Scratchbuilding a Russian WWI submarine Bars in 1/700 scale

by Vladimir Yakubov

Russian navy was an early and enthusiastic adopter of the submarine.  First Russian combat submarine was laid down in 1901 and finished in 1903.  Early submarines were shipped to Vladivostok and Port Arthur and some of them took part in patrols during the Russo-Japanese War.  Even through their use didn't lead to any successes, by 1909 Russia had built or had under construction 41 submarines, of which 20 were of Russian design/construction and 21 were foreign built.  However most of them were early submarines with limited armament, speed and endurance.  It was then when Russian Navy started a competition for the next submarine.  The requirement called for the submarine of around 450 tons, with high surface speed and heavy torpedo armament.  As a result of that completion two winners were selected - Baltic Factory with a Russian design by the premiere Russian designer Bubnov of 450 tons and Nevsky factory with a licensed Holland design of 490 tons.  The winners were asked to submit the designs to the corrected specifications - top surface speed of 16 knots and 12 knots submerged, submerged range of 12 nm at 12 knots and 30nm at 4-5 knots and 8 upper deck torpedo mounts.  The Baltic Factory submitted a new 600 ton design that was accepted and two were ordered but due to the lack of money never actually started.  Only in 1911 were funds appropriated and both factories were informed about the decision to build their designs.  Both submitted new and improved designs - Baltic Factory's 630 ton design became Morzh class and Nevsky's (Holland-31A) 620 ton design became Narval class.  Three submarines of each class were laid down.

While the construction of the above two classes went on, the navy came up with a new requirement for a long range fleet submarine.  Baltic Factory and a newly formed Noblessner Factory both submitted their designs - both of which were based on the slightly enlarged Morzh class submarines.  Noblessner design was done by Bubnov, who by then left Baltic Factory and found employment there.  It was that design that was selected as a winner.  The submarine had following characteristics - surfaced displacement of 650tons, top speed of 17 knots, range of 2400nm and armament of four internal torpedo tubes and eight Dzhevetsky collars.  Those collars are the most distinctive feature of the subs - they were basically external holders for the torpedoes that swung away from the hull to launch torpedoes.  While they allowed a relatively small submarine to carry a very heavy torpedo armament they also carried the torpedoes constantly subjected to the elements, which caused malfunctions, and were not very accurate.  Anyway the plan called for the construction of 6 submarines in 1913 and six more in 1914, plus additional 6 for the Far East.  Since Noblessner factory was a factory in the name only the order was split between it and the Baltic Factory.  First series was laid down in July-August 1913.  In the end a total of 24 subs were laid down between 1913 and 1915 - 18 in the Baltic and 6 in the Black Sea, of which 20 were completed.

Problems started almost immediately - Noblessner Factory was an amalgamation of various weapons and engine manufacturers and they didn't actually have a shipyard, so they had to build it first, therefore the construction of their portion of the submarines couldn't start until mid 1914.  However the main problem for the subs were their diesel engines.  By design they were supposed to have two 1320hp diesels, however there were major problems with their delivery and in the end only two of the subs laid down in 1915 received them (and were able to achieve the design speed of 16.65 knots).  Each of the first four subs received two 250hp diesels removed from the Amur river monitors.  Needless to day cutting the horse power over 5 times had a detrimental effect on them and Bars was only able to achieve 9.7 knots on trials.  On the bright side the endurance rose to 3000nm.  Some of the other subs got two 420hp diesels which gave the top speed of 12.5 knots.  The problems with diesels were never solved during WWI and boats had to make do with whatever was available.  The trials of the head submarine Bars showed other problems like 3 minute dive time, strong vibration from the diesels, too low placement of the Dzhevetski launchers and so on.  These were fixed on the subsequent subs and were retrofitted to the already built ones during refits.  Eventually the dive time was reduced to between 1.5 and 2 min, vibration problems were solved.  However the main design defect - the absence of any watertight bulkheads was never solved.  The curious thing is that the bulkheads were not included in the design not because the designers didn't think about it,. but rather because the budget didn't allow for them.

The head sub of the class - Bars, was commissioned on 25 July 1915.  After a brief work-up she started combat patrols in the late summer of 1915.  In October of 1915 while traveling o the surface the sub was attacked by a German cruiser Regensburg and two destroyers, but was able to evade them.  Before the end of 1915 made several combat sorties but without success.  In the winter of 1916 went in for refit during which many of the problems shown during trials were fixed.  On 10 May 1916 stopped a German merchantman, which turned out to be a Q-ship, after being shelled by its stern gun fired a torpedo at it, but Q-ship was able to evade.  Throughout 1916 the sub made numerous sorties and attacked enemy ships four times (including a formation of three destroyers) but always without success.  In 1917 the crew actively participated in the February revolution.  It's last sortie came in May 1917 - the submarine left the base on the 6th and was never seen again.  According to the German sources the sub may have hit a mine on 8th May 1917.

Of the 20 Bars class submarines completed, 12 survived the war and came under Soviet control (two of which were under repair at the time, which was never finished), three were sunk in combat, one was lost in an accident, two were scuttled and two were taken by the Whites to Bizerte, where they were eventually scrapped.  Submarines of the class actively participated in the combat with the British intervention forces in the Baltic in 1919.  In fact Pantera to this day holds the record for the biggest combatant sunk by a Russian or Soviet submarine, having torpedoed British destroyer Vittoria on the 1st September 1919.  At the end of the intervention most of the naval units were laid up and fell into the disrepair.  After the end of the Civil War submarines were slowly given capital refit and brought back into service.  The main visual difference that came out of the refit was the removal of the Dzhevetsky collars, which proved useless in combat, and installation of the uniform artillery on all units - two 75mm guns and one 37mm AA gun.  The submarines of the class were the main Soviet submarine force in the Baltic until the beginning of 1930s.  Two were lost in the accidents - Rabochiy (ex-Yorsh) collided with another submarine Kransoarmeets (ex-Leopard ) in 1931 (this is where the absence of watertight bulkheads proved fatal - the sub sank with all hands in 5 minutes from the hole no bigger that a hand in an inaccessible location) and sunk and Bol'shevik (ex-Rys') was rammed by the battleship Marat during the maneuvers in 1935.  In 1934 there was a proposal to modernize the subs of the class since their hulls were still in good shape.  Submarine B-2 (ex-Pantera) was refitted under that project - the hull was divided into three sections with watertight bulkheads, new powerful diesels were installed, screws were replaced, sail was replaced with the modern one, old 75mm guns were removed and new 45mm semi-automatic guns were installed.  The modernization improved the survivability and performance of the boat significantly but the price tag for it was compatible with the cost of the brand new sub, so the rest of the boats were not modified.  Barses were removed from service by 1936 (except for the newly modernized B-2).  B-2 served until 1940 at which time it was placed in reserve and turned into a submarine charging station.  In that capacity it served until 1949.

In September 2009 Swedish divers located a Bars class submarine at the edge of their territorial waters.  Presumably it is either Bars or Gepard both of which were lost in that area.

The Model
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Always wanted to build this interesting submarine.  It was an important vessel in the Russian navy and had many visually interesting features.  At the same time it didn't have a feature that put me off scratchbuilding submarines - limber holes.  So once I found the necessary references I decided to scratchbuild it.  
The Hull

The submarine was relatively big by WWI standards, but small by modern or even WWII standards, and had a strong hull that was mostly underwater and a ship like light hull above it for improved sea keeping.  In order to replicate that I made the hull in two pieces.  The strong hull was barely visible above the water, so to show that I cut out a piece of 1mm styrene plastic in the shape of the hull visible above the water and sanded the sides down until it was half round and resembled the top of the cylindrical object. The light hull was long and narrow so to make it I made a sandwich of the three vertical pieces of styrene.  The construction was complicated by the fact that it carried eight torpedoes externally and the light hull had cutouts on the side for them.  So to show that I made the sides from the pieces glued to the main backbone.  Once it was shaped correctly I glued the light hull to the strong hull and filled the gaps with putty.

Next thing that I built was the superstructure which was build using the same sandwich technique as the hull.  To shape it without worrying about damaging the hull, I glued it to the piece of wood, filed it down into a correct shape and then glued it to the hull.  Once that was done I made all of the necessary holes and hatches on both it and the hull.


After that I started detailing the sub.  I used a photoetched anchor, and made the indentation for it using a Dremel.  The hatches were done from various photoetch pieces.  The gun platforms were done from CA impregnated paper and I used pieces from railing to make the supports for them.  The periscope mounts were done using the hypodermic tubing.

The sub was painted using acrylics.  The deck and strong hull were painted first with Scale Black and then masked and the hull was painted using Neutral Gray.  Once the touchups were done, I've used the Black-It-Out wash and drybrushing to do the details.  After the painting the railings, periscopes and anchor chain were added.  The imperial eagle decal was done on the ALPS printer.


As built the sub didn't carry any gun armament but as the war went on more and more guns were being added to it.  It seems that the submarines of the class were being armed on the principle of "whatever was available at the time" and so they carried a large variety of guns starting from 37mm Hotchkisses to 75mm Canets and everything in between.  Bars, like other subs was continuously up-armed and by 1916 carried one 75mm Canet gun forward, one 57mm Hotchkiss gun aft and 37mm Hotchkiss in an anti-aircraft mount on the sail.  I decided to show that particular fit on my model.  While Combrig's 75mm guns are very nice, they are not fine enough to be a centerpiece of such a small model, so detailed them.  I took a mount from the gun, cut out the barrel, and made a new barrel from hypodermic tubing, made the recoil tubes on the bottom and breech at the end of the gun.  The 57mm gun was done the same way, I've used the shoulder brace from the OKB Grigorov's 47mm Hotchkiss gun PE set.  The 37mm gun came from the WEM's Askold set.

The main feature of the model however are the external torpedoes.  There are eight of them, so I had to make 8 torpedoes and eight Dzhevetski collars that held them.  The torpedoes were made by turning plastic rod on the Dremel, and then gluing the tail from CA glue impregnated pieces of paper.  The collars were made from the the 1/350 scale PE railings.  The center bar was cut out and it was bent in to the correct shape.  The biggest difficulty was in assembling them all together - after gluing the torpedoes to the collar, I had to make the outer half circles that hold the torpedoes, and each one of them had to be bent, cut and glued individually, three to a collar for a total of 32.


The model was weathered using pastels.  I've made rust stains and dark streaks down the side to show the submarine that was used fairly extensively.  Once that was done the model was flatcoated.  Then I painted the base around it the color of water so that I would be able to get the strong hull realistically wet from the water.  Only after that did I start working on water itself, since the water would have covered the strong hull on the top and it would be visible through it.  Once the Acrylic Gel Medium was dry I painted the water making sure to blend in the water that I was painting over with the clear water over the hull.  Once that was done, I made the wake and the bow wave by drybrushing white over the main blue color.



It turns out that submarines are easy to do when they don't have hundreds of limber holes like many WWII and later submarines have.  I've enjoyed building this unusual submarine that combined in itself the ease of building a sub, but at the same time was not the same featureless round tube that many of the submarines are.

The Ships of Vladimir Yakubov