WPG USCG Gunboat
PR River Gunboat|
A Gunboat is a small boat or vessel armed with one or more guns of heavy caliber. From its small dimensions, it is capable of running close inshore or up rivers, and from the same cause it had little chance of being hit by a larger vessel at the long range which the carrying power of its guns enables it to maintain.
Thomas Paine, writing "Of The Comparative Powers And Expense Of Ships Of War, Gun-boats, And Fortifications" noted that "The United States have a long line of coast of more than two thousand miles, every part of which requires defence, because every part is approachable by water. The right principle for the United States to go upon as a water defence for the coast, is that of combining the greatest practical power with the least possible bulk, that the whole quantity of power may be better distributed through the several parts of such an extensive coast. But the case often is, that men are led away by the GREATNESS of an idea, and not by the JUSTNESS of it. This is always the case with those who are advocates for navies and large ships."
In the United States the gunboat figured to a very considerable extent in coast and lake warfare in America's first two wars. They were first used on the Delaware River, in 1775-6, and drove the British frigate Reliance out of the roads.
President Jefferson held navies in abhorrence, as at the best barely tolerable evils. Jefferson's theory was that America needed only coast defense vessels, and he thought gunboats answered the purpose. In December 1807 there were 69 of them in United States service, and the Congress ordered 188 more built, as an auxiliary to the embargo declared a few days later, making 257 in all. Improved ordnance had made them valueless, and they had a bad effect on the service, but there was strong opinion in their favor at the time, and they did good service in the War of 1812.
The theory was that these movable batteries could act in water where large vessels could not, could be concentrated against the latter so as to afford as large an armament, yet present only a number of small targets, while their antagonist presented only one large one ; that shots aimed too high would do no harm to gunboats, but would injure masts and rigging of frigates ; that loss of rudder and sailing gear, the most crippling of accidents to a ship, could not happen to the gunboats, propelled and steered by sweeps ; that nearness to the water level gave the guns more accurate aim; and that 75 gunboats could be built for the cost of one 36-gun frigate.
The warships which existed at the beginning of the latter half of the l9th century were, with the exception of special vessels, divided roughly into three classes - ships of the line, frigates and gun-vessels. For many years the corresponding types of iron and steel vessels were known as battleships, cruisers and gunboats, but by the early 20th Century the power of the cruiser increased to that of the battleship, and new types were produced, such as the torpedo boat, the torpedo boat destroyer and the scout, the latter developing into the fast cruiser of continually increasing size; while the submarine torpedo boat has become a recognized sea-going vessel, and was becoming comparable in size with the gun-vessel or the small cruiser.
Towards the end of the 19th Century gunboats were small vessels mounting one large gun in the bow and propelled by an engine with single or twin screw. The gun was pointed by means of the helm or the screws, and the gunboat was a floating gun carriage. In the British navy these gunboats carried an an armor-piercing gun of 18 tons, on a draft of only 4 feet. But they have been designed to carry 35-ton guns, or heavier.
At the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854, a large squadron of them was hastily constructed for the British navy for the first time. Their tonnage was small; and their armament usually consisted of one 8-inch gun and one 100- pounder Armstrong gun. Experiences in the Crimean war suggested the extension of the use of gunboats to offensive warfare. One of the main objects of a ship of war being to carry guns, it was thought that a vessel large enough to carry only a single gun of the largest size would, from the rapidity with which it could be manoeuvred, and its comparative immunity from shot, have great advantages in attack against large vessels carrying a heavy armament, and requiring much room and time to maneuver.
About 1860 the British government constructed about 200 gunboats upon this principle. They were about 100 feet long, with 22 feet beam, and a draf at load-line of 6.5 feet. Each was armed with one deck-gun, a 68-pounder, which, by turning on a pivot, could be used either ahead, astern, or in any other direction; while the facility of maneuvering was further enhanced by the rapidity with which the vessel itself could be turned almost in her own length. Experience soon proved that there were serious defects in this species of armament. One of these was, that from being obliged to carry their guns constantly on deck the gunboats were liable to be top-heavy and untrustworthy in a heavy sea.
A new gunboat was designed in England in 1868 by G. Rendel, the chief peculiarity of which was the placing of the gun on a platform, which could he raised to the deck or lowered to the hold by a donkey-engine. The gun did not turn on a pivot, the manoeuvring being effected entirely by the turning of the vessel, to effect which it was fitted with twin-screws worked by independent engines.
Other types of gunboat have since been constructed for the British navy. One of a powerful type was 165 feet in length, with a breadth of 31 feet, and a displacement of 805 tons. It drews 11 feet 7 inches of water, and had triple-expansion engines, working up to 1,200 horse-power, with a speed of 13 knots an hour. It carried six 4-inch steel breech-loading guns, besides two quick-firing guns and machine-guns, and was bark-rigged.
A number of what were known as torpedo gunboats were constructed for the British navy. One boat of this class was 200 feet in length, with a beam of 23 feet, and a depth of 13 feet. It was built entirely of steel, has a torpedo-tube through the bow and another through the stern in a fore-and-aft line, and one on each broadside forward, a 4-inch 25-cwt. central-pivot breech-loading gun, and six 3-pounder, quick-firing guns. It had two sets of triple-expansion engines, working up to 2,700 horse-power, and enabling the vessel of 450 tons to steam over 18 knots an hour. Several first-class gunboats of a more recent type are twin-screw vessels, 180 feet long, of 700 tons displacement, armed with two 4-inch guns and four 12-pounder quick-firing guns.
In 1890 there were on tbr British List 114 of these vessels, of which 43 were called third class, and were intended for coast defence. The largest size of the first class gunboats then in commission or building was 735 tons and 4500 horse-power. Most continental navies are provided with gunboats of various sizes and construction. Great Britain in 1902 had 33 torpedo gunboats, Germany 3, and France 15. In most countries the gunboat had been superseded by modern torpedo-boats and destroyers.
Modern gunboats were much larger than their prototypes. In the United States Navy the vessels of the Yorktown class of 1700 tons displacement are styled gunboats, though their proper designation is that of cruiser or torpedo cruiser, for they were sea-going ships. Gunboats have always been useful auxiliaries in offensive and defensive warfare, but by themselves they have very little fighting value.
In 1899 the United States navy possessed seventeen gunboats of from 900 to 1,400 tons armed with 4-inch quick-fire guns and light secondary batteries. They were mainly unarmored, though some had a light protective deck. In 1903 the United States navy had 20 of the ordinary gunboats in commission and about 60 torpedo-boats and destroyers of the gunboat type.
Theodore Roosevelt enforced the Monroe Doctrine in Venezuela in 1902; ushering an era of U.S. foreign policy described as gunboat diplomacy. Gunboat naval policy was the despatch of naval units or fleets for the purposes of catalytic force without any very clear objectives in mind, and in the hope that the navy will do something to resolve the situation and nothing to aggravate it. Gunboat diplomacy has been defined as the use of threat of limited naval force, in order to secure advantage, or to avert loss, either in furtherance of an international dispute or against foreign nationals within the territory or the jurisdiction of their own state.
The gunboat emodied the tendency of a nation to become, by successful military resistance to military ambition, itself imperialist and militarist.
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