Random Shots August 1998
Monitor vs. Warrior.
When she was launched in 1859, HMS Warrior was only the second
ocean-going ironclad warship in the world, after the French, Gloire, launched one month
earlier.By the time of the first clash of ironclads, between the USS Monitor and CSS
Virginia (neither of which could be classed as ocean-going) in March 1862, the Royal Navy
had an additional ironclad, Defence in service. Black Prince and Resistance, were nearing
completion with 3 more ironclads launched. The French Navy had 4 ironclads at sea and two
more nearing completion. The US Navy had just completed work on USS Galena, a small
lightly armoured schooner and the much more serious New Ironsides was nearing completion.
In the recently published 'Stars
and Stripes for ever', Harry Harrison postulates
British intervention in the American Civil War, leading to an engagement between Monitor
and Warrior. In the book, Monitor steams to within 'a few scant feet' before firing into
Warrior's armoured battery
the cannon balls through the armour plate to wreak havoc and destruction in the gun deck'. Monitor then sails on to position herself on Warrior's stern to destroy her
means of propulsion. Well, before we consider the inherent likelihood of this outcome,
perhaps we should examine the ships themselves.
- Launched December 1860 Completed October 1861.
- Displacement 9137 tons, Overall length, 420ft.
- Max. Speed 14 knots (17.5 knots under steam & sail)
- Citadel: 4.5 inch wrought iron plate, backed by 18 inches of teak
- Bow & stern, none
- 10 110lb rifled breech loaders
- 26 68lb muzzle loaded smoothbores
- 4 40lb rifled breech loaders
HMS. Warrior, photographed in 1867
- Launched January 1862 Completed February 1862 (!)
- Displacement 917 tons Overall Length 172ft.
- Max. Speed 5.5 knots
- Hull: 2-4 x 1 inch plates
- Turret 8 x 1 inch plates
- 2 11 inch muzzle loaded smoothbores
Monitor's crew photographed after their engagement with
- Warrior was considered unmanoeuverable by the Royal Navy, having a
turning circle of 760 yards at 12 knots and having a sluggish
reaction to the helm. However she was one of the
fastest ships afloat at the time. Monitor by contrast was fairly manoeuvrable. However,
her best speed was between 5 and 6 knots, and that, only on a dead calm sea. She could not
make headway in even rolling seas, almost being lost as she was towed towards Hampton
Roads, and actually sinking in a force seven being towed back.
- Warrior's armour was 4.5 inch rolled iron in 15ft by 3ft plates, tongued
and grooved together, backed by 18 inches of teak. Monitor's armour, in the main was
composed of 1 inch rolled iron plated bolted together to a thickness of 8 inches in the
turret and 2 to 4 inches along her sides.
- Warriors main armament was of 30 8 inch smoothbores (15 per broadside),
throwing a 68lb ball with a rate of fire of a round every 55 seconds. Additionally she
carried 10 110lb Armstrong breechloading rifles, 6 of which could bear on a single
broadside. These fired a bolt or shell every 50 seconds. Apart from being faster to
re-load, the rifles were far more accurate, especially at long range. Monitor carried 2 11
inch, turret mounted Dahlgren smooth bores. These had a theoretical rate of fire of a
150lb solid shot every 2-3 minutes, but in action against the Virginia,
- managed only a round every 6-8 minutes.
- We know from actual events that the Monitor's chosen tactic was to get as
close to her enemy as possible and then pound away with her 11 inch Dahlgrens. We also
know something of Warrior's intended tactics from notes made by her commander, Captain
Cochrane about his plans for a possible encounter with Gloire. He intended to use his
superior speed to bring about an action, but then remain at long range until French fire
had been suppressed or at least reduced. Similar tactics would probably have been used in
the event of an engagement with Monitor.
|One of Warrior's 110lb Guns
- If Warrior opened fire at 1,500 yards, then even if she had remained
stationary, it would have taken Monitor at least 12 minutes to close. And if Warrior had
used her superior speed, that time could have been extended indefinitely. During a 12
minute exchange of fire, Monitor could have fired at most 8 150lb solid shot. Warrior
could have fired 156 68lb solid shot and 72 110lb solid bolts. During the Civil war, USN
ironclads achieved a hit rate of 33% against fort Sumter at ranges of upwards of 500
yards. At 100 yards, Monitor had hit Virginia with 20 of 55 shots fired. So with luck,
Monitor may have hit warrior 3 times during the 12 minutes. Warrior's task was far more
difficult, as Monitor made a very small target, so 10% for the 68lbers and 15% for the
rifles, rather than 30 might be a fair guess. This would mean, during the same time
period, Monitor being hit by 16 68lb and 10 110lb shot.
- During the engagement between Monitor and Virginia, Monitor's 20 hits on
Virginia's armour had caused dents to 6 of her 2 inch plates, but failed to penetrate.
However, her guns had been served with only half charges, since they were not proofed. We
may assume the use of full charges against the Warrior. Monitor in return had been hit by
24 shots from Virginia. Hits on Monitor's pilot house and turret caused considerable plate
damage and some crew casualties, but failed to actually penetrate the armour. However,
Virginia had been outfitted to combat wooden ships and had very quickly run out of solid
shot; leaving her only shells, which were not expected to penetrate armour. In later
engagements against largely against forts, vessels similarly armoured to Monitor, suffered
little penetrative damage. However damage and crew casualties due to partial penetration,
causing plates to spring and shatter and rivets to pop was widespread. Warrior carried 33
solid armour piercing rounds for each rifle and 90 rounds of solid shot for each 68lber.
|USS Monitor & CSS Virginia in Hampton Roads March 1862
- Penetration trials carried out by the Admiralty during the 1860s showed
that British 68lb shot would penetrate upto 8 inches of composite plate armour similar to
the Monitor's at upto 100yds and 6 inches at upto 500yds. Performance of the 110lber is
difficult to gauge, as, although it had an aerodynamic shot, it generated a lower muzzle
velocity than the 68lber due to defects in its breech mechanism. Monitor's 11 inch guns,
even fully charged and firing wrought iron shot could not penetrate Warrior's armour at
any range. Although later 15 inch Dahlgrens would penetrate with wrought iron shot at
100yds and steel shot at upto 500yds.
- We must conclude that in the unlikely event of Monitor going up against
Warrior, she would have been overwhelmed by Warrior's fire, long before she closed, even
were the Warrior's captain to have allowed her to close. The cumulative damage of shot
striking the composite plate of her turret, and associated crew casualties, must have
quickly rendered her unserviceable. A single shot penetrating the lesser plate of her
hull, would have caused even more catastrophic results. Warrior on the other hand, could
withstand any number of hits to her armoured citadel, with minimal casualties. As for hits
on the unarmoured bow or stern, only a extremely lucky shot striking the rudder would have
affected her. Her buoyancy being unimpaired by damage outside the citadel and the steering
gear being accessible from inside.
- Mr. Harrison's estimation of the possible encounter between Monitor and
Warrior, is, I'm afraid indicative of the entire book. However, the possibilities offered
by the general scenario are intriguing. Did you know for instance that the Czar was a
close ally of the Union, and that the Imperial Russian Navy undertook the US Navy's
Pacific duties during the war.
- Anyone interested in Alternative histories of the American Civil War
might do better to look at the writings of Harry Turtledove, particularly, How few Remain.
- Dave Millward, August 1998.
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