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Air blast injuries likely killed the crew of the Hunley

The mystery of the Hunley‘s last crew has been solved. A paper by University of Florida researchers supported by the US Army MURI program and others has come to the conclusion, after repeatedly setting blasts near a scale model of the human-powered submersible, that the crew was killed by the blast wave from their torpedo, crushing their lungs and giving them TBIs. That explains why they were all found at their stations, with no broken bones, and the submarine was relatively intact.


The Hunley set off a 61.2 kg (135 lb) black powder torpedo at a distance less than 5 m (16 ft) off its bow. Scaled experiments were performed that measured black powder and shock tube explosions underwater and propagation of blasts through a model ship hull. This propagation data was used in combination with archival experimental data to evaluate the risk to the crew from their own torpedo. The blast produced likely caused flexion of the ship hull to transmit the blast wave; the secondary wave transmitted inside the crew compartment was of sufficient magnitude that the calculated chances of survival were less than 16% for each crew member. The submarine drifted to its resting place after the crew died of air blast trauma within the hull.

Full study here


156 years ago today: The polyglot Garibaldi at Bull Run

On 21 July 1861, some 30,000~ Americans met on the field of battle south of Washington D.C. and let the cork out of the bottle on the epic bloodletting of the Civil War. Until then, although there had been a number of sharp incidents, peace was still an option. After the First Battle of Bull Run, also known as Battle of First Manassas, there was no turning back.

One of the more colorful units on the fields of Prince Williams County that day was the 39th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, best known as the “Garibaldi Guard.”

The unit was formed just nine weeks earlier by the flamboyant Hungarian Col. Frederick George D’Utassy who, at the ripe old age of 37 claimed prior wartime service as a field and staff officer in several European armies prior to his immigration to the states, and worked as a language professor (speaking 12 of them fluently). The regiment was a foreign legion of sorts comprising 11 companies of men of different national heritage from New York’s streets: three German, three Hungarian, one Swiss, one Italian, one French, one Spanish, and one Portuguese.

As such, they looked unlike any other U.S. infantry force at the time.

COL D'Utassy and 39th NY Garibaldi Guard Staff in the Uniforms they would have worn at Bull Run. Photo via USMA Collection

COL D’Utassy, short guy center, and 39th NY Garibaldi Guard Staff in the uniforms they would have worn at Bull Run. Photo via USMA Collection

The Guard attached into the 1st Brigade (Col. Louis Blenker) of the 5th Division (Col. Dixon S. Miles) and was in reserve at Manassas– but by most accounts they gave good service in helping cover the Union retreat.

They fought for the rest of the Civil War (often among themselves) and were disbanded 1 July 1865. The regiment suffered a total of 274 fatalities during the conflict, most from disease or by prisoners who died in Confederate POW camps.

As for D’Utassy, he was court-martialed in 1863 for “fraud and conduct prejudicial to military discipline” after selling the position of Major in his regiment, forging muster rolls, and forging accounts. He was discharged 29 May 1863 and, after a brief stint in Sing-Sing, became an insurance salesman.

Warship Wednesday, July 19, 2017: The Belgian sword master and his legacy

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 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, July 19, 2017: The Belgian sword master and his legacy

Via Steven Mortenson, Corbesier Historian/Navsource

Via Steven Mortenson, Corbesier Historian/Navsource

Here we see the Butler-class destroyer escort USS Corbesier (DE 438) in an undated photo, likely somewhere in the Pacific in late WWII. She was named after an extremely well-known (for his time) expert with a blade.

“Cutlasses, lads!” was a standard call to prepare to repel boarders going back to the Continental Navy with Colonial armorer Richard Gridley and John Bailey reportedly crafting a number of these curved short swords for Washington’s fleet.

As described by JO2 Meckel in 1957’s “The Cutlass Carved Its Niche in Our Navy’s Annals,” the fledgling U.S. Navy ordered small lots of cutlasses from sword makers Nathan Starr of Middletown, Connecticut; Lewis Prahl of Philadelphia; and Robert Dingie of New York.

Starr later made three different 2,000-cutlass lots in 1808 (for $2.50 each), 1816 ($3.00) and 1826 ($4.25)– talk about inflation! These were needed in large numbers as frigates such as the USS Constitution were authorized no less than 156 cutlasses.

These early swords were later augmented and then replaced by the Ames Cutlass in two variants (1842 and 1860) with the latter, remaining in service amazingly through WWII.

The 1860 Ames was 32-inches long with a 26-inch blade, and was in service from 1860 through 1949! This example marked U.S.N. D.R. 1864, is in the National Park Service collection.

Moving from the Barbary Wars and War of 1812 to the Civil War, the Navy’s love affair with the cutlass remained intact, even as armor plate, steam engines, Gatling repeaters, torpedoes (mines) and rifled naval guns moved combat into modern terms.

With the need to remain trained in these traditional edged weapons, you need a sword master.

Enter one very dapper Antoine Joseph Corbesier, a man skilled at the noble art of attack and parry with a sword.

As noted by DANFS, Corbesier was born 22 January 1837 in Belgium and, after service with the French, emigrated to America.

As described by Fencing Classics, “A brief advertisement in the New York Tribune, from October 19, 1863, places him in New York during the time of the Civil War, where he was a teacher at the New York Fencing Club before opening his own school.”

By 1865, the 28-year-old European fencer was Sword-Master of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and, had made such an impression on the very gruff Admiral David Dixon Porter, then Superintendent, that Porter endorsed Corbesier’s 76-page text on sword fighting published in 1868.

“Principles of Squad Instruction for the Broadsword” soon became the standard tome for the use of naval cutlasses in the U.S. Navy and the influence can be seen for decades, along with other works he produced on the bayonet.

USS GALENA, 1880-92. Caption: Left flank cut, during cutlass practice. Description: Catalog #: NH 53998

Left flank cut, from Corbesier’s book

“Left face cut.” Cutlass exercises for apprentices on board USS MONONGAHELA at Newport, Rhode Island, circa June 1891. Halftone of a photo by Frank H. Child, Newport, Rhode Island. From the book: “U.S.T.S. Monongahela and the U.S. Naval Training System, illustrated,” 1892. Description: Catalog #: NH 45885

Left face cut, from Corbesier’s book

Meanwhile, new ships coming on line, even though they were modern steam vessels lit by electric light, were still given their (reduced) allotment of cutlasses which, in naval tradition, would remain aboard until the ship was removed from the Naval List, ensuring the swords would float around through the Spanish-American War, Great War, and even into WWII.

Cutlass exercise Caption: Aboard a U.S. Navy warship during the later 1800s. Post card photo. Description: Catalog #: NH 80750

USS Enterprise (1877-1909) Ship’s Apprentices pose by the port side quarterdeck ladder, while Enterprise was at the New York Navy Yard, circa spring 1890. Photographed by E.H. Hart, New York City. Note the figure-eight Apprentice mark visible on the uniforms of several of these men, and cutlass fan on the cabin bulkhead at left. Stern of receiving ship Vermont is partially visible in the left background. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 54215

USS CHICAGO (1889-1935) Caption: View on the gun deck, about 1890. Note cutlass and rifle racks, with 6″/30 broadside guns beyond. Description: Catalog #: NH 55124

By special act of Congress, after more than 40 years of instruction at the Academy, Corbesier was given the rank of first lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps 4 March 1913.

Lieutenant Antoine J. Corbesier, USMC, taken sometime between 1913-15. Catalog #: NH 51707

He died in the Naval Hospital at Annapolis on 26 March 1915, where he lived at the time.

His obituary ran in several nautical journals of the day, the below from Seven Seas Magazine.

Even with the great swordsman gone, the Navy kept the cutlass on tap, and they continued to see service in far flung ports when needed, even apparently being broken out once or twice in China as late as the 1930s.

On the eve of the Great War, the Navy attempted to replace the Civil War-era Ames Cutlass with the new M1917 Naval Cutlass, based on the Dutch Klewang boarding sword, though its adoption seems more miss than hit.

Then came this:

JJ55-3/1510, 15 October 1942

1.Officers of the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps, shall no longer be required to possess swords as part of their uniform equipment.

2.The various uniform regulations will be modified accordingly.

3.It is expected that a form of dirk will, in due course, be adopted as uniform equipment in lieu of the sword.

4.Due to the urgent need for metals, it is suggested that officers, who may so desire, turn in their swords for scrap.-SecNav. Frank Knox.

This order, as noted by NHHC Curator Mark Wertheimer in 2003, did not affect cutlasses still in unit and vessel armories, and they “remained an ordnance allowance item until 1949” indeed, being done away with in by NavOrd Inst. 4500-1 in November 1949. Reportedly, some Marines even carried them ashore in the Pacific for use as machetes during the jungle fighting of WWII.

However, the swordsman may have been gone, and his weapons headed for the literal scrap heap, but he was not forgotten.

On 11 November 1943 at Dravo shipyard in Wilmington, Delaware, a Cannon-class destroyer escort was named USS Corbesier (DE-106) in his honor. She went on to be commissioned as the Free French Naval ship Sénégalais (T-22) on 2 January 1944, which is fitting to a degree based on Corbesier’s French military service in the days of Napoleon III.

Sénégalais went on to seriously damage German submarine U-371 just five months after she was taken over by the French, taking a German homing torpedo in the exchange.

Sénégalais (French Escort Ship, formerly USS Corbesier, DE-106) French sailor paints a submarine kill symbol on the ship's smokestack, following the sinking of German submarine U-371 off the Algerian coast on 4 May 1944. During the action, Sénégalais delivered the final attack on U-371, but was herself torpedoed and damaged. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-K-1606

Sénégalais (French Escort Ship, formerly USS Corbesier, DE-106) French sailor paints a submarine kill symbol on the ship’s smokestack, following the sinking of German submarine U-371 off the Algerian coast on 4 May 1944. During the action, Sénégalais delivered the final attack on U-371 but was herself torpedoed and damaged. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-K-1606

The French ship went on to serve that Navy until 1965, being scrapped in Germany.

Meanwhile, a second USS Corbesier, (DE-438), a John C. Butler-class destroyer escort, was launched in 1944 by Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Kearny, N.J. Commissioned 31 March 1944, she sailed for the Pacific and performed ASW missions and general escort duties.

Via Steven Mortenson, Corbesier Historian/Navsource

On 23 January 1945, with sisters Conklin (DE-439) and Raby (DE-698), Corbesier sank the Japanese submarine I-48 off Yap Island.

From Combined Fleets:

23 January 1945:
15 miles NE of Yap Island. At 0310, USS CORBESIER (DE-438) makes a radar contact at about 9,800 yds. The target is heading 210 degrees at 18 kts. After CORBESIER closes to investigate, I-48 dives. At 0336, CORBESIER obtains a sound contact and fires a salvo of Mk.10 “Hedgehog” projector charges but misses. CONKLIN and RABY (DE-698) join the chase. CORBESIER makes five more Hedgehog attacks, all with negative results, finally, losing the contact.

At 0902, CORBESIER regains contact and executes another “Hedgehog” attack, again with negative results. At 0912, CORBESIER reestablishes sound contact with the sub, but loses it before an attack can be made. CONKLIN makes a new “Hedgehog” attack at 0934, from a distance of 550 yds. Seventeen seconds later, four or five explosions are heard from an estimated depth of 175 ft. At 0936, a violent explosion occurs, temporarily disabling CONKLIN’s engines and steering gear. Huge air bubbles come up alongside; soon thereafter oil and debris surface. Large quantities of human remains are likewise sighted.

17 miles N of Yap. A motor whaleboat from CONKLIN picks up pieces of planking, splintered wood, cork, interior woodwork with varnished surfaces, a sleeve of a knitted blue sweater containing flesh, chopsticks and a seaman’s manual. I-48 is sunk with her 118-strong crew and four kaiten pilots at 09-55N, 138-17.30E

It wasn’t gentlemanly swordplay, but it was no less deadly.

Corbesier went on to serve off Okinawa, parrying attacks from Japanese kamikaze off Okinawa. She completed the war with two battle stars, and berthed at San Diego, was decommissioned in 1946. She was scrapped in 1972.

The Navy has not named another vessel after Adm. Porter’s sword master.

They did bring back the officer’s dress sword in 1952, in 2011 CPOs were granted the authority to carry a mil-spec cutlass on certain occasions, and today the (ceremonial) use of the sword is instilled in the Marine’s Corporal’s Course, so there is that.

U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Joseph Bednarik, with Company E, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, instructs Marines on proper sword manual during Corporals Course on Camp Pendleton, Calif., Feb 22, 2016. Sword manual is an honored tradition in which Marines command troop formations during formal ceremonies. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Brian Bekkala, MCIWEST-MCB CamPen Combat Camera/Released)

And yes, there are still a few old-school Ames-style cutlasses around, which would warm Corbesier’s heart.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Tenika Fugate, assigned to USS Constitution, raises a cutlass during a color guard detail in Old Town during Albuquerque Navy Week. Navy Weeks are designed to show Americans the investment they have made in their Navy and increase awareness in cities that do not have a significant Navy presence. (Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Brown)

His “Principles of Squad Instruction for the Broadsword” is in the public domain, has been digitized, and is widely available, ensuring that it will endure.

And of course, if you are passing through the Naval Academy, stop by the Cemetery and Columbarium, and visit Lot 394 to pay your respects.

Yet, “If the Army and the Navy Ever look on Heaven’s scenes; They will find the streets are guarded By United States Marines,” holds true, the swordsman may still be holding class.


(DE 438)
Displacement: 1,350/1,745 tons
Length: 306 ft. (93 m) overall
Beam: 36 ft. 10 in (11.23 m)
Draught: 13 ft. 4 in (4.06 m) maximum
Propulsion: 2 boilers, 2 geared turbine engines, 12,000 shp, 2 screws
Speed: 24 knots (44 km/h)
Range: 6,000 nmi at 12 knots (22 km/h)
Complement: 14 officers, 201 enlisted
2 × 5 in (130 mm)
4 × 40 mm AA (2 × 2)
10 × 20 mm guns AA
3 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes
1 × Hedgehog
8 × K-gun depth charge projectors
2 × depth charge tracks
(though likely no cutlasses)

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Robert Gould Shaw’s sword, thought lost to history, found in attic

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw clutched the sword in his hand until he was killed in battle by enemy troops at the murderous assault on Fort Wagner. (Photo by Stuart C. Mowbray/MHS)

Descendants of Col. Robert Gould Shaw, killed leading the 54th Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War, recently stumbled across his sword.

Last week the Massachusetts Historical Society announced they had acquired a collection of Shaw’s papers, photographs, and relics, to include his engraved Wilkinson sword, which he was carrying when he was killed.

“To have located ‘the holy grail of Civil War swords’ is a remarkable discovery,” said MHS President Dennis Fiori in a statement. “Through an amazing research effort, our curator and staff were able to put together a detailed timeline to authenticate the sword.”

The sword, a Wilkinson given to him by his uncle when the 25-year-old was promoted to full colonel of volunteers just weeks before the grim frontal attack that claimed his life, was found in an attic by descendants of his sister.

More here.  

Gould’s actions, and the 54th, would be retold in 1989’s Glory.

A special Combat Gallery Sunday: The original Fighting Irish, on the eve of the Wheatfield, 154 years ago

Absolution Under Fire, By Paul Wood, via the Snite Museum of Art Notre Dame. Note the drummer boys in distinctive Zouave uniforms and the famous green harp flag. Click to bigup

On July 2nd 1863, minutes before the Irish Brigade would charge the Wheatfield at Gettysburg, Father William Corby gave absolution to the men. Corby would later become President of Notre Dame University and the following quote from Col. St. Clair Mulholland comes from their web page on Corby:

Colonel St. Clair Mulholland was attached with the Irish Brigade and later gave this account of Corby’s famous absolution [Originally published in the Philadelphia Times, reprinted in Scholastic, April 3, 1880, pages 470-471]:

There is yet a few minutes to spare before starting, and the time is occupied in one of the most impressive religious ceremonies I have ever witnessed. The Irish Brigade, which had been commanded formerly by General Thomas Francis Meagher, and whose green flag had been unfurled in every battle in which the Army of the Potomac had been engaged from the first Bull Run to Appomattox, was now commanded by Colonel Patrick Kelly, of the Eighty-eighth New York, and formed a part of this division. The brigade stood in columns of regiments closed in mass. As the large majority of its members were Catholics, the Chaplain of the brigade Rev. William Corby, CSC, proposed to give a general absolution to all the men before going into the fight. While this is customary in the armies of Catholic countries of Europe, it was perhaps the first time it was ever witnessed on this continent… Father Corby stood upon a large rock in front of the brigade, addressing the men; he explained what he was about to do, saying that each one would receive the benefit of the absolution by making a sincere Act of Contrition, and firmly resolving to embrace the first opportunity of confessing his sins, urging them to do their duty well, and reminding them of the high and sacred nature of their trust as soldiers and the noble object for which they fought. The brigade was standing at “Order arms,” and as he closed his address, every man fell on his knees, with head bowed down. Then, stretching his right hand towards the brigade, Father Corby pronounced the words of absolution. The scene was more than impressive, it was awe-inspiring. Near by, stood General Hancock, surrounded by a brilliant throng of officers, who had gathered to witness this very unusual occurrence and while there was profound silence in the ranks of the Second Corps, yet over to the left, out by the peach orchard and Little Round Top, where Weed, and Vincent, and Haslett were dying, the roar of the battle rose and swelled and reechoed through the woods. The act seemed to be in harmony with all the surroundings. I do not think there was a man in the brigade who did not offer up a heartfelt prayer. For some it was their last; they knelt there in their grave-clothes — in less than half an hour many of them were numbered with the dead of July 2.


Make that #727 a very well-deserved one, underlined in red


Two of the six pages of 726 demerits George Armstrong Custer racked up as a Cadet, from the West Point Library Archives. Cadet Custer was the “Goat” of his class at the USMA (1860) and went on to become something of a celebrated “boy general” leading Michigan volunteer cavalry in Northern Virginia during the Civil War. He went from a 2nd Lieutenant commanding a troop of 20 horse soldiers to command of a full brigade in two years.

In 1866, he dropped back down from Maj. General of Volunteers to Captain in the peacetime regulars before working his way back up to Lt. Colonel and making his last bad decision on this day in 1876, age 36.

Warship Wednesday, June 21, 2017: The Tsar’s everlasting musketeer

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 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, June 21, 2017: The Tsar’s everlasting musketeer

Here we see the Uragan/Bronenosets-class monitor Strelets as she appeared in the heyday of her career in the late 19th Century in the Baltic Fleet of the Tsar’s Imperial Russian Navy. A byproduct of a strange time in Russian-U.S. history, she somehow endures today.

The Misinterpreted Russian Navy Mission in the US Civil War that may have accidentally helped the North win the conflict.

In 1863, it looked as if the mighty British Empire may intervene in the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy. War fever had come to London early in the conflict after the “Trent Affair” while British firms such as Enfield and Whitworth sold tremendous amounts of arms of all kinds to Confederate agents which were in turn often smuggled through the U.S. naval quarantine via British blockade-runners. Confederate raiders including the notorious CSS Alabama and CSS Shenandoah were constructed in English harbors. British war tourist Colonel (later General Sir) Arthur Fremantle in 1863 had just returned from three months in both the U.S. and Confederate commands fighting the war and loudly pronounced that the Confederates would certainly be victorious.

Relations between the United States and Tsarist Russia were warmer than with many other European nations at the time. Cassius Marcellus Clay, a well-known abolitionist, was ambassador to the court of Tsar Alexander II during the conflict. It was Clay’s report on the Tsar’s Emancipation of 23 million serfs in 1861 that helped pave the way for Lincolns own Emancipation Proclamation of the four million slaves the next year. American engineers and railway organizers were helpful in starting the early Russian railway system. Clay openly encouraged a military alliance and  thought of Russia as a hedge between possible British intervention on the Confederate side.

On 24 September 1863, two separate Russian naval squadrons arrived in U.S. waters unannounced on both the East and West Coasts.

The Russian Atlantic fleet had sailed from the Baltic and arrived at New York under command of RADM Lesovskii with three large frigates and a trio of smaller vessels. The fleet included the new and fearsome 5,100-ton U.S.-built screw frigate Alexander Nevsky with her 51 60-pounder naval guns.

Crew of the Russian Frigate Osliaba – Alexandria, VA, 1863

The Russian Pacific fleet that arrived on the West Coast at San Francisco was under command of RADM Popov and consisted of four small gunboats with a pair of armed merchant cruisers.

The ships were saluted and allowed entry as being on a friendly port call. The American media and political machine immediately interpreted the reason for these naval visits as clear Russian support for Lincoln.

The real reason, however, seems to be something quite different.

Poland, largely occupied by Russia, was in open revolt in the summer of 1863. The crisis that followed included the possibility that Britain and or France would intervene on the side of the insurgent Poles. The Tsar, fearing his isolated Pacific and Atlantic naval squadrons would be seized or destroyed by superior British or French units in the event of war, sent them into neutral U.S. ports to seek refuge. This fact was held from the Americans and the fleets’ Russian officers simply stated that they were in American ports for “not unfriendly purposes.”

The respective admirals of the Russian squadrons had sealed orders to place themselves at the disposal of the U.S. government in the event of a joint British or French intervention on both Russia and the United States. In the event of Russia entering war with the Anglo-French forces alone then the Russian ships were to sortie against the commercial fleets of those vessels as best as they could and then seek internment.

Several historians claim that the British government saw this mysterious visit by the Russians in U.S. waters as an open confirmation of a secret military pact between the two future superpowers. This interpretation further helped deter foreign recognition of the Confederate cause and resulted in the extinguishing of the South’s flame of hope. It can also be claimed that it stalled British intervention in the Tsar’s problems in Poland with the thought that it could result in a U.S. invasion of Canada.

When the Polish crisis abated in April 1864, the Russian fleets were recalled quietly to their respective home waters. The dozen Tsarist warships had conducted port calls and training cruises in U.S. and neighboring waters for almost seven months during the war while managing to avoid the conflict altogether. In the late fall of 1863, with rumors of Confederate raiders lurking on the West Coast, Popov reassured to the governor of California that he and his fleet would indeed protect the coast of their de facto ally if the raiders did appear.

The U.S. Navy, on the cutting edge of ironclad steam warship design, passed along plans and expertise to their Russian colleagues who had no such vessels. By 1865, the Tsar had a fleet of 10 ultra-modern 200-foot long ironclad battleships based on the monitor USS Passaic. These ships, known to the Russians as the Uragan/Bronenosetz class were a match for any European navy of the time– at least in their home waters.

In 1867, Russian Ambassador Baron Stoeckel advised US Secretary Seward that the Russian government would entertain bids for the failing colony of Alaska, which was rapidly accepted. Cassius Clay, still in Russia, helped to conduct the negations from inside the Winter Palace. The Russians even rapidly transferred control of the territory, which was seen by many to be worthless nearly a year before Congress ratified the transfer and in effect, couldn’t give it back.

This odd incident of the Russian fleets’ visit may have prevented what would have certainly been one of the planet’s first and possibly oddest of world wars. The real reasons for the Russian interlude were only uncovered and publicized nearly 50 years later in 1915 by military historian Frank Golder.

But let’s get back to the monitors

These modified Passaic-type ships were low in the water, single turret “cheesebox on a raft” style armored ships that could be fearsome in coastal waters. Their wrought-iron armor, stacked in 1-inch plates, varied between a single plate on deck to 10 inches on the turret, which was filled with a pair of 9-inch smoothbore guns with 100 shells each. The steam-powered turret took 35 seconds to make a full rotation.

A pair of boilers vented through a single stack pushed a 460ihp engine to about 8-knots when wide open, though in actuality they rarely broke 6.

As they had a very low freeboard indeed (just 18 inches above the waterline when fully loaded) the ships were intended for the defense of the Gulf of Finland and St. Petersburg, with memories of the Anglo-French fleet ruling the Baltic during the Crimean War still a recent memory.

Ten vessels were built, all with colorful names: Uragan “Hurricane,” Tifon “Typhon,” Strelets “Sagittarius,” Edinorog “Unicorn,” Bronenosets “Armadillo,” Latnik “Cuirassier,” Koldun “Sorcerer,” Perun (the Slavic god of lightning and thunder), Veshchun “Snake Charmer,” and Lava.

The hero of our story, Strelets, while named for a zodiac symbol for Sagittarius, was the Tsarist terminology for the early corps of musketeers established in the 16th century and retained until Peter the Great decided they were getting too big for their collective britches after a series of palace coups by the Moscow-based units.

“Streltsy” . Sergei Ivanov 1909

Laid down at the Galernyi Island Shipyard, Saint Petersburg on 1 December 1863, just weeks after her plans had been obtained in the U.S., she was commissioned 15 June 1865, built at a cost of 1.1 million rubles alongside sister Edinorog. The pair were the last of the 10 completed.

Sistership Edinorog. Note how low the freeboard was.

Their eight remaining sisters were completed in a series of four other yards, with all joining the fleet by the summer of 1865.

Russian monitor Veshchun as completed. She was built from sections at the Cockerill yard in Seraing, Belgium. Courtesy J. Meister Collection, 1976. Catalog #: NH 84753

Russian monitor Lava as completed. She was built at the Nevsky factory. Courtesy J. Meister Collection, 1976. Catalog #: NH 84754

Monitors at Kronstadt. Watercolor by A. A. Tronya

By 1868, the 9-inch smoothbores were replaced by 15-inch Dahlgren-style guns built to U.S. plans at the Aleksandrovsk gun factory, for which just 50 shells could be carried in her magazine.

However, these guns were soon obsolete and were in turn replaced by Krupp-designed, Obukhov-made M1867 229/14 breechloaders. One of these guns was the subject of an explosion near the breech in 1876 that claimed the lives of five.

Diagram showing the location of sailors in the tower of the monitor Sagittarius at the time of the breakthrough of the powder gases on August 10, 1876

This led to another armament replacement in 1878 with 229/19 M1877 rifles augmented by a pair of 45-mm rapid-fire guns on an increasingly cluttered deck to which 5-barreled 37/17 Hotchkiss revolving cannon were also later added.

Rapidly obsolete in the twilight of the 19th Century, on 1 February 1892 Strelets and the rest of her class were deemed “coastal defense ships” and by 1900 all 10 sisters were withdrawn from service and disarmed.

While many were soon scrapped, Strelets was reclassified as a floating workshop at Kronstadt on 22 February 1901 and was retained by the fleet until Christmas Eve 1955.

As such, she witnessed the Baltic Fleet sail away to destruction in the Russo-Japanese War in (1904-05), supported operations against the Germans (1914-1917) in the Great War, witnessed the Red Fleet rise in the Revolution, withstood the British in the Russian Civil War, survived the storming of Kronstadt by the Reds in 1921, lent her shops to the Red Banner Fleet against the Finns (1939-40) then the Germans again (1941-45)– in all spending over 90 years on the rolls in one form or another.

After leaving naval service she was retained in a variety of roles in and around Leningrad/St. Petersburg and in 2015 was found in floating condition, her internals still showing off those classic Civil War lines.

She has since been recovered by a group terming itself “The Foundation for Historic Boats” who, together with the Russian Central Military History Museum, are attempting to restore her to a more monitor-like condition. She could very well be the oldest monitor remaining afloat.

At rest near the cruiser Aurora

For more information in that, click here.


Displacement: 1,500–1,600 long tons (1,524–1,626 t)
Length: 201 ft. (61.3 m)
Beam: 46 ft. (14.0 m)
Draft: 10.16–10.84 ft. (3.1–3.3 m)
Installed power:
460hp 2-cylinder direct-acting steam engine, 1 shaft, 1 4-lop. screw
2 rectangular Morton boilers, 1 stack
Speed: 6 knots (11 km/h; 6.9 mph)
Range: 1,440 nmi (2,670 km; 1,660 mi) at 6 knots (11 km/h; 6.9 mph) with 100 tons coal
Complement: 1865: 96 (8); 1877: 110 (10); 1900, assigned support personnel
1865: 2 × 9 in (229 mm) smoothbore guns
1868: 2 × 15 in (381 mm) smoothbore Rodman guns
1873: 2 × 9 in (229 mm) rifled guns, 2x45mm guns
1890: 2 × 9 in (229 mm) rifled guns, 2x 47/40, 2x 5-barreled 37/17 Hotchkiss revolving cannon
1900: Disarmed
Armor: wrought Izhora iron
Hull: 5 in (127 mm)
Gun turret: 11 in (279 mm)
Funnel base: 6 in (152 mm)
Conning tower: 8 in (203 mm)

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