27 March 2023:
End of March, friends, and Spring looms! I am sure all you folks in the "colder parts" are ready for some flowers, easy breezes, and warming water. Here in Florida, USA, we have enjoyed just those things pretty much all winter. Last post we talked about the Battle of Gallipoli in WWI; this week, we go back a bit further, and talk about the very famous "Battle or Hampton Roads" - more popularly known as the fight between the Monitor and the Merrimack (Virginia) which, while offering history no winner or loser, did forever change the construction of warships around the world.The anniversary of this famous battle was a couple of weeks ago. From "Emerging Civil War:"
[About the Union ironclad Monitor:]
e ironclad almost sank on the trip from New York to Hampton Roads a few days before the battle when a severe gale with huge waves dumped tons of water down the short vent and smoke stacks.
Wet drive belts began slipping and blowers stopped. Boilers were deluged in sea water and deprived of air. Steam pressure plummeted; the interior filled with smoke; engines slowed and stopped; pumps were useless, and water began filling the iron enclosure.
Fortunately, the tow ship pulled them into calmer waters where machinery could be restarted. This was in engineering terms a potentially catastrophic “single point of failure.” Taller stacks would be installed later.
In inventor John Ericsson’s design, the 160 tons of turret was suspended by diagonal braces from and rotated on its central spindle, driven by auxiliary steam engines on large gear wheels underneath.
The spindle would be jacked up for combat, floating the turret a few inches clear of
the deck. Otherwise, the turret would be
lowered to rest the circumference on a brass ring in the deck, where it could
not rotate and proved to be not very watertight.
A British naval engineer developed a superior design with the turret rotating on large iron or steel ball bearings around the base. This concept would supersede Ericsson’s creation in subsequent warships.
[CSS Virginia nee Merrimack]
The CSS Virginia was constructed on the deep-draft hull and engines of the former steam frigate USS Merrimack, which severely limited her maneuverability in shallow waters like Hampton Roads. Monitor could run rings around her.
After recovering Merrimack from the bottom of the Elizabeth River, Confederates cut her down to the waterline, built a new gundeck, and covered it with an iron casemate. The “knuckle” where casemate joined hull was considered a particularly vulnerable area.
Virginia was heavily armed with six IX-inch Dahlgren smoothbores from Merrimack along with two new 6.4-inch and two 7-inch Brook rifles.
The ongoing revolution in naval armaments produced a confusing mix of ever larger guns with heavier powder charges firing both solid shot and explosive shells through smooth and rifled bores. Containing the increased chamber pressures was a serious problem leading to many a burst gun.
The U.S. Navy’s leading ordnance expert, Lieutenant (later Rear Admiral) John A. Dahlgren designed a gun with increased thickness at the breech called the “soda bottle” for its distinctive shape. The IX-inch Dahlgren became the standard naval weapon; Monitor was armed with XI-inchers, and some XV-inch models were carried on later-class monitors.
The Confederacy’s answer to Dahlgren was John M. Brooke, one of the most talented U.S. Naval officers to go South. In addition to leading the conversion of Merrimack to the ironclad Virginia, he designed the highly successful Brooke Rifle with wrought iron bands heat shrinked on a cast iron bore to contain chamber pressure.
Brooke also designed armor-piercing projectiles called “bolts.” They were solid iron or steel cylinders with a blunt nose to reduce ricochet and deliver maximum smashing power to an enemy ironclad.
Due to severely limited resources, Brook prioritized production of explosive shells for use against wooden warships, and therefore had no bolts on hand that morning of March 9. He always maintained the bolts would have penetrated Monitor‘s armor.
For those of you with an interest to further explore this subject, the turret and gun from Monitor have been recovered from where the ship sank after the battle and are on display at the Newport News Maritime Museum in Virginia, along with life-sized mockups of the two ships. A very impressive display - as is everything in this wonderful museum!
|Monitor's gun shortly after recovery|
Until next time,