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Dynamite cruiser!
Patrick McSherry, Nicholas Mitiuckov. Sea Classics. Canoga Park: Jan 2003. Vol. 36, Iss. 1; pg. 62, 5 pgs
Author(s): Patrick McSherry, Nicholas Mitiuckov
Publication title: Sea Classics. Canoga Park: Jan 2003. Vol. 36, Iss. 1; pg. 62, 5 pgs
ISSN/ISBN: 00489867
Copyright Challenge Publications Inc. Jan 2003

An eruption subduedthe strange saga of the Vesuvius

The night had been hot; another steamy night in the tropics. Stealthily, the small yacht-like vessel crept toward the approaches of Santiago Harbor. On the bridge of the vessel, silence reigned. Lieutenant Commander John Pillsbury, Ens. L.C. Palmer and a Cuban pilot guided the vessel through the darkness. The vessel slinked past the other ships blockading the town's harbor entrance, moving ever closer to the menacing fortifications of El Morro and the Socapa Battery. The date was 15 June 1898. United States forces had landed in Cuba just days before, and the Cuban Campaign of the Spanish American War was now in full swing.

When the vessel, the sleek US Dynamite Cruiser Vesuvius, was within only 600 yards of the harbor entrance, the vessel hesitated. Her bow was pointed directly toward the fortifications. The silence was broken by a sound that can only be described as a "loud cough." No flame belched forth, nor any cloud of smoke, and virtually no noise was heard. Still, an unseen projectile carrying 250-lb of explosive guncotton arched through the air. It struck "near the ridge of the hills and exploded with a tremendous roar." Earth was thrown 200 feet into the air and a " ...brilliant flash illuminated the heavens and topped the distant mountains with fire. The earth trembled as though it were a live volcano."

In the noise and excitement, the sound of two more "coughs" were virtually indistinguishable as two more projectiles were sent arching toward the fort walls. One shell hit higher on the hill with a similar effect to the first, the other passing over the hills into the harbor beyond. In the waters off Santiago, the concussion was so strong that it shook the cruiser Brooklyn and jarred Capt. Chadwick of the cruiser New York awake.

Aboard Vesuvius, where silence and tension had reigned, was now a scene furious action. The ship trembled as her engines were thrown into full astern. Two Spanish cannon returned fire, as the Vesuvius backed away at an ever--increasing speed until out of range and hidden in the blessed darkness. Crews on other vessels in the blockade breathed a sigh of relief; mistakenly thinking that if the "dynamite cruiser" was hit, surely the explosion would destroy the other ships in the squadron.

The experimental vessel ahd finally fired her guns in action. She would repeat this same nighttime attack a total seven more times in the following nights, rousing the Spanish from their badly needed rest with tremendous blasts in the hot Cuban night. Beyond the demoralizing aspect of his shells, the damage from the Vesuvius' guns was minimal - the destruction of the house of the lighthouse keeper, some damage to the fortifications, and the Spanish torpedo boat destroyer Pluton. Three sailors from the Reina Mercedes were wounded as was one soldier in the garrison.

Though her efforts had the potential for success, she would never gain the confidence of the US Navy. In fact, in spite of newspaper reports almost inebriated with predictions of her great success, the battle for confidence in the vessel's unique weapons system had been lost long 'ere her guns fired on he Santiago hills.

Authorized by Congress on 3 August 1886, the ship was to take advantage of the experiments with pneumatic guns conducted by US Army Lt. Edmund Zalinski. The Vesuvius' unique weapons, promised much. After all, the late 1800s represented a time of naval innovation with many unusual ideas surfacing which either proved their worth or were cast to the wayside. The pneumatic guns represented a new direction in shipboard battery systems and the concept seemed promising. Vesuvius "...was intended to be a

very volcano belching forth destruction." Some considered Vesuvius to be the ship that would revolutionize naval warfare.

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With her crew leisurely gathered on deck surrounding the conning tower, Dynamite Cruiser Vesuvius cuts through a smooth sea. The distinctly yacht-like lines of the vessel and her general lack of military appearance can be seen in this photo. (Library of Congress)

The Vesuvius' main armament consisted of three huge 15-in "pneumatic" compressed air guns which could fire a total of 30 rounds, each containing up to 500-lb of guncotton, dynamite or other high explosive, all in the space of half an hour. It was the ability to fire a shell of this sort that gave the ship its "dynamite cruiser" designation.

The somewhat frightening sound of the official designation, however, was a source of much misinformation and concern. Newspapers reported that "[Vesuvius] carries an enormous supply of dynamite, and a hostile projectile correctly aimed would explode this leaving not a trace of vessel or men. She will either hurl dreadful but sudden death or suffer annihilation, perhaps both.

While drifting in the waters off Santiago, George Robinson, a fireman on the battleship Oregon recorded in his diary that "The Dynamite Cruiser" Vesuvius ...came in today. [She] is some three miles away from us and we sincerely hope she will stay that distance away as she carries tons of high-explosives and is quite dangerous, if the Spaniards ever hit her she might sink the entire fleet. Of course, the same result could be expected of virtually any warship taking a direct hit to the magazines.

From the beginning, the design of the ship got off to an unusual and illfated start. Instead of issuing the contract for the vessel to a shipbuilder, the main contract was issued to the Pneumatic Gun Company. This company, in turn, subcontracted to the well-known shipbuilder of Cramp and Sons of Philadelphia. Unfortunately, this created the situation of the proverbial "tail wagging the dog." The design of the ship seems to have become secondary to the weapons system rather than both aspects combined into the well-integrated whole, required for a successful warship. Progress on the ship was slow for such a small vessel - she was but 250 feet long and 26 feet in beam with a displacement of 930 tons.

Lieutenant Commander Seaton Schroeder, later a Rear Admiral, had the auspicious task of being the first commander of the unique vessel. He joined the ship while she was still under construction. He would sum up the general frustration with the ship's progress, writing "For 20 months I danced attendance upon that little ship.. hoping each month that the next would see a successful functioning of the air valves regulating the amount of compressed air admitted to the guns..But it was a continuous succession of disappointments..." Slowly, however, she approached completion.

The design of the ship centered on her immense guns. The gun tubes, fabricated from cast-iron, were fixed in place at an 18-degree angle to the deck and were an incredible 54 feet long. When they were to be loaded, the final few feet of the gun tube, deep in the bowels of the ship, would pivot, and a new shell, seven feet in length from tip to tailfin, slid in place from a specially designed revolving loader. This created a situation that was far different from that on most ships. The gun crew was deep within the vessel, not in a turret or in the open.

The guns, of course, functioned on air, compressed to a pressure of about 750 pounds per square inch by two Norwalk compressors and stored in a series of tube-shaped reservoirs aboard ship. Originally, the design called for the air to be compressed to 1000 pounds per square inch, but in practice it was found that if the higher pressure was used, the capacity of compressed air that the ship carried in its reservoirs would be exceeded before the vessel could fire all 30 of its lethal projectiles. When fired, the air would suddenly be injected into the tube, lofting the shell. The advantages were many. First, the shell did not need to be cased to withstand the incredible shock inside a typical powder-fired gun tube, therefore the weight of the casing could be reduced and the weight of the explosive payload increased. In addition, the gun tubes could be constructed from brittle castiron since they were not subject to the incredible impulse forces in typical powder guns. The guns, when fired, did not make much noise, or leave the telltale muzzle-blast, cloud of flame, and smoke. The lack of muzzle-blast made it more difficult to locate the ship at night, and the lack of smoke would mean that the crew's view would not be obstructed in battle, a problem with the common brown powder in use at the time. The range was adjusted simply, in theory at least, by altering the amount of compressed air injected into the tubes in accordance with range tables that were to be developed for the guns.

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Vesuvius' main battery, consisting of three 15-in pneumatic guns, was fixed in place near the ship's bow at an angle of 18 degrees to the horizontal. The odd mounting required the entire ship to be maneuvered to aim the guns, since the guns could not be turned independent of the ship. This image was taken before a rudimentary gunsight was mounted between the gun tubes. (E.H. Hart, The Great American-Spanish War Scenes, Chicago: W.B. Conkey Company, 1898, page 64).
The Dynamite Cruiser Vesuvius launches one of her "aerial torpedoes" as the vessel rushes forward at over 17 knots in this 1892 illustration made from a photograph. Vesuvius had excellent speed, but an inability to turn sharply at high speeds, making her movements appear erratic in maneuvers. (Monthly Illustrated American, March 1892, New York; Illustrated American Publishing Co., page 264)

Testing of the guns after commissioning also indicated that there were other advantages. It was found that when the ship's projectiles hit the water at the end of their long curved flight, they changed trajectory. On hitting the water surface, instead of continuing downward, the projectile trajectory went flat and continued straight. Schroeder commented that the projectile was seen to scurry "along near the surface as to produce a noticeable disturbance." Basically the projectile became a torpedo, and would continue moving for about 50 yards. In practice, this allowed for a much greater amount of error in firing, so long as the shell landed short. Knowing this, it was suggested that shells should be aimed slightly short, and to further allow for error, each of the three guns fired so that the projectiles would land at 50yard intervals. The technique would allow for a much higher potential for hits than could be expected with a typical powder gun.

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A projectile for the Vesuvius' pneumatic guns. The projectile was approximately seven feet long from nose to tailfin. The projectile could carry a larger explosive payload than a projectile fired from a standard powderbased gun. This was because less weight went into creating a shell that could survive the impulse forces experienced in the powder-based gun's tube, and this additional weight could then be used to increase the explosive payload. (Scientific American, 3 November 1888, Vol. LIX, No. 187 New York; Munn & Co., page 1)
An 1888 collage of images and sections of Vesuvius. At top, the longitudinal section indicates, at left, the triple expansion steam engine, her boilers at center, and then her guns, forward. The relation of the guns to the revolving loaders can be seen in this section. The transverse section at the lower left of the collage shows the revolving loaders, while the transverse section in the lower right shows the passage between the boilers. The limited beam of the vessel is clearly seen in these images. (Scientific American, 3 November 1888, Vol. LIX, No. 18, New York; Munn & Co., page 1)
A period illustration showing the revolving loader system deep in the bowels of the Vesuvius. Each loader had five tubes, each holding a projectile. Once a gun tube was fired, the loader was revolved so that a waiting projectile aligned with the empty gun tube and the projectile was slid into the gun tube. This increased the speed at which the shells could be loaded by limiting the amount of manhandling necessary. (Harper's Weekly, 6 June 1891, Vol. XXXV, No. 1798, New York; Harper & Bros., page 420)

Design theory seldom reaches its full potential in practice. In the case of Vesuvius there were more than a few problems with its unique weapons. First, technology was also not advanced enough to meet the requirements of the pneumatic guns. The valves used to control the air flow had a substantial amount of error in their operation, hindering, or actually making it impossible, to inject the specifically required amount of compressed air into the gun tubes. Also when the weight of the projectile casing was decreased to allow for the increase in explosive payload, the resulting shell did not have the structural strength to penetrate fortifications, or even the earth. The shells would explode on the surface of the target, making quite a show, creating surface damage, but little structural damage. Even the wind had a greater effect on the gun's success than was first realized. Since the flight time was long and the projectile speed slow, wind could adversely effect the flight path of the projectile.

The most obvious issue, however, was the position of the guns. The pneumatic guns were fixed in place on the ship, and were not placed in a moveable turret. The only way to aim the guns was to maneuver the entire ship! The guns could only fire straight ahead, and therefore the ship could only attack if it was advancing at the enemy head-on! Attacking a stationary target such as a fortification was one thing, but trying to attack a moving target, such as a ship, presented even more of an enormous challenge. If the ship were fleeing from a foe, it was virtually unarmed except for five 3-lb and a Colt revolving gun!

The actual downfall of the experimental weapon system came not from the weapon system, which was never really given the chance to prove or disprove itself at sea, but instead from the vessel which served as its gun platform. The ship was designed for high speed, and was provided with two 4-cylinder tripleexpansion engines and four marine locomotive boilers, powering her over 21.5 knots! To achieve this speed, Vesuvius was provided with a very high length to width ratio - almost ten to one. This led to a very narrow hull, with little room for the modern machinery required by ships of the new steel Navy. Because of this, there was great difficulty in placing the twin screws, each nearly eight feet in diameter, far enough apart. To overcome this problem, the propeller shafts were not installed parallel, but were instead placed at an angle to each other, with the propellers flaring away from the ship's centerline. The result was devastating in that the twin propellers could not be used for maneuvering the ship at low speed.

High speed maneuvering was also a problem but for a different reason. The confined space in the narrow hull also did not allow the necessary space for a rudder control motor of

necessary size. Therefore, at high speeds, the rudder could not be brought over far enough for tight turns. Instead Vesuvius went in immense loops taking a full nautical mile to complete a turn, a turning radius even greater than that of the battleships of the period. This resulted into an embarrassing inability to remain in formation. Schroeder would write, "It may be bluntly stated that had the Vesuvius been designed for less speed she would be a much more efficient and formidable vessel.. There is no use in being able to go fast and far is you cannot do anything when you get there."

These maneuvering problems were compounded by a very confusing steering control arrangement, which, on occasion, caused the ship to veer in the direction opposite to which was intended. This problem once caused Seaton Schroeder to have to explain that, "We cast off at about half-past five in the morning, and at six o'clock we were hard and fast aground a couple of miles down the reach," and that "for some time there was an uneasy feeling in handling her about a Navy yard."

The Vesuvius' crew even had some questions about her basic seaworthiness. The ship's hull itself had a weakness. The discontinuity in the main deck at the aft end of her forecastle left a weak point in the ship's structure, which at least one officer thought could be the ship's downfall and was probably the reason why the vessel began to alarmingly pop rivets in an Atlantic gale. The dimensions and geometry of the ship also caused the vessel to roll extravagantly in even mild seas.

The net result of these maneuverability issues was that the vessel became known for rather erratic behavior, in spite of the best efforts of her crew, and was even termed a "freak" by some. Viewed as uncontrollable, confidence in her quickly began to fade even from her proponents. This resulted in a lack of any proper sea trials, and even the lack of effort to create accurate range tables needed for firing in battle. Almost a year after her commissioning, she still did not even have any projectiles to begin testing for ranging the guns. Even the addition of gunsight, hung between the gun tubes, was an afterthought. In view of Vesuvius' ongoing problems, and the change in administrations, interest in the odd vessel in the US Navy circles rapidly began to fade.

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Vesuvius, at rest, quietly swinging at her anchor. In this view, she sports a new searchlight forward of her foremast. (The United States Navy illustrated, New York; Continental Publishing Co., 1898, page 18)

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To load the pneumatic tubes, the last several feet of each gun tube was fabricated so that it could pivot down to allow for a new projectile to be loaded. The gun tube at left is in position for firing. The two tubes at right are pivoted down to allow for a new projectile to be slid in from the revolving loader, just beyond the equipment pictured in the foreground. (E.H. Hart, The Great American-Spanish War Scenes, Chicago: W.B. Conkey Company, 1898, page 65).

In spite of the problems, the ship's crew made every effort to take advantage of her good properties of speed and large explosive payload. Initially, outside interest in the vessel ran quite high, in contrast to interest within the Navy itself. Within her first two years she was repeatedly examined by experts trying to determine if she was, in fact, the future of naval warfare. Harper's Illustrated Weekly noted that "Italy has asked the Cramps [Cramp & Sons of Philadelphia] about the cost of building one like her. Spain has investigated her. Japan has sent her Minister of War and two or three sets of inquiring busy officials to inspect her, and a high-grade admiral of France has looked her through and through. Her plans and her record have been examined by the naval officials of every country, and one and all have written a question mark opposite her name to designate their inability to gauge her capabilities as an engine of war."

All of the interest did not amount to much in the long run. Only one other dynamite cruiser was ever built, and it was also constructed in the US - the El Cid. During the Brazilian civil war in 1893, she was sold to Brazil and renamed Nictheroy. She never fired her dynamite guns for Brazil, and, in 1898, was resold to the US, which refitted her with standard powder guns and commissioned her as the USS Buffalo.

As for Vesuvius, always of questionable value, the future was limited. The Washington administration had changed since she was ordered, and her erratic behavior eroded the support that did exist. In addition, she lost a strong advocate when the Pneumatic Gun Company went out of business. Still popular with the public if not the Navy, the time between her commissioning in 1890 and her first decommissioning was spent off the east coast of the US making numerous port calls for holidays and local events. In 1895, Vesuvius was decommissioned for repairs. In January 1897, she was recommissioned and had her brief moment of glory during the Spanish American War recorded above.

With the armistice ending the fighting on 12 August, her services were no longer needed. In September 1898, she was decommissioned again. After languishing for nearly six years, in 1904 she was converted to a torpedo testing vessel, and her pneumatic guns being removed. Vesuvius served various roles for the remainder of her career, mainly serving as a station ship in Newport, Rhode Island. She was eventually sold for scrap in 1922. The vessel once thought to be able to revolutionize naval warfare disappeared, with her passing being virtually unnoticed. SC

RU Фагот #04.06.2004 14:24


А это не эта статья, или вариация на её тему, печаталась в "Технике и Вооружении"?
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спасибо. теперь уже 6 пушек. нет, ну почему же на чертеже 8? :rolleyes:

it was virtually unarmed except for five 3-lb and a Colt revolving gun!
Помните, что война с арабами - это война ловушек, засад и убийств из-за угла. (с) Атос, граф де ла Фер ( с помощью А. Дюма)  

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