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C-20 / CA-18 Saint Louis

Authorized in 1900 as protected cruisers, St. Louis [CA-18, originally Cruiser # 20] and her sisters Milwaukee [Cruiser # 21] and Charleston [CA-19, originally Cruiser # 22] were built as "semi-armored cruisers" with a light waterline armor belt in addition to the sloped ballistic deck built into the usual protected cruiser. They mounted 6-inch guns in single mounts forward and aft on the main deck, and in broadside casemates on two levels amidships; 3-inch guns were carried in superstructure mounts and in hull casemates toward the bow and stern.

Bids for the construction of three protected cruisers were opened on February 1, 1901 at the Navy Department. Neafie Levy of Philadelphia, at $2,740,000; the Newport News Shipbuilding Company, at $2,741,000, and the Bath Shipbuilding Company, at $2,750,000, appeared to be the successful bidders for the three cruisers. Reservations made in each bid, however, prevented a positive statement initially. Ultimately, Neafie Levy and Newport News did build units of this class, alsong with the Union Iron Works , while Bath Union Iron Works did not.

The attendance of bidders was neither as large nor representative as in the case of the previous opening. Moreover, the absent concerns were notable, and it was doubtful if Cramp or the Union Iron Works had been unrepresented before in any bidding since the birth of the "New Navy." One of the older concerns, the Newport News Shipbuilding Company, was represented by President Orcutt and Judge Payson. The Bath Iron Works, Neafie Levy of Philadelphia, and the William R. Trigg Shipbuilding Company of Richmond were represented. One of the Moran Brothers of Seattle was the only representative of the Pacific Coast interests, but he did not bid. There were but four bids in all.

Navy Secretary Long, who presided at the opening, read a statement to the bidders, calling their attention to certain important amendments which the department had made in the specifications for the cruisers since the advertisements were issued. These were nearly: all in the direction of the exclusion of items with a view to making it possible for the shipbuilders to bid within the limit of cost fixed by Congress. An important change was the reservation by the department of $50,000 instead of $100,000, as originally ordered, from, the total sum of $2,500,000 fixed by Congress as the limit of cost of the ships, the reservation to cover the cost of putting in place the armor for the cruisers.

The three protected cruisers, on which bids were made, were designed to be the most formidable vessels in the world of their class. They will resemble closely the type of second-class armored cruisers. The act of Congress authorizing this class of cruisers stated that the vessels should carry "the most powerful ordnance for vessels of their type, and have the highest., speed compatible with good cruising qualities and great radius of action." Admiral Hichborn, Chief Constructor of the navy, who has been foremost in the preparation of plans for the building of the " new navy," said that in an engagement the new cruisers would be able to cope with and prove more than a match for some of cruisers of foreign navies.

The St. Louis class is of 9,700 tons displacement and 22 knots speed, with a normal supply of 650 tons coal. Each ship has a partial belt amidships, 200 ft. long, 7 ft. wide, and 4 in. thick, surmounted by a partial belt, 133 ft. long and 4 in. thick, extending to the upper deck. The protective deck behind the armor is 3 in. on the slope and 2 in. on the flat. The principal armament consists of fourteen 6 in. guns, eight in a box battery, four mounted on the upper deck, immediately over the corner guns in the battery below, and protected in front by 4 in. armor, and two mounted in the open at the middle line, fore and aft on the upper deck. The "St Louis" class was practically the English "Monmouth," with about a knot less speed, bow-plating omitted and a 4-in. battery added.

Intitially planned as enlarged Olympia class protected cruisers, which was 5,500 tons, the St. Louis class grew considerably in the design stage without increasing fighting ability. Debates over the merits of protection versus speed resulted in a series of questionable compromises. The intended 8" main armament was sacrificed for lighter 6" guns and, presumably, more speed. But the "more protection" faction demanded - and got - more side armor at the waterline. This cost speed, which necessitated a larger and heavier powerplant. The class was an early example of "mission creep" during the design stage.

The St Louis Class cruisers of the 1900 Program turned out to be, in the opinion of some, one of the worst designs devised for the US Navy. The ship's design started out at 6,000 tons but finally came in displacing 9,700 tons, that of of a full armored cruiser, without the armor or armament. The St. Louis class, now called protected cruisers, had a very considerably greater protection than the Saratoga and Brooklyn on the same displacement. Called a "semi-armored" cruiser, the class was listed in the standard cruiser numbering, rather than those of the armored cruisers. But with 14 six inch guns and a eight gun broadside, they were considerably under-gunned for their weight. She was equally under armored for her size with a very limited four inch belt with most of the protection coming from an armored deck, which was the primary protection for protected cruiser designs.

Design defects notwithstanding, these vessels were quite handsome. They resemble scaled down versions of the following Pennsylvania Class armored cruiser without the fore and aft turrets.

Saint Louis served as a training, receiving and submarine support ship, as well as in traditional cruiser roles along the US west Coast, at Pearl Harbor and elsewhere in the eastern Pacific. In 1917, with the US entry into World War I, St Louis was transferred to the Atlantic, where she served as a transport and escorted convoys. Following the Armistice, she brought home thousands of US troops from Europe.

The two surviving Protected Cruisers were redesignated as Armored Cruisers CA-18 and CA-19 in July 1920. Milwaukee had been severely damaged in a storm in November 1918 which broke the ship in two, and her hulk was sold 5 August 1919.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2011 17:36:21 ZULU