The evolution and gestation of American battleship designs occurred in noticeable stages. After a 25year absence in designing modern warships from
the coastal monitors of the American Civil War, the navy didn’t trust American designers to design a battleship equal to those of other navies, so
(originally rated as an armored cruiser) and USS Texas were built to purchased British designs. Neither was equal to contemporary Royal Navy
designs but after the long hiatus in warship construction, US shipbuilding yards and facilities had to be further developed to build totally modern
designs. When it came to producing modern US designed battleships, another obstacle was Congress and the great distrust the legislative body had in
large battleships. Congress considered a large navy and especially large battleships the tools of colonialism. Accordingly the first classes of US
designed battleships were intentionally designed for coastal operations and coastal defense missions.

This led to the second stage of American battleship construction, the low freeboard coastal battleships. The
Indiana class was heavily armed and
armored but the low freeboard limited their use in the open ocean, in spite of
USS Oregon’s world cruise. The following single ship Iowa class raised
the freeboard somewhat but not enough for true Blue Water operations. The two ship
Keasarge class kept a low freeboard but introduced its own
innovation. To save weight and still keep a four gun broadside for the secondary guns, the two gun 8-inch positions were sited on top of the two main
gun turrets that had to be trained with the main guns, as they were incapable of independently training in a different direction from the main guns. The
Illinois class was still limited by the Congressional mandate “seagoing coastline battleships” the USN design committee contemplated that not
design feature of this class would seriously impair good seagoing and sea-enduring qualities. Still the three ships of the
Illinois class had the same
length and beam as the
Keasarges. The eight-inch gun secondary, a feature of all USN designed battleships up to the Illinois class was deleted in favor
of a battery of a casemate mounted uniform battery of 6-inch guns. All of these classes were designed to have a maximum 12 to 24 hour full speed of
14 to 15-knots. All of these classes were designed and laid down before an event, which would forever change the capital ship design emphasis for the
The Spanish-American War forever changed the world role of the USA and the USN warship designs. The short war with spectacular naval victories
at Manila Bay and Santiago, left the USA with colonies acquired in the peace treaty with Spain. It didn’t matter that in both battles USN forces were
far superior than their Spanish opponents, from hence forth designs were no longer legislatively limited to coastal battleships. It didn’t matter that
prior to the war Congress opposed blue water battleship designs in that they were tools of colonial empires, once the United States became the
Imperial Republic with colonies in the Pacific Ocean, she needed warships capable of working in any ocean. This led to the third evolution of the
American battleship. All classes of predreadnought battleships after the
Illinois class would have sufficient freeboard for worldwide operations.

The three ship
Maine class of 1898 was the first beneficiary of this change in outlook and policy. Originally this class was to be a repeat of the
Illinois class but requirements were rewritten to provide a better deep water capability. The first thing changed was the maximum speed, as the
Maine class were required to be capable of 18-knots, the same as the best battleships as other navies. Krupp armor was adopted, which provided the
same resistance but with lesser weight than the previous designs and the ships went back to a 12-inch main gun battery instead of the 13-inch guns
carried from
Kearsarge through the Illinois classes. Hull length was increased by 30-feet from the preceding Illinois class. All of this allowed for a
far roomier and ocean capable design with higher freeboard, a more powerful power plant and greater range thanks to increased coal bunkerage. The
secondary battery increased to sixteen 6-inch/50 guns mounted in casemate positions, as in the
Illinois class.
The next design incorporated combat lessons from the Spanish-American War. In 1899 Congress happily passed an appropriations bill for three new
battleships (BB-13 through BB-15) fiscal 1900 plan. In 1900 Congress passed another appropriation for two more battleships (BB-16 & BB-17) fiscal
1901 plan. All five were to be at a trial displacement of 13,500-tons and of “the highest practical speed and great radius of action”, in very marked
contrast to prewar appropriation bills. At the Battle of Santiago only one shell from the main guns of the engaged American battleships had struck a
Spanish ship. In marked contrast the 8-inch gun secondary batteries had been very effective. As a consequence of this lesson, the next design would
see the return of the 8-inch secondary gun battery. This was the central design characteristic upon which the design revolved. The design board met
to consider the requirement but opinion was divided into two camps.

When the three ships of the 1900 fiscal year were approved, the board considered various combinations of secondary arrangement. Some designs
incorporated the newly produced 7-inch gun casemates, four 8-inch guns in a second story of the two main gun turrets, as in
Keasarge, four twin 8-
inch gun turrets arranged as in
Indiana and Iowa, and four 8-inch gun turrets, two atop the main gun turrets and two in waist positions with a 6-inch
casemate battery. Vote after vote was taken and no consensus could be reached. By May 1900 Congress had approved the fiscal 1901 battleships and
it was proposed that the 1900 year ships be built with eight separate turrets and 1901 year ships be built with superimposed turrets with no waist
turrets. The chief constructor, Rear Admiral Phillip Hichborn, insisted that all five be built to a common design. At the time, in spite that the
Kearsarge and Kentucky had been completed most were in favor of the two-story turrets, oblivious to the facts that they were very restricted to
being trained on the same targets as the main guns and difficulty in correcting fire because the shell splashes of the 12-inch shells and 8-inch shells
were difficult to distinguish from one another at combat range. On January 24, 1901 the chief of the Bureau of Ordnance advocated the two
superimposed turrets but two, rather than four twin gun waist turrets. Ten of the twelve members agreed and only Chief Constructor, Rear Admiral
Hichborn, objected to the superimposed turrets. The matter was settled when the Secretary of the Navy approved the majority opinion. Interestingly,
within a few years all of the members who wanted superimposed turrets were violently opposed to them when their restrictions became manifest.
Originally the three ships of the fiscal 1900 were to be New Jersey (BB-13) to be built by Newport News Shipbuilding, Newport News, VA, Nebraska
(BB-14) to be built by Moran Brothers, Seattle, WA and
Georgia (BB-15) to be built by Bath Iron Works, Bath, ME, while the two ships of the fiscal
1901 plan were to be
Virginia (BB-16) to be built by Fore River Ship and Engine, Quincy, MA and Rhode Island (BB-17) to be built by Fore River
Ship and Engine, Quincy, MA. Instead,
Virginia and New Jersey swapped names so that USS Virginia would be built in the State of Virginia. All
dimensions and displacement leaped above those of the
Maine class. Waterline length was 435-feet compared to 388-feet in Maine, beam 76-feet
2.5-inches compared to 72-feet 2.5-inches and normal displacement of 14,948-tons compared to 12,508-tons. Indicated Horsepower (IHP) of the
Virginias was 22,841ihp vs 15,841ihp in the Maines with a maximum speed of 17-knots for 12 to 24 hours vs the 16-knots of the Maine class. The
Virginia class had an armament fit of four 12-inch/40 Mk III (2x2), eight 4x2 eight-inch/45 Mk VI, twelve 6-inch/50 12x1 Mk VII guns and four
21-inch submerged torpedo tubes (added as an initial alteration). The armor arrangement was turret face 12-inches for main guns and superimposed
turrets and 6.5-inches for waist secondary turrets. Barbette armor was 10 to 7.5 inches for main gun turrets and 6-inches for the waist turrets. Belt
armor was 11 to 8-inches and casemate armor 6-inches. The armor design of belt and casemate armor caused a problem with replenishing coal. There
were no openings in the casemate armor allowing coal replenishment on the main deck. Instead coal sacks had to be raised to the 01 deck and poured
through scuttles at that higher level, through temporary canvas chutes to the bunkers. Accordingly coal replenishment was more arduous and time
consuming than in previous design. The conning tower had 9-inch armor and the armor deck was 3 to 1.5-inches with 3-inches on the slope to the
hull sides. Another war lesson incorporated into the design was the reduction of combustible wood to the highest degree possible.

The keel for
USS Rhode Island (BB-17) was laid down on May 1, 1902 and launched on May 4, 1904. USS Rhode Island was commissioned on
February 19, 1906 at which time the specifications of
HMS Dreadnought were well know, so that the newest USN battleship was already in a second
class status to the all big gun battleship design. For the rest of 1906 she underwent trials and shakedown, operating between Boston and Hampton
Roads Virginia. On January 1, 1907
USS Rhode Island was assigned to the 2nd Division of the 1st Battle Squadron under the command of Captain
Joseph B. Murdock. On March 9, 1907 she left for Guantanamo Bay Cuba for gunnery practice and to participate in squadron operations. The
, along with 15 other battleships was selected for the world cruise of the Great White Fleet. President Theodore Roosevelt reviewed the fleet on
December 6, 1907 before its departure for the West coast. The first leg was the journey to San Diego.
USS Rhode Island paid visits to Trinidad, Rio
de Janeiro, Punta Arenas Argentina, Callao Peru and Magdalena Bay Baja Mexico before arriving at San Diego on April 14, 1908. While the Fleet was in
San Diego,
Rhode Island paid a visit to Seattle in June. On July 17, 1908 the Great White Fleet started across the Pacific Ocean. The stops were at
Honolulu, Auckland New Zealand, Sydney and Melbourne Australia before arriving at Manila Philippines on October 2, 1908. While the Fleet was in the
Rhode Island paid a visit to Yokohama Japan. The fleet left the Philippines on December 1, 1908. On the return voyage Rhode Island
stopped at Colombo Ceylon, Suez, Marseille and Gibraltar. She arrived back at Hampton Roads on February 22, 1909. Upon her return from the world
cruise the
Rhode Island went to the New York Navy Yard for an overhaul in which the fore military mast was replaced by a cage mast and on March
8, 1909 was reassigned to the 3rd Division of the 1st Battle Squadron. The military main mast was replaced with a cage mast in 1910.
She operated in the Atlantic with a side trip to the Caribbean in February 1910. On October 22, 1910 she was reassigned to the 4th Division of the 1st
Battle Squadron. Another Presidential review, this time with William Howard Taft was conducted on November 22, 1910 before departure in a cruise to
USS Rhode Island visited Gravesend Great Britain on this cruise and arrived at Guantanamo Bay Cuba on January 13, 1911. For the next five
years she operated primarily in the Atlantic between Maine and Virginia. She was Division Flagship for a couple of periods, July 17 to August 1, 1912
and June 28, 1913 through January 18, 1914. At the end of 1913
Rhode Island was assigned the mission of protecting US citizens and interests off the
Caribbean coast of Mexico during a period of internal Mexican unrest. This lasted into February 1914. For another two years she was in the Atlantic
with an occasional trip to the Caribbean. On May 15, 1916
USS Rhode Island was still under commission but placed in Reserve status. She was
flagship for the Commander of the Reserve Force from June 24 to September 28, 1916.

With the United States entry into World War One,
Rhode Island was returned to full commission on March 27, 1917. Although flagship of the 3rd
Battleship Division,
Rhode Island’s war duty was uneventful. She operated in anti-submarine patrols off the eastern coast of the United States. Starting
in December 1917, the
Rhode Island started losing her 6-inch guns. Four were removed in December 1917, two more in March 1918 and by October
1918 all of the guns had been removed. With the end of World War One on November 11, 1918,
Rhode Island was assigned a different mission.
Hundreds of additional bunks were built into the ship, as
Rhode Island would take part in returning US Army troops back to the United States. Between
December 18, 1918 and July 4, 1919, she made five round trips to Brest France and returning to either Boston or Hampton Roads, transported over
5,000 soldiers back to the United States. She had a last hurrah as flagship Battle Squadron 1 Pacific Fleet. She left Boston on July 27, went through the
Panama Canal and arrived at Mare Island (San Francisco) for her duty. On June 30, 1920
USS Rhode Island was decommissioned and placed in
reserve. She remained in this catatonic state until November 1, 1923 when she was sold for scrap. All that now remains of the
USS Rhode Island BB-
17 is the ship’s bell, which is located in the Rhode Island State House, Providence, Rhode Island.
Niko USS Rhode Island
Niko Produces two models of Virginia class battleships, the Virginia shows the design as built with the original military masts and the Rhode Island
shows the design as modified with cage masts. There are differences in the hull casting between the two. The
Rhode Island kit is fantastic with superb
casting, which is packed with incredible detail. The box states that it is the 1918 fit but it has all of the 6-inch guns when four of the 6-inch guns were
landed in December 1917. From March to October 1918
Rhode Island would have still had the first three 6-inch guns on each side but for the troop
transportation missions after the armistice, no 6-inch guns were mounted. With any predreadnought, most of the detail comes with the hull. Unlike
boring featureless hull sides of later battleships
Rhode Island has hull sides festooned with detail. You can start with the two anchor hawse placed low
near the water line with distinctively different horse collar shaped hawse. Aft of the A turret area the 6-inch gun positions appear. Unlike the
hull casting with open 6-inch guns and shutters, the
Rhode Island has armored circular casemates. The amidship 8-inch gun positions are on sponsons
going outboard from the tumblehome sides. At the stern are two incised 3-inch QF positions on each side. The
Rhode Island started with twelve 3-
inch/50 guns but six were removed in May 1917 and two more in October 1917 so that for 1918 only the aft four of the 3-inch guns were still
mounted. The
Niko kit is correct for 1918 as when the forward and amidship 3-inch guns were removed their positions were plated over. This is
another difference between the
Rhode Island and Virginia hull castings, along with the absence of the anchor washboards found on the Virginia hull.
The armor belt runs the length of the ship at the waterline but there is no diminishment in width from amidship to the ends. The 01 level of the
superstructure as well as fore and aft conning towers are part of the hull casting. You’ll find the same attention to detail with the superstructure
bulkheads as with the hull. Detailed access hatches and equipment lockers abound, as well as two 3-inch QF slits. Another nice feature is the
hemisphere curve inwards at the amidship secondary turret positions. The forward conning tower at the 02 level has incised vision slits.

If hull side detail is excellent, the deck detail is even better. The wooden deck planking detail includes butt ends, which clearly places this
Niko kit
above the common. Right at the top of the cutwater the detail starts with support gussets for the forecastle bulkhead. Anchor gear detail is excellent
with detailed deck hawse and the characteristic USN square chain locker with side protruding windlasses. Another proof of excellence for a 1:700
scale model of a coal fired design is the presence of coal scuttles and these are in abundance on the
Niko Rhode Island. Other forecastle detail includes
fine deck access coamings and the standard twin bollards. On each side of the A barbette are the first skylights with glass detail and more access
coamings. Amidships at the 01 level the parade of skylights continues. There is a metal square deck surrounding each of the three stacks so that will
make an interesting contrast against the wooden planking. Additionally there are large ventilator openings or skylights on the front side of each stack
metal deck, as well as circular base plates for J ventilator cowls. Even the quarterdeck is littered with detail with an assortment of windlasses, access
coamings, skylights, bollard plates and other fittings.

Smaller Resin Parts
With the smaller resin parts there is a difference between the two kits, as there is no need for the resin military masts that come with the Virginia kit.
First and foremost is the armament. There is no getting around a double story turret and these turrets on
Rhode Island, both real and in kit form, really
make a statement. The angular and curved turrets of the
Rhode Island are much more attractive than the rounded double story turrets of the Kearsarge
class. Even though the concept was a failure, the modern design two story turrets make this class my favorite American predreadnought design. The
12-inch and 8-inch turrets share a common face, which expands outwards before curving to the rear. Both positions have gun commander cupolas
and the aft crown of the 8-inch position has an access hatch. The flat apron at the base of the turret has excellent support rib detail. The separate
secondary turrets have a different crown design with three cupolas and three hatches for a very busy top. It appears that
Niko is in error for the
crown of the 8-inch position on the double story turrets, as photographs indicate that these crowns also had three cupolas just as appears on the
separate turrets, not two as presented in the kit turrets. This can be corrected with cutting a slice of an appropriate plastic rod to add a middle cupola.
Another error are the muzzles of the 12-inch guns.
Niko shows some sort of disc at the end of the muzzle, which photographs clearly show was not
there. At first I thought this was some sort of resin pour remnant but that can’t be the case because the smaller guns don’t have them. You’ll use eight
of the nine 8-inch barrels provided. The 6-inch casemate tertiary guns are very well done with a one piece circular casemate with barrel fit within each
hull recess and therefore can be trained at any position desired by the modeler. It is uncertain which four 6-inch guns were removed in December
1917. It could have been the aft four or it could have been the four just forward of the aft two positions but from March through October 1918 only
the six forward 6-inch guns were present and these six removed October 1918. The QF guns come in two patterns. Four are used for the four stern
QF positions and two are the 3-inch AA guns fitted to
Rhode Island in October 1918, one on each side of the bridge on the 01 deck.  Both types of QF
guns are well detailed.
Among the new parts different from the Niko Virginia are the platforms located on the cage masts. These served mainly for anti-submarine
lookouts. The three parts are identical funnels with aft face steam pipes, flared base aprons and reinforcing bands. The 1918 bridge deck and bridge
atop the conning tower are included. There are two large gooseneck boat cranes, which were paired aft. The
Niko Virginia had four of the cranes
but the forward pair were landed during the refit for cage masts. The cranes are nice pieces with crane engine and pulley detail. Platform supports are
also integral to the castings. Three resin runners contain mostly J ventilator cowlings of various sizes with excellent base ring detail. Also included
with these runners are six two part searchlights. Another runner has the 1918 control tops (rectangular for the foremast and circular for the
mainmast and four cable reels. Five more resin runners round out the fittings and equipment with 3-inch guns, anchors, deck winches, flag lockers
and a few other fittings. Three resin runners provide a variety of ship’s boats of various designs. The
Niko Virginia had five runners of ship’s boats.

Brass Photo-Etched Fret
As usual Niko provides a full brass photo-etched set. The fret is larger than that in the Niko Virginia as the two cage masts require a lot of space. In
fact most of the brass parts are different in the
Rhode Island kit from the Virginia kit. There are two brass searchlight platforms for the cage masts,
aft navigation deck, bridge overhead, boat davits and cradles, windlass tops, control top yards, control top windows, anchor chains, accommodation
ladders, block and tackle, stern hull side life buoy racks and boat oars. Generic parts include, vertical ladders, inclined ladders, three runs of two bar
railing and five runs of three bar railing, each of which has a bottom gutter. Also on the fret are 20 small individual position railings, 10 long, five
medium and 5 short.

The instructions are sufficient. They consist of five pages and the first page has resin and photo-etch parts lay-downs. Page two concentrates in the
bow assembly with two sequential modules with four sequential cage mast assembly. Page three covers the amidship portion of the ship with four
sequential modules and page four finishes the amidship assembly with two modules. Of course page five finishes up with the stern with two
sequential modules with emphasis on completion of the cage mast assembly. At the bottom of page five is a painting guide profile.
All in all, the Niko Rhode Island is a very good kit. The resin and brass parts are in the very good to excellent category. It does reflect hull changes
from the 1906 fit to the 1918 fit. The only thing apparently missed by
Niko was that the 1918 Rhode Island did not have all of her 6-inch casemate
guns, however, that is easily remedied by not attaching the six aft 6-inch guns for the March 1918 fit or none for the October 1918 fit.