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The USS Olympia cruiser helped the US wipe out the mighty Spanish fleet

When commissioned for the US Navy in January 1895, the cruiser USS Olympia was expected to survive fierce attacks thanks to its high speed, thick steel shell and strong firepower. Many people think that it possesses too much firepower for its size and gives USS Olympia the nickname “pepper warship”.

In fact, this battleship wiped out an enemy fleet, then performed shore bombardment and escort duties during her 27 years of service.

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Painting of the USS Olympia during the battle at Manila Bay on April 27, 1898. Image: Wikipedia.

At the end of the 19th century, the US faced difficulties in finding a direction for naval development for the following years. The naval battles of Merrimack and Monitor during the American Civil War showed that wooden ships were obsolete, while the appearance of steel ships also made iron-hulled battleships difficult to survive. Regarding the propulsion system, the mast was a cheap and effective method, but the steam engine showed a clear advantage, giving the commander more flexible options in combat.

The US Navy must build ships to protect the coast with a limited budget, and at the same time be ready to serve the goal of power projection cherished by many presidents.

To meet these requirements, the US Navy decided to build a completely new fleet of steel-hulled cruisers, equipped with steam engines but still with masts to take advantage of the wind when needed.

Due to a tight budget, the ships will focus on firepower and maneuverability, instead of wearing thick steel armor like European warships of the same time. These cruisers were able to get ahead of the enemy fleet, shelling the enemy’s flagship while staying out of range of other ships.

The star of this new fleet was the C-6, the battlecruiser launched in 1892 and commissioned a year later as the USS Olympia, named after the then state capital of Washington.

The USS Olympia fits all the requirements of the new naval development plan. The ship is 104 m long, 16 m wide, with a displacement of 6,694 tons at full load. Equipped with two steam engines and 6 boilers, it could reach a speed of 40 km / h, while most warships at that time only had a maximum speed of 33 km / h.

It is armed with four 203 mm Mark 4 main guns in the bow and aft turrets. In addition, USS Olympia is also equipped with 10 127 mm Mark 2 cannons, 14 57 mm cannons, 6 37 mm cannons and 4 Gatling machine guns and 6 450 mm torpedo tubes.

Some observers at the time criticized the design, arguing that it was too heavily armed for a cruiser and was no different from a miniature battleship.

USS Olympia was deployed to the Pacific Ocean before the cruiser USS Maine exploded and sank in Havana harbor in February 1898. The United States declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898, after accusing it of attacking the USS Maine, although the explosion was later determined to be an accident during the transportation of ammunition.

The squadron led by the USS Olympia under the command of Admiral George Dewey was sent to Manila Bay, Philippines, on April 27, 1898 to attack the Spanish fleet there. The American cruiser was expected to break through the Spanish shore guns and attack the enemy fleet with superior firepower.

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USS Olympia as a museum ship in Philadelphia 2007. Photo: Wikipedia.

The American fleet moves in two rows behind the USS Olympia as it approaches the battlefield. Admiral Dewey ordered his ships not to fire until sunrise and they discovered the position of the enemy fleet, although this could cause American forces to be detected and intercepted during the night.

The Spanish fleet was then anchored near the shore under the protection of coastal defense guns. In the early morning of May 1, two ships in the US fleet were suddenly attacked and had to return fire, but the rest still entered the bay without firing guns. The group of American ships received barrages of Spanish artillery until they were within effective range and angle of fire, when Admiral Dewey ordered the captain of the USS Olympia to open fire.

The Spanish warships and defense guns were less accurate than the American ones, causing the battle to quickly tilt in favor of the USS Olympia group of ships. The American fleet sank every enemy warship and captured the port of Manila within a few hours. Nine American sailors were wounded and had no material loss, while the Spanish lost their entire fleet with 161 dead, 210 wounded.

USS Olympia and Admiral Dewey became famous after the battle. American cruisers continued to be used in World War I as escort cruisers. She participated in shore bombardment and supported the amphibious assault on Murmansk during the Russian Civil War in 1918.

However, the USS Olympia could not compete with modern warships after World War I and was decommissioned in 1922, becoming a museum for visitors in Philadelphia since 1958.

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