"A Copse. Evening"

"A Copse. Evening"
A. Y. Jackson, 1918
"I don't make hell for nobody. I'm only the instrument of a laughing providence. Sometimes I don't like it myself, but I couldn't help it if I was born smart."

1st Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden.
"From here to Eternity"

Paul Valery

"You are in love with intelligence, until it frightens you. For your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time."

The Wisdom of the Ages

"When a young man, I read somewhere the following: God the Almighty said, 'All that is too complex is unnecessary, and it is simple that is needed',"

Mikhail Kalashnikov
"Here lies the bravest soldier I've seen since my mirror got grease on it."

Zapp Brannigan

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Way of all Flesh/Iron

"Whereas we had available for immediate purposes one hundred and forty-nine first-class war-ships, we now have two, those two being the Warrior and her sister Ironsides [Britain's only ironclads]. There is not now a ship in the English Navy apart from these two that it would not be madness to trust to an engagement with that little Monitor"

Editorial, The London Times



Words of praise for the plucky ship with the exceptional engineering.
The idea of a prickly, Swedish genius, the Monitor was Ericsson's baby from as far back as the 1830's. He called it his "system of sub-aquatic warfare".
He somehow got crosswise with people in the Navy Dept. so he had thirty years to pout before a vastly dumbed-down version of his brain-wave was produced.
Anyway, the Monitor, after almost sinking on her way from New York (Remember that), fought her first engagement - one with no decisive outcome.
It was also her last. She hung around Hampton Roads for a while, then while being towed in the open ocean, she sank - eleven months after commissioning. The old "fourteen inches of freeboard" problem.
As evidenced by the quote at the top, despite the ships tiny track record, folks seemed pretty convinced that everything would be different from now on.

And so it was.
Pictured above: the bow of a seriously historic piece of junk.
HMVS Cerberus.
That would be: "Her Majesty's Victorian Ship" so called because she was built for the Australian Colony of Victoria. She was completed in England at Jarrow-on-Tyne in 1870.
She's not only old. She's a monitor, the first ever example of a "breast-work" monitor.
Remember that little factoid regarding USS Monitor's sorry sea-keeping and the reality that it was the same problem that shortly sank her?

The breastwork plan came about to address this shortcoming, the breastwork being: an extra layer - seven to eight feet - between the main deck and the superstructure.
Hey-presto. most of the pesky places-where-water-can-get-in, hatches, gun-ports, etc suddenly are eleven feet off the waterline.
It takes the "cheese-box on a shingle" concept of the Monitor further with the breastwork; a hoagy - if you will - sitting on the shingle with two cheese-boxes
She had twin turrets, a total length 225 feet and speaking of guns, those are twin, 10" RML (Rifled muzzle-loading) guns shown in the drawing.
Eighteen tons apiece.
Initially she was also equipped with two twelve-pound howitzers.
Then, as weapons systems came and went, Cerberus' four "big ten inches" were accompanied by a veritable chorus of smaller guns (re "Big Ten-Inch": admit it. Bull Moose Jackson looks a little like Herman Caine).

Above, the aft end of the "hurricane deck" which ran across the tops of both turrets. Taken while Cerberus was playing Navy, 1880's ish.
We also see two fine products from the Nordenfelt Company. The one at the rear is the quick-firing six-pounder.
By the way, that link has an awesome animation of the nuts and bolts - and more.
Now, in the left foreground we see a group of intent lads operating what appears to be an extremely-robust, mechanical typewriter.
That's an anti-torpedo-boat gun.
Torpedo boats came hard on the heels of the idea of the "locomotive torpedo" (I love that name). They were fast, little vessels with not much more than a one-pounder on the bow - and a torpedo - or two.
They were the irritating little ships that made possible Japan's epic pulling-the-pants-off-of the Russians at Port Arthur in 1904.

Above we see the doomed Russian battleships facing the unstoppable, double-line of Japanese ships.
The little boat approaching from the right - torpedo boat.
The guns being fired by the guys in the fighting tops of the Russian ships - torpedo boat guns.
The ship we now call a destroyer was developed to deal with them and was initially referred to as a "torpedo boat destroyer".
In light of the torpedo boat threat, Cerberus was equipped in the 70's or early 80's with four Nordenfelt, one-inch, four-barrel machine guns.

This thing could spit out a solid steel projectile 120 times a minute - although at sea the number of actual aimed rounds it fired ran more like 20 per minute.
The three active lads in the picture are numbers's one, two and three, of a five-man crew.
Number one is the gun captain. He gets to aim - using two hand-wheels - and give the order to fire.
Number two is the guy that pulls the lever to make that happen.
The lever is pulled back then pushed forward to the halfway point, until the order to fire.
Pushing the lever the rest of the way fires four shots in quick succession and pulling it back again ejects the empties and reloads four new rounds.
Number three's only task is to remove the empty ammo hopper and replace it with a full one (48 pounds).
You'll find numbers four and five seated on the deck. Their only job is to fill the empty hoppers.
A very cool gun. I love Victorian engineering.
But, back to the boat.

Although she lacked for nothing in the way of accessories during her fifty-three-year career as the guardian of Port Phillip Bay, Victoria things were pretty slow for her. She never actually left Port Phillip Bay.
She hasn't left yet but, before we go there let's sum up:
Here we have an innovative, (Very innovative - USS Monitor had been built only six years earlier) warship with the pioneering breastwork design and you can see the fruits of that in the form of every "big gun" battleship or cruiser designed since - and she's still around.
You mean... this bitchin' historic thang is still with us?

Yes, this piece of Australian, maritime history is still in the bay where she served out her fifty-three years.
Googlemaps, maybe ten days ago. There she sits.
Being that, on the initial trip from England, she almost sank a few times - she wasn't going anywhere again, not on the big water for sure.
Her decommissioning took place in 1923. She was sold to a Melbourne salvage concern and, after all the goodies had been stripped, in 1924 she was scuttled to form a break-water for the "Half-Moon Bay Yacht Club"
Now, I recognize that mindset and a perverse part of me admires and misses it. Hell, it's how I think most of the time.
A big, ugly, in-the-way, piece of shit can be useful! Let's think of something to do with it.
I remember going fishing in the Bitterroot River in the late '70's.
We stumbled onto evidence of what used to be a widespread practice.
From where we stood to maybe two-hundred yards away, one bank of the river was lined with dead cars. Just like Cerberus, some were nothing but the chassis but there they were, head-in parked, doin' their bit to keep erosion in check on this pristine river.
Similarly, the Australian yachties must have figured: "Ya know what a guy could do? A big piece of junk, stuck out just offshore in the bay would break-up the wave action so, being there's this... ship available, why not?"

Once she arrived at her new home she was really popular. The deck was the site for many a picnic/party and the local divers loved her. Back in the day, one could swim from one end of the ship to the other, underwater - on two decks.
But, since the second law of thermodynamics is still on the books - and strongly enforced - this new life as a party destination was doomed from the start.
By 1993, after seventy years of seawater immersion the weight of the two turrets caused the deck supports to collapse.
Now, who could have predicted that happening?
No more party spot but, more importantly... the cry soon went up; "We have to do something. This is our History, Cobber!" (I'm Mitt Romneying an Aussieism so I sound authentic. How's it workin'?).
Well, the damage was already done but in hopes of relieving those poor, tortured, deck supports of some of the massive load they'd been carrying for 130 years, they scraped enough (Aussie) bucks together to remove her guns.
These are of course, the original ten-inch, main guns. By '24 muzzle-loading was viewed as being so 19th century that they had no value and so, came with the boat in the break-water deal.
They plucked these big, heavy, useless chunks of wrought iron (To any blacksmiths who may want to take me to task for referring to wrought iron as useless, I get it... but how would you begin to cut 18 tons of it into littler pieces?) out of the turrets and set them on the bottom, next to the ship.
Whew, that's 72 tons the old girl was, I'm sure, happy to be rid of. Now all that remained was just the weight of the two turrets - 200 tons... each.
My bet is that she just dissolves into rust flakes over the next century or two (Eleven inches of armor on the turrets - wrought iron I might add. She'll be there for a while yet) and maybe that's how it should be, hand-wringing notwithstanding..
Vaguely related, an off-topic adventure (It's relevant to me anyhoo): I bought this book, "The Last Supper"back when it came out - turn-of-the-century...ish.
Very cool book, excellent restoration, gorgeous photography but...
I'm sorry. I couldn't help wondering: "Why bother?"
My first thought was: Why not just take a pressure washer to it, wet-vac the floor and have done with it.
My point, and I do have one, concerns the belief you can see at work both in "The Last Supper" and the Cerberus; the idea that "really gettin' to it" in the modren age can reverse the stupid decisions of the past.
With the destroyed painting on the wall, the problem started and ended with Leonard. He was a twitch (Navyism: Someone who comes on your watch and starts fucking around with valves and controls). Plain and simple.
Even though Italians had been putting paintings on walls for a thousand years, old Leonard, the genius thought a paid commission might be a good place to try something new.
The result of this abortive reinvention of the wheel was that painting was declared a total loss while he was still alive. That's why they cut a doorway through it for Christ's sake.
And it hasn't gotten any better since.
I'm sure it would have knocked my eyes out when it was new... that was then' this is now.
If you want your art to live through the ages, don't fuck around with what works.
And Leonard, how's that "Battle of Anghiari" coming along anyway?
But I digress yet again.
In conclusion, to all the history buffs of Melbourne; the time to address this issue was 1924.
In the now, she's going away. Nobody's going to pony up the $$$ so folks can walk through two giant, rusty turrets on shore in some sort of "interpretive center".
She's suffered enough. Leave her alone.

Depressing. A torpedo boat picture will set things right.

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