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 11, 2018: a Big gun in a little boat
Here we see the Danish kanonbaadene (gunboat) Møen of the Royal Danish Navy, a prime example of the late 19th Century “flat-iron,” or Rendel-type gunboat popular in Europe for coast defense for a generation. Just 112-feet overall, she mounted a very stout Armstrong 10-inch, 18-ton muzzle-loading rifle as her main armament.
Named after the lonely but beautiful island of Møn, the hardy vessel was ordered from Orlogsværftet, Copenhagen in 1875 and commissioned 24 August 1876. Based on the British Ant-class (254-tons, 85-ft overall, 1x RML 10-inch 18-ton gun) the 410-ton Møen was the *largest* of a five-ship lot consisting of three 240-ton Oresund-class vessels and her near-sister, the 383-ton Falster, all completed by 1876 and mounting the same giant 10-incher.
Meanwhile, just to the south of Denmark, the German Kaiserliche Marine had ordered 11 similar Wespe-class gunboats mounting an impressive 12-incher forward. It should be remembered that at the time Denmark and Germany were only a decade removed from a sharp war that went kind of bad for Copenhagen.
Powered by a 500hp steam engine, the proud Møen could make a stately 9-knots on her iron-hull when wide open but could float in just nine feet of water, enabling her to hide in the shallows around Denmark’s coastline and burp out a 400-pound shell to 6,000 yards. In tests, the Danes found that the 10-inch main battery of these five gunboats could penetrate 270mm of wrought iron at 628 meters, which was pretty good for the day.
Joining the fleet by late 1876, the plucky gunboat joined in regular Eskadren (squadron) maneuvers each summer from June to the end of September in the Baltic, assisting with cadet cruises as needed and practicing her gunnery while the Øresund-class ships were gradually removed from service, found to be just too small of the task.
On 30 September 1901, while anchored in front of Fort Middelgrund between Copenhagen and Malmö, Møen suffered a catastrophic hull breach while testing new (and apparently finicky) incendiary shells for her Armstrong. While her 35-man crew was safe aboard the nearby coastal defense ship Skjold, Moen‘s rifle was fired electrically via a cable from 400m away and on the third shot a fire started aboard that triggered her magazine just seconds later.
The ship “disappeared” and settled on the bottom of Øresund, gratefully without any casualties. Only her masthead was visible over the surface.
The news was widely reported in naval journals of the time.
Sister Falster, the last Danish Rendel-type gunboat, soon after the accident landed her big gun and she was rearmed with a much safer 57 mm popgun in 1903.
Retained for another decade, she was listed as having an armament consisting of seven machine guns (likely domestically-produced Madsens) in Janes‘ 1914 edition:
During WWI, Falster served as a guard ship between Amager and Saltholm. The highlight of this service was when the British submarine HMS E.13 ran aground near her in 1915, and some of the RN officers were brought aboard until they could be sent ashore to be interned for the duration.
At the end of hostilities, she was withdrawn, disarmed, and was sold in February 1919. As such, Falster was pretty much the swan song of Rendel-type iron gunboats except for the Greek Amvrakia, which mounted an 11-inch gun on a ridiculous 400-ton hull and remained in (nominal) service until 1931.
Converted to a coastal freighter under the name Holger, Falster was lost in 1930 with seven merchantmen aboard in a winter snowstorm north of Djursland with a load of cement.
As for her sister, the Danish Navy salvaged the guns and most of the more valuable equipment in 1902, but the wreck of kanonbåden Møen, in just 19m of sheltered water, is a popular and easy dive.
The two ships were later commemorated by the Danes in the much larger Falster-class minelæggeren (minelayers) which were active from the 1960s through 2004.
As for Denmark, of course, the Royal Danish Navy was an armed neutral in the sharp crossroads between the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet and Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet in the Great War, a semi-active combatant against the Germans in WWII, and, since 1949, has been an important contributor to NATO.
Displacement 409 t.
Width: 28.8 ft.
Draft: 9 ft.
Engine: 500 hp steam engine, one screw
Speed: 9.0 knots, 20-tons of coal
Crew: 30 to 35
Single RML 10-inch 18-ton gun (254mm/18cal) M.1875 Armstrong
Two 83mm/13cal M.1872 Krupp rifled breechloaders (later replaced with 6 37 mm rapid-fire guns).
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