Three gunboats, the Nashville, the Wilmington, and the Helena, were ordered in 1893. The Helena, Nashville, and Wilmington were light-draft gunboats for river service. The sister ships Helena and Wilmington draw but nine feet of water, and the Nashville eleven. The light draft of the Helena and her consort is due to the fact that they were constructed with a view to service on the rivers of China. They are about two hundred and fifty feet long and forty feet beam, these dimensions, in common with their nine feet draught, being given in view of their proposed river service. They each carry a military mast, well provided with firing-tops, and have elevated conning-towers.
The Wilmington had been built for entirely different service. Although in every respect a perfectly safe seagoing vessel, the Wilmington and her sister ship, the Helena, were designed especially for river service. In external appearance the Wilmington resembles a small battleship, having a large military mast with two military tops, similar in all respects to the one on the battleship Iowa, which serves to command the banks of a river or houses in a town where she may have to prevent rioting. A conning tower on the mast, just below the first military top, enables the ship to be maneuvered at a height of 45 feet above the water line.
The space available for quarters is large, and affords berthing capacity for many additional men besides her crew. To facilitate landing a large body of men she has boats of unusual size, her steam cutter and sailing launch being each 33 feet in length, or as long as those supplied to the heaviest battleships.
The machinery consiste of triple expansion twin-screw engines. The total coal-bunker capacity is about 280 tons. Two rudders are provided one ahead of the other, so arranged that it may be possible to run the vessel into a bank and let her swing around with the current when turning in narrow channels. Her battery is the same as that of the Nashville, and she has a searchlight on her military mast, but no torpedo tubes.
In the launching of the Nashville and the Wilmington was a peculiarity deserving of especial mention. It was believed to be the first cuse where two warships were launched on the same day from a single set of ways. The vessels had been constructed one ahead of the other, tandem fashion, upon a continuous decline, the Nashville nearer the water, with her bow a few feet from the Wilmington, both vessels taking the water stern foremost. This arrangement was due to the fact that the works of the contractors, in accordance with modern notions, had been installed for the erection of ships of the largest size, the building slip^ being of sufficient length to accommodate a vessel 500 feet long, while the combined length of the Nashville and Wilmington was only 485 feet. Not only was ample space available for both ships, but it was also possible to deliver in position all the material used in their construction by a single crane, which travelled alongside on a track So feet above the ground. This great crane, with a lifting capacity of 60,000 tons at the end of the 125-foot arm, also served an adjoining similar slip. The Nashville had to travel only 250 feet before floating freely, but the Wilmington's stornpost had 280 feet to slide before reaching the water and 175 yards altogether before she was fully floated.
The light draft of the Helena and her consort is due to the fact that they were constructed with a view to service on the rivers of China. They are about two hundred and fifty feet long and forty feet beam, these dimensions, in common with their nine feet draught, being given in view of their proposed river service. They each carry a military mast, well provided with firing-tops, and have elevated conning-towers.
A Japanese officer suggested that the banks of the Yellow River of China were so high that they could not be seen over except from a considerable elevation, and in response to this hint the boats in question were supplied with a curious combination of conning-tower and military mast. This mast is double, consisting of an outer iron tube of six feet and an inner one of two feet diameter. Between them ascends a spiral staircase, running to the conning-tower, which is built under and partly supports the lower top. The tower, nearly fifty feet high, stands out from the mast, and contains all necessary appliances for steering and controlling the ship, while windows with small openings give an outlook over the surrounding country. The fighting-top above is of fourteen feet diameter, and above it is an electric-light top and a second fighting-top of six feet diameter. These boats carry eight 4-inch rapid-fire guns and a secondary battery of four 6-pounder and two 1-pounder rapid-fire and two Colt machine-guns, with a field-gun for use by landing parties.
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