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BB-5 Kearsarge Class

Two Kearsarge (later designated BB-5) class battleships were constructed at Newport News Shipbuilding (in contrary to the original act) during 1896-1900. Kearsarge (BB-5) and Kentucky (BB-6) commissioned in 1900. The Kearsarge class ships were poor seakeeping vessels with poor armored protection and generally considered an unsuccessful class of battleship, though knowledge gained from these mistakes proved critical in design of subsequent classes.

Hitherto the American battleships had revealed no new feature, but have reproduced the patterns of old, worn-out Europe, with certain notable improvements ; the Indiana class, for instance, at once recalling the Royal Sovereigns. In the two battleships Kearsarge and Kentucky, whose keel plates were laid in 1896, there was a novel feature - the double-storied turret. There are two of these placed forward and aft in the centre line. In the lower story of each, behind Harveyed steel 17 inches to 15 inches thick, was a pair of 13-inch guns ; in the upper story, which is smaller, and a little to the rear of the lower, is a pair of 8-inch weapons behind 9-inch and 11-inch steel. An armoured redoubt connects the lower story of each turret with the protective deck.

Contrasted with the English Majestic of nearly 4,000 tons greater displacement, the American Kearsarge showed no great inferiority ; and, supposing her guns to be of the latest pattern, her artillery would be far more powerful. The recurrence from the 12-inch to the 13-inch gun was an instructive incident in the battle of calibres, and pointed to the fact that the very heavy weapon was still considered, in the United States at least, an essential of the battleship. In a trial against a target representing the Iowa's side, a 12-inch projectile failed to perforate a plate pinches thick, whereas the 13-inch shot went clean through, with 1800 feet-seconds initial velocity.

Between the two turrets was a casemate plated with 6-inch armor, containing fourteen 5-inch quick-firers, seven of which bear on either broadside ; and each gun was isolated by 2-inch splinter screens. On the water-line is a belt extending from the after barbette to the ram ; it was 7-1/2 feet deep and 16-1/2 inches thick amidships at its upper edge, but from the fore barbette it quickly tapers down to 4 inches at the ram. Above this main belt, between the turrets, is 5-inch armour extending to the lower edge of the casemate plating. A protective deck 2 inches thick rests on the upper edge of the main belt, sloping down under water forward and aft, where its thickness is increased to 3 inches and 5 inches. Cofferdams packed with cellulose, and coal bunkers give yet further protection.

The thicker plating of the Kearsarge is probably due to the wish to make her vitals proof against the heaviest guns. The amount of unarmored surface left open to the attack of light guns is very small, and the extension of the belt forward to the ram, shows that the United States officers are aware of the great injury to the maneuvring qualities of the ship which a chance hit or two forward might inflict. In the newest English battleships, also, the forward end of the ship received thin armour on the water-line.

The conning-tower has 10-inch armor, and a tube plated with 7-inch steel leads the voice-pipes, telegraphs, and steering-rods to the protective deck. There are two engines, between them developing 10,000 horse-power, with moderate forced draught, and driving the ship at a pace of 16 knots. With 410 tons of coal the displacement will be 11,500 tons, but there is bunker space for 1210 tons, and about 500 tons more could be carried in bags. The ammunition supply is fair - for the 13-inch guns 200 rounds are carried; for the 8-inch, 500 ; and for the 5-inch, 3,500. There are two funnels, and two military masts, each with two tops.

As fighting machines, these two vessels are most remarkable. The double turret gives extraordinary concentration of fire, and the effect of four projectiles, whose total weight is 27O0lb., striking simultaneously would be terrific. The bases of the 8-inch turrets are well protected by the lower story, so that there is no possibility of bringing them down by concentrating a heavy fire upon the lower works, as could be done, perhaps, against the Indiana or Iowa. On the other hand, the double turret is a big target ; the ammunition hoists to the upper story must necessarily cramp the working of the 13-inch guns; all four guns must fire in one direction and at one common target ; and a single lucky hit might silence half the ship's main armament. It also remained to be seen whether in practice it will be found easy to work and fire all four guns at once. Compromises, however, were always necessary at sea, whereas all critics tend to compare the ship criticised with an unattainable ideal in which protection, speed, armament, and the distribution of armament, arc the best imaginable.

An outstanding example of poor design occurred during the planning of the Kearsarge class battleships, laid down in 1896. The main battery was to be two turrets with a pair of 13-inch guns, and two turrets with a pair of 8-inch guns. The Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance proposed that the 8-inch turrets be placed on top of and integral with the 13-inch turrets. The 8-inch turrets could, therefore, not rotate independently. Whatever the 13-inch guns aimed at, so did the 8-inch guns on the turret above. The Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance - a line officer - got his plan accepted over the strenuous objections of the Chief Constructor. Theodore Roosevelt, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, was aware of the serious criticism of this design. Yet he also knew that the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance was a line officer of great prestige among his brother officers. This episode was an instance- not uncommon in the Navy- where officers with a reputation in one field are assumed to be expert in another. The double turret was abandoned in the next American battleships. It was, in fact, a development in the wrong direction, much as was the " Echeloned " turret-ship, tending to the over-concentration of armament.

Both took part in the Great White Fleet expedition of 1907-09 and were modernized 1909-11 during which most 6-pdr guns were removed, four 5-inch guns were added, cage masts were fitted and they were reboilered with eight newer type boilers. The torpedo tubes had been removed prior. Following World War I they had main armaments removed and only retained eight 5-inch guns and two 3-inch/50 AA guns by 1919.

Kearsarge survived until August 1955 as Crane Ship No.1 at Boston, Massachusetts. Kentucky was sold for scrap in 1924 in accordance with the Washington Naval Treaty of 1920.



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