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Battleships of the United States Navy

Battleships of the United States Navy

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Battleships of the United States Navy

290 pagine
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Sep 30, 2014


This pictorial history of US battleships illustrates the power, versatility, and many combat operations of this naval stalwart across the 20th century.

Between 1895 and 1944, the US Navy commissioned some 60 steel-clad battleships; from the USS Indiana (BB-1) to the USS Missouri (BB-63). After an impressive showing in the Spanish-American War and the Great White Fleet's circumnavigation of the world, US battleships played only a minor role in the First World War. They came into their own in World War II, bombarding enemy-held coastal regions, facing off against their Japanese counterparts, and providing essential protection of aircraft carriers. Their armor, at nearly a foot and a half thick, saved many lives in the face of suicidal kamikaze pilots.

After World War II, battleships were relegated to war reserve status, but their conversion to platforms for cruise missiles gave them a vital new role. The last US battleship retired in 1992, having served in Korean, Vietnam, and Iraq. Combining rare wartime photographs and authoritative text by military expert Michael Green, Battleships of the United States Navy gives the expert and layman a detailed overview of one of the greatest weapon systems in military history.
Sep 30, 2014

Informazioni sull'autore

Michael Green was educated at Oxford University and writes about business and economics for The Economist. He is the co-author, with Matthew Bishop, of Philanthrocapitalism: How The Rich Can Save The World (A & C Black, 2008).

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Battleships of the United States Navy - Michael Green


Chapter One

Early Battleships

The first all metal-clad and mechanically-driven ship of the US navy debuted during the American Civil War (1861–65) and was named the Monitor. The ship was launched on 30 January 1862. The Monitor was built in response to the building of the Confederate iron-clad ship named the Virginia. The two ships met in battle on 9 March 1862 with inconclusive results. Despite limited success in its first battle, the US navy launched many more metal ships with different names but all were classified as ‘monitors’.

Following the civil war, the US navy entered a period of serious decline as reactionaries within its officer corps refused to embrace emerging technologies such as mechanically-driven ships. Part of the problem was the high cost of coal that made wooden sailing ships more economical to operate over long distances. This self-inflicted decline in capabilities was not addressed until civilian Secretary of the Navy William H. Hunt (1881–82) and his successor William E. Chandler (1882–85) persuaded the American Congress to authorize the first steel ships of what would become known as the ‘New Navy’.

In contrast to the ‘Old Navy’ that consisted of ocean-going wooden sailing ships and a small number of coastal waterway monitors armoured with iron plate, the New Navy consisted of modern all-steel ships. First out of the shipyards between 1884 and 1890 were the protected cruisers Atlantic, Baltimore and Chicago, along with the smaller gunboat, the Dolphin. The three cruisers were intended to operate independently as commerce raiders. In 1876 the French navy launched the first ship that was primarily made of steel.

The First US Navy Battleships

It fell to William C. Whitney, who served as Secretary of the Navy from 1885 to 1889, to begin the story of America’s battleships. He convinced the American Congress to authorize (fund) the construction of one heavy armoured cruiser in 1886, later reclassified as ‘second-class battleships’, named the Maine. The second ship was named Texas and was classified as a battleship from the beginning. The Maine was an American-designed and built ship, whereas the Texas was based on a British ship design but constructed in an American shipyard.

Both the Maine and the Texas were commissioned by the US navy in 1895 and served as prototypes for the battleships that would follow. The Maine had a standard displacement of 6,682 tons and the Texas 6,315 tons. The Maine was 319 feet long and had a beam (width) of 57 feet, while the Texas was 308 feet 10 inches long with a beam of 64 feet 1 inch.

In-between the authorization of a ship and its commissioning are some important benchmarks. These include the date its keel (backbone) is ‘laid down’. When a ship’s hull and basic superstructure is completed it will then be ‘launched’. Following its launching the ship is then taken to a pier for its ‘fitting out’, which involves adding all the components (from the propulsion system to weapons) necessary to make it functional. In the case of battleships, the fitting-out stage can take years. Once the ship is functional it is then tested by the US navy to confirm that the builder has met all the contract requirements. Once the US navy is satisfied that the builder has met all their contractual obligations, the ship is formally ‘commissioned’ into regular US navy service.

The main gun battery of the Maine was four 10-inch guns divided between two turrets, each mounting two guns. These circular main gun battery turrets were located on either side of the ship’s superstructure (but not directly opposite each other) and were often referred to as ‘wing turrets’. They could be fired over the front, sides and rear of the ship. In theory, they could also be fired across the deck (athwartships) through breaks in the superstructure. However, in actual practice, the firing of the main gun battery turrets athwartships led to damaging the ship’s superstructure.

The intermediate gun battery of the Maine consisted of six pedestal-mounted 6-inch guns, four in casemates and two in open mounts. A casemate is either an armoured or unarmoured enclosure for a weapon, typically with limited traverse and elevation. The ship’s secondary gun battery was made up of a number of pedestal-mounted 6-pounder (57mm) guns and two types of 1-pounder (37mm) guns arranged around the perimeter of the ship’s upper decks (floors). These were generally referred to as quick-firing (QF) guns as they employed fixed rounds (with the brass cartridge case and the projectile joined together), in contrast to the separate-loading rounds of the main and intermediate battery guns on the ship.

The vertical surfaces of the main gun battery turrets on the Maine were protected by armour 8 inches thick. The ship’s hull belt armour was 12 inches at its thickest point, with the weather/protective deck having a maximum thickness of 3 inches. The ship’s conning tower was constructed of steel armour with a maximum thickness of 10 inches. The Maine’s underwater protection from natural or man-made dangers consisted of a double hull.

A conning tower is an armoured structure, typically located forward of a ship’s unarmoured navigation bridge, housing a secondary set of bridge controls from which the ship and its weapons can be directed in battle by its command staff.

The Texas main gun battery consisted of two 12-inch guns. Each of these was mounted in its own circular armoured wing turret on either side of the ship’s super-structure. Like the circular wing turrets on the Maine, the wing turrets on the Texas could be fired across athwartships. The intermediate gun battery on the Texas consisted of six pedestal-mounted 6-inch guns, four in casemates and two in open mounts. Like the Maine, the Texas also had a secondary gun battery of smaller pedestal-mounted QF 6-pounder and 1-pounder guns arranged around the perimeter of the ship’s decks. Besides the various main, intermediate and secondary battery guns, both the Maine and the Texas were equipped with surface-fired torpedo tubes.

The vertical surface of the main gun battery turrets on the Texas was protected by armour 12 inches thick. The ship’s horizontal hull belt armour was also 12 inches at its thickest point, with the weather/protective deck having a maximum armour thickness of 3 inches. The ship’s armoured conning tower was 9 inches thick. Like the Maine, the Texas had a double hull for underwater protection.

Both the Maine and the Texas had a top speed of 17 knots and had triple-expansion steam engines powered by coal-fired boilers. (A knot is a unit of speed equal to one nautical mile (6,080 feet) per hour.) The Maine had a crew of 374 officers and enlisted men, while the Texas had a crew of 392. The Maine was sunk in an accident in February 1898 in Havana Harbor, Cuba, leading to the Spanish-American War. The Texas had its final decommissioning in 1911 and was later used as a target ship for many decades by the US navy. Sometimes the US navy takes ships out of service to be stored or modernized. When this occurs, they are decommissioned and when they are returned to service, they are recommissioned.

Battleship Naming Policy

The US navy policy of naming large wooden sailing ships-of-the-line after states had begun in 1817 and was later continued for the new steel battleships. The term ‘shipof-the-line’ refers to the tactic practised by navies since the seventeenth century of travelling in a linear formation in order to bring the maximum number of weapons to bear on the enemy’s ships. The name ‘battleship’ is a contraction of the phrase ‘lineof-battle ship’. Battleships were also referred to as ‘capital ships’.

Most American states had at least one battleship that would eventually bear their name. Some states would have more than one battleship named after them, much to the chagrin of other states’ politicians. When a new battleship was assigned the name of an older vessel, its predecessor would have typically already been decommissioned and removed from US navy service. A few were reclassified and given new roles, such as a crane ship or an ammunition storage ship.

Indiana Class

Following in the footsteps of William C. Whitney in expanding the offensive might of the New Navy was Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy, who served from 1889 to 1893. Tracy proposed to the American Congress the building of a fleet of 200 naval ships of all types. However, Congress quickly balked at the scope and cost of what Tracy envisioned. As a consolation prize, they authorized the building of three battleships in the Navy Act of 1890: the Indiana, the Massachusetts and the Oregon. These ships were initially classified as ‘coastal’ or ‘coast defence’ (CD) battleships as Congress was unwilling to authorize a navy that could project its offensive capabilities overseas.

With the authorization of the Indiana, Massachusetts and Oregon, all on the same day – 30 June 1890 – the US navy labelled them respectively battleships No. 1 through to No. 3 for record-keeping purposes. The US navy began adding the letter prefix ‘USS’ to its ship designations in 1907 when President Theodore Roosevelt signed an Executive Order to that effect. The three-letter prefix code stands for ‘United States Ship’ and has been applied to all US navy battleships mentioned in this work. A US navy ship is not assigned the prefix ‘USS’ until it is formally commissioned.

It was not until 17 July 1920 that the US navy adopted an arbitrary designation system that began with the letter suffix ‘BB’ for battleships followed by a number, which was then back-numbered to earlier ships. Therefore in 1920 the USS Indiana was re-designated and became BB-1, the USS Massachusetts BB-2 and the USS Oregon BB-3. The letter suffix ‘BB’ is not an acronym. Cruisers were assigned the letter suffix ‘CC’, while destroyers were assigned the suffix letters ‘DD’.

The USS Indiana (BB-1) was commissioned on 20 November 1895; the USS Massachusetts (BB-2) on 10 June 1896; and the USS Oregon (BB-3) on 15 July 1896. The three ships were grouped together in what became known as the Indiana class of battleships. The US navy names its ship classes after the first ship authorized in that class by Congress.

Lessons learned from the building and service use of each class of US navy battleships were incorporated into a follow-on class in an evolutionary process with each class hopefully an improvement over the last, although this was not always the case. With a few exceptions, follow-on class battleships were generally larger and heavier than their predecessors.

The main gun battery on the three Indiana- class battleships consisted of four 13-inch guns divided between two circular turrets having two guns each. One of the two 13-inch gun turrets was located in front of the ship’s superstructure and the other behind, referred to as ‘centreline’. In nautical terms, the centreline is an imaginary straight line running the length of a ship between the bow (front) and the stern (rear). The concept of having a battleship’s main guns mounted in wing turrets, as with the second-class battleship Maine and the Texas, was already obsolete by the time those ships entered US navy service.

The intermediate battery on the three Indiana- class battleships consisted of eight 8-inch guns divided between four circular wing turrets of two guns each, with two wing turrets on each side of the ship’s superstructure. The smaller secondary battery guns ranged in size from 3-inch to 6-inch and were located in casemates on either side of the battleships. The three ships were also fitted with six surface-fired torpedo tubes. The large number of intermediate guns on the Indiana- class battleships reflected their higher rate of fire than the main gun batteries on ships of that time.

The vertical surfaces on the main gun battery turrets on the Indiana-class battleships were protected by armour 15 inches thick. The ships’ hull belt armour was 18 inches at its thickest point, with the weather/protective deck having a maximum armour thickness of 3 inches. The ships’ conning towers were constructed of armour 10 inches thick. Like the Maine and the Texas, the Indiana-class battleships had a double bottom for protection, a feature typically not seen on ships smaller than a cruiser.

The three Indiana-class battleships had a standard displacement ranging from 10,288 tons up to 11,688 tons. They had a length of between 350 feet 11 inches and 351 feet 2 inches, and a beam of 69 feet 3 inches. Crew complement was 473 officers and enlisted men. They had triple-expansion steam engines powered by coal-fired boilers, giving them a top speed between 15 and 16 knots. The last of the ships had their final decommissioning in 1919, following the conclusion of the First World War.

Battleship Armour

With the introduction of the battleship into US navy service, there arose an ever-increasing demand for large amounts of high-quality steel that

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