Warship Wednesday June 24, 2015: The Cursed Lion from Brazil
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off 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. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, June 24, 2015: The Cursed Lion from Brazil
Here we see the ironclad warship Aquidabã (also spelled Aquidaban) of the Marinha do Brasil as she looked in 1893 while on a visit to the U.S. The largest country in Latin America, Brazil had by the 1870s perhaps the strongest Navy south of the Equator and our subject was its pride and joy for some two decades.
Built by Samuda Brothers at Cubitt Town on the Isle of Dogs in London, the firm had much experience with crafting ships for foreign navies. They had built the Mahroussa for Egypt, Prussia’s SMS Kornpirnz, Japan’s Fuso, Argentina’s ARA Almirante Brown, and the Independcia for Peru. It was no surprise that buoyed by wins in the Platine & Paraguayan wars (1849–70) and looking to expand the Empire, the Brazilian Navy went to Samuda for the 5,550-ton ironclad Riachuelo ( 4 × 9.2″ guns) in 1881 and her slightly smaller one-off half-sister Aquidabã in 1883.
Some 280 feet long, this early battleship tipped the scales at 4,950 tons on a full load and could make nearly 16-knots when all of her eight cylindrical boilers lit. Armed with the same main battery as Riachuelo, she carried a pair of Whitworth 9.2-inch guns in two turrets set off the center line, en echelon, with the forward turret offset to port and the aft turret to starboard. A battery of smaller 5.5-inch breech-loaders, Nordenfelt 1-pounders, and impressive five 18-inch Whitehead torpedo tubes rounded her out.
She was sheathed in up to 11-inches of good English compound armor.
Named after the Aquidabã River system in the country (and the scene of the last battle of the War of Paraguay), she was called the aço Lion (Steel Lion) as she replaced older wooden ships in the line.
Arriving in Brazil on 29 January 1886 to much fanfare, she was placed into commission. By 1890, the Navy had become comfortable enough with their showboat to take the Lion to the high seas, embarking on an 11,000-mile cruise around the Americans, stopping at the U.S. and elsewhere.
Then came a rebellion.
In November 1891, Aquidabã played a decisive role in response to the attempted coup against Deodoro da Fonseca. She fired a 9.2-inch shell at the Police Station of São Bento, damaging the steeple of the Church of Nossa Senhora da Lapa Merchant in the center of Rio de Janeiro in the process– shooting off the cross.
The fuze didn’t go off and the shell is still on display there, but many of the more religious members of her crew felt her cursed after that. For good reason, it turned out…
She returned to the states in April 1893, taking part in the Colombian Exhibition in Hampton Roads along with the international fleet– where several of the larger images were taken in this post.
Then, upon return to Brazil, she was promptly caught up in another rebellion, this time on the side of the rebels. This naval rebellion, the Revolta da Armada, occurred when the former Minister of Marine took the ship as his flag and led a yearlong campaign that involved the mutinous ships exchanging gunfire on a near-daily basis with coastal defense batteries ashore.
By the end of it, Aquidabã‘s machinery was in such a poor state of repair due to lack of access to port facilities and spares that she could only limp along at 4-knots, had almost no shells left, and was burning the crummiest grade of coal that could be imagined. Her armament was beefed up by a number of 3-pounder Garnder and Hotchkiss field pieces shipped aboard, but they were more pop-guns than anything.
Then, on 16 April 1894, the government-controlled torpedo boat Gustavo Sampaio managed to pump a fish into the bow of the once-proud Aquidabã and, her front compartments open to the sea, she settled in the mud as her crew fled after thoroughly wrecking her.
She was refloated, renamed Vinte e Quatro de Maio (you can’t have the name of a mutinous ship on the naval list to inspire others), and sent to the Vulcan yard at Stettin Germany for repair then Elswik in New Castle, on the River Tyne in England, for modernization.
There she picked up 15 Nordenfelt machineguns (as a defense against torpedo boats!) two large fighting towers to replace her auxiliary sail rig, new engines, and a new topside structure.
All was forgiven by 1896 and she was back to her original name and representing Brazil at the Chicago International Expedition in the U.S. where President Grover Cleveland reviewed her. Then followed uneventful peacetime service that ended for the mighty Lion a decade later.
At 22: 45hs on 21 January 1906, while at anchor four miles southeast of Angra do Reis at Jacuacanga Cove, Aquidabã suffered a magazine explosion similar to that of many of the predreadnought steel ships of the era.
She was utter wrecked in an explosion that was described as a disintegration by many who witnessed it and sank quickly in 60 feet of water with only 96 survivors from a crew of over 400 that was fleshed out by some 81 visiting midshipmen– the flower of the Brazilian officer corps which included at least one son of the sitting Naval Minister. Those lost included Rear Admiral Rodrigo José da Rocha and Rear Admiral John Candido Brazil.
News of the loss was carried far and wide, even if it was only a footnote among the other news of the day.
A memorial was erected to her in 1913.
Displacement: 4950 tons
Length: 280.2 ft. (85.4 m)
Beam: 52.03 ft. (15.86 m)
Draft: 18.04 ft.
Propulsion: Mixed; sailing with three bark-rigged masts, 8 cylindrical coal boilers linked to three steam engines generating 4,500 hp on two props.
Speed: 15.6 knots
Range; 6000 miles at 10 knots.
Four × 9.2 in (230 mm) guns (2 × 2)
Four × 5.5 in (140 mm) 70-pounder guns (4 × 1)
13 × 1 pounder guns (13 × 1) (removed 1895)
15 Nordenfelt machineguns fitted 1895
Five × 18-inch torpedo tubes (through “portholes”)
Armor: 178 to 280 mm on the sides of the hull; 254 mm in the main turret and 254 mm in the superstructure.
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