Tuesday, March 22, 2011

USS Florida (BM-9)

Figure 1: USS Florida (BM-9) photographed in 1904 by Enrique Muller, while serving with the Coast Squadron training midshipmen on summer cruises and operating along the East Coast and in Caribbean waters. Photo courtesy of greatwhitefleet.info, by William Stewart. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: Postcard of USS Florida (BM-9). Image taken from a photograph by Enrique Muller, 1905. Photograph courtesy of SK/3 Tommy Trampp. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: Postcard of USS Florida (BM-9). Image possibly taken from a photograph by Enrique Muller, 1905, and published by Tuck & Sons. Photograph courtesy of Henry Higgins. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: The submarines K-6 and K-5 alongside the monitor USS Tallahassee (formerly USS Florida, BM-9) at Hampton Roads, Virginia, 10 December 1916. Photograph from the National Archives & Record Administration (NARA), Record Group 19-N, Box 33. Click on photograph for larger image.

The 3,225-ton USS Florida (BM-9) was an Arkansas class monitor built by the Crescent Shipyard at Elizabethport, New Jersey, and was commissioned on 18 June 1903. The ship was approximately 252 feet long and 50 feet wide, had a top speed of 12 knots, and had a crew of 220 officers and men. Florida was armed with two 12-inch guns in a single turret, four single 4-inch guns, and one 3-inch gun.

After briefly being assigned to the US Navy’s “Coast Squadron,” Florida was used as a training ship on summer cruises for midshipmen attending the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. While serving in this capacity, she steamed along America’s East Coast and in the Caribbean. Florida also took part in the Presidential Naval Review held by Theodore Roosevelt at Oyster Bay, Long Island, on 3 September 1906. Four days later, Florida became a full-time training ship at the Naval Academy. The ship was placed in reserve on 11 September 1906, but was fully commissioned from 7 June to 30 August 1907 for a midshipman cruise. Once the cruise was completed, the ship was decommissioned and placed in reserve.

From 21 May to 19 June 1908, Florida was subjected to an extraordinary set of ordnance tests. Florida was used as a target ship while her sister ship, the monitor USS Arkansas, fired several shots at Florida using her 12-inch and 4-inch guns. According to the US Navy at the time, the tests were conducted “to strike the Florida’s turret with an energy little short of penetration, in such a way that most of the [shell] fragments will fly across the bows clear of the ship. It is not intended to penetrate the turret armor, and the test is in no respect a contest of gun against armor or armor against gun, the effect of the shock only being desired. The shock, under the conditions above noted, will be approximately the greatest that could be experienced in battle.” An experimental steel “cage” mast also was placed on board Florida for the test and the shell hits would determine the sturdiness of the new mast design. The test took place on 27 May 1908 off Hampton Roads, Virginia, with Arkansas firing several shots at Florida at close range. Evidently, Florida survived the test very well. According to an article in the New York Tribune dated 28 May 1908, “The biggest naval gun, the heaviest projectile and the highest explosive known, combined with close range and deadly aim, were allowed to work their full havoc on the turret plate of the monitor Florida today. The result is declared to be a victory for turret construction, and this notwithstanding the 11-inch hardened steel plate was blackened, broken, the seams of the turret sprung and the rivets and screws loosened and twisted.” The article went on to say that Florida’s 12-inch guns were still operational even after being pounded by Arkansas. In addition, the experimental “cage” mast that was placed on board Florida for the test also sustained only minor damage and withstood all of the shell hits. The test proved that although monitors were very slow and rapidly becoming obsolete in terms of naval technology, they were still formidable warships and hard to sink. Then, incredibly, Florida was repaired after this test and returned to the fleet. This is probably the only time in American naval history where a warship was actually used as a target for target practice and then repaired and sent back to active duty.

On 1 July 1908, USS Florida was renamed USS Tallahassee to free up the state’s name for a new battleship that was being built. On 1 August 1910, Tallahassee was placed in reserve and became a gunnery test ship and performed occasional duties as a submarine tender in the Panama Canal Zone and at Norfolk, Virginia. During World War I, the ship served as a submarine tender in the Panama Canal Zone, the Virgin Islands, and Bermuda. On 30 September 1918, Tallahassee entered Charleston Navy Yard at Charleston, South Carolina, and was decommissioned there on 3 December.

Tallahassee was assigned to the Sixth Naval District as a reserve training ship on 19 February 1920, but was not re-commissioned. The ship was officially placed back in commission as a training ship from 3 September 1920 to 24 March 1922, when Tallahassee was decommissioned for the last time. USS Tallahassee was sold for scrapping at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 25 July 1922.