Warship Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019: Manuel’s least favorite cruiser
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Feb. 27, 2019: Manuel’s least favorite cruiser
Here we see the unique third-class protected cruiser Adamastor of the (sometimes Royal) Portuguese Navy. A tiny ship for her type, she put in a lot of unsung service over a four-decade career.
While Portugal had one of the world’s best navies in the days of Afonso de Albuquerque and Vasco De Gama, by the late 1890s, the empire was in steep decline. With only about 300 merchant ships carrying the country’s flag– mostly sailing vessels– Portugal did not have a big civilian fleet to protect. What Lisbon did have were lots of overseas possessions such as the Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic, African colonies in Guinea, Angola, and Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique); Goa in the Indian Ocean, Timor in the East Indies, and the Chinese enclave of Macau.
To protect this far-flung collection of pearls, Portugal had only several wooden-hulled vessels and the 3,300-ton British-built ironclad Vasco Da Gama (go figure), which was built in the 1870s.
In the mid-1890s, five modern warships– largely paid for by public subscription– were ordered to give VDG some backup. These ships, all smallish cruisers with long legs, included the Rainha Dona Amélia (1683-tons, 4×6-inch guns, built domestically), Dom Carlos I (4250-tons, 4×6-inch, ordered from Armstrong Elswick), São Gabriel and São Rafael (1771-tons, 2×6-inch guns, ordered from Normand Le Havre), and our subject, Adamastor. In 1902, even the old VDG was taken to Orlando and completely rebuilt in a move that saw her cut in half and lengthened by 32-feet, fitted with new engines, guns, and machinery. The effect was that, in a decade, Portugal had gone from one elderly ironclad to six relatively effective, if light, cruisers.
The name Adamastor is unique to Portugal and is drawn from a mythical water giant created by Portuguese poet Luís de Camões– Portugal’s Shakespeare– in his epic poem Os Lusíadas as a symbol of the forces of nature encountered by navigators on the high seas. Specifically, “Adamastor” was the name of the giant that supposedly guarded the Cape of Good Hope. A beast that was defeated by the explorer Vasco da Gama.
Ordered from Orlando, Livorno, Italy in 1895, Adamastor was commissioned just two years later and joined the fleet.
At just 1,700-tons, the 235-foot long “cruiser” carried a pair of 6-inch (150mm) Krupp guns in single mounts fore and aft as well as four 4.7-inch (105mm) Krupp secondaries in broadside. Two 37mm Hotchkiss 6-pdrs were on the bridge wing while a pair of Nordenfeldt 6.5mm machine guns were in the fighting top. Her most formidable weapons were likely the three torpedo tubes for Whitehead pattern fish she carried on deck.
She was divided into 23 watertight compartments and was electrically lit by 190 lamps.
Capable of 18-knots, she was fast for a gunboat, slow for a cruiser, but could make an impressive 8,896 nm at 10 knots on 419 tons of coal, which gave her enough range for colonial service, her intended tasking.
Speaking of which, the 1898 edition of The Engineer has an excellent write-up on her machinery.
Between joining the fleet in 1898 and the mid-1930s, Adamastor spent most of her time in the Pacific, hanging out in Macau, rotating back to Europe for refits every few years with stopovers at other Portuguese colonies (former and current) along the way. Of note, she reportedly fought pirates in the region of both the Rif off Morocco and the East Indies.
When the centuries-old Portuguese monarchy was overthrown in 1910 and the country became a republic, most of the Portuguese fleet was renamed– for instance, Rainha Dona Amélia became Republica and Dom Carlos I became Almirante Reis— while Adamastor was able to keep her moniker. Everyone likes sea giants, right?
A better explanation was that during the revolution, while at anchor in the Tagus, she hoisted the red and green flag of the Republicans and bombarded Necessidades Palace with three shells, sending King Manuel II to exile. In short, she was the cruiser Aurora of the Portuguese Revolution.
Further, it should be noted that, while Aurora was alone in the Neva in 1917, Adamastor had most of the fleet anchored next to her, including ships still loyal to the Royalist government, which meant she was taking a big risk in what was effectively a mutiny.
In 1913, while poking around the Far East, she went aground at Dumbell Island, and the British C-class destroyer HMS Otter came to her assistance. A gregarious naval officer by the name of João de Canto e Castro, who was later to become the 5th President of the Republic in 1918, was appointed Adamastor‘s skipper after the incident.
When the Great War came, Adamastor found herself in Mozambique and in May 1916 supported a force of 400 Portuguese colonial soldiers in an ill-fated attempt to cross north of the Rovuma River into German East Africa. Lettow-Vorbeck got the better end of that deal.
In 1933, after providing a lot of solid service, the well-traveled Adamastor was sold for her value in scrap.
For what’s its worth, she by far outlived the other four cruisers ordered alongside her: São Rafael wrecked in 1911, while São Gabriel, Dom Carlos I/Almirante Reis, and Rainha Dona Amélia/República were scrapped in 1924.
The Museu de Marinha in Belém near Lisbon has an excellent model of Adamastor on display, as well as other artifacts already discussed.
The Spanish government issued a series of naval postage stamps that included our subject.
And she is, of course, remembered through maritime art as well.
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