Big Bertha

Big Bertha
Circa 1940, on the streets of Rochester New York, Bertha does her work.
"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

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Tale To Lift The Spirits...

Recall that bitchin' cool piece of militaria we discussed a few months back, the one that could have graced a (...yours?) lawn... dockyard, post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland... whatever.
You could have just stopped by and snatched it up. It's a piece of history, Pearl Harbor history.
It was ready to go. All that was needed was for it to be broken-down-into-gondola-car-size-chunks, loaded (Onto a train. Please, bring your own) and taken away to wherever your slice of paradise may be.
An unbeatable investment with impeccable provenance... going? going??
It went - for scrap!, $35,000 worth.
Breaks my heart.
Anyway, we'll be touching on a crane of identical capabilities forthwith.
As well as her scarier, big sister.

The proud specimen pictured above would be the USS Kearsarge, BB-5, the only US battleship not to have been named after a state.
Battleships were a new concept at the time but folks were paying attention to what had worked in the past. The proven Monitor design with multiple, rotating turrets - for example.
Everyone and his kid brother was building ships like the old monitors only new-and-improved - with more guns.
Lots more guns.
Russia started building a fleet and so did France. Great Britain realized that they'd been coasting too long on their rep as the predominant Naval power and now had to play catch-up.
Meanwhile, 1870's to '80's, the brand-new-at-governing, psychotic, Prussians ("Ve're finally in charge!") had to make the fleet. The one that would make the others look like pussies.
Japan stepped up the plate and started producing warships - just like everybody else.
meanwhile, in the midst of this mad flurry sat the US.
We had just been getting comfortable in the whole, grown-up game of geopolitical arms racing when; "Oh, shit! There's a new sneaker on the market!".

Our first entry in the battlewagon show was USS Texas, around 6,000 tons displacement, commissioned in 1895.
The ship pictured above is not her. Kearsarge again.
Back to Texas: As a virtual sister ship to the ill-fated USS Maine (Classified earlier as an armored cruiser), Texas beat out her younger sibling by staying in the game for 17 years total, finishing as "target ship San Marcos", and did her bit to improve Naval gunnery.
Since everyone was pulling battleships out of their ass and making it up as they went along, there were plenty of false starts

Between Texas and Maine, the first, "experimental battleships" and our subject matter BB-5, two different classes of BB's were built.
The first, the Indiana class covered BB-1 to 3 while the Iowa class consisted of... USS Iowa, BB-4.
Just makin' it up as we go along.
Then we have the Kearsarge class consisting of USS Kearsarge and her sister-ship, USS Kentucky.
They both cruised-the-blue and won their share of (peacetime) medals.
And they looked the part. Bad to the bone... keel?
But... their most distinctive characteristic, the super-imposed turret set-up, cheaper and more economical of space, made them unworkable.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. If a gun-turret's a good thing then, stack 'em up! Like a cake.
The guns were set-up as follows: Fore and aft main batteries started with two 13.5" in the main turret while a pair of eight-inchers occupied a separate turret on top.
But, neither pair of guns could track separately from the other and the firing of one battery made the simultaneous operation of the other impossible.
Bad idea, but they learned.
The K-girls (Kearsarge and Kentucky. Try to keep up.) sailed with Teddy Roosevelt's ultimate "show-the-flag" cruise, the Great White Fleet in 1907 - 09.
Thing is; even though they were young by warship standards, barely ten years old at the time - just "broke in" I would think - they were the oldest battleships in the line-up and were laughably outdated.
That was understandable. The entire world's battleship fleet was rendered uncool at one lick with the launching of HMS Dreadnought in 1907.
Dreadnought was almost three times the displacement of Kearsarge and was faster - at 21 knots.
Most importantly, she was the first of the all-big-gun battleships.
Rather than the two batteries at each end with various side dishes along the rail, she had twelve-inchers - five of them.
A sprinkling of twelve-pounders invalidated the "all-big-gun" concept but a 12" gun would be hard to train on a torpedo boat.
So our friends, the pre-dreadnought battleships had short but productive lives.
Gunnery difficulties notwithstanding, both the "k's" stayed in there battin' until the mid twenties.
Ultimately Kentucky went off to the ship-breakers in the sky but Kearsarge was destined for bigger things.
Of course, we've seen this post-card already...

It just corresponds to this next photo so well.

This is how Kearsarge spent the next thirty years.
She had to be towed from place to place since they'd removed one engine and half her boilers (I think). The remainder being needed to provide power for the ship and electricity for the crane.
For thirty years she was dragged from fleet to fleet, to lift up heavy shit as needed.
In 1955 she was finally retired.
To retro-fit an over-the-hill battleship to crane ship, they needed a stable platform.
First added were two hull "blisters" for added flotation. This also increased her beam by 26 feet bringing it nearly to 100 feet, over one quarter the total length.

But, if you check out the head-on of her colleague, USS Indiana you can see she would have been rather wide to begin with.
Twenty-six feet represented an increase of around 30%.
Seaworthiness, it's history.
But who cares. She's got a crane!
A crane with the same capacity (250 tons) as this one.
Now... that's a big crane. No doubt about it.
But Kearsarge's service packing same could have led to some aggressive, re-purposed battleship acting-out.
I mean, it wouldn't do if this ship could run rampant, lifting guns from unsuspecting turrets while the watch was sleeping.
So every now and again, Kearsarge and her big ole' 250-tonner would have to come back to port and spend some time snuggled-up next to the Philadelphia Navy Yard's big-assed, 350 ton, 240 foot-tall, hammer-head crane.
Kind of humbling for the little pre-dread.
But then did the famous, shit-hot, League Island Crane ever go through the Panama canal

Bogus of course. The big hammer-head was anchored to the spot.
It was a building at ground level while Kearsarge worked off a battleship hull.
Not a barge. Not a raft - but a ship.
A ship that even retained her waterline, armor belt - at least some of it. You can see it in the first photo as a little jog in the line of that to-die-for ramming bow.
It was probably left to add more stability as it carried a lot of mass.
16.5 inches of Harvey, armor plate. Harvey armor provides another example of the quick turnover in technology of the period.
Essentially huge chunks of steel, the armor, were case-hardened on one side (The bad-guy side).
Harvey steel: All the rage in the early '90's - obsolete by the late years of the same decade.
The new girl in school that usurped it was Krupp, armor plate, which was the same thing - only different.
Compared to the simple, two-to-three-week process of maintaining your few tons of steel at over 3500 degrees F - while packed in charcoal - the Germans produced the effect using carbon-containing gases to infuse the metal at temperature.
Faster, cheaper and the depth of penetration could be better controlled.
So, even the armor worn by our girls at the big parade, the Great White Fleet, was out dated.
All the battleships represented were of the pre-dreadnought classes. Sixteen of them.
America's first dreadnought was still fitting out.
But it's all good.
WW 1 wasn't much of a Naval war so... there wasn't much for a bellicose Nav to do.
And duty is duty and in that regard the pre-dreads definitely showed-up and were ready.
They did their bit as needed.
Check out Kearsarge.
In a cheap shot they changed her name to "Crane Ship 1" so the Kearsarge name could be put on another warship.
"Crane Ship One"doesn't do it for me but, "A rose by any other name...".

2 comments:

Jimh. said...

I believe you've neglected our girl "Oregon" gone to the breakers for the war effort! What a sad end! At least Kearsarge was useful until the end, all the O-girl was good for was scrap.

As usual, a good post, and i am sorry I missed the previous crane post, but then again, I don't have $35,000 just laying around. If I did I wouldn't be surfing the interwebs.

S O said...

You didn't mention the most remarkable about the USS Kearsarge (BB-5):

It was one of the earliest ships with superfiring guns. This arrangement of its forward battery was the key for the later (from about 1910) dominant design of having only centerline main artillery turrets, and have them capable of firing forward or rearward without the survivability issues of non-centerline turrets (example Dreadnought, Invincible classes).

It was a widely held belief at the turn of the century that superfiring guns would produce unacceptable overpressure problems for the affected turret. Fully enclosed turrets happened to have solved that issue, and ships such as the USS Kearsarge helped to clear the path.

Sometimes it's amazing what a quick look at a b/w photo can tell you about a ship.

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