The new American Steel Navy started modestly enough. In 1883 three protected cruisers and a dispatch vessel were ordered as the first modern warships ordered for
the US Navy since the American Civil War. However, these vessels were just trial efforts, as the naval situation in the Western hemisphere concerned Congress. Several
South American navies possessed warships much superior to the protected cruisers just ordered. What was needed for the reborn USN were warships superior to
those in the Latin American navies. However, Congress was hesitant about building a first-class battleship comparable to those being built by European navies. Large
blue-water battleships were perceived as the tools of imperialism and an isolationist Congress did not want any ship that could be seen as an offensive threat. In 1886
the first two armored warships with belt armor were authorized by Congress. This was all well and good but America lacked infrastructure to build large warships and
naval architects trained to design them. For the first two designs the USN needed shortcuts for their design. One method was to open competition for a design. This
was done for the
USS Texas and an Englishman won the design competition. The second design was indirectly British as well.

Brazil had ordered a modern armored cruiser designed and built in Great Britain. In 1883 this ship, the
Riachuelo, was completed and instantly became the most
formidable warship in the hemisphere. Displacing 5,700-tons and armed with four 9-inch guns and six 5.5-inch guns, it was the
Riachelo that finally motivated
Congress to spend the money for modern armored warships. In a report from the Congressional Naval Affairs Committee stated,
"…we are not only at the mercy of
foreign nations, but that our neighbor, Brazil, might exact tribute of any city along our Gulf or Atlantic coast while Chili could enforce similar demands on the shores
of the Pacific.
" (American Battleships 1886-1923, 1980, by John C. Reilly, Jr. and Robert L. Scheina, at page 21) In addition to the Texas, designed as a 2nd Class
Battleship from the start, on August 3, 1886 Congress authorized the construction of an armored cruiser to be built at the New York Navy Yard in Brooklyn, New
York. The newly authorized armored cruiser was to become the
USS Maine.
Although nominally of American design, any comparison of the Maine with the Riachuelo, clearly shows that the design of the Maine produced a larger, more
powerful version of the Brazilian warship. The layout and appearance of the ships are almost identical but the design of the
USS Maine edged the Riachuelo in every
category. A comparison reflects the following: Length –
Maine 319-feet Riachuelo 305-feet; Beam – Maine 57-feet Riachuelo 52-feet; Displacement – Maine 6,682-
tons
Riachuelo 5,700-tons; Armament – Maine four 10-inch six 6-inch Riachuelo four 9-inch six 5.5-inch; Armor – Maine 12-inches Riachuelo 11-inches;
Maximum Speed –
Maine 17-knots Riachuelo 16.7-knots. With the new armored cruiser Maine to safe-guard the US coast, the residents of New York City no longer
had to worry about the
Riachuelo shelling the city while lying off Coney Island. The Maine was to be an armored cruiser, although it was later reclassified as a 2nd
Class Battleship. It was to be given a fit of sails to extend its cruising radius, as the USN had no foreign coaling stations. The
Texas, on the other hand, was designated
from the start as a battleship. It was designed to stay at home in American territorial waters, rather than to cruise to distant stations as was the
Maine. Cruising radius
was sacrificed for gunpower, armor and speed.

It was thought unnecessary to match the first-class battleship designs of the European, when what the USN needed was a regional deterrent. Besides, limitations on the
design forced by the limited naval infrastructure, mandated a design no longer than slightly over 300 feet and drawing no more than 23 feet. Another limitation was the
fact that there were no American warship designers with any experience in designing modern battleships, or much anything else for that matter. Warship design went
out of fashion after 1865. As a result, there was a contest that would award $15,000 to the designer whose design was chosen. William John of the British firm of
Barrow-in Furness, was the winner. So, the first American battleship was a British design. The design packed 12-Inch guns, 12-Inch armor on turrets, barbette and
belt, and a 17.8 knot speed, fastest of the battleships until the
Virginia Class, all on a displacement of only 6,327 tons. Given the restrictions in length, draught and
displacement, the design was a remarkable achievement in packing so much into such a light vessel. The
Texas was laid down 8 months after Maine, launched 18
months after
Maine, but was commissioned one month before Maine, making Texas the first American battleship. She was the most powerful American warship
afloat for all of three months, when
Indiana was commissioned. Although laid down two years after Texas, the USN had learned construction techniques with Texas
and
Maine and had become faster and more efficient in large ship construction.
On June 30, 1890, before either Maine or Texas was launched, Congress decided that the United States deserved something better than second class ships. Three new
Coast Defense Battleships were authorized that became the
Indiana Class battleships, BB-1 through BB-3. In part this appropriation was based upon a 1889 policy
study that recommended building 192 ships in the next 15 years in a dramatic increase for the USN. Of the 192 ships, 10 were to be first class battleships, equal to
any in the world, and 25 were to be coast defense battleships of limited endurance. An isolationist Congress still had misgivings about first class battleships, so the
three new ships that were authorized were classified as "
sea-going, coast line battleships." They were to mount the greatest armament on 8,500-tons.

As the design evolved, it did match the "
1st Class Battleship of Limited Coal Endurance" parameters established by the 1889 Navy board but was longer and had a
much stronger secondary armament than originally conceived. As well as having a limited range, the ships had a low freeboard, more in line with monitors than with
ocean-going warships, which satisfied Congress. The original design also featured conical turrets. All three were laid down in 1891 and launched in 1893. The conical
turrets, which were designed to provide protection through the slope of the armor, as well as the thickness of the armor itself. At the time these turret designs posed
difficulties that the USN did not what to spend the time to solve and circular turrets, similar to Civil War monitor turrets were used instead. The four 13-inch main
guns and eight 8-inch secondary guns, all mounted in turrets, were exceptionally powerful for the size of the vessels. The armor with an 18-inch Harvey-Nickel steel
belt at its thickest was equal to the best armor then found in European battleships. The armor was concentrated over the key spaces amidships, leaving the ends
relatively unprotected.
Indiana and Massachusetts, featured scrollwork on their bows, Oregon had a Union shield, no doubt inspired by the fact that her builder was
Union Iron Works. Also, the upper bow of
Oregon was flat, whereas the other two bulged out at the hawse openings. Another difference for Oregon was an angular
aft bridge, rather than a rounded one found on the other two.
Originally, none of the three had bilge keels. They were designed to have them but these were dropped during construction so the ships could more easily use dry
docks. It soon became obvious that this caused significant problems. Without these keels they were subject to heavy rolling. The turrets were unbalanced with the
weight being forward to minimize the size of the barrel openings in the turret. In October 1896
Indiana ran into heavy weather and the turrets broke loose from their
clamps. The turrets would swing from side to side as the ship rolled. Stronger clamps were installed but the same thing happened to
Indiana in February 1897. After
that bilge keels were installed. When trained abeam the unbalanced turrets also caused problems. With the weight centered towards the turret face, the freeboard
decreased on that side to such an extent that the main belt was submerged. The opposite happened on the unengaged side. The freeboard would rise to such an extent
that the belt would come out of the water. During their service in the Spanish-American War, the ships of the class were under standing orders to turn the rear of the
turrets to face the enemy, when they were not firing.

USS Massachusetts BB-2 was laid down at the Cramp Shipyard in Philadelphia on June 25, 1891. Miss Leila Herbert, daughter of the Secretary of the Navy, was the
sponsor of the
Massachusetts at the launching of the ship on June 10, 1893. On June 10, 1896 USS Massachusetts was placed into service at the Philadelphia Navy
Yard. Final fitting out took until August 4, 1896. The length of the
Massachusetts was 350-feet overall, with a beam of 69-feet 3-inches and draft of 24-feet. Armament
consisted of four 13-inch/35 guns mounted in two twin gun turrets; eight 8-inch/35 guns in four twin gun turrets; four 6-inch/40 single guns; twenty 6-pdr; six1-pdr;
and six 18-inch torpedo tubes. Maximum armor thickness was 18-inches and her maximum speed was 15-knots. Her career, leading up to the Spanish-American War
consisted of a series of port visits, including Canada.
Indiana and Massachusetts had their stacks lengthened but Oregon kept her short stacks during the Spanish-American War. After the war their height was increased.
With shakedowns at the end of 1896 and teething problems into 1897, the three
Indianas were finished just in time for the first major war with a foreign power that
United States had experienced since 1815. Since 1895 the insurrectionist movement in Cuba and the reaction to it by Spain, steadily grew worse. The majority in the
United States sympathized with the insurrectionists. There was no official American government reaction to the increasing violence in Cuba until November 1896, when
President Grover Cleveland in his annual speech stated that unless the problems in Cuba were resolved soon,
"a situation will be presented in which our obligations to
the sovereignty of Spain will be superseded by higher obligations which we can hardly hesitate to recognize and discharge.
" (Naval Annual 1899, Naval Aspects of the
Spanish-American War by G.S. Clarke, at page 124)

Throughout 1897 the situation in Cuba intensified and the relationship between Spain and the United States steadily degraded. On January 24, 1898
USS Maine was
ordered to make a friendly visit to Havana. Even at the end of 1897 the USN was preparing itself for a possibility of hostilities with Spain. The entire Atlantic Fleet was
concentrated at Key West when
Maine left the fleet on her mission to Cuba. She was still there on February 15, 1898 when she was torn apart by an explosion,
probably caused by spontaneous combustion in a coal-bunker. However, the report of the official naval inquiry stated that the loss was caused by an external mine
planted by unknown persons. Almost everyone in the US blamed Spain and the calls for war became increasingly strident. Spain belatedly starting making its own
preparations for war. Admiral Pascual Cervera had command of the best striking force that Spain had, a powerful armored cruiser force, at least on paper. Cervera had
doubts as to the strength of his force if it came to combat.
Cervera estimated that his Spanish force had only about one-third the combat power as the American forces arrayed against him. "It is frightful to think of the results
of a naval battle, even if it should be a successful one for us, for how and where could we repair our damages?
" (Naval Annual 1899, Naval Aspects of the Spanish-
American War by G.S. Clarke, at page 129) To boost Cervera’s morale, the Minister of Marine also discounted the capabilities of the officers and sailors of the USN
and described them as mercenaries. By April 15 the USN was at a war footing and ready for hostilities. However, there was a fly in the ointment. The public of the
eastern coast had developed a strong fear of the ability of the Spanish cruiser squadron to suddenly pop up on their doorstep. Some banks moved their assets inland.
To placate this fear the fleet had been divided as a Flying Squadron based around
Brooklyn, Texas and Massachusetts was based at Hampton Roads, Virginia in order
to respond to any Spanish attack on the eastern seaboard. On May 13, 1898 the Flying Squadron left for Key West and then to Cienfuegos, Cuba. On May 15 Cerveras
entered the port of Santiago. Under Sampson’s blockade of Santiago,
Oregon, Massachusetts, and Iowa took turns, illuminating the harbor entrance with searchlights
at night at 2 miles range. On the evening of July 2 the
Massachusetts was ordered to Guantanamo Bay to coal. She was still there the next morning when the Spanish
squadron sortied from Santiago and therefore missed the battle. On July 4 she relieved the
Brooklyn and in the early morning of July 5th assisted in rescuing survivors
of the sinking cruiser,
Reina Mercedes.

After the war the
Indiana Class were still important but were rapidly becoming obsolescent as newer construction came into the USN. Limited by the "coastal
battleship" impediments and errors made in design, since they were the first American battleship designs. In the early 1900s the unbalanced turret problem was solved
by adding 28 tons of lead to the rear of the turrets. Electric rammers were also substituted for the slow, unsatisfactory hydraulic rammers. The old fire tube boilers
were replaced with water tube boilers in this time. In 1908 all of the 6-inch guns and most of the lighter weapons were removed. Obsolete before the end of World
War One, the
Massachusetts was hauled out of the Reserve Fleet and commissioned at Philadelphia on June 9, 1917. She was used as a gunnery training ship until late
1918.
Massachusetts was turned over to the Army for tests with coastal artillery batteries and was sunk in shallow water two miles from Pensacola, Florida. Her hulk
is now the property of the State of Florida and her turret tops and parts of her amidships section can still be seen above water at low tide. (History from American
Battleship 1886-1923, 1980, by John C. Reilly and Robert L. Scheina: Naval Annual 1899, Naval Aspects of the Spanish-American War by G.S. Clarke; A Ship to
Remember, The Maine and the Spanish-American War
, 1992, by Michael Blow; The Spanish War, An American Epic 1898, 1984, by G.J.A. O’Toole; United
States Battleships
, 1968 by Alan F. Pater.)
Blue Ridge Models USS Massachusetts BB-2 – The USS Massachusetts BB-2 in 1:700 scale by Blue Ridge Models is a superb multimedia kit. When I say
multimedia, it has everything. From resin hull and small parts, to brass photo-etch, to turned brass barrels, to a wooden deck, to full color instructions, the parts are all
inclusive. Even the packaging is 1st Class. When you open the box, you’ll discover that all of the parts are nestled in a open foam rectangle. This foam is more than just
for appearance sake, the foam provides excellent protection against damage. This kit is also limited production. Only 250 models were made. I was lucky to get number
52 out of the 250. Sure the instructions mis-spelled Massachusetts as Massachusettes and there is a significant amount of flash on some of the resin runners but the kit
has a moderate price of $69.00, considering what you receive.

The hull is cast in light gray resin and the only clean up is light sanding along the waterline. There is plenty of detail along the hull sides. At the bow you get the above
water torpedo tube opening on the cutwater and the large sponson like hull hawse fittings. The portholes are deep and seem trifley over-size. There is a capped
forecastle bulkhead and nicely done anchor washboards with projecting skegs. Also, at the bow is raised square 6-pdr position. At deck edge the deck extends outboard,
which almost looks like an anti-torpedo net shelf. I couldn’t find any photograph that any of the three sisters carried nets but the extending shelf is clearly shown.
Perhaps it was anticipated carrying nets when designed, so the shelf was provided but not the nets of hull side booms. Amidships, the first three levels of the
superstructure are cast integral to the hull. The two heavy vertical strakes on each side of the hull look true to photographs. The doors for the beam above water
torpedo tubes are highly detailed. On the upper hull and 01 level on each side are two protruding sponsons for 6-inch guns and in between them a sponson for a 6-pdr
position. These sponsons have shutters with portholes. The 01 level also has some portholes and detailed doors. The 02 level has the barbettes for the 8-inch gun turrets
and heavy bulkheads surrounding the inner deck. The bulkheads have detailed doors. Inside the bulkhead are the funnel bases. The 03 level has pillars fore and aft,
which support decks above and large rectangle ventilators with detailed louvers, aft conning tower and detailed forward conning tower. At the stern of the hull sides are
two more raised rectangles at the stern 6-pdr positions.
The deck detail is also abundant. The deck planking is fairly average with no butt-end detail, however the included wooden deck has the fine deck planking with butt
ends. You may have never tried a wooden deck but in this case, use it because the detail on the wooden deck is much better than the resin detail. There are a couple of
features about the forecastle deck that make it really stand out. First the
Indiana Class had arched steel plates that were placed under the arc of the muzzles of the
main guns that were present to prevent blast damage to the wooden deck. The second unique item is the chain locker in front of the forward barbette. Unlike most
ships, this is a above deck chain locker. It has entry fittings on the front face, winch/capstan heads on the sides and access hatches on the crown. Steel chain run
plates run forward from the locker to the bow. On centerline forward of the locker are three highly detailed deck access doors inside raised coamings. There are also
two capstans and five equipment base plates. Surrounding the forward barbette are twin bollard fittings, two detailed deck access hatches and two other raised plates.
Amidship, inside the bulkhead there are three skylights and two ventilation doors fittings that have great detail. Also found are four more detailed deck access hatches
and eleven raised plates for fittings and equipment. At the top of the bulkhead are base plate fittings for QF light guns. At the stern are the same arching plates
surrounding the aft barbette to prevent blast damage. Something unusual here are two cable reels surrounded by bulkheads. Since they are below the main guns, my
only guess for the bulkheads is to prevent damage to the reels due to overpressure during firing of the guns. Deck detail around the aft barbette also includes six twin
bollard fittings, two deck access hatched and two more raised plates. To the stern on the quarterdeck are three more deck access doors, another twin bollard fitting, a
capstan and one other fitting.

The smaller resin parts are found on one resin wafer and five resin runners. The resin sheet has only three parts. The largest by far is the flying navigation deck,
which runs from the chart house to the aft control position. The deck paneling is average but again excellent wooden decking is supplied for this location. The chart
house is outstanding in detail with wood bulkheads, square windows, and doors. The overhead extends beyond the chart house bulkheads and also has navigation
equipment pedestals, base plates and a locater hole for the foremast. Aft, the solid bulkhead has a cap. The other two parts are the crane bases, which also has good
detail. The turrets and the ship’s boats occupy a runner. The main gun turrets are excellent with oval gun openings, two different size crown cupolas, each with fine
vision slits, and two ventilator cowlings. These cowlings were removable in the actual ship. The 8-inch gun turrets are almost miniatures of the 13-inch gun turrets
but have two identical cupolas and two access doors with hinge detail on each crown. There are four ship’s boats, two open launches and two open smaller boats. All
have bottom planking and thwart detail and the launches have machinery detail at their sterns. A long runner has the funnels, boat cranes, anchor cranes with
machinery, military foremast and two short ventilator cowlings. The boat cranes have a lot of detail and the funnels have prominent reinforcing bands at the top and
half way down. They also have prominent casings at the bottom. A long runner have open mount 6-pdr guns, navigation equipment, four anchors, searchlights, six
tapering posts and a small deck house. Another long runner has only ship’s boats. There are seven included. They are a steam launch with funnel, one large whaler,
four boats and a dinghy. Bottom planking and thwarts are integral. A square casting ring has many small davits, although there is a lot of flash on this runner. The last
runner has various types of ventilator cowlings. There are seven different patterns from long/tall cowlings to large squat cowlings. Two of the patterns have bends.
There is a good deal of flash on this runner, as well. Although cleanup is required in the form of removal of the flash and removal of the parts from the runner, these
are easy steps.
The brass photo-etch fret is absolutely spectacular. There is a lot of relief-etching on this fret. My favorite are the embossed winged victories that fit on the main
gun turrets between the guns. Other relief-etched parts are the bow scroll-work, stern scroll-work, boat thwarts, large boat davits, platforms with mesh footing, QF
guns and mounts, cable reel mount ends, flying boat skids, and aft superstructure control tower. The multitude of non-relief etched parts are also at the highest
degree of detail. One example are the inclined ladders. Not only do they have safety rail and trainable treads, but also has weight saving voids along the bottom panel.
The railings have sag to represent the chain links rather than a flat bar. Also, some railings have awning frames, such as the navigation deck railing. Some of the
largest brass parts also fall in this category. These include the military masts fighting positions, and the large armored panels on the 01 level. Funnel detail includes
parts for a vertical ladder with safety hoops, grate/clinker screen and steam pipes. In addition to the two fighting positions, support gussets with voids for the
military tops, the military mast gets an open platform, small davit, 2 QF guns, top mast and yards with sagging foot ropes. Among all the other parts are: various
support gussets; QF gun shields; anchor chain; flag staffs; boat crane platforms, reels, block & tackle; ship’s rudders & oars; open chocks; and stern platform.

Turned brass barrels are provided for the 13-inch, 8-inch and 6-inch guns. Well done, they have open muzzles. Thirteen decks are found on the very thin wooden
deck sheet. The decks have excellent planking detail with butt ends for the planks and runners on the edges of the planks. The instructions are in full color with
brass parts numbered in orange and resin parts numbered in gray. There are four pages. Page one has the parts laydown and general instructions. Page two has
initial assembly with four insets on superstructure parts attachment, an inset on funnel assembly and five insets on assembly of the military mast. Page three has the
flying deck assembly, two insets of bridge assembly, two insets of QF gun assembly, two more insets of superstructure assembly, and two insets on bow assembly.
Page four has turret assembly, two insets on crane assembly, two insets on QF gun assembly, boat assembly, and profile and plan photographs for final assembly.
The instructions are good but one must scrutinize them to avoid missing a part attachment, as the assembly photographs are rather busy.
The Blue Ridge Models 1:700 scale USS Massachusetts BB-2 is at the top of the heap in quality and value among models in this scale. It is definitely among the best
models available. Although in reality
Massachusetts was riding fat, dumb, and sassy coaling at Guantanamo Bay when the Spanish Squadron sortied from Santiago,
you can have your
Blue Ridge Models Massachusetts ready for any fight, whether at Santiago or any modeling show.
Steve Backer
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