In 1890 and 1891, two cruisers of a new type, the Columbia and Minneapolis, known as commerce-destroyers or " pirates," were laid down. This type of cruiser, typified by the USS Minneapolis & Columbia, was characterized by high speed, long endurance, moderate protection and light armament. They were designed for one purpose, commerce destruction. The fast, protected cruiser, Columbia, was claimed to be the most formidable war-vessel in the world when she was launched in 1892. As their name denotes, their primary object is to prey upon trade, and they are given an armament so feeble that they can scarcely hope to encounter any ordinary protected cruiser of their size with success. As a consequence of their weak battery, and to overtake merchant steamers, they have very powerful engines, triple screws, and a high nominal speed. The Columbia has done 22'8 knots, and the Minneapolis 23'07, on trial.
The Cramp shipyard of Philadelphia enhanced its reputation as the premier maker of modern ships in the naval program of 1890 with the construction of the battleships USS Indiana and USS Massachusetts, armored cruiser USS New York, and protected cruiser USS Columbia. Cramp-built vessels comprised three of the five capital ships that defeated the Spanish fleet in 1898 at Santiago de Cuba, an event that heralded America's emergence as a great power.
Except for their armament and protective deck, they resemble very closely in build an Atlantic liner. They have light masts without tops. The Protected Cruiser C-12 Columbia was a high speed cruiser for her day, with excellent range at normal cruising speeds. The protective deck is 4 inches thick on the slopes, and 2 inches on the flat; there is also a cellulose-packed cofferdam surrounding the ship. The horse-power is 21,000, and 2450 tons of coal can be stowed, giving a very large radius of action.
The Columbia was built for high speed, though when she operated at high speeds her coal consumption was quite large, reducing her operational endurance. She was relatively lightly armed and lightly armored, a combination typical of the characteristics of a commerce raider. These characteristics made her somewhat undergunned and under armored for any major squadron-to-squadron action.
During the Spanish American War, however, she saw little actual combat, doing little more than convoying troops to Puerto Rico. Columbia, whose very powerful engines made her expensive to operate, was only occasionally in commission during the Twentieth Century's first decade and a half.
She was reclassified as CA-16 on July 17, 1920, and renamed Old Columbia on November 17, 1921.
The Minneapolis, a sister ship to the commerce destroyer, Columbia, was launched August 12, at Philadelphia, in the yard of Win. Cramp & Sons Ship and Engine Building Company. The Minneapolis was christened by Miss Washburn, in the presence of Mayor Eustis, of Minneapolis, Vice-President Stevenson, Secretary Herbert, and others. The new vessel was 412 feet long, beam 58 feet, mean draught 22 feet 6.5 inches, displacement 7,350 tons, indicated horse power 21,000.
The hull is steel and has a double bottom, with considerable space betxveen the two skins, this space being divided by numerous bulkheads into watertight compart- ments. The Minneapolis is, before all, a commerce destroyer, and is not intended to fight, so she is not armored. Her conning tower is of mild steel and her protective deck is a variety of turtleback, and is 4 inches thick on the sloping portion. The gun shields are 2 inches thick, or only sufficient to protect the gun crews from the fire of machine guns. Patent fuel will be stowed to a thickness of 5 feet around the machinery.
The armament consists of one 8-inch standard breech-loading rifle, two 6-inch rapid-fire rifles, and eight 4-inch rapid-fire rifles in sponsons, four firing ahead, astern, or on either broadside. The secondary battery is composed of twelve 6-pounders, four 1 pounders, and four Gatling guns. The vessel is provided with five torpedo launching tubes. The 6-inch guns are loaded at one operation, as fixed ammunition is used, the powder and shot being combined in an immense cartridge, standing nearly 6 feet high.
The Minneapolis was driven by triple screws. Two of the screws are located as usual, one under each counter, a considerable distance above and away from the line of the keel and forward of the stern post. The third screw is placed in the midship line, close down to the keel and just forward of the rudder. Each of the three engines is independent of the others, and is contained in a water-tight compartment. The midship screw was used under ordinary circumstances, as this screw drives the vessel at a speed of ten knots an hour with great economy of fuel. The use of all three engines sent the speed up to twenty-one knots an hour. The Cramps expected the Minneapolis to make twenty-three knots on her trial trip, which would insure her builders $400,000 as prize money in addition to the contract price of $2,690,000.
When she was launched, there was probably only one vessel afloat which could lead the Minneapolis an unfruitful chase the Campania; but owing to the unwarlike appearance of the Minneapolis, it would, doubtless, be possible to creep within range of the ocean greyhound, and once in range, any superiority of speed would be of little avail. The Minneapolis cannot only run away from a line-of-battle ship but can lead such a vessel a chase that would soon consume all the available fuel. The nominal radius of action of the Minneapolisthat is, the distance that she can steam without recoaling will be 26,240 miles. This is the theoretical radius; but without doubt the Minneapolis will have a practical cruising radius of 15,000 miles. It is upon this wonderful power of making long runs, half way round the world if necessary, that the Minneapolis will deserve the name which she bears equally with the Columbia, of the Pirate. This name is, of course, not officially recognized by the Department of the Navy, but was given by the ship-builders when the vessels were only known as cruisers Nos. 12 and 13.
The type has been sharply criticised, in particular by Rear-Admiral Meade of the United States' Navy, who considered these ships no faster than the swift liner, and not conspicuously better for fighting than an armed merchant steamer. They were weak, expensive, and not too fast, as their trial speed is mythical more or less, in the sense that it was obtained on a light draft, and can never be realised again. On run from Southampton to New York the Columbia averaged 18.41 knots an hour, with picked coal and immense exertion on the part of her crew. When she reached New York her boilers were at their last gasp, and her crew
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