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Superimposed Turrets

An outstanding example of poor design occurred during the planning of the Kentucky 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.

Admiral Sampson was the first one to suggest the double turret on a battleship and it was upon his recommendation that superimposed turrets were constructed on the new battleships " Kearsarge " and " Kentucky." By this arrangement four heavy guns, 13-inch and 8.inch respectively, were placed in pairs, the larger pair immediately below the lesser.

It was contended by many naval officers that the results of firing such a battery simultaneously would prove disastrous both to the ship and to the men in the lower turrets. The fear was expressed also that such monster turrets and guns would make a ship top heavy and endanger her stability, especially in action. The "Kearsarge " was finished the latter part of March, 1900, and had her trial trip and an exhaustive gun trial at sea March 30, which disproved all predictions of the critics, for the gunners in the lower story of the turret were not in the least affected by the terrific blasts of the heavy guns above, even when the battery was discharged simultaneously.

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. Three Maine class battleships were authorized in FY1899 in response to Russian battleships which had greater speed. They were based on the earlier Illinois class design but had more powerful guns and more effective KC armor.

The Virginia class returned to the superimposed turret concept. They carried four twelve inch guns, 40 calibers in length, mounted by pairs in balanced turrets, one forward and the other aft, aud each having a total arc of train of 270 degrees. Of the eight 8-inch guns, 45 calibers in length, which were carried on these vessels, four were mounted by pairs in turrets, superposed on the l2-inch turrets.

The system of carrying guns in turrets superposed upon the turrets of the 12 in. guns was advocated by the Ordnance Bureau, and opposed by the Construction Bureau.

The arguments in favor may best be stated in the words of Admiral O'Neil, Chief of the Ordnance Bureau. He said :" During the past year the battleships Kearsage and Kentucky have been completed and put in commission. Much attention has been attracted to these vessels, both at home and abroad, on account of the novel arrangement of their heavy guns, four 8 in. guns on each vessel being mounted in two turrets placed on top of, and rigidly attached to, the turrets containing the 13 in. guns.

"These vessels successfully stood their gun trials, and the double turret structures, which are trained by electric power, proved to be under perfect control, and showed no signs of weakness, nor was any inconvenience experienced in the upper or lower turret due to the firing of the guns above or below. In fact, no unfavourable reports concerning the arrangement of the battery have been received.

"The vessels are, without doubt, an unqualified success, and, while there is and probably always will be a decided difference of opinion among naval officers as to the merits, or, perhaps, more properly speaking, as to the advisability of the system, it must be admitted that it possesses certain very attractive features, among which are an absolute non-interference of guns, a heavy and unobstructed bow and stern fire, and the fact that the 8 in. guns - being mounted on the line of the keel - are available for service on either side, resulting in a very considerable saving of weight for equal efficacy.

"The arguments for and against superimposed turrets are well understood, and need not be repeated, but it is a fact worthy of note that a considerable number of naval men, who were opposed to the superimposed turrets for various reasons, have changed their views since they have seen them completed and in service."

The arguments against the system, which appear to be stated as a reply to the Ordnance Bureau, are given by Admiral Hichborne. the chief of the Bureau of Construction, who said :

"The completion of the first battleships to which the system has been applied, and the trials to which they have been subjected have demonstrated only the mechanical practicability of the system of mounting. It has been recognised from the commencement of the discussion that there are such grave disadvantages in this system of mounting as: impossibility of independent action of 8 in. guns in superposed turrets ; greo,t concentration of weight upon roller path and supports of such turrets ; dependence of four important guns upon one controlling apparatus ; disarrangement of training of three guns by firing of the fourth, and possibility of complete disablement of four important guns, or, say, 35 per cent, of the heavy battery, by mishap affecting the turret. There is nothing in the experience with the two vessels recently completed tending either to show how they may be removed, or to determine the extent of their effect upon the vessels in which this system is employed. The decision in the case of the recent vessels has been reached in practically the same way as the decision relative to the first vessels to which the system was applied, and is based upon the same representation of arguments pro and core., although the Navy now possesses the means of determining, practically, at any rate a portion of the points at issue. Other naval Powers are pursuing a policy of isolation of the larger pieces in single-gun, or, at most, two-gun positions (turrets, enclosed casemates, &c.), and making them independent of and without communication with one another, with the avowed purpose of limiting both the material damage to the individual pieces, and the moral effect to the single crew.

"The Bureau believes the arrangement of battery of vessel of war to be a matter of the very greatest importance. While seriously opposed to the system of superposed turrets, on grounds which it believes to be vital, it holds itself free from any prejudice which could not be removed by practical tests which the means now at hand make possible, and which the importance of the matter makes imperative, in order to limit a policy of compromise of opinions based upon theoretical rather than upon practical considerations."

The arrangement in the Indiana, which was very similar to the Georgia, had not given complete satisfaction, on account of the interference of the 8 in. and the 12 in. guns. It is almost impossible, when firing ahead with the forward 8 in. guns, to work in the forward 12 in. turrets. This is avoided by the superposed turret, which for two guns has as much power of broadside fire in one broadside as the four 8 in.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2011 17:35:55 ZULU