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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
3 inches on deck
5-13 inch belt
11.5-13 inch barbettes
7.5-8 inch turrets
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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