The Queens of the South Atlantic - Riachuelo and Aquidaban
Brazil had taken an early lead in the South American dreadnought race by ordering Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro. By 1913, their efforts had been matched and outdone by the other South American naval powers, with Argentina having ordered two dreadnoughts in the USA and one superdreadnought in Italy, Chile two superdreadnoughts in Great Britain and Thiaria no less than four dreadnoughts on domestic yards. All these ships were individualy superior to the poorly protected Brazilian ships, and if Brazil wanted to keep up, they needed to enter another round in the arms race. Half a dozen designs were evaluated, some of them products of sheer gigantomania (one design had 10 381mm guns, and another one 8 406mm and 6 234mm); all were rejected for being insanely expensive and badly unbalanced (protection usually was only little better than that of the Rio de Janeiro). If the navy's wish for two ships was to be granted, the ships must not exceed 30.000 tons. In January 1914, the Brazilians finally chose Vickers' design No.781, a stretched version of Britain's own Queen Elizabeth class, featuring the same armament and protection, 15 meters more length and a speed of 26 knots, provided by an 80.000-hp-powerplant. The first ship was ordered from Vickers in March 1914 and the second from Brown in June. Both were laid down before the first world war started, but their construction was immediately stopped in August 1914. But when Lord Fisher returned to the Admiralty, he ordered both ships to be completed for the Royal Navy with all haste; they were faster than contemporary Invincible-class battlecruisers and thus perfectly adhered to Fisher's philosophy that speed was everything.
Only the Vickers ship was completed in time; construction went ahead rather leisurely after Fisher's retirement, and the ship was commissioned into the Grand Fleet as HMS Devastation in March 1918. The picture shows her as commissioned in the typical camouflage of that time.
Althouth the Royal Navy seriously wanted to keep Devastation and offered the Brazilians the entire Iron-Duke-class as an alternative, the Brazilians, whose fleet had been annihilated by the Thiarians in 1917 and who did not want to settle for anything short of the very best, insisted on delivery. When Thiaria was allowed to keep a dreadnought and a superdreadnought in the peace treaty of Norfolk, the British finally relented and delivered the Devastation to Brazil, where she was commissioned under her originally planned name Riachuelo in October 1921. Apart from the addition of eight 40mm pom-poms, the ship was unchanged, as shown below:
In the following years, the Riachuelo suffered from a series of mishaps that gave her the reputation of being a bad-luck ship. When the Brazilians occupied New Portugal in November 1923 to end the civil war there, Riachuelo was fired at by a coastal battery of two ancient 240mm guns manned by pro-Thiarian insurgents from point-blank range; the old guns scored seven hits and killed 60 Brazilian sailors before they could be silenced. The incident was hyped by the Thiarian media, who called it the Battle of Rinnfiain and celebrated the gunners as national martyrs; Thiaria's nationalist government named a heavy cruiser after the incident in 1934. Riachuelo returned to service after repairs in 1924, but was run aground off The Hague due to a navigational error in 1927 during a journey to Europe. Repairs were conducted in Great Britain. In 1933, Riachuelo suffered a catastrophic turbine mishap; the starboard inner shaft was bent, and 38 sailors were boiled alive. She was repaired in Brazil's brand-new drydock in the Ilha dos Cobras naval yard and moderately modernized. She received bulges, an aircraft hangar and a british-style athwartships-firing catapult; her fire-control gear was replaced with the latest British equipment. Eight american 127mm/25 flaks were installed, and four octuple 40mm pom-poms as well. The next picture shows her as re-commissioned in October 1936 after the modernization.
When Thiaria entered the second world war on the axis side in December 1939, Riachuelo was the sole operational Brazilian battleship. A Thiarian attack on New Portugal was only a matter of time, and the Brazilian fleet waited for the inevitable in Rio de Janeiro. Although a British naval offensive weakened the Thiarians and delayed their plans for a year, they eventually struck in February 1941. The Brazilian fleet sailed in strength to meet them, but with only a single carrier, their naval air assets were outnumbered 3:1 by the Thiarians and swept from the sky in the battle of Cairnmallacht Shoals on March 4th, 1941. Brazil's carrier was sunk and Riachuelo severely damaged. The battleship had to be beached in the harbour of Sao Jorge da Mina, and during the following week, she was repeatedly pounded by Thiarian carrier planes. On March 11th, when the coastal batteries had been silenced, the small Thiarian battleship Artacain steamed up and fired over 400 340mm shells into the port, without Riachuelo being able to return fire effectively because her stern was pointed towards the threat and her fire control had been destroyed. Riachuelo suffered over 40 hits, one of which caused a disastrous fire in her forward magazines, which eventually blew up. The wreck was partly broken up by the Thiarians in the next two years; the last remains were not recovered before 1960.
The second ship of her class saw only little progress during the first world war; she was launched in October 1917. She was delivered to Brazil in October 1921 together with her sister and named Aquidaban, although she was not fully complete prior to 1923. She differed from Riachuelo by having a different bow shape similar to HMS Hood, finer lines aft, different fire control gear, a second tripod mast aft and only four 40mm pom-poms. The picture shows her in the camouflage she wore during the occupation of New Portugal in 1923, where Aquidaban - unlike Riachuelo - met no resistance.
During the next 16 years, Aquidaban was in service practically all the time, due to the misfortunes which kept befalling her sister. When Riachuelo returned from her modernization in 1936, Aquidaban was badly worn out and in very poor shape. As Riachuelo's modernization was considered rather half-assed by Brazil's naval leadership, Aquidaban was to receive a much more thorough rebuild. Due to doubts concerning the ability of Brazil's inexperienced naval yard to perform such a large-scale rebuild, the reconstruction was awarded to NY Shipbuilding in Camden, New Jersey. Between August 1938 and November 1941, Aquidaban was completely gutted, retaining only the main armament and the forward CT, and rebuilt along the lines of the newest US battleships, her superstructure looking like USS Oregon and USS Maine, the single-funnel version of the Washington-class. Her secondary and flak battery was replaced by eight 127mm/38 DP twin turrets, and she received four 28mm quads too. She received the same fire control gear as the newest US battleships, and she was bulged for added underwater protection. Completely new 96.000hp machinery was installed to retain the speed of 26kts despite the increased beam and displacement. The picture shows her as re-commissioned in January 1942.
When Aquidaban joined the Brazilian fleet, it was for all practical purposes knocked out, and the arrival of the virtually new battleship was invaluable for morale. During the following months, with Britain unable to give any kind off support, the Brazilians kept Aquidaban out of harm's way and mainly employed her to escort convoys bringing US sourced weapons and supplies to Brazil. Although the Thiarians staged several raids, Aquidaban did not make contact with enemy surface units prior to April 1944. In this month, Aquidaban was part of a joint US-Brazilian force of four battleships and three aircraft carriers which headed for the River Plate estuary in order to divert the Thiarians from a huge invasion force headed for New Portugal. The Thiarians fell for the ruse and engaged the diversionary force with all they had. Two US battleships and an US carrier were lost, but the Allies damaged the Thiarian fleet badly enough to prevent it from interfering with the invasion of New Portugal. Aquidaban's guns scored 11 hits on the Thiarian battlecruiser LT Conlan, which was also hit by USS Congress and later finished off by US carrier planes; the kill was awarded to Aquidaban nonetheless due to an explosion caused by one of her shells which disabled the aft turret and knocked out the engines, making her a sitting duck. Two months later, Aquidaban joined a strong British task force which destroyed a heavily escorted Thiarian troop convoy, spelling doom for Thiaria's expeditionary force on the South American continent. She absorbed a torpedo and had to be repaired till October 1944; the Brazilians took the opportunity to fit a completely new radar suite and replace the current light flak by 56 40mm Bofors and 36 20mm Oerlikons. When Aquidaban rejoined the fleet in November 1944, Thiaria had already surrendered, and Aquidaban got no further opportunity to engage the Thiarians. To prove their worth as fighting allies to the Americans, the Brazilians insisted on sending Aquidaban to the pacific, where she arrived in April 1945. She missed the battle of the Philippine Sea, but belonged to the Allied Armada in the Battle of the Leyte Gulf, assigned to Lee's battleship force which sank the japanese battleships Fuso and Yamashiro. Aquidaban was not credited for either; she was placed at the front of the US line and busy fighting off Japanese and Kokoan light forces. Despite repeated attempts of these, Aquidaban was not hit. Afterwards, she was available at Okinawa and fired a few 381mm rounds at Japanese shore installations. The next picture shows her as she looked on VJ day, which saw her in Tokyo Bay, ironically only a few hundred meters from the Thiarian battlecruiser Caithreim.
After the war, Aquidaban was reduced to a training ship and decommissioned in 1958, but her successful operations against Brazil's Thiarian archenemies had made her such a national icon that scrapping her was out of the question. She was opened as a national memorial at Rio de Janeiro in 1961, where she remains to this day.