Well, this was far
harder than I thought it would be.
Who would have thought that choosing an obscure class with scant few references, no reliable plans or drawings, terrible grainy black and white photos and just one
cursed picture showing the underwater hull (from the front!) would make for a daunting first real design?
I present to you the Presidente Errazuriz class protected cruisers, Presidente Errazuriz and Presidente Pinto!
Their acquisition was decided within the frame of the "Latorre" mission of 1888 and, in consequence, it followed a similar process to the battleship Capitán Prat. Similarly to such ship, the tender was won by the french firm Forges et Chantiers de la Mediterranée, however, work on these cruisers advanced with due haste. In this way, at the beginning of the civil conflict of 1891, there was a certain possibility that one of them or both managed to arrive to Chile to reinforce the eclipsing government naval forces and, eventually, turn around the fortunes of the war.
Christened as Presidente Errázuriz and Presidente Pinto, after the heads of state that had created and consolidated that era's Chilean naval power, they belonged to a second generation of cruisers influenced by the Elswick type, of which Esmeralda had been a pioneer. They displaced 2080 tons, could reach a speed of 17 knots and were protected by a 57 mm (2.25") deck and 83 mm (3.25") on the casemates. Their armament comprised of four 150 mm (6") guns, two 120 mm (4.7") guns, four 37 mm Hotchkiss guns, two Gatlings and three 356 mm (14") torpedo tubes.
Even if these cruisers were much further on in their construction than the battleship Capitán Prat, none of them managed to arrive in time for the civil war, as the government of president Balmaceda expected. The revolutionary faction attempted to prevent these ships from departing France, demanding neutrality laws to be respected, which made the Balmaceda government reply with their own arguments before french authorities. Finally, after various months of legal and administrative struggle, the cruisers were authorised to sail, albeit too late to revert the course of the conflict, despite having been dispatched with utmost haste.
In effect, Errázuriz departed from Toulon in June of 1891, still without paint, in order to receive her artillery and pick up an ad hoc crew for the voyage, hired to the private company Transports Reunis, in Le Havre. Finally, the cruiser could set sail from this port on the 14th of July, 1891, en route to Plymouth, England, with subsequent stops in Falmouth, Lisboa, San Vicente (Cape Verde) and Montevideo, before setting course for Chile. Although the trip was done without major setbacks, by then the civil war was being decided on the battlefields of Concón and Placilla.
Pinto would depart even later, with the further hindrance of a voyage riddled with complications and dangers. After accidentally running aground in Toulon, she sailed on the 5th of August, only half armed. Neither could she set course directly for Chile, for she stopped repeatedly at the Baleares islands, Genoa and Kiel, ports in which she picked up french and Spanish engineers and a provisional crew of the most diverse origin. Soon afterwards, she sailed again with the objective of receiving her remaining guns from another ship, near Copenhagen. Due to diverse problems such as issues in the kitchens and conflicts originated on board, there were numerous episodes of violence and drunkness, such that the heterogeneous compliment remained in a mutiny state for four days. Finally, she weighed anchor to dock once more at Le Havre, before finally departing on her delayed transit towards the Chilean coasts.
The completion, deployment to Chile and entry in service were events to which US intelligence paid close attention. It was expected, since this process was developing during the most tense moments of the diplomatic and pre-bellic conflict derived from the so called "Baltimore incident". The shift in the power balance represented by Errázuriz and Pinto, in case of arriving in time to participate in a possible war between Chile and the United States, figured in the calculations made by both nations. Due to this, after docking at Buenos Aires in November of 1891, Errázuriz was visited by a US Navy officer dressed as a civilian, who got acquainted with every detail he could until his conduct was considered suspicious and he was invited to abandon the ship.
Presidente Errázuriz arrived first and was quickly incorporated into the exercise squadron, in April 1892. Presidente Pinto arrived in September of the same year and had to be subjected to repairs in her machinery.
In October of 1896, Presidente Pinto was assigned the mission to sail for Guayaquil with aid due to a massive fire occurred at that port. The opportunity was taken to bring the remains of Manuel Joaquín Orella, notorious Chilean naval officer of the war in the Pacific, who had died in 1881 there, in order to be buried inside the monument to the heroes of Iquique, located in the Sotomayor square of Valparaíso.
Within the navy, the Errázuriz-class cruisers generated controversy due to their characteristics and performance, specially due to their turn of speed and their boilers. It was argued in their defence that, although they were good ships, they had been mistreated during their voyage to Chile. To these journeys full of vicissitudes, specially for Pinto, were added unfortunate circumstances during service, which prevented giving them the care that they needed:
"Arrived on Chile, they've not always had good luck and on certain occasions have served as deposits for deserters and desperadoes, earning so significative and not very flattening names and it's understood that in such circumstances and with such elements, the matériel surely has been poorly taken care of". [Revista de Marina, Vol. 26, N°154, Apr. 1899, p.2745. Good luck finding that one]
The facts were that both ships seldomly integrated the main fleet force, with the exception of the period of maximum tension with Argentina, in 1898, and were more frequently used in secondary tasks, like exploration and sounding. In May of 1905, Pinto and Errázuriz were sent to southern waters with the objective of studying appropriate sites for installing wireless transmitting stations. With their mission accomplished and while returning home, Pinto unexpectedly ran aground in the shallows of Velahué, just outside of Quellón, where she irredeemably sank on the 26th of May. Her commander, capitán de navío Arturo Whiteside, directed the evacuation and the salvage of matériel and documents. While all of the crew was recovered safe and sound by other naval units, his sense of honour led him to follow the same fate as his ship, since he considered himself sole responsible for the event. Like so, he headed for his chambers and unleashed a revolver shot to his temple. Even during June of 1905, hopes in salvaging the ship were not lost, but the loss was total and there remained nothing but to extract all useful elements.
Errázuriz undertook a refit in 1908, her original armament configuration was changed for four 152 mm (6") and two 119 mm (4.7") guns [very likely Armstrongs guns, though Navpedia says 120s are Canet], and her fighting tops were removed. Likewise, her boilers, which had been subject of so much talking, were renovated and she was now able to reach 19 knots.
From 1921, she was designated to host the pilot [merchant marine officer?] school on board and with such an end she docked at Puerto Montt. Nine years after hosting the merchant marine officer aspirants, she was sold for scrap.
...I hate when stories end with the word scrap, but I digress.
First of all, there's a lot of interpreting, guesstimating, (un)educated guesswork and outright artistic license in these, as the sources are really awful. For example, the position of the gatlings is based on the project
plans, and may or may not have actually been there at all, though it's stated that the ships did in fact carry them, though they seem to have been removed later on. Second, the position of the shafts and propellers is based on a very crude line drawing showing the artillery placement, since I've found no pictures or diagrams showing them. And third, I've not added any detail that I haven't been at least able to interpret as kind of being there, so they might be a little bare.
Blah blah blah... drawings!
Nameship as arrived to Chile in 1892:
Next, sister ship as arrived to Chile:
Presidente Pinto before and around the time of her loss in 1905 (although an engraving implies that she was painted white/buff and had lost her fighting tops by then, though this is not stated in written form anywhere):
Coming soon: Errazuriz later in her career, World War I and as a floating school.
Many thanks to Garlic for drawing Prat, from where I took the pallette for the sake of consistency, and Panda for drawing Zenteno, from where I'm basing the guns on Errazuriz as refitted. I really like both those ships so cheers!
Of course, your opinion is greatly appreciated and I'm sure you'll find flaws on these, so bring it.
Thanks for the wait!
Errazuriz around the time of the first world war, after her refit. Overall gray, fighting tops are gone, 150 mm Canets replaced by 6" Armstrongs and 120 mm Canets replaced by either newer Canets or 4.7" Armstrongs:
Errazuriz at the end of her career as a floating school. As you can see, most of the stuff that made her a warship is gone: