The Spanish-American War was the first major overseas war fought by the US Navy, and marked the start of the brief period of overseas American imperialism. This book looks at the most powerful ships fielded by the US Navy during that period, a mix of old fashioned monitors and the first modern battleships to be fielded by the US Navy.
These are the ships that were backbone of the ‘New Navy’, the re-birth of US naval power after it was allowed to collapse in the aftermath of the American Civil War. I hadn’t realised just how small the US Navy became in that period, to the point where just about every South American navy could have overpowered it with the modern warships they were buying from Europe. This included the Brazilian cruiser Riachuelo, or the Chilean cruiser Esmeralda, both built in Britain This was the trigger for the a naval scale in the United States, and the birth of the ‘New Navy’
By European standards only one of these ships, the battleship Iowa, was a first class warship. The large monitors were outdates relics of the Civil War era, only produced because they could be completed quickly. The second class battleships suffered from major faults, ranging from the outdated layout of the main guns to an incredibly slow rate of fire. The Indiana class ships fired a powerful broadside but were slow, small and under-manned, and the guns were carried too close to the sea, making them hard to operate in rough seas. The Iowafixed most of these problems, and became the pattern for most American pre-dreadnought battleships. However all of these ships would soon be rendered obsolete by the arrival of the all big gun battleship, so the Spanish-American War was their brief heyday. However these are all interesting ships, and their limited numbers means that there is enough space to give a good account of each of them.
The chapter on the war itself demonstrates that it wasn’t always necessary to have the best warships in the world to win a war. The Spanish fleet lacked the modern battleships that had originally worried the Americans, and the best ships at their disposal were three modern but badly maintained armoured cruisers, all three of which were sunk during the war.
This is an interesting topic, looking at a series of warships that were crucial to the rise of US Navy, but are often overlooked as they were obsolete by the outbreak of the First World War. The book is highly illustrated, with good plans showing the layout of these ships.
Design and Development
Large Monitors 1874-1903
Second-Class Battleships 1886-95
First-Class Battleships 1889-97
Author: Brian Lane Herder