Warship Wednesday June 22, 2016: A hard luck mini battlewagon

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 22, 2016: A hard luck mini battlewagon

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 46708. Colorized by irootoko_jr.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 46708. Colorized by irootoko_jr.

Here we see the proud Mississippi-class battleship Lemnos, sometimes spelled Limnos (Greek: Θ/Κ Λήμνος) of the Royal Hellenic Navy at Constantinople, Turkey, probably in 1919. The Greek torpedo boat Dafni (completed 1913) is alongside.  At the time this image was taken she had but 15 years on her oldest keel plate and another 22 years of service ahead of her.

First, let us talk about her background.

Authorized under the Naval Budget of 1903, the two-ship Mississippi-class battlewagons were the last predreadnought battleships to be designed for the U.S. Navy and were a compromise design aimed at saving money while still being able to compete with the British, French, Germans and, increasingly, Japanese on a global scale.

NH 76662 NH 76661
Smaller than the 16,000-ton Connecticut-class that preceded them, the Misssip‘s were squatty 13,000-ton ships with roughly the same armament (4x 12″/45 caliber Mark 5 guns in a pair of twin turrets) but could carry more rounds per tube (71 vs the Connecticuts‘ 60) and could be built for about 70 percent of the price. However, they were slower (just 17 knots compared to 18.85), and even if coal was wedged in every nook and cranny (which could lead to fire and explosions) they could only steam 5,800 nautical miles at 10 knots whereas some of the Connys could go 7,590nm.

And of course, when HMS Dreadnought was commissioned 2 December 1906, every battleship in every navy around the world was obsolete.

When meant that when the Greek battlewagon of our tale, which started off as USS Idaho (Battleship #24), Mississippi‘s sistership, was commissioned after construction at William Cramp and Sons on 1 April 1908, she was already second-class at best.

At best.

Still, Idaho was beautiful and new and the Navy had fun showing her off to the citizens of the country in the days of the Great White Fleet.

NH 60214 Naval History and Heritage Command. Both ships of this class initially carried a pole mast above the conning tower, though shortly after commissioning, both ships had lattice masts added aft, and in 1910, the forward masts were replaced with lattice masts. Also note the elegant white and buff scheme, similar to that of the Great White Fleet that she was built too late for, that she carried for just a few months.

Idaho in 1909 just after commissioning. NH 60214 Naval History and Heritage Command. Both ships of this class initially carried a pole mast above the conning tower as shown in the plans above this photo, though shortly after commissioning, both ships had lattice masts added aft, and in 1910, the forward masts were replaced with lattice masts. Also note the elegant white and buff scheme, similar to that of the Great White Fleet that she was built too late for, that she carried for just a few months.

Figurehead, USS IDAHO Caption: Photographed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 28 June 1909. Description: Presented by information section, O.N.I., 1927. This was soon removed in the effort to make the fleet more battle-ready, but I cannot find what happened to it. Catalog #: NH 115210

Figurehead, USS IDAHO Caption: Photographed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 28 June 1909. Description: Presented by information section, O.N.I., 1927. This was soon removed in the effort to make the fleet more battle-ready, but I cannot find what happened to it. Most of these ornate crests were donated to state legislatures or kept by the Navy and used to adorn bases. Catalog #: NH 115210

(Battleship # 24) Photographed in 1909 by Brown & Shaffer. Collection of Chief Quartermaster John Harold. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 101497

Idaho (Battleship # 24) Photographed summer 1909 by Brown & Shaffer. Note how she is now wearing haze gray and her figurehead shown above is removed. Collection of Chief Quartermaster John Harold. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 101497

Idaho joined the giant international naval review that was Hudson-Fulton in New York City from 25 Sept- 9 October 1909 upon the Hudson River just after greeting the Great White Fleet at Hampton Roads upon their return to U.S. waters.

Idaho (Battleship # 24) In the Hudson River off Fort Lee, New York, 1909. Photographed by William H. Rau. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Idaho (Battleship # 24) In the Hudson River off Fort Lee, New York, 1909. Photographed by William H. Rau. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Then the 1911 Naval Review

USS IDAHO (BB-24) Off New York City, 3 October 1911, during the naval review. Note she now has two lattice masts rather than the single aft one shown above. Catalog #: 19-N-13812 National Archives

USS IDAHO (BB-24) Off New York City, 3 October 1911, during the naval review with Grant’s Tomb visible just over her port side. Note she now has two lattice masts rather than the single aft one shown above. Catalog #: 19-N-13812 National Archives

And the 1912 Naval Review

USS Idaho (Battleship # 24) Dressed with flags during the Naval Review off New York City, October 1912. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. The number 30 is her place in the review.

USS Idaho (Battleship # 24) Dressed with flags during the Naval Review off New York City, October 1912. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. The number 30 is her place in the review.

In fact, in the 6.3 years of semi-active service she gave her nation, Idaho‘s only tense times were a trip right after she was commissioned to Panama where she observed the elections there and then in the summer of 1913 when she was in Mexican waters for the near constant series of crisis during that country’s revolution and civil wars.

Idaho did embark mids and naval militia on training cruises, wave the flag in Europe, and even sail as far up the Mississippi River as Vicksburg– possibly the last battleship to do so.

Still, in a move to make way for newer, larger dreadnought-style vessels, Asst. Scty of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt was able to put enough pressure on to get rid of the low-mileage Idaho and her sister Mississippi by selling them to Greece amid the growing crisis in Europe that would bloom into World War I– making them the largest warships the Hellenic Navy ever operated.

The Greek battleline at the time consisted of the Italian-made Pisa-class armored cruiser Georgios Averof (10,200-tons/4×9.2-inch guns) and their elderly French-built ironclads: Hydra, Spetsai, and Psara– which were exceptionally small at just 5,300-tons, lightly armed (3x 10-inch guns) and slow (16 knots).

In a capital move, Greece paid $12,535,275 for the two American battleships– their full building cost.

So in effect, the U.S. got a  refund on the vessels when they transferred on 30 July 1914. Further, the funds were used to construct the New Mexico-class super-dreadnought, Idaho (BB-42), which at the time was unfunded by Congress.

Class leader Mississippi was renamed Kilkis after the crucial battle of the Second Balkan War, while Idaho became Limnos in honor of a victorious naval battle over the Turkish Navy during the First Balkan War.

Can you tell who Greece’s main rival was at the time?

Cruiser Averoff sandwiched with Kilkis and Lemnos

Cruiser Averoff outboard with Kilkis (ex-Mississippi) who has a very dark new scheme and Lemnos (ex-Idaho)

Greece’s World War I record was spotty and the French disarmed the two battleships in 1916 just to be on the safe side, reducing their crews and impounding their shells, breechblocks, rangefinders and torpedoes. However, after a change of government, the Greeks were allowed to rearm and nominally served in the Aegean in the last months of 1918– keeping an eye on the Turks.

Greek predreadnought battleship Kilkis (former USS Mississippi), Grand Harbour, Malta 1917

Greek predreadnought battleship Kilkis (former USS Mississippi), Grand Harbour, Malta 1917.

After the end of the war, Lemnos penetrated the Straits with the Allies and remained in and out of the Black and Marma Seas supporting Allied Intervention Forces in South Russia and the general occupation effort in rapidly imploding Turkey.

Speaking of which, both ships became very active once Greece and Turkey went to war in May 1919 and remained that way for the next three years.

Lemnos (Greek battleship, 1914) Firing a salute to U.S. Navy Admiral Mark L. Bristol, at Smyrna, Turkey, 15 September 1919. Lemnos is flying the U.S. and Greek flags at the foremast peak and the Italian flag at the mainmast peak. A British D-class light cruiser is in the right distance, also with the Italian flag at the mainmast peak. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Lemnos (Greek battleship) Firing a salute to U.S. Navy Admiral Mark L. Bristol, at Smyrna, Turkey, 15 September 1919. Lemnos is flying the U.S. and Greek flags at the foremast peak and the Italian flag at the mainmast peak. A British D-class light cruiser is in the right distance, also with the Italian flag at the mainmast peak. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Lemnos Dressed with flags at Smyrna, Turkey, in 1919, possibly on 15 September. She is flying the Greek flag at the foremast peak and the Italian flag at the mainmast peak. Photographed by Wayne. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.Catalog #: NH 46707

Lemnos Dressed with flags at Smyrna, Turkey, in 1919, possibly on 15 September. She is flying the Greek flag at the foremast peak and the Italian flag at the mainmast peak. Photographed by Wayne. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.Catalog #: NH 46707

The two battleships helped in the occupation and then evacuation of Smyrna in the disaster following the Greek collapse and their skippers cast their lot with the uprising by the Greek army and navy against the government in Athens in Sept 1922 that effected regime change by forcing the unpopular King Constantine I to abdicate and leave the country, with a military junta ruling the country until early 1924, shortly before the Greek monarchy was abolished and the Second Hellenic Republic established.

After 1932, Lemnos landed most of her guns, turrets and even a good bit of her armor plate, which were utilized as coastal defense batteries around island straits and choke points in Greek waters for another couple of decades (more on this below). She remained afloat with her likewise mothballed but sill armed sistership, being utilized for barracks, receiving and depot duties until World War II.

When the Germans busted through Greece in April 1941, both ships were found at anchor in shallow water at Salamis near Athens by Luftwaffe Ju-87 Stukas and were plastered.

German still of Lemnos and Kilkis under attack 13 April

German footage of Lemnos foreground and Kilkis background under attack 23 April

Photo #: NH 77440 Greek battleships Kilkis and Lemnos Sunk in the basin of the Greek naval base at Salamis after they were hit by German air attacks on 23 April 1941. Seen from the harbor pier following the arrival of the German army. Kilkis, the former USS Mississippi (Battleship # 23), is in the foreground. Lemnos, ex-USS Idaho (Battleship # 24), is in the distance, with her guns removed. Franz Selinger, via the U.S. Naval Institute, provided photograph and some caption information. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Photo #: NH 77440 Greek battleships Kilkis and Lemnos sunk in the basin of the Greek naval base at Salamis after they were hit by German air attacks on 23 April 1941. Seen from the harbor pier following the arrival of the German army. Kilkis, the former USS Mississippi (Battleship # 23), is in the foreground. Lemnos, ex-USS Idaho (Battleship # 24), is in the distance, with her guns removed. Franz Selinger, via the U.S. Naval Institute, provided photograph and some caption information. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Battleship Kilkis sunk

Battleship Kilkis sunk, German aerial photo. Note she still has her guns. Those on Idaho/Lemnos were removed before the war for use ashore.

Both ships remained on the bottom and they were broken up after the war.

But what of the guns we mentioned above?

The twin 12 inch (305mm) turrets from the Lemnos were installed in the 1930s at Cape Tourlos (37.767069, 23.554406) on the island of Aegina where they helped to defend the approaches to the port of Athens.

a_batt48

Captured by the Germans in 1941, they were manned by Marineartillerieabteilung 603 (MKB Ägina-Nord) until October 1944 and– along with the 19 152mm guns manned by the Italians on the island of Leros– helped proved the basis for the fictional “Guns of Navarone” by the Scottish writer Alistair MacLean, though in the book they were described as 280mm railway guns.

The emplacements (less guns) appear to be still visible on Google Earth. Idaho‘s 8″ and 7″ guns were likewise scattered and, knowing the Germans, may have been relocated anywhere in Festung Europa.

While it’s possible some of Idaho‘s guns and armor are somewhere in a forgotten coastal defense battery long since left to ruin, items left in the States from these briefly-used ships are slim.

The silver service and ship’s figurehead shield from the Mississippi are in downtown Jackson at the Magnolia State’s Capitol.

uss mississippi shield
Idaho‘s Tiffany & Co. presentation silver service, seen below in a 1912 photo, went on to serve on the Greek-funded USS Idaho BB-42 and was turned over to her namesake state in 1942 to prevent it from being lost during WWII. It had been paid for by a $7,500 allocation by the legislature in Boise and presented by Gov. Hawley to BB-24 some four years after she was commissioned.

idaho silver service 1912
I can only assume it is somewhere in Boise, hopefully on display.

The USS Idaho website remembers all ships of that name.

Specs:

As built, U.S. service, image via Shipbucket

As built, U.S. service, image via Shipbucket

In Greek service, image via Shipbucket

In Greek service, image via Shipbucket

Displacement: 13,000 long tons (13,200 metric tons); 14,500 full load
Length:     382 ft. (116 m)
Beam:     77 ft. (23 m)
Draft:     24.7 ft. (7.5 m)
Speed:     17 kn (20 mph; 31 km/h)
Range:        1,900 nm at 10 knots with standard 600t coal bunkerage. When overloaded with 1,800 tons could make 5,800
Complement: 34 officers and 710 enlisted in U.S. service. Unknown in Hellenic service.
Armament:     (As commissioned, largely disarmed 1932)
4 × 12 in (305 mm)/45 caliber Mark 5 guns (2×2)
8 × 8 in (203 mm)/45 caliber guns (4×2)
8 × 7 in (180 mm)/45 caliber Mark 2 guns
12 × 3 in (76 mm)/50 caliber guns
2 × 21 in (530 mm) torpedo tubes
Armor:
Belt: 7–9 in (178–229 mm)
Barbettes: 6–10 in (152–254 mm)
Turret (mains) 8–12 in (203–305 mm)
Turret (secondary): 7 in (178 mm)
Conning tower: 9 in (229 mm)

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has it place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

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About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as Guns.com, University of Guns, Outdoor Hub, Tac-44, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms Talk.com, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at Amazon.com as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the U.S. federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

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