USS Monitor The First Warship With Naval Gun Turret.


HMS Captain was designed to have a freeboard of only 8 feet (2.4 m), but owing to mistakes in construction leading to increased weight, the ship eventually floated 14 inches (360 mm) lower in the water. She had a full set of sails and the highest masts in the navy. She was completed in January 1870, and initial trials were successful. In May, she accompanied the Channel fleet and successfully weathered a gale. Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Symmonds commanding commented favorably on both Captain and Monarch. Captain achieved 14.25 knots (26.39 km/h; 16.40 mph), compared to Monarch‍ ’​s 14.9 knots (27.6 km/h; 17.1 mph) under steam, but with smaller engines. Under sail, Captain was faster. All in all, she was hailed as a vindication of Coles’ ideas.
In August, the ship sailed again with Coles on board. The weather deteriorated, and again she had to face a gale. This time, however, the wind was gusting and unpredictable. Extensive rigging had been necessary to make the ship oceangoing. This forced the creation of a “hurricane deck” above the turrets, which increasingly caught the wind as she heeled over. This may have been instrumental in Captain‍ ’​s tragic capsize. Coles perished in the disaster after midnight on the night of 6 September.

It emerged that the ship had a maximum righting moment at an angle of heel around 18 degrees. If she was pushed over beyond this angle, the moment declined. By contrast, Monarch had a maximum restoring force at an angle of 40 degrees, so that any heel up to this limit would always meet increasing resistance.

The Royal Navy got far more value for its money in the development of the turret ironclad. The turret held enormous advantages over the broadside arrangement of heavy guns. In the words of the turret’s pioneer, the commander of a turret ship could “turn the guns, not the ship.” Obviously, a gun turret could be pivoted much more easily than an entire warship could be turned. Gun turret ports were much smaller than those through which broadside guns had to be aimed and fired, thus giving turret ship gun crews greater protection from enemy shot and fragments. At any rate, gun crews could be much smaller in number, having to serve only a few heavy guns and having no longer to aim, only to load and fire the guns.

However, no way as yet had been devised to combine the turret with the sailing rigs still believed to be necessary. The sweep of the turret was not so sweeping if it was blocked by masts and rigging. This problem was the main reason, rather than any innate conservatism, that broadside (or box battery) ironclads were built long after the turret became feasible.

The credit for the invention of the most effective gun turret goes not to the famous Swedish American inventor John Ericsson, designer of USS Monitor, but to the more obscure half-pay Royal Navy captain, Cowper P. Coles. Although the two turret designs were more or less contemporary, Coles’s turret was technologically far more advanced than Ericsson’s. The Coles turret rested on rollers below the waterline on the gun deck, not on an easily jammed spindle like Ericsson’s, and it was protected with solid, not laminated, armor plating.

Captain Coles enjoyed strong support from Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, and when that royal prince died in 1861, the grieving queen was all the more determined to see that its navy gave Coles a chance to prove his invention. Further, Coles enjoyed wide public support, as expressed in the naval and general periodicals of the day. For the first time, the Admiralty found itself having to pay considerable attention to public opinion. The industrial revolution, with its steam presses, cheap paper, and swift rail transportation, had made professional, literary, and popular newspapers and journals available to an enormously increased readership, as had the government school movement. Journalists and half-pay officers, not to mention lawyers, clergymen, stockbrokers, and artisans, could now fiercely denounce or praise the most technical details of naval construction and armament for a wide audience, and most supported Coles, specifically denouncing the Admiralty’s Construction Office. The Reform Act of 1867, giving the working classes the franchise, also widened the audience that could make known its opinions on naval matters, no matter how uninformed.

Despite the Coles turret’s superiority, the distinction for participating in the first ironclad-to-ironclad clash must go to the Ericsson turret armorclad USS Monitor, the world’s first mastless ironclad. At the Battle of Hampton Roads (8 March 1862), Monitor faced off Confederate ironclad battery CSS Virginia in one of the very few naval battles fought before a large audience, lining the Virginia shore.

It is popularly supposed that Hampton Roads demonstrated that the day of the wooden warship had ended. It did no such thing; the armored Kinburn batteries had already taken the world’s attention almost six years before, the French La Gloire had been in service for the previous two years, and the magnificent seagoing British ironclad HMS Warrior for six months; and the world’s naval powers at the time had some 20 ironclads on the stocks. It would have been a peculiarly dense naval officer or designer who did not realize by March 1862 that ironclads would dominate the world’s fleets in the very near future. The main question would be what forms those ironclad warships would take.

The historic Battle of Hampton Roads did touch off a veritable monitor mania in the Union: Of the 84 ironclads constructed in the North throughout the Civil War, no less than 64 were of the monitor or turreted types. The first class of Union monitors were the 10 Catskills: Catskill, Camanche, Lehigh, Montauk, Nahant, Nantucket, Patapsco, Passaic, Sangamon, and Weehawken. (Camanche was shipped in knocked-down form to San Francisco. But the transporting vessel sank at the pier. Camanche was later salvaged, but the war was already over. Camanche thus has the distinction of being sunk before completion.) These ironclads, the first large armored warships to have more than two units built from the same plans, were awkwardly armed with one 11-inch and one 15-inch Dahlgren smoothbore. The Passaics were followed by the nine larger Canonicus class: Canonicus, Catawba (not completed in time for Union service), Mahopac, Manayunk, Manhattan, Oneonta, Saugus, Tecumseh, and Tippecanoe, distinguishable by their armament of two matching 15-inch smoothbores and the removal of the dangerous upper-deck overhang.

The eminent engineer James Eads designed four Milwaukee-class whaleback (sloping upper deck) double-turreted monitors: Chickasaw, Kickapoo, Milwaukee, and Winnebago. (Ericsson, on the other hand, loathed multiple-turret monitors, sarcastically comparing the arrangement to “two suns in the sky.”) Eads’s unique ironclads mounted two turrets, one of the Ericsson type (much to Ericsson’s disgust), the other of Eads’s own patented design: The guns’ recoil would actually drop the turret floor below the waterline for safe reloading; hydraulic power would then raise the floor back to the turret, wherein the guns could be run out by steam power. Eads’s two paddlewheel wooden-hull monitors, Osage and Neosho, designed for work on western rivers, were also unique. Although built to Eads’s designs, the two paddlewheel monitors mounted Ericsson turrets. All of the above monitors saw action in the U. S. Civil War. Completed too late for action were Marietta and Sandusky, iron-hulled river monitors constructed in Pittsburgh by the same firm that had built the U. S. Navy’s first iron ship, the paddle sloop USS Michigan.

Ericsson designed five supposedly oceangoing Union monitors: the iron-construction Dictator and Puritan, and the timber-built Agamenticus, Miantonomah, Monadnock, and Tonawanda.

The one-of-a-kind Union monitors were Roanoke, a cut-down wooden sloop; and Onondaga, also of timber-hull construction. Ozark, a wooden-hull light river monitor, had a higher freeboard than any Union monitor and also mounted a unique underwater gun of very questionable utility. None of the seagoing or the one-of-a-kind monitors saw combat.

Keokuk was an unlucky semimonitor (its two guns were mounted in two fixed armored towers and fired through three gun ports-a revolving turret would seem to have been an altogether simpler arrangement). The fatal flaw was in the armor, a respectable 5.75 inches, but it was alternated with wood. Participating in the U. S. Navy’s first attack on Charleston, South Carolina, Keokuk was riddled with some 90 Confederate shots and sank the next morning.

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