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
USS
Maine
(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
following
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 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 USN.
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 first three ships of the fiscal 1900 program were authorized on March 3, 1899 but contract awards were delayed because of the incessant design
changes and decision to build all five battleships of the 1900 and 1901 programs to a common design. The first contract was awarded on February 15,
1901 to the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. in Newport News, Virginia to built
USS New Jersey BB-13. The name was changed to USS
Virginia
three weeks later on March 7, 1901, as the battleship was being constructed in the State of Virginia. The keel was laid down May 21, 1902 and
the hull launched April 5, 1904, as the first of the class to launch. The
Virginia was the only one of the class to have inward turning propellers under
the theory that she would be more maneuverable with greater prop wash over the rudder. When commissioned on May 7, 1906 under the command of
Captain Seaton Schroeder, she underwent her first series of shakedown trials off Newport News, Newport, Rhode Island, Long Island, New York, and
Rockland, Maine culminating in anchoring at Oyster Bay, New York on Long Island Sound, and the home of President Theodore Roosevelt. She was
there from September 2 through 4 1906 for Presidential review.
In August 1906 a revolution had broken out in Cuba and the Cuban president requested assistance from the United States. As a consequence USS
Virginia
was dispatched to Havana and was there from September 21, 1906 to October 18, 1906. After a short stop at the New York Naval Yard,
Virginia was ordered to Norfolk, Virginia for repairs and alterations. On November 3, as she was nearing port, the inward turning propellers contributed
to an accident. The
SS Monroe was attempting to pass the Virginia but did not give enough clearance. The inward turning propellers created a pull on
the steamer towards the battleship and the steamer didn’t have enough power to break the pull, causing a collision.
Virginia remained at the Norfolk
Navy Yard from November 3, 1906 to February 18, 1907. She departed Norfolk Navy Yard to return to the New York Navy Yard where she was to
receive new fire control equipment. She was at New York from February 19 to March 23, 1907 and then was ordered back to Cuba to Guantanamo
Bay, which was reached on March 28. The James town Tricentennial Exhibition was scheduled and as the battleship named after the state, the
USS
Virginia
was ordered back to Virginia and was at Hampton Roads from April 15 to May 15, 1907. President Roosevelt again reviewed the USS Virginia
and Hampton Roads in the period June 7 to June 13, 1907. Later in the summer she, with other members of her division, steamed to Cape Cod for day
and night battle practice before returning south to Virginia in December.

Virginia reached Hampton Roads on December 6 and immediately began preparation for the around 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 on December 17, 1907.  The first leg was the
journey to San Diego and 15 battleships were initially assigned for the cruise. The fleet stopped at ports on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of various
South American countries before reaching San Diego on April 14, 1908. 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 Philippines
Virginia paid a visit to Japan and China. The fleet left the Philippines on December 1, 1908. On the return voyage Virginia
stopped at Colombo Ceylon, Suez, Smyrna Turkey, Marseilles and Gibraltar. She arrived back at Hampton Roads with the rest of the fleet on February
22, 1909, where President Roosevelt again reviewed his children.

Shortly after their return to the United States, all five ships of the
Virginia Class were ordered into the yards for a refit, including the replacement of
their military masts with cage masts. Three of the battleships,
Virginia, Rhode Island and Nebraska initially only replaced the fore mast with a cage
mast, while retaining a military style main mast.
Georgia and New Jersey had both fore and main military masts replaced with cage masts. Gone was the
white and buff paint scheme of the Great White Fleet and in was a gray paint scheme. The
Virginia also landed the forward pair of cranes, leaving her
with two cranes aft.  This was done during the period February 26 to June 26, 1909.
Virginia spent most of her time off the Eastern coast of the US
with a visit in late fall to Brest, France and Gravesend, Great Britain. For the next three years
USS Virginia, along with the rest of the Atlantic Fleet,
operated from Cuba to New England, and
Virginia most likely had her mainmast replaced with a cage mast in 1911. In early 1913 unrest in Mexico,
caused Vera Cruz to be added to the fleet’s cruise itinerary. On March 20, 1916
USS Virginia was placed in reserve at the Boston Navy Yard.
In 1917 when the United States declared war against Germany Virginia was in reserve and under refit at the Boston Navy Yard but her skeleton crew
provided a boarding party to seize the German merchantman
Amerika, Cincinnati, Wittekind, Köln, and Ockenfels on 6 April 1917  in Boston
harbor. Upon completion of the refit, including removal of the 6-inch gun battery, in August 1917
Virginia joined the 3rd Division of the Battleship
Force, Atlantic Fleet, She was a gunnery training ship from 1917 into 1918 and had two stints as flagship, in December 1917 as flag 1st Division and
from December 1917 to September 1918 as flag 3rd Division. In September 1918 the Boston Navy Yard carried out another quick refit to make her
ready for convoy escort. She escorted two convoys before the war ended in November and the following month served as troop transport bringing
the Dough Boys back home from Europe . She served in this capacity until July 1919 but stayed in service for another year until being paid off at
Boston in August 1920. With the conclusion of the Washington Navy Treaty of 1922
Virginia was caught up in the rush to scrap obsolete and
obsolescent battleships and all predreadnoughts fell in this category, Three of the five
Virginia class battleships were scrapped in 1924 but Virginia
and sistership
New Jersey went out with style, as both were sunk September 5, 1923 providing targets for Billy Mitchell’s bombing experiments.
Although it took three attacks on
New Jersey to sink her (attacks one, two and four) it was different for Virginia. Scheduled attack three was the first
mission in which
Virginia was the target. The bombers were carrying 1,100-pound bombs. Thirteen missed the Virginia but one was a direct hit near
the mainmast and penetrated to decks below before exploding. When the smoke cleared there was no superstructure, masts, ventilators or funnels,
only tangled wreckage. Within thirty minutes the blasted wreck of
USS Virginia BB-13 rolled over and sank.

The Samek Virginia – Frankly, there is a wealth of 1:700 scale kits of the Virginia Class battleships. You can expect that with famous battleships,
as with
Bismarck, Arizona, Yamato or Warspite but here it is an obscure USN predreadnought design without a single battle to its credit. I’m not
complaining, as love this design. Combrig has a model of all five ships in the class but they all appear to be for as built. I don’t know if there is any
difference among the Combrig kits. Niko has two kits of the class. The Niko
USS Virginia is in the as built, Great White Fleet, appearance, sported
by the ship from 1906 to early 1909 and the
USS Rhode Island in her 1918 fit. The Samek USS Virginia is unique in reflecting her appearance after
her first refit after returning from the world cruise of the Great White Fleet. With only the foremast replaced by a cage mast, this would cover the fit
from 1909-1911.
USS Rhode Island and USS Nebraska also were fitted with a single cage mast for a couple of years, as USS Georgia and USS New
Jersey
went straight to two cage masts with the initial refit. The hull came in measuring at 7.5-inches at waterline. Since the original was 435-feet at
waterline, the
Samek kit measures out at 1:696 scale. The Combrig hull is the same length as the Samek hull but the Niko hull is significantly shorter,
measuring 7 3/8ths-inches with a scale of 1:708 scale.

The
Samek hull casting presents plenty of detail. Hull sides include the row bilge discharge holes in addition to port holes. The Virginia class had
prominent horse collar anchor hawse fittings around each anchor opening.
Samek didn’t provide this fitting on the hull sides. Samek did include side
ladders at locations that had side rungs for climbing to the deck. Although I would prefer rung lines in place of vertical ladder lines, it still provides
detail not found on other kits. Hull side detail includes the significant tumblehome, waist turret sponsons and casemate gun location detail. At the top
of the cutwater there is a short length solid bulkhead at the peak of the forecastle. This solid bulkhead with scuttles and the other solid bulkhead at the
front of the boat deck are very thin, so don’t but pressure on them to avoid possible breakage. Deck detail ranges excellent to average. The excellent
detail includes deck winch engines, fine deck ventilators, twin bollard plates and side cleat fittings. The deck has standard board lines but lack butt end
detail lines. My biggest disappointment is the lack of coal scuttle plates, which are found on the Niko and Combrig kits. There are plenty of deck
coamings, anchor chain deck plates and skylights adding interest to the decks. Additionally this fit has a large deck house found under the base of the
cage mast not found in the as built fit. That deck house along with the forward and  aft conning towers add another level of height to the otherwise
minimalistic superstructure found on USN battleship designs of the time.
Smaller resin parts come on two thin cast sheets or on runners. One casting sheet has the four turrets from the glorious double decker main gun turrets
to the waist 8-inch gun turrets. The crowns of the eight-inch turrets have three commander cupolas, one for the turret commander and one for each gun
commander. Also there are two large access doors, which had their hinges on the forward side. Since 8-inch positions are directly on top of the 12-inch
gun turrets, you would have to say that the main gun turrets had 8-inch gun positions on their crowns with gun commander cupolas on the crown to the
outboard of each 12-inch gun. The centerline cupola on the crown of the 8-inch position was the consolidated turret commander for the two 12-inch
guns and two 8-inch guns of the combined turret. The other resin sheet comprises various decks, platforms and deck houses. Not all of the parts on this
sheet are used, as cage mast platforms for a 1918 fit are included.  Four of the platforms are for the military style mainmast. For the forward cage mast
there is a small rectangular sighting top with overhead, as well as four searchlight platforms. In addition to the late WWI cage mast platforms not used in
this build there are two other sighting tops with overheads, one circular and one large square top used in a subsequent fit. There are four deckhouses
with the two larger ones located between the funnels and the two smaller ones located underneath the aft navigation deck. The sheet has the aft
navigation bridge as well as forward superstructure decks.

Cast separately are the three funnels with clinker caps and steam pipes integral to the castings and a tapered mold used to for the brass cage mast, in
which you just wrap the brass around the form to get the correct shape for the cage foremasts. There are thirteen resin runners which contain the
balance of the resin parts. The boat cranes each have a runner. One runner has the aft pole for the military mast and main top mast. Three runners have
guns, one with 12-inch, eight-inch and 3-inch casemate guns, another with deck 3-inch guns and one with 6-inch casemate  guns.  Two identical
runners have searchlights and small ventilator J cowls and a single runner has the large J ventilator cowls. The last four runners have the ship’s boats, 2
each with two large boats and 2 each with four smaller boats for a total of twelve ship’s boats.  

A nice brass photo-etch fret is included with the
Samek Virginia.  Of course it is dominated by the fore cagemast. Samek also provides a nice large
relief-etched name plate. I especially commend
Samek for including a relief etch stern name plate for the model. Four two piece anchors are on the fret,
one part anchor and one part fluke.  Sixteen boat davits and four parts for boat crane block and tackle are included, as well as three runs of anchor
chain. Two accommodation ladders are included but they lack side rails. For generic railing
Samek includes one runner of vertical ladder, one run of
short spaced deck railing (used for the navigation bridges) and three runs of wide spaced railing. All railing must be cut to fit the location attached.
Samek shows using the vertical ladders for inclined ladders. Don’t do it unless forced by necessity. Get real inclined ladders with railing. I am puzzled
why
Samek, who has good production standards, would not include dedicated inclined ladders in their photo-etch fret and instead show a very clunky
substitute.  A small decal sheet contains two flags.

Instructions consist of two back-printed sheets. One sheet is the history of the ship with ship specifications. Actual assembly is shown on the second
sheet. The front page numbers every resin part. The brass parts are numbered on the fret. The reverse of this sheet shows photographs, one semi-
profile view and one semi-plan view of the completed model with each resin part show as the part number within a square and each brass numbered part
inside a circle. For the most part this works but in some circumstances it just doesn’t cut it for adequate part placement. One example are the two small
deck houses provided on the resin sheet. Numbered 12 the instructions point to some place under the aft navigation bridge for attachment. Just because
they are underneath a flying deck doesn’t mean that we don’t want to get the exact placement correct.
Samek provides the only model that portrays the Virginia class in the fit used by three of the class. USS Virginia, USS Nebraska and USS Rhode
Island
were refitted with a fore cage mast and kept a military style main mast in the refit received after completing their cruise around the world with the
Great White Fleet. Resin and brass parts are provided to model this unique fit of the class.