Have you ever looked at a possible plan for your next model and been a little wary of some tight triple compound curves on the stem, or wondered how to carve a bow section with a nice sharp (and straight) stem? Well here's the ship for you..... Imagine a ship with no pointy ends. A perfectly flat bottom, and not much of that fiddly superstructure stuff to fret about. It had lots of boilers and engines and things - 8 engines driving six propellers, so you'll get lots of practice on shaft alignment. It sported two big guns and two tall smokestacks.
Let me give you some background.
Around the middle of the 19th century, iron ships were replacing wood. At the same time, naval gun design was bringing on big, rifled guns with ranges far beyond anything seen before. These new weapons could deliver an exploding shell to a distance of 5,000 feet or more. Aiming the new shells was proving difficult, especially since these new ships lacked the roll stabilization of sails. Scottish shipbuilder John Elder gave it some thought and wrote an article postulating that a wider beam would not only stabilize the ship, but would also reduce draught, allow more efficient use of armour, plus more and larger guns. Sounds perfectly reasonable, right?
Enter Rear-Admiral Andrei Alexandrovich Popov of the Imperial Russian Navy. He was so taken with the concept that he designed a perfectly circular armoured ship. Now Popov may have been prone to exaggeration, but it seems he was also a good salesman, because he convinced General-Admiral Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich (his guy's nautical IQ may have been in inverse proportion to the length of his name & title) to the construct two of these things. The first, the Novgorod, was a perfect circle, but the second of the class, the Vice-Admiral Popov, was squeezed little in the middle. Built in Russia between 1873 and 1875, Novgorod was 101 feet in one direction and 101 in another, with a draft of 14 feet while Popov was reported to be 126 feet long with a beam of only 117 feet. Both carried two large guns in a single barbette mounted in the middle of the dinner plate.
One can only imagine the sea-keeping capabilities of these craft.
Popov is reported to have been difficult to handle in rough weather, taking as much as 45 minutes to complete a full circle. Rudder effect was minimal, imparting more of a spin than a turn. Of course, that may have been the designers intent; to change direction simply stop the ship, use the rudder to apply spin and, when the desired direction is achieved, apply opposite rudder to stop the spin and engage engines! The difficulty may have been in determining just where the ship was actually pointing at any given time. Maybe a painted arrow on the deck would have been helpful.
Speed and endurance were not spectacular, both ships achieving about 8.5 knots (in a single direction) while consuming many tons of coal. Unfortunately there don't seem to be to be many plans or pictures for these very unusual ships. Still, I hope someone will seriously consider having a go... we could use the result in one of our ship handling competitions!
Story by Mike Creasy.
Thanks to the Victoria Model Shipbuilding Society for permission to re-publish this article from the January 2018 edition of the their Binnacle newsletter.