Warship Wednesday, April 22, 2020: Freeboard is Overrated, anyway

Here at LSOZI, we 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, April 22, 2020: Freeboard is Overrated, anyway

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 45707, courtesy of Rear Admiral Ammen Farenholt, USN MC

Here we see the armored coast defense vessel USS Monterey (Monitor No. 6) as she opens the brand-new Puget Sound dry dock at Port Orchard, Washington– then the largest dry dock in the U.S. and the third-largest in the world– on this day in April 1896. While you mistake her for a pre-dreadnought battleship above deck, below the waterline she is a more of a “cheesebox on a raft.”

While the U.S. Navy fielded upwards of 60 river, coastal and seagoing monitors in the Civil War era, by the 1870s most these craft, for one reason or another, had been discarded or allowed to decay to a near-condemned state– and rightfully so as late 19th Century naval technology was subject to a version of Moore’s Law.

In 1882, as part of the “Great Repairs” the first New Navy monitor, USS Puritan (BM-1) was launched and at 6,000-tons carried four modern (for the time) 12-inch breechloaders and could make 12.4-knots. Puritan was followed by the four Amphitrite-class monitors, 12-knot vessels of 4,000-tons with four 10″/30 cal guns and up to 11.5-inches of iron armor.

Then came our one-of-a-kind vessel, Monitor No. 6, USS Monterey. At 4,084-tons, the 261-foot-long coastal defense vessel had more modern Harvey nickel steel armor, up to 13-inches of it in her barbettes to be exact, than her predecessors. Slightly slower at 11-knots, she wasn’t built for speed.

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) Builder’s model, photographed in 1893. Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, 1972. Copied from the Union Iron Works scrapbook, vol. 2, page 9 NH 75309

With limited deck space, Monterey’s teeth consisted of a pair of 12″/35 caliber Mark 1 breechloading guns protected by 8-inches of steel armor shield– the same mounts that were on the early battleship Texas— which were capable of firing out to 12,000 yards at about one round per minute.

In the end, Monterey was a decently armored ship that could fight in 15 feet of shallow water and deal out 870-pound AP shells at opponents approaching out to sea. You could argue that it was a solid coast defense concept for the era, especially for the money. Hell, cash-strapped non-aligned European powers such as Finland, Sweden, and Norway relied on a similar naval concept into the 1940s.

USS MONTEREY (BM-6), circa 1914. View of the ship’s forward turret, with two 12″ guns, circa 1914. Collection of C.A. Shively, 1978. NH 88539

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) Firing her forward 12-inch guns during target practice off Port Angeles, Washington, during the 1890s. Note shell splash in distance, beyond the target. NH 45701

Bringing up the rear, Monterey mounted a pair of slightly smaller 10″/30 Mark 2 guns as used on the Amphitrites, protected by 7.5-inches of armor, in a turret facing aft. These could fire 510-pound shells out to 20,000 yards, a significant range boost over her forward guns.

USS MONTEREY (BM-6), stern, stereopticon photo published by Strohmeyer & Wyman, 1898 NH 45714

To ward off enemy small boats that worked in close enough to threaten the beast, Monterey carried a half dozen 6-pounders, four 37mm Hotchkiss revolving cannons, and a pair of 1-pounders in open mounts.

In some ways, Monterey was superior to the follow-on quartet of Arkansas-class monitors which were smaller and less heavily armed, while having the same speed.

The biggest handicap of any monitor is the sea itself, after all, the namesake of the type, USS Monitor, was lost at sea while moving from station to station. While underway, Monterey and the ships of her more modern type suffered from notoriously low freeboard in any seas, making for a series of dramatic photos that have endured over a century.

U.S. Navy monitor, USS Monterey (BM 6), starboard view. Published by Detroit Publishing Company, between 1894-1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress LC-D4-20042

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) in a seaway. NH 45711

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) In a seaway off Santa Barbara, California, on 1 March 1896 while in a passage from Seattle to San Francisco. NH 45708

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) At sea, en route from Seattle to San Francisco in 1896. Note coal stowed on deck. NH 45712

The $1,628,950 contract was signed for Monterey on 14 June 1889 after she was authorized under the Naval Act of 1887 and her first frame was bent at San Francisco’s Union Iron Works on 7 October 1889.

Named for the California city and the 1846 Navy-Marine action that captured it from Mexico during the Mexican War, our monitor was the second U.S. Navy vessel to carry the moniker, the first being a Civil War-period steam tug that provided yeoman service to the Mare Island Navy Yard into 1892

Commissioned 13 February 1893, the new Monterey’s inaugural skipper was Civil War vet Capt. Lewis Kempff (USNA 1861), a man who would go on to become a rear admiral.

A great colorized image of Monterey by Diego Mar, showing her white and buff 1892-98 peacetime scheme.

She had a period of workups and calm, idyllic peacetime duty off the West Coast for the first several years of her career, assigned to the Pacific Squadron. This consisted primarily of slow jaunts from Seattle to San Diego and a short four-month coastline-hugging cruise to Peru and back in 1895 to show the flag

USS Monterey (BM-6) Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, during the 1890s. Copied from the Journal of Naval Cadet C.R. Miller, USN, page 51. NH 45702

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) Dressed in flags on the 4th of July 1896, at Tacoma, Washington. NH 45704

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) Off Mare Island Navy Yard, California, during the 1890s. Receiving ship USS INDEPENDENCE is in the right background. Also, note how small her stern lettering has to be to fit. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution NH 45703

When war with Spain erupted, Monterey was the strongest U.S. ship on the West Coast save for the battleship USS Oregon (BB-3), which had been dispatched around Cape Horn on a 14,000-mile mission to join the Fleet in the Caribbean. This prompted a change from her peacetime livery to a dark grey.


“War Paint for the Monitors: Stripped of her brilliant coat of white and disguised under a dull lead color, almost a black, the Monterey is as wicked a looking craft as has ever been in the harbor…” Image and text provided by University of California, Riverside. Photo courtesy of The San Francisco Call. (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, 23 April 1898, Image 5, via chroniclingamerica.loc.gov. Archived at Navsource. http://www.navsource.org/archives/01/monterey.htm

As the conflict wore on, Monterey was ordered to sortie 8,000 miles across the Pacific for the Philippines to provide the Asiatic Squadron with big gun support against possible attack by the powerful Spanish battleship Paleyo (9700-tons, 2×12-inch guns, 2×11-inch guns) as Dewey’s forces consisted solely of cruisers and gunboats.

The fear did have some merit, as Spanish RADM Manuel de la Cámara was dispatched from Cadiz with Paleyo on June 16 along with the brand-new armored cruiser Emperador Carlos V, a force of destroyers and auxiliary cruisers, and 4,000 Spanish Army troops headed for the Philippines to make a fight for the colony.

Alicante Spain 1898 fresh Spanish troops prepare for departure

As Camara was sailing through the Med, bound for the Far East, Monterey had already left San Diego on June 11 in company with collier Brutus for Manila.

Monterey, in her “wicked” scheme, departing Mare Island for the War with Spain, June 1898. Note the coal bags strapped around her turret. Photo via Mare Island Museum

Senator Henry Cabot Lodge wrote to his friend Col. Theodore Roosevelt, the recent Asst. SECNAV, that, “We are not going to lug that monitor across the Pacific for the fun of lugging her back again.”

At the time her skipper was LCDR James W. Carlin (USNA 1868), who as a lieutenant in 1889 was XO of the steam sloop USS Vandalia when the vessel was wrecked in the great Samoan hurricane of that year. During the storm, Carlin had to take command after Vandalia’s skipper was swept away. Mr. Carlin surely had an uneasy sense of dejavu as he shepherded his slow-moving monitor through another Pacific storm on the way to Manila Bay.

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) Postcard print of the ship in a typhoon published circa 1907, probably during her crossing of the Pacific in August of 1898 to join Dewey’s fleet. NH 85843

Amazingly, the Monterey and Brutus made Cavite on 13 August and participated in the bloodless effort that same day in which American forces captured the city of Manila in a mock battle with the Spanish. In all, she logged an average of just 125 miles or so a day on her trip across the Pacific!

The other West Coast monitor, the Amphitrite-class USS Monadnock (BM-3), reached Manila Bay three days later on 16 August.

While Monterey and Monadnock were wallowing across the mighty Pacific that summer, Camara had met a brick wall at the Suez Canal where he was refused coaling by the British and returned to Spain, arriving at Cartagena on 23 July without firing a shot in the Spanish-American War.

Spanish battleship Paleyo at Port Said, Egypt, 26 June – 11 July 1898, while serving as flagship of Rear Admiral Manuel de la Camara’s squadron, which had been sent to relieve the Philippines. Copied from Office of Naval Intelligence Album of Foreign Warships. NH 88722

Although Monterey did not actually have a chance to go loud against the Spanish, she did see some action in the PI as events unfolded.

On 18 September 1899, she commenced a week of combat operations in Subic Bay against local insurgents and joined with gunboats Charleston and Concord and supply ship Zafiro, helping to destroy a large gun at the head of the bay on the 25th.

She would remain, along with the Monadnock, in the Far East alternating with service on China station where they seemed particularly suited to gunboat diplomacy along the Yangtze river, her landing forces put to frequent use, and waving the flag from Tokyo to Nanking.

USS MONTEREY at anchor in Nagasaki harbor, Japan, ca. 1899, photo via University of Washington, H. Ambrose Kiehl Photograph Collection

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) “Stack arms” during landing party drill on the ship’s foredeck, about 1898. Single frame photo from a stereo card. Photo published by Strohmeyer and Wyman, New York, 1898. Note Lee rifles; special Lee belts; and long leggings. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, 1967. NH 73619

USS MONTEREY (BM -6) “Morning Drill” on the quarterdeck. This appears to show the crew during landing force exercises. Stereo Photo, copyright 1898 by Strohmeyer & Wyman, New York. Note Navy Battalion Flag, deck lights, portable hatch cover, and captain. The monitor could land a 60-70 man force, backed up by two Colt M1895 “potato digger” machine guns and a 3-inch landing howitzer. NH 94259 -A

In 1900, the forward-deployed monitors would be used to help justify increasing port facilities in Cavite, as they had to make frequent trips to Hong Kong to avail themselves of British yards there.

From a Bureau of Navigation report:

It is important that this Government should construct or acquire on this station a dock of its own for the largest vessels. Under other circumstances foreign docks might not have been available for the Oregon, or being available, might not have been offered for use. The lack of a dock in the Philippines makes it necessary to keep full crews on board such vessels as the Monadnock and Monterey. These vessels are of little use in the present state of the insurrection but are needed in the Philippines as a reserve for strengthening the fleet in case of threat or attack from another power. Each six months, though, they need docking and must then have a crew and convoy besides to get them from Cavite to Hongkong, whereas with a dock in the Philippines they could be put in reserve and docked, as necessary.

While in the Philippines, she apparently carried huge deck awnings covering her guns.

Sailors manning the rails of USS Monterey (BM-6) NHF-154

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) crewmen reading on the fore-deck, under awnings, in Philippine waters, circa 1914. Note 12″ guns. NH 88575

Decommissioned at Olongapo in 1903 for four years’ worth of repairs, she was placed back into service in September 1907, spending more time in places ranging from Foochow to Zamboanga for the next decade.

In November 1917, as the world suffered from the Great War, Monterey was finally relieved from her Asiatic posting after 19 years and recalled to Pearl Harbor. This time she was towed by collier USS Ajax (AC-14) in a 36-day cruise, arriving just before Christmas.

Spending the next several years as a submarine tender– a job many old monitors found themselves pressed into in the 1900s– Monterey finished the Great War as a manned vessel, as her Christmas 1918 menu testifies.

U.S.S. Monterey …Menu… Christmas Day, December 25, 1918 – Soup: Cream of tomato; Relishes Celery, Ripe olives, Green onions; Salads: Fruit, Mayonnaise dressing, Combination; Meats: Roast turkey, Tartar sauce, Baked red snapper, Giblet gravy, Roast loin of pork, Apple sauce; Vegetables: Creamed mashed potatoes, French peas, Buttered asparagus tips; Dessert: Fruit cake, Mincemeat Pie, Rainbow ice cream; Fruits: Oranges, Apples, Bananas, Grapes; Beverages: Grape juice punch, Iced tea, Lemonade; Cigars, Cigarettes – J.H. Kohli, Acting Commissary Steward.

Decommissioned 27 August 1921, she was sold the next February to A. Bercovich Co., Oakland, Calif., and towed across the Pacific for scrapping. It was her first, and last, trip back to CONUS since she left in 1898 to join Dewey.

After she was scrapped, Monterey’s bell went on to live a life of its own, installed on Ford Island at Pearl Harbor, from where it witnessed the attack in 1941.

Rear Admiral John D. McDonald, COM 14, and Comdt NOB Pearl Harbor pose with the bell from USS MONTEREY (BM-6) at Pearl Harbor, circa 1924. NH 91356

For years after WWII it was used to ring 8-bells at the golf course and as far as I know, is still there.

The third Monterey (CVL-26) was an Independence-class light carrier built on a cruiser hull during World War II.

USS Monterey (CVL-26) Catapults an F6F Hellcat fighter during operations in the Marianas area, June 1944. Note flight deck numbers, crewmen with catapult bridles, plexiglass bridge windscreen, and pelorus. 80-G-416686

The carrier was perhaps best known as having a navigation officer by the name of Gerald Ford in her complement during the push towards Tokyo.

Photograph of Navigation Officer Gerald Ford Taking a Sextant Reading aboard the USS Monterey, 1944 National Archives Identifier: 6923713

The fourth Monterey (CG-61) is a VLS-equipped Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser that has been with the fleet since 1990 and is still going strong some 30 years later.

U.S. FIFTH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS (April 14, 2018) The guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) fires a Tomahawk land attack missile in a strike against Syria. (U.S. Navy photo 180414-N-DO281-1123 by Lt. j.g Matthew Daniels/Released)

Specs:

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) Unofficial plans, published in the Transactions of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, 1893. NH 70118

Displacement: 4,084 tons
Length: 260 ft 11 in
Beam: 59 ft
Draft: 14 ft
Machinery: VTE engines, 2 single-ended cylindrical and 4 Ward Tubulous boilers, 2 shafts, 5,250 hp
Speed: 11 knots
Complement: 19 Officers and 176 Enlisted as designed, 218 (1898)
Armor, Harvey:
3 inches on deck
5-13 inch belt
11.5-13 inch barbettes
7.5-8 inch turrets
10-inch CT
Armament:
2 x 12/35″ in one dual turret
2 x 10/30″ in one dual turret
6 x 6-pdrs
4 x 37mm Hotchkiss revolving cannons
2 x 1-pounders
2 x Colt M1895 machine guns (added 1898)
1 x landing gun

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One comment

  • Lawrence Owens

    In the eighth picture the ship is said to be off of Santa Barbara going from Seattle to San Francisco. Santa Barbara is far South of San Francisco.

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