Saturday, September 24, 2011

USS Monitor..

"...a cheesebox on a raft"

...and so the secret is out....

Meet the USS Monitor, steaming across your screen from right to left (bow on the left of the picture)....

So there I was wandering around Colours when I happened to spot a demonstration game by the side of the Peter Pig stand - they were demonstrating "Hammerin' Iron" their American Civil War riverine naval rules using their own models, and I was immediately consumed by the need to recreate some American Civil War naval gaming that I did as a child.

Back then I used home cast scratch built models; I made the models from plasticine, made a plaster of paris mould, and then cast the ships in lead - perilous, but hugely enjoyable, fun. Those little ships (from memory) were about an inch long as I think I used a tray from a matchbox as the base of the mould, this however is 1/600th scale, and is about 3" long...  perfect for a little American Civil War side project...

So first a short history, USS Monitor was the first ironclad warship commissioned by the Union Navy during the American Civil War. She is most famous for her participation in the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862, the first-ever battle fought between two ironclads (and that's a major clue as to the other element of this side project..)

Monitor was designed and built as a direct consequence of the Confederate navy building their first ironclads. A board of three naval officers reviewed designs and three ships were accepted, Monitor was one of them.

She was designed by Swedish-born engineer and inventor John Ericsson (to whom the quote above is attributed - clearly there was no love lost!) and among a number of "firsts", she was not only the first monitor class, but she also had the first ever 360 degree rotating armoured gun turret, the hull was completely underwater, and she was protected by an overhanging armoured deck and armoured "belt".

Monitor had a heavy round revolving iron gun turret on the deck, housing two 11 in (280 mm) Dahlgren guns side by side, the turret walls were made up of eight layers of 1 in plate, bolted together, with a ninth plate inside to act as a sound shield. Originally the guns were protected by metal shutters when reloading, but the crews resorted just rotating the turret opening away as it was quicker and easier. Despite it's size the turret moved so quickly & easily (it was separately powered by it's own steam engine), that Monitor's gunners used to fire while the turret rotated past the target (!) Apparently it was accepted that accuracy suffered, but the ranges she was expected to engage at were so close it wasn't expected to be a problem... (they fixed this issue on later monitors by the way)

Other than the turret, the only things that stood proud of the deck was a small box pilothouse (in the picture above it's the small square feature near the bow - that's the point nearest the top of the picture for the non-sailors.. ); the chimney was detachable (as is the case on this model, that's the pair of box items closest to the turret in the picture above) so the bulk of the ship was below the waterline - perfect protection. Armour was 4" on the hull, and 1" on the deck.

Vital Statistics:

       Length: 172 feet
       Beam: 41.4 feet
       Draft: 9.5 feet
       Displacement: 1,038 tons
       Speed: 8 knots (9.2 mph; 15 km/h)
       Complement: 59 officers and men
       Armament: Two eleven-inch Dahlgren guns

Her keel was laid on October 25, 1861, and she was launched in just 118 days later (hmmm..  maybe BAE could learn a little from this...  our latest aircraft carrier is going to take 11 years from start to commission!), though she was not destined to make old bones. After the battle she was only engaged one more time (as part of McClellan's campaign against Richmond) where she was unable to assist due to the fact that her guns would not elevate enough....  later that same year, she sank whilst under tow - clearly the low freeboard whilst effective in defence, did not make for a very seaworthy vessel.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the now semi-secret project..

Further Reading:


  1. It's going to cost you. It's a great game


  2. Ha! Should be fun ...

    Will - you speak as one who knows - what rules were you using?? Hammerin' Iron?

  3. I could really get into that genre as a club project and I've heard some great things about those rules. At the White Wine Sauce blog we played about with the idea for a bit, here is John's monitor for his Venitian Fleet:

    And then there are all those lovely proto-type submarines to play with too...

    You've got me all excited again you bugger!

  4. Paul - very nice! Errrmmm..
    you recognised that the pride of the Venetian fleet is sailing backwards though... right?? :o)) Spot on about flags though - I will put some on mine eventually... submarines - have you seen the Confederate cigar ironclads, and what about "CSS David"?!

    Bugger?? My work is done!! :o))

  5. All glory to the Union! A splendid little ship.