"That whereas the battleship sea monster we are imitating has been named the Dreadnought – an archaic name – this man o’war is hereby named the Skeered o’ Nothin’ as an expression of our true American spirit: provided further, that it is hereby made the duty of the first captain who shall command her to challenge in the nation’s name the so-called Dreadnought to a duel a l’outrance, to take place upon the sea somewhere in sight of Long Island, and upon that occasion of the combat the President and his Cabinet … shall be entertained on the quarter deck as guests of the ship and the nation." Congressional Motion of John S. Williams, Representative from Mississippi, on the naming of the first all big gun American battleship, Dreadnought by Richard Hough, Page 37. When the USS Michigan was laid down Representative Williams and many others deplored this step in the evolution of the battleship. As it was, Congress had a tremendous impact on the revolutionary design of the ship by mandating that the displacement be no greater than 16,000 tons.
The Michigan and her sistership, the South Carolina, have the distinction of being the first all big gun battleships to be authorized for construction, as approval came from Congress early in 1905. After that event however, they were put on hold. The problem was an impassioned division of opinion as to the value of fewer and larger all big gun battleships versus a greater quantity of mixed gun battleships. This same debate occurred in Great Britain, where Jackie Fisher was First Lord of the Admiralty. There, Admiral Fisher steamrolled his opposition led by long time opponent Admiral Charles Beresford, who opposed the all big gun Dreadnought. Because of the determination of Fisher, the Dreadnought was built with incredible speed to become the first all big gun battleship in existence and to allow the Royal Navy to steal a march on the rest of the world.
In the United States the proponent for smaller mixed battery battleships was no less than Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan. Captain Mahan saw the Battle of Tsushima as validating the "Rain of Fire" of smothering exposed gun crews with large numbers of medium caliber shells. On the other side, expressing the feelings of the radicals, who saw the all big gun ship as the battleship of the future was Lt. Commander William Sims. However, Sims and the other radicals had the support of the man who mattered most, President Theodore Roosevelt, who almost always thought bigger was better. Roosevelt appointed Sims to prepare a report on the pros and cons in the battleship debate. As a result Sims totally demolished Mahan’s arguments in favor of the mixed gun battleship. As Teddy Roosevelt stated, "But the strength of the Navy rests primarily upon its battleships, and in building these battleships it is imperatively necessary, from the standpoint alike of efficiency and economy , that they should be the very best of their kind." However, this took time and more than 18 months were to pass from the time Michigan was approved by Congress to when she was laid down.
The tightly clenched fist of Congress on the Federal money bag led to the most radical element of the design of the Michigan, the superfiring main gun turrets. For the last time, Congress put a cap on the final displacement of a battleship by mandating that it was not to exceed 16,000 tons. This was only a slight increase over the Connecticut Class predreadnoughts and 2,000 tons less than Dreadnought. It was not until 1922 that the cap again appeared on battleship displacement but then it was because of international treaty. The designers of Michigan had to incorporate the most offensive punch into a minimum size.
The first designs contemplated fore and aft twin 12-inch turrets and two single 10-inch turrets on each side. Then it was decided to use the same arrangement but all to be 12-inch guns. However, the weight and hull stress imposed by the wing turret design made it a poor design for the 16,000 ton limit. By combing the four single 12-inch wing turrets into two twin 12-inch superfiring turrets, the goal was attainable within the Congressional displacement limit. The monitor Florida was modified to test the concussion and blast effects of superfiring turrets. As a result of these tests a new turret design immerged that allowed for the lower turrets to be worked without undue effects from the firing of the upper turrets.
The final result was a very unusual design for the time. The Michigan was the first battleship to have superfiring main guns as well as the cage mast, which came to characterize American battleships for the next 30 years. The cage mast was designed to provide a light weight structure that would insulate range finders from vibration and yet would be strong enough to survive major caliber shell strikes. Tests of a cage mast on the San Marcos, ex-Texas, seemed to validate the design theory. (Click for review of the Iron Shipwright Texas, which contains a description of the tests.) It was not until January 1918 that one weakness in this design was discovered. In that month the forward cage mast of Michigan collapsed in a storm. As laid down Michigan was to receive two offset military masts, placed diagonally amidships, which would double as boat cranes. When the design was given cagemasts on the centerline, these military masts were cut down to become kingposts for the boat cranes.
Coupled with these advanced features, were some regressive features, required compromises as a result of the displacement limit. At 452 feet in length, Michigan was only 12 feet longer than then Connecticut Class predreadnought. The maximum speed of the predreadnoughts was 18 knots, so that was the designed speed for the Michigans that were constructed with Vertical Triple Expansion steam engines instead of the turbines, which gave the Dreadnought a speed of 21 knots. The displacement limit also gave the amidships superstructure of the Michigan a piled-up look very similar to the USN predreadnoughts. "The two ships when completed will, in appearance, be distinctly different from any of our other battleships. The most noticeable feature, of course, will be the four 12-in. turrets and their guns, mounted in pairs on the axial line of the ship, two forward and two aft of the superstructure. The doubling up in the number of 12-in. turrets, and the placing of them one ahead of the other, has necessarily shortened the length of the superstructure, and crowded the masts, smokestacks, etc., into a shorter space amidships, a fact which is readily noticeable on looking at the engraving of the new ships. In order to save weight the freeboard of the ship has been reduced by the depth of one deck, or about 8 ft., from aft of the superstructure to the stern." The Scientific American, reprinted in the Naval Annual 1907 at page 32.
The Scientific American had criticized the superfiring design earlier because of anticipated serious effects of blast of the upper pair but by 1907 had changed its tune. "We are informed, however, that particular attention has been given by the Navy Department to this difficulty, and that by virtue of the improved sighting ports and the closely-fitting port shields employed, and other arrangements, it will be possible, in an emergency, to fire any of these 12-in. guns in any position of training without serious interference with the work of the other gun crews. If this should prove to be the case, our Navy Department will be the subject for congratulation on having produced, in proportion to their displacement, by far the most powerful fighting ships built or building in the world today; for it must be remembered that these vessels are of but 16,000 tons displacement, while the latest battleship designs of other Governments are of from 18,000 to 19,000 tons displacement." The Naval Annual 1907 at pages 33 and 34.
USS Michigan BB-27was laid down December 17, 1906 by the New York Ship Building Company of Camden, New Jersey. She was launched on May 26, 1908. In spite of the delay for resolution of the naval infighting, when the Michigan completed in August 1909, she was the first non-British dreadnought to enter service on January 4, 1910. Captain Nathaniel Usher was the first commander of Michigan, which was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet. She operated primarily off of the coast of New England and in the Chesapeake Bay area.
With the entrance of the United States into World War One, the constraints imposed on the design because of the mandated maximum displacement came home to haunt the class. Designed for a maximum speed of 18 knots, Michigan and South Carolina were too slow to operate with the newer faster battleships of the USN. The 21 knot ships became the 5th Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet, while Michigan and South Carolina stayed with the predreadnoughts in home waters. Michigan received a refit in the Navy Yard in Philadelphia starting July 14, 1917 at then trained recruits in the Chesapeake Bay. From September 1917 to August 1918 Michigan operated out of Port Jefferson, Long Island, New York. She underwent another refit in Philadelphia in September 1918. In February 1919 she was tasked to steam to Brest, France to transport US Army soldiers back home. This task lasted until her final voyage on April 26.
The Washington Treaty of 1922 imposed new displacement restrictions on the USN, on the force as a whole as well as the new displacement maximum of 35,000 tons per ship. To comply with the total allowable tonnage for battleships, Michigan and South Carolina were selected to be scrapped. It is somewhat ironic that the last USN battleships to be built under a legal restriction on maximum tonnage for the ships, should be scrapped under a Treaty that was the next time there was a legal restriction imposed upon the displacement of the navy’s capital ships. Michigan was stricken from the Navy list on August 24, 1923 and sold for scrap on January 23, 1924. (History from Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1906-1921; Dreadnought by Richard Hough;The Naval Annual 1907 edited by T.A. Brassey; United States Battleships by Alan F. Pater)
Iron Shipwright will be releasing this 1:350 scale full hull kit of the USS Michigan as she appeared in 1918. Originally Michigan has rectangular spotting tops and a sparse bridge/mast area but by 1918 she had circular tops with overheads and numerous platforms on the masts. It provides a piled-up look on this battleship that started with a pre-dreadnought look. According to Jon Warneke of Iron Shipwright the Michigan should be released in a month or so. The resin parts have been completed, as can be seen from these photographs, but white metal parts, brass photo-etch fret and instructions still need to be done by Guido, AKA Ted Paris. To get an accurate release date, the person to call is Ted at the ISW toll free number of 1-888-476-6744. Just say, "Yo, Guido, I want my Michigan!" and he may get around to finishing up the kit, if he can break away from the blistering Rochester, New York summer.