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BB-1 Indiana-class Armament

It is its power that appals us. Perhaps the best definition of a battle-ship is that it is a fort of toughened steel under and around which a boat has been built. In other words, it is a floating fortress. It is meant to fight, and never to run away.

When Secretary Tracy decided to build these modern battle-ships, he summoned Lieutenant Lewis Nixon, later the superintending constructor at Cramps yard, then under 30 years of age, and told him to make a crude design for such a craft as he had indicated. At that time no vessel larger than 7,500 tons had been launched in the US. Proceeding upon an 8,000-ton basis, Mr. Nixon built a steel fort, put as heavy guns in it and on it as he could with safety, and then calculated the dimensions of the boat on which it must float. After Mr. Tracy looked at the figures, and listened to the explanation of them, he thrust them aside with this remark: "I dont know much about these details and dimensions. What I want to know is whether, if you let all these guns go off at once, they would beat the delivery of the guns on those battle-ships the English and French are building." "They would not, I am sorry to say," replied the young constructor. "Go back and make them do it," said the Secretary.

Mr. Nixon went back and added 1,000 tons to the displacement of the vessel, and in a day or two sought the Secretary. "Now will they beat those foreign boats?" asked the Secretary. "WeIl," said the constructor, "I am afraid they won't beat them; but they 11 nearly do so." "Go back and make them do it," said the Secretary again; adding, "We can launch just as big boats as any one else."

Mr. Nixon went back, and the third time hit the mark, producing plans for a 10,300-ton vessel such as the Indiana. That he did successfully what he was ordered to is shown by the fact that the main batteries of the English battle-ships Victoria (sunk in the Mediterranean) and Royal Sovereign were planned to hurl 6,000 pounds of metal at a single discharge, while the Indiana, of nearly 4000 tons less displacement, and drawing 3 feet less of water, hurled 6,800 pounds of metal at a single discharge of her main batteries.

Clad with 19 inches of steel are two turrets, one fore and one aft, in each of which are two big 13-inch guns. Each of these guns weighs 61 tons, and is 49 feet long. Far down beneath the turrets are the two main magazines, where ton upon ton of powder and ball made into projectiles, some of which weigh 1100 pounds each, is stored. These magazines are steel-clad rooms, and are lighted by electric lights sunk into glass wells in the corners of each room. They are fitted with little thermometers that ring a fire-alarm whenthe mercury reachesacertain height. They have also a system of tubes through which a flood of water may be poured in time of danger. One story above the four 13-inch guns on the main deck are eight 8-inch guns, on a superstructure, in sets of twos, and bunched about the smoke-stacks. Amidships, on the main deck, are four 6-inch guns, crowded still closer together. Subordinate to all these, and peeping from various open nooks and crevices, are 26 smaller weapons, with long needle-like barrels, called rapid-fire guns, each capable of firing projectiles of chilled steel weighing from one to three pounds at the rate of fifteen shots a minute.

One can only conjecture what damage its guns could do. One of these 13-inch guns, hurling an 1000-pound projectile at a velocity of certainly 2000 feet a second, will pierce 30 inches of wrought iron at its muzzle, and probably 25 inches of the same material a mile away. Such a gun would throw its projectile with accuracy a distance of 12 miles. The 8-inch guns would throw projectiles of 250 pounds weight effectively eight miles. The 6-inch guns would fire with certainty a distance of six miles, and all the smaller weapons might be used at distances up to two and a half miles.

In ten minutes, by using all the guns at their full powers, each 13-inch gun firing once in two minutes, and some of the rapid-fire guns once in every four seconds, the Indiana could fire about 6o tons of metal. In an engagement where her main batteries could be in constant use, with only part of her second battery, she would hurl, in ten minutes, from 15 to 18 tons of projectiles, each going with a velocity of, say, 2000 feet a second, and weghing from 1 pound up to 1100 pounds. When one thinks of this appalling power, and realizes that after these missiles have landed their work has only just begun, for they are arranged to burst, and some of them to send forth noxious gases, poisoning every one within their reach, the capabilities of destruction passed beyond comprehension.

Added to all this was the ability to keep up the bombardment at this speed for between four and five hours. In the magazines will be stored 1095 tons of ammunition. For the 13-inch guns there were 400 shells, each 66 inches long, the height of the average man, and each weighing 1100 pounds. There were also 800 half-charges, 45 inches long. There were 800 charges, each weighing 250 pounds, for the 8-inch guns; 400 charges, each weighing 1OO pounds, for the 6-inch guns; 800 charges for the 6-pound rapid-firing guns; 40,000 charges for the Gatling guns, and 150,000 charges for the other rifles. Figures such as these, even if used about so many bricks, would be startling.

The power of the smaller of these breech-loading rifle-gun had an illustration in the Chilean civil war. A shot weighing 250 pounds from an 8-inch gun of Fort Valdivia in Valparaiso harbor struck the cruiser Bleznco Encanada above the armorbelt, passed through the thin steel plate on the side, went through the captain's cabin, took the pillow from under his head, dropped his head on the mattress with a thump, but without injuring a hair, passed through the open door into the mess-room, where it struck the floor, and then glanced to the ceiling. Then it went through a wooden bulkhead one inch thick into a room 25 by 42 feet where forty men were sleeping in hammocks. It killed six of them outright, and wounded six others, three of whom died, after which it passed through a steel bulkhead five inches thick, and ended its course by striking a battery outside, in which it made a dent nearly two inches deep. It was filled with sand. Had it released deadly gases no one knows what damage it might have done. A 450-pound missile from a 10-inch gun in the same fort struck the same vessel on its 8-inch armor. It hit square on a bolt. The shell did not pierce the armor, but burst outside the vessel. It drove the bolt clear through, and in its flight the bolt struck an 8-inch gun, completely disabling it. Such is the power of the smaller-sized guns.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2011 17:35:20 ZULU