Tag Archives: Spanish Civil War

Warship Wednesday, May 26, 2021: Baked New Hampshire

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, May 26, 2021: Baked New Hampshire

Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation; Collection of W. Beverley Mason, Jr., 1962. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 51182

Here we see the lead ship of the Ossipee-class sloop of war, USS Ossipee, off Honolulu in the then-Kingdom of Hawaiʻi during the Kamehameha dynasty, with her crew manning the yards, in early 1867. Our sloop would range far and wide in her naval service, including damming the torpedoes and coping with fainting Russian princesses.

Built for the budding war between the states, the four vessels of the Ossipee-class were wooden-hulled steam-powered warships of some 1,200 tons, running some 207 feet long overall. With a ~140-man crew, they were designed to carry a 100-pounder Parrott pivot gun, an 11-inch Dahlgren shell gun, a trio of 30-pounder rifles, six 32-pounders, and a couple of 12-pounders, giving them the nominal rank of a 13-gun sloop.

Class leader Ossipee was laid down at Portsmouth Naval Yard in Kittery, Maine in June 1861, just as the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the Shenandoah were being formed, while her sisters USS Adirondack, USS Housatonic, and USS Juniata, were subsequently laid down the Navy Yards in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, respectively and near-simultaneously.

A good sketch profile of the class in their Civil War layout. USS Housatonic, Wash drawing by R.G. Skerrett, 1902. NH 53573

The class was named for geographical features i.e., mountains and rivers, with Ossipee being the first (and thus far only) Navy warship to carry the name of the Ossipee River that runs through New Hampshire and part of Maine.

Ossipee Falls, Ossipee, N.H. LC-DIG-stereo-1s13770

Commissioned on 6 November 1862, Ossipee spent a few months with the North Atlantic Squadron before shipping south on 18 May 1863 to join Farragut’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron off Mobile, Alabama. While operating in the Northern Gulf, she pulled off a hattrick of captures, hauling over the schooner Helena on 30 June and the blockade runners James Battle and William Bagley two weeks later, with the latter two packed with cotton and headed abroad.

Damn the Torpedos!

On the early morning of 5 August 1864, Ossipee was part of the 14-vessel task force assigned to sweep Mobile Bay, pushing past Battery Powell and Forts Gaines and Morgan at the mouth of the Bay, despite the threat of underwater torpedoes (mines).

Plan of the battle of August 5, 1864. [Mobile Bay] From Harper’s Weekly, v. 8, Sept. 24, 1864. p. 613, via the LOC CN 99447253. Ossipee is marked No. 11 on the plan, taking the Bay mouth aside from the gunboat USS Itasca.

About those Torpedos
The Confederates sowed dozens of fixed mines of several types in defense of Mobile Bay, with at least 67 of the “infernal devices” across the mouth of the Bay alone. (See: Gabriel Rains and the Confederate Torpedo Bureau: Waters, W. Davis, Brown, Joseph, for more details than below). 

An example of the Confederate Type 7 Frame-fixed torpedo (mine). Some 28.5-inches long and 12.2-inches across, they weighed 440-pounds of which just 27 of that was black powder explosive charge. Using a Type G1A adjustable triple Rains-pattern primer style torpedo fuze, these cast iron mines were set into a wedge-shaped frame and typically laid in sets of three with the thought that, if the first was missed, a passing ship would possibly hit the second or third or, if spotting the last in the chain, attempt to back off and run over the first. The rebels used what Brig. Gen Gabriel J. Rains, head of the Confederate Torpedo Bureau, described as a “Torpedo Mortar Battery” at Mobile, some 60 feet long and 35 feet wide, constructed of these frame-type mine arrays. Towed into place once constructed, it was angled from the bottom of the sea bed with the fuzed shells facing just under the surface of the water at low tide.

An example of a Confederate Fretwell-Singer-type torpedo, common to Mobile Bay, at the Fort Morgan Museum.

The Confederate Rains “keg type” mines were made from everything from Demi jugs, beer barrels, and even 1,500-gallon boilers in at least one case, with conical ends fitted. Waterproofed with pitch and tar, they were anchored in place and used with chemical/pressure style fuzes or could be command-detonated via an electrical circuit ashore.

Heeling Tennessee

Besides the mines, Farragut had to face off and do combat with the fearsome albeit semi-complete Confederate ironclad ram CSS Tennessee. During the engagement, Ossipee suffered 1 killed (SN Owen Manes) and 7 wounded, mostly with splinter wounds, against the fleet’s total losses of 135 dead (including 94 who went down with the Canonicus-class monitor USS Tecumseh, one of 43 American vessels sunk by rebel mines in the conflict) and 88 sent to the surgeon.

At the end of the morning, Farragut’s fleet had lost Tecumseh to causes still not fully known but captured the gunboat CSS Selma with 90 officers and men as well as the battered CSS Tennessee, with 190 officers and men aboard to include Confederate ADM. Franklin Buchanan. Tennessee’s skipper, CDR James D. Johnson, was a prisoner on Ossipee by dusk on the 5th. Just out of Farragut’s reach, the sinking gunboat CSS Gaines lay grounded and abandoned.

Ossipee went down in history as being the last Union ship to get a bite at Tennessee, moving in to ram the rebel ironclad in the final moments before Johnson poked up a white flag from her wheelhouse. Unfortunately, the momentum of the sloop continued under Newton’s first law of motion and collided with the surrendered beast.

Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864. Line engraving after an artwork by J.O. Davidson, published in “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War”, Volume 4, page 378. Entitled “Surrender of the Tennessee, Battle of Mobile Bay”, it depicts CSS Tennessee in the center foreground, surrounded by the Union warships (from left to right): USS Lackawanna, USS Winnebago, USS Ossipee, USS Brooklyn, USS Itasca, USS Richmond, USS Hartford, and USS Chickasaw. Fort Morgan is shown at the right distance. NH 1276

“Capture of the Confederate ram Tennessee” Artwork by J.O. Davidson, depicting the surrender of CSS Tennessee after the Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864. U.S. Navy ships depicted include monitor USS Winnebago and sloop USS Monongahela, in the left background; sloop USS Ossipee “in collision with Tennessee”, in the center; monitor USS Chickasaw “lying across the stern of Tennessee”, in right foreground; gunboat USS Itasca, in the right distance; and flagship USS Hartford further to the right. NH 42394

Once Mobile had been neutralized as a rebel port, Ossipee continued her service in the Gulf enforcing the blockade off Texas and was in Union-held New Orleans in April 1865 when the side-wheel steam ram CSS Webb, darted out of the Red River and made a break for the sea via the Mississippi and gave pursuit along with other vessels with the nimble Webb ending her run burned out and abandoned by her crew.

The Webb Running the Blockade, by William Lindsey Challoner, Louisiana State Museum

To the Frozen North

Laid up briefly after the war, Ossipee was one of the luckier of her class. Sister Adirondack had been lost on a reef in the Bahamas in August 1862 while looking for blockade runners. Sister Housatonic made naval history (in a bad way) by becoming the first warship sunk by an enemy submarine when CSS H.L. Hunley took her to the bottom with her off Charleston, South Carolina, 17 February 1864. Only Juniata, who had spent most of the Civil War ranging the seas in search of Confederate raiders, remained.

The 11-gun Ossipee-class steam sloop USS Juniata in 1889, Detroit Photo. Via LOC. Her class included the ill-fated USS Housatonic.

Like Juniata, Ossipee would soon see more of the earth than the Gulf of Mexico and Eastern Seaboard.

Recommissioned 27 October 1866, she was sent to the Pacific to show the flag from Central America to Alaska, then a Tsarist territory.

Following the “folly” of U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward’s treaty with Russia for the purchase of what would eventually become the 49th state for $7.2 million in gold, Ossipee was dispatched from San Francisco in September 1867 to affect the transfer. Accompanied by the third-rate gunboat USS Resaca (9 guns), who had been in Alaskan waters since August, the two vessels were on hand of the transfer on Castle Hill at Sitka (then population: 1,500) on October 18, 1867. There, Prince Dmitry Petrovich Maksutov, commissioner of the Tsar and Russian Governor of the territory, formally transferred all of Alaska to Brig. Gen. Lovell H. Rousseau, commissioner for the United States.

Ossipee’s skipper, Capt. George F. Emmons, would chronicle the transfer in his journal which is now in the Alaska State Archives as is Maksutov’s calling card given to the good captain.

Some 200 American troops, in Yankee blue, stood at attention across from a smaller number of Russian soldiers on opposite sides of the flagpole with the Russian flag dropped, and the American raised to a slow 21-gun cannon salute from Ossipee and the Russian coastal battery. Princess Maria Maksutova was famously supposed to have fainted during the transfer, as the Russian flag became stuck during the ceremony and had to be removed rather unceremoniously, although Emmons’s account dispels the fainting trope.

Old Glory Rises Over Alaska by Austin Briggs, showing Prince Maksutova and his parasol-equipped wife under the flagpole near the Tsar’s riflemen. Maksutova, who was a trained naval officer, fought during the Battle of Sinop and the siege of Petropavlovsk in the Crimean War, remained in Sitka for a year to help close things out. He died an admiral in his St. Petersburg home in 1889.


USS Ossipee in her 1873-78 configuration, with her 11-inch pivot gun mounted between the main & mizzen masts. NH 45369

Following the Sitka transfer, Ossipee would spend several years in the North Atlantic squadron. It was during this period that one of her crew, SN James Benson, would earn a rare peacetime Medal of Honor with his citation reading “Onboard the USS Ossipee, 20 June 1872. Risking his life, Benson leaped into the sea while the ship was going at a speed of 4 knots and endeavored to save John K. Smith, landsman, of the same vessel, from drowning.”

Ossipee would pick up the two-year-long Selfridge Expedition to the Isthmus of Darien (Panama) which we have covered before.

Darien Selfridge Survey. The First Reconnoitering Expedition, upon its return from the Isthmus of Darien Survey, No. 1 Commander Selfridge. No. 2. Captain Houston, USMC. No. 3. Lieutenant Goodrell, No. 4. Lieutenant Commander Schulze, No. 5 P.A. Surgeon Simonds, No. 6 P.A. Paymaster Loomis, No. 7 Lieutenant Jasper, No. 8 Mr. Sullivan Asst C.S., No. 9 Lieutenant Allen, USMC: NH 123343

Ossipee was involved in the 1873 Virginius affair with Spain after the fact, towing the notorious vessel back after the Spanish released it while her filibustering/insurgent crew would remain in custody in Havanna.

USS Ossipee in her configuration of 1884-89, with her 8-inch rifled pivot gun, mounted forward of the stack. NH 45054

USS Ossipee photographed in her 1884-89 configuration. NH 45370

Following more time in ordinary, Ossipee would once again ship off for the Pacific, remaining on Asiatic station from April 1884 to February 1887 when she arrived back in New York.

On her return, she was visited by E.H. Hart, a New York-based photographer who catered to postcard companies, and he captured her crew and decks in time. Her log held at the time that she was a 3rd rate sloop of 8 guns.

USS Ossipee Berth Deck, Cooks, in 1887. Photographed by E.H. Hart, 112 E. 24th St., New York. Note cooking gear, sausages in the roasting rack at left, tins of beef (one from New Zealand), bread, man peeling potatoes, a black sailor with bowl, coffee cups, and bearded Marine. NH 2860

USS Ossipee, Ship’s officers pose by her poop deck ladder, at the time of her arrival at New York from Asiatic service, February 1887. Note Gatling machine gun at left. CDR John F. McGlensey is in the center, in a forked beard. NH 42938

USS Ossipee, Inspection of the crew, at the time of her return from Asiatic service, February 1887. CDR John F. McGlensey, is in the right-center, beside the small boy. Note marines at left, and pumps in the lower center. NH 42939

USS Ossipee, Ship’s firemen posed by the boiler room hatch, with mascot puppy, 1887. Note breeches of 9-inch Dahlgren guns at left. NH 42940

USS Ossipee, Ship’s apprentices posed beside the engine room hatch, 1887. Note fancy bulwark paint and molding work; belaying pins holding running rigging; Gatling gun shot rack for 9-inch guns and carriage for a 3-inch landing force gun. Also ramrods and other heavy ordnance gear on bulwarks. NH 42941

USS Ossipee, Crew at quarters for inspection, February 1887, upon her arrival at New York from the Asiatic station. Marines are at the left. NH 42942

USS Ossipee, Men of the starboard watch, posed by the engine room hatch, looking forward, 1887. Note mascot puppy; engine order plaque on hatch coaming; a man with a telescope on the bridge; wire rope ladder to the shrouds; 9-inch round shot in the rack. NH 42943

USS Ossipee, Men of the port watch, posed by the engine room hatch, looking forward, in 1887. Note bugler at left, coal scuttle on deck, and cowl ventilator. Also, note landing force 3-inch gun carriage on deck. NH 42944

USS Ossipee “Equipping for distant service,” hoisting out a boat and landing force gun. This view was taken at New York Navy Yard upon her return from the Asiatic station in February 1887 and may show her being un-equipped for home service. NH 42945

USS Ossipee, “Abandoned ship,” showing her cluttered decks after her return to the New York Navy Yard from the Asiatic station in February 1887. Photo looking forward from her poop deck. Note: 9-inch Dahlgren guns, pumps, hatches, and tarpaulins over hammock rails. NH 42946

USS Ossipee ship’s officers, circa 1887-1888. Her Commanding Officer, CDR William Bainbridge Hoff, is in front left-center, with coat open. Note 9-inch Dahlgren gun at right. NH 42947

USS Ossipee crew At Quarters, circa 1887-88. Note black sailor in the right-center; gun crews by their weapons at right, Marines with Trap-door Springfield rifles, drummers, dog on deck, and hammocks stowed in hammock rails over the bulwarks. NH 42949

USS Ossipee general Muster on board, circa 1887-88. The ship’s Commanding Officer, CDR William Bainbridge Hoff, is in the center, leaning on the grating rack. Note Marine sentry at the gangway, hammock stowage, and large percentage of black sailors among the crew at left. NH 42950

USS Ossipee practice with a spar torpedo, rigged abeam, February 1887. NH 42952

USS Ossipee ship’s Marine guard in formation circa the 1880s. NH 58911

With the old wooden-hulled ship increasingly anachronistic in the new steel Navy, Ossipee was decommissioned at Norfolk on 12 November 1889 and sold there on 25 March 1891 to Herbert H. Ives.


Ossipee’s only sister to make it out of the Civil War, USS Juniata, would famously circumnavigate the globe in 1882-85 under the command of young CDR George Dewey, but her fate was coupled to Ossipee in the end, being sold off to Mr. Ives on the same day in 1891, who no doubt got a deal.

Ossipee is preserved in maritime art

W.M.C. Philbrick (American, 19th Century) Profile View of the U.S.S. Ossipee

Likewise, her muster rolls and logs are extensively preserved and digitized online in the National Archives as are numerous items in Alaska archives.

Finally, every October 18th is regularly celebrated in “The Last Frontier,” as Alaska Day, complete with a reenactment ceremony and parade in Sitka.

Displacement 1,240 t.
Length 207′
Beam 38′
Draft 16′
Depth of Hold 16′ 10″
Speed 10kts
Complement 141
one 100-pdr Parrott rifle
one 11″ Dahlgren smoothbore
three 30-pdr Dahlgren rifles
six 32-pdr
one heavy 12-pdr smoothbore
one 12-pdr rifle
Propulsion Sails/Steam

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Warship Wednesday, April 7, 2021: The Curious Confederate of Barcelona

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, April 7, 2021: The Curious Confederate of Barcelona

Here we see the Spanish bark-rigged screw steam corvette (corbeta) Tornado as she sits high in the water late in her career in the port of Barcelona, circa the 1900s. You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but she had one of the most (in)famous sisterships in 19th Century naval history and would dip her hand in a bit of infamy of her own.

In 1862, as the Confederate Navy was scrambling for warships of any kind, Lt. George T. Sinclair, CSN, was dispatched to Britain to work with CDR James Dunwoody Bulloch, the Confederacy’s chief foreign agent in Liverpool, to acquire a humdinger of a commerce raider. Coupled with a scheme to trade bulk cotton carried by blockade-runners out of Rebel ports for English credit and pounds sterling, Bulloch during the war had paid for the covert construction and purchase of the commerce raiders CSS Alabama and CSS Shenandoah as well as the less well-known CSS Florida.

CSS Alabama enters Table Bay at 10:00 AM August 5, 1863. She is increasing speed to capture the Sea Bride before she can escape to within one league of S.African territorial waters. This painting was commissioned by Ken Sheppard of South Africa. Via the CSS Alabama Assoc

Many consider the vessel that Sinclair and Bulloch ordered, which was drawn to a variant of the plans for the CSS Alabama, to be sort of a “Super Alabama.” Whereas the ‘Bama ran 220-feet overall and light with a 17-foot depth of hold and 1,050-ton displacement, her successor would be 231-feet and run 1,600 tons with larger engines and a battery of three 8-inch pivot guns (Alabama only had a single 8-inch pivot) and a 5-gun broadside.

When completed and armed, the Super Alabama was to take on the identity of the CSS Texas. However, to keep the construction secret, Bulloch arranged with the Clydebank firm of James and George Thomson of Glasgow to build her as a clipper under the name of Canton, then later Pampero, ostensibly for the Turkish Government, with an expected delivery date of October 1863.

Launched but lacking a crew, the English government was pressured after Thomas H. Dudley, United States Consul in Liverpool, discovered a near twin of the CSS Alabama was in the final stages of construction, and by late November a British man-o-war was anchored alongside the “Pampero.” On 10 December 1863, the yard’s owners and the ship’s agents were charged with violations of the Foreign Enlistment Act, wrapping the vessel up in legal proceedings for the rest of the war.

Drawing of the ‘Pampero’ published in The Illustrated London News 1864

In October 1865, six months after Lee surrendered at Appomattox but while the CSS Shenandoah was still raiding Yankee whalers in the Pacific, the Canton/Pampero/Texas was awarded to the bearers of the cotton bonds issued by Bulloch and company that had been used to finance the vessel then sold to the shipping firm of Galbraith & Denny.

The thing is, all the fast ships in European ports that could mount a hastily installed armament were at that time being bought up by the Empire of Spain or the Republic of Chile, who were engaged in a war in the Pacific. The Chilean agents, led by an interesting fellow by the name of Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, beat the Spanish to the punch and bought Pampero for £75,000 in February 1866, with the vessel soon entered on the Chilean naval list as the corvette Tornado, subsequently sailing for Hamburg.

Over the next several months, the Spanish played a cat-and-mouse game as the Tornado and a second ship with a similar backstory, the corvette Abtao (former CSS Cyclone) attempted to be armed and outfitted, moving around European ports just one step ahead of their pursuers.

By the evening of 22 August, the Spanish 1st class steam frigate Gerona (48 guns), caught up with the unarmed Tornado at Madeira off the Portuguese coast and, after a short pursuit and four warning shots, the Chilean vessel, helmed by retired RN officer Edward Montgomery Collier, struck its flag.

Ángel Cortellini Sánchez ‘s “Captura de la corbeta de hélice Tornado por la fragata de hélice Gerona”, 1881, via Museo Naval de Madrid 

With the Armada Española

The next day, Tornado sailed for Cadiz with a prize crew and soon joined the Spanish fleet. After taking part in the September 1868 naval revolt, the vessel was dispatched to service in Havana in 1870. There, she was involved in the so-called Virginius affair in 1873.

For those not aware, Virginius had an interesting Confederate connection to Tornado, being built originally in Glasgow as a blockade runner then surviving the war and being used briefly by the Revenue Cutter Service.

VIRGINIUS (Merchant steamer, 1864-1873) Built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1864 as a blockade runner. 1864-1867: SS VIRGIN; 1867-1870: U.S. revenue cutter VIRGIN; 1870-1873: SS VIRGINIUS. For more data, see Erik Heyl, Early American Steamers, vol. I. Watercolor by Erik Heyl, 1951. NH 63845

For three years starting in 1870, Virginius was used to run rebels under Cuban insurgent Gen. Manuel Quesada from the U.S. to the Spanish colony, with the somewhat tacit blind-eye and occasional support of the U.S. Navy. In October 1873, the steamer, skippered by Captain Joseph Fry, (USNA 1846, ex-USN, ex-CSN) and with a mixed British and American crew, was carrying 103 armed Cuban rebels when Tornado encountered her six miles off the Cuban coast.

Pursuit of Virginius by the Spanish gunboat Tornado, October 30, 1873.

Spanish man-of-war Tornado chasing the American steamer Virginius nypl.digitalcollections

1873 el Virginius, pirata estadounidense, es abordado por la corbeta española Tornado

The resulting chase and one-sided battle were short, with Fry striking his flag and Virginius sailed to Santiago de Cuba under armed guard.

There, the Spanish treated the crew and the insurgents as outlaws and pirates, executing 53 against the wall at the Santiago slaughterhouse, including Fry and the teenage son of Quesada, the lurid details of which were well-publicized by the press in the states, souring the relations between Washington and Madrid and pouring the foundation for the Spanish-American War.

Moving past Virginius

As for Tornado, she continued to serve the Spanish fleet for generations.

In 1878, she and the cruiser Jorge Juan stalked the pirate ship Montezuma, a mail steamer that had been taken by mutineers and Cuban rebels who turned to privateer against the Spanish. After a pursuit that spanned the Caribbean, Tornado found the Montezuma burned in Nicaragua.

Returning to Spain in 1879, Tornado was used as a training ship taking part in several lengthy summer cruises around the Med for the next few years, including escorting King Alphonso XII. By 1886, the aging bark was disarmed and used at Cartagena as a torpedo school for the rest of the century.

Home for boys

In 1900, Tornado was moved to Barcelona and assigned a new task– that of being a floating schoolship and barracks for orphan lads whose fathers had been lost at Manila Bay, Manzanillo, San Juan, and Santiago against the Americans. Remember, while U.S. naval historian largely covers these engagements as a tactical walkover and highlights Dewey, Sampson, and Schley as heroes, they left thousands of homes back in Spain missing a father.

Museu Maritim de Barcelona: The Tornado’s orphan cadets

Tornado would remain in Barcelona, moving past the education of the sons of 1898 to taking in general orphans and those of lost mariners and fishermen. Enduring well into the Spanish Civil War, she was sent to the bottom on 28 November 1938 by an air raid from Nationalist forces. Her wreck was scrapped in 1940.

Today, the Museu Maritim de Barcelona has her name board, recovered from the harbor in 1940, on display.

Via Museu Maritim de Barcelona

She is also remembered in a variety of maritime art.

Via Museu Maritim de Barcelona

For more on the Tornado, please read, “The Capture of Tornado: The History of a Diplomatic Dispute,” by Alejandro Anca Alamillo, Warship International, Vol. 45, No. 1 (2008), pp. 65-77. Keep in mind that old issues of WI are available on JSTOR to which access is open to INRO members.

Displacement: 2,100 tons
Length: 231 ft
Beam: 33 ft
Draft: 16 ft
Machinery: Four boilers, 328 hp steam engine, one prop
Speed: 14 knots
Range: 1,700 miles
Complement: 202 men
Armament: (Spanish 1870)
1 × 7.8 in Parrott gun
2 × 160/15 cal gun
2 × 5 in bronze gun
2 × 3″/24 cal Hontoria breechloading guns

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017: Franco’s big stick

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, Oct. 18, 2017: Franco’s big stick

Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

Here we see the lead ship of the Armada Española’s Canarias-class heavy cruisers– the mighty Canarias herself– in her pre-1953 arrangement. The big cruiser, though laid down in the 1920s, survived the Spanish Civil War and, in the end, even Franco himself.

The Spanish Navy of the old days was a colonial power and was very good at it for several hundred years until the 19th Century saw her Latin American holdings disappear along with, after the Spanish-American War, the crown’s Pacific Empire. Said conflict with the U.S. saw most of the Armada’s cruisers destroyed or captured in uneven fleet actions in the Caribbean and Manila Bay.

Post-1898, after losing or condemning 19 of her cruisers 21, all that was left was the old Velasco-class protected cruiser Infanta Isabel and the 5,000-ton Lepanto, finished just too late for the war. Three single-class new ships were quickly built using lessons learned in the conflict: Emperador Carlos V, Rio de la Plata, and Extremadura, followed by the three ships of the Princesa de Asturias-class and the Reina Regente, ordered in conjunction with the three 16,000-ton mini-battleships of the España-class in 1909. This is the fleet the Spanish carried into the Great War, where they were an armed neutral.

In the 1920s, with their turn-of-the-century, coal-fired cruisers and dreadnoughts increasingly obsolete, and colonial conflicts such as the Rif War in North Africa draining resources while still setting the need to show the flag in far-away ports, the Spanish ordered the one-off Reina Victoria Eugenia (6,500 tons), two similar 6,300-ton Blas de Lezo-class cruisers, three very modern Almirante Cervera-class cruisers (9,385-tons, based on the Royal Navy’s Emerald-class) and planned for three 13,700-ton Canarias-class ships, with the plan to put the older WWI-era fleet to pasture and phase out their increasingly marginalized battleships.

Note that the class was always considered to be a Washington Treaty warship by the Spanish

Based on the British Crown County-class ships of Sir Philip Watts’ design but switched up to a degree, these 636-foot heavy cruisers were handsomely equipped with eight 8″/50 (20.3 cm) BL Model 1924 Mark D Vickers-Armstrong-designed guns, each capable of sending a 256-pound AP shell out to 32,530 yards every 20-seconds.

These things had some reach…

Another eight 12 cm/45 (4.7″) Mark F Vickers high-angle guns were to be mounted for AAA.

Note the “Todo por la Patria” (All for the Fatherland) logo. The 4.7″ guns would pick up splinter shields after the Civil War

Note the shell to the left

A dozen torpedo tubes, some smaller weapons, and a catapult for Heinkel He 60 seaplanes– one of the most dieselpunk-looking aircraft ever in my opinion— were to be fitted.

Overall speed on Parsons geared steam turbines was 33-knots and the range was sufficient to sortie to the Spanish outposts in the Moroccan shores, Western Sahara and Equatorial Guinea.

Two vessels, class leader Canarias (Canary Islands) and sister Baleares (Balearic Islands) were laid down at Sociedad Española de Construcción Naval (SECN) in El Ferrol in 1928 and took more than eight years to construct, both still only semi-complete by 1936–a pivotal year for Spain. The third ship of the class, Ferrol, was canceled due to tight budgets.

At Ferrol, colorised by Postales Navales

In July 1936, a pro-fascist military coup led by Gens. Goded and Franco in colonies outside of Metropolitan Spain quickly spread to all-out civil war with the Soviet-allied Republicans against the German-Italian-backed Nationalists.

Suffice it to say without chronicling the entire Civil War, the Spanish Navy took a beating in the three-year conflict.

On her trials, where she broke 33.8-knots at 99,000 shp. Note much of her equipment including her rangefinders and Turret C is yet to be fitted– and she never did get that seaplane rig

-Canarias‘ own sister ship, the Nationalist-controlled Baleares, was sunk in a battle with Republican destroyers at Cape Palos in March 1938.

Heavy cruiser Baleares sank after receiving several torpedo hits from republican destroyers during the Battle of Cape Palos, early hours of 06 March 1938.

-While steaming off Santander on 30 April 1937, the Nationalist-controlled battleship Alfonso XIII struck a mine and sank.

-Spain’s last remaining battleship, Jaime I, was under the Republican flag and was struck by German bombers and eventually sunk by the Nationalists.

-The cruisers Miguel de Cervantes, Libertad, and Mendez Nuñez, part of the Republican Navy, escaped at the end of the war and were interned by the French at Bizerte only to be repatriated later in poor condition.

-Of the other ships in the Nationalist Navy, only the light cruiser Almirante Cervera escaped the war largely intact and was Canarias‘ partner in crime.

-The cruiser Reina Victoria Eugenia, renamed Republica by the Republicans and then Navarra by the Nationalists after they recaptured her, also survived though was less functional than either Cervera or Canarias.

The Civil War saw Canarias as the de facto flag of Franco’s fleet, especially after the loss of Alfonso XIII, their only battleship.

Note her 4.7-inch secondary guns amidships at elevation and that she has all four turrets for her main battery

A good picture of the cruiser Canarias in her original configuration.

The big cruiser plastered Republican positions near the coastline including bloody work along the Malaga-Almeria highway and in the bombardment of Barcelona, intercepted Soviet merchant ships headed to the Republicans with arms, and engaging Republican ships in naval actions– including vaporizing the Churruca-class destroyer Almirante Ferrándiz off Cape Spartel with three salvos of her big 8-inch guns.

In 1938, she almost captured the Republican destroyer Jose Luis Diez, who only narrowly made it to Gibraltar and internment carrying an 8-inch hit in her stern. During the war, she reportedly fired her guns in anger on at least 34 occasions.

crucero Canarias, via Postales Navales

In WWII, while Franco never officially entered the war despite being an ersatz Axis state, Canarias and Cervera were the Spanish Navy’s most effective units and the big cruiser put to sea in 1941 to help look for survivors of the German battleship Bismarck after the failed Operation Rheinübung. While she found no survivors after a three-day search of the fallen dreadnought’s debris field, they did recover some wreckage and five bodies.

During the war, she picked up 12 Rheinmetall 37mm AAA guns in a tertiary battery.

Post-VE-Day, she remained the most powerful naval unit under the Spanish flag and in 1952-53 underwent modernization at SECN that saw her wide Lexington-like funnel separated into two stacks as well as navigational and search radar fitted. Her torpedo tubes were landed.

View of the northeast section of basin #1, El Ferrol, looking northwest. Two graving docks appear, one partially hidden by shops in the right middle ground. In the left foreground is the cruiser CANARIAS with her new after stack in place but without her new forward stack. This refit occurred between October 1952 and February 1953. Some destroyers and smaller craft are also visible. Description: Catalog #: NH 93640

Post-1953, note her twin funnels

She helped support the Spanish Legion in the little-known Ifni War in 1957-58 which included some very muscular gunboat diplomacy against Morocco.

At Ceuta in 1960> Note, she is wearing her pennant number on her hull

Then came the hijacking of the Portuguese liner Santa Maria in 1961 which saw Canarias chase her across the Atlantic, cooperating with a U.S. Navy task force that also shadowed the cruise ship more than 20 years before the better remembered Achille Lauro hijacking. An important development considering Spain did not join NATO until 1982.

She also waved the flag, attending several European ceremonies, participating in goodwill trips to Latin America, exercises with Western navies, and visiting overseas holdings.

Here she is in Africa in 1961:

In 1969, Canarias helped evacuate the Spanish from Equatorial Guinea as that Central African country gained independence from the ever-shrinking empire, a fitting final act for a colonial cruiser.

In Equatorial Guinea

She had outlasted all the other Spanish cruisers, with the three Almirante Cervera-class ships all striking by 1970, Mendez Nuñez retired in 1964, and Navarra paid off in 1955.

By that time, she was among the last all-big-gun cruisers left in the world. The British had broken up their last Crown Colony/Fiji-class near sister ships in 1968, though two, HMS Newfoundland and HMS Ceylon, continued to operate with the Peruvian Navy into the 1970s and one, Nigeria, served the Indian Navy as INS Mysore (C60) until 1985.

Her last modernization came in 1969 when she was fitted with a modern CIC, new radars (Decca 12 navigation set, U.S. SG-6B surface search, Italian Marconi MLA-IB air search), and electronics, while 40/70 Bofors L70s replaced her WWII 37mm and 40mm suites.

CANARIAS Photographed in Barcelona, Spain, in about 1970. Note the large tower to the right for the gondola transport system going across the harbor. The 371-foot four-masted training barque Juan Sebastián Elcano is to her stern. Description: Catalog #: NH 90743

Spanish cruiser CANARIAS, Janes 1973

The end game came for Franco in 1975, as the Green March wrested Spain’s hold in the Sahara and the overseas colonies shrank to the current lot that are the isolated cities of Ceuta, Melilla, and the Canary Islands. The old dictator himself marched off to the parade ground of lost souls that November.

Pushing 40 and considered obsolete for the last 30 of those years, Canarias was pulled from service and decommissioned on 17 December 1975, the end of an era. She had steamed 650,000 miles on 524 trips in her career.

While several cities sought to preserve her as a museum– including some she had bombarded in the Civil War– the money just wasn’t there and the old war wagon sailed to the breakers under her own steam in September 1977.

Her last cruise, Sept. 1977

Sailing past the Castillo de San Felipe at Ferrol

Parts of her were saved, however, including turret B and the entire admiral’s cabin interior at the Naval Academy at Marín, a 4.7-inch AAA at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria– the capital of the Canary Islands, a rangefinder at the Naval Museum at Ferrol, several anchors around Spain, and other items.

She is also remembered in maritime art.


10,670 long tons (10,840 t) standard
13,500 long tons (13,700 t) full load
Length: 636 ft.
Beam: 64 ft. (20 m)
Draught: 21 ft. 5 in
Installed power: Yarrow type boilers, 90,000 hp (67,000 kW)
Propulsion: 4 shafts, Parsons type geared turbines
Speed: 33 knots (61 km/h)
Range: 8,000 nmi (15,000 km) at 15 kn (28 km/h)
Complement: 679
(1936, designed)
8 × 8-inch (203 mm) guns in four twin turrets
8 × 4.7-inch (119 mm) guns
12 × 40 mm AA guns
3 × 20 mm AA guns
12 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes in triple mounts above water
8 × 8-inch (203 mm) guns in four twin turrets
8 × 4.7-inch (119 mm) guns
8 40/70 Bofors
Belt 2 in (51 mm)
Deck 1.5–1 in (38–25 mm)
Magazine 4 in (102 mm) box around
Turrets 1 in (25 mm), also splinter shields were added to 4.7″ mounts in 1940.
Conning tower 1 in (25 mm)

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One of the last Lincoln Brigade members marches on to muster at the Ebro River

John G. Hovan of Providence, RI died Thursday, March 27 at the age of 97 after a long illness. He was the husband of the late Mildred Hovan, his wife of 64 years.

Among many accomplishments in life, Mr. Hovan was a volunteer of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, an all-volunteer group that went to Spain during the Spanish Civil War to fight against the Hitler and Mussolini-backed forces of Gen. Franco. Among its members were Mississippi gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty, screenwriter Alvah Bessie (Objective Burma), composer Conlon Nancarrow, and novelist William Herrick.

The Abraham Lincoln Brigade suffered over 30% casualties in the three years of war fighting the fascists in Spain.

The Abraham Lincoln Brigade suffered over 30% casualties in the three years of war fighting the fascists in Spain.

According to his biography maintained by the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives :
“A son of Czech immigrants, Mr. Hovan joined the 2,800 American volunteers fighting in Spain from 1937 until 1938 to defend the Spanish Republic from a fascist Coup led by General Franco.

Three years after his return from Spain, Mr. Hovan joined the Navy and participated in World War II in the Pacific [ as a member of the See Bees]. He settled in Rhode Island with his family and held different jobs. During the McCarthy red-scare hysteria, he was questioned in front of congress for his participation in the Spanish Civil War and as a consequence he lost his job, his house was firebombed and painted with swastikas.

One of the last surviving Americans who fought with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil war, John Hovan signed his Spanish Citizenship papers on Thursday, July 9, 2009.

In his later years he became a persuasive advocate for Elder Citizens Medical Affairs, appearing on local TV, advocating in the Rhode Island State House, and proudly serving a senior internship in Washington, DC.

This leaves Mr. Del Berg, 98, as the last known living US survivor of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

Mr. Hovan’s papers are maintained by the John Jay Library of Brown University.

Services will be private. Memorial donations may be made to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, 799 Broadway, Suite 341, New York, NY 10003-6827.

Mr. Hovan, salute.

Mr. Hovan, salute.