The War of 1898

How the “splendid little war” began

As we know, this war began with the blowing up of the USS Maine in Havana harbor. The explosion later formally identified it as accidental, but the American public then has been pushed “white hot” by the press and recent events, such as the Cuban rebellion led since 1869 against Spanish occupation. Cuba was the last of its former South American colonial empire, shattered by revolutions following Simon Bolivar epic. Spain clung to her last possessions (including the Philippines) in 1897.

USS Maine illustration
USS Maine, author’s illustration

The accident was actually interpreted as a Spanish sabotage, and United States declared war on Spain April 25, 1898, two months after. Originally the Maine has been sent in the harbor of Havana, in order to recover US citizens informally possibly threatened by the general insurrection. Insurgents were then supported covertly by the United States.

Battleship USS Maine at the time of the fatal explosion inside Havana. That bad fortune bring the Casus Belli the Americans waited for. To date, the hypothesis of an accidental explosion of the forward ammunition magazine is accepted my mainstream historians.

President McKinley, without formal proofs, but backed by the press and Congress, had accused the Spanish local authorities of sabotage, making it a perfect Casus Belli. Operations soon started, after a failed negotiation for a Spanish withdrawal from Cuba, naturally refused. Admiral Sampson began a blockade of the North coast of Cuba, preventing the arrival of reinforcements.

Far away though, on 1 May 1898, the U.S. Pacific Fleet attacked the Spanish fleet in the harbor of Manila, the Philippines, under the command of Admiral Montojo, and crushed it without a single loss, to prevent reinforcements from the Spanish Pacific and threatening Spanish colonial interests in the area. The Atlantic Fleet was responsible for the area of Santiago de Cuba, when Cervera’s squadron came from Spain with reinforcements, trying to break the blockade when took place the famous battle of San Juan.


Cruiser Vizcaya. To support its fledgling empire, the Armada (Spanish Navy) was on paper twice as large as the US Navy back in 1898. She was however only a shadow of its former glory, and the total defeat suffered mirrored the crippling Russian losses at Tsushima six years later. New powers challenged old Europe.

This was a disaster for the Spanish navy, which lost its main armored cruisers, and more than half of the fleet. Peace was signed in Paris December 10, 1898. The United States emerged as a protectorate over Cuba, bases in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, and especially Hawaii, the future headquarters of the Pacific Fleet. This was the beginning of the American “imperialism”.

The US Navy in 1898

There are two basic major periods to qualify the United States Navy in the nineteenth century: There is the “Old Navy”, which included ships from some of the wars of independence against England in the Napoleonic era, ships as old as the USS Constitution (“old Ironsides”, 1797), but also all vessels originally designed before, during and after the Civil War of 1861-1865. One thing was sure, the finances of the United States after the secession war did not allow to built a Blue Water Navy to speak of: The years 1870-80 were years of crisis.

It was not until 1890 a semblance of rebirth of what is now called the “New Navy” began, under the influence of thinkers like Mahan and prominent Republicans like “Teddy” Roosevelt. Almost all the remaining units of the Old Navy would be scrapped and a few survivors of the 1870s served as depot or training ship.
From the rebirth of the “Navy” to 1898, it will take eight years, used to provide a real potential and eventually resort as more than a match for its Spanish opponent.

Types

USA

Spain

Ironclads 0 5
Cruisers 3 17
TBs 2 16
Gunboats 3 43
Miscellaneous 32 3

*Small table comparing American and Spanish navies in 1890: It shows the overwhelming Spanish superiority.
* While the two fleets have submersibles, in 1898, they are not included in this table for obvious reasons: At that time it was experimentation: Their military value was purely theoretical.

Types

USA

Spain

Battleships 6 4
Armoured Cruisers 2 6
Cruisers 15 18
Destroyers 0 6
TBs 5 13
Monitors 6 0
Gunboats 16 43
Miscellaneous 20 3

As can be seen, the superiority of the Spanish navy in 1898 is still obvious, at least on paper. But on the battleships, one is truly “modern”, although its design dates back, the Pelayo. In contrast, American battleships are recent and of good quality, which gives a real balance of power 6 to 1. The same applies to the cruisers. Those aligned by Spain are older than ten years and so small that they could be likened to gunboats.

However the American domination in monitors is of little interest in the conflict of 1898, this type of vessel being recorded in coastal defense, not to distant operations, like the whole of American TBs. The apparent dominance of Spain in gunboats also illusory: Thirty of them are small colonial units of less than 100 tons and lightly armed, those of high seas being over-age, while the U.S. units are modern, powerful and designed for the high seas. What is quite instructive in this regard: When the Americans took possession of protected cruisers Spanish Isla de Cuba and Isla de Luzon, they were reinstated in the Navy as gunboats (See fact sheets on the Battle of Santiago and the Raid of Manila).

Battle order of the US Navy in 1898

6 Battleships:
Unquestionably, the highlight of the Navy. They were known to be slower than the armored cruisers, but proved fast enough in front of the old Spanish buildings poorly maintained. There were Texas, Maine, the three Indiana, Iowa. Two other (class Kearsarge) were completed, three (class Illinois) under construction, three more (Class Maine (2)) Scheduled for 1899. The name “Maine” was given shortly after the loss of the first in Havana. Texas, Indiana, Oregon, Massachussetts, Iowa, were all present at the battle of Santiago.

6 Monitors: There were 12 already in service from the end of the Secession war, relegated as second-class monitors. They are bottom of the list. The only monitors worthy of the name in the Navy buildings were modern and high water if able to cross the Atlantic. They were the USS Puritan (1882), initiated in 1876 and completed much later, in 1896. In terms of weaponry, she had the value of a battleship. The four Amphitrite (1896) were in the same case. Finally, the Monterey was in cons but is started in 1889 and completed in 1893. So she was more modern. All of them were much higher than the Puigcerda, who also served as a training ship in 1898. They hardly took part in any act of war but did patrolled.

2 Armored cruisers: Relative disadvantage because the Navy had only two, the USS New York, flagship of Commodore Sampson in the Battle of Santiago, and the USS Brooklyn, flagship of Schley at that battle. The Brooklyn distinguished herself while USS New York, absent from the combat, is practically not involved. Compared to Spanish ships, they were more recent, more accurate, fast but relatively less well protected. In battle a duel to the death between the Brooklyn and Viscaya, ended in the destruction of the latter.

15 Cruisers: Apparent inferiority also the Navy, at least on paper. As noted above, the Spanish units from the 1880s would be classified as “gun” in the Navy. Only Alfonso XII and Reina Regente could bear comparison. They were sometimes old ships, like the two Atlanta (1884), Chicago (1885), Charleston (1888), the Newark and San Francisco (1889), and other more “modern” as the two Baltimore (1888), Olympia (1892), both Cincinnati (1892), the three Montgomery (1893), both Columbia (1893). For good measure, two summers had ordered an emergency at the deteriorating relations between the United States and Spain to Britain, to Armstrong projects, both New Orleans. They will be accepted for service in 1898 (but too late to serve during the war) and 1900. Most distinguished themselves during the great raid on the Philippines in May 1898. In pure tonnage, in armament, quality and modernity, the report was totally in favor of the Navy.

16 Gunboats: These were ocean-going vessels, recent and heavily armed: The Dolphin (1886), the three Yorktown (1889-1890), the Petrel (1888), the Bancroft (1892), the Nashville (1895), the two Machias (1891), the two Wilmington (1895), the two Wheeling (1897), the three Annapolis (1896) brand new, and a fourth class, completing in 1898. They were much larger than their Spanish equivalents, which would have classified as “cruisers”.

No Destroyer so far: The USS Farragut was the first. In 1898, she was under construction. She will be launched in July 1898 and completed in March 1899. The Armada had an incontestable advance in this field.

5 TBs: All Torpedo Boats were of local construction and new, their military value was greater than their Iberian antagonists at least on paper. However, they played no role in the campaign, because of coastal nature and limited range. These were the old Stiletto (1886), Cushing (1890), Ericsson (1894), two of the Foote class (1897), a third would be accepted for service in mid-1898. Several others would be operational before the end of the war, whereas new orders were placed. In total 35 boats would be accepted until 1905.

1 Submersible: The Holland (1897), probably the most famous Anglo-Saxon submarine, was just tested in 1898. She was revolutionary at the time, designed by John Holland, who created a few years later Electric Boat to mass produce these, today’s still the largest manufacturer in the world in this field. She was already more reliable and efficient than the experimental Spanish submarine Isaac Peral.

20 Miscellaneous ships: This is difficult to classify these ships, due to their typology: The most recent and interesting were the USS Kathadin ramming cruiser, launched in 1893 and inspired by ships developed by France and Britain. At this time of passion for antiquity, the spur was favored to the extent that we designed units specifically dedicated to this purpose. The other ship is the only pneumatic guns gunboat/cruiser that ever existed: The USS Vesuvius. She bombarded the port of Santiago de Cuba, but this was her only military action.

Moreover, the lists still included number of older units, used mostly as a training ships, old monitors, used as second-class coastal units, eight of the Passaic class, four of Canonicus class, old sailing sloops, two of the Galena class, USS Marion, Mohican (1876 -85), the first a naval militia school and the second as a more advanced training ship, four Enterprise Class (1874-78), three of which served as training ships, the Alliance, Enterprise, and Essex, and the Adams as a patrol ship, two of the Alert class, and one Ranger, also a patrol ship. All were composite ships (rigging and steam) and low military value.

Requisitions:
In this chapter, detached from the comparison table above as specially chartered for the war and only during that one year of the conflict are different units, armed in haste to the declaration of war: These were the auxiliary cruisers USS (former SS) Saint Paul and Saint Louis, liners of 1894-95, 15,000 tonnes, well armed.

The USS Harvard and Yale (1888), also well armed. They are also the steamers Badger, Buffalo, Dixie, Panther, Prairie, Yankee, Yosemite, dating from 1889 to 1893 and renamed, and converted Yachts as Auxiliary patrol ships (although their speed allows them to be used as scouts), the Dorothea, Eagle, Gloucester, Hornet, Mayflower, Scorpion, Vixen and Wasp (renamed and recent, 1890-1898). They played a definite role in the Battle of Santiago as they accompanied the squadrons of Sampson and Schley on the wings. The Vixen was used as a dispatch vessel with the Admiralty and Schley and Samspon, while USS Gloucester moan down Spanish destroyer Pluton with her two QF 57 mm guns.


Spanish Armada

THE ARMADA (1898)

Well above the U.S. Navy in the 1870s to the 1890s, the Spanish Armada was a serious adversary for a new, still green “New Navy”, and its handful of modern units. In gross tonnage, the Armada was largely on paper over, and the seventh largest in the world (behind the British, French, Russian, German, Italian and Japanese Navies of the time). She was at least equally impressive in 1870, counting seven ironclads, many ships of the line, large frigates and sloops.

Its huge colonial empire, the second behind Great Britain then extended over part of South America but also the Caribbean, Far East and Pacific. Following the epic of Simon Bolivar’s revolutions, Spain gradually lost in the early nineteenth century her main colonies of South America and only remained Cuba in 1898, controlling its possessions in the Caribbean, but also the Philippines in the far east, and also Guam in the Pacific, the Mariana and Carolina Islands being recently purchased by Germany. Her fleets from 1876 were stationed in the Metropolis (Cartagena), on her possessions in the Caribbean in Cuba (Havana) and one fleet was stationed in the the Philippines also guarding her possessions in the Pacific (Manila).

Financial situation deteriorated as an echo of an internal quite turbulent political situation, making Spain an easy victim for the nascent colonial ambitions of the United States, which reach their climax with the election to the White House of George Mc Kinley. Many American businessmen, who have financial interests in Cuba, and support the local insurgents, are actively lobbying for the war and working in secret to find a flaw.

Prow Infantry Maria Teresa This was an unexpected accident, immediately exploited by the press, giving a perfect casus belli: The explosion of the Maine in Havana harbor. The case, probably an accident, became a deliberate attempt of hatred Spain authorities against the American people. The rest is history: the Pacific Fleet (Montojo) of the Philippines was wiped out on May 1 and the Cuban release fleet of Admiral Cervera was defeated July 3, 1898. In a quick succession, the “pearl of the empire” and the bulk of the Spanish colonies in the Pacific (including Guam) fell to the Americans, now “protectorates”, with new precious bases and strategic resources for an expanding naval power.

Armada – Battle order in 1898

-3 Battleships :
A single modern battleship, the Pelayo and two older Ironclads, Numancia and Vitoria, recently overhauled in France, and the very old Mendez Nuñez. Only the first was of a real fighting value, although ranked second class, with a configuration in lozenge unlike British battleships, the others being in a hypothetical “third class”. The Mendez Nuñez, dating back from 1869, was in reserve, used as an officer floating mess and HQ. The Numancia and Vitoria dating from the 1860s, were relegated to coastal defense and none were near to their U.S. counterparts, brand new battleships.


Cruiser Castilla

5 (6) armored cruisers: They are undoubtedly the backbone of the Spanish Navy: These were the Infanta Maria Teresa class (3), the Cristobal Colón (former Italian), and Emperador Carlos V (being tested), while three others were being completed, the class Princesa de Asturias. Only the first was completed, although other sources speak of a final commissioning in 1902, due to extensive testing. But it was afloat in 1898 and adapted to receive the crews. However it was doubtful that it can be operational in time, except in emergencies.

18 Cruisers: This was first of the recent class ships Reina Regente (3), Alfonso XII (3), and oldest 2nd class Isla de Luzon (3), Velasco (6), and Aragon (3). In addition, the Rio de la Plata was under construction in France, and was scheduled to Estramadura Ferrol in 1899.

12 Torpedo Gunboats: This were more precisely the Destructor (1886), Filipinas (1892), the 7 Temerario (1889-1891), and 3 Doña Maria de Molina (1896-1897), brand new, then on trials.

reina cristina
Reina Cristina. She was one of the numerous cruisers and ironclads the Spanish fleet was made of, a former glory of what remained the “Armada” which used to be the most powerful navy in the world during Charles V reign. However, if on the paper this fleet was numerically impressive, ironclads were at best only good for coastal defence, some of the cruisers (like this one) were unarmored and sometimes even unarmed, with obsolete guns, depleted or ill-trained crews, poorly supplied and commanded, but not lacking bravery in any aspects.

6 Destroyers: Some ships of English origin (Two of Furor class) and built in spain (the Audaz 4), brand new.

15 Destroyers: They were older (1878 to Castor, French origin) to 1887 (Ejercito, German original), commanded by unit or in two different sites, mostly British.

1 Submersible: Isaac Peral (1888), named after the talented Jewish engineer who conceived her, preceded by Ictíneo, Narciso Monturiol in 1859. It goes without saying that the Peral was strictly coastal and experimental.

37 Gunboats: Sailing sloop Jorge Juan (1876), gunboats Class Fernando el Catolico (2) and those of class General Concha (4), plus thirty light colonial gunboats 2nd class (less than 100 tonnes and a single gun), the Alvarado, Albay, Alsedo, Almendares, Arayat, Calamianes, Callao, Cocodrilo, Contramaestre, Criolo, Cuba Espanola, Diego Velasquez, Eulalia, Ferrolano, Flecha, Fradera, Glacela, gaditano , Indio, Leyte, MacMahon, Manileno, Mariveles, Mindanao, Mindoro, Pampanga, Panay, Paragua, Pelicano, Pilar, Ponce de Leon, Prueba, Salamandro, Samar, Sandoval, and telegramma.

USS MAINE (1895)
USS Maine
This was the second battleship to enter US Navy service in 1895 was built at NY navy Yard from 1888 to 1889 from a Samuda design originally made for the Brazilian Riachuelo. It was considered not a proper battleship but more a heavy armoured cruiser. Although not a satisfactory design, being a “second rate” battleship, the Maine kept the Echeloned turrets seen in the previous USS Texas, but with more space between them. It was sent to be anchored at La Havana harbor, “showing the flag” during the Cuban revolution. After three weeks it blew up under circumstances which has been clarified far later as an accident in forward magazines, but was also instrumental to forge a casus belli as the Spanish were accused.

  • Weight & dimensions : 6682 t (7180 t FL); 97,23 x 17,37 x 6,55 m
  • Propulsion : 2 shafts VTE, 4 cyl Boilers, 9000 hp, 17 knots.
  • Armour : Harvey belt 12in, barbettes 12in, turrets 8in, CT 10in
  • Armament : 2×2 10in (254 mm), six 6in/30 (152 mm), 7-6pdr (57 mm) and four 356 mm sub TT.
  • Crew : 374

USS NEWARK (1890)
USS Newark
Being officially the C1, first cruiser of a very long line in the US Navy, the Newark was mostly based on a previous steam-and-sail vessel, USS Chicago, and relatively conservative in its design although more successful. With a better protective deck, the Newark was more successful than the Chicago, laid down 6 years before. She was rigged as a barque but the sails were soon removed. She played no active part during the 1898 war and was stricken in 1913, serving as a quarantine Hulk at Providence until being sold in 1926.

  • Weight & dimensions : 4083 t (4592 t FL); 99,97 x 14,98 x 5,74 m
  • Propulsion : 2 shafts HTE, 4 cyl Boilers, 8500 hp, 18 knots.
  • Armour : Complete 2in and 3in amodship protective deck, CT 3in
  • Armament : Twelve 6in/30 (152 mm), 4-6pdr (57 mm), 4-3pdr (47 mm) and 2-1pdr (37 mm) QF guns.
  • Crew : 374

USS CINCINATTI (1892)
USS Cincinatti
Authorized in 1888, these two cruisers were loosely based on the classic Armstrong-Elswick style export cruiser. But they had a single 6 inches gun and her 5in were not as efficient. Commissioned in 1895, they played no active part in 1898 battles. These two small and relatively fast cruisers built in NY navy yard and Norfolk were originally rigged but their fore and aft sails were removed in 1899.

  • Weight & dimensions : 3183 t (3339 t FL); 93,13 x 12,80 x 5,49 m
  • Propulsion : 2 shafts VTE, 6 cyl Boilers, 10 000 hp, 19 knots.
  • Armour : Complete 2in and 2,5in amidship protective deck, CT 2in
  • Armament : One 6in/30 (152 mm), 10x5in (127 mm), 8-6 pdr (75 mm), 2-1pdr (37 mm) QF guns, four 457 mm TT sub
  • Crew : 322

USS SAN FRANCISCO (1890)
USS San Francisco
Almost a sister-ship to the USS Newark, the San Francisco was rigged as a three masted schooner. Its fore and aft 6in guns were not mounted in sponsons, but on the forecastle and poop, but they were rearmed in 1902-03. She was built at Union Iron works, the keel laid down in august 1888 and commissioned in november 1890. She played no major part in the 1898 war and was used as a minelayers in WW1, decommissioned in 1921 and stricken in 1939.

  • Weight & dimensions : 4088 t (4583 t FL); 98,91 x 14,98 x 5,74 m
  • Propulsion : 2 shafts HTE, 4 cyl Boilers, 10 500 hp, 19 knots.
  • Armour : Complete 2in and 3in amidship protective deck, CT 3in
  • Armament : Twelve 6in/30 (152 mm), 4-6pdr (76 mm), 4-3 pdr (47 mm), 2-1pdr (37 mm) QF guns.
  • Crew : 384

USS STILLETTO (1890)
USS Stiletto
This very first American torpedo-boat was purchased after completion by Herreshoff as a private speculation, in 1887. Built in wood, she was fast but unreliable and mainly used for testings. An experimental, wooden hulled torpedo-boat, using coal.

  • Weight & dimensions : 31 t; 28,64 x 3,50 x 0,91 m
  • Propulsion : 1 shaft VC, 1 Almy Boiler, 359 hp, 18,2 knots.
  • Armour : None
  • Armament : Two Howell torpedoes for trials.
  • Crew : 384

USS TEXAS (1892)
USS Texas
Although she was laid down in 1889 and launched in june 1892 at Norfolk NYd, after the Maine, whe was commissioned earlyer, thus gaining the title of first american battleship. Texas fought at the battle of Santiago. This first battleship was relatively weak in european standards, with two single-gunned en echelon turrets. Fought at Santiago, but not seriously tested.

  • Weight & dimensions : 6135 t (6665 t FL); 94,13 x 19,53 x 6,86 m
  • Propulsion : 2 shafts VTE, 4 cyl Boilers, 8600 hp, 17 knots.
  • Armour : Harvey NS 12in protective deck,Turrets 12in, hoists 6in, CT 12in
  • Armament : 2×1 12in (305 mm), 6-6in (152 mm), 12-6pdr (57 mm), 6-1pdr (37 mm) QF guns, 4 356 mm TT.
  • Crew : 508

USS BALTIMORE (1888)
USS Baltimore
USS Baltimore was given the number C3 (older Chicago and Atlanta class were not included in this nomenclature, and authorized in august 1883. In fact she was based on the losing plans of the Elswick design for the Reina Regente, with a high freeboard, aprotective deck about 2,5 to 3 inches and a main armament of 8 in and 6 in guns. Launched in 1888 at Cramp, NY and commissioned in 1890, this cruiser was seen as the most successful design of the 1880s. This ship played no part in the 1898 war, and was rearmed in 1900-1903 with an all-6 in/40 mk.VII armament (seven guns, height amidship and four on the poop and forecastle. She was used as a minalyer in the Atlantic in WW1 decommissioned in 1922 but not sold prior to 1942.

  • Weight & dimensions : 4413 t (5436 t FL) ; 102,11 x 14,78 x 5,94 m
  • Propulsion : Steam only – 2 shafts, 2 HTE Compound engine, 4 boilers, 10750 hp, 19 knots.
  • Blindage : Deck 2,5 in, 4 in amidships, 3 in conning tower.
  • Armament : Four 8 in (203 mm), six 6 in (152 mm), four 75 mm, two 47 and two 37 mm QF.
  • Crew : 386

USS COLUMBIA (1892)
USS Columbia
This class of cruisers built at Cramp with a year between respective commission were approved in 1890 and designed as commerce raiders, with a good speed and great autonomy. They differed by their funnels arrangement, Minneapolis having two of them. However they were often considered undergunned for their size. A class of cruisers which were relatively good steamers, Columbia for example was able to cross the atlantic, from Southampton to Sandy hook in just six days 23 hours, although they had a high coal consumption which led to decommission them from 1907 to 1915.

  • Weight & dimensions : 7357 t (8270 t FL); 125,90 x 17,72 x 6,88 m
  • Propulsion : 3 shafts VTE, 8 cyl Boilers, 21 000 hp, 21 knots.
  • Armour : Belt 2,5-4in, turrets 4in, secondary 2in, CT 5in
  • Armament : One 8in/40 Mk.III (203 mm), Two 6i/40n (152 mm), eight 4in/40 (152 mm), 12-6pdr (75 mm), 4-1pdr (37 mm QF) four 457 mm sub TT.
  • Crew : 477

USS OLYMPIA (1892)
USS Olympia
The cruiser USS Olympia was the most famous during in the entire war, as beeing the flagship of Commodore Dewey, the Hero of the battle of Manilla. She was relatively fast but small and cramped, and not seriously tested during the battle. Authorized in 1888, built at Union Iron Works in 1891-92 and commissioned in 1895, this cruiser was brand new when the war erupted. Protection was guaranteed by 3,5 to 4,5in Harvey nickel steele plates, which would have been probably not sufficient against some spanish ships. However the engines room was well protected by a 4in glacis. She was a good steamer, capable of 17 300 hp on forced draught, giving 21,7 knots. She is famous for beeing the flagship of Commodore Dewey, leading the American squadron in Manila harbor. She is now the only preserved warship of its kind in the world, and can be seen in the Independence Seaport Museum, philadelphia PA.

  • Weight & dimensions : 5862 t (6558 t FL); 104,78 x 16,15 x 6,55 m
  • Propulsion : 2 shafts VTE, 6 cyl Boilers, 13 5000 hp, 20 knots.
  • Armour : Harvey belt 3 in, barbettes 4,5 in, turrets 3,5 in, secondary 4 in, CT 5 in
  • Armament : Four 8in (203 mm), ten 5in (127 mm), fourteen 6pdr (57 mm), six 1pdr (37 mm QF) and six 457 mm aw.
  • Crew : 411

USS FOOTE (1896)
USS Foote
The USS Foote was one of a serie of three torpedo boats, built in 1896 at Columbian Iron Works. They fought during the 1898 war at Cuba and survived WW1. This class was preceded by the US Ericsson (1894) and USS Cushing (1890), both deriving from the experimental Stiletto, the first American Torpedo boat. They were seaworthy but short range boats, with a better speed than previous boats, and fought at Cuba. However, the following Porter (two ships launched in 1897) were faster and better armed. These were all the Tbs available when war broke out.

  • Weight & dimensions : 142 t (155 t FL); 48,76 x 4,91 x 1,52 m
  • Propulsion : 2 shafts VTE, 2 cyl Thornycroft/Mosher Boilers, 3200 hp, 25 knots.
  • Armour : none
  • Armament : Three 1pdr (37 mm QF) and three 457 mm TT.
  • Crew : 20

USS IOWA (1897)
USS Iowa
This battlehip, the BB4, was launched at Cramp in 1896 and commissioned in june 1897, prior to the war. She was generally similar to the previous Indiana class, but with a better distribution of armor, and more powerful, beeing 1 knot faster. She played her part but was not seriously tested during the battle of Santiago. This unique battleship was an improvement of the preview Indiana class. She was better protected and faster, capable of 17,1 knots with forced draught, and recoignisable with its tall funnels. She fought at Santiago, and received a cage foremast in 1909, and its 6 pdrs and TT removed to make way to four 4 in guns. She made some patrols in the atlantic during WW1, was decommissioned in 1919 and used as a radiocontrolled target ship, beeing finally sunk in 1923.

  • Weight & dimensions : 11 410 t (12 647 t FL); 110,47 x 22 x 7,32 m
  • Propulsion : 2 shafts VTE, 5 cyl Boilers, 11000 hp, 16 knots.
  • Armour : Harvey belt 14 in, barbettes 15 in, turrets 17 in, secondary 8 in, CT 10 in
  • Armament : 2×2 12in (305 mm), 4×2 8in (203 mm), six 6in (152 mm), 20-6pdr (57 mm), 4-1pdr (37 mm QF) and four 356 mm sub TT.
  • Crew : 654

USS Oregon (1897)
USS Oregon
The USS Oregon was one of the three Indiana class battleships, authorized under the act of 30.6.1890. This “new navy” prototype was in reality not very successful as for its severe limitations in displacement that hampered some characteristics, like the low freeboard. One one ships turrets were unbalanced with hydraulic training and steam on the two others. They had two chimneys and a military foremast. USS Indiana, Massachusetts and oregon were laid down in 7.5, 25.6 and 19.11 1891, launched in 1893 and commissioned in 1895 (Indiana) and 1895 for the two others. Indiana and Oregon took part in the battle of Santiago but were not seriously tested.

  • Weight & dimensions : 11 288 t (11 688 t FL); 106,95 x 21,10 x 7,32 m
  • Propulsion : 2 shafts VTE, 6 cyl Boilers, 9000 hp, 15 knots.
  • Armour : Harvey belt 18 in, barbettes 17 in, turrets 15 in, secondary 8 in, CT 9 in
  • Armament : 2×2 12in (330mm), 4×2 8in (203 mm), four 6in (152 mm), twenty 6pdr (57 mm), six 1pdr (37 mm QF) and six 356 mm sub TT.
  • Crew : 586-636

ALFONSO XII (1887)
USS Alfonso
The three ships of the class Alfonso XII, were built in Spain from 1881 to 1888, the final delivery slipping largely beyond schedule due to lack of materials. Lightweight ships, they were mostly wooden hulled, reinforced with steel, they did not have armor but 12 watertight compartments along the waterline. Large 162 mm Hontoria guns were mounted laterally barbettes, and they had their fixed torpedo tubes, two in the stern, one in the bow, and two lateral, all submarines. Exceeded in 1898, they were nonetheless in use, the Alfonso XII and the Reina Mercedes are both on the mainland, and the Reina Cristina in Manila. There was also sunk by the American squadron on 1 May 1898. The other two survived until 1900 and 1907.

  • Weight & dimensions : 3042 t ; 84,42 x 13,22 x 10,60 m
  • Propulsion : Steam only – 1 screw, 1 TE Compound engine, 8 boilers, 4400 hp, 17 knots.
  • Blindage : sides max 13 mm steel plating on oak.
  • Armament : Six 152 mm, height 57 mm, six 47 mm QF, five 356 mm TT sub.
  • Crew : 370

ARAGON (1878)
Castilla, Aragon class
These three ships were designed in Spain in 1875, originally as second-class battleships. But by their weak protection and light weaponry upon a wooden construction, they appeared soon more suited as cruisers. Their construction lasted so long (launched in 1879, 1881, and completed in 1885-87) that they were nearly obsolete, retaining their venerable Armstrong smoothbore muzzle-loading 6 inches guns.
Classified as fast unprotected cruisers, or second-class cruisers, Aragon, Navarra and Castilla, built in Cartagena, Ferrol and Cadiz, they differed in weaponry, Aragon artillery was made of 6 162 mm Hontorio ML, while the two others had four Krupps of the same caliber, like their artillery left, smaller guns. The Castilla was sunk at the Battle of Manila in 1898, where she played a minor role (anchored in the harbor but deprived of its propellers, the hull protected by two rotting barges filled with sand…) and the others were withdrawn from service in 1905 and later for the Navarra, who ended her career as a training ship in 1900.

  • Weight & dimensions : 3289 t; 71,93 x 13,41 x 7,20 m
  • Propulsion : Sail and steam – 1 screw, Compound 3cyl TE engine, 4 Boilers, 4400 hp, 14 knots.
  • Armour : Max sides 25 mm
  • Armament : Four 5in (125 mm), Two 4in (120 mm), Two 7pdr and two 6pdr (87 and 76 mm), Ten 7,7 mm Mgs, two 356 mm TT.
  • Crew : 392

CRISTOBAL COLON (1897)
Cristobal Colon
The Colon was a last-minute acquisition to strengthen the fleet of Cuba. She was one of the few Italians armored cruisers successful in export (two in Japan, one in Spain, four in Argentina, in addition to the three Italians). So she was related to the Garibaldi, but had some specific features, including two 254 mm single mounts guns (one front and one rear instead of the twin 203 mm turrets). She was originally built in Genoa by Ansaldo shipyards, christened as Giuseppe Garibaldi (second in this class named after this famous national hero…) and redeemed before completion. Two 254 mm guns were to be fitted on paper, but only one when she was issued before May 16, 1897. She fought and was sunk at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba, the last Italian cruiser to escape the American “trap” at the mouth of the bay, briefly duelling with the battleship USS Iowa, which lost sight of, the much faster Colon, defending herself with the single 254 mm left. But she was finally caught off coast (see Battle of Santiago de Cuba, 03/07/1898), and sunk.

  • Weight & dimensions : 7230-7980t FL ; 111,76 x 18,22 x 7,10 m
  • Propulsion : 2 shafts, 1 VTE engine, 24 Boilers, 14700 hp, 20 knots.
  • Armour : 138 to 50 mm
  • Armament : Single 8in (254 mm), 14 6in (152 mm), Ten 6pdr (76 mm), two MGs, four 450 mm TT.
  • Crew : 370

EMPERADOR CARLOS V (1895)
Emperador Carlos V
She was one of the most powerful ship in the spanish navy in 1898. However she was based in Spain and never had any opportunity to take action against the US fleet. This large and fast ship was built at Cadiz naval yard, and commissioned in 1898. However, she never took action against the U.S. Navy and served in 1914-18 in spain, mainly as gunnery training ship, beeing eventually scrapped in 1933.

  • Weight & dimensions : 9090t FL ; 115,82 x 20,42 x 7,62 m
  • Propulsion : 2 shafts, 4 cyl VTE engine, 4 Boilers, 18500 hp, 20 knots.
  • Armour : Bulkhead 240 mm, sides 160 mm, decks 51 mm, CT 305 mm
  • Armament : Two 11in (280 mm), eight 5,5in (140 mm), four 4,1in (100 mm), four 2pdr, one 1pdr QF guns, 2 Mgs, six 14in (356 mm) TT.
  • Crew : 600

AUDAZ/FUROR CLASS (1896)
Furor
Involved with the squadron of Cuba, the Furor, Terror and Pluto were in Santiago when the American squadron of Admiral Schley came to the pass leading to the port. The fierce battle that ensued saw the destruction of two of these units, the Furor and Pluton, the second after a brief but homeric artillery duel with armed yacht USS Gloucester, and then attacked by the larger guns of the main warships. The Terror was the only survivor of the fleet of Admiral Cervera. Her speed saved her. Of good construction, the other four remained in service well after the Great War: They were disarmed and demolished in 1924-31, after serving in mine-layers. The Furor and Terror were british-built, at Clydebank NY, resembling the “27 knotters”, the standard destroyers of the Royal Navy. However, they were faster and more powerful. The following year, the very same yard produced the Audaz class on the eve of the Spanish-American War. They were the Audaz, Osado, Pluto and Porcupine, and had more to do with the “30 knotters”. However they were fitted with Normand french built boilers, and Porcupine has two funnels.

  • Weight & dimensions : 400t FL ; 66,6 x 6,88 x 1,80 m
  • Propulsion : 2 shafts, 3cyl TE engine, 4 Norman Boilers, 7500 hp, 30 knots.
  • Armament : Two 2,5in (85 mm), four 2pdr, 2 Maxim 20 mm Mgs, two 12in (305 mm) TT.
  • Crew : 67

ISLA DE LUZON CLASS (1886)
Isla de Cuba
They were captured and recommissioned by the Americans and returned to service without change of name, but delivered as a white colonial gunboats, a rank corresponding to the reality of their dimensions. They served for Uncle Sam until 1920 for the Isla de Luzon, Isla de Cuba is sold in Venezuela in 1912. He served in the new building until 1918, and reset, renamed Mariscal Sucre yet He served until 1920. The city remained in Ensenada. She was decommissioned on an unknown date. These three tiny and unprotected cruisers, were built in Britain (Armstrong), launched in November and December 1886 for the first two, Isla de Luzon and Isla de Cuba, and Ensenada in 1887, completed much later in 1892. The first two were all scuttled at the Battle of Manila, May 1, 1898.

  • Weight & dimensions : 1030t FL ; 56,11 x 8,87 x 3,84 m
  • Propulsion : 2 shafts, 2 HTE engines, 2 Boilers, 1897-2697 hp, 14/15,9 knots.
  • Armour : Decks, sides, 45 mm
  • Armament : Two 4,7in (120 mm), four 2pdr, 2 Nordenfelt 25 mm Mgs, three 12in (305 mm) TT.
  • Crew : 164

JORGE JUAN (1876)
Jorge Juan
In 1898 they had their sails removed. The Barcaiztegui was wrecked after hitting a reef off Cuba in 1895 and Jorge Juan remained in Spain during the war. He was laid up at unknown date, probably before the First World War. These two wooden ships, rigged as three-masted barquentines, Jorge Juan and Sanchez Barcaiztegui, were ordered at La Seyne Navy yard in Toulon and commissioned in 1877. They were the only sloops in service in the Spanish navy.

  • Weight & dimensions : 920t FL ; 63,72 x 9 x 4,72 m
  • Propulsion : 1 shaft, 1 HTE engine, 2 Boilers, 1100 hp, 13 knots.
  • Armour : Decks, sides, 20 mm
  • Armament : Six 4,9in (158 mm), Two 6pdr, 2 Nordenfelt 25 mm Mgs.
  • Crew : 146

NUMANCIA (1865)
Numancia
In 1895, Numancia masts were shortened. Then in 1897-98, the ship was entirely rebuilt at La Seyne. Her main mast was removed, her original masts replaced by two heavy french style military masts with gunned armored tops, and received new machines, giving 13 knots. But as she was ready, the Spanish-American War ended. Numancia was used as a Coastal defence ship and then training hulk until 1906 and never left the port after 1909. She remained in commission until the early 20s and was scrapped.

  • Weight & dimensions : 7200t FL ; 96 x 17,37 x 8,22 m
  • Propulsion : 1 shaft, 1 HTE engine, 6 Boilers, 6000 hp, 13 knots.
  • Armour : Composite armour plating on oak hull, Sides, 280 mm, decks 80 mm, CT 250 mm
  • Armament : Four 5,5in (163 mm), six 4,9in (140 mm), three 4,7in, twelve Nordenfelt 25 mm Mgs, two 305 mm TT sub.
  • Crew : 400 (512 as training ship)

PELAYO (1893)
pelayo
Despite its odd design, the Pelayo was the most modern of any Spanish battleship and its potent (although slow firing) 317 mm (12,5in) long-range Schneider-Creuzot guns were more than a match for any American battleship. Canet system allowed them to be loaded in any position. In 1897 she was refitted at La Seyne with 16 more effective Niclausse boilers. A more uniform 5,5in battery was fitted. However, despite its qualities, the Pelayo remained in Spain and took no part in the conflict. This relatively modern battleship was built in france at La Seyne in 1885-87 on French plans. With her typical lozange-like artillery and single turrets with Canet system, and sloping armor, she was not well-balanced comparing to the more homogeneous American counterparts.

  • Weight & dimensions : 9745 t ; 102,04 x 20,20 x 7,58 m
  • Propulsion : 2 shafts VTE, 12 Boilers, 9600 hp, 16,7 knots.
  • Armour : Creusot steel – belt 11,5 in, barbettes 15in, shields 3in, CT 6,5in, decks 2,5in.
  • Armament : Two 12,5in (317 mm), two 11in (280mm), one 6,4in (162 mm), Twelve 4,7in (120 mm), five 6pdr (57mm) QF Revolver, 14 Mgs, seven 356 mm sub TT.
  • Crew : 520

ARIETE (1886)
Ariete
Two Thornycroft-built torpedo-boat destroyers. Built in 1886-87 Thornycroft, two destroyers (Ariete and Rayo) first class, were the largest and fast in operation before the 1912 series. Commissioned in 1898, they were both lost by a wild fire in 1905 that was spread from one to another.

  • Weight & dimensions : 3450 t ; 78,80 x 16 x 3,40 m
  • Propulsion : Steam only – 2 screws, 2 Compound TE engines, 2 Boilers, 1300 hp, 26,5 knots.
  • Armour : none
  • Armament : Four 47 mm QF Revolver, two 356 mm bow TT, two spare torpedo reloads.
  • Crew : 25

REINA REGENTE (1887)
Reina Regente
This class was also composed of Alfonso XIII (1891) and Lepanto (1892). The latter was completed in 1895. On trial they attained 18,5 knots their natural draught (20,5 knots on forced draught). Like the previous Alfonso XII, the construction of these cruiser slept largely beyond schedule as they took 6 years to be completed. Although bigger and more effective than the Alfonso XII, They were nearly obsolete on commission.

  • Weight & dimensions : 4725 t ; 96,62 x 15,24 x 6,21 m
  • Propulsion : 2 shafts HTE, 8 boilers, 11 500 hp, 20,5 knots.
  • Armour : Decks 4,5in, sides 1in, gunshields 3in.
  • Armament : Four 7,9in (200 mm), six 4,7in (120mm), six 6pdr (57 mm) QF, six 20 mm Nordenfett Mgs, five 356 mm TT sub.
  • Crew : 440

TEMERARIO (1889)
Temerario
This class was also composed of Alfonso XIII (1891) and Lepanto (1892). The latter was completed in 1895. On trial they attained 18,5 knots their natural draught (20,5 knots on forced draught). Like the previous Alfonso XII, the construction of these cruiser slept largely beyond schedule as they took 6 years to be completed. Although bigger and more effective than the Alfonso XII, They were nearly obsolete on commission.

  • Weight & dimensions : 562 t; 58 x 6,76 x 3,16 m
  • Propulsion : 2 shafts VTE, 4 boilers, 2600 hp, 19 knots.
  • Armour : Decks and bulkheads 1,5 in.
  • Armament : Four 4,7in (120mm), four 6pdr (57 mm) QF, one 25 mm Nordenfett Mg, two 356 mm TT.
  • Crew : 91

VITORIA (1865)
Victoria
Originally she was designed to bear a thirty 68pdr SB guns (approx. 250mm) broadside, but plans were altered and she was completed with a central battery of eight 9in. After her rebuilding at La Seyne, she was fitted with two military masts with small armoured tops for light Mgs. She was used as costal battleship, then training ship in 1900 to an unknown date. This sole centre battery Ironclad was built by Thames iron Works in 1863-65 and commissioned in 1866. In 1897-98 she was entirely rebuilt at La Seyne and re-commissioned too late to take part in the conflict, with the following specifications.

  • Weight & dimensions : 1152 t; 64 x 9,75 x 4,20 m
  • Propulsion : 1 shaft HC, 4 cyl boilers, 1500 hp, 13 knots.
  • Armour : none.
  • Armament : Four 4,7in (120mm), four 6pdr (57 mm) QF, one 25 mm Nordenfett Mg, two 356 mm TT.
  • Crew : 173

VIZCAYA (1890)
Vizcaya
Completed in 1890-91 they were some of the most heavily armed cruisers in the world and posed a real threat for the American fleet. However, if their protection was thick, it was not well-distributed. The armoured belt extended only two third of the total length and was narrow, the protective deck was flat and curved in the extremities but low-based, and consequently their high unprotected freeboard suffered badly during the battle of Santiago were all three were sunk. The Infanta Maria Teresa (or Vizcaya) class formed the bulk of the armoured cruiser force during the war. The class comprised also Vizcaya and Almirante Oquendo, all built at Bilbao. With a good balance of protection, armament, speed, they were seen as the best spanish warships in 1898.

  • Weight & dimensions : 6890 t; 110,94 x 19,87 x 6,6 m
  • Propulsion : 2 shafts VTE, 8 cyl boilers, 13700 hp, 20,2 knots max.
  • Armour : Belt 10-12in, barbettes 9in, CT 12in, decks 2-3in.
  • Armament : Two 11in (280 mm), Ten 5,5in (155 mm), eight 12pdr (76 mm), ten 3pdr (37 mm) QF Hotchkiss revolver, eight 25 mm Nordenfelt and two maxim Mgs, eight 356 mm TT sub.
  • Crew : 484

First steamers (1801-1819)

Early Steamers of the Industrial Era


The Aerolipile was the earliest known attempt to devise a practical steam engine. This simple device created by Hiero of Alexandria in Hellenistic Egypt turned steam to a rotating motion in the 1st century AD. However there was no real control, and despite the speed of the contraption, brute horsepower was negligible. However some archeological researches and text re-reading (plus the amazing discovery of the Anthykitera mechanism) went as far as pretending the Greeks used routinely steam power to open doors or create special effects in Temples, 2400 years from now, not to mention Archimede’s “steam cannon” purposely built during the Siege of Syracuse.

In any case, this new form of energy was (re-)born after the intellectual bubbling of the Enlightenment. Despite the absolutism, such engineering was well seen by Royal power, especially in France. Experiments went in just about every field and names like Denis Papin and his steam digester, Faraday, Thomas Newcomen, Thomas Savery.

James Watt's engine animation
James Watt’s engine animation

The French Cugnot created the first “steam trolley”, great-great ancestor of the automobile. A steamboat was described and patented by John Allen in 1729. James Watt was the first to adapt a steam engine to a ship and transmitted the force (still derisory) to the rotation of two-wheeled blades, the first naval paddle wheels. William Henry of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, made an engine ans tested a steamboat in 1763. Twenty years after, he probably inspired D’Abbans Pyroscaphe. This will initiate exactly at the dawn of the nineteenth century an industrial revolution that will change the face of the world and make it a much smaller place.


1836 British patent for a steamship.

It will take another thirty or forty years before the steam was serviced daily in navigation. The regularity brought by steam power, this autonomy towards meteorology, was the only great revolution in naval transport, and will enable modern passenger transport.

Francis Petitt Smith patent for a screw propeller, 1836
Francis Petitt Smith patent for a screw propeller, 1836.

The mixed vessels sail/steam would become be a reality despite certain mistrust and strong traditionalism, conservatism of the maritime sphere. The “steam-only” ships from Fulton in 1801 were the few that followed were seen as a bit radical, as this new power took decades to reach reliability and power, both in the civilian and military fields. Until at least 1885 ships had been using a mixed solution. Although they were accepted for regular lines on the civilian lines from the 1830s, Navies only adopted it past the 1850s when the Crimean war broke out. That was only for the arrival of the propeller screw, since fragile paddle wheels were too unprotected for military purposes.


SS California, first Pacific line paddle steamer (1848)

First Steamers:

In short, here are the ships that will be covered:
First experiments by Symington, Fulton, Bell, and D’Abbans.
-Charlotte Dundas, Pyroscaphe, Clermont,Comet, Savannah.
-First Military Steamers like HMS Rising Star, Sphinx,
-American Paddle Steamers of the Mississippi.


SS Archimedes, the first screw-propelled ship.

First “packet-ships” (to come later)

  • Archimedes (1838): first propeller liner
  • The Great Western (1837): first regular line liner
  • The Great Britain (1843): First liner with iron hull and propeller

Pyroscaphe

Pyroscaphe (1783)

Undoubtedly one of the first steamers, the Pyroscaphe was a riverine adaptation of the Newcomen steam engine perfected by Marquis Claude François de Jouffroy d’Abbans. As early as 1774, the engineer had attempted to sail a first ship, but the engine was so weak that the current countered her action. Later, he made a much more ambitious new endeavour by scaling up his whole design. The large vessel (45 meters long) was propelled by a double action cylinder, and two large paddle wheels. Built by Antoine Frerejean, his crew consisted of just three. He made a first attempt on the Saone on 15 July 1783, but the machine stopped working after 15 minutes, putting an end to the project.

Charlotte Dundas (1801)

The first “operational” steamship. Not the work of Thomas Fulton, but of another late-century pioneer enlightment, William Symington. He had specialized in the mechanics of water mills, mine pumps, and had derived from it a compact, reliable steam engine. Means of propulsion he imagined was rather the vane wheel, in which a cylinder rotated via an articulated shaft, as early as 1793. His sponsor having finally retired from the project, his system remained without application for years until the Director of the Forth & Clyde Channel Co., Lord Thomas Dundas, was drawn via Captain Schrank who had devised a model of a tugboat equipped by the Symington machine.

Named after the director’s daughter, the tug was successfully tested in 1801 on the Carron River, after being revised and corrected with a new horizontal machine. The wooden vessel was 17 meters long by 5.5 wide with a draft of 2.4 m. The hull was cut open for the paddle wheel. The final ship was built in 1803 by John Allan and the machine by the Carron Co., making its first crossing with several officials on board including Lord Dundas, the project leader. Two months later, he towed two 70-tonne barges along the Forth & Clyde Canal to Glasgow, with an average of 3 kph, despite a contrary wind that stopped all ships making the same voyage. Proof was made of the reliability and efficiency of steam.

Despite this success, there were no other uses of the tug, as the company feared an erosion of the banks of the canal because of the waves raised by the ship. The Duke of Bridgewater, who owned a company on another canal, was also interested, but he died before the project could succeed. The Dundas was abandoned by its owner until 1861, when it was demolished, and Symington was never paid to match his personal investments. But this brilliant British pioneer had paved the way and inspired other engineers, including the American Fulton

Clermont (1807)

Thomas Fulton is now considered the “steam pope”, but in reality he was only one of the many engineers who, from the beginning of the eighteenth century, had boldly set out to discover the energy of steam. On the other hand, he was the first to design a viable steam-powered ship, in a history marked by disappointments, capsizing, fires, explosions… An American, Fulton was merely a pragmatic observer inspired by inventions that synthesized the best mechanical compromise.


Fulton’s Clermont replica.

Robert Livingston, a wealthy politician and investor from New York who obtained exclusive Hudson navigation rights and was invited to attend Fulton’s demonstration on the seine in 1803. Impressed, he signed with Fulton a first Contract for the construction of a steamship derived from its experiments.

Called first North River Steamboat, then North River Steamboat of Clermont, and commanded by Captain Andrew Brink, the ship made a two-day connection between Abany and New York. It had been built at Charles Brown of New York with British machines of Boulton and Bimingham Watt. It measured 40 m by 4.90 m with 2.10 m draft. He carried two masts rigged with sails in the third, in case his machines stopped working…

Welcomed with skepticism, the ship was nicknamed “Fulton’s folly” or “Fulton’s monster”. During her crossing, she was met by weary sailors onboard other ships but was cheered by the public massed on the banks all along its route. After such spectacular success, Fulton secured the construction of two sister-ships for their operating company, Neptune’s chariot, and Paragon, in 1809 and 1811. None of them knew of any accident, and they survived their inventor, who died in 1817. Commercial exploitation of steam navigation had just begun.

Comet (1812)

Henry Bell was a famous Scottish engineer, born at Tophichen in 1767, and one of the great pioneers of steam in Europe. In 1808 he moved to Helensburg, with the takeover of a public bath establishment managed mainly by his wife, because the financial security that it was procuring allowed him to go about his experiments on steam…

In 1812 he made for Sir John Wood & Co at Fort Glasgow Clyde navigation company a 13-meter steamship equipped with a 3-horsepower engine, named after the great comet that had been visible that same year in The European sky. She made her first trip from Greenock to Glasgow, boarding passengers, and inaugurating the first regular steam line in Europe.

One of the original features of his ship was that it had no mast, the chimney in place, to the point where a square sail on a yard and a jib were attached. Propulsion was carried out by sidewall impellers. In spite of a derisory speed and a contrary wind, the first crossing was a great success, which was followed by the establishment of new companies and new steamers in record time. The Clyde quickly became the most steaming river in the world. However, the Comet was re-engineered in 1819, but eventually failed on benches of Craignish Point near Oban which it served. The Comet II, built in 1820, hit the steamer Ayr near Gourock in 1825 and sank rapidly, with its passengers and crew, making 62 casualties. This drama marked Bell deeply and prompted him to withdraw from the world of steam.

Savannah (1819)

This steamer, which can be considered the first transatlantic, was the common invention of the engineer Stephen Vail, who had worked with Stephens and Fulton, and Commander Moses Rogers, a visionary vapor-friendly. The two men founded the Savannah steamship Cie around the dream of building from operating the first transatlantic ship. Revolutionary, the ship was in relation to the vapors of his time in the sense that it retained the classical mature of a single-passenger ship of the time, its machine being seen as “auxiliary”. In this way, the sail carried out the main part of the propulsion, the machine taking over as soon as the wind conditions were no longer favorable.

It also saved space thanks to the lower quantity of coal on board, but also a regularity of service which opened up new prospects for commercial shipping. Finally the concept was relatively safe at the time or explosions and machine breakdowns were commonplace.
Built by the Fickett & Crockett shipyard in Corlears Hook, New York, the fairly conventional vessel had a slightly larger draft, which meant only 30 meters long for 8 wide and 320 tonnes. Modest, but the customers paid dearly for such a crossing, faster than any other ship, in facilities of a luxury novel at the time, only equaled by some yachts…

Its chimney’s top was steerable according to the wind force, in order to prevent its smoke from blackening the sails and its wheels actuated by chains, disassembled and placed on deck in case of sailing on wind power alone, their pivot and moorings being removable in the hull. Rogers, who was a mechanical enthusiast, took a close look at the construction, inspecting with great attention every piece of the machine built at Boulton and Watt in England, then the most famous firm in the world.

At the end of February 1819, the steamer made his first tests with a great success. The concept seemed validated for its promoters. On March 28, the ship left Savannah for her home port in New York, receiving enthusiastic press acclaim and President Monroe’s visit with War Minister John Calhoun. The former suggested that the government should exploit her on the Florida line, but Cuban piracy at that time made considered this exploitation too dangerous.

On the commercial side, however, Savannah’s beginnings has been calamitous. She first failed to find a crew, frightened by the mixture of steam and traditional rigging, and the nickname given by many sailors of “steam coffin”. Eventually men were recruited in the city of new London, where the first master Stephens Rogers thought finding reliable men. The crew recruited, remained to convince passengers, equally frightened by the concept and mixture sail/steam, despite the comfort announced.

Finally on May 22, 1819, the passengers and crew aboard, the ship made her first trip, an inaugural journey that would take her from New York to England, Sweden, Russia. The little habit of seeing smoke in the middle of sails would cause an Irish station lookout to report a fire. An epic attempt was made to “rescue” the presumed lost ship, shooting warning shots to the prow, as reported in his newspaper commander Rogers. The arrival in Liverpool was warm, the press being more enthusiastic than the officials. The voyage had lasted 28 days, of which 18 had been steamed, the machine proving reliable, but the voyage duration time was greater than that of many sailing ships over the same distance. This was attributed to contrary weather. The ship was in fact twice as fast than on sail power on a calm day.


Diagram of the Savannah

The relative coldness of official authorities, was imputed to insistent rumors that the ship was a gift from the American government to the Tsar, or was to be rented by Jerome Bonaparte to deliver his half-brother from his long exile in Saint Helena. The arrival of the Savannah in Sweden was no Less enthusiastic. King Charles XVI (formerly Marshal Bernadotte) offered to buy the ship for $ 100,000, which Major Rodgers declined, estimating the total cost of the ship and its operation, far superior…

During her crossing to Russia in the Baltic, she enthused one of his passengers, Lord Graham, a famous general of Wellington. He was astonished by the speed with which the ship changed from “sailing” to “steam” mode in less than a quarter hour.

At St. Petersburg the reception was even more grandiose. The Tsar and his court made numerous “sea parties” and cruises aboard the ship. The latter made an unprecedented proposal, not even dreamed of by a Fulton years earlier: The exclusive commercial concession of Russian waters, from the Baltic to the Pacific. As a good family man, who wants to remain in his country, Rodgers declined the offer, not without regrets. On his return the ship passed through Copenhagen and Norway. But in the long run the SS Savannah was a commercial failure. No doubt the clientele was not ready.


SS Savannah from Chatterton

There were no other attempts at transatlantic operations on the part of the Americans before 1845 on comparable ships. Stephen Veil was never totally paid for the investments made, and the situation even worsened for the company, victim of the serious fire that devastated the city of Savannah. Attempt was made to sell the ship to the government, but President Monroe finally declined it. The ship passed under a new commander, but after two years of service she was grounded and permanently lost on Long Island reefs. Thus ended a glorious pioneering attempt, before the frenzy of “steamships” that will explode much later in the century, and was definitely going to revolutionize the crossing of the Atlantic.