Part 4: Forging a more modern navy, 1875-1890
By the early 1880, the good relations with France expanded greatly with the arrival of French engineers and advisors. As part of a government initiative to spurn economic growth and development, they are paid handsomely to develop the country's railroad network, build new roads, and improve the ports. The growth of the fruit and rice industries, alongside the profitable textiles and fisheries, led to greater urbanization, as packing houses and factories and their insatiable need for workers made cities like Solis, San Juan and Puerto Nuevo expand. Exports to Japan and the USA helped to increase the size of the merchant marine, which in turn led to more contracts for the local shipyards which slowly but surely churned out commercial vessels of all kinds.
The refreshed economy did much to help the armed forces regain their footing after several years of under-funding. Apart from the new naval academy, naval arsenals and workshops, the Navy Department received funds to replace obsolete wooden ships. In accordance with the established doctrine of protecting the coastline, by 1880 the navy began ordering a series of coastal defense ships from several foreign yards. Before any of the larger ships would make their way to Lisenian waters, though, more modest vessels were incorporated into the fleet. The first of these was a small class of flat-iron gunboats, popular at the time with various navies. These boats were appealing as they were cheap to operate and man, mounted a powerful gun, and had reduced draft and good maneuverability.
The six British-built Cigüeña
(Stork) class boats replaced wooden gun barges in service, and were universally well-liked due to their reliability and solid construction. They would prove to be abysmal weapons of war however. Use of the large 9.4-inch gun required the calmest of seas, and because of this, hitting a moving enemy warship was all but impossible. Secondary armament was limited to a single Hotchkiss revolving cannon. Range was of course very limited, and speed was hardly adequate. With the introduction of newer coastal cruisers and later the torpedo boat, the gunboats were relegated to coastal bombardment, minelaying and transport duties.
Meanwhile, the ANL's senior staff looked north to Japan with envy as the prosperous Empire began to create its navy in earnest with powerful new warships. The commissioning of the ironclad Fusō
in 1877 had not gone unnoticed, and under the pretense of replacing its ageing steam corvettes, the Lisenian navy ordered a central-battery ironclad from Germany in 1880. Delivered two years later, the Rio Negro
was by far the most expensive naval acquisition in the history of the fledgling ANL up to that point. Bristling with 8-inch Armstrong guns and protected by 10 inches of armor, Rio Negro
was tasked with defending the important port and capital city of Solís from enemy raids. Despite her ungainly, pugnacious appearance, Rio Negro
was capable of 15 knots and compared favorably with her counterparts in the region. Befitting of her status as the new fleet flagship, Rio Negro
proved at once expensive to operate and man and despite generous coal bunkers, range left much to be desired. Her draft also limited her to only two ports until further dredging could take place, but despite these drawbacks and in the face of rapidly evolving technology, it served faithfully throughout the end of the 19th century.
In 1885, Congress approved funds to purchase two small iron-hulled ironclads for coastal defense to supplement the flagship. The San Lorenzo
class, built in Britain, were very different from the earlier Rio Negro
. Dispensing with the central battery layout, the main armament of 9.4-inch Krupp guns, was mounted on open barbettes, and complimented by Whitehead torpedoes. The secondary battery consisted 4.7-in guns and various small-calibre QF guns to ward off smaller ships, and 8.5-inches of armor provided protection. Despite being fitted with British machinery of the finest quality, the first of class San Lorenzo
proved to be slower than the anticipated 17 knots. During her builder's trials in English waters she was yet to be fitted with the heavy Krupp pieces, and the good performance shown then was cut back when fully loaded for stores and crew. Nonetheless, the San Lorenzo
and sister ship Montañés
were much more useful for defending coastal waters than the older Rio Negro, whose main limitation was the limited arcs of its heavy guns, and lack of torpedo armament, which was seen as very desirable by navy staff once they saw the Whitehead weapon in action during exercises.
The coming decade would bring exciting changes to the ANL, as local shipbuilding improved thanks to collaboration with European firms and new technologies and ships came into use. Changes in politics would also affect the nature of the country's relationships with her neighbors, presenting the Lisenian government with a series of difficult choices to make.