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Cage Masts

A mast is a pole or pillar of round timber, or of tubular iron or steel, secured at the lower end to the keel of a vessel, and rising into the air above the deck to support the yards, sails, and rigging in general. A mast is composed either of a single piece, or of several pieces united by iron bands.

Initially American steam driven warships were fitted with masts for sails, since steam propulsion was used continuously. A pole or pillar of round timber, or of tubular iron or steel, secured at the lower end to the keel of a vessel, and rising into the air above the deck to support the yards, sails, and rigging in general. Once sails were dispensed with, ships sported military masts. A military mast was a mast carried by a war-ship for fighting purposes only, and not for setting sail. By the late 19th Century naval ships were often provided with one military mast or more, carrying armored tops or platforms on which are mounted machine-guns. Such masts are also used for signaling and t provide stations for lookouts, and, in time of action, for small-arm men. Where more than one top is placed on a military mast, the lower one carries the machine-guns, and the upper the lookouts and small-arm men. Such masts are also fitted with derricks for hoisting torpedo- boats, etc., out and in of the water.

BB-1 thru BB-4, Indiana thru Iowa, all had single military masts, basically a pole mounted on top of a hollow tapered cylinder. From BB-5, Kearsarge thru BB-25, New Hampshire, these predreadnought battleships were fitted with 2 such military masts, except for BB-23 and 24, Mississippi and Idaho, which were an attempt to cut costs by down sizing, and among many other drawbacks, only had one mast each.

All these masts supported elevated platforms, which were equipped with small machine guns for repelling boarders or chasing away small attack craft, or with searchlights for night fighting, or for general lookout purposes. They were given two masts in case one was shot down. These masts were heavy and cumbersome as constructed, taking up deack space, contributing to rolling instability, and worst of all, it was feared that they would be very inviting targets at the early 1900 battle ranges of 3-4,000 yards, when they could be shot down and would collapse over the conning towers and piloting positions, blinding the ship. In addition, the pole masts on top of the cylinder were wood, or very slender metal, which made them very limber and required extensive rigging, almost as much as the earlier sailing warships had required.

A military mast is a mast carried by a war-ship for fighting purposes only, and not for setting sail. By the late 19th Century naval ships were often provided with one military mast or more, carrying armored tops or platforms on which are mounted machine-guns. Such masts are also used for signaling and t provide stations for lookouts, and, in time of action, for small-arm men. Where more than one top is placed on a military mast, the lower one carries the machine-guns, and the upper the lookouts and small- arm men. Such masts are also fitted with derricks for hoisting torpedo- boats, etc., out and in. On the larger battleships the military masts are hollow, and access to the fighting tops was gained through the interior. The ammunition is also passed up inside. In the smoke and grime of battle one can well realize what a hell these places would be.

While the military top crews had the advantage of seeing something of the scrimmage, yet they present too inviting a mark to the enemy, and have stations which in battle were pretty sure to be untenable from the heat and smoke. The small arms men had frequent practice aboard ship, and, considering the difficulties of the environment, were good marksmen. It is no easy task to fire from a platform placed at the fob end of a pendulum, swinging irregularly, and the results attained testify to the value of the drill and to the physique of the individual.

The last ten years of the 19th Century brought about a greater and more sudden change in the outward appearance of men-of-war than had ever been recorded in the history of naval affairs. This was in the main due to the almost complete banishment of sails, yards and the more or less intricate rigging necessitated by their use, in favor of military masts, or, in some cases, mere signal poles. The rig of the ironclad battleship of the early 1880s differed in no very essential particular from that of the ships of long ago; but in a single decade, all was changed. Before the change some progress had been made in utilizing the ordinary tops in action by placing riflemen or machine guns in them, in order to direct a plunging fire on the enemy's deck. It will be remembered that it was a shot fired from the mizzentop of the Redoubtable that laid Nelson low in the moment of victory.

Military tops, although greatly improved as constructed on battleships, were by no means new in naval warfare. They were represented in the drawings and carvings of Egyptian and Asiatic warships nearly two thousand years before Christ. In mediaeval days the fighting top was a recognized part of a ship of war. Archers and slingers poured their missiles down from them on the decks of their enemies, or stones, quicklime and Greek fire were hurled upon the heads of the opposing crews. In the earlier days the top was at the extreme summit of the mast, but as ships got bigger and masts loftier it was placed lower down.

The next step was also rendered necessary by the growth of masts and spars, for when heavily-rigged ships, such as the Great Harry, and the ships which took part in the Arrnadafight, came to be built, it was necessary to enlarge the circumference of the top to give a support to the shrouds which upheld the topmast. From this period the top as a fighting platform disappeared till recently, except in the war galleys of the Mediterranean and Baltic, which had a curious basket top at their mastheads, known as a "gable. "

The military mast of the 1890s was constructed primarily to carry guns, and secondarily for signalling purposes, for it must be remembered that in all cases in which ships have been equipped with fighting tops since their very first inception, the primary duty of the mast which upheld it was to carry sail for the propulsion of the ship. Some of the masts were supplied with an upper top for the electric light, a peculiarly-shaped edifice below to enable three quick-firing guns to be discharged right ahead, and a species of conning tower below, from which the captain can overlook the smoke clouds and so see to direct his ship in action. The later types are all constructed with much the same ideas. Some have a lookout, or conning tower, others have not, but all have three or six-pounder quick-firing guns and electric-light projectors, and one or two lighter machine guns in addition.

The small calibre rapid-fire and machine guns employed in tops are supported by riflemen, and in every fight their work of clearing the guns, sweeping the decks and superstructures, and of picking off the officers and leading men is, to say the least, hazardous. In the galley days the military tops were fairly well protected, but during the sail era the topmen handling the swivel pieces and deck-rakers, and forming a special corps of musketeers, had no protection, except what was given by a network of mattress-filled hammocks. It would take a big projectile to bring a mast down, but then, if it did, great would be the fall thereof.



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