BB-26 South Carolina Class
There is some confusion concerning the nomenclature of this class, since BB-26 South Carolina has pride of numerical precedence, while BB-27 Michigan has chronological preference, having been laid down one day prior to South Carolina, launching a month earlier, and commissioning several months earlier.
The South Carolina class marked the Navy's change from "mixed caliber" battleship designs to an "all big gun" ship with main guns of the same large caliber. Prompted by the development of accurate shooting at what was at that time regarded as "long-range", the adoption of "all-big-gun" battleships was a world-wide phenomenon, represented most dramatically by the 1906 debut of the British battleship Dreadnought, whose large size, turbine machinery, 21-knot maximum speed and main battery of ten 12-inch guns electrified contemporary naval opinion.
Limited in displacement by Congressional mandate, USS South Carolina and her sister, USS Michigan, were essentially the same size as the preceding Connecticut class of what came to be called "pre-dreadnoughts". They also featured the same reciprocating steam engines and 18-knot speed. However, with a main battery of eight 12-inch guns instead of four 12-inch, eight 8-inch and a dozen 7-inch, their firepower was far more effective at any but "point-blank" range.
Though the South Carolinas were actually designed before Dreadnought, their more modest size and speed, and much more leisurely construction, ensured that the British ship would establish the pattern for future battleships, and give their type her name: "dreadnoughts". South Carolina and Michigan were not considered as dreadnoughts by some because of their relatively low speed of 18% knots versus the 21 knots of Dreadnought. All the United States battleships have their big-gun turrets aligned over the keel, and all the foreign navies have now followed this plan in their latest dreadnoughts, a fact which stamps the Michigan as one of the epoch-making designs in naval history.
Probably the most frequently quoted ship of the time, by reasons of its battery arrangement, the USS Michigan, completed by New York Shipbuilding Corporation in 1909, was the first of the modern fleet of battleships. Designed with radically new lines for easy driving, the Michigan, of 16,000 displacement tons, had a length of 453 feet, a beam of 80 feet and a depth of 42 feet. A coal burner with twelve water-tube boilers and two four-cylinder triple expansion engines of 17,617 IHP, she hit a speed of 18% knots. Her armament includes eight twelve-inch guns, and she carries a crew of eight hundred and sixty-nine.
The arrangement of their gun turrets, with one firing over another at each end of a compact superstructure, was far more efficient than that of any of the "pre-dreadnoughts", and, for that matter, of HMS Dreadnought herself. These guns are mounted in four turrets on the center line of the vessel, and so arranged that all can be fired on either side, and four forward and four aft. The main battery consists of eight 12-inch guns in pairs in turrets on the center line. Turret No. 2 fires over turret No. 1 ; No. 3, over No. 4. These ships, developed contemporaneously to the English Dreadnought, are regarded as being superior to it as a type, as through having all turrets on the center line, they are able to fire all guns on either beam. In less than a decade, the superfiring turret became the standard for all nations' battleships.
It was a new and bold departure in the Michigan and Soulh Carolina to place two turrets in each of the supreme positions and to arrange for firing the guns in one turret over the top of the other turret. That arrangement proved successful, however, and has been largely adopted in recent ships of all navies. When associated with the mounting of guns in pairs this system permits the effective use of 8 heavy guns; if 3 guns are mounted in each turret, then 12 heavy guns can be given equal arcs of command and all the guns can be used on each broadside. Thereafter there was a marked disposition to place all the heavy-gun stations at the center line of the deck, so that all the guns may be available on both broadsides. This was a return to a disposition adopted in the earliest British turret ships built nearly half a century earlier. The Royal Sortreign (1862) and the Prince Albert which followed immediately after her, each had four turrets so placed. The United States Navy took the lead in this last movement and further had the credit of demonstrating the possibility of associating powerful bow and stem fire with the maximum of broadside fire over large arcs of training by placing some turrets higher than others and firing over the lower turrets on certain bearings.
The South Carolinas' secondary gun battery, twenty-two 3-inch guns, was intended only for self-defense against torpedo attack by light craft. However, with the rapid contemporary growth of the destroyer, these guns were soon seen to be inadequate, and the anti-torpedo batteries of subsequent U.S. battleships were of five-inch caliber.
The class also introduced the "cage" mast to new construction, though some earlier ships had these masts fitted before South Carolina and Michigan entered service. One novelty in the Michigan pair are the means whereby elevation is secured for observation, signaling, etc. Masts in some form are required. The tripod method was adopted in the Dreadnought. It is not novel, having been advocated by Cowper Coles and applied to the Captain for sailing purposes. It gave less interference with turret-gun fire than ordinary rigging. But the three iron masts forming the tripod are of great weight, and probably mainly on this account the Americans have, in the Michigan, placed two masts constructed like an Eiffel Tower of steel latticework. Though offering a comparatively large target, presumably it is expected that projectiles will pass through without doing great damage, but if the resistance is sufficient to explode a shell a different result may follow." These masts, intended to be highly-resistant to enemy gunfire, would be a distinctive feature of U.S. battleships for the next two decades.
The South Carolina class numbered two ships, both built on the Delaware River. The Michigan (Battleship No. 27), built by the New York Shipbuilding Company, Camden, New Jersey, was a first-class battleship of 16,000 tons displacement, authorized by Act of Congress March 3d, 1905. The contract was awarded July 2Oth, 1906; first plate laid December 17th, 1906; hull launched May 26th, 1908, the sponsor being Miss Carol Barnes Newberry, daughter of the then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Truman H. Newberry, there being present the Governor of Michigan and his staff and a distinguished company of naval officers and citizens. The vessel was delivered to the Government about September 1st, 1909, or about three months in advance of the contract time, forty months.
The contract price for the construction of the hull and machinery was $3,585,000.00, of which sum $2,660,000.00 was allotted to hull and $925,000.00 for the propelling and auxiliary machinery. The contract required an average speed of not less than 18^2 knots in the open sea for four consecutive hours, at a mean draught of 24 feet 6 inches, corresponding to a displacement of 16,000 tons; and twenty-four-hour endurance and coal-consumption trials under the same conditions at 17^ and 12 knots speed, making in all a very exhaustive series of trials. These trials were all accomplished most successfully, and the vessel was undoubtedly the fastest and best battleship in the Navy - a great credit to the builders and the several departments of the US Navy concerned in the work.
The battleship South Carolina cost more than six million dollars. The total value of all the property of its colleges and universities at the time was little more than three millions. The state of South Carolina appropriated $42,220 for public health in the year 1915. The cost of the battleship Michigan was more than six millions, while the value of the grounds and buildings of its universities and colleges is less than that sum, and the productive funds little more than three millions. The hull and machinery alone of the battleship Michigan cost $3,585,000. In 1915 Michigan spent $39,000 on the department of health.
The careers of the South Carolina class ships were unremarkable, but typical of most of their American contemporaries. Though both occasionally visited European ports, and briefly went to the Pacific late in their service, they mainly operated along the U.S. east coast and in the tropical waters of the Caribbean area. Soon outmoded by the rapid pace of battleship development, they spent their final years primarily on training duties and were disposed of in the early 1920s, at an age of just thirteen years.
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