Warship Wednesday, June 23, 2021: The St. Thomas Slugger
Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, June 23, 2021: The St. Thomas Slugger
Here we see the krydserkorvetten (cruiser corvette) Valkyrien of the Royal Danish Navy in exotic Hong Kong on 8 April 1900 while notably under the command of H.K.H. Prins Valdemar, son of then-King Christian IX. Note the junks, small vessel traffic, and destroyers near the gleaming white Nordic warship, which is firing a salute to the harbor battery. Ushered in just after Denmark suffered twin military humiliations, the relatively mighty vessel– for the Danes– would have a quiet and long-ranging career, making several footnotes in history.
Laid down at Orlogsværftet København for the Danish admiralty 27 October 1888, she was reportedly a close cousin of the Armstrong-built Chilean protected cruiser Esmeralda (2,992 tons, 18.3 kts, 2 x 10″/30, 6 x 6″/26) but had a different armament (Krupp-made: 2 x 8.2″/35, 6 x 6″/32), more economical domestic Burmeister & Wain machinery of a lower horsepower, and thicker armor (up to 2.5-inches rather than 1-inch), factors that dropped her speed to 17 knots.
Using a dramatic ram bow, in vogue after 1866, Valkyrien also had some other tricks up her sleeve to include five above deck torpedo tubes arrayed at various angles from her beam (two bows, one stern, two amidships) and carried a pair of 68-foot Thornycroft-made torpedo boats (Torpedobaad Nos. 10 and 11) which were capable of independent operations.
A celebration of the Viking choosers of the slain, the ship carried war shields, swords, and battle-axes on her bow, and wings on her bow in careful ornamentation.
At the time of her commissioning, Valkyrien far outclassed the other “cruisers” under the Danish ensign, some of which were more appropriately described as armored schooners: Absalon (533 tons, 1 x 60-pounder, 2 x 5.75″), Fylla & Diana (560 tons, 1 x 60-pounder, 3 x 30 pounder), St. Thomas (1,700 tons, 8 x 4.7-inch guns), and Ingoff (1,012 tons, 2 x 6″). Valkyrien held the heavyweight champ title even as the later Hekla-class of light cruisers– Gejser, Hejmdal, and Fyen (1,282 tons, 2 x 4.7″, 4 x 3.5″, 4 x torpedo tubes, 17 knots) — were delivered in the 1890s. When compared to Denmark’s squadron of “bathtub battleships” or kystforsvarsskib— Iver Hvitfeldt (3,446 tons, 2 x 10″ guns, 8-inches armor), Skjold (2,195 tons, 1 x 9.4″, 10 inches armor), and the three Trolle-class (~3,500 tons, 2 x 9.4″, 4 x 6″, 7 inches armor) vessels– she also compared favorably in size, if not in throw and armor, while being a couple of knots faster.
In short, Valkyrien, from the time of her commissioning to her eventual retirement three decades later, was the ideal vessel to show the Danish flag overseas, especially in her territories such as Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and the Danish West Indies (Dansk Vestindien). Her 3,900nm range certainly helped with that. Once she joined the fleet, she became very busy.
In the summer of 1893, she escorted the royal ship yacht Dannebrog to England for the marriage of the Duke of York (grandson of the Danish king) and Princess Marie of Teck. She followed that royal visit up three years later to represent Denmark at Prince Carl of Denmark’s marriage to Princess Maud.
She met Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen’s returning 1896 polar expedition as his famed ship, Fram, arrived back home.
In October 1899, she left on a trip to the Far East under Prince Valdemar. No paper sailor, the son of King Christian IX spent most of his life on active duty with the Danish navy– a tradition for a country known for “sailor kings.” She returned home 10 months later, after calling at more than 30 overseas ports.
From 1901 through 1902, she continued her out-of-Europe service with a stint as a station ship in the Danish West Indies.
It was during this detail that she sailed to Martinique after a volcanic eruption there which killed over 30,000 people, and her crew participated with local French authorities in the rescue operation at the town of Le Precheur.
After a period in ordinary as the fleet expanded, she returned to service with a Med cruise in 1913-1914 on the eve of the Great War. Once Europe was ablaze in conflict, she donned a wartime scheme and maintained a defensive posture in home waters, serving through 1915 as a barracks and school ship training Sikringsstyrken, or security forces.
Then came a wartime modernization, landing her old 8.2- and 6-inch guns in favor of more modern weapons, albeit of a smaller caliber. Her 8.2s had a rate of fire of one shot every three minutes and the original 6-inchers could achieve one shot per. minute. The new 6-inch guns she mounted in place of her main battery could fire 5-6 rounds per minute, as could her new secondary battery, composed of 3-inch guns.
Shoving off for the Danish West Indies in November 1915, she remained in place as a station ship in that far-off territory as the U.S. and others sought to purchase the islands for their own use. Times were tense on the ground, with wartime shortages, labor problems, local unrest, and Great Power spies all on the list of problems. The cruiser’s captain, CDR Henri Konow, became local governor when the vessel arrived.
In October 1916, the islands were slammed by a strong Category 3 hurricane that left the Danish bark Thor wrecked, three steamers grounded, as well as the schooner Irma II and sloop Faith sunk. It was Valkyrien’s officers who sounded the alarm about the oncoming storm, firing her guns and rockets on command of Konow, and her crew that saved dozens of lives in and around St. Thomas while, as telecommunications and electricity were knocked out, her searchlights and signal lamps illuminated the night sky. The ship’s junior surgeon was sent to Saint John to render assistance due there as there was no medical personnel on that nearby island.
Following along that vein, Valkyrien was the muscle on hand representing the Danish government at the transfer of the colony to Uncle Sam on 31 March 1917, just days before the American entry into WWI. Her band played during the ceremony while an armed 24-man honor guard drawn from her crew marched in tandem with a squad of local gendarmes and Yankee bluejackets from the transport USS Hancock (AP-5), who was very lightly armed with only a few 3-inch guns.
Konow and a dozen of his officers looked on, surrounded by consular representatives of foreign nations and the American delegation. It was Konow who had read the public proclamation of the even aloud two weeks prior, an act that notified the locals of the change in management.
Once the flags were exchanged at 1600hrs, Valkyrien and Hancock fired 17-gun salutes across St. Thomas harbor. Notably in the port at the time were the interned German ocean liners Wasgenwald and Calabria of the Hamburg America Line, who watched the events cautiously.
The territory (save for 500-acre Vand or Water Island, which was retained as property of the Danish East Asiatic Company until 1944) became the U.S. Virgin Islands with Hancock’s skipper, LCDR Edwin Taylor Pollock, becoming Acting Governor. Hancock’s crew would take the German steamers into custody just a week later as the U.S. declared war on the Kaiser.
Deprived of a station to serve overseas, Valkyrien returned home, served as a quarantine vessel during the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918, and soon got back to her globetrotting once the war ended.
Used as a training vessel for naval cadets as newer cruisers were available for front-line use, she stopped at Egypt and Malta during her 1919 summer cruise to pick up 160 former German POWs of Danish extraction from the British and returned them to Denmark. That winter she performed the same task in visits to Holland, Belgium, and France, repatriating 135 further Danes, most of whom lived in German-controlled Southern Jutland where the Kaiser’s army conscripted over 30,000 Danish-speaking residents into his legions, over the howls of Copenhagen. The Schleswig Plebiscite later returned much of the region, captured by the Prussians in 1864, to Danish control.
Her summer cruise in 1921 carried, besides her cadets, King Christian X, who used the opportunity to pay visits to the Faroe Islands and Iceland. Christian, who had spent four years with the Danish army as a dragoon officer and would later become famous for his daily horseback rides through German-occupied Copenhagen in WWII, proved adept at instructing the boys in close order drill and morning calisthenics.
Laid up in 1923, Valkyrien was sold for scrap the next year.
She is remembered in period maritime art and postcards. Danish maritime artist Christian Benjamin Olsen, who sailed on her several times, painted no less than three handsome portraits of the cruiser.
A set of plans is in the U.S. National Archives.
She is probably best known for her Virgin Islands service and is noted there annually on Transfer Day, observed each March. Konow, her skipper during the transfer, later retired as a vice admiral and served the Danish government in the 1920s as Minister of Defense and Minister of Foreign Affairs. A holder of the Grand Cross of the Order of the Dannebrog, he died in 1939 (ironically the same year as Prince Valdemar, another of her famous captains) and is well remembered in Danish history.
Displacement: 3,020 tons
Length: 266.75 ft.
Beam: 43.25 ft.
Draft: 18.25 ft.
Machinery: Burmeister & Wain, 2 VTE, 6 cylindrical boilers, 5,300shp
Speed: 17.4 knots
Range: 3,900nm at 10 knots on 496 tons coal
Crew: 282 to 310
2 x 21 cm/32cal Krupp C/86 L/35 bagladekanoner
6 x 15 cm/32cal Krupp C/88 L/35 bagladekanoner
4 x 57 mm/40cal Hotchkiss kanoner
8 x 37 mm/17cal Hotchkiss kanoner
2 x 8mm machine guns
5 x 381 mm above water torpedoapparater (later reduced to three in 1913, deleted in 1919)
2 x 14.9 cm/32cal L/50 M.06 bagladekanoner (from Peder Skram)
4 x 75 mm/52 L/55 M.12 patronkanoner (increased to six in 1919)
2 x 57 mm/40cal Hotchkiss kanoner
2 x 37 mm/17cal Hotchkiss kanoner
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could the white canvas hanging from the auxiliary rig be a rainwater catcher? Never seen those before.
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