south by the Austrian Empire, the kingdom
was almost exclusively a land power. Prussia led the consolidation of German states that resulted in the German Empire at the conclusion of the
Franco-Prussian War. The Unified Germany was slow in jumping into the European race for colonies that especially characterized the last half of the
19th century. When she did acquire African and Pacific Ocean colonies, it was decided that Germany needed a navy to defend them from other European
powers, not to mention a fast rising Imperial Japan that was just as happy to colonize as any European power.

After the unification, the new Germany started building iron clad steam corvettes, which used sail and steam. Without a network of coaling stations, such
as France and especially Great Britain possessed, German designs had to incorporate sail, even as it was being phased out in the ship designs of other
naval powers.  It was the
Irene class (4947-tons displacement) of protected cruisers laid down in 1886 that finally dropped sail as a means of propulsion.
Two even larger classes of protected cruiser followed.
Kaiserin Augusta (6,218-tons displacement) of 1890 and the five cruisers of the Victoria Louise
class (6,289-tons displacement) of 1896, continued the increase in size and with the
Victoria Louise introduced much heavier armament with two
210mm (8.1-inch), eight 150mm (5.9-inch) and ten 88mm (3.7-inch) guns. However, there was one other cruiser laid down in 1896, the first of the
German armored cruisers, the
Fürst Bismarck.
The Fürst Bismarck was ground breaking in almost every conceivable manner. It was in the same displacement range as the latest German battleship
construction and her main armament was identical to that of the contemporary
Kaiser Class battleships. Before jumping to the conclusion that this ship
was an earlier version of the battlecruiser, it must be noted that German battleships were decidedly undergunned compared to other battleship designs.
The common main armament of battleships in the Royal Navy was four 12-inch guns positioned in one forward and one aft twin gun turret. The German
Kaiser and subsequent Wittelsbach battleship class of 1899, the German battleships designs carried 9.4-inch (240mm) guns instead of 12-inch guns.
Fürst Bismarck was laid down in 1896 at the Kiel dockyard, launched September 25, 1897 and completed on April 1, 1900.

Her primary characteristics were her heavy armament and heavy armor for a cruiser. The best way to differentiate the strengths of the
Fürst Bismarck
in comparison with the contemporary British cruiser construction, the
Diadem class protected cruiser. Fürst Bismarck was laid down in 1896, two
years before the Royal Navy restarted building armored cruisers with the
Cressy class of 1898, so the Fürst Bismarck is more impressive as a design
over the
Diadem class in every category except for speed.
  Displacement
Armament
Armor
Speed
Fürst Bismarck    
11,281-tons         
4-240mm, 12-150mm, 10-88mm, 6-450mm torpedo
tubes  
Belt-8in Main Guns-8in,
Secondaty-4in, Deck 2in
18.5 knots
Diadem
11,000-tons          
16-6in, 14-12pdr, 3-18in torpedo
tubes       
                                                  
Gun shields- 6in,
deck-4in,  
Casemates-4.5in
20 kts
Fürst Bismarck was designed from the beginning for service in Germany’s newly found colonial empire. Upon commissioning and work up, her first
assignment was as flagship of Germany’s East Asiatic Squadron based in Tsingtao China. The Royal Navy normally had a 2nd class battleship as their
Asiatic Squadron flagship. She reached Tsingtao in August 1900 as flagship of Rear Admiral Kurt von Prittwitz und Gaffron. The ship immediately
participated in countering the Boxer uprising.
Fürst Bismarck won heavy gun markmenship prize in 1901 and 1903, which became common with
flagships of this squadron.
Fürst Bismarck spent the next decade as flagships of the East Asiatic Squadron until her replacement in the form of SMS
Scharnhorst
arrived in 1909. (As a youngster there was an elderly German couple that lived next door. The husband had served in the Imperial German
Marines based at Tsingtao in 1914. It is a pity that never asked him about his memories of the squadron but that time I didn’t know of the glorious
history of the East Asiatic Squadron.)

Upon returning to Germany
SMS Fürst Bismarck was decommissioned. With Germany engaged in the naval arms race with the Royal Navy, most funds
went to new construction. There were limited funds available for a refit of the first German armored cruiser and
Fürst Bismarck spent the next five years
in a leisurely refit. Upon the start of World War One the cruiser was recommissioned for limited coastal defense duties. This didn’t last long until the
cruiser was sent to Kiel to become an accommodation and training ship. After the war the
Fürst Bismarck became a floating office early in 1919.
However, her time came on June17, 1919 when
SMS Fürst Bismarck was stricken from the register. She was sold for scrap and broken up in 1920 at
Audorf-Rendsberg.
NNT has released a multimedia kit of Fürst Bismarck in 1:700 scale. The hull casting measures 182mm at the waterline. The ship measured 125.7m at
the waterline, which in 1:700 scale would be 179.6mm, so the
NNT hull actually comes in at 1:691 scale. Although slightly over-scale, this differential is
insignificant, especially considering that this is likely to be the only kit that will be produced of the first of the Imperial German armored cruisers. The
quality of the resin castings is very good with almost no flash and minimal cleanup. The integral solid bulkheads on the hull casting are thinner and more
fine than most resin hulls and there was no shipping damage because
NNT goes to great lengths to secure all of the parts in the box. Other than parts for
the ship,
NNT also includes a plaster casting of a section of the Kiel Canal with its characteristic rounded shore line, which would be perfect to use for a
diorama with the
SMS Fürst Bismarck transiting the canal. Although I do not know if it was present in 1900, the port of Tsingtao had a long wooden
pier extending into the bay in 1945, which I have seen in a WW2 cruise book of one of the Essex class carriers. This would present an interesting topic
for a diorama with
Fürst Bismarck landing Imperial German Marines for the Boxer Rebellion.

The first level of the superstructure in cast integral with the hull. Detail is very good and from a naval architecture point of view, very interesting. The
cutwater is very distinctive and prominent with an almost cleaver bow with overhanging forecastle and underwater ram. It does have a distinctive
tumblehome but unlike French and Russian designs with a curved tumblehome, the German design is more angular with a more vertical hull rise from the
waterline to a transition point where it goes to inward receding section that rises to the main deck level. Forward there is a raised forecastle, two levels
above the main deck that rounds at the top in the juncture with the forecastle deck. The forecastle breaks at the teardrop shaped forward main gun
barbette that has the hulls sides extend to the 02 deck level. There are a lot of features on the hull sides with lines of portholes, prominent tertiary 88mm
gun casemates at bow and stern and a two gun 150mm secondary gun casemate amidships and a one gun 150mm casemate behind the forecastle. On
each side there are two insets into the sloping hull section, one forward and one aft, whose purpose I don’t know. They look like they are for hull access
doors but there are no doors present.
NNT does have integral cast doors because they are present at the stern of the hull for the sternwalk. Also present
on the hull sides are very good anchor hawse with horse collar fitting and above water stern torpedo tube. The secondary guns placement amidships is
very interesting amidships as you have the double gun casemate on the upper hull side with a third 150mm gun casemate at the 01 deck level rising above
deck level with solid bulkheads above and behind the casemate for an open mount 88mm gun immediately above the 01 level 150mm gun, presenting a
triangular appearance.
There is also a plethora of deck features integral to the hull casting. The deck wasn’t wood it was covered in a red-brown linoleum, similar to what the
Japanese warships of WW2 used.
NNT has included very fine linoleum panel junctions on the deck detail. The forecastle has open chocks twin bollard
fittings, a triple bollard fitting centerline, anchor windlasses, steel anchor chain runs and deck anchor hawse. Amidships deck detail has two funnel base
deckhouses with ventilation doors, a third small deckhouse and more bollard fittings. The aft superstructure very thin solid bulkheads with openings for
the inclined ladders, two deckhouses and two skylights. The quarterdeck has the low aft main gun teardrop shaped barbette, six open chocks, aft anchor
hawse fitting, aft anchor windlass, another triple centerline bollard and two skylights.

Smaller parts come in the form of four separate parts, two casting wafers, and fifteen resin runners. The four separate parts include the two funnels and
two military masts. The funnels, one oval and one round have vertical ladders and top apron cast as part of the funnels while the fore and aft military
masts have support detail for the mast positions or tops. The
Fürst Bismarck was the first German cruiser to carry these heavy military masts, which
were very similar to those carried by the German predreadnought battleships. The larger of the two resin wafers has 19 parts with the largest parts being
additional  forward superstructure decks. The lower of these decks (04 level) has two deckhouses which supports the navigation deck (05 level). Both of
these deck have the same very fine solid bulkheads along their edge. A third deck is a flying deck that runs above the main deck with each end resting
atop the triangular amidships secondary gun positions. Two additional flying decks/catwalks run just to the port of the funnels and connect the forward
superstructure to the amidships flying deck (part 12) and from the amidships flying deck to the aft superstructure (part 14). A fifth deck is the sternwalk.
Other parts on this wafer are the overheads for the fighting tops, smaller observation/ searchlight positions higher on each mast than the fighting tops,
and flying boat skids. The smaller second resin wafer has the main gun turrets with sighting hood detail, secondary gun casemates and mast fighting
tops. Obviously, after removing the parts from the casting wafer, minor cleanup will require to smooth the junction of where the part was connected to
the casting wafer.
Even smaller resin parts are included on the fifteen resin runners. The two largest have the boat cranes. Two of the runners have the 88mm guns with
one runner containing the guns that will have separate gun shields, which on another runner, and those guns that are open with no gun shield. Another
runner has all of the gun barrels of every size. Two identical runners have various deck fittings and equipment including searchlights and various size
and shaped ventilators. A round runner has the various top masts and yards. The last six runners have the various types of steam launches and open
boats carried by the ship, most of which are carried on the flying chock skids found amidships, although the four smallest are carried on davits fore
and aft. In wrapping up the resin parts content, I would like to mention that the plaster casting for a Kiel Canal diorama is richly textured with excellent
water and ground textures.

A sizable brass photo-etch fret is included in the kit. My favorites are relief-etched bow scrolls but the sternwalk overhead is the largest of the brass
parts. All three anchors, two forward and one aft, are in two parts, one part for the main anchor and one for the fluke supports. Other individual parts
are two propeller guards, four forward davits, four aft davits, boat crane block and tackle, searchlight platform supports, and anchor windlass top
detail. However, most of the fret is occupied with railings, anchor chain and ladders. The railing is in two forms. One is four bar and is used for the
sternwalk and seven of a common pattern are for all other railing. The railing has to be cut for each position as there are not separate runs for each
position. One long run of anchor chain is provided but as with the railing, you’ll have to cut the chain to the specific lengths required for each position.
Two types of ladder are included.  The wider runs is designed to be used for most of the inclined ladders. I would not recommend using this for
inclined ladders as it lacks the requisite railing found on inclined ladders. There are two runners that are narrower that the instructions show is used for
a few narrower inclined ladders and can also be used as vertical ladders. This is my only complaint about the parts included in this kit. I can not think
of any valid reason for not including railing on the runs of inclined ladders. An additional bonus comes in the form of an Imperial German battleflag.

The instructions come with four back-printed pages, although only one of the pages deals with assembly of the kit. One page has a comprehensive of
the ship on the front with specifications and painting guide on the back. Included are pages in German and a page in English. A third page is a large
print of the box art. The last page is in color and has the assembly pictures. The front has a parts laydown of all parts with the resin parts numbered
inside a box. That is how you identify that part’s location in the assembly photographs. A black line runs from the numbered resin part to where it is
found on the assembled model. The brass parts’ location is found by the brass part’s number (found on the fret) inside a circle, rather than a square.
Also on the front page is a photograph of the assembled model’s amidships, using the above mentioned location method. The back of the page has
three photographs of the assembled model from a 45 degree angle, one that emphasizes bow part’s location and one that emphasizes aft parts location.
This process of presenting instructions clearly is inferior to the more detailed step by step approach to assembly with individual modules, best
implemented by the late and lamented White Ensign Models. I still wear black in mourning. However, the
NNT approach is workable. I had no difficulty
to following the assembly location for the brass parts, primarily because the brass parts were of a contrasting color over the ivory colored resin parts
in the background. I can’t the same with all of the resin parts. Since the photographs are of an assembled kit, the ivory colors of the resin parts tend to
merge and I have yet to find exactly where resin part 9, which looks like a platform, from the large wafer fits behind the forward superstructure. The
photograph show it positioned to the starboard and forward of the forward funnel. I’m sure that I’ll get clarification from Ralf on this part. The
NNT
approach is similar to the
Combrig approach, although Combrig uses drawings, rather than photographs. However, this is a minor complaint and in no
way prevents me from recommending this kit to anyone interested in warships of the Imperial German Navy. Incidentally as proof that it is just not
me, the
NNT Fürst Bismarck was selected the best warship kit of the year by Modellfan magazine of Germany.
The NNT SMS Fürst Bismarck in 1:700 scale is a true multimedia kit of the first of the German armored cruisers of the Kaiser’s navy. When laid
down she was significantly stronger than the contemporary  Royal Navy design going into construction. With a comprehensive array of resin, brass,
plaster and paper parts,
NNT covers everything from soup to nuts. On to Beijing, its time to go after those pesky Boxers!
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