NMS Elisabeta (1887)

Romania (1899)

Romania’s only cruiser

The flagship of the Romanian navy, the protected cruiser Elisabeta was built in Armstrong, Elswick with a typical design for an export cruiser of the time. The term of “cruiser” seems derogatory compared to those of the 1930 generation, at 1300 tons and 73m long. But has quite a punch with her four 6-inch guns. She was modernized twice, was implicated in the Potemkine mutiny and served actively in WW1. She was eventually scrapped in the 1930s, after about a 45 years career, the first and last Romanian cruiser.

Romanian cruiser Elisabeta 1888
NMS Elisabeta after completion and before refit, in her initial state.

Development and construction of the Elisabeta

Romania became independent following the Russo-Turkish war of 1878. Although there has been a small riverine fleet on the Danube, no Romanian ships was able to defend the country’s eastern black sea coast. The port of Costanza was developed and turned to an arsenal, and the first ship to operate from there was the gunboat Grivita and a schoolship. A few years later the Romanian government planned a first naval extension and passed a naval law, securing fundings for a cruiser.

NMS Elisabeta (honoring Queen consort Elisabeth of Wied) Ordered in May 1887 at Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd. Specifications called for a rather modest export-type protected cruiser, with a classic configuration for the time with four 6-in guns in sponsons fore and aft and a complement of light QF guns and torpedo tubes. She was laid down at Elswick facility Yard number 517 on 17 May 1887, launched on 29 December 1887, Completed in September 1888 and Commissioned on October 1888.

Design of the Elisabeta

blueprint Elisabeta
Blueprint (unknown origin) showing the classic shape of a 1880s cruiser designed by Philip Watts, with the armament in side sponsons and a battery of light guns, 18 knots and a sloped protective deck of 3.5 in. The ship was rigged as a three masts barque. The foremast and mizzen showed fighting tops. The hull was taller than wide, and had a relatively heavy sponsons battery, mostly for stability concerned with four guns.

Hull

Elisabeta displacement was 1,330 long tons (1,351 t), she measured 240 ft 10 in (73.4 m) by 33 ft 6 in (10.2 m) wide, and a 12 ft (3.7 m) draft. These were dimensions of torpedo cruisers rather than protected cruisers, although the latter were generally narrower and lighter. An analogy would be the Holwaldt’ converted Lima and Diogene, Peruvian 1881, 1700 tons cruisers which main battery was amidship in side sponsons. But it was small still. A contemporary also built in the same yard was the Italian Dogali (launched 1885) which was already 2050 tons, armed with six 6-in guns with the difference two pairs were placed fore and aft, and two in side sponsons. Another interesting take in the same generation of Armstrong cruisers were the SMS Panther class, 1557 tons (launched 1885) with a reduced masts and armed with two German 12cm/35 Krupp guns as main armament, also in sponsons.

Protection

It was limited to a protective deck with sloped sides: It was 1 to 2 in (25 to 50.8 mm) on the vertical plan, and thickened at 3-1/2 in (90 mm) on the slopes; There was however a conning tower a the front, with the navigation open bridge built above, which was 3-in thick (76 mm), and thicker Bulkheads of 4 in (102 mm). They protected the central citadel starting fore and aft of the main guns sponsons.

Powerplant

Elisabeta was given two vertical triple-expansion (VTE) steam engines. They drove each a single 2.95 m screw propeller. The Four cylindrical boilers, coal fired, had a total output of 3,000 indicated horsepower (2,237 kW) as designed. This was enough on paper for 16.5 knots (30.6 km/h; 19.0 mph). On 14 September 1888 sea trials took place and on paper Elisabeta was capable of 4,500 ihp (3,356 kW), reaching 17.5 knots (32.4 km/h; 20.1 mph). But she showed actually capable of making 4,714 ihp (3,515 kW), for a top speed of 18.3 knots (33.9 km/h; 21.1 mph) and 18.06 knots (33.45 km/h; 20.78 mph) on average with a total output of 4,271 ihp (3,185 kW) in normal draft, but without her main guns. Her three masts rigging was a backup, but seems to have been rarely used. She carried 322 long tons (327 t) of coal for her autonomy, sufficient in the black sea.

One of the rare photos of the Elisabeta under sails
One of the rare photos of the Elisabeta under sails.

Armament

Armstrong made a proposal for the armament but this was rejected by the Romanian government, as German artillery was preferred. Mostly this decisions was motivated by maintenance and supplies rationale, as Krupp guns largely equipped the Romanian Army back then, which had the bulk of the national budget. Therefore the ships were launched and tested without their armament, and sailed in October 1888 to Galaţi shipyard in Romania, on the Danube.
There, they were equipped by the guns delivered by rail: Four single 15 cm (5.9 in) Krupp guns, four single QF 57 mm (2.2 in) Krupp guns, and four single 37 mm (1.5 in) guns. The origin of the four fixed additional 356 mm (14.0 in) torpedo tube is unknown.

The NMS Elisabeta in service 1889-1920

The final sea trials took place on 19 September 1888 after completion, without armament as it was said. She was commissioned in UK with her crew of 140 sailors and officers in late October 1888 and she sailed for Romania, arriving in the last week of December. She then sailed up the mouth of the Danube to Galaţi shipyards to receive her armament, one year after she had been launched on 29 December 1887.

In 1889 she started a session of summer training voyages around the Black Sea until 1890, leaving time for the crew to train with her recent armament. At the start of 1891 she sailed for five-month in the Mediterranean and represented Romania at the 1892 Columbus celebrations of Livorno, Barcelona and Lisbon. Her tour included France (Villefranche sur Mer, Antibes, Toulon), Italy (La Spezia, Livorno and Palermo) and Spain (Cádiz), Gibraltar and Malta.

In 1894 she returned to the Black Sea for a short refit and resupply and returned in the longer Mediterranean cruise. The next year in 1895, she sailed for Kiel, her first visit to Germany, to participate in the opening celebration of the Kiel Canal. She went on and stopped at Stockholm, receiving the King of Sweden on board. 1896-97 years of service are not known;

In 1898 she started the first Romanian coastal survey before heading to Galaţi for a major refit which lasted between 1904 and 1905. Her sailing rig was reduced to two pole masts, keeping their military masts.
She was present when the Russian battleship Potemkin arrived in Constanța in July 1905. The mutineer tried to convince the authorities and crew to buy the Elisabeta (using their usual onboard gold reserve used to purchase coal and provisions in all ports), which was flatly declined. However no hostility was shown on any side. In all, the Romanian Cruiser stayed passive but fired two warning shots, a blank charge and an explosive charge at the torpedo boat Ismail, als hold by mutineers, when attempting to enter the port and join the Potemkine. She was driven off. The Russian battleship’s crew eventually asks for political asylum and the ship was interned.

In 1906, Elisabeta vwas present in Varna for a ceremony. She took part in naval exercises, carrying an infantry battalion for landing training. At the very end of 1906, the Romanian cruiser returned in harbour to be rearmed, this time, the main guns were removed and replaced by four French Saint-Chamond 120-millimeter (4.7 in), with double the rate of fire and longer range, and four 75 mm (3.0 in) guns in 1907. All the old QF 37-mm (1.5 in) guns were removed.

In 1912, Elisabeta was in Istanbul when the First Balkan War erupted. She landed 130 Romanian marines which secured the Romanian Legation, others the Romanian Consulate, and the remainder 100 took place in the outer sector of the city allotted to Romania for evacuation. Operation went smoothly and take several days, in which the Romanian sailors helped extinguishing a large fire. They also paid hommage and were at the funeral of Sefket Pasha. The Cruiser left Istanbul on 15 July 1913.

Knyaz Potemkin-Tavricheskiy in 1905 at Constanta
The Knyaz Potemkin-Tavricheskiy in 1905 at Constanta

NMS Elisabeta was at Sulina when the Second Balkan War started, and she defended the mouths of the Danube for all the conflict.
When the great War broke out, her main armament was landed, sent to form a coastal battery on the Danube. It was feared indeed an incursion of Austro-Hungarian river monitors. She remained in Sulina under Captain Nicolae Kirițescu for the duration of the war, mostly provided a fixed anti-aircraft defense with her four 75 mm guns, modified for AA fire. She still also had her four 356 mm (14 inch) torpedo tubes and four machine guns forclose defence.

In her AA role at Sulina she helped shooting down a Friedrichshafen FF.33 seaplane in the spring of 1917. The war ceased, treaty were passed in 1919-1920 and NMS Elisabeta was obsolete and it was decided to take her out of service. Officially she was written off in 1920, but stayed in use as a barracks ship at Galaţi, and later she steamed to Sulina for the same task. No longer maintained she was sold for scrap eventually in 1926, but not broken up yet, as she was again used as a barracks ship, this time up to 1929. Her scrapping’s date remained foggy, probably in the early 1930s.

By that time, the Romanian Navy has been thoroughly modernized, acquiring among others several destroyers which made the bulk of the navy. They took an active part in the operations in the black sea, backing up Operation Barbarossa and protecting convoys from and to Sevastopol and the Crimea.

Elisabeta class specifications

Dimensions73,4 x 10,2 x 3.7 m
Displacement1,330t, 1351 Lt FL
Crew140
Propulsion2 shafts VTE, 4 boilers, 3,000 hp.
Speed18 knots. max. (33 km/h; 21 mph)
RangeUnknown
Armament (1914)4 x 120 mm, 4 x 75 mm, 4 TT 457 mm
ArmorDeck 25–89 mm, Conning tower 76 mm, bulkhead 102 mm.

Read More/Src

Stănescu, Crăciunoiu, Marina română în primul război mondial, p. 33 & Modelism, 2000, p. 66
Georgescu, p. 166
Jane’s Fighting Ships WW I, Military Press, 1990, p. 294
Cristian Crăciunoiu, Romanian navy torpedo boats, Modelism, 2003, p. 24
Moșneagu, M. (2010), “Crucișătorul “Elisabeta” în campanie”, Document, 50
Brassey’s Annual
Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1865-1905
https://www.naval-encyclopedia.com/ww1/romanian-navy
http://www.navypedia.org/ships/romania/ro_cr_elisabeta.htm

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