Military


Monitors

In 1862 Ericsson offered to construct for the Chilian government a monitor similar to those under construction for the United States, while later a similar offer was made to the Peruvian Government. With the close of the Civil War Ericsson found still further time to devote to the introduction of this type of vessel into foreign navies, and a considerable part of his time seems to have been occupied with projects of this character, and more particularly with the question of the naval defence of his native land.

As regards the introduction of warships of the monitor type, the results were not so pronounced as might have been expected, and while the influence of the idea is seen in the practice of every maritime nation in regard to the construction of its warships, still, for the most part, the leading nations preferred to make application of the idea in their own way rather than order such vessels direct from their original designer. Yet in not a few cases the original type was faithfully copied, though it is not always clear to what extent Ericsson himself may have had direct contact with their designs.

In 1866 the Swedes were able to test the first of a small fleet of monitors built after Ericsson's plans. This was called the "John Ericsson," and was armed with two 15-inch guns presented to Sweden by Ericsson himself. Later, in 1868, he designed for Spain and superintended the construction of thirty small gunboats for use in Cuban waters.

American naval leadership rested upon ingenious civilian engineers and inventors such as John Ericsson, who designed and built the Monitor. Americans believed the Monitor was the embodiment of sea power, yet the turret and armored hulls had already been developed in Europe. Wrapped in the security of ignorance, America became slave to the Monitor-type. The country had faith in them as major combatant ships long after other nations had recognized that they were only a brilliant improvisation to a specific problem. The main line of naval progress remained in Europe. The US had misread the naval results of the Civil War.

In the French debates of 1870, Dupuy De Lome, one of the foremost naval architects of the day, said: "The American is essentially a local Navy, constructed to meet the exigencies of the war of secession. The monitors are not battle-ships-for ocean service."

To the public monitors looked like an ideal defensive weapon, a relatively inexpensive warship suited to a nation which had no imperial ambitions, but able to ward off any invading great power. A monitor could mount guns as heavy as the largest of a full-size battleship, and a monitor's armor was as thick as that of the largest battleship. The fact that the armor covered the whole ship gave an impression of invulnerability. These factors had broad appeal to the public, with apparently impressive figures for a limited amount of money.

For twenty years after the end of the Civil War the United States did nothing towards the development of a navy on the new lines, watching with much interest the work of the naval architects of Europe, but making no endeavor to emulate them. This might at first sight appear too strong a statement, since a number of new monitors, of superior character to those built during the war, were ordered in 1874. But little was done beyond laying the keels and slowly building up the shells of these vessels, an order for their completion being delayed until 1885, while most of them were not completed and put into commission until 1896.

The Civil War monitors were suited to coast defence only, the fate of the first vessel of this type showing their lack of sea-going powers. This was less the case with subsequent double-turreted monitors, which, but for their low freeboard, bear a general outward resemblance to the battle-ships, their central superstructure and military mast giving them a more formidable appearance than the low-lying craft of Ericsson's original design. Some of these, while still best adapted for harbor defence and coast duties, were employed on the open seas with the war-fleets. The original turret ships of the Monitor type were designed primarily for coastal service, and although many of them made long voyages - the Miantonomoh crossed the Atlantic in 10 days 18 hours, and the Monadnock made the journey round the Cape - this was really all they were suited for.

An important feature of superiority in the American monitor was its complete system of artificial ventilation, which permited all the orifices of the deck to be hermetically sealed except those that admit the air. These are high shot- proof trunks, which exclude the water while admitting the air. This system of ventilation has the advantage over that depending on open hatches or gratings that it permits the sides of the vessel to be made very low, and therefore renders a greater thickness of armor admissible. The larger part of the extra weight, however, is usually expended upon the turret and guns, the low sides presenting a mark difficult to hit, while their overhanging construction protects the lower hull.

Ventilation is provided for by fans, which suck the air in through the shot-proof trunks or tubes, made inaccessible to spray or rain. After traversing every part of the ship, the air is discharged into the furnaces, and finally escapes by the chimney, the lower portion of which is made shot-proof. The cabins are lighted from the deck by bull's-eyes, shutters being provided to cover these lights when the vessel is in action, in which event artificial light is used. Of course, the close confinement of the crew of a monitor is restricted to times of action or storm, they being able to use the deck under ordinary circumstances.

Captain Alfred T. Mahan began in 1883 to publish that series of studies in naval history which won him world-wide recognition and did so much to revolutionize prevailing conceptions of naval strategy. A Naval War College was established in 1884, at Newport, Rhode Island, where naval officers could continue the studies which they had begun at Annapolis.

This new emphasis on long-range offensive operations greatly diminished the doctrinal basis for further construction of monitors, which were grounded in defensive coastal operations. A few still favored and advocated the old monitor type, but the Navy was generally opposed to this class of ships for anything except harbor defence and smoothwater contests. The low free-board of the monitor, while it made for a comparatively small target, brings its guns too near the water, as the sea is never still.

In January 1890 the report of the Naval Policy Board was transmitted to the Senate, involving the construction of some sixty-five armored ships alone. The Policy Board proposed an enormous Navy of the European type. That public opinion at once condemned. They proposed, among other things, forty-two battle-ships. Senator Hale proposed a bill for an eventual force in his report seventeen battle-ships, of which the construction of only eight shall be authorized at once, two coast-defence vessels, two gunboats, and five torpedo-boats. Senator William E. Chandler proposed to move an amendment to the Hale bill substituting monitors for battle-ships. It was proposed by the dissenting minority of the Senate Naval Committee, led by Senator Chandler [who had earlier been Secretary of the Navy], that the United States shall have no sea-going fighting ships, but that the money appropriated for the increase of the Navy at this session of Congress shall be devoted to the building of monitors. The Chandler report spoke for a "well proportioned navy," and ostensibly on this ground it advocated the building of three classes of vessels -- namely harbor-defence vessels, moderate sized cruisers, and gunboats.

The amendments proposed by Senators Chandler and McPherson to the 1890 Naval bill fixed the details of the structure of the monitors. The eight vessels proposed in the Chandler amendment have certain prescribed qualities, viz: Low free-board; Armored with steel or compound armor; Not more than seventeen feet draft; Twin screws; Sea speed of seventeen knots; Four l0-inch or 11-inch guns in turrets or barbettes, with all-round fire; Batteries of rapid-firing guns on deck between towers; Cost, including armament, $2,500,000. The cost suggested would indicate a displacement of not more than 5,000 tons. The eight vessels proposed by Senator McPherson are substantially the same, except that they have 18 feet draft, 12-inch guns, and a 15-inch dynamite gun. These specifications were a variant of those of the BM-6 Monterey.

The recognized type of battle-ship preserved and embodied all the best features of Ericsson's invention, without the latter's defects. It is a turret ship. The heavy guns in its turrets, like those of the monitor, have a clear fire ahead and astern and on both sides; but whereas the monitor's guns were placed so low that the sea washed over the ports, the guns of the battleship can be fought in any sea. The low speed and small coal endurance of the monitor absolutely preclude her from effective cruising; she could neither overtake nor get away from an enemy, and if she started on a cruise of any length her coal would give out long before she got home.

At the beginning of 1898 the fleet of the United States Navy consisted of six battleships, two armored cruisers, thirteen protected cruisers, six steel monitors, eight old iron monitors, thirty- three unprotected cruisers and gunboats, six torpedo boats, and twelve tugs. The Auxiliary Naval Force, headquartered on shore at New York City, consisted primarily of eight old iron monitors stationed at several US ports.

Continued belief in the utility of monitors for certain exigencies of warfare was indicated by the fact that the thirteen monitors remaining from the Civil War, and which for many years had lain useless and decaying in the waters of League Island, were rapidly repaired and brought into service again in the war times of 1898, being stationed for coast defence at various exposed points along the coast. The decay had been superficial only; their engines and other important parts had been kept in order, and little change was necessary to bring these veterans of 1862 again into working order.

The naval appropriation act approved May 4, 1898 (30 Stat. 390), provided: "That hereafter all first-class battle ships and monitors owned by the United States shall be named for the States, and shall not be named for any city, place, or person until the names of the States shall have been exhausted: Provided, That nothing herein contained shall be so construed as to interfere with the names of States already assigned to any such battle ship or monitor." There were subsquently four newly built monitors having the names of States, viz, the Arkansas, Florida, Nevada, and Wyoming.

By 1908 it appeared desirable and appropriate that the battle ships of the Navy rather than those of the monitor type should bear the names of States. On April 18, 1908 an amendment to the naval appropriation bill (H. R. 20471) pending in the House of Representatives proposed a clause which it was believed if enacted will accomplish the desired end.



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