U.S.S. Oregon - 1896

USS MASSACHUSETTS on trials, 1896

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USS Oregon was a very successful and powerful pre-Dreadnought design, famous for her part in the Spanish-American War and her 14,500-mile passage around the Horn to join the fight in Cuban waters. Oregon's four 13-inch guns were housed in twin turrets fore and aft, but she also boasted a secondary armament of eight 8-inch guns in turrets at the four corners of her citadel, as well as four 6-inch guns and a very heavy ensemble of 6-pounders and machine-guns. By European standards, she was small and low to the waves; also slow and heavily armed and armored. 351 feet long by 69 feet in beam, she displaced 10,288 tons and could steam at 16 knots. One imagines she looked like this -- surging along with billowing smoke and a bone in her teeth -- when she charged after the Spanish cruiser Colón at the climax of the Battle of Santiago. During this charge she achieved 18 knots -- 2 full knots more than her maximum designed speed! One suspects some dedicated wizardry by the engineering staff in anticipation of the crucial moment -- and yeoman work by the stokers when it came.

Built at the Union Iron Works in San Francisco, the Oregon carried a crew of 737, including 44 officers. She was propelled by 9,738-HP triple-expansion piston steam engines shafted to twin screws. Her coal-fired cylindrical boilers were standard for the period also. She was protected by Harvey process steel armor (ranging from 2-3/4" on the deck to 15" on turrets and 18" over vitals in the hull). Oregon was part of a vigorous effort by the U.S. to build a first-class oceangoing fleet, although her design was principally as a seagoing coast protection vessel. Oregon had two sister ships, Indiana and Massachusetts; a considerably improved version, the USS Iowa, was completed in time for the Spanish-American War as well and fought at Santiago. Only about 2/3 the size of first-line British vessels, the Indianas reflected America's newness to manufacturing modern men-o'-war in several awkward design features, such as low freeboard and steam-powered turret training gear that had little fine control compared to hydraulic training systems. Worst of all, there was no counterbalancing mechanism in the turrets, so when the guns were trained abeam, the ship listed several degrees to that side, affecting aim and trim -- a defect that was later partially corrected. But these ships -- America's first genuine seagoing ironclad battleships, equipped with coal storage for prolonged sea voyages -- also expressed the country's burgeoning pride and determination to be treated as a great power. The Oregon's long voyage and the Navy's performance at Manila Bay and Santiago backed up that claim beyond dispute.

By popular demand of the people of Oregon, the venerable ship became a war memorial in Portland from 1925 to 1942, but was largely dismantled for scrap metal during WWII, and later used as an ammo hulk in the Pacific during the War. She was finally scrapped in Japan in the 1950s. Her bow insignia, radio shack and mast are preserved at McCall Waterfront Park in Portland, Oregon; her twin funnels in Liberty Ship Park.

At right is a stern view of the Oregon in drydock at Mare Island in 1912. Click here for a great enlarged view. By this time she had been fitted with a "cage" mainmast, standard in the U.S. Navy at the time. Few other changes had been made, however; the main and secondary guns stand out well in the noontime sun, and the Stars and Stripes stream gaily from the taffrail flagstaff on what looks like a perfect summer's day. This unusual shot clearly shows the beamy shape of the vessel's hull that made her a steady gun platform; the cruiser stern; and arrangement of rudder and screws. Her voyage around the Horn had proved seaworthiness beyond her design parameters, just as the battle proved an unexpected reserve capacity in her propulsion plant. Although a "wet ship," Oregon and her sisters did provide stable gun platforms once bilge keels had been fitted and the problems with turret balance had been worked out. Scroll down for a detailed schematic of the Oregon.
Lights out! And a prow turned toward the South
And a canvas hiding each cannon's mouth
And a ship like a silent ghost released
Is seeking her sister ships in the East.

When your boys shall ask what the guns are for,
Then tell them the tale of the Spanish war,
And the breathless millions that looked upon
The matchless race of the Oregon.
      -- John James Meehan

Plans and Specifications

USS OREGON schematic
Schematic of the 1896 Indiana class battleships.

Specifications for the Oregon:
Dimensions: 351' OA x 69' x 24'   Displacement: 10,228 tons std; 11,688 tons deep laden. Armament: (4) 13"/35 cal (2x2), (8) 8"/35 (4x2), (4) 6"/40, (20) 2.2" 6-pounders, and (6) 1.5" 1-pounder guns; (6) 18" torpedo tubes. Armor: Harvey type. 18"/4" belt; 12" barbettes; 10" conning tower; 15" turrets; 3"/1.5" deck. Propulsion: 12 coal-fired cylindrical boilers; 2-shaft inverted vertical triple-expansion engines developing 9,738 HP. Speed: 16 knots. Crew: 737.

Ships in class: Indiana Massachusetts Oregon

Metric Specifications:
Dimensions: 107m OA x 21m x 7.3m. Displacement: 10,228 tons std; 11,688 tons deep laden. Armament: (4) 330 mm/35 cal (2x2), (8) 203 mm/35, (4) 152 mm/40, (20) 57-mm 6-pounders, and (6) 37 mm 1-pounder guns; (6) 45 cm torpedo tubes. Armor: Harvey type. 450/102 mm belt; 305 mm barbettes; 250 mm conning tower; 380 mm turrets; 76/37 mm deck. Propulsion: 12 coal-fired cylindrical boilers; 2-shaft inverted vertical triple-expansion engines developing 7,450 kW. Speed: 30 km/hr. Crew: 737.

An Album of Oregon Photos

USS INDIANA firing in fleet maneuvers
Sister ship Indiana in Atlantic fleet maneuvers - illustration from an 1896 Harpers.

USS MASSACHUSETTS - quarter view on trials

Quarter view of the Oregon on her trials -- the other shot in the series shown at top of page. Designed for 15.5 knots, the ship made 16.7 knots for a sustained period on trials, earning a bonus for her builders.

USS OREGON starboard engine at Union Iron Works, 1895
The Oregon's starboard main engine at Union Iron Works before installation.

USS MASSACHUSETTS at the Brooklyn Navy Yard
The Oregon departing New York following the great victory celebration, October 1898.   Enlarge   Enrique Muller

Onboard view of OREGON's foredeck

The Oregon's foredeck was downright imposing, with its tall mast and bristling big guns. Bluejackets gather for a semi-formal portrait in this press shot done on the Indiana.

USS OREGON Main Gun Breech
A gunner emphasizes the huge breech of one of Oregon's main guns.

Onboard view of USS INDIANA's secondary turrets

The Oregon's four high-mounted 8-inch turrets were an impressive feature of the ship. The castle-like, multilevel layout with its many round turrets may be appreciated from this shot taken aboard the Indiana.

USS OREGON c. 1898
Profile photo of the Oregon, circa 1898.

USS OREGON, bow view

Here is Oregon at Bremerton, Washington, poised on the eve of her great adventure, her voyage into celebrity. Clearly not a line is out of place on this beauty. Nor was on the 14,550-mile voyage, nor in the blockade and battle service later.

USS MASSACHUSETTS at the Brooklyn Navy Yard
"The Oregon's Race to Cuba" - contemporary illustration.

USS OREGON passing through the Magellan Strait
Illustration of the Oregon bucking through a chop in the Magellan Strait.

Crewmen on OREGON watch chase of COLON

Bursting with excitement, Oregon crewmen watch the end game at the Battle of Santiago: the chase of the Colón by the Brooklyn and their own ship. Their brethren in the stokeholds outdid themselves, giving the Oregon emergency steam for 18+ knots which was just sufficient to close the range with their quarry. At the critical moment, the ship loosed two 13" ranging shots, bracketing the Spanish cruiser close astern. She soon hove-to and struck her colours in surrender, running up on the beach at the mouth of the Tarquino River. This closed the one-sided battle just under four hours after its opening shots. Only two seamen had been killed and a handful wounded in the U.S. fleet, versus 474 for Spain, which lost all six of its ships at one stroke.
Photo: Oregon Historical Society

USS MASSACHUSETTS at the Brooklyn Navy Yard

The Oregon looses the fateful straddling shot in a bit of quick cover art for Harper's Army and Navy Special Edition.

OREGON crewmen cheering their victory at Santiago Bay.

Oregon crewmen cheer heartily as the Colón strikes her colours and the Battle of Santiago begins to wind down.

Impromptu ship's band playing on top of the forward 13in turret

In celebration of their victory, an impromptu "squilgee" band plays atop #1 13" turret, in this view from the hurricane deck over the top of the port forward 8" turret (see photo above). A smoldering Spanish cruiser can be seen at left background, the cruiser USS Brooklyn at right.

OREGON in fighting trim

The Oregon in fighting trim, photographed the afternoon of the Battle of Santiago by John C. Hemment, looking, the lensman wrote, "like the very bulldog of the American navy that she is." For an awesome enlarged view, click here.

Relevant Web Resources

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