Experimental Torpedo Boats (US):
Consisting of the four-ship Osprey
classes, the first torpedo boats built for the USN would also be the only examples of this type to enter service. Designed originally to counter the Confederate A Class boats which had entered service in 1880, by the time the Ospreys
commissioned in 1885 they were greatly outnumbered by the CSN’s B Class which entered service a year earlier. One additional class of torpedo boat, the Falcon
class, was built and entered service in 1888, by which time construction of the twelve-ship C Class was well underway. This made it apparent that the CSN was significantly ahead of the US in both numbers and design of these vessels, in response, the Department of the Navy decided to abandon further torpedo boat development in favor of dedicated craft for dealing with them.
class; Osprey, Hawk, Raven
, and Kestrel
, were 130 feet long and displaced 119 tons full load. They were armed with two 3-pounder (47mm) guns and two 14” torpedo tubes on swivel mounts amidships. Like their Confederate counterparts, these boats carried license-built Whitehead torpedoes, two reloads also being carried. Two vertical three-cylinder compound engines producing 2,300 horsepower propelled these boats to 22 knots and they had a range of 500 nautical miles. Crew numbered 22.
The follow-on Falcon
class, consisting of Falcon, Kingfisher, Eagle
, and Condor
, was very similar and were 140 feet long overall and displaced 141 tons full load. They were also armed with two 3-pounders but doubled the number of torpedo tubes and reloads to four. These boats were the first in the US Navy to use triple-expansion steam engines. Two, producing 2,800 horsepower through twin-shafts, gave these boats a maximum speed of 23 knots; USS Eagle
achieving a speed of 23.8 knots during trials. Range also improved, with a maximum of 750 nautical miles. Crew complement stood at 25.
After entering service, these eight boats were not assigned as front-line units. Instead they served to train crews first in torpedo boat tactics and operations and second, to help develop tactics for countering these warships. All eight participated in frequent maneuvers with other US ships, and particularly the Avenger
class of torpedo gunboats once they had entered service. These latter exercises, in fact, highlighted the limitations of the torpedo gunboat concept, and hastened the development of torpedo boat destroyers.
Designated TB-1 through TB-8 under the 1891 Classification System, these boats continued to serve in their training roles through the end of the century. Of the eight built, two were lost, USS Hawk
to a boiler explosion in 1892, and USS Condor
to a collision during an exercise in 1899. The surviving boats were decommissioned in two batches, the Ospreys
in 1906 and the Falcons
two years later. All had been scrapped by 1910.
Montpelier class (US):
While the Albany
class was still building, plans for a follow-on class of cruisers were underway. Navy Secretary Eubanks directed that the new ships be larger and more heavily armed. BuC&R Chief Langford and his designers seized on this as an opportunity to correct what they saw as shortcomings – particularly in sea-keeping – in the Wisconsin
class battleships which were also under construction. The design that emerged was for a class of all-steel hulled ships with excellent handling and sea-keeping characteristics that would set the standard for US ships. Four, to be named Montpelier, Salem, Philadelphia
, and Annapolis
, were authorized in 1883 and were laid down between 1884 and 1885.
The new cruisers were 330 feet long overall, with a beam of 50 feet and a normal draft of 18 feet. They displaced 6,760 tons normal and 7,401 tons full load. They carried a main battery of four 10”/30 Mk.1 guns in two open barbettes fore and aft, a secondary battery of ten 6”/30 Mk.2’s in casemate mounts, and an anti-torpedo boat battery of eight 6-pounder (57mm) rapid-fire guns. They were the last US warships to use compound steam engines; two producing 4,100 horsepower propelled these ships to 14 knots. Range was 5,000 nautical miles.
Armor was of the compound type typical of this era and comprised an 8” belt tapering to 6” bow and stern, a 2” deck, 10” barbettes, 6” casemates, and 3” conning tower. Crew complement was 428.
After entering service between 1886 and 1887, the ships were split between the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets for most of their careers. They were very successful in service – quickly gaining a reputation for handling and sea-keeping – but as with all ships of this period, were soon rendered obsolete by the dramatic changes in warship design during the 1890’s and early 1900’s.
Designated as armored cruisers (ACR) under the new system, the four ships continued to serve as second-line units, seeing action in both the Central American Crisis and the Western Pacific War, with USS Annapolis
(ACR-4) being severely damaged in the latter conflict. Under repair at war’s end, it was decided to refit her with modern 10”/45 Mk.5 and 6”/45 Mk.7 guns, simplify her rigging and trunk the forward two funnels into one. When she re-commissioned in 1910, Annapolis
had gained another six years of active service life, while her sisters were retired the following year – Montpelier
scrapped by 1912, while Philadelphia
was expended as a target in 1913. USS Annapolis
carried on alone until early in 1916, when she was also retired. Rebuilt as a training ship, she was rechristened USS Dartmouth
and served the Naval Academy from 1917 to 1931.
Pennsylvania class (US):
When the keel for USS Pennsylvania
was laid down late in 1885, it was intended that she and her sister-ship USS New Jersey
(laid down the following year) would leapfrog the Confederate Navy in both battleship numbers and design. The ships that commissioned were a curious mix of ideas, becoming the first all steel battleships in the US Navy, the first to use triple-expansion engines, but also the only examples of central battery capital ships to enter service with the United States.
class was 343 feet long overall, with a 64 foot beam and a nominal draft of 22 feet. They displaced 8,722 tons normal and 9,628 tons full load. They were armed with four 12”/30 Mk.1’s in open barbettes en echelon amidships. They carried a powerful (for that time) secondary battery of twelve 6”/30 Mk.2 guns and a light batter of eight 6-pounders. They were twin-shaft and powered by two triple-expansion engines generating 4,500 horsepower. Design speed was 14 knots, and was frequently exceeded in service; Pennsylvania
reaching a speed of nearly 15 knots in light ship conditions in 1892. They carried 2,040 tons of coal and had a range of 6,500 nautical miles.
Armor comprised a heavy belt of 14” compound armor tapering to 12” bow and stern, a 2” armored deck, 14” barbettes, 10” casemates, and a 7” conning tower. Crew numbered 538.
Separated upon commissioning between 1888 and 1889, the pair served for many years as flagships of their respective fleets – Pennsylvania
in the Atlantic, and New Jersey
in the Pacific. Despite their odd design, they were well liked by their crews for their heavy construction, speed, and excellent sea-keeping abilities.
Designated as B-4 and B-5 respectively under the 1891 reclassification, the two ships were refit several times in an ultimately futile attempt to keep them current. In 1896, they had their main guns replaced with 13”/35 Mk.1’s which greatly increased their firepower, but forbade firing cross-deck due to the potential for blast damage (problematical even with their original guns). Between 1900 and 1901 their funnels were combined and their old-style masts were replaced with military style ones – greatly altering their appearance.
Relegated to second-line duties by the turn of the century, the two ships were reunited in the Pacific Fleet shortly before the outbreak of the Western Pacific War in 1906. Not able to keep up with newer battleships they were assigned to garrison duty in Guam after it was first re-captured from Confederate forces. In April of 1907, Apra Harbor, where the pair was stationed, was attacked by a powerful Confederate squadron centered on the new pre-dreadnought CSS Rio Grande
intent on retaking the island. With no hope of immediate reinforcement (the main US fleet had been drawn off by a successful decoy strike elsewhere in the Marianas), the commander of the garrison force, Commodore Arthur Henley, decided to attack at once while signaling the troop convoy to make steam and escape, and dispatching a lone destroyer to locate the main body of the US force and warn them.
In the battle that followed, both Pennsylvania’s
concentrated on Rio Grande
and managed to inflict some serious damage, but were overwhelmed by their opponent’s heavy fire. Pennsylvania
was hit several times by Rio Grande
and her older consort, CSS Texas
, before being destroyed by a magazine explosion – killing most of her crew; including Commodore Henley. New Jersey
lasted a bit longer before she was pounded into a burning hulk. As the battered remnants of the garrison force abandoned the harbor, New Jersey
was torpedoed by Confederate cruisers and sank.
The sacrifice of the two ships and their crews had not been in vain, however, as the troopships and their escorts had escaped, although Guam again fell to the Confederates (albeit temporarily). Commodore Henley was posthumously promoted to Rear Admiral and many of his officers were decorated for their actions.
Both wrecks were eventually located in 1975 in around 120 feet of water. They are listed as war graves by the United States and may not be entered – although diving on the ships is allowed.
Avenger class (US):
The first dedicated torpedo boat hunters built for the US Navy, the ships of the Avenger
class were fated to serve only a few years before being retired. They were rendered obsolete by the appearance of true torpedo boat destroyers in the early 1890’s and the type as a concept was quickly abandoned by nearly every navy as technological and tactical dead ends.
were 240 feet long, with a beam of 27 feet and a normal draft of 9 feet. They displaced 733 tons normal and 794 tons full load. They were armed with four 6-pounder (57mm) guns in shielded deck mounts and four 14” torpedo tubes with reloads. They were twin-shaft and powered by triple-expansion engines producing 3,800 horsepower. They were capable of 20 knots and had a maximum range of 2,000 nautical miles. Crew complement was 83.
Fourteen ships of this class were commissioned between 1889 and 1890; Avenger, Sentinel, Guardian, Bulwark, Crusader, Paladin, Archer, Barricade, Hunter, Phalanx, Bastion, Embrasure, Lancer
, and Citadel
. They were extensively deployed in training exercises with US torpedo boats to develop tactics and operational doctrine. Although greatly outgunning contemporary torpedo boats, it quickly became apparent that the ships could only engage their prey under certain circumstances, as they were one to two knots slower than, and not as maneuverable as, the craft they hoped to engage. Against Confederate boats – particularly the newest C and D Class vessels – these disadvantages would be even more pronounced.
The negative reports on these ships returning to the Navy Department caused a bit of an uproar of course and even led to a Congressional investigation. The ships remained in service, however, while the US Navy tried to find a place for them. Designated as TG-1 to TG-14 in 1891, the ships were split between the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets while various proposals were put forth to refit them as more true destroyers entered service during the 1890’s, but little funding was available for what were increasingly considered “white elephants” and the class was placed in reserve in 1900.
Finally, the decision was made to offer some or all to the Mexican Navy, who eventually purchased four, christening them NRM Centinela
TG-2), NRM Baluarte
TG-4), NRM Cruzado
TG-5), and NRM Barricada
TG-8) in 1901. They landed two of their torpedo tubes in favor of two additional 6-pounders and remained in service with the Mexican Navy as regular gunboats until 1913 when they were sold off and scrapped.
As for the remainder of the class, nine were decommissioned and scrapped between 1901 and 1904. The last survivor of this ill-fated group was USS Lancer
(TG-13) which was spared the cutter’s torch, stripped of armament, and refit as a presidential yacht. Renamed USS Declaration
, she served in this new role until mid-1940, when she was retired.