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
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 pre-dreadnought 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.
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 Connecticut‘ 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 sister ship, was commissioned after construction at William Cramp and Sons on 1 April 1908, she was already second-class 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.
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.
Then the 1911 Naval Review
And the 1912 Naval 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 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 battle line 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?
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.
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.
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 still 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.
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.
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 (sans 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 some of Idaho’s guns and armor may be 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.
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.
The USS Idaho website remembers all ships of that name.
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
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)
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