Warship Wednesday, July 11, 2018: A big gun in a little boat

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 their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, July 11, 2018: a Big gun in a little boat

From the collections of the Danish National Museum #92-1993

Here we see the Danish kanonbaadene (gunboat) Møen of the Royal Danish Navy, a prime example of the late 19th Century “flat-iron,” or Rendel-type gunboat popular in Europe for coast defense for a generation. Just 112-feet overall, she mounted a very stout Armstrong 10-inch, 18-ton muzzle-loading rifle as her main armament.


Click to big up 2000×1321. Note the two covered 83mm guns on the bridge wings, the accordion player, and bugler. Oh, and the big ass 10-incher in the center. And yes, that is the whole crew.

Named after the lonely but beautiful island of Møn, the hardy vessel was ordered from Orlogsværftet, Copenhagen in 1875 and commissioned 24 August 1876. Based on the British Ant-class (254-tons, 85-ft overall, 1x RML 10-inch 18-ton gun) the 410-ton Møen was the *largest* of a five-ship lot consisting of three 240-ton Oresund-class vessels and her near-sister, the 383-ton Falster, all completed by 1876 and mounting the same giant 10-incher.

British Ant-class. In all, between the 1870s and 80s, some 100 or so Rendel-type gunboats like these were built and used by a dozen navies to include those of Argentina, the Chinese, and Japanese. By the 1900s these were largely replaced as an idea that had quickly expired.

Danish gunboats Lille Bælt (center), Grønsund (119 ft., 2 x 12 cm guns) and ironclad Gorm (233 ft., 2x10inch guns), 1895. Lille Bælt is an Øresund-class boat, all 85-feet of her. The gun is a 254mm/18cal muzzleloader. Oof

Meanwhile, just to the south of Denmark, the German Kaiserliche Marine had ordered 11 similar Wespe-class gunboats mounting an impressive 12-incher forward. It should be remembered that at the time Denmark and Germany were only a decade removed from a sharp war that went kind of bad for Copenhagen.

German Wespe class Rendel gunboats– the opposite of Moen and Falster

Powered by a 500hp steam engine, the proud Møen could make a stately 9-knots on her iron-hull when wide open but could float in just nine feet of water, enabling her to hide in the shallows around Denmark’s coastline and burp out a 400-pound shell to 6,000 yards. In tests, the Danes found that the 10-inch main battery of these five gunboats could penetrate 270mm of wrought iron at 628 meters, which was pretty good for the day.

Joining the fleet by late 1876, the plucky gunboat joined in regular Eskadren (squadron) maneuvers each summer from June to the end of September in the Baltic, assisting with cadet cruises as needed and practicing her gunnery while the Øresund-class ships were gradually removed from service, found to be just too small of the task.

Sister Falster, pre-1903. Note the same big 10-inch forward

On 30 September 1901, while anchored in front of Fort Middelgrund between Copenhagen and Malmö, Møen suffered a catastrophic hull breach while testing new (and apparently finicky) incendiary shells for her Armstrong. While her 35-man crew was safe aboard the nearby coastal defense ship Skjold, Moen‘s rifle was fired electrically via a cable from 400m away and on the third shot a fire started aboard that triggered her magazine just seconds later.

The ship “disappeared” and settled on the bottom of Øresund, gratefully without any casualties. Only her masthead was visible over the surface.

The news was widely reported in naval journals of the time.

The sinking of the Moen from the Journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers, Volume 13

The sinking of the Moen from the Naval Institute Proceedings, Volume 27 1901

Sister Falster, the last Danish Rendel-type gunboat, soon after the accident landed her big gun and she was rearmed with a much safer 57 mm popgun in 1903.

Kanonbaaden Falster sometime between 1903 and 1914, note the much more sedate 57mm L44 M1896 mount forward. Interestingly enough, this model gun remained in maritime service well into the 1990s, only retired by the Icelandic Coast Guard in favor of slightly more up-to-date Bofors 40mm singles.

Retained for another decade, she was listed as having an armament consisting of seven machine guns (likely domestically-produced Madsens) in Janes‘ 1914 edition:

6th down, at the time the oldest armed gunboat in the Danish Navy

During WWI, Falster served as a guard ship between Amager and Saltholm. The highlight of this service was when the British submarine HMS E.13 ran aground near her in 1915, and some of the RN officers were brought aboard until they could be sent ashore to be interned for the duration.

Kanonbåden Falster, stern, as guardship

At the end of hostilities, she was withdrawn, disarmed, and was sold in February 1919. As such, Falster was pretty much the swan song of Rendel-type iron gunboats except for the Greek Amvrakia, which mounted an 11-inch gun on a ridiculous 400-ton hull and remained in (nominal) service until 1931.

Converted to a coastal freighter under the name Holger, Falster was lost in 1930 with seven merchantmen aboard in a winter snowstorm north of Djursland with a load of cement.

As for her sister, the Danish Navy salvaged the guns and most of the more valuable equipment in 1902, but the wreck of kanonbåden Møen, in just 19m of sheltered water, is a popular and easy dive.

The two ships were later commemorated by the Danes in the much larger Falster-class minelæggeren (minelayers) which were active from the 1960s through 2004.

As for Denmark, of course, the Royal Danish Navy was an armed neutral in the sharp crossroads between the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet and Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet in the Great War, a semi-active combatant against the Germans in WWII, and, since 1949, has been an important contributor to NATO.

Displacement 409 t.
Length: 112.5-feet
Width: 28.8 ft.
Draft: 9 ft.
Engine: 500 hp steam engine, one screw
Speed: 9.0 knots, 20-tons of coal
Crew: 30 to 35
Single RML 10-inch 18-ton gun (254mm/18cal) M.1875 Armstrong
Two 83mm/13cal M.1872 Krupp rifled breechloaders (later replaced with 6 37 mm rapid-fire guns).

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