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BB-7 Illinois Class

In September 1896, three contracts were awarded for the Illinois (later designated BB-7) class battleships, one at Newport News, one by Cramp Shipbuilding (Philadelphia) and one at Bethlehem Steel, San Francisco. These ships had improved (Harvey) armor and seakeeping in comparison to the Iowa (BB-4) and Kearsarge (BB-5) classes. These vessels, which could steam at 16 knots, carried very thick armor on the waterline and turrets. The Illinois carried armor of a greater resisting quality and better disposed than that of the Oregon. She had less speed than will hereafter be required of battleships. The contract speed is 16 knots, and 18 knots must be guaranteed in the newer battleships of the Maine class.

In the Alabama, Illinois, and Wisconsin, of 11,550 tons, which went afloat also in 1898, the mixed battery of heavy guns was given up and the main armament limited to four 13-in., in conjunction with a numerous array of 6-in. and small quick-firing guns. The armament showed improvement and increased efficiency. Six-inch rapid-fire guns replace eight-inch slow-fire weapons; and the results at Santiago showed that rapidity of fire is of prime importance. The 8 in. guns were completely done away with, and the fourteen 5 in. guns were replaced by fourteen 6 in. guns, otherwise the arrangement was practically the same. This battery is of the same power as in British ships, but the 6 in. guns on the main deck are all in a box battery, as in the Kentucky. Four are in an open battery on the upper deck, where they have protection only on their fronts, and not in the rear; and two others are forward on the main deck, also having front protection only.

The normal coal supply of the Alabama is 800 tons, as against 400 tons in the Kentucky. This change, together with the changing of 5 in. guns to 6 in. guns, necessitated the doing away with the four 8 in. guns, so that the armament of the Alabama seemed, in the opinion of the Naval authorities, to represent a stage at which they had practically agreed with the British Naval authorities in their ideas as to the best arrangement of armament, except in that part in which they prefer to adhere to the box battery rather than to have casemates.

The Illinois was a twin-screw, armored, seagoing battleship, and was built by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, of Newport News, Va. The Navy Department furnished the general plans and specifications for hull and machinery to the contractors and builders, and the latter developed the general designs into exact details, together with the piping systems and location of the auxiliary machinery, submitting their drawings for approval to the bureaus concerned before work was begun. The contract was signed September 26, 1896, the price being 2,595,000, and the time allowed for completion three years. The price stated does not include the armor (exclusive of that required in the construction of the protective deck), the armor bolts, the ordnance, the ordnance outfit, and certain articles, as anchors and chains, supplied by the Government, but did include fitting and installation.

As a fighting machine, the Illinois was thought to be superior to the other battleships in the navy. With her increased free-board, she can steam full speed and with fairly dry decks into a sea that would wash over the bows and forward turrets of the "Oregon," which has eight feet less free-board. She can fight her guns from their great elevation above the water in seas where the guns of lower vessels would be submerged and useless. The projectiles, also, are less likely to be deflected by striking the tops of waves. The difference is seen in the fact that the bore of the forward 13-inch guns of the Illinois are 26 feet above the water as against 18 feet on the Oregon.

Service History

Commissioned in 1900-01, all three ships took part in the Great White Fleet expedition of 1907-09 and underwent modernization 1909-12 during which their 6-pdr guns were removed and 4 3-inch/50 guns added and they were fitted with cage masts. Following World War I they had their main armaments removed and their secondary battery reduced to eight 6-inch/40 guns.

Alabama's masts were narrow at the top and wide at the base. Illinois' masts were wide at the top and relatively narrow at the base. The twin hause castings at the bow, a feature seen on Alabama, are unlike Illinois, which had a much heavier double hause casting. Porthole spacing on the lower deck, forward of the bow casemate, differed considerably between these two ships. Illinois (BB-7) surived until May 1956 as Prairie State (IX-15), a floating barracks. Alabama (BB-8) was sunk in bomb tests in September 1921. Wisconsin (BB-9) was scrapped in 1922 in accordance with the Washington Naval Treaty of 1920.

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