Gettysburg class (CSA):
When the US commissioned USS Helena
in 1909, the CS Navy was caught off guard. The new armored cruiser was larger, far more heavily armed, and just as fast as the newest Confederate armored cruiser – CSS Conqueror
– which commissioned the same year. BuC&D was determined to respond with an even more powerful ship, and for help again went to Great Britain. The Royal Navy had the answer with a new type of ship again from the mind of First Sea Lord John “Jackie” Fisher. Fisher had been the driving force behind HMS Dreadnought
– arguable the most influential warship in history – which had rendered existing battleships obsolete overnight, and his latest creation promised to do the same with armored cruisers. HMS Invincible
, launched in 1907, was the first true battlecruiser (although they were not classed as such until 1911) and was designed to run down and destroy cruisers and smaller warships and serve as heavy scouts for the fleet, while her superior speed would allow her to escape more powerful ships. She was exactly what the CSN needed.
After lengthy discussion, the two nations came to an agreement – similar to that of the first Confederate dreadnoughts, the Georgia
class. Great Britain would provide the plans and technical assistance while the ships would be built in Confederate yards. The design chosen was for the second class of battlecruiser; the Indefatigable
class. Three ships were authorized early in 1909 and the keel for the first; originally hull number AC-13, but re-classed while building as BC-1, was laid down in Norfolk Naval Shipyard three months later. Named for Confederate battle sites, the three were; CSS Gettysburg
(BC-1), CSS Antietam
(BC-2), and CSS Veracruz
(BC-3). They were all launched during 1911 and had commissioned by the end of 1912.
class was 590 feet long overall, had an 80 foot beam, and a nominal draft of 27 feet. They displaced 18,540 tons normal and 20,170 tons full load. They were armed with eight Mk.VII 12”/45 guns in four twin turrets arranged one forward, two en echelon amidships, and one aft. The secondary battery consisted of sixteen Mk.IV 4”/50’s mounted half in casemates, half in open deck mounts. Three 18” torpedo tubes were fitted with stowage for fifteen Mk.XI torpedoes. The Gettysburg
class was propelled by four direct-drive turbines built by McKenzie Engineering producing a total of 57,780 shaft horsepower for a design speed of 26 knots. Range was 7,500 nautical miles. Armor consisted of a 6-4” belt, 2.5” deck, 7” main turrets, 7” barbettes, 3” casemates, and a 10” conning tower. Crew complement was 934.
After commissioning, the new battlecruisers formed the core of scouting squadrons based primarily in the Caribbean. They panicked the US Navy even while building and prompted the Ranger
class in response – although they would not enter service for several more years. They changed very little in the years leading up to the War of the Americas as limited budgets under the Butler Administration prohibited rebuilds. When the war broke out in 1923, the ships saw considerable action. Antietam
was lost during Operation Citadel when, as part of the Baja Squadron out of Guaymas, was severely damaged in an encounter with the Mexican Navy and forced – along with the dreadnought Georgia
– to return to base. She was attacked by the submarine USS L-24
and further damaged forcing the Confederates to scuttle her. Veracruz
was sunk during the last major naval engagement of the war – the Battle of Mobile Bay in July of 1927. The class ship survived the conflict and was allowed to be retained by the postwar CSN but due to limited funds was allowed to deteriorate. Gettysburg
was placed in limited commission in 1935, decommissioned two years later and scrapped beginning in 1938.
San Juan class (CSA):
The second class of Confederate battlecruisers represented a quantum leap in design. Based on the British Lion
and Queen Mary
classes, the new ships were superior in every way to the Gettysburg
class and were the largest (though not the heaviest) and fastest capital ships in the New World when they entered service. Although very similar to their British counterparts they differed in some respects – the most obvious begin the use of a tripod foremast from the outset and the deletion of the sternwalk common on British ships. Two ships; CSS San Juan
(BC-4) and CSS Charleston
(BC-5) were authorized and construction began on San Juan
in August of 1912, with Charleston
laid down a year later. The shipyards selected; Mobile and Galveston, had only limited experience with ships this size (in fact Galveston had to extend its slipways and fitting out docks to accommodate the new ships) and construction was slow as a result. San Juan
wasn’t launched until the fall of 1915 while Charleston
finally was launched in the summer of the following year. Both were in service by the end of 1917.
The San Juan
class was 700 feet long overall, had an 89 foot beam, and a nominal draft of 30 feet. They displaced 24,140 tons normal and 25,340 tons full load. They were armed with eight 13.5”/45 Mk.I’s in four two-gun (individually sleeved) turrets mounted on the centerline – a superfiring pair forward, one amidships, and one aft. The secondary battery was identical to that of the Gettysburg
class save that all sixteen 4” guns were mounted in casemates. Two new 21” submerged torpedo tubes were fitted. Geared turbines were used for the first time (Wilkerson-Chadwick in San Juan
, McKenzie Engineering in Charleston
) and gave a design speed of 28 knots on 81,200 shaft horsepower. Range remained 7,500 nautical miles. Armor consisted of a 9-4” belt, 2.5” deck, 9” main turrets, 9” barbettes, 3” casemates, and a 10” conning tower. Crew complement was 1,113.
Entering the peacetime fleet, the new battlecruisers traveled extensively “showing the flag” throughout South America and in one such visit lead to the only Brazilian battlecruiser to enter service; the Bahia
, (commissioned in 1920), being ordered from a Confederate shipyard (and was the only major warship built for a foreign nation by the Confederacy). During the War of the Americas both ships saw action – San Juan
being sunk during the disastrous Operation Citadel while accompanying the battleship Lafayette
. In an unfortunately common demise for a battlecruiser, San Juan
was taken under fire by US battleships and her weaker armor was quickly penetrated by heavy shells which touched off the magazines and she exploded and sank with the loss of nearly her entire crew. Charleston
did survive the war but had the dubious distinction of being the only American warship damaged by the French fleet transferred to Guiana in August of 1925 to “protect France’s interests from foreign adventurism” when in early 1926 she stumbled on a French squadron led by the Gascogne
class) and was moderately damaged in the ensuing chaos. After the war Charleston
was allowed to be retained under the Treaty of Montreal and continued to serve until 1941, when she was decommissioned.
Fredericksburg class (CSA):
The last class of Confederate battlecruiser to enter service prior to the War of the Americas; the Fredericksburg
class were also the last Confederate warships to have direct British assistance as by the time they were laid down in 1915 the UK was heavily involved in the Great War and had either cancelled foreign naval projects or seized incomplete ships for their own use in order to concentrate on the war effort. Based on the plans for HMS Tiger
the new ships were progressive improvements on the previous San Juan
class and two; CSS Fredericksburg
(BC-6) and CSS Manassas
(BC-7) were authorized in late 1914. They were laid down 1915-16, launched 1917-18, and commissioned in 1918-19.
class was 705 feet long overall, had a 90 foot beam, and a nominal draft of 30 feet. They displaced 29,700 tons normal and 30,960 tons full load. They were armed with ten 13.5”/45 Mk.I’s in two triple and two two-gun (individually sleeved) turrets mounted in superfiring pairs fore and aft. The secondary battery consisting of ten 6”/50 Mk.IX guns in casemates clustered amidships. Four 3”/50 Mk.V anti-aircraft guns and three submerged 21” torpedo tubes completed the weapon suite. Four Wilkerson-Chadwick geared turbines producing 109,560 shaft horsepower were installed giving a design speed of 29 knots. Range was 7,500 nautical miles. Armor consisted of a 9-4” belt, 3” deck, 10” main turrets, 9” barbettes, 3” casemates, and an 11” conning tower. Crew complement was 1,300.
After a brief period in the peacetime fleet, the Fredericksburg’s
were at the forefront of the initial CSN offensives during the War of the Americas. Because the Confederate government jumped the gun on starting the war (the CSN Admiralty had pushed for a delay until at least 1927 to allow the planned naval expansion to play out) the significant numerical advantage in capital ships the US Navy held against the CSN remained. This caused all Confederate battlecruisers to repeatedly find themselves in circumstances not playing to their strengths and both new ships were lost during the conflict. Manassas
was sunk in 1924 during the First Battle of the Chesapeake Bay and Fredericksburg
during the massive Battle of Subic Bay in 1926.
Next up: Confederate cruisers and smaller combatants 1911-1920