Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, March 31, 2021: NOLA by way of Brazil
Published by Detroit Publishing Company, 1890-1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Here we see the Elswick-built Chacabucu-class protected cruiser USS New Orleans (later CL-22) at Brooklyn Navy Yard in the 1900s. Prominently displayed is the cruiser’s elaborate stern decoration, which looks a lot like the Brazilian national emblem, and for good reason.
As part of a general Latin American naval build-up, Brazil ordered four cruisers in 1894 from Armstrong, Whitworth & Co from a design by British naval architect Philip Watts at ₤265,000 a pop. These ships, with a 3,800-ton displacement on a 354-foot hull, were smaller than a frigate by today’s standards but in the late 19th century, with a battery of a half-dozen 6″/50 (15.2 cm) BL Marks IX guns and Harvey armor that ranged between 0.75 inches on their hull to 4.5-inches on their towers, were deemed protected cruisers.
For batting away smaller vessels, they had four 4.7-inch (120mm) Armstrongs, 14 assorted 57 mm and 37mm quick-firing pieces, and three early Nordenfelt 7mm machine guns. To prove their worth in a battle line, they had three torpedo tubes and a brace of Whitehead 18-inch fish with guncotton warheads. They would be the first ships in the Brazilian fleet to have radiotelegraphs and were thoroughly modern for their time.
However, their four Vosper Thornycroft boilers and turbines, augmented by an auxiliary sailing rig, could only just make 20 knots with everything lit on a clean hull.
The lead ship of the class, laid down as Chacabucu (Elswick Yard Number 629) for the Brazilian government in March 1895, was sold to the Chileans just six months later with her name duly switched to Ministro Zenteno after a hero of the latter country. The second vessel, Almirante Barroso (Yard No. 630), was ordered in November 1894 and commissioned on 29 April 1897. Yard Nos. 631 and 676 were to be Amazonas and Almirante Abreu.
Amazonas in British waters on builder’s trials with no flags. Photo via Vickers Archives.
When things got squirrelly between the U.S. and Spain in early 1898 over Cuban independence and the lost battleship USS Maine, American purchasing agents were active in Europe both to A) expand Uncle Sam’s fleet, and B) prevent the Spaniards from doing the same.
This led to an agreement to buy from Brazil the old dynamite cruiser Nictheroy, though without her guns, and the two nearly complete cruisers outfitting on the Tyne. Lt. John C. Colwell, the naval attaché in London, personally took delivery of both British-built cruisers at Gravesend, England on 18 March, just a month after the loss of Maine and still a month before the American declaration of war.
With that, Nictheroy became USS Buffalo, Amazonas very quickly became USS New Orleans –the first time the name was carried by an active warship on the Navy List– and Almirante Abreu would eventually join the fleet as USS Albany. New Orleans, ready to go, would be sailed across the Atlantic by scratch crews from the cruiser USS San Francisco while English engineers handled the machinery, recording her Brazilian name in her logbook for the crossing.
USS New Orleans arrives off the New York Navy Yard, April 1898, after crossing the Atlantic. Note oversize commissioning pennant flying from her mainmast, and Brazilian Navy paint scheme. She had been purchased from Brazil on 16 March 1898, while still under construction in England. Sailing on her inaugural Atlantic crossing was a 15-man Marine det commanded by 1LT George Barnett, a future 12th Commandant of the Corps. NH 45114
She proved a popular subject with photographers, after all, she was a brand-new cruiser that descended seemingly from Mars himself, on the eve of the nation’s first conflict with a European power since 1815.
USS New Orleans (1898-1929) Docked at the New York Navy Yard, April 1898, immediately after her maiden voyage from England. The receiving ship USS Vermont is at the left. Note New Orleans’ extra-long commissioning pennant. NH 75495
U.S. Navy protected cruiser, USS New Orleans. The photo is listed as an “8-inch gun crew” although it is a 6″/50 (15.2 cm) Mark 5 Armstrong gun. Perhaps the caption was propaganda. Note the Marine in marching order and the bosun to the left with his pipe in his pocket. Detroit Publishing Company, 1890-1912.
US Navy protected cruiser USS New Orleans, six-inch gun. Note the small guns in the mast. Also, the man photobombing to the right of the frame, likely the photographer (Edward H. Hart) due to his bespoke hat. Published by Detroit Publishing Company, possibly 1898.
USS New Orleans (1898-1929) Photographed during the Spanish-American War, 1898. Note the change in her scheme from the Brazilian pattern. NH 45115
US Navy protected cruiser USS New Orleans (1898-1930, later PG-34, CL-22) leaving Brooklyn Navy Yard during the Spanish-American War. Photographed by Edward H. Hart, published by Detroit Publishing Company, 1898. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. LC-DIG-DET-4A13959
Her Span Am War service was significant, shipping out of Norfolk three weeks after the declaration and meeting the Flying Squadron off Santiago de Cuba on 30 May. The next day, our new cruiser, along with USS Massachusetts (Coast Battleship No.2) and USS Iowa (Coast Battleship No.4) reconnoitered the harbor, exchanging heavy fire with both Spanish ships and shore batteries.
Attack on Santiago, 31 May 1898 by USS MASSACHUSETTS (BB-2), USS IOWA (BB-4), and USS NEW ORLEANS (CL-22) by W.B. Shearer. USN 903384
New Orleans went on to spend the rest of her war on blockade duty, shuffling between Guantanamo Bay and San Juan. On 17 July 1898, she captured the French blockade runner Olinde Rodrigues trying to sneak into the latter and sent her, under a prize crew, to Charleston, South Carolina. The steamship was owned and claimed by La Compagnie Generale Transatlantique out of Harve, which later became the subject of a lengthy court case that, in the end, left the New Orleans’s crew without prize money.
USS New Orleans (1898-1929) Halftone photograph, taken during the Spanish-American War and published in the book War in Cuba, 1898. Courtesy of Alfred Cellier, 1977. NH 85648
Immediately after the conclusion of hostilities, she took part in the Peace Jubilee in New York, visited her namesake “hometown” in the Crescent City, then sailed for the Philippines via the Suez, arriving just before Christmas 1899, where she would remain on station for four years.
U.S. Navy protected cruiser, USS New Orleans on Asiatic Station, 1902. Shown is CPT (later RADM) Charles Stillman Sperry (USNA 1866), skipper, and his XO, LCDR James T. Smith. Note the ornate triple ship’s wheels in the background. Donation of Walter J. Krussel, 1949. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Laid up from 1905 to 1909, she recommissioned in 1910 with a new suite of American-pattern guns and headed to the Far East once again, with a gleaming new scheme worthy of TR’s Great White Fleet.
USS NEW ORLEANS (CL-22) Photographed before World War I in her white scheme. Note signalman atop the bridge. Description: Courtesy of Thomas P. Naughton, 1973.NH 92171
U.S. Navy protected cruiser, USS New Orleans, quarter-deck over the stern. Note her searchlights and torpedo-busting guns in the tower. Detroit Publishing Company, 1890-1912
Officers, crew, and mascot of USS New Orleans at Yokohama (CL-22), Japan, 1910. Note the flat caps and cracker jacks of the sailors; fringed epauletted body coats and cocked hats of the officers; outfits that were much more 19th Century than 20th. Via the Yangtze River Patrol Association.
USS NEW ORLEANS (CL-22) Flying a “Homeward Bound” pennant, circa 1912. Halftoned photo original view was courtesy of “Our Navy” magazine. NH 45118
By 1914, she was back in North American waters, spending time– along with most of the other surface assets of the fleet– in Mexican waters, patrolling that country’s Pacific coast in a haze gray scheme. This was a mission she would continue for three years, alternating with trips back up to Puget Sound where she would serve as a training vessel for the Washington State Naval Militia.
USS New Orleans CL-22. March 1916 crew photo taken during an overhaul at PSNS. Note the difference in uniforms from the China photo taken just six years prior. Via Puget Sound Navy Museum.
When the U.S. entered the Great War, she was transferred to the Atlantic, arriving at Hampton Roads on 27 August 1917. From there, she escorted a convoy carrying Doughboys and materiel to Europe. However, with plenty of ships on tap in the British Isles, the funky third-class cruiser received orders once more for the Pacific, reaching Yokohama from Honolulu on 13 March 1918.
USS NEW ORLEANS (CL-22) En route to the Asiatic Station, early in 1918, note her dark gray scheme. NH 45120
It was about this time that the Western Allies decided to intervene in the affairs of civil war-torn Russia, landing troops in Vladivostok in the Pacific as well as Archangel and Murmansk in the White/Barents Seas.
U.S. Soldiers parade in Vladivostok, Aug. 1918, a mission that would span four years and involve New Orleans for most of that.
New Orleans would remain off and on as a station ship in Vladivostok until 17 August 1922, as the city’s population had quadrupled from 90,000 to more than 400,000 as refugees from the anti-Bolshevik White Russian forces and the Czechoslovak Legion, the latter formed from Austro-Hungarian Army POWs in Siberia, swelled the port, seeking to escape the oncoming Reds. Sheltered under the guns of American, British, French, and Japanese ships, the city remained the last large holdout from Moscow’s control, only being secured by the Red Army in October 1922 with the withdrawal of the hated “Interventionists.”
Czech Maj. Gen Radola Gajda and Captain E. B. Larimer on the deck of USS NEW ORLEANS, Vladivostok, 1919. A former Austrian and Montenegrin army field officer, Gajda helped the Russians raise the Czech legions in 1916 and would later become a high-level commander in the White Army in Siberia– even leading a coup to get rid of its overall leader, Russian Adm. Alexander Kolchak. Gajda would escape Vladivostok for Europe and briefly become the Chief of the General Staff for the Czech Army in the mid-1920s. Note his Russian cossack-style shashka saber with a knot as well as a mix of Russian, Austrian and Montenegrin medals. NH 1097.
Her last mission completed, and her tonnage held against the fleet in future naval treaties, New Orleans returned to Mare Island on 23 September, after calls en route at Yokohama and Honolulu, and was decommissioned on 16 November 1922. Stricken from the Navy List on 13 November 1929, she was sold for scrapping on 4 February 1930 to D. C. Seagraves of San Francisco, California.
As for her sisters, Chacabucu/Ministro Zenteno remained in Chilean service until 1930 and was scrapped while about the same time the Brazilian Barroso was disarmed and turned into a floating barracks, ultimately being written off sometime later, date unknown.
Zenteno and Barroso, Jane’s 1914 listing.
Albany missed the Span Am War, being commissioned in the River Tyne, England, on 29 May 1900. Sailing for the Far East from there where she would serve, alternating cruises back to Europe, until 1913 she only went to the U.S. for the first time for her mid-life refit. Recommissioned in 1914, Albany served off Mexico, gave convoy duty in WWI, and ended up with sister New Orleans briefly in Russia. With the post-war drawdown, she was placed out of commission on 10 October 1922 at Mare Island and sold for scrap in 1930.
Our cruiser is remembered in period maritime art.
U.S. Navy protected cruiser, USS New Orleans (later PG 34 and CL 22), port bow. Reproduction of a painting by Koerner & Hayes, circa 1897-98.
Her plans are in the National Archives.
A single 4.7-inch Elswick Armstrong gun from each of these English-made Brazilian cruisers in U.S. service is installed at the Kane County, Illinois Soldier and Sailor Monument at the former courthouse in Geneva, Illinois.
SECNAV has done a good job of keeping a “NO Boat” or “NOLA boat” on the Naval List for roughly 103 of the past 122 years.
The second completed USS New Orleans would also be a cruiser, CA-32, leader of her seven-hull class of 10,000-ton “Treaty Cruisers” built in the early-to-mid 1930s. The class would give very hard service in WWII, with three sunk at the horrific Battle of Savo Island. However, USS New Orleans (CA-32) was luckier, earning a remarkable 17 battlestars, going on to be laid up in 1947 and stricken/scrapped in 1959.
USS New Orleans (CA-32) In English waters, about June 1934. Photographed by Wright & Logan, Southsea, England. Donation of Captain Joseph Finnegan, USN (Retired), 1970. NH 71787
The third USS New Orleans was an Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ship, LPH-11, commissioned in 1968. After a 30-year career, she was decommissioned and later disposed of in a SINKEX in 2020.
A vertical view of the amphibious assault ship USS NEW ORLEANS (LPH-11) underway. CH-53 Sea Stallion and CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters line the flight deck, 6/16/1988. PH2 Weideman/DNST8807549.
The fourth New Orleans is a Pascagoula-built San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, LPD-18, that has been in the fleet since 2007.
PHILIPPINE SEA (Aug. 21, 2020) A rigid-hull inflatable boat, right, transits the Philippine Sea from the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18). New Orleans, part of America Expeditionary Strike Group, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit team is operating in the 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with allies and partners and serves as a ready response force to defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Taylor DiMartino)
Jane’s 1914 listing for Albany and New Orleans.
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