Thursday, August 22, 2019

Battleships, Part Two - The Pre-Dreadnoughts

USS Connecticut (BB-18) on her speed trials in 1906 or 1907.
The day of the sailing ship was coming to a close during the American War of the Rebellion (1861-1865). Ships now had coal-fired boilers which produced steam to drive the ship through the water. While they still had towering masts and sails (for the most part), they relied more and more on steam. Having coaling stations around the world grew in importance.

Navies began to armor their warships as well. The British and the French both had designs on the books after the Crimean War. Better cannon and better explosive projectiles were signaling the death knell of the square-rigged, wooden ship of the line. The French man-of-war Gloire was the first ocean-going ironclad to enter service in 1859.

Gloire in 1860
Partial specifications for Gloire (Source):
1 × Shaft
1 × Horizontal return connecting rod-steam engine
Sail plan: Barquentine rigged
Speed: 13 knots
Range: 2,500 mi at 8 knots
Crew: 570 officers and enlisted men
As built:
36 × 164 mm (6.5 in) Mle 1858 rifled muzzle-loading guns
After 1868:
6 × 240 mm (9.4 in) Mle 1864 Breech-loading guns
2 × 192 mm (7.6 in) Mle 1866 Breech-loading guns
Hull: 120 mm (4.7 in)
Conning tower: 100 mm (3.9 in)

Gloire had a wooden hull protected by armor plate, she was in service less than 20 years and was rendered obsolete shortly after she went into service by the Royal Navy's HMS Warrior. HMS Warrior was the first warship built with an iron hull. Though from a distance she didn't look much different than an old ship of the line. For what it's worth, HMS Warrior was actually classified as a 40-gun steam-powered frigate. Not a battleship at all.

She still exists, preserved as a museum ship, and can be seen at Portsmouth, England, where she has been since 1987.

But all of these steam-and-sail-powered, old style broadside ships were not long for this world. Technology would soon send them all to the breaker's yard (well, except for HMS Warrior). But they did see action at the Battle of Lissa in 1866, a clash between the navies of the Austrian Empire (yes, they used to have a coastline and a navy) and Italy. The outnumbered Austrians actually defeated the Italians as apparently the Italian admirals in command didn't get along with each other.

Battle of Lissa, July 20th,1866
RN Re d'Italia is sinking after being rammed by Tegetthoff's flagship, the SMS Ferdinand Max.
Yes, rammed.

Those ships to either side of the painting are starting to look like modern warships, aren't they? All that's missing are gun turrets. (For those keeping score at home, the flags of Italy and Austria in the painting look very much like their modern counterparts.)

Gun turrets, Sarge?

Commissioning ceremonies for USS Connecticut (BB-18), 29 September 1906.
Yup, gun turrets.
Pre-dreadnought battleships were sea-going battleships built between the mid- to late 1880s and 1905, before the launch of HMS Dreadnought. Pre-dreadnoughts replaced the ironclad battleships of the 1870s and 1880s. Built from steel, and protected by hardened steel armor, pre-dreadnought battleships carried a main battery of very heavy guns in barbettes (open or with armoured gunhouses) supported by one or more secondary batteries of lighter weapons. They were powered by coal-fueled triple-expansion steam engines.
In contrast to the chaotic development of ironclad warships in preceding decades, the 1890s saw navies worldwide start to build battleships to a common design as dozens of ships essentially followed the design of the British Majestic class. The similarity in appearance of battleships in the 1890s was underlined by the increasing number of ships being built. New naval powers such as Germany, Japan, the United States, and – to a lesser extent – Italy and Austria-Hungary, began to establish themselves with fleets of pre-dreadnoughts, while the navies of Britain, France, and Russia expanded to meet these new threats. The decisive clash of pre-dreadnought fleets was between the Imperial Russian Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy during the Battle of Tsushima on 27 May 1905. (Source)
Of course, before HMS Dreadnought was launched, these ships (like USS Connecticut) were not known as "pre-dreadnought battleships," but simply as battleships. These late 19th Century battleships saw action in a number of conflicts.
The United States started building its first battleships in 1891. These ships were short-range coast-defense battleships that were similar to the British HMS Hood except for an innovative intermediate battery of 8-inch guns. The US Navy continued to build ships that were relatively short-range and poor in heavy seas, until the Virginia class laid down in 1901–02. Nevertheless, it was these earlier ships that ensured American naval dominance against the antiquated Spanish fleet—which included no pre-dreadnoughts—in the Spanish–American War, most notably at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba. The final two classes of American pre-dreadnoughts (the Connecticuts and Mississippis) were completed after the completion of the Dreadnought and after the start of design work on the USN's own initial class of dreadnoughts. The US Great White Fleet of 16 pre-dreadnought battleships circumnavigated the world from 16 December 1907, to 22 February 1909.
Japan was involved in two of the three major naval wars of the pre-dreadnought era. The first Japanese pre-dreadnought battleships, the Fuji class, were still being built at the outbreak of the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95, which saw Japanese armoured cruisers and protected cruisers defeat the Chinese Beiyang Fleet, composed of a mixture of old ironclad battleships and cruisers, at the Battle of the Yalu River. Following their victory, and facing Russian pressure in the region, the Japanese placed orders for four more pre-dreadnoughts; along with the two Fujis these battleships formed the core of the fleet which twice engaged the numerically superior Russian fleets at the Battle of the Yellow Sea and the Battle of Tsushima. After capturing eight Russian battleships of various ages, Japan built several more classes of pre-dreadnought after the Russo-Japanese War. (Source)
The Great White Fleet
USS Kansas (BB-21) sails ahead of USS Vermont (BB-20) as the fleet leaves Hampton Roads, Virginia, on 16 December 1907.
The most famous clash of these "pre-Dreadnought" battleships was the aforementioned Battle of Tsushima.

Admiral Tōgō on the bridge of Mikasa, at the beginning of the Battle of Tsushima in 1905.
The signal flag being hoisted is the letter Z, which was a special instruction to the Fleet.
On 8 February 1904 destroyers of the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the Russian Far East Fleet anchored in Port Arthur; three ships – two battleships and a cruiser – were damaged in the attack. The Russo-Japanese war had thus begun. Japan's first objective was to secure its lines of communication and supply to the Asian mainland, enabling it to conduct a ground war in Manchuria. To achieve this, it was necessary to neutralize Russian naval power in the Far East. At first, the Russian naval forces remained inactive and did not engage the Japanese, who staged unopposed landings in Korea. The Russians were revitalized by the arrival of Admiral Stepan Makarov and were able to achieve some degree of success against the Japanese, but on 13 April Makarov's flagship, the battleship Petropavlovsk, struck a mine and sank; Makarov was among the dead. His successors failed to challenge the Japanese Navy, and the Russians were effectively bottled up in their base at Port Arthur.
By May, the Japanese had landed forces on the Liaodong Peninsula and in August began the siege of the naval station. On 9 August, Admiral Wilgelm Vitgeft, commander of the 1st Pacific Squadron, was ordered to sortie his fleet to Vladivostok, link up with the Squadron stationed there, and then engage the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) in a decisive battle.[11] Both squadrons of the Russian Pacific Fleet would ultimately become dispersed during the battles of the Yellow Sea (Admiral Vitgeft was killed by a salvo strike from the Japanese battleship Asahi) on 10 August and the Ulsan on 14 August 1904. What remained of Russian naval power would eventually be sunk in Port Arthur. (Source)
With Russian naval power practically erased in the Pacific, another squadron had to be dispatched to the theater of war. The only squadron available was in the Baltic Sea. Thus began the epic, and eventually disastrous, journey of the Second Pacific Squadron.
The Second Pacific Squadron sailed through the Baltic into the North Sea. The Russians had heard fictitious reports of Japanese torpedo boats operating in the area and were on high alert. In the Dogger Bank incident, the Russian fleet mistook a group of British fishing trawlers operating near the Dogger Bank at night for hostile Japanese ships. The fleet fired upon the small civilian vessels, killing several British fishermen and one trawler was sunk while another six were damaged. In confusion the Russians even fired upon two of their vessels, killing some of their men. The firing continued for twenty minutes before Rozhestvensky ordered firing to cease; greater loss of life was only avoided because the Russian gunnery was highly inaccurate.
The British were outraged by the incident and incredulous that the Russians could mistake a group of fishing trawlers for Japanese warships, thousands of kilometres from the nearest Japanese port. Britain almost entered the war in support of Japan, with whom it had a mutual defense agreement (but was neutral in the war, as their treaty contained a specific exemption for Japanese action in China and Korea). The Royal Navy sortied and shadowed the Russian fleet while a diplomatic agreement was reached. France, which had hoped to eventually bring the British and Russians together in an anti-German bloc, intervened diplomatically to restrain Britain from declaring war. The Russians were forced to accept responsibility for the incident, compensate the fishermen, disembark officers who were suspected of misconduct to give evidence to an inquiry, and banned from using the Suez Canal. Forced to take a much longer route to the Far East, the Russians sailed around Africa, and by April and May 1905 had anchored at Cam Ranh Bay in French Indochina (now Vietnam). The voyage took several months in rough seas, with difficulty obtaining coal for refueling – as the warships could not legally enter the ports of neutral nations – and the morale of the crews plummeted. The Russians needed 500,000 short tons of coal and 30 to 40 re-coaling sessions to reach Cam Ranh Bay. This was provided by 60 colliers from the Hamburg-Amerika Line. (Source)
The trawlers fired upon!
Route taken by the Russian Squadrons to Tsushima
Eventually they arrived in theater, and met disaster.

Want to know about a brilliant admiral?

Read about this fellow -

Marshal-Admiral The Marquis Tōgō Heihachirō
東郷 平八郎
Next time...

HMS Dreadnought
The beginning of the end...


  1. History that I am mostly uninformed about. Very interesting post. Got some homework to do. Thanks Professor!

  2. Seconding STxAR in not knowing much about the Russo-Japanese War or about Tsushima, back down the rabbit hole to rectify that. The Dreadnought era.........geeez.... Massie's book is already twenty seven years old but a very good read. Quality post Sarge...... oh, state fair starts and Irish Whiskey Boneless Wings......(yum)

    1. Massie's Castles of Steel and Dreadnought are both outstanding books. I have them both and need to reread them soon!

      Irish Whisky boneless wings? Damn, you know how to live.

    2. I posted this last night but it didn't appear. 'The fleet that had to die' by Richard Hough is a good account of the 1904 Russo-Japanese war.

    3. Nice, thanks for the tip, Retired.

  3. The Great “White” Fleet must have spent a fortune on scrubbing and paint, what with the massive gouts of coal smoke.

    On the other hand, having spent enough time hanging out at steam engine shows and the like, I can sort of imagine what it smells like...

    1. They must have spent a lot of time chipping, scrubbing, and painting.

    2. My own experiences say NSFO isn’t much of an improvement over coal, particularly when there’s a spill.

    3. Apparently in the early 1970's, the U.S. Navy switched from use of Navy Special Fuel Oil (NSFO NATO F-77 to Naval Distillate Fuel NATO F-76) in shipboard propulsion and electric generating systems. Don't know if that's any better or worse.

    4. Well, at least the GWF looked nice when it showed up in port. Unlike today's navy...

    5. Bear in mind, the Meejah wants the Navy to look bad. So you get photos of the rusty ones. Some of the ships out there could use some housekeeping, true. But I also know of destroyers arriving in port and the entire crew turning out to clean the ship up before anyone gets liberty.

      Don't tar the entire Navy with the shitshow you see from the Meejah. Just sayin'...

    6. I reported to my first can when she was getting converted from black oil to Naval Distillate. I didn't get any black oil experience until I left active duty and worked for a steam generator repair company for a while.
      I don't think anyone missed black oil.

  4. "On 8 February 1904 destroyers of the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the Russian Far East Fleet anchored in Port Arthur" So the Japanese Navy had a history of surprise attacks against enemy fleets at anchorage prior to Pearl Harbor ...granted aviation wasn't available in the 1904 attack, but sounds like the doctrine was similar even if the specific weapons were different ... A possible case of 'those who don't learn from history .." and all that?

    1. Yes, the Japanese had a penchant for surprise attacks. While it may seem harsh, announcing to an enemy that you're going to attack is rather dumb. Those who launch aggression against another country seldom play by the rules. The Japanese chose "not dumb." Twice. (Though the attack on us was, in the long run, very dumb.)

    2. IIRC, Yamamoto had serious reservations about engaging the USA in a war, but was overruled by Tojo, who was running things by then.

    3. I remember something from my readings from the Naval War College about the Japanese and their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor- something to the effect of "Have they never heard of Port Arthur?"

    4. drjim - Yes, Yamamoto didn't think they could win outright. And Tojo was an ass.

    5. Tuna - Yup. Those who do not learn history...

  5. Hey AFSarge;

    When I was researching the U.S. Navy after the war between the states the U.S. Navy had monitors but they didn't modernize after the war, like the U.S. Army who was outgunned by the indians in the indian wars out west. It took the "Virginius Incident" to wake up the U.S Navy to the obsolescence of the coastal monitors that we had and how weak we were perceived by the other nations it forced a modernization.

    1. No doubt Congress wouldn't have paid for better ships even if the Navy had wanted them.

    2. The lack of military progress and just general rot of equipment in the US after the Civil War was criminal. At one point, Chile had a much more modern navy than we did. Chile... CHILE... Friggin CHILE....

      And now, thanks to the 'Peace Dividend,' we are in much the same spot. Ships and equipment that are used hard, put up wet, with not enough money for repairs (labor) or replacement parts.

      The cycle of WAR, Build Best Force, Win War, Throw most of best force aside to rot, oh poop WAR, build, win, rot, repeat... that the US goes through is criminal.

    3. It's somewhat disgusting to note (as an amateur historian) that the good old US Congress has had this habit practically since day one.

      And the guys and gals in uniform take it in the teeth whenever things heat up.

    4. Then there's the building of rot- AKA LCS.

  6. Thanks again, OAFS. I am learning a lot and realizing what a sorry lot many of us humans have been and continue to be. I am glad that the folks who gather around here to read and comment tend to be my hope for the future.
    I am still standing by my 8 year old Bacardi, however.

    1. I should have added that we humans seem to be quite inventive though.

    2. We are rather a sorry lot at times.

    3. We are damned clever about killing each other, that's for sure.

  7. One thing of note - IJN of the 1904-05 war has been extremely humane in treatment of Russian POW's, not the least the ill-fated commander of the Baltic Fleet...
    And on another note - one young officer lost 2 fingers in Battle of Tsushima. You certainly know his name... Yamamoto Isoroku.
    And on yet another note...
    Star Wars have stolen one of best command quotes of the USN!
    and on a final note: for fans of alternate history, try the awesome "Britannia's Fist" trilogy by Peter Tsouras.
    It follows incident in British waters during Civil War triggering British intervention and has several massive naval battles involving amongst others Warrior/Balk Prince on one side and USN monitors of various classes on the other.

    1. Yes, they were. The fellows in charge in WWII claimed to be samurai but in reality were common thugs, the yakuza had more honor. Fellows like Admiral Togo were actual samurai, not wannabes.

      Yamamoto-san, hai!

  8. Thanks for the great history lesson, Sarge!

    1. My pleasure, I usually learn something new myself doing the research. It's interesting.

  9. There lived in our town a veteran of the Spanish-American war known as "Uncle Bill". I was the presiding Master of our lodge at the time of his 100th birthday. He told of being in Captain Robertson's Co. of the Naval Battalion of the Rhode Island Militia. He was called up for active service and ordered to the Brooklyn Navy Yard where he was part of the crew who re-activated a Monitor and patrolled Long Island Sound for the duration. My paternal grandfather was a cox'n in the same company. Very Old Navy.

  10. And perhaps tomorrow will take us through the modern battleship era and include a mention of Suriago Strait?

    Russia has a 1900 protected cruiser still afloat.

    We've gone from coal and reciprocating engines, to oil and turbine engines.
    I wonder if anyone looked at a nuclear power plant for the BBs.
    Nuclear power, a hydrofoil addition to the hull for real speed, and the 16's replaced with rail guns and directed energy weapons.
    I have never been faulted for a lack of imagination.

    Good post.

    1. Aurora features prominently in that video, she and Mikasa are the only survivors of Tsushima still around.

      The Navy would love your imagination, Congress not so much. I could see the dollars racking up with each new idea.

      It would be cool though.

    2. Just watched the video. Very good.
      I would have thought that the Mikasa would have belonged to, (pause) China. :)

      And adding on to my previous comment, we are going to need a flagship for the United States Space Forces, so we might just as well make one of the BBs airtight and fit her with an Orion Drive.
      I sort of borrowed the idea from here.

    3. I built several models of that ship from the anime series and manga books!

    4. John - That's thinking outside the box. Way outside the box. 😉

  11. Been to Yokosuka several times and toured Mikasa as often as possible. Though her guns and turrets are fake copies (she was dearmed after WW2) and her hull encased in concrete, she still retains much of the conditions as built. From the lowly crew areas in the casement guns to the splendid Admirals cabin in the stern. If your ever in Japan she is well worth the day-trip down from Tokyo.

    1. It's on my list. The Nuke travels to Japan frequently, Yokosuka as a matter of fact. I should ask her to get some pictures the next time she's over there.

  12. The speed trail photo of CONNECTICUT is amazing.

    1. I LOVE that picture. The boat where the photographer was swamped shortly after the photo was taken by the battleship's bow wave.


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