Tag Archives: USS Alabama

Alabama Picking Up Measure 22, Again

“Big Grey Al” has been a regular feature in Mobile Bay for over 50 years, guarding the entry to Mobile along the Moon Pie City’s Western Shore.

USS Alabama Eger 2.29.20

Note her distinctive large SK3 radar antenna array near the top of her mast. Photo by me on Leap Day 2020

The thing is, the lucky SoDak-class fast battleship spent her brief but very active WWII career typically dressed in camo of various schemes, starting off with Measure 12 for her Atlantic tour then haze grey augmented by Measure 22 for her Pacific career. 

Original color photo of USS Alabama (BB-60) In Casco Bay, Maine, during her shakedown period, circa December 1942. Note her Measure 12 (modified) Atlantic camouflage scheme. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-K-445

Alabama (BB-60) anchored at Lynnhaven in Hampton Roads, on 1 December 1942. Via Navsource

With that being said, USS Alabama (BB-60) is gaining some Measure 22 Pacific camo, courtesy of the Living History Crew, complete with dungarees.

Not the *Good* China…

While the traditional naval practice of separate wardrooms/messing for enlisted, chiefs, and officers is standard knowledge, something I did not know about until this week was the practice of “Admiral’s China,” especially reserved for visits to capital ships by flag officers.

From the Battleship USS Alabama Museum:

The Officers dined on the Officers china, printed with the iconic anchor on it. Their meal was served in the Wardroom, the Officers’ dining room. When the Captain was dining, the Captain’s china was used, the flying pennant with navy blue band and the meal served in the Captian’s dining room. Each ship carried a set of china used when an Admiral was aboard the ship. The Admiral’s china features a gold band and insignia.

Officers’ china

The skipper’s

And the Old Man’s…

But do the guns still work?

Over the weekend I got a chance to stop off at one of my favorite places, the Battleship Alabama Park at the top of Mobile Bay.

Doesn’t the old girl look great?

This brings me to a semi-related video that I recently caught.

I remember first touring Big Al when I was in elementary school in the early 1980s– at a time when Ingalls in my hometown of Pascagoula was busily reactivating mothballed Iowa-class battlewagons to be ready to take on the Soviet Red Banner Fleet as part of the Lehman 600-ship Navy of the Cold War.

One of the questions asked by a young me while touring Alabama at the time was “do the guns still work?” followed up by “could the ship be put back into service like the Iowas are?”

The tour guide at the time shook it off, saying the guns were permanently deactivated, breeches removed, welded shut in the elevated position, and filled with cement, which I accepted as I was a kid, and what adults said was the end of the story.

In later years, I found this is not entirely true, but the likelihood of the SoDaks like Alabama and the even earlier North Carolina-class fast battleships ever being reactivated after the late 1950s was slim to none– hence their disposal by the Navy.

But when mothballed they were sent to red lead row with reactivation manuals and work packages in place. 

Battleship North Carolina’s reactivation manual…

…from when she was mothballed in 1947

Mothball preservation lockout tag with follow up “to put back in commission” tag, Battleship Massachusetts. The ship is filled with equipment that was sidelined when it was laid up.

When the Iowas were called back from mothballs in the early 1980s, even though three of the four had been in storage since Korea (and New Jersey since Vietnam), it was found their guns had weathered the floating reserve status very well and were restored to service with only minor hiccups. 

From a 1987 report: 

With that being said, check this recent video out from the USS New Jersey, which was decommissioned for the fourth time in 1991, stricken in 1999, and opened as a museum in 2001.

Subject= do the turrets still rotate today?

Museum ships hanging out their shingles again. Others may hang it up

Sadly, as a side effect of the worldwide economic crisis sparked by the COVID 19 response and the extended shutdowns in some areas, it is estimated that one in eight museums currently closed will never reopen.

While not quite a descent into the Dark Ages just yet, that is still a big blow if you think about it. For instance, the Historic Naval Ships Association (HNSA) counts nearly 200 vessels in their “fleet,” which simple math would lead you to deduce that at least 16 will no longer be viable at the end of this crisis, a figure that in reality could be much higher as some museums have numerous ships.

For sure, with everyone sheltering in place, there are no visitors, the key to any museum’s survival. Ships located in states/countries with very strict lockdown seemingly extended forever are surely under the gun.

Last month the Mystic Seaport Museum closed and laid off 199 employees, with no date on the horizon to reopen. At the USS New Jersey (BB62) Museum, with the termination of visitors, and withheld funds from the State of New Jersey, ship managers are almost out of money to maintain the historic Iowa-class battlewagon, the only one that fought in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War.

Everett, Washington’s Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum, originally established by Paul Allen, announced, “The current global situation is making it difficult for us to serve our mission and we will spend the months ahead reassessing if, how, and when to reopen.”

How long can large, aging ships located in areas like New York City (USS Intrepid) and San Diego (USS Midway) survive if everything stays shut down in those areas with no expected relaxation of the lockdown rules in the near future?

With all that being said, many vessels have taken advantage of the past couple of months to restore compartments and areas that have long been neglected due to offering 364 days of yearly access to the public.

For instance, check out the USS Alabama/USS Drum‘s social media pages which have detailed an extensive before-and-after restoration of several areas of both the battleship and submarine. They even removed the 30+ planes from the Aircraft Pavilion for deep scrubbing.

USS Alabama’s recently restored sickbay

The Alabama Battleship Memorial Park will open to the public on Saturday morning, May 23, at 8:00 a.m., with new social distancing and hygiene standards in place. The Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum, home of the USS Razorback (SS-394), opened on May 22. 

The South Carolina Military Museum in Columbia is reopening June 1. Likewise, the USS North Carolina Museum is opening on Tuesday, and Patriot’s Point in South Carolina is reopening Friday.

Hopefully they are the first of many.

Warship Wednesday, Feb.8, 2018: Roll Tide, Vol. 4ish

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, Feb.8, 2018: Roll Tide, Vol. 4ish

Colourised photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/ Note the distinctive twin side-by-side funnel arrangement

Here we see the Illinois-class pre-dreadnought type battleship USS Alabama (Battleship No. 8) as she appeared at around 1904, just before her inclusion in the Great White Fleet. Sadly, she would never be this beautiful again.

The Illinois-class battlewagons were under construction during but were not able to fully take advantage of, lessons learned by the U.S. in the Spanish-American War. At 12,250-tons, these ships were very hefty due to the fact they packed a quartet of 13″/35 main guns in twin turrets and 14 smaller 6″/40s in casemates into a hull that was slathered in as much as 16.5-inches of steel armor.

Inboard profile of an ILLINOIS class battleship. Drawn by R. G. Serest, 1898. From the Serest Collection, Bethlehem Steel Corp. Archives.

In the end, they weighed three times as much as a frigate of today, though they were arguably shorter in length at just 375-feet. Still, they were capital ships of their time.

Laid down within six weeks of each other (we have a modern Navy to build here, folks!) from three different yards, Illinois (BB-7) was built at Newport News while Alabama was made by the good folks at William Cramp in Philly and the final installment, Wisconsin (BB-9), was built by Union in San Francisco. Though sandwiched in the middle of the three, Alabama was completed first, entering the fleet in October 1900, months (almost a year compared to Illinois) before her two sisters. She was officially the 4th U.S. Navy ship to bear the name.

Alabama proved a popular ship, extensively photographed in her day, and many images of her crew exist today.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph # NH 57497

USS Alabama (Battleship # 8) Ship’s Gunner and Gunner’s Mates, summer 1903. Note the kitten and parrot mascots, the Chief’s pipe and the comment written on the First Class Gunner’s Mate at right (accidental discharge?)

Forward turret crew Gunner's Mates pose by the breech of one of the ship's 13"/35 guns, 1903. Note the ex-Apprentice marks (figure "8" knot badges) worn by two of these men.Photo # NH 57494, from the collections of the United States Naval Historical Center.

Forward turret crew Gunner’s Mates pose by the breech of one of the ship’s 13″/35 guns, 1903. Note the ex-Apprentice marks (figure “8” knot badges) worn by two of these men as well as the flat caps. Photo # NH 57494, from the collections of the United States Naval Historical Center.

Champion guns crew with Lieutenant Lewis J. Clark, 1903. They are posed with a 13-inch shell, on the foredeck in front of the ship's forward 13"/35 gun turret.Photo # NH 57495.

Champion guns crew with Lieutenant Lewis J. Clark, 1903. They are posed with an 1100-pound, 13-inch shell, on the foredeck in front of the ship’s forward 13″/35 gun turret. Photo # NH 57495.

Crew members F. Petry (left) and W.M. Langridge (in gun) pose at the breech of one of the ship's 13"/35 guns, 1903. Note the "A" with figure "8" knot on Petry's shirt. Photo # NH 57496

Crew members F. Petry (left) and W.M. Langridge (in the gun) pose at the breach of one of the ship’s 13″/35 guns, 1903. Note the “A” with figure “8” knot on Petry’s shirt. Langridge also appears prominently in another image above, his pomade being very distinctive. Photo # NH 57496

These same 13″ guns were used in the Navy’s first nine battlewagons from USS Indiana (BB-1) through USS Wisconsin (BB-9) and were pretty effective, with Navweaps noting “During the Battle of Santiago on 3 July 1898, the battleship Oregon (B-3) engaged in a running shoot with the Spanish cruiser Cristobal Colon. Oregon‘s last shots traveled 9,500 yards (8,700 m) and landed just ahead of the Spanish ship, convincing her to surrender.”

Illinois and Alabama, based on the East Coast, were like peas and carrots. They toured Europe and for 15 months steamed around the world with Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet– joined by Wisconsin halfway through.

Collection Photo #UA 570.11.01 Postcard image of USS Alabama (BB-8) as part of Great White Fleet

However, even before they left on the circumnavigation the entire class was obsolete with the advent of large, fast, all-big-gun battleships such as HMS Dreadnought (21,000-tons, 21-knots. 10×12″ Mk VIII’s).

This led to a three-year modernization, picking up lattice masts and removing such beautiful ornamentation as the bow scrolls and hardwood furnishings. She also ditched the gleaming white and buff scheme for a more utilitarian haze gray.

A greatly modified USS Alabama (Battleship # 8) Off New York City, during the October 1912 Naval Review. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 57753.

Returning to the fleet in 1912, Alabama was made part of the doldrums that was the Atlantic Reserve Fleet, where, much like the 1990s-era NRF ships, she was manned by a skeleton crew of primarily NCOs and officers and used to train Naval Militia (the precursor to the Navy Reserve) and midshipmen.

She continued this mission during World War I, transitioning to basic recruit, gunnery and machinist training on the East Coast. She was laid up in November 1919, having served less than two decades in the fleet, with arguably most of that in reserve.

To both shed tonnage to be used to keep modern new dreadnoughts because of limitations in the Washington Naval Treaty and give Army Air Force wonk Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell, a chance to prove himself, Alabama was decommissioned in May 1920 and subsequently transferred to the War Department’s custody.

There, she joined the old battleship Iowa (BB-4), the slightly more modern but similarly disposed of battleships New Jersey and Virginia, and several captured German ships to include the submarine U-117, destroyer G-102, light cruiser Frankfurt, and battleship Ostfriesland, all to be used by the lumbering Handley Page O/400 and Martin MB-2/NBS-1 bombers of Mitchell’s 1st Provisional Air Brigade operating out of Langley.

The Navy protested vigorously over the Army-organized test, arguing they were borderline rigged to show off a predetermined outcome. The German ships and Iowa went first in July off North Carolina, with Alabama, New Jersey, Texas and Virginia following in September in the Chesapeake.

Ex-USS Alabama (BB-8) Officers pose with gas masks, on the ship’s after deck in September 1921, immediately before the commencement of the bombing tests in which the former USS Alabama was the target. Those present include officers of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army and a foreign navy (in a white uniform, second from left). Most of the gas masks are marked with a numeral 3 at the top, and one has a numeral 4 in that location. Photo from the 1909-1924 album of Vice Admiral Olaf M. Hustvedt, USN (Retired). Courtesy of Rick Hauck, 2006. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 104541

NH 104539

NH 57483 A white phosphorus bomb explodes on a mast top USS Alabama, while the ship in use as a target in the Chesapeake Bay, 23 September 1921. An Army Martin twin-engine bomber is flying overhead

Ex-USS Alabama (BB-8) takes a direct

Direct hit forward, Battleship Alabama, 1921

Alabama with ex-Texas (far left) and ex-Indiana (2nd from left)

Alabama took a significant punishment over a three-day period, then remained afloat for several days while she filled with seawater via her shattered hull, finally going to the bottom 27 September 1921. Her bones were sold for scrap in 1924.

View on board the ship’s sunken wreck, in Chesapeake Bay, after she had been used as a target for Army bombing tests in September 1921. This photograph looks forward from amidships, showing a boat crane, collapsed smokestacks and other wreckage. Donation of Lewis L. Smith, 1960. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Sister Illinois, disarmed in 1924 and converted to a barracks ship (Prairie State), was ultimately sold for scrap in 1956, while Wisconsin was unceremoniously broken up in 1922.

Of course, the Navy went on to commission other Alabamas including the very lucky South Dakota-class battleship (BB-60) which has been preserved in Mobile since 1964…

…and SSBN-731, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine commissioned in 1985 and currently in service.

180202-N-ND254-0451 BANGOR, Wash. (February 2, 2018) The Gold Crew of the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Alabama (SSBN 731) returns home to Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor following a routine strategic deterrent patrol. Alabama is one of eight ballistic missile submarines stationed at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, providing the most survivable leg of the strategic deterrence triad for the United States. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nancy DiBenedetto/Released)

However, the old battleship’s silver service lives on.

Presented by the state to the ship’s officers in 1900, it was retained by the Navy in storage until given to the follow-on SoDak class battlewagon in conjunction with a new platter and punchbowl crafted by the Watson Silver Co. in 1942. In 1967, the Navy returned the set to the state archives of Alabama and it has been on display aboard BB-62 since then, though part of the service has been presented to SSBN 731 and is now on permanent display in the boat’s wardroom.

USS Alabama Silver Presentation

Specs:


Displacement: Full load: 12,250 long tons (12,450 t)
Length: 375 ft 4 in (114.40 m)
Beam: 72 ft 3 in (22.02 m)
Draft: 23 ft 6 in (7.16 m)
Installed power: 8 fire-tube boilers
Propulsion: 2 shaft triple expansion engines 10,000 ihp (7,500 kW)
Speed: 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph)
Crew: 536
Armament:
4 × 13 in (330 mm)/35 caliber guns
14 × 6 in (152 mm)/40 caliber guns
16 × 6-pounder guns (57 mm (2.2 in))
6 × 1-pounder guns (37 mm (1.5 in))
4 × 18-inch (450 mm) torpedo tubes
Armor:
Belt: 4 to 16.5 in (100 to 420 mm)
Turrets: 14 in (360 mm)
Barbettes: 15 in (380 mm)
Casemates: 6 in (150 mm)
Conning tower: 10 in (250 mm)

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Fly me to the (super) moon and let me play among the stars

A few of the better ones that I have seen this week. My skyline was socked in by low altitude cloud cover and I got nothing 😦

161114-N-PJ969-038  CORONADO, Calif. (Nov. 14, 2016) The brightest moon in almost 69 years sets behind the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). The ship is moored and homeported in San Diego. It is undergoing a scheduled Planned Maintenance Availability. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Abe McNatt/Released)

161114-N-PJ969-038 CORONADO, Calif. (Nov. 14, 2016) The brightest moon in almost 69 years sets behind the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). The ship is moored and homeported in San Diego. It is undergoing a scheduled Planned Maintenance Availability. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Abe McNatt/Released)

A member of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing security forces stands on a flight line near a guard tower at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Nov. 14, 2016. Behind the Airman a rare Supermoon rises in the sky. The moon has not been closer to the Earth since Jan. 26, 1948. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tyler Woodward)

A member of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing security forces stands on a flight line near a guard tower at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Nov. 14, 2016. Behind the Airman a rare Supermoon rises in the sky. The moon has not been closer to the Earth since Jan. 26, 1948. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tyler Woodward)

the Super Moon setting near the USS ALABAMA Battleship Memorial Park... by Tim Ard https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10154113539032607&set=pcb.10154113545592607&type=3&theater

Super Moon setting near the USS ALABAMA (BB-60) Battleship Memorial Park, Mobile Bay by Tim Ard

Nice fjord you have there

SOGNEFJORDEN, Norway (Oct. 2, 2016) Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1) ships ESPS Almirante Juan de Borbón (flagship), NRP Alvares Cabral, and FGS Ludwigshafen am Rhein sail through the Sognefjord in Norway.

NATO photo by Petty Officer Luis Sanchez Oller, ESP-N/Released

NATO photo by Petty Officer Luis Sanchez Oller, ESP-N/Released

The Spanish Navy’s Almirante Juan de Borbón (F102) is the second ship of the new F-100 class of air defense frigates and is well-equipped with a SPY-1D phased array “mini-Aegis” radar suite, 48 VLS launch cells and a 5-inch gun in a compact 5,800-ton package (how come we couldn’t have ordered 48 of these for the LCS design!?).

The Portugese Navy’s 3,200-ton NRP Alvares Cabral (F331) is a Vasco da Gama-class fast frigate of the popular German MEKO 200 type and is more modestly equipped for ASW and ASuW action with a suite of guns, torpedoes and Harpoons.

As for the German Navy’s FGS Ludwigshafen am Rhein (F 264) she is a handy K130 Braunschweig-class ocean going corvette of some 1,800-tons. Armed with a 76mm gun and RBS-15 antiship missiles, she is a modern day fast attack craft and would surely prove her worth in combat among a craggy coastal littoral such as the Norwegian coast.

As noted by NATO: SNMG1 is one of four multinational, high readiness groups composed of vessels from various allied countries. These vessels are permanently available to NATO to perform different tasks ranging from participation in exercises to operational missions. These groups provide NATO with a continuous maritime capability and help to establish Alliance presence, demonstrate solidarity, conduct routine diplomatic visits and enhance interoperability among Allied naval forces. They also serve as a consistently ready maritime force of the NATO Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF).

Of course, it reminds me of this painting of a very different time, but the same coast.

"Taks Force of Two Navies" Watercolor by Dwight Shepler, USNR, 1943, depicting U.S. and British warships in the Pentlant Firth during an operation toward the Norwegian coast, coincident with the Sicily invasion, July 1943. Alabama (BB 60) is in the lead, followed by HMS Illustrious and HMS King George V. Three British carrier-based fighters (two "Seafires" and a "Martlet") are overhead. Official USN photo # KN-20381, courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC, now in the collections of the National Archives.

“Task Force of Two Navies” Watercolor by Dwight Shepler, USNR, 1943, depicting U.S. and British warships in the Pentlant Firth during an operation toward the Norwegian coast, coincident with the Sicily invasion, July 1943. USS Alabama (BB 60) is in the lead, followed by HMS Illustrious and HMS King George V. Three British carrier-based fighters (two “Seafires” and a “Martlet”) are overhead.

The gray ghosts of the Gulf Coast, 1964

“Sept. 13[1964] A RARE SIGHT—Aircraft carriers and battleships aren’t seen together at sea these days, primarily because all of America’s battlewagons are in mothballs. But two historic veterans of WW II, the carrier Lexington and the battleship Alabama got together in the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend. The Lexington, still in service, was en route to New Orleans for a visit; the Alabama was being towed to Mobile where it will be enshrined.”

“Sept. 13[1964] A RARE SIGHT—Aircraft carriers and battleships aren’t seen together at sea these days, primarily because all of America’s battlewagons are in mothballs. But two historic veterans of WW II, the carrier Lexington and the battleship Alabama got together in the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend. The Lexington, still in service, was en route to New Orleans for a visit; the Alabama was being towed to Mobile where it will be enshrined.”

Alabama (BB-60) had a short but safe career in the Navy. Commissioned  16 August 1942, she earned 9 Battle Stars for her work in the Pacific before entering red lead row on 9 January 1947 at the ripe old age of four. Stricken in 1962, she has been preserved since 1964 at the Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile Bay.

Lexington, (CV/CVA/CVS/CVT/AVT-16), is actually younger than Alabama, commissioned 17 February 1943. Recipient of the Presidential Unit Citation and 11 Battle Stars, she saw hard service in WWII and the Cold War (after a 8-year lay up) before becoming the Navy’s dedicated training carrier in 1969. Decommissioned/stricken on 8 November 1991, she has been preserved at the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Hence, the 1964 photo was a harbinger of things to come, as both endure as silent gray sentinels, the last of Halsey’s capital ships on the Gulf Coast.

Warship Wednesday March 25, 2015 the Granite Ship of the Line

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 of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday March 25, 2015 the Granite Ship of the Line

grante state new hampshire

Here we see the once-majestic old ship of the line USS Granite State as she appeared in a much more humble state towards the end of her career. When this image was taken, she was the last such ship afloat on the Naval List.

During the War of 1812, the U.S. Navy gave a good account of itself, especially for its size, and its frigates such as Constitution and Constellation, proved their weight in gold repeatedly.

With the end of the war, the U.S. Navy had to be revitalized and as such, “An Act for the Gradual Increase of the Navy of the United States,” was approved 29 April 1816. This provided for nine larger 74-gun ships of the line and funding of $1 million per year for a period of 8 years to see these craft completed. These were to be monster ships capable of taking on just about anything the modern European powers could send across the Atlantic in single ship combat.

Do not let the name fool you, most of the American ‘74s generally carried more like 80-90 guns. Alabama‘s sistership, USS North Carolina was actually pierced (had gunports) for 102 guns. Another, ’74 sister, USS Pennsylvania carried 16 8-inch shell guns and 104 32-pounders.

Some 196-feet long, these triple-deckers were exceptionally wide at 53-feet, giving them a very tubby 1:4 length-to-beam ratio and were very deep in hold ships, drawing over 30 feet full draft when fully loaded with over 800 officers, men and Marines and shipping a pretty respectable 2600-tons displacement.

James Guy Evans (United States, born England, circa 1810–1860) U.S. Ships of the Line “Delaware” and “North Carolina” and Frigates “Brandywine” and “Constellation,” circa 1835–60 Oil on canvas, 31¾ x 44⅛ inches New-York Historical Society; The Alabama was the sistership to the two '74s shown here, Delaware and North Carolina, though she never shipped in this configuration.

James Guy Evans (United States, born England, circa 1810–1860) U.S. Ships of the Line “Delaware” and “North Carolina” and Frigates “Brandywine” and “Constellation,” circa 1835–60 Oil on canvas, 31¾ x 44⅛ inches New-York Historical Society; The Alabama was the sistership to the two ’74s shown here, Delaware and North Carolina, though she never shipped in this configuration.

These nine ships it was decided would be named Columbus, Alabama, Delaware, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia and all were nominally completed by 1825.

I say nominally because by the time they were complete, the Navy had run out of money to pay for things like cannons, sails, rigging and crews so some of these ships were left “in the stocks” on land until cash could be freed.

Alabama was one of the most neglected, although President Madison himself visited her while under construction at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

While most of her sisters joined the fleet eventually in the 1830s, although some with much less firepower than designed, Alabama was still on land when the Civil War started.

She was a ship built, at least initially, in the period just after the War of 1812 and as such was constructed with fine live oak timbers from the South and fitted with copper spikes, sheeting, and deck nails made by the Paul Revere and Sons Copper Company of Massachusetts. Revere himself in fact, was still alive when his firm won the contract in 1816.

Doughty, the man who literally designed the early U.S. Navy

Doughty, the man who literally designed the early U.S. Navy

Alabama was designed by no less a naval architect than William Doughty, the same nautical genius who was responsible for the USS President, USS Independence, and USS United States 74s, Peacock class, Erie class, Java and Guerrier, North Carolina 74s class, Brandywine 44s Class, brigs, revenue cutters, and the Baltimore Clipper model so she had a good pedigree.

It was as an ode to this impressive lineage that the old girl was finally completed during the war. Her original name, now belonging to a succeeded southern state, was somewhat too ironic so she was renamed New Hampshire on 28 October 1863. She then took to the water for the first time at launching on 23 April 1864 and proceeded to fitting out.

The thing is, the U.S. Navy of 1864 did not need a classic 1816-designed ’74 in its battle line. In fact, the old girl, with provision for sail only, was an anachronism in a fleet increasingly populated with steam and iron monitors equipped with rifled guns. Therefore, she was armed much more simply with a quartet of 100-pounder Parrott rifles and a half dozen 9-inch Dahlgren smoothbore guns, so ten pieces rather than 74, but hey, at least she was afloat!

As she looked before her roof over

Commissioned 13 May 1864 at Portsmouth, just 48 years after she was authorized, she proceeded to Port Royal South Carolina where she spent the last nine months of the Civil War as a depot and store ship, her huge below deck berthing areas designed for up to and empty cannon ports proving just the thing to make her a floating warehouse.

It was while at Port Royal, a photographer who took a number of iconic images of her crew visited her.

USS New Hampshire in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1864 note the boarding cutlasses on wall.

Believed to be taken on the USS New Hampshire in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1864 note the boarding cutlasses on wall.

USS New Hampshire in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1864 powder monkey same cutlasses same cannon

USS New Hampshire in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1864 powder monkey, same cutlasses same cannon

newhamp6

After the war ended, she was put out to pasture and sailed to Norfolk, once more the headquarters of the U.S. Navy, where she served as a receiving ship (again, lots of unused hammock space on a ’74 with less than a dozen guns) for more than a decade.

It was then that the Navy figured out a better use for the grand old girl.

New Hampshire as apprentice ship at Newport

New Hampshire as apprentice ship at Newport

According to the Naval War College Museum Blog,

In 1881 the USS New Hampshire became the flagship for Commodore Stephen B. Luce’s Apprentice Training Program in Newport. Luce and others established an apprentice system to formally educate young boys and improve the overall quality of naval recruits. The boys needed parental permission and criminals were not allowed to apply. New Hampshire, docked at ‘South Point’ on Coasters Harbor Island, was the home of these boys for a six-month period before each was assigned to a training ship. In nearby buildings the teenagers were instructed in seamanship and gunnery as well as reading, writing, arithmetic, and history.

New Hampshire was not alone in this ultimate fate. By the late 19th century, many of the famous old sailing ships of the Navy to include the USS Constitution, Farragut’s USS Hartford, and the fellow Doughty-designed ’74 USS Independence were still in daily use as roofed-over receiving ships. Their gun ports were replaced by windows, their sails and riggings largely trashed, and their armament replaced by training sets with powder enough for harbor salutes.

The Newport experiment continued for over a decade until, decommissioned 5 June 1892 but still on the Naval List, she was loaned to the New York Naval Militia as a stationary training ship based in New York City.

newhampFor the next 28 years, the mighty ship of the line endured at her post in the Hudson River where she participated in the 1892 Columbia Ship parade as well as the 1909 Hudson Fulton parade and trained thousands of naval reservists that went on to serve in both the Spanish American War and WWI. During the flare up with Spain, she was armed and made ready to repel an assault by wayward Spanish cruisers on the Big Apple that never came.

In that time, she lost her New Hampshire name (let’s be honest, it was never really hers anyway, she was a Dixie girl) to the new battleship BB-25 and was renamed Granite State, 30 November 1904.

She was the floating armory for the 1st Battalion, New York Naval Militia, who had a pretty good football team.

According to NYNM records, she “moored at first at East 27th Street & the East River (In 1898 during Spanish-American War it was used as the Naval Militia Receiving Ship); then at Whitestone, finally from 1912 at West 97th Street (to W. 94th) on the Hudson River. The barracks were on the dock side”

Bayonet drill 1898. Note the very Civil War style dress of the pre-Span Am War New York Naval Militia. At the time it was cheap surplus and Bannerman's downtown sold it by the pound.

Bayonet drill 1898. Note the very Civil War style dress of the pre-Span Am War New York Naval Militia. At the time it was cheap surplus and Bannerman’s downtown sold it by the pound.

In April 1913 she suffered a topside fire that caused more than $3800 in damages, which is about $95K in today’s cash.

098615711In 1918, she again chopped from NYNM service to active duty, performing duties as a U.S. Navy Hospital Ship in New York for the duration of the War. Enlisting on her deck at the time was a local boy, S1C Humphrey Bogart, who went on to star in a few movies later in life.

One of the Granite State's toughguys

One of the Granite State’s toughguys

On July 21, 1918, she suffered her only known death during warfare when John James Malone, Seaman, 2nd class, USNRF, drowned during a training evolution.

Moving back to the militia after the war, with 105 years on her hull she suffered yet another fire, this time with a near catastrophic loss.

Oil, pooling around the ship from a leaking 6-inch Standard Oil Company pipe, was ignited from the backfire of a passing Captains gig. The resulting fire destroyed the gig, a three story naval office, storehouse, and the Granite State. Low water pressure on shore contributed to the loss. However, before the crew abandoned ship the vessels powder magazine was flooded, preventing an explosion that would have devastated the surrounding area. Fireboats pumped tons of water into the flaming hulk until it settled into the mud. Listing sharply to port only the mooring chains kept the vessel from capsizing.

Here we see the

Here we see the “Granite State,” sunk and listing, after burning at her pier in the Hudson River on May 23, 1921. The Granite State was formerly the USS New Hampshire, built in 1825, launched in 1864, and served as part of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron in the Civil War. (Eugene de Salignac/Courtesy NYC Municipal Archives)

A total loss, she was stricken from the Naval List, and her hulk was sold for $5000 for salvage 19 August 1921 to the Mulhollund Machinery Corp. Fastened and sheathed with over 100 tons of copper, it was estimated in a New York Times article then that $70,000 of salvageable material could be removed from the hulk. Two, five ton anchors along with 100 tons of chain were still aboard and it was rumored there were three gold spikes in the ship’s keel from her original 1816 construction.

She refloated in July 1922 and was taken in tow to the Bay of Fundy. The towline parted during a storm, she again caught fire for a third time while under tow (!) and sank off Half Way Rock in Massachusetts Bay.

Wreck of the Granite State (U.S.S. New Hampshire) by Charles Hopkinson, 1922 Cape Ann Museum  http://www.capeannmuseum.org/collections/objects/wreck-of-the-granite-state-uss-new-hampshire/

Wreck of the Granite State (U.S.S. New Hampshire) by Charles Hopkinson, 1922 Cape Ann Museum

The wreck’s remains on Graves Island, Manchester, Mass, just off east side of island are well documented and are in very shallow water (20-30 feet) making it an easy dive. In fact, the USS New Hampshire Exempt Site is on the list of Marine Protected Areas maintained by NOAA.

The copper bits, harkening back to Paul Revere, have been collected by local Gloucester divers for years, are held in the collection of the Gloucester Marine Heritage Center, and at least one 7-inch spike is now aboard the current Virginia-class attack submarine USS New Hampshire (SSN-778) commissioned in Portsmouth in 2008.

Spikes and recovered copper wear from New Hampshire

Spikes and recovered copper wear from New Hampshire

Speaking of copper bolts and pins, at least 22-pounds worth of these were collected in the early 1970s by Boston area scuba divers and melted down to form the Boston Cup, which is used by area schools as a liberty trophy in drum corps competitions. Other spikes and flotsam from the NH has been floating around on the collectors market for years.

Today in Newport, where the old girl remained pier side for decades, there is New Hampshire road and New Hampshire field on board the Naval Station named in her honor rather than the state’s and the base museum houses a number of items from the ship.

Specs

Displacement 2,633 t.
Length 203′ 8″
Beam 51′ 4″
Draft 21′ 6″
Propulsion: Sail, Square Rigged, 3 masts
Speed As fast as the wind could carry her
Complement unknown as completed, 820 as designed
Armament (as designed) 74 guns, mix of 42 and 32 pounders
Armament (as completed)
Four 100-pdrs
Six 9″ Parrot guns

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Warship Wednesday, March 13

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out 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.

– Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday,  March 13

DSCN0535

Here we see the retired ex-USS Alabama (BB-60) laying in Mobile Bay as a publicly operated museum ship when I toured her last year.

She was the last and some argue the luckiest of the four South Dakota-class battleships and, with the exception of the follow-on Iowa class ships, the most modern and best equipped US battlewagon ever to take the sea.

alabama

Designed with a standard displacement ‘not to exceed 35,000-tons’ to fit with the Washington and London Naval Treaties, the ship still sported a 12.2-inch armored belt, which increased to 16-18 inches at the conning tower, barbettes, and turret faces. Behind this armor was 7/8 inch (22 mm) thick STS plates behind the belt, which made the SoDak class immune to hits from super-heavy 16-inch shells at any distance further than 17,000-yards. Once fully outfitted during WWII, these ‘treaty battleships’ came in at over 44,519 tons (full load) and could still make 27-knots.  The follow-up Iowa class had virtually the same armament (although they did use a more advanced 16-inch gun), and same armor but only real design improvement was a top speed of 33-knots. Other than that, the Alabama came to the table with the same thing as the Iowa.

Commissioned on 16 August 1942, just eight months after Pearl Harbor, she was rushed into service. However, with British strength sapped in the Atlantic, she spend her most of her first year at sea with the Royal Navy, trying to lure the SMS Tirpitz out to sea battle. It would have been an interesting match, with the Alabama having a larger suite of heavier guns (9×16-inch, 20x127mm vs the Tirpitz 8×15-inch, 12x150mm, 16x105mm guns) with slightly better armor protection over the German ship to boot. Whether US radar fire control or German radar fire control was better would have told the story of this great ‘could have been’.

German battleship Tirpitz in the Alta Fjord, Norway, during World War II. Her and Big Al never met...

German battleship Tirpitz in the Alta Fjord, Norway, during World War II. Her and Big Al never met…

With the Germans refusing to lose the Bismarck‘s sister ship, Alabama soon found herself shifted to the Pacific where she spent most of 1944-45 in the hectic job of screening fast carrier task forces with her massive AAA armament and radar. During the Marianas Turkey Shoot, it was Alabama that helped provide the early warning of incoming Japanese attack planes, her radar giving the ship, and thus the US fleet, the upper hand.

alabama-bb-60-920-0

Winning 9 Battlestars for her combat operations, she was never the victim of noteworthy enemy action and never lost a man to either the Germans or Japanese. Her gunners were credited with shooting down no less than 22 attacking Japanese planes and her main battery of 16-inch guns fired an estimated 1,250-rounds in anger at enemy shore positions.

She was decommissioned in 1947 after serving just 52-months on active duty, 11 of them spent in post-war deactivation overhaul. In 1954 it was planned to reactivate the Alabama, remove at least one turret and much topside weight, re-engine her with more modern turbines, and give the leaner, meaner, ship a 31+ knot top speed to escort the new super carriers. However this proved a non-starter for budgetary reasons.

The Navy held on to the virtually new ship until she was stricken in 1962 just short of her 20th birthday. Her and her three sister ships,  USS South Dakota, USS Indiana, and USS Massachusetts were ordered sold for scrap that year. Indiana went to the breakers who paid $418,387 for her, as did the SoDak. The Massachusetts was saved by a local effort from her namesake state and today sits in Fall River, MA.

Since 1964, the Alabama has silently protected Mobile Bay as a museum ship, her engines inactive, great props cut from their shafts, her 16-inch guns filled with concrete, her breechblocks removed.

Still, a mighty sight if ever there was one. If you are ever in Mobile, or Fall River where her twin sister lives, check it out.

plans bb60

Specs:
Displacement:     35,000 long tons  standard as designed
Length:     680 ft (210 m)
Beam:     108.2 ft (33.0 m)
Draft:     36.2 ft (11.0 m)
Propulsion:     oil-fired steam turbines, 4 shafts
Speed:     27.5 kn (31.6 mph; 50.9 km/h)
Range:     15,000 nmi (17,000 mi; 28,000 km) at 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h)
Complement:     1,793 officers and men
Sensors and processing systems:     radar
Armament:     9 × 16 in (410 mm)/45 cal Mark 6 guns maximum range of 36,900 yards (20.9mi)
20 × 5 in (130 mm)/38 cal guns
24 × Bofors 40 mm guns
22 × Oerlikon 20 mm cannons (ever-increasing)
Aircraft carried:     OS2U Kingfisher scout planes

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

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval lore http://www.warship.org/naval.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.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

I’m a member, so should you be!