In 1865 the United States possessed a modern and sizable navy. Although she did not possess the large ocean going ironclads like the British HMS Warrior, some of the larger monitors were formidable vessels in their own right. Of course the development of the USN had been spurred by the crisis of the American Civil War. With the defeat of the Confederacy, the US Navy fell into a steep decline. There were no new ships and what the USN had in 1865 either rotted or rusted. With the United States looking inwards, world events were basically ignored and a navy of any size was seen as a tool of colonialism. During this time the view of the average American citizen was that colonialism was the tool of Great Britain and other European powers. As a consequence in two decades the United States had a navy in name only and was incapable of defending itself at sea even against some Latin-American powers and the ability to construct warships atrophied. In 1881 the naval advisory board had looked into the possibility of the United States building an armored ship of up to 8,500 tons but had rejected the idea. The industrial infrastructure of the United States could not produce the armor plate, large caliber guns or other technologically advanced features of a major warship. Not only was the technology required beyond American shipyards but existing slips and docks were too small.
In stead the USN had to comfort itself with beginner’s ships. It was better to build ships of a substandard caliber and smaller dimensions, just for experience and to get yards used to building modern construction than to continue in the moribund state of the USN of 1881 with nothing other than rust and wood. The 1883 appropriations act actually had its genesis in the spring of 1881 when William H. Hunt became Secretary of the Navy at the start of the term of Republican President James A. Garfield. He appointed a board to advise what new construction was needed by the navy. There was a quite a disagreement among its members as to what was needed but in the end they advised to start a very ambitious program of 68 steel warships. Hunt knew that he couldn’t sell that big of plan to Congress, then in the fall of 1881 Garfield was killed in an assassination. The presidential successor, Chester Arthur, used his elevation to the presidency to pay off old political debts and replaced Hunt as Secretary of the Navy with William E. Chandler. Hunt was made ambassador to Russia and he died at his post in 1884, two years before his vision of a modern steel navy started to come to fruition with the launching of the first modern steel cruiser, the USS Atlanta. This would not be the first time that politics would intervene drastically in the formation of a modern American steel navy, nor would it be the most serious intervention. If any American naval building program was fraught with political intervention and bungling it was the initial program of 1883.
Congress would have none of a program for 68 ships, so the program was whittled down to a modest six cruisers and nine smaller ships. Even this was too grand for the isolationist Congress. The final bill authorized only two small cruisers to be paid out of existing naval funds with no extra money for their construction to be administered under a new committee. This last provision, instead of being a detriment was actually a benefit as the members of the new committee were more practical, realistic and had the temper of the current political environment. The new committee, headed by Commodore Robert W. Shufeldt, revised the plan by deleting the largest of the approved cruisers, added three even smaller cruisers and a dispatch boat, all to be paid out of additional construction funds. This bill passed almost intact. The final approved act called for the smallest of the two initial proposed cruisers, two of the smaller cruisers and the dispatch boat but with an additional $1,300,000 in construction funds. On March 3, 1883 this Bill was signed by President Arthur and the American Steel Navy was born.
These first four ships were called the ABCD ships because the names of the four ships started with those letters. The two small cruisers were Atlanta and Boston, the larger cruiser left over from the earlier attempt was Chicago and the dispatch boat was Dolphin. Secretary Chandler wanted to start on the ships as soon as possible so bids were solicited in May 1883 before the final plans had been developed. Because of this confusion some possible builders were frightened off, with good reason as it turned out. There were only eight bidders and only two, William Cramp of Philadelphia and John Roach of Chester, Pennsylvania bid on all four. John Roach was the low bidder on all four, as the Roach facility was the only one that had the infrastructure of rolling steel plates, hull construction and erecting machinery already in place. All four ships were given to Roach. Although strictly in conformance with existing law, it was unfortunate that all four bids went to this one company. Since Roach was a friend of the Secretary of the Navy and had been involved in some earlier questionable dealings, the whole thing became a political football, which the Democratic party seized upon as an election issue. As construction started the Roach Yard experienced problems that had been predicted by minority of the first advisory committee. This was the first time that modern steel warships had been built for the USN and every step in the construction process presented new unexpected challenges. Steel plates were more difficult to produce than anticipated and the quality of the plates varied. Some were rejected as not meeting naval specifications. A fire at the Roach yard destroyed some of their critical machinery and it had to be replaced. Even during construction different naval boards kept changing requirements on the ships.
The smallest of the ships, the Dolphin was the first to be completed. Then, shortly after President Grover Cleveland and the Democratic party came to power in November 1884, the steel propeller shaft of Dolphin shattered during trials. The new Secretary of the Navy was a political hack named William C. Whitney who used minor deficiencies of the Dolphin to launch to outright attack the naval program and the Roach yards. Whitney refused to accept the Dolphin into the navy and refused to pay for it. What’s worse Whitney persuaded the Attorney General to call the entire contract with Roach for all four ships void. Work on all ships ceased and creditors besieged Roach demanding money, which the constructor did not have because of the improper actions of the Secretary of the Navy and Attorney General. Furthermore, the Attorney General threatened legal action against Roach to return the money the company had already received from the government. That put an end to Roach. John Roach placed his company into bankruptcy and the New York World gleefully proclaimed; "John Roach’s career as a naval barnacle is ended." Whitney was dismayed to discover that even the biggest of the naval yards at New York was incapable of finishing the three cruisers’ hulls and engines. Roach had been right in the problems that he had presented to the navy and had been amply justified in his delays. Whitney seized the Roach yard and completed most of the work on the three cruisers there, under the supervision of navy constructors.
It was also realized that Whitney’s rejection of the Dolphin and the Attorney Generals voiding of the contract with Roach were completely improper. By then it was too late for the John Roach Shipyard. John Roach had died broken hearted and the company that he had founded was bankrupt, financially destroyed in the political hatchet job. In 1883 this yard was the most advanced in the nation. By 1886 it was no more. There is no telling what further contributions the John Roach Shipyard may have made to the progress of the American Steel Navy if not but for the misguided actions of Whitney et al. However, Whitney then turned around and basically did the same thing that the previous administration had done. Rather than repudiate a new steel navy, he embraced it but put his stamp on it with pushing for a large increase in additional ships. In the largest naval appropriations package since the Civil War, in 1886 Congress voted for 27,436 tons of new construction which would include New York, Olympia and five smaller protected cruisers, one of which was USS Baltimore. The next generation of warships past the A,B,C,D ships were authorized under the stewardship of Whitney. In order to develop a national infrastructure, their construction was placed out as a package bid, which was won by the Cramp Yard of Philadelphia in the east and the Union Yard in the west. Another wise move by Whitney was to press Congress to require American manufacture of the key components of the new warships, such as armor, armament and machinery. This of course also fostered the growth of the ship building infrastructure that had been lost since the Civil War. It is odd that Whitney condemned the first package deal given to Roach but then did the same thing and gave a package deal to archrival Cramp.
At the start the USN was not comfortable with American designers. Where were they? What had they done? Since there had been no new construction of warships in the United States in twenty years there was no work for American warship designers and it had become a lost art. From the very first with Atlanta and Boston, British designs, built in American yards were preferred. Whitney went shopping for designs at Armstrongs-Elswick, which was the largest warship constructor in the world and was said to build navies not just ships. Two designs were acquired, one was for a protected cruiser similar to the Japanese Naniwa. This design was sent to the Union Yard of San Francisco and became USS Charleston. The second design was based on an unsuccessful bid to design a Spanish protected cruiser. This design was purchased with the contract given to Cramp and became the USS Baltimore. The Baltimore design appeared at first glance to be dated, as it featured a high freeboard and almost no superstructure. However, the design relied strictly upon modern triple expansion steam engines with no muddled thinking of using sails. She also was fitted with a rather formidable armament of four eight-inch guns, mounted in sponsons on the raised forecastle and quarterdeck and six 6-inch guns in sponsons along the lower main deck. The design made for a fast, heavily armed modern cruiser. Baltimore, later designated cruiser 3, was laid down on May 5, 1887 at Philadelphia. Baltimore was to be launched on August 28, 1888 but something obviously went awry as the launching was delayed to October 6, 1888. "The U. S. Cruiser Baltimore – This new steel cruiser, built by Messrs. William Cramp & Sons, of Philadelphia, and which was to have been launched August 28, was at last successfully floated on the afternoon of October 6, in the presence of a numerous company of distinguished visitors. " (Scientific American, October 13, 1888)
Baltimorewas commissioned on January 7, 1890 and it was not long before she was involved in a Latin American incident. One of her first commanders was Winfield Scott Schley, later Commodore at the Battle of Santiago. The Baltimore was at anchor in Valparaiso, Chile on October 16, 1891 during an internal conflict between the Chilean President and Chilean Congress. The US Navy had been dry since the Civil War and naturally sailors being sailors, they would seek alcoholic beverages as well as other comforts at every opportunity. Schley gave the Baltimore crew liberty at the port during this period of unrest in which anti-American feelings were running high with the pro-Congress group. At a local canteen a local citizen spat into the face of an American sailor and a brawl started between a Chilean mob and the mob of USN sailors on liberty. The police finally intervened on behalf of the Chilean mob and arrested 36 sailors, some of whom were beaten in custody. Two US sailors were dragged from a streetcar and killed, one knifed and shot by police and the other knifed 18 times in the back. This raised calls of war against Chile in the US and war against the US in some sectors of Chilean society. However, cooler heads prevailed and the incident was diffused when Chile gave a half-hearted apology and agreed to pay $75,000 to the families of the two dead sailors. In 1891 neither country could have done much against the other but this war scare served to expedite further expansion of the new Steel Navy.
Early in 1898 the USS Baltimore was in Hawaii and was scheduled to replace USS Olympia as flagship of the US Asiatic Squadron. However, after the USS Maine blew up in Havana harbor, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt, was determined to get all of his beloved navy’s ships in optimum position to go to war with Spain. When Commodore George Dewey assumed command of the American Asiatic Squadron from Rear Admiral McNair on January 3, 1898 at Nagasaki, Japan, the squadron was scattered throughout the Pacific. As part of the naval preparations for the upcoming war, on February 25, 1898 the whole American Asiatic Squadron was concentrated at Hong Kong and ordered to "keep full of coal." On March 3, 1898 the wooden steam sloop Mohican was ordered to load ammunition at San Francisco and to proceed to Hawaii to transfer it to Baltimore. The Baltimore was ordered to load this extra ammunition and to proceed to Hong Kong to join the US Asiatic Squadron under Commodore Dewey. Baltimore had been scheduled to relieve Olympia as flagship of the squadron but in the February 25 cable to Dewey, Roosevelt told him to prepare for operations against the Spanish in the Philippines and that he would keep the Olympia as well.
The Baltimore still had not arrived on April 19, when the Asiatic Squadron painted over the white and buff paint schemes of the warships with a dull green-gray "war color". While at Hong Kong the Americans soon struck up friendships with their English hosts. The British had reports that Manila Bay was heavily mined and that the Spanish flotilla was further guarded by heavy shore batteries. "The prevailing impression among even the military class in the colony was that our squadron was going to certain destruction. In the Hong Kong Club it was not possible to get bets, even at heavy odds, that our expedition would be a success, and this in spite of a friendly predilection among the British in our favor. I was told, after our officers had been entertained at dinner by a British regiment, that the universal remark among our hosts was to this effect: ‘A fine set of fellows, but unhappily we shall never see them again." - Commodore George Dewey – (The Spanish War, An American Epic 1898 by G.J.A. O’Toole 1984, at page 176)
Scientific American - October 18, 1888
Since 1845 the Scientific American had published all of startling new inventions of the 19th Century. It billed itself as the weekly journal of practical information, art, science, mechanics, chemistry and manufactures. Among the many subjects covered was the development of new warships. Warship construction from many countries was covered but new warships of the expanding Steel Navy of the USN of the 1880s and 1890s always seemed to grab the front page. The issue for October 13, 1888 was no exception since the entire front page was devoted to resident artist drawings of the launching of USS Baltimore. "The Baltimore is designed to be the most formidable of all the unarmored ships now under construction for the navy." All of the details of armament, the "exceptionally thick protective deck" and the flagship provisions are covered. It is also mentioned that Cramp and Sons, builders of the Baltimore, Yorktown and Vesuvious has been granted an extension in their construction of Philadelphia and Newark. Secretary of the Navy Whitney, who was present for the launching of Baltimore, certainly never allowed any extension in the construction times of the A,B,C,D ships by the John Roach Company. Other naval topics in this issue are a very fine drawing of the Great Eastern going to the breakers with accompanying story and an article on how the Union Iron Works of San Francisco is now capable of building ships as good as those built on the east coast with their recent construction of the steel steamers Arago and Pomona and the launching of cruiser USS Charleston.
The Baltimore arrived in the nick of time with the extra ammunition for the squadron. In the evening of April 22, 1898 Baltimore tied up in Hong Kong. Dewey immediately arranged to have her dry-docked to be cleaned and repainted. On Saturday April 23, 1898 a note from the Governor of Hong Kong was delivered to Dewey announcing that there was war between Spain and the United States. As Britain was neutral, all Spanish and American warships had to leave the British Crown Colony by 4:00 PM on April 25. Beneath the official message the governor had personally written, " God knows, my dear Commodore, that it breaks my heart to send you this notification." When war came Commodore Dewey had four protected cruisers; Olympia, Baltimore, Boston, Raleigh, two gunboats; Concord, Petrel ; a revenue cutter, the McCulloch and two colliers, Zafiro and Nanshan, which had been purchased from their British owners with their loads of coal. However, Dewey had prepared for this, he moved his squadron 30 miles from Hong Kong to Mirs Bay in the territorial waters of Imperial China. Dewey had correctly reasoned that China would not be quite as fast at declaring neutrality as Britain. Dewey used a Hong Kong tug, the Fame, as a dispatch vessel, chugging to and fro from Hong Kong and Mirs Bay. On the 25th the Fame brought orders for Dewey. It was at Mirs Bay that the Baltimore transferred the extra ammunition she was carrying to the rest of the squadron. "War has commenced between the United States and Spain. Proceed at once to Philippine Islands. Commence operations particularly against the Spanish fleet. You must capture vessels or destroy. Use utmost endeavor."
Since arriving at Hong Kong Dewey had constructed a make-shift spy system to flesh out the meager information that he had about the Spanish forces in the Philippines. One of the chief suppliers of information was O.F. Williams, American counsel in Manila. Dewey decided to await the arrival of Williams, who had been ejected from Manila, to get the latest information of the Spanish position. On the 27th the Fame arrived at Mirs Bay with Williams on board. That afternoon at 2:00 PM Olympia led the Asiatic Squadron out of Mirs Bay at set course for Manila. There were two columns. Olympia led the battleline, which steamed in the following order, Olympia, Baltimore, Raleigh, Petrel, Concord and Boston. McCulloch and the two colliers made up the second column.
"The cruisers were modern ships – not the Navy’s newest, but far from antiquated. They were a product of a shipbuilding program of some dozen years past in the last twilight of the days of fighting sail, when men-of-war were still propelled by a combination of canvas and steam. Tall masts and broad yards rose above the black smoke billowing from their stacks and swayed steeply over the water with every quartering sea." (The Spanish War, An American Epic 1898 by G.J.A. O’Toole 1984, at page 177) On the first day out, steaming at a leisurely eight knots, due to the slow, heavily laden colliers, the squadron practiced battle-drills and jettisoned all wooden fittings and furnishings to lessen the chance of fire. On the second day Dewey had posted on each of his ships a copy of the announcement of the Spanish Captain-General Augusti of the Philippines, which had arrived as the squadron sailed.
"Spaniards: Between Spain and the United States of North America hostilities have broken out. The moment has arrived to prove to the world that we possess the spirit to conquer those who, pretending to be loyal friends, take advantage of our misfortunes and abuse our hospitality, using means which civilized nations count unworthy and disreputable.
The North American people, constituted of all the social excresences, have exhausted our patience and provoked war with their perfidious machinations, with their acts of treachery, with their outrages against the law of nations and international conventions. The struggle will be short and decisive. The God of Victories will give us one as brilliant and complete as the righteousness and justice of our cause demanded.
Spain, which counts upon the sympathies of all nations, will emerge triumphant from this new test, humiliating and blasting the adventurers from those United States that, without cohesion, without history, offer humanity only infamous traditions and ungrateful spectacles in her chambers, in which appear insolence, defamation, cowardice, and cynicism. Her squadron manned by foreigners, possessing neither instructions nor discipline, is preparing to come to this archipelago with the ruffianly intention of robbing us of all that means life, honor and liberty. Pretending to be inspired by a courage of which they are incapable. American seamen undertake as an enterprise capable of realization the substitution of Protestantism for the Catholic religion, to treat you as tribes refractory to civilization, to take possession of your riches as if they were unacquainted with the rights of property, and to kidnap those persons who they consider useful to man their ships or to be exploited in agricultural or industrial labor.
Vain designs, ridiculous boastings! Your indomitable bravery will suffice to frustrate the realization of their designs. You will not allow the faith that you profess to be made a mockery or impious hands to be placed on the temple of the true God, the images you adore thrown down by unbelief. The aggressors shall not profane the tombs of your fathers, they shall not gratify their lustful passions at the cost of your wives’ and daughters’ honor, or appropriate the property that our industry has accumulated as a provision for your old age. They shall not perpetrate their crimes, inspired by their wickedness and covetousness, because you valor and patriotism will suffice to punish a base people that are claiming to be civilized and cultivated. They have exterminated the natives of North America, instead of giving them civilization and progress. Filipinos, prepare for the struggle, and, united under the glorious Spanish flag, which is covered with laurels, fight with the conviction that victory will crown your efforts, and to the calls of your enemies oppose the decision of a Christian and a patriot, and cry ‘Viva Espana!" (The Story of the War of 1898, by Nephew King 1898, pages 60 & 61).
The effect on the crews of Dewey’s ships was electric. That night, among other songs played by the band of the Olympia, they played "There’ll be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight!" (The Spanish War, An American Epic 1898 by G.J.A. O’Toole 1984, at page 179)
In spite of the proclamation of the Captain-General, Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasaron, commander of the Spanish Philippine squadron had no illusions of the chances of his collection of relics against Dewey’s cruisers. The Governor-General had advised him to make up for his material deficiencies with "zeal and activity". He first moved to Subic Bay, which was to the northeast of Manila with a much narrower channel than the main anchorage at Manila. At Subic he discovered that only five of the fourteen mines were in place and the 5.9-inch guns that he thought were guarding the channel were still on the beach. Since the water depth was 40 meters, he took his ships back to Manila because he decided that if he was going to be sunk it would be better if it happened in shallow waters. Rather than anchor off Manila, which had strong coastal batteries, the Spanish Admiral anchored his squadron further south at Cavite. His reason for doing so was to spare the citizens of Manila. He thought that they would suffer needless casualties in the coming battle if he was at Manila when the Americans arrived.
On the morning of the 30th the American Asiatic Squadron arrived off Luzon. Dewey ordered Boston and Concord to steam ahead on reconnaissance of Subic Bay. Later, when it was thought that gunfire was heard, Dewey dispatched Baltimore as reinforcement for Boston and Concord. At 3:30 PM the squadron turned the southwest cape of Luzon and found the three advance ships off an abandoned Subic Bay. Dewey was relieved because he considered Subic Bay a much tougher nut to crack than Manila Bay. That night Olympia led the squadron in forcing the straits of Boca Grande between Corregidor and the mainland. This was where the squadron was most vulnerable. Dewey doubted reports that the channel was mined as he considered the task too difficult to properly accomplish but he was acutely concerned with shore batteries on Corregidor. Nothing seemed to happen though. The cruisers were already in Manila Bay when accumulated soot in the stack of McCulloch ignited into a pillar of fire. The Spanish shore battery opened up and Boston, Concord, Raleigh and McCulloch answered. The Spanish fired three times with no hits before a shell from Boston silenced them.
Now into Manila Bay the squadron slowed in order to arrive at Manila at first light. The Spanish squadron was sighted at Cavite naval station and the Asiatic Squadron closed. Spanish land batteries at Cavite and Manila opened up but missed as all of their shells were over-shots. One large shell landed in the wake of Baltimore. Lieutenant Rodman in the following Raleigh stated, "If this shell had hit, it would have done a tremendous amount of damage.…Had the enemy allowed for the ship’s speed in sighting their guns, the shot would have struck on the waterline and no doubt have seriously crippled her." (Empire by Default, 1998, by Ivan Musicant, at page 220) Boston and Concord did some counter-battery firing but soon ceased after two shells each in order to save their ammunition for the Spanish squadron. At 5:40 AM the two squadrons were separated by 5,400 yards and Dewey turned to the captain of the Olympia and declared, "You may fire when read,y Gridley." Bands aboard the Olympia and Baltimore played the Star Spangled Banner as the crews of Dewey’s squadron stood to attention. The American squadron, firing its port batteries, closed to 3,000 yards and steamed parallel to the Spanish. An aide to Dewey spotted a Spanish torpedo boat steaming out of Cavite, headed across the American Squadron’s path. "You look after her, I have no time to bother with torpedo boats. Let me know when you’ve finished with her." The QF guns and even the Marine riflemen of Olympia opened fire on the hapless torpedo boat and she was soon driven ashore. After Olympia cleared the Spanish line she executed an 180 degree turn, followed by the rest of the squadron, and went back to engage with their starboard batteries.
Although the American shelling was making itself felt, it was not a completely one-sided contest. The guns of the Spanish squadron and the shore batteries were obtaining hits but the American ships were lucky that no hit was critical. "The Baltimore received the most damage. One 4.7-inch shell struck the hull on the starboard side, penetrated the armored deck, rattled about inside the ship, and exited through the after engine room hatch combing, where it struck a 6-inch gun, putting it out of action. The mad thing continued its flight, hitting a box of rapid-fire ammunition, exploding several charges that slightly wounded eight men." (Empire by Default, 1998, by Ivan Musicant, at page 225) After again steaming past the Spanish squadron, the Americans executed another 180 degree turn to steam in a third pass past the Spanish. Most of the Spanish ships were on fire by now but still fighting. After the third pass Dewey prepared to make a fourth run when the Spanish flagship, Reina Cristina was sighted steaming out into the bay to attack Olympia. In spite of her gallant challenge, Reina Cristina was doomed and shot to pieces by concentrated fire at the range of 1,200 yards. At that range shells could be followed all the way to their impact on the Spanish cruiser. She turned to shore and shallow water.
"The ship being beyond control, the hull, smokepipe, and mast riddled with shot, the confusion occasioned by the cries of the wounded, half the crew out of action, among whom were seven officers, I gave the order to sink and abandon the ship before the magazine should explode, making signal at the same time to the Isla de Cuba and Isla de Luzon to assist in saving the rest of the crew, which they did." -Admiral Montojo- (The Spanish War, An American Epic 1898 by G.J.A. O’Toole 1984, at page 187)
In making ready for a fifth pass, Dewey received alarming news. Olympia was down to 15 rounds per five-inch gun, about five minutes worth at the present rate of expenditure. The nearest resupply of ammunition was 7,000 miles away. Since the Spanish were still fighting, even though on fire, Dewey had the squadron draw off into the Bay to redistribute ammunition. At the same time he called his captains aboard the Olympia and ordered breakfast for the crews, which created an impression that he had paused the action for breakfast rather than because of the dire ammunition situation. "For God’s sake, captain,’ one gunner cried, ‘don’t let us stop now! To hell with breakfast!" (The Spanish War, An American Epic 1898 by G.J.A. O’Toole 1984, at page 187) Total casualties in the squadron were eight wounded, all on Baltimore, and none killed, although the chief engineer of McCulloch had died the night before in the Channel of Boca Grande of heat prostration.
The break in the battle lasted three and a half hours but during this time fires reached the ammunition most of the Spanish ships, resulting in frequent explosions. When the Asiatic squadron headed back in at 11:16 after the redistribution of ammunition with Baltimore in the lead, only the Don Antonio de Ulloa was able to resume the fight among the Spanish squadron. Ulloa and the shore batteries opened fire but by 12:30 Ulloa was sunk and the Cavite shore batteries surrendered. The Manila batteries were still taking pot shots at the American warships and Dewey sent a message to the Spanish commander that if another shot was fired by these batteries, he would destroy Manila. The Spanish agreed to a cease fire. Since the Spanish refused to allow Dewey to use the cable to Hong Kong Dewey had Zafiro dredge it up and cut it. Now Manila was cut off from communications with the outside world for both sides. With the cease fire the city had virtually surrendered and the colonel commanding the coastal batteries, feeling disgraced and dishonored at the failure of the batteries to stop the American squadron, shot himself.
The last report sent out by Manila’s cable before it was cut, was during the American pause, from the captain-general of Manila to Madrid. "Our fleet engaged the enemy in brilliant combat, protected by the Cavite and Manila forts. They obliged the enemy with heavy loss, to maneuver repeatedly. At 9 o’clock the American squadron took refuge behind the foreign merchant shipping, on the east side of the bay. Our fleet, considering the enemy’s superiority, naturally suffered severe loss….There was considerable loss of life." (The Spanish War, An American Epic 1898 by G.J.A. O’Toole 1984, at page 189) For the next week there was only silence from Manila. At first American newspapers were jubilant. Spain’s Asiatic Fleet Destroyed by Dewey" New York Harold "Victory Complete!…Glorious!….The Maine is Avenged." New York Journal. These headlines were not based on any information or facts and entirely fabricated. By the end of the week nervousness had set in. Reports from Europe claimed that five American ships had been sunk. Great Nervousness Is Felt in Washington Because Nothing is Heard from Dewey." "Not a Word from Dewey." New York Sun. Still No News from Dewey." Chicago Tribune.
Then the word broke. A reporter who had been aboard the McCulloch arrived in Hong Kong and cabled, "I have just arrived here on the United States revenue cutter McCulloch with my report of the great American triumph at Manila. The entire Spanish fleet of eleven vessels was destroyed. Three hundred Spaniards were killed and four hundred wounded. Our loss was none killed and six slightly wounded. Not one of the American ships was injured." (The Spanish War, An American Epic 1898 by G.J.A. O’Toole 1984, at page 189) This first report beat the official report by five hours because the official report was sent in code and had to be carefully checked at each relay to ensure that it was reported correctly. When the Secretary of the Navy came forward to release a censored version of the report, it was discovered that the newsmen already had the complete report, leaked to them by the Assistant Secretary, Theodore Roosevelt in his last act before going off with his Rough Riders.
America was overjoyed and Europe was stunned. "American jubilance was matched by European incredulity. The truth, of course, was that Spain’s failure to make even minimal defensive preparations at Manila had been a major factor in Dewey’s victory, but such gross negligence was beyond belief. It was easier to accept the idea that the United States has suddenly become one of the world'’ great naval powers, in the same league as England, France and Germany. But only in England was that conclusion drawn with pleasure." (The Spanish War, An American Epic 1898 by G.J.A. O’Toole 1984, at page 190-191)
USS Baltimore had played her part in the most significant action of her career but her career still held two more wars in her future. She underwent a refit from 1900 to 1903 in which she was rearmed. Her old mixed battery of four 8-inch/35 and six 6-inch/30 were removed and twelve 6-inch/40 installed. They were arrayed two on forecastle, two on quarterdeck and eight amidships with no sponsons. She also received new boilers. By 1911 Baltimore had long since ceased serving as a first line warship. From 1911 to 1912 she was a receiving ship at Charleston, South Carolina. From 1913 to 1914 she underwent another refit to serve as a minelayer. She served in this capacity in World War One with an armament of four 5-inch/51, four 6 pdr and two 3-inch HA guns with a mine capacity of 180. When the United States entered the war Baltimore participated in laying down the Northern Mine Barrage. By 1922 she was back at Pearl Harbor and was decommissioned. She lingered there for years as a rusting hulk and was still at Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941. Even in the desperate months of early 1942, there clearly was no future for a protected cruiser ordered in 1886 and she was sold for scrap on February 16, 1942. USS Baltimore, arguably the best cruiser laid down in the 1880s for the new American Steel Navy, had seen the future. Laid down when the USN could hardly be considered a 5th class navy, she saw the dawn of the war that would make the USN the most dominant navy ever created. (History from All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860-1905, 1979; The American Steel Navy by John Alden; Empire by Default, 1998, by Ivan Musicant; The Naval Annual 1899, The Spanish War, An American Epic 1898 by G.J.A. O’Toole 1984; Scientific American, October 13, 1888; The Story of the War of 1898, by Nephew King 1898; U.S. Cruisers, An Illustrated Design History, 1984, by Norman Friedman)
The Combrig USS Baltimore
This is a first from Combrig, a model of one of the ships of the New American Steel Navy. Although the Baltimore was probably the best of the cruisers laid down in the 1880s, the design was deceptively simple. She was almost all hull with a minimum in superstructure. Of course that would be true with the Combrig kit as well. The hull which measures slightly over 5 ½-inches has a very high freeboard as did the actual ship. I compared the hull detail with the drawing of Baltimore by A.D. Baker III found on page 25 of U.S. Cruisers, An Illustrated Design History by Norman Friedman. Although there were some variances in detail the Combrig hull detail compared very favorably with that drawing. There are three rows of portholes at the forecastle and quarterdeck with the middle row full length of the ship. There was a variance in the numbers of portholes between the kit and drawing but this was rather minor in nature. Both kit and drawing also had a row of square doors below the line of portholes amidships. These doors, which are delicately incised in the Combrig casting, also varied between the kit and drawing. The drawing showed six and the kit had seven with slightly different locations. The source for this variance maybe another, larger, drawing by A. D. Baker of Baltimore as of 1917 on page 24 of the same volume. This drawing shows seven of these square doors, placed in the same locations as found on the kit. The porthole count and locations also seem to match up between kit and this drawing. It is doubtful if the Baltimore would have received an archaic feature such as an additional square door in a subsequent refit, so the porthole and square door arrangement in the larger drawing may be the more accurate of the two drawings. There is also an anchor hawse plate with two hawse on both sides. Detail that does appear to be missing on the kit is the bow scrollwork and doors for the above the water torpedo tubes. However, the features that dominate the hull sides are the five sponsons found on each side. Two of these at forecastle and quarterdeck are for 8-inch guns with the three on the lower main deck for 6-inch guns. These positions swelling out from the high freeboard hull add nice relief and character.
The deck detail on the Combrig Baltimore is very nice. All decks have very finely scribed wooden planking. On the forecastle you’ll find a small but crisp breakwater. What is particularly interesting is the two sets of bollards. Instead of being placed along the deck edge, as found in most 20th century designs, they are inboard and parallel to the curving forward face of the breakwater. Also found on the forecastle are the anchor plate, deck combing and one of the few pieces of superstructure, the pilothouse. There are four locator holes on the forecastle, two for the sponson 8-inch guns, one for a windlass and one for the foremast, which is in front of the pilothouse. The lower amidships main deck, which runs about 60% of the ship, contains the highest percentage of deck fittings. Both of the raised stack bases have what appears to be access doors incised on their surface. At the aft portion of the deck there are a skylight and large deck fitting with an excellent louver design. There is one additional large and seven smaller deck coamings all found on centerline. Although there are all of these deck fittings, they are almost dominated by all of the locator holes found along the length of the deck. There are twenty-one of these, six for the sponson six-inch guns, one for the main mast and 14 for a forest of j-funnel ventilators. The quarterdeck detail is almost sedate in comparison. There are a couple of coamings, two more sets of bollards parallel to the deck edge and four locator holes. Two of these are for the aft 8-inch guns and two more for small ventilator funnels. A solid hull bulkhead runs from the breakwater to deck break with main deck, along the entire main deck and on the quarterdeck to just past the aft 8-inch sponsons.
Although there might not be a lot of superstructure to the Baltimore, as you can see from the listing of fittings and locator holes on the deck, there are a lot of features to be found on the decks. In fact they are cluttered with fittings. The three other superstructure parts are the two funnels and bridge, which runs an top of the pilot house. The stacks have a larger diameter base separated from the smaller truck by a nice apron and capped by a smaller apron/cap. Both are hollowed sufficiently to create a three-dimensional effect. The small bridge has very nice wooden planking. Some of the nicest parts are the 6-inch and 8-inch artillery mounted on the cruiser. Each mount is in three pieces the gun base/mount, gun barrel and unique gun shield. These are beautifully done and really capture the essence on the early steel USN cruisers. The reinforcing bands on the short barrels mount detail and especially the oval-roofed sloping gun shields really grab attention and add great interest to this model. Of the smaller parts the J ventilators are everywhere with other smaller parts consisting of anchors, windlass, stack steam pipes, binnacle and signal lamps for the bridge, masts/yards and a complex boat storage arrangement. There are boat skids that run across the beam of the main deck to which boat chocks are mounted. These carry six of the eight ship’s boats with the other two mounted from davits above the aft 6-inch guns. The masts include small fighting tops. All of these smaller parts really provide a great deal of complexity to the decks of the Baltimore. The Combrig Baltimore could use some supplementation with photo-etch. There are no solid inclined ladders to hack off, so it is a very simple matter to add six inclined ladders, two from forecastle to bridge, two from main deck to forecastle and two from main deck to quarterdeck. Since most of the decks have solid bulkheads there is little need for rails. However, there are special stanchions/rails in front of the breakwater and at the aft part of the quarterdeck. Check the profile in the instructions for the style of these fittings. Additionally it would be nice to add ratlines for both masts. Again see the included profile for the shape of this rigging.