Warship designs of the predreadnought and dreadnought eras were based upon three factors, armament, armor and speed. Every design amounted to creating delicate balances of these three major factors. At the start of the 20th Century the United States Navy wanted a follow-up class of cruisers to the USS Olympia. These ships were to be larger and more capable than the eight-inch gun Olympia. The resultant design, the St. Louis Class was lackluster to poor in the three major design areas.
The St. Louis Class consisted of three ships, St. Louis, Charleston and Milwaukee. All three were laid down in 1902. Originally envisioned as 6,000 ton improved Olympias, changes and new requirements pushed the design to over 8,000 tons. When it was decided to work in more armor the final design came in just under 10,000 tons. These were large ships. Only the last two classes of predreadnoughts (Virginia and Connecticut) and the last two classes of armored cruisers (Pennsylvania and Tennessee) exceeded them in length. The cruisers were given a partial 4-inch armor belt, covering just the machinery spaces. Although rated as protected cruisers, because of the partial belt, the class was sometimes called semi-armored cruisers. For such large ships, the armor was less than sterling. Speed of 22 knots was satisfactory but not exceptional. Lastly the fourteen six-inch guns armament of the class gave a greatly under-gunned cruiser for a 10,000-ton design.
USS Milwaukee was launched September 10, 1904 and was completed May 11, 1906. Built at Union Iron Works in San Francisco, she was the only one of the class to be lost. On November 1, 1917, while attempting to salvage the submarine H3, Milwaukee was run aground off of Eureka, California. The Navy was unable to tow her off and one year later in November 1918, she broke in two in a storm.
Iron Shipwright has produced a 1:350 scale one piece full hull model of USS Milwaukee as she appeared in 1910 after removal of the bow scroll. The components are shown with the exception of the instructions, which were not ready in mid-January 2003.