Friday, April 20, 2012

USS Galena: Flawed, but Still Standing

In preparation for Drewry's Bluff, we present USS Galena.  This is the ship that is often mentioned in passing and in hush circles as that "other ironclad" that had a flawed design.  The ship served as the flagship for the squadron of U.S. Navy ships that challenged, and failed, the Confederate defenders at Fort Darling and the Bluff.

USS Galena was of the three "experimental" ironclad designs put recommended by the Ironclad Board. The ship had all the right connections.  Her designer was none other than Samuel Pook, designer of the "City"-class ironclads that dominated the Mississippi River system during the war and had a hand is designing the Merrimack-class of steam frigates.  Successful New England shipbuilder C.S. Bushnell backed the ship's design and had her built at his shipyard in Connecticut.

So what was wrong? In simple terms, Galena was a wooden ship trapped in the body of an ironclad.  Pook design a wooden steam sloop with four inches of iron slapped on the sides.  Placing iron over wood was nothing extraordinary.  Most ironclads, including New Ironsides and Virginia, had several inches of wood backing up the ship's iron plates.  The wood and iron work together as an integrated system.

 However, Galena was simply a wooden steam sloop with four inches of iron slapped on the sides.  Additionally, Galena's armor was placed in a "tumblehome" design, meaning the ship's top deck is narrower  than the beam.  The result was a odd, aircraft shelter-like, look to the ship.  The ship's iron would go on to show that just because one places iron on a ship, doesn't make the ship the next Achilles. 

However, when you read more about Drewry's Bluff in future posts, do remember this: of the three experimental ironclads,  only Galena was still floating in 1867.   Granted, this had nothing to do with superior design than the will of Neptune.   It could even be argued that because of Galena, there would never have been a Monitor.  One story goes that Bushnell asked his friend John Ericson's to consultant on Pook's design.  During the meeting, Ericsson's rejected Galena's design outright and pulled out a plan for what he thought an ironclad warship should look like.  Impressed by the design, Bushnell encouraged Ericsson to put his plan in front of the Board.

1 comment:

    For Kurt Hackemer's article