Tuesday, August 17, 2010

USS Terror (BM-4)

Figure 1: USS Terror (BM-4) photographed by Hart off New York City, 23 April 1897. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: USS Terror (BM-4) view looking forward with her forecastle awash while steaming from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, 26 July 1898. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: USS Terror (BM-4) probably in New York Harbor circa early 1898. Photographed by C.C. Langill, New York. Collection of Warren Beltramini, donated by Beryl Beltramini, 2007. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: Undated photo of USS Terror (BM-4) in a warm climate with awning on her deck. Photograph courtesy of Pieter Bakels. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5: Postcard drawing of USS Terror (BM-4) off New York City in 1905 by Enrique Muller. Click on photograph for larger image.

The 3,990-ton USS Terror (BM-4) was an iron-hulled, twin-screw, double-turreted monitor that was laid down in 1874 by William Cramp and Sons at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. But work on the ship was suspended in 1877 due to lack of funding. Construction on the ship resumed six years later and Terror was launched on 24 March 1883. Funding for warships was incredibly slow after the Civil War and this project showed that new monitors were a low priority in the US Navy at that time. Terror was not delivered to the Navy until 1887 and the ship had to be taken to the New York Navy Yard for completion. Terror was finally completed and commissioned at New York on 15 April 1896. The monitor was approximately 263 feet long and 55 feet wide, had a top speed of 12 knots, and had a crew of 150 officers and men. Terror was armed with four 10-inch guns (two in each turret), two 4-inch guns, two 6-pounders, and two 3-pounders.

After being commissioned, Terror was assigned to the Navy’s North Atlantic Squadron. From 1897 to the beginning of 1898, she was given patrol duties off America’s east coast. As tensions between the United States and Spain increased after the destruction of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor, Terror was ordered to steam south for use against the Spanish fleet. Terror left her base at Tompkinsville, New York, and on 2 April 1898 reached Key West, Florida, where most of the American fleet was gathering.

On 22 April, Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, commanding the Navy’s North Atlantic Squadron, received orders from President William McKinley to deploy his ships for a blockade of the Cuban coast. Sampson moved his ships toward Cuba and on 25 April the United States declared war on Spain. Terror was steaming off the coast of Cardenas, Cuba, on 24 April and, on the first day of the war, captured (but later released) the Cuban ship Almansas. During the next two days, Terror captured two Spanish ships and sent them to Florida as prizes of war.

Sampson was searching for the Spanish fleet under the command of Admiral Pascual Cervera and he had received intelligence reports from Washington that Cervera and his ships had left the Cape Verde Islands on the morning of 29 April. Sampson believed that Cervera was heading for San Juan, Puerto Rico, which was the nearest Spanish naval base in the West Indies. Sampson, therefore, pulled together a task force consisting of the armored cruiser USS New York (his flagship), the battleships USS Iowa and USS Indiana, and the torpedo boat USS Porter, as well as the monitors Terror and her sister ship, USS Amphitrite (BM-2). The task force left Key West on 1 May.

Progress to San Juan was impeded because of the monitors. Terror and Amphitrite were slow, they broke down periodically, and they carried a small supply of coal, forcing them to be towed most of the way to San Juan. USS Iowa (under the command of then Captain Robley D. Evans, later an extremely famous Rear Admiral) towed Amphitrite, while USS New York towed Terror. The ships finally made it to San Juan on 11 May. Sampson’s other ships had already reached San Juan, so on 12 May, after not finding Cervera’s ships in the harbor, the American warships decided to bombard the city’s artillery defenses. The American ships passed the city in a single column and Terror was fifth in line. The ships pounded the city for roughly three hours, hitting numerous artillery positions on shore. Terror fired 31 10-inch shells at enemy fortifications and scored a direct hit on a battery that was causing major problems for the passing American warships. Satisfied that a significant amount of damage had been done to the shore batteries, the American ships withdrew.

After the assault on San Juan, Terror was assigned to patrol duties in the West Indies and around Puerto Rico until the war with Spain ended. In September 1898, Terror was sent north to Hampton Roads, Virginia, and on 18 October she was placed in reserve at Norfolk, Virginia. Terror was decommissioned on 25 February 1899.

The monitor was taken to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, in late 1901 and was re-commissioned for use as a training ship. She served in this role until 1905, when she was brought to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and on 11 September was once again placed in reserve. Terror was decommissioned for the last time at Philadelphia on 8 May 1906.

Terror languished in Philadelphia until she was struck from the Navy list on 31 December 1915. She then was brought to Indianhead, Maryland, and used as a test hulk at the Naval Proving Grounds. USS Terror was finally sold for scrap on 10 March 1921.