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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

100 Years Ago, March 1911 - The Sinking of the former U.S.S. TEXAS

Blog #3. March 14, 2011.

The Norfolk Navy Yard can claim many first accomplishments and one of our finest was the construction of the Navy’s first Battleship, the U.S.S. TEXAS built 1889-1892.
Recently a new age in ship construction had arrived here on the shores of the Elizabeth River with the passing of wood and sail to the new age of iron and steam when this shipyard converted the steam-frigate Merrimac into the CSS Virginia three decades prior. As revolutionary as this radical change in naval construction was, the construction of TEXAS marked the beginnings of the modern navy and even more advanced design changes.
The TEXAS was authorized August 8, 1886, laid down June 1, 1889, with commissioning on August 15, 1895.
TEXAS shown alongside of ex-Building 28
Location is modern Berths 7 & 8
Circa 1905 Postcard
Courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins

The site of this amazing feat of construction of such a large vessel was actually on the former site of ship-house "B" just north of our Hammerhead Crane by utilizing the granite building ways incline first laid down in 1820. I am currently gathering construction photos and will be making a future display to document the construction progress. The battleship came to life one rivet at a time and we have some actual shipyard photos to prove it!
Both the TEXAS and the MAINE were actually prototypes of the entire battleship class to come, thus they are not represented by the traditional "BB" hull designations. Each ship was slightly different in design to prove different construction techniques. Plans were actually from an English shipbuilder who won $15,000 in prize money after competing amongst other naval architects.
The main battery consisted of two 12 inch breach loading rifle guns set in turrets, placed "in echelon" which is to say that they are not on centerline with the ship. TEXAS had its forward gun on the port side and its stern gun on the starboard side both in the amidships area. This design was reversed for MAINE but again this was the age of experimentation. Protection came from her belted armor design some 12 inches thick, running a length of one hundred and fourteen feet down each side and six feet wide, showing only two feet above the waterline.
If you visit the Naval Museum on High Street you can see a part of this actual armor belt outside the front door along with one of the TEXAS anchors. After you stand upon these items for a photograph to remember your visit, you will come away with a different appreciation of how we could accomplish constructing such a huge ship using 19th century lifting devices and essentially assembling the hull in an open field before the slide launching.
TEXAS served her country well in the Spanish American War obtaining revenge for the sinking of the MAINE in Cuba, which is another story. TEXAS participated on June 16, 1898, with the bombardment of Guantanamo Bay and on July 3, 1898, as part of the Flying Squadron at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba. After the war, TEXAS operated out of the Norfolk Navy Yard as the Flagship of the Atlantic Coast Squadron till 1908.

ex-TEXAS ~ Before the Shelling
Location is Chesapeake Bay, Virginia
Circa 1911 Photogravure by Clarke & Muller
Courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins
Then seeing service as the station receiving ship at Charleston from 1908-1911, our once glorious ship saw its days numbered. Our second class battleship TEXAS was renamed SAN MARCOS on 16 February 1911 to allow for the future BB-35 to now claim the name TEXAS, but the old girl still had one more bit of service to give to her country, going out with style and honor.
100 years ago this month in March 1911 the ship was towed out into the Chesapeake Bay near Tangier Sound to be used as a target ship for the USS NEW HAMPSHIRE BB-25. The end result was a deliberate sinking in the shallow waters, all the while providing useful visible evidence of the effectiveness new Navy's long range guns.
In the end, ultimately TEXAS gave its very life for the good of our country, because – "history matters".

ex-TEXAS ~ After the Shelling
Location is Chesapeake Bay, Virginia
Circa 1911 Photogravure by Clarke & Muller
Courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins

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