Warship Wednesday Feb. 5, 2020: Witness to the Sunrise
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. 5, 2020: Witness to the Sunrise
Here we see the wreck of the battleship USS Arizona (BB-39), burned out and sunk in Pearl Harbor on 10 December 1941, three days after she was destroyed during the 7 December Japanese raid. In the background is the light cruiser USS Saint Louis (CL-49), in the center, and, to the left, the old USS Baltimore (ex-Cruiser No. 3), which had been laid down some 50 years previously. Baltimore was unique in the fact that she had been ringside for the expansion of Japanese naval power in her lifetime.
A British design from Armstrong, the warship that would become the fourth USS Baltimore was the third modern protected cruiser built for the U.S. Navy, following in the wake of near-sister USS Charleston (C-2) and the one-off USS Newark (C-1).
Built at William Cramp and Sons, Philadelphia for a cost of $1,325,000, Baltimore was laid down 5 May 1887 and commissioned into the fleet 7 January 1890. Some 327-feet long and tipping the scales at 4,400-tons, she was reasonably fast, at 21-knots, had a smattering of armor that ranged from 2-to-4-inches, and toted a decent armament for her size: a quartet of 8-inch guns and another half-dozen 6-inch guns as well as smaller anti-boat guns and a brace of early torpedo tubes.
Her first mission, after shakedown, was to carry the body of Swedish steam engine pioneer John Ericsson from New York back to Stockholm for interment. The Navy carried the body of the man who sketched out the design of the USS Monitor with a Swedish flag hoisted on every ship of the squadron.
This event was turned into a painting in 1898.
Returning to the East Coast after a series of European stops and port calls to show the flag, Baltimore was dispatched to join the South Pacific Station in 1891. There, while in Valparaíso, Chile to protect U.S. interests during the tension caused by the Chilean revolution, a group of sailors on Libo at a local saloon were attacked by a local mob, leaving one bluejacket, coal heaver William Turnbill, dead and another 17 injured.
The resulting incident and investigations were later made right through diplomatic channels and a monument erected and indemnity paid.
Meanwhile, Baltimore became a standard fixture in the Pacific and was reassigned even further West to join the Asiatic Squadron in 1893, becoming squadron flagship of RADM Joseph S. Skerrett on her arrival.
It was while in Japanese waters that the tensions between that Empire and old Imperial China boiled over into outright war over then nominally independent Korea. Baltimore was in the thick of it, cruising the waters between the two battle lines, observing the war and protecting American interests. A detailed account at the NHHC, taken largely from her deck logs, makes for interesting reading. This included landing and marching 21 Marines in combat order more than 30 miles overland to Seoul, then in the Hermit Kingdom, to guard the legation compound.
After the war ended in 1895, Baltimore was sent back to the West Coast for overhaul and, by late 1897 was back with the fleet, ultimately sailing from Hawaii as the chances of war with Spain escalated. She joined Commodore George Dewey’s squadron in Hong Kong on 22 April 1898 on the eve of the conflict, where she was hastily repainted in haze gray and made ready for battle.
Just a week later, on 1 May, she steamed into Spanish-held Manila Bay just behind Dewey’s flagship, USS Olympia, and soon was engaging both shore batteries vessels of the Royal Spanish Navy.
Hit by enemy shells at least five times during the action, Baltimore nonetheless suffered “no serious injury to any officer or man,” in the battle. She then went on to spend most of the next year convoying troop and supply transports, providing naval gunfire support to U.S. troops, and bombarding Filipino insurgents throughout the Philippines.
By 1901, she was sent back to the states for overhaul at the New York Navy Yard.
By 1904, after stints in the Caribbean and Med, she was back on Asiatic Station, where she once again kept tabs on the Japanese fleet as the growing force pounded not one but two of the Tsar’s modern squadrons down under the waves.
Baltimore’s crew, hard-serving volunteers sandwiched between the age of the wood-and-sail Navy and the age of the new steel-and-steam fleet, were captured in time in several period photos between 1904 and 1906.
In 1907, Baltimore, pushing twenty years on her hull, was sent back to the U.S. where she spent the next several years in training, receiving ship and reserve roles. By 1913, with much more modern cruisers joining the fleet, the aging Baltimore was rerated as a minelayer, converted to carry up to 180 mines.
When the Great War swept across the planet, Baltimore was brought back from ordinary and spent much of 1915 and 1916 in mining experiments and training with the fleet, voyaging from New England to the Caribbean and back.
Once the U.S. entered the conflict in 1917, Baltimore became the flag of RADM Joseph Strauss, Commander, Mine Force, and, along with the converted cruiser USS San Francisco, and steamers-turned-minelayers USS Roanoke, USS Candaiga, USS Shawmut; USS Quinnebaugh, USS Housatonic, USS Canonicus, USS Aroostook, and USS Saranac, would sortie across the Atlantic to sew the Great North Sea Mine Barrage. An idea of then Asst. SECNAV Franklin D. Roosevelt, the immense mine battery was kicked off by Baltimore on the night of 13/14 April 1918.
Before the end of the war, the Mine Force dropped 70,177 mines into the North Sea and surrounding waters, many under Baltimore’s watchful eyes. At least 900 were carried there in her own holds. Much more on this period is documented in the ship’s DANFS entry.
By the end of WWI, Baltimore was back in U.S. waters and in late 1919 was ordered, once again, to join the Pacific fleet. She spent the remainder of her active career operating from San Francisco, and she was placed out of commission there on 15 September 1922, after 32 years’ service.
Stricken from the Navy list on 14 October 1937, she was sent to Hawaii where she spent the next half-decade as a hulk at Pearl Harbor. Her name was recycled for the heavy cruiser USS Baltimore (CA-68), which was laid down 26 May 1941, and her bell, silver service, and relics removed.
Unmanned and forgotten, she was just off Battleship Row when the Japanese rounded Diamondhead on 7 December 1941. The old cruiser was sold in February 1942 for scrap, after which she had much of her upper structure removed for recycling, then her hull was towed out to sea and scuttled on 22 September 1944 off the south shore of Oahu in 537 meters of water.
The Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL) has extensively documented her wreck site, now studded with sea life.
Her bell is currently on display at the Independence Seaport Museum.
Baltimore is, of course, remembered in maritime art.
Since 1980, the name Baltimore was carried by a Los Angeles-class attack submarine (SSN-704) which was decommissioned 1998. Hopefully, the Navy will name a 7th Baltimore soon.
Displacement 4,413 tons
Length: 327 feet 6 inches
Beam: 48 feet 7½ Inches
Draft: 19 feet 6 inches
Maximum draft fully loaded:23 feet, 11 ½ inches
Propulsion: Horizontal triple-expansion engines, 10,064 hp. 2 shafts, four double-ended cylindrical boilers
Speed: 21.5 knots
Coal bunker capacity: 1,143.87 tons
Normal coal supply: 400 tons
Coal endurance at 10 knots: 7,212 nautical miles
Armor: 4″ steel on the slopes, deck; 3″ Conning tower, 2”-gun protection.
Compliment: 36 Officers and 350 Enlisted Men (as designed)
4 x 8″/35cal breechloading guns
6 x 6″/30cal breechloading guns
4 x 6 pounder (57mm) rapid-fire guns
2 x 3 pounder (47mm) rapid-fire guns
2 x 1 pounder (37mm) rapid-fire guns
4 x 37 mm Hotchkiss revolving cannon
Two Gatling Guns
One 3-inch field piece (for landing parties).
Five 14″ torpedo tubes
12 x 6″/40
4 x 6 pounders
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