Tag Archives: USS Massachusetts

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022: The Charging Frenchman of Casablanca

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, Nov. 9, 2022: The Charging Frenchman of Casablanca

Above we see the French Duguay Trouin-class light cruiser Primauguet charging to her destruction against a much stronger American force outside of Casablanca during the Torch Landings, some 80 years ago this week. While the French Navy in WWII, and in particular the French Vichy forces, get kind of a backhanded bad wrap in English sources of the conflict as being milquetoast when it came to heroics, Primauguet is certainly the exception to that tired trope.

Lacking modern cruisers following the Great War and still saddled with far-flung colonies in the Pacific, Africa, the Americas, and the Indian Ocean, France began building several very similar classes of light cruisers for both commerce protection and “showing the flag.” Dusting off the circa 1912 La Motte-Picquet-class cruiser design that was never built, and blending it with lessons from the post-war American Omaha-class and British Emerald-class stiletto-hulled cruisers that did leave the drawing board, the French ordered the three Duguay-Trouin-class ships in 1922. The ships included Duguay-Trouin, Lamotte-Picquet and Primauguet.

Exceptionally light indeed, these 7,249-ton (standard) vessels on 604-foot-long hulls were lithe.

With a 1:10 beam-to-length ratio and a quartet of Parsons geared turbines driven by eight super-pressurized Guyot boilers, speed was their main defense. Designed with a top speed of 34.5 knots, which they could hit for an hour or so in testing. Primauguet herself logged 33.06 knots on a 6-hour speed trial in 1925, harvesting 116,849 shp while carrying a full load of fuel and stores. They also proved capable of steaming for a 24-hour period at 30 knots at half power. Meanwhile, they had comparatively short legs, only capable of 4,500nm of steaming at 15 knots.

Look at those hull lines. Here, Lamotte-Picquet seen in drydock.

When it came to armor, they had extraordinarily little but at least had 21 watertight compartments and were considered good seaboats. The smaller (557 foot, 6500t) training cruiser Jeanne d’Arc, laid down in 1928, used roughly the same hull form, a down-sized version of the Duguay-Trouin’s engineering suite which enabled 25 knots, and the same topside gun armament.

French Duguay-Trouin-class light cruiser Primauguet on 28 of Juli 1939. Note her twin forward 6-inch gun turrets, the gunnery clock on her tower, and the tropical dress of her crew

Their main armament was a full dozen 21.7-inch torpedo tubes in four triple mountings on deck amidships with 24 fish carried (12 loaded and 12 in the magazine). They also had two picket boats armed with 17.7-inch torpedoes as well. For anti-submarine defense, they carried depth charges.

Two single-engine floatplanes could be carried for the stern Penhoët-type air-powered catapult and it seemed the French used or evaluated at least a dozen distinct types of these across the mid-1920s through 1942 with mixed results. The country fielded no less than 50 assorted “Hydravion de reconnaissance” types in the first half of the 20th Century and I’ve seen or read of the Duguay-Trouin class with CAMS 37, Donnet-Denhaut, Loire 130 and 210, Gourdou-Leseurre GL-810/812/820 HY and GL-832, FBA 17 HL 2, Latecoere 298, and Potez 452 types aboard.

Visitors aboard the French light cruiser Lamotte-Picquet in East Asia. Note the tropical helmets on her crew and the single-engine flying boat (she carried a couple Potez 452 in 1936-39) on her catapult. The marching band is dressed in outlandish tropical grass skirts and seems to be leading a parade, which may be the start of a crossing-the-line ceremony.

Primary gun armament was eight new 155 mm/50 (6.1″) Model 1920 rapid-fire guns arranged in four very narrow twin mounts (2 bow, 2 aft) and space for 1,220 shells in their magazines. Capable of firing a 124.6-pound HE or AP shell to 28,000 yards, the designed rate of fire was six rounds per minute per gun although the practical rate of fire was about half that. Secondary batteries were just four 3-inch AAA guns and four machine guns.

Bow Turrets on Lamotte-Picquet. Note the director and large searchlight above it. ECPA(D) Photograph. Besides the Duguay Trouin class, the French only used the 6.1″/50 Model 1920 on the training cruiser Jeanne D ‘Arc and the carrier Bearn.

Jane’s 1931 listing on the class.

The Duguay Trouins proved the basis for French cruiser design throughout the 1920s and early 1930s.

As mentioned above, the type was shrunk down to create the training cruiser Jeanne D ‘Arc, and it was also upsized to make the first French heavy cruisers (croiseur de 1ere classe), the Duquesne and Tourville (10,000t std, 627 oal, 62 ft beam, 8×8″/50, 118,358.4 shp to make 34 knots). These Duquesne and Tourville used almost the same engineering suite (8 guyot boilers, 4 turbines, trunked through two funnels), the same thin bikini-style light armor plan that only covered gun magazines, deck, and the CT; arrangements for two scout planes on a single rear catapult, and the same 4×2 main gun arrangement for the main battery with torpedo tube clusters amidship. Then came the later heavy cruisers Suffern, Colbert, Foch, and Dupleix which were basically just the Duquesne class with slightly better armor arrangement in exchange for a lower speed.

A French Navy recruiting poster, featuring the country’s modern style of light and heavy cruisers. Beautiful, fast, modern, but very lightly armored.

Primauguet

Laid down at the Brest Arsenal on 16 August 1923, our cruiser was named after Hervé de Portzmoguer, a 15th-century pirate and privateer who was best known to history under the nom de guerre “Primauguet.”

A traditional French naval name, it had already been used by a brig and corvette in the early 19th century, a circa 1882 Laperouse-class protected cruiser, and a Great War fast troop transport.

Commissioned on April Fool’s Day 1927, she was immediately dispatched on a seven-month circumnavigation of the globe to show the flag, returning home at the end of the year.

Sent to the Indochina station in 1932, a common one for her class, she remained in East Asia until 1937 when she returned to metropolitan France.

Primauguet on a port visit to Douala, Cameroon, in February 1932 to mark the inauguration of the port

Crew picture onboard the French light cruiser Primauguet, Shanghaï, 1930s

Light cruiser Primauguet. Note what looks to be a CAMS 37 biplane floatplane

Primauguet 1930s Saigon

Primauguet 1930s Saigon

She was designed to span the seven seas and she did that.

War!

Once WWII broke out, based with the French Atlantic fleet out of Brest she sailed for a series of convoy protection missions and found herself protecting colonies and possessions in the West Indies in May 1940 when the Germans swept through the Low Countries. Once European Holland collapsed, Primauguet landed sailors and Marins in the Dutch Antilles to guard the Aruba oil fields for the Allies. Relieved by a British gunboat, she rushed to France just in time to participate in the evacuation of French forces from the mouth of the Gironde, one step ahead of the German advance, and took part of the Banque de France‘s gold reserves to Dakar in the French West African stronghold of Senegal, where she was when the French government capitulated.

Part of the Vichy-controlled fleet by default, she eventually made a sortie up the coast to Libreville where she was intended to operate with the cruisers Georges Leygues, Montcalm and Gloire against Free French forces only to have that operation fall apart once the British got involved and, by November 1941, was in Casablanca with Leygues, in desperate need of an overhaul.

She was still in reduced status when the Allies arrived in force off North Africa some 80 years ago this month for the Torch Landings.

Torch

The French got one heck of a shellacking from the combined Allied fleet, spearheaded by the U.S. Navy who brought the fleet carrier USS Ranger and four rapidly converted large oilers turned auxiliary carriers (Sangamon, Suwannee, Chenango, and Santee) along with three battleships (the old USS Texas and USS New York as well as the brand-new So Dak-class fast battlewagon USS Massachusetts). In the ~52-hour period between dawn on 8 November and noon on 10 November, the French Vichy fleet in North Africa, spread out between Casablanca, Oran, and Bizerte would lose:

The incomplete Richelieu-class battleship Jean Bart
The destroyers Albatros, Typhon, Epervier, Tramontane, Tornade, Milan, Frondeur, Fougueux, Boulonnais, and Brestois
The submarines Diane, Danae, Ariane, Oréade, Argonaute, Amphitrite, and Actéon
The minesweepers Surprise and Lilias
The submarine chasers V 88, P13, and Dubourdieu
The armed trawlers La Bonoise, L’Ajaccienne, La Setoise, La Toulonnaise, Sentinelle, and Chene
The tug Pigeon and Tourterelle
The cargo ships Spahi, Divona, Dahomey, Cambraisien, Ville du Havre, Saint Pierre, and Lipari
The ocean liners Savoie Marseille/Ile De Edienruder and Porthos
The tankers Saint Blaize and Ile D’Quessant

Oh yes, and Primauguet.

It wasn’t much of a fight, with the four operational carriers (Chenango carried Army P-40s on a ferry run), along with the serious spotter-plane corrected offshore gunline provided by 16-inch guns of USS Massachusetts and the eight-inch guns of the heavy cruisers USS Augusta, USS Wichita, and USS Tuscaloosa plastering the French vessels at their moorings or just as they tried to make to the sea. One of the latter was the subject of our warship Wednesday.

The U.S. Navy’s wartime ONI sheet on the Duguay Trouin class would describe their protection as “practically nil except for thin gun shields, splinter-proof conning tower, and double armored deck.” This, of course, was lifted word-for-word from previous Jane’s listings. They just weren’t made to take punishment, either in the form of 500-pound bombs, 8-inch shells, or 16-inch shells.

Even in her largely inoperable state, Primauguet was the largest French warship to get underway during the Allied invasion, and went out firing, although her short sortie ended in a literal blaze of glory.

Primauguet’s final charge

As detailed by RADM Samuel Cox’s H-013-3 Operation Torch— The Naval Battle of Casablanca H-Gram:

At 1000, as the French destroyers bobbed and weaved in the smoke screen, the French light cruiser Primauguet sortied, and the Massachusetts and Tuscaloosa closed in on the destroyer action and one of them finally hit a French destroyer, the Fougueux, which blew up and sank. About the same time, the El Hank shore battery hit Augusta with an 8-inch round that fortunately did little damage. Shortly afterward, Massachusetts was almost hit by multiple torpedoes from an unidentified French submarine, while Tuscaloosa narrowly avoided four torpedoes from the French submarine Medusa, and Brooklyn dodged five torpedoes from the French submarine Amazone at the same time she and three U.S. destroyers were engaging the Primauguet and the remaining five French destroyers. At 1008, Brooklyn was hit by a dud shell, but got payback at 1112, when she hit the French destroyer Boulannais with a full salvo, causing her to roll over and sink.

By 1100, Massachusetts had expended 60 percent of her 16-inch shells and began to conserve ammunition as a hedge in the event the French naval forces at Dakar, West Africa (including the battleship Richelieu) showed up unexpectedly. By this time, the French ships’ luck had begun to run out under the hail of U.S. fire. The light cruiser Primauguet had been hit multiple times by Augusta and Brooklyn, including three hits below the waterline and one 8-inch hit on her number 3 turret, and she made a run for the harbor. The destroyer leader Milan had been hit five times and also made for port. The destroyer Brestois was also hit by Augusta and U.S. destroyers; she made it into the harbor, only to be strafed by Ranger aircraft and sank at the pier at 2100.

At 1115, the three remaining French ships, destroyer leader Albatross, and destroyers Frondeur and L’Alcyon formed up to conduct a coordinated torpedo attack on the U.S. cruisers, but the attack was broken up by Tuscaloosa and Wichita, although Wichita was hit by a shell from El Hank and had to dodge three torpedoes from a French submarine. Frondeur was hit aft, limped into port, and was finished off by strafing. Albatros was hit twice by shells, then by two bombs from Ranger aircraft and was left dead-in-the-water. Of the seven French surface combatants that sortied, only L’Alcyon returned to port undamaged.

At 1245, the French navy vessel La Grandier (Morison called it an “aviso-colonial” whatever that is, but it was said to resemble a light cruiser from a distance) and two coastal minesweepers sortied from Casablanca. Their mission was actually to rescue French survivors from the morning engagement, but their movement was interpreted as a threat. Two French destroyers that had not been engaged in the morning, the Tempête and Simoun, milled about smartly around the breakwater trying to lure U.S. ships back into range for El Hank, for which the U.S. ships had gained a healthy respect by this time. AugustaBrooklyn, destroyers, and aircraft attacked the rescue ships, which managed to avoid being hit. In the meantime, a French tug came out and began to tow Albatros into port, but Ranger aircraft strafed, bombed, and forced Albatros to be beached. Ranger aircraft also repeatedly strafed the now grounded Milan and Primauguet. A direct bomb hit on Primauguet’s bridge killed the commanding officer, executive officer, and eight officers, and wounded Rear Admiral Gervais de Lafond.

Although the French had put up a spirited fight, and U.S. reports indicate admiration for their professionalism, the battle ended up very one-sided. The French scored one hit each on the MassachusettsAugustaBrooklynLudlow, and Murphy, none of which caused major damage and only the three deaths on Murphy. The French also destroyed about 40 landing boats, most as a result of strafing by French aircraft in the early morning. The French lost four destroyers sunk, and the battleship Jean Bart disabled, the light cruiser Primauguet heavily damaged, burned out, and aground, and two destroyer leaders damaged and aground. 

With a loss of about 90 of her reduced crew and twice as many wounded, Primauguet would burn all night. Her, wreck, along with the other Vichy French Navy and commercial ships in Casablanca harbor, would become well-documented by U.S. Naval forces in the coming days.

French light cruiser Primauguet beached off Casablanca, Morocco in November 1942. She had been badly damaged during the Battle of Casablanca on 8 November and is largely burned out forward. What appears to be shell damage is visible at her main deck line amidships, just aft of her second smokestack. In the left distance are the French destroyers Milan (partially visible at far left) and Albatros, both irreparably damaged and beached closer to shore. The latter is flying a large French flag from her foremast. 80-G-31607

French destroyer Milan (partially visible, right), destroyer Albatros (center), and light cruiser Primauguet (upper center) beached off Casablanca, Morocco on 11 November 1942. All had been badly damaged during the Battle of Casablanca on 8 November. Photographed from a USS Ranger (CV-4) plane. 80-G-32400

French Navy and commercial ships in Casablanca harbor, Morocco after the battle of 8 November 1942. The two damaged 1500-tonne destroyers at left wear identification codes T62 and T22 (capsized … she may be Frondeur). Another ship of that class is alongside the quay in the right center. Among the merchant ships present are Endome (left), Delaballe (center, inboard), and Wyoming (center, outboard). All wear neutrality markings. Outside the harbor are the beached light cruiser Primauguet (left center), destroyer Albatros and destroyer Milan (closest to the beach). 80-G-32407

Casablanca harbor, Morocco, and vicinity on 16 November 1942, eight days after the 8 November invasion and the naval battle there. Among the ships outside the harbor entrance are three U.S. Navy destroyers, a minesweeper, and (in the center) the torpedoed USS Electra (AK-21) with USS Cherokee (AT-66) off her bow. Closer to shore are three beached French warships (from right to left): light cruiser Primauguet, destroyer Albatros, and destroyer Milan. Inside the harbor, with sterns toward the outer breakwater, are eight U.S. Navy ships. They are (from left to right): two minesweepers, USS Terror (CM-4), USS Brooklyn (CL-40), USS Chenango (ACV-28) with a destroyer tied to her starboard side, USS Augusta CA-31), and a transport. 80-G-1003967

French destroyer Albatros beached off Casablanca, Morocco on 4 December 1942. Beyond her stern is the French light cruiser Primauguet. Both ships were badly damaged during the Battle of Casablanca, on 8 November 1942. Albatros’ third smokestack has been destroyed and Primaguet is largely burned out forward. Note the railroad line and signal in the foreground and shipping in the right distance, including at least two French commercial freighters and, partially visible at far right, what appears to be USS Electra (AK-21) lying very low in the water. She had been torpedoed by the German submarine U-173 on 15 November. 80-G-30649

French Cruiser Primauguet outside of Casablanca Harbor March 1943 Duguay-Trouin-Class LIFE J R Eyerman

French Cruiser Primauguet outside of Casablanca Harbor March 1943 Duguay-Trouin-Class LIFE J R Eyerman

French Map of Casablanca Harbor after the Battle, note Primauguet on the left outside of Casablanca Harbor from a post-war French Service Historique de la Marine about the Allied landings in North Africa.

Epilogue

Eventually, Primauguet’s above-water structures were salvaged in 1951 and scrapped post-war while her hull was allowed to silt over. A UXO operation in 2001-02, conducted by a joint Moroccan-French team, penetrated her magazines and removed over 1,600 intact 6-inch and 75mm shells along with 251 cases of assorted power charges.

Her sister Lamotte-Picquet, in Indochinese waters since 1935, fought the Japanese-allied Thai Navy to a standstill at the oft-forgotten 1941 clash at Ko Chang. Laid up in 1942 in Saigon, she was sunk by the Allies in early 1945.

Dugay-Trouin class light cruiser Lamotte-Picquet in the Saigon River, 31 January 1939 note GL-810 series floatplane

Class leader Duguay-Trouin, interned with the British in June 1940 in Alexandria, sat out the war until early 1943 when she was turned over to the Free French following the fall of the Vichy regime. Refitted by the Allies in time for the Dragoon Landings along the French Riveria in August 1944, she was ordered to Indochina after the war and participated in NGFS operations there against the Viet Minh insurgents until 1952.

French cruiser Duguay-Trouin 1946 Janes

Today, the museum ship USS Massachusetts carries the scars from two French shell hits received in the Battle of Casablanca. The first was a 7.9-inch shell from the El Hank shore battery that was fired at an estimated range of ~28,000 yards. The second was one of Primauguet’s 6-inchers.

As detailed by the Museum:

At 1057, BIG MAMIE received a hit on the starboard quarter at Frame 85. The shell ricocheted from the deck and burst over 20 mm Group 13. A small fire caused by the burst was brought immediately under control by the Damage Control Repair party. No personnel casualties were sustained as personnel at group 13 had previously been shifted to the unengaged side. This hit was fired from the French cruiser Primauguet.

The French Navy remembered the name of the old pirate and the vessels that carried it into battle via the Georges Leygues (F70 type)-class frigate Primauguet, which was in service from 1986 through 2019.

French guided missile destroyer, Primauguet (D 644), a member of the Georges Leygues class (Type F 70).

Perhaps they will bring the name back one day.


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Have a Spare Mk 1 Fire Control Computer in your Garage?

This thing:

If you do, the battleship USS Massachusetts (BB-59) museum wants to talk to you.

From the museum:

The Mk 1 Fire Control Computers that served onboard Big Mamie has been missing for decades and it is becoming difficult to find replacements to restore the plotting room without them. They were removed while the ship was in mothballs and then stricken from the inactive list. In time we have found two incomplete computers and even got one struck below into the Plotting Room. Both of these do not have their star shell computers on top either.

We are still trying to locate these items and need your help out there in the wide world of parts.

Rumor has it that there is a few floating around and one was said to be in the Michigan area, part of a Computer museum that went under. We haven’t been able to chase it down. So if you know of it or any others, please let us in on it so we can restore our battleship to a better exhibit of her past beauty. Thank you all for any help. Trying to keep history alive and well for everyone to enjoy is a team effort.

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?

Do you know the names of BB-59’s Turret Three’s guns?

The 16-inch guns on the USS Massachusetts were used to plaster enemy ships and troops during World War II and her caretakers are looking for help uncovering their lost history.

Commissioned in 1942, “Big Mamie” earned an impressive 11 Battle Stars during the War the hard way. Her mighty 16-inch/45cal guns (that’s a bore 16-inches wide and a barrel tube 45 calibers, or 720-inches long) silenced the Vichy French battleship Jean Bart in Morocco, then bombarded  Kwajalein, Iwo Jima, the Philippines and even the Japanese Home Islands. In fact, she wore her guns down to the point that they had to be relined at least once during the war.

Decommissioned in 1947, she has been on display at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts, since 1965, where museum officials are hard at work figuring out the lost names to three of her big guns. You see, the trio in Turret One, towards the bow of the ship, are named after women, (Clara, Jeannie, and Lydia) while the guns in Turret Two are named after historic U.S. Navy ships lost in the opening battles of the war (Arizona, Utah, and Vincennes). As for the guns in Turret Three, pointing over Big Mamie’s stern? That’s where the public comes in.

“Looking for some help on Turret Three’s gun names,” the museum posted on social media last week. “Maybe some photos or first-hand accounts of them from the former crewmembers.”

For example, inside Turret One:

“Clara,” one of the guns in Turret One, was recently inspected to make sure her protective coating was intact. As every gun owner knows, you have to keep them cleaned and lubricated.

A look inside the breech. Not bad considering she hasn’t fired a shell since Truman was in office

“Lydia,” another Turret One gun. Note the huge breechblock open to the bottom of the image

Currently, the museum knows that the T3 tubes were all made at the U.S. Naval Gun Factory in 1941 and have very close numbers (#301, 303, and 304) which likely meant they were all “born” at close to the same time. While the nicknames are likely still there, they have been long ago covered by generations of paint.

In the meantime, the busy work of keeping an aging floating steel warship in a harsh salt-water environment continues no stop.

What the museum knows about the ship’s main battery

 

SoDaks representing, 73 years ago today

Artwork by John Hamilton from his publication, “War at Sea.” Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Gallery:

89-20-Z: U.S. Navy battleships firing guns on the Japanese mainland, July 1945.

“Believed to detail the first naval gunfire bombardment of the Japanese mainland on July 14, 1945, by Task Unit 34.8.1. (TU 34.8.1) ships included the battleships: USS South Dakota (BB-57), USS Indiana (BB-58), Massachusetts (BB-59) along with the heavy cruisers: USS Quincy, USS Chicago, and nine destroyers.”

The tale of U.S. battleships at sea in WWII is often focused on the bookends of Pearl Harbor vets and the Iowa-class, with the four ships of the South Dakota class often forgotten (although two endure as floating museum ships), so it is nice to see them remembered.

Great painting.

Here is a Kodachrome of the actual event:

Official U.S. Navy photo 80-G-K-6035 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

Bombardment of Kamaishi, Japan, 14 July 1945: The U.S. Navy battleship USS Indiana (BB-58) fires a salvo from her forward 16″/45 guns at the Kamaishi plant of the Japan Iron Company, 400 km north of Tokyo. A second before, USS South Dakota (BB-57), from which this photograph was taken, fired the initial salvo of the first naval gunfire bombardment of the Japanese Home Islands. The superstructure of USS Massachusetts (BB-59) is visible directly behind Indiana. The heavy cruiser in the left center distance is either USS Quincy (CA-71) or USS Chicago (CA-136). Due to the Measure 22 camouflage, the cruiser is probably Quincy, as Chicago is only known to have been painted in Measure 21.

Volunteering to clean some of the largest guns in New England

The 16″/45cal guns on the USS Massachusetts were used to plaster enemy ships and troops during World War II but are in need of some attention to last another 75 years.

Decommissioned in 1947, she has been on display at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts, since 1965 and an all volunteer group from the museum has spend a good deal of time cleaning the accumulated rust and layers of paint off one of her nine 16-inchers, bringing it down to the bare metal for the first time in some 75 years, then priming and painting the tube to protect it from the harsh Massachusetts weather and salt air.

11 Volunteering to clean some of the largest guns in New England (10) 12 Volunteering to clean some of the largest guns in New England (11) 7 Volunteering to clean some of the largest guns in New England (3) 6 Volunteering to clean some of the largest guns in New England (4)

More in my column at Guns.com

Warship Wednesday Feb 12, the Big Mass

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 Feb 12, the Big Mass

(click to embiggen)

(click to embiggen)

Here we see the war veteran USS Massachusetts fitting out at the New York Navy Yard, 1904, USS Indiana (BB-01), her sister, is in the background. The second official US battleship, the Massachusetts had an interesting life including service against the Spanish, Germans, and a few stops in between before finally taking a beating from the Army.

Note the LOW freeboard...

Note the LOW freeboard…

Built by William Cramp & Sons Ship & Engine Building Co. in Philadelphia at a cost of $3-million, she and her sisters Indiana and Oregon were the young nations first all-steel seagoing battleships. Of course this term was relative as the ships could hardly take to sea due an extremely low free-board that threatened to swap them in heavy sea states.

span am

Ordered in 1890, she was laid down on 25 June 1891 and commissioned 10 June 1896, her construction drawn out almost six years which is evident to the new type of ship that she was. Just 350-feet long, she would be considered a small frigate today except for the fact that she was a massive 11,500-tons when fully loaded. This was because the ship was crammed with 4 double ended Scotch boilers,  two vertical inverted triple expansion reciprocating steam engines, a dozen 13-inch and 8-inch guns, forty smaller cannon and five torpedo tubes.

This was all clad in a total of up-to 18-inches of  Harveyized steel and conventional nickel-steel armor, she was crewed by some 400+ officers and men.

The men in the late 1890s, were darlings of the media and some of their pictures remain in the Library of Congress, showing an interesting aspect of the ordinary lives of bluejackets more than a century ago.

bluejackets on BB-2 getting some officially sanctioned boxing in

bluejackets on BB-2 getting some officially sanctioned boxing in

According to the history of the ship, “To the men who served on her she was more than just a battleship. The men polished her brass fittings and cleaned her wooden deck because she was their home and their protector. They proudly sailed the seas knowing that they were aboard one of the most powerful and beautiful ships on Earth. But these men did not always have it easy, they had to constantly feed the coal burners to keep the ship powered, clean the guns and ammunition and then check and recheck them to maintain battle-readiness.

U.S.S. Massachusetts, fire room 1897 note the chalk on the boiler hatches

U.S.S. Massachusetts, fire room 1897 note the chalk on the boiler hatches

“They lived in small quarters, sailed through rough seas and were away from daily comforts. Yet throughout these difficult tasks and times, recreation was encouraged. The Navy learned long ago that it was important to keep up the men’s spirits in the face of such demanding times. Before retiring to their hammocks for the evening, the men were sometimes allowed to purchase small amounts of beer. They also formed a football team and held boxing matches to help relieve tensions aboard, and on holidays special dinners were cooked for those not lucky enough to be at home with family. Overall, those who lived, worked and died in her service know that Massachusetts was a fine ship”

Marine guards c1897

Marine guards c1897. White gloves and spiked Prussian style helmets were standard for the Army too in many units at this time. 

BB-2 sailors in summer whites

BB-2 sailors in summer whites

Inside one of her turrets

Inside one of her turrets. Note the old school Donald Ducks

Capable of steaming at up-to 16-knots, she was fast for her time.

off tow ar
When war broke out in 1898 with Spain, her beautiful white and buff paint scheme switched to haze grey and she went off to the beat of the drums, joining the Flying Squadron under Commodore Winfield Scott Schley for the blockade of Cuba. Missing the main fleet battles due to having to be coaled, she did cause the old Spanish cruiser Reina Mercedes to scuttle and assisted with the occupation of both Puerto Rico and Cuba.

The 3000-ton largely disarmed Spanish cruiser Reina Mercedes, sunk in Santiago, Cuba 1898 after scuttling following an engagement with the USS Massachusetts

The 3000-ton largely disarmed Spanish cruiser Reina Mercedes, sunk in Santiago, Cuba 1898 after scuttling following an engagement with the USS Massachusetts. She cruiser suffered no less than three direct hits from her 13-inch shells.

Over the next several years she was something of a cursed ship, grounding herself on no less than three occasions as well as suffering explosions in her turret and boiler rooms.

By 1910 she was used only for gunnery training and annual summer midshipmen s cruises around the Eastern seaboard and Caribbean. In 1917 when WWI became very real for the US, she was pressed into service to train naval gun-crews which she did admirably. With the end of the war came the end of her usefulness and in 1919 she was simply renamed the very awe-inspiring and creative  ‘Coastal Battleship No.2′ before being struck on 22 November 1920. The next year she was turned over to the Army, who desperately wanted a battleship to poke holes in

Her guns and coal stores were removed as was anything that was useful. But thats ok, as the Army just wanted her armor intact anyway.

Her guns and coal stores were removed as was anything that was useful. But that’s OK, as the Army just wanted her armor intact anyway.

Scuttled in shallow water near Pensacola, she was within range of the US Army Coastal Artillery positions at Forts Pickens and Fort Barrancas as well as by mobile railway artillery and tons of ordnance were fired at the old ship through 1925 when the Army offered her back to the Navy. The Navy said thanks but no thanks and instead used her for occasional bombing runs by pilots flying out of NAS Pensacola  as late as the 1950s when she finally slipped under the waves for good.

She is now owned by the state of Florida who maintains her as an artificial reef.

As such she is a very popular dive.

Specs:

Displacement: 10,288 long tons (10,453 t; 11,523 short tons)
Length:     350 ft 11 in (106.96 m)
Beam:     69 ft 3 in (21.11 m)
Draft:     27 ft (8.2 m)
Propulsion:

Two vertical inverted triple expansion reciprocating steam engines
4 double ended Scotch boilers later replaced by 8 Babcock & Wilcox boilers
9,000 ihp (6.7 MW) (design)
10,400 ihp (7.8 MW) (trial)

Speed:

15 kn (28 km/h; 17 mph) (design)
16.2 kn (30.0 km/h; 18.6 mph) (trial)

Range:     4,900 nmi (9,100 km; 5,600 mi)
Complement:     473 officers and men
Armament:

4 × 13″/35 gun (2×2)
8 × 8″/35 gun (4×2)
4 × 6″/40 gun removed 1908
12 × 3″/50 gun added 1910
20 × 6-pounders
6 × 1 pounder guns
5 × Whitehead torpedo tubes

Armor:     Harveyized steel

Belt: 18–8.5 in (460–220 mm)
13″ turrets: 15 in (380 mm)
Hull: 5 in (130 mm)

Conventional nickel-steel

Tower: 10 in (250 mm)
8″ turrets: 6 in (150 mm)
Deck: 3 in (76 mm)

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Warship Wednesday March 14

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out every Wednesday for a look at the old steampunk navies of the 1880s-1930s and will profile a different ship each week.

– Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, March 14

Here we have the USS Massachusetts

USS Massachusetts (Battleship No. 2) was an Indiana-class battleship and the second United States Navy ship comparable to foreign battleships of the time. Authorized in 1890 and commissioned six years later, she was a small battleship, though with heavy armor and ordnance. The ship class also pioneered the use of an intermediate battery. She was designed for coastal defense and as a result her decks were not safe from high waves on the open ocean.

Massachusetts served in the Spanish–American War (1898) as part of the Flying Squadron and took part in the blockades of Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. She missed the decisive Battle of Santiago de Cuba after steaming to Guantánamo Bay the night before to resupply coal. After the war she served with the North Atlantic Squadron, performing training maneuvers and gunnery practice. During this period she suffered an explosion in an 8-inch gun turret, killing nine, and ran aground twice, requiring several months of repair both times. She was decommissioned in 1906 for modernization.

Although considered obsolete in 1910, the battleship was recommissioned and used for annual cruises for midshipmen during the summers and otherwise laid up in the reserve fleet until her decommissioning in 1914. In 1917 she was recommissioned to serve as a training ship for gun crews during World War I. She was decommissioned for the final time in March 1919 under the name Coast Battleship Number 2 so that her name could be reused for USS Massachusetts (BB-54). In 1921 she was scuttled in shallow water off the coast of Pensacola, Florida and then used as a target for experimental artillery. The ship was never scrapped and in 1956 it was declared the property of the state of Florida. Since 1993 the wreck has been a Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve and is included in the National Register of Historic Places. It serves as an artificial reef and diving spot.

Displacement:     10,288 long tons (10,453 t; 11,523 ST)
Length:     350 ft 11 in (106.96 m)
Beam:     69 ft 3 in (21.11 m)
Draft:     27 ft (8.2 m)
Propulsion:

Two vertical inverted triple expansion reciprocating steam engines
4 double ended Scotch boilers later replaced by 8 Babcock & Wilcox boilers
9,000 ihp (6.7 MW) (design)
10,400 ihp (7.8 MW) (trial)

Speed:

15 kn (28 km/h; 17 mph) (design)
16.2 kn (30.0 km/h; 18.6 mph) (trial)

Range:     4,900 nmi (9,100 km; 5,600 mi)
Complement:     473 officers and men
Armament:

4 × 13″/35 gun (2×2)
8 × 8″/35 gun (4×2)
4 × 6″/40 gun removed 1908
12 × 3″/50 gun added 1910
20 × 6-pounders
6 × 1 pounder guns
5 × Whitehead torpedo tubes

Armor:     Harveyized steel

Belt: 18–8.5 in (460–220 mm)
13″ turrets: 15 in (380 mm)
Hull: 5 in (130 mm)

Conventional nickel-steel

Tower: 10 in (250 mm)
8″ turrets: 6 in (150 mm)
Deck: 3 in (76 mm)