Warship Wednesday April 30. Of Great Repairs and Shallow Waters: the USS Monadnock
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will
profile a different ship each week.
– Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday April 30. Of Great Repairs and Shallow Waters: the USS Monadnock
Here we see the USS Monadnock, (BM-3), sitting in calm waters off the Chinese coast in 1901. Yes, that is really how low a freeboard this ship had.
During the Civil War, the twin turreted ironclad USS Monadnock was built 1863-64 by the Boston Navy yard as a 250-ft, 3300-ton,
Miantonomoh-class monitor. Completed just seven months before the end of the war, she didn’t see much action as soon afterward was sent (very slowly) to the West Coast all the way around South America (as there was no Panama Canal). Arriving there at Vallejo, California and entered the Mare Island Navy Yard where she decommissioned 30 June 1866 due to lack of funds.
Well, the fresh young ship was allowed to rot at her moorings and by 1874 was nothing but semi-submerged junk.
Then she was ‘repaired.’
You see, then Secretary of the Navy George Robeson knew that the service was a mere specter of its former self by 1874, and war with Spain was looming in one form or another (although did not materialize fully until 1898). With no money for new ships, he set about ‘repairing’ the old monitors USS Puritan and the four Miantonomoh-class vessels (including Monadnock). Of course, the repairs started with selling the ships along with nine other hulks to scrappers and using the money to pay four private shipbuilders to make new ones under the old names with a smile and a wink, but hey, you have to get it done somehow, right?
Well the ‘new‘ monitor Monadnock was laid down again right there in Vallejo as her namesake was scrapped and recycled very near her. With money tight even for ‘repairs,’ the ship languished in the new works of one Mr. Phineas Burgess of whose Continental Iron Works had one ship clogging the ways– Monadnock. With checks from the Navy few and far between, the yard closed, some $120,000 in debt. It was then in 1883 that the Navy finally agreed to get the long-building ironclad off the builder’s way and in 1883 she was quietly and without ceremony launched and towed to the Mare Island Naval shipyard– (again) if you go with the premise that the was still the old Monadnock.
The new ship and her three sisters were extremely close in size to the ironclad monitors they replaced– some 262-feet long and 3990-tons (due to more armor). The fact that these ships often incorporated re-purposed amenities from the old Civil War monitors proved a further nice touch.
Her teeth were four of the new and very modern for their time 10″/30 (25.4 cm) Mark 2 guns, the same type used on all of her class as well as the follow-on Monterey class monitor M-6) and the famously ill-fated armored cruiser USS Maine (1895). These 25-ton guns, some 27.4-feet long, could fire a 510-pound shell out past 20,000 yards at about 2-3 rounds per minute (although that was with a very well rehearsed crew). With her 14-foot draft, she could stick to the shallows and avoid larger battleships while her guns, capable of penetrating up to 7-inches of steel armor at close range, were thought capable of sinking any smaller ship that could breach those shallows.
Monadnock and her sisters carried some 360 shells for their large guns as well as some 17-tons of rather smokey ‘brown powder’ propellant charges to fire them. To keep torpedo boats away, the monitor carried a pair of 4-inch breech-loaders as well as numerous small deck guns and machine-guns that changed over time. Even if they did get close, she had up to 11.5-inches of steel armor plate.
In short, she was a fire-breathing turtle.
Finally completed 20 February 1896, after just 22-years of ‘repair’, the Monadnock had a unique set of twin triple expansion steam engines that gave the ship a speed of 11.6-knots, a full knot and change faster than her three sisters. When war broke out with Spain in 1898, she was ordered to reinforce the small squadron of Commodore Dewey in the Far East.
Leaving California on 23 June, towed by the new and efficient coaler USS Nero (AC-17), the pair made the journey from Mare Island to Manila Bay in just seven weeks. Her near-sister, the monitor USS Monterey (BM-6), left fully two weeks before her towed by the coaler USS Brutus (AC-15) yet only beat Monadnock/Nero by a single day.
Considering the low free-board, row-boat like beam to length ratio, and the fact that monitors were never designed to operate at sea (the original USS Monitor foundered just after her commissioning), the 8000-mile trip was epic. With their cramped and overheated engine-room (in which temperatures measured over 140-degrees on a thermometer suspended from a fishing pole on deck) these ships were miserable for the stokers and water tenders.
Once in Philippine waters, (Dewey had already captured Manila without Monadnock or Monterery), the two monitor were very busy. Too late to fight the Spanish, they did however, fire their guns in several battles supporting the US troops in hot actions across the wild archipelago including notably the 1899 Battle of Caloocan, where Monadnock was credited largely with transforming that rebel stronghold as “What was once a prosperous town was in a few minutes wiped out of existence.”
Both Monadnock and Monterey, with the luxury of their low free board and ability to burn crap coal, found themselves often in Chinese waters, patrolling the wild Yangtze all the way to Shanghai. She watched the interned Russian fleet including the damaged cruisers Zhemchug, Aurora, and Oleg in 1905 that only narrowly escaped Adm Togo and made sure that they sat out the rest of the Russo-Japanese war. When the Russian battleship Potemkin erupted in mutiny that summer, the Monadnock and her crew paid extra close attention to prevent the glum sailors of the Tsar, under the unpopular but politically connected Rear-Admiral Oskar Enkvist, from spreading the banner of the Red Flag to Manila harbor.
The three Tsarist protected cruisers, with their 28 rapid fire 4.7 and 6-inch guns, could have smothered the heavily armored Monadnock in medium caliber shells, but each of the American monitor’s 10-inchers could have effected enough of a beating on the very lightly armored Russian ships to have made it a good fight. It should be noted that two of the Russian cruisers were sunk during World War One in very one-sided fights against lesser craft, while the Aurora is preserved as a monument ship in St. Petersburg today.
Largely replaced in this role by purpose-built river gunboats in China who needed a much smaller crew, the monitors were taken off of patrol duties by 1912. There Monterey languished and was eventually towed to Pearl Harbor while Monadnock served as a tender for submarines at Cavite harbor until 24 March 1919 when she was decommissioned. There is evidence her hulk was used as a receiving ship of sorts for a few more years until she was struck from the Navy list 2 February 1923, and her hull was sold for scrap on the Asiatic Station, 24 August 1923 at a still young age of just 27.
Seems a waste for a vessel that took 22 years to construct, but then again, she was much more at home in the 1860’s than the 1920’s.
Displacement: 3,990 tons
Length: 262 ft 3 in (79.93 m)
Beam: 55 ft 5 in (16.89 m)
Draft: 14 ft 6 in (4.42 m)
Propulsion: 2 × Triple expansion generating 1,600 hp., 2 screws (Monadnock only)
Her sisters had 2 × Compound
Speed: Monadnock: 11.63 knots, rest of class 10.1
Range: 1,370nm @ 10 kn (19 km/h) with 250-tons coal
Complement: 156 officers and enlisted
Four 10 inch (254 mm) breechloading guns
Two 4 inch (100 mm) rapid fire guns
Two 6 pounder (57 mm) rapid fire guns
Two 3 pounder (47 mm) rapid fire guns
Two 37 mm Hocthkiss guns
Seven one pounder gun
One Colt revolving guns
Armor belt – 180 mm, iron..
Conning Tower – 190 mm
Chimneys and ventilators – 100 mm to height of .9 m
Deck – 40 mm
Turrets – 292 mm (fixed portion) and 190 mm (movable portion)
Double bottom under boilers and engines.
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