Warship Wednesday (on a Friday): The Tennessee peace cruiser
Sorry about the late posting this week, in the effort to get to SHOT Show in Vegas this weekend and with the winter weather making horse care more pressing, its been busy this week!
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 (on a Friday): The Tennessee peace cruiser
Here we see the Denver-class protected cruiser USS Chattanooga (C-16/PG-30/CL-18), port bow view, while in New York harbor, 1905. You can tell by her fine lines and ornamental brightworks, she was meant more to impress colonial locals and less to sink enemy ships.
Though she never fired a shot in anger, the hardy little Chattanooga was around for a quarter century and saw immense changes to the fleet she was a part of, changes that eventually left her out of step, though her relics are now a part of the more asymmetric war on terror.
In 1899, Pax Americana found herself suddenly a colonial power after picking up the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, and a host of other scattered territories as part of spoils in the Spanish-American War. Further, President McKinley signed the Newlands Resolution which annexed Hawaii in 1898 while the Tripartite Convention of 1899 split up the Samoan islands between the U.S., Germany and Britain– though neither the native Hawaiians nor the Samoans were really happy about either.
With all of these far-flung possessions added to the 45-state Union, the Navy needed some warships to go wave the flag there without depleting the main battle fleet as outlined by the good Adm. Alfred Thayer Mahan. These ships need not slug it out in naval combat with a determined foe, they only needed long legs; a few guns to impress the locals while being capable of sending potential pirates, rabble-rousers and armed merchant cruisers to the bottom; and a high mast to show a flag.
This led to the six-pack of Denver-class vessels, peace cruisers if you will.
The Denvers didn’t have much armor (about the thickness of a good butter knife in most places), nor did they have large guns (10 5″/50 Mark 5 single mounts, able to penetrate just 1.4-inches of armor at 9,000 yards though their 50-pound shells were capable of a 19,000 yard range overall which made them perfect for shelling uprisings on shore or warning off undesirable foreign ships creeping around colonial ports), nor were they particularly fast (they were designed but not fitted with an auxiliary Schooner sail rig).
However, they were 308-feet of American soil that could self-deploy and remain on station with little support when needed while still being able to float in 15 feet of seawater.
In short, they were the littoral combat ships of 1899.
The six ships, in what seems to be shipyard welfare from Uncle Sam, were built in six different yards near-simultaneously, all commissioning within about 18 months of each other.
The hero of our story, USS Chattanooga, was laid down at Crescent Shipyard, Elizabethport, New Jersey, a new shipyard whose historical claim to fame was in building the USS Holland (SS-1), the nation’s first official modern submarine and a number of the follow-on A-class pigboats. She was named for the city in Tennessee and was the second Chattanooga on the Navy List, the first being a Civil War steam sloop that was holed and sunk at her dock by floating ice in 1871.
Commissioned 11 October 1904 during the tensions of the Russo-Japanese War, Chattanooga headed for Europe where she joined the squadron there and helped escort the body of Scottish-American Capt. John Paul Jones, late of the Continental Navy, from an unmarked grave in a Parisian cemetery to a magnificent bronze and marble sarcophagus at the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis.
For the next seven years she cruised the Pacific (via the Suez), the Med, the Caribbean and helped train Naval Militia before entering into layup in 1912.
When 1914 came about, a new crew manned the rails and brought her back to life for the tensions in Mexico, sailing off the Pacific coast of that country, protecting American interests, chiefly from the port of La Paz through early 1917.
In April 1917 with the U.S. entry into the ongoing Great War with Germany, Chattanooga chopped to the Atlantic Fleet and cruised the Caribbean for enemy shipping for a while before joining in convoy duties across the big pond. While vital, her brief wartime service was unexciting.
Following the end of the conflict, she remained a fixture in European ports with a concentration on the Black Sea, where the former Russian Empire was tearing itself apart in a civil war, and around Greece and Turkey, who were warming up a conflict of their own.
Chattanooga most importantly helped supervise the liquidation of the former Austro-Hungarian Navy (kaiserliche und königliche Kriegsmarine) in the Adriatic.
She provided support to the Naval Reservist prize crew on the 15,000-ton Radetzky-class pre-dreadnought battleship USS (ex-SMS) Zrinyi at Spalato (Split) in Dalmatia. On the morning of 7 November 1920, Zrínyi was decommissioned and Chattanooga took her in tow across the sea to Italy where, under the terms of the treaties of Versailles and St. Germain, Zrínyi was turned over to the Italian government at Venice.
Ordered back to the U.S., Chattanooga was decommissioned at Boston on 19 July 1921 and, though reclassified as a light cruiser, CL-18, the next month, never saw active duty again.
She was stricken in 1929 and sold for her value in scrap the following year. As for her five sisters, one, USS Tacoma was lost January 16, 1924 after she ran aground, while the other four vessels were all laid up like Chattanooga and subsequently scrapped.
While a frigate and later a cruiser were both laid down during WWII with intention of continuing her name, they were not commissioned as such and the Naval List has not seen another Chattanooga since 1929.
However, relics of her do exist and have found new importance.
Her 200-pound bronze magnesium ship’s bell has been first at the Lions Club hall then the recently shuttered American Legion Post 23 in Shelbyville, Tennessee for more than 85-years. Recently, following the terror attack on the Naval Reserve Center in Chattanooga that claimed the lives of five naval personnel, a reservist from the base, CS1 Gowan Johnson, was able to track the bell down and reclaim it for the center.
While the Navy’s reserve center quarters here are being modified, the USS Chattanooga’s bell has found a temporary home inside the National Medal of Honor Museum in Northgate Mall, where it is displayed along with vintage photos of the ship and crew.
“It’s open to the public to view, and touch, if they like,” explains Charles Googe, a museum volunteer.
Meanwhile, Johnson is hard at work preparing the bell for a more permanent home at the Reserve Center. A cast-iron yoke is being fabricated for the bell, he said, and the shrine will be anchored to a black granite base with a plaque honoring the dead. The emblems of the U.S. Navy and Marines also will be part of the exhibit, he said.
“We are thinking that we could toll the bell five times on July 16 when the names are read for the [shootings anniversary] ceremony,” Johnson said.
In the meantime, Petty Officer Johnson has begun to muse about another possibility, now that the Navy is commissioning a new class of ships bearing the names of American cities.
“How about another ship called the USS Chattanooga?” Johnson said.
Perhaps people in high places will get wind of his idea and answer the bell.
3,200 long tons (3,251 t) (standard)
3,514 long tons (3,570 t) (full load)
308 ft. 9 in (94.11 m) oa
292 ft. (89 m)pp
Beam: 44 ft. (13 m)
Draft: 15 ft. 9 in (4.80 m) (mean)
6 × Babcock & Wilcox boilers
21,000 ihp (16,000 kW)
2 × vertical triple expansion reciprocating engines, 4700 shp
2 × screws
Sail plan: Schooner
16.5 knots (30.6 km/h; 19.0 mph)
16.75 knots (31.02 km/h; 19.28 mph) (Speed on Trial)
Range: 2200 nmi at 10 kts
Complement: 31 officers 261 enlisted men
10 × 5 in (127 mm)/50 caliber Breech-loading rifles
8 × 6-pounder (57 mm (2.2 in)) rapid fire guns
2 × 1-pounder (37 mm (1.5 in)) guns
Deck: 2 1⁄2 in (64 mm) (slope)
3⁄16 in (4.8 mm) (flat)
Shields: 1 3⁄4 in (44 mm)
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Finally, to see where the Chattanooga ranks among U.S. cruiser development, the U.S. Naval Historical Command put out the below infographic.