The USS Mississippi in her original rig, 1908: one mast, two funnels. "#" aft is pair of signaling staffs.
The Mississippi class of two battleships was conceived as scaled-down, cheaper versions of the Connecticut class, following a fad of the time known as the Moderate Proportions Theory, used to justify so-called Second Class Battleships. One quarter shorter than the model, and 3,000 tons smaller, they still packed the greater part of the Connecticut class's firepower, with four 12"/45 and eight 8"/45. The secondary battery began as a dozen 6" but was changed to eight 7" in a 1911 refit. Intended as lower-value seagoing battleships, the Mississippis disappointed because of their poor seakeeping qualities. With a length-to-beam ratio of 4:1 (versus 5:1 for the Connecticuts), top-heavy by reason of their weighty guns and armor, they had a sickening, sluggish roll. When steaming through a cross sea, they also pitched viciously. Their firepower was often wasted in the open sea, for they lacked the stability that makes a good battleship: a steady gun platform. Diminished bunker space meant more frequent absences to refuel. Due to their stability problems they could only deliver their designed speed in calm seas, making them poor partners for the larger, more seaworthy vessels with which they were expected to operate. In all, they disproved the Moderate Proportions Theory and discredited the outdated concept of the second-class battleship.
The Mississippi and her sister the Idaho were completed at the very end of the pre-dreadnought era in 1908, yet were endowed with perhaps the most florid bow ornaments of any U.S. Navy ships. By 1908 the U.S. was already well along in building its first dreadnoughts; hardly had the Mississippis completed their first year in commission when they were refitted and their hull decorations removed.
After six years in commission -- much of it spent in the yard being tweaked for their stability problems -- the two ships were sold to the Greeks at a knockdown price. With a war on the Ottoman Empire recently concluded and Balkan unrest about to kindle WWI, Greece wished to secure her interests with a more modern navy, already improved by the Italian-built armored cruiser Giorgios Averof. She willingly plunked down $6,267,638 for the two ships, which had cost the USN $8,730,000 to build six years earlier.
Plans and Specifications
Cutaway plan shows layout of interior spaces. Short, stubby proportions caused stability problems.
Specifications for the Mississippi class:
Dimensions: 382' x 77' x 24.7' Displacement: 13,000 tons std. Deep laden: 14,095 tons. Armament: (4) 12"/45 cal (2x2), (8) 8"/45 (4x2), (8) 7"/45 , and (12) 3" guns; (6) 3-pounders; (2) 1-pounders, and (6) .30-cal machine guns; (2) 21" torpedo tubes. Armor: Midvale type. Belt: 9"/4", Turrets: 12"/8", Barbettes: 10"/7", Secondary turrets: 6½"/6", Battery: 7", Deck: 3", Conning Tower: 9" Fuel capacity: 750 tons of coal normal, 1,824 tons maximum. Propulsion: (2) inverted vertical triple-expansion engines developing 14,000 hp; twin screw. Speed: 17 knots. Crew: 744.
Ships in class: Mississippi · Idaho.
Dimensions: 116m x 23m x 8m Displacement: 13,000 tons std. Deep laden: 14,095 tons. Armament: (4) 305 mm/45 cal (2x2), (8) 180 mm/45 (4x2), (8) 180 mm, and (12) 76mm; (6) 3-pounders; (2) 1-pounders, and (6) .30-cal machine guns; (2) 533 mm torpedo tubes. Armor: Midvale type. Belt: 229/102 mm, Turrets: 305/202 mm, Barbettes: /180 mm, Secondary turrets: 165/152 mm, Battery: 180 mm, Deck: 76 mm, Conning Tower: 229 mm. Fuel capacity: 750 tons of coal normal, 1,824 tons maximum. Propulsion: (2) inverted vertical triple-expansion engines developing 7,457 kW; twin screw. Speed: 31.5 km/hr. Crew: 744.
A Mississippi Class Missive
The ship's styling was virtually identical to that of the Connecticut class. Above, elliptical forward 12" turret viewed from the bridge; the line of the "chisel cut" turret face is readily seen at the forward end: a straight line across the roof between the two pill-shaped sighting hoods. Below, the bridgeworks and big guns viewed from the foredeck.
View of the ship's quarterdeck, aft main turret, and superstructure. Kingpost construction at aft extremity of deckhouse provided signaling staffs and terminals for rigging the wireless aerials.
USS Idaho (BB-24) after her 1909 refit, with lattice mainmast added topside and new stabilizers underwater; aerials re-rigged to spotting platform atop mast, as per standard USN practice. Lattice foremast was installed in 1910.
Royal Hellenic Navy Service
The Kilkis, ex-Mississippi, at Malta in the 1920s. She appears virtually unchanged from her 1914 rig.
Negotiations for the sale of the ships to Greece commenced in 1912, but the transfer was not consummated until July 1914. Before the transfer, the Mississippi became an aviation support ship and played a key rôle in the establishment of the Pensacola Naval Air Station in December 1913. The following year, the Mississippis took part in the hostilities against Pancho Villa in Mexico. Idaho was sailed to Greece on a training cruise, whereupon her crew transferred to the Maine (BB-10) for the return voyage. Mississippi was formally decommissioned and handed over to a Greek crew at Newport News. The battleships arrived right on the brink of WWI, in which Greece at first remained very carefully neutral while war raged on all her borders. Upon transfer, Uncle Sam's treasury received about 75% of its bad investment back; and Greece received two economical but powerful pre-dreadnoughts which sailed under the Hellenic cross as Kilkis and Lemnos -- a duty they performed through the early years of WWII. Their names recalled important Greek victories in the First Balkan War, when Greece and her allies had drubbed Turkey and shorn her of her remaining European territory. In the Mediterranean and Black Seas where the two ships served, their bad seakeeping qualities were minimized. If never able to operate with the speed and panache of the Averof , they at least supplied supplementary heavy gunfire in calm seas.
In 1916 the entire Royal Hellenic fleet was seized by France to compel Greek intervention on the side of the Allies. This was forthcoming in July 1917, and the ships were returned to control of the Venizelos rump government at Thessaloniki. During WWI they performed patrol and convoy escort duty. They saw action in the Black Sea in 1919, supporting the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War (Crimean Campaign). Immediately afterward they played an important rôle in the 1919-22 Greco-Turkish War. Greece was given special leave by her allies, France, Armenia and Italy, to recover historically Greek lands in a full-scale invasion of Turkey. This operation began with troop landings at Smyrna. After a brisk start, the campaign was beset with political interference from Athens after the Venizelos government was ousted. The royalist faction proceeded to purge the military leadership of Venizelos loyalists. This occurring in the middle of a major offensive, the Turks took advantage of their adversary's discomfiture to deal him a couple of thumping defeats outside Ankara; the war ended with all Greek troops being expelled by a powerful, grass-roots Turkish resistance. This movement was ably led by Mustafa Kemal Pasha, the hero of Gallipoli.
The Lemnos, ex-Idaho, at Istanbul during the Greek intervention.
Following the Anatolian fiasco, both Kilkis and Lemnos were active members of the Greek fleet until 1932, after which Kilkis became a training vessel and Lemnos -- her engines worn out -- a stationary coastal battery. With continuing factional infighting in government and a worldwide depression constricting finances, the Hellenic Navy had to make do between the wars. Its old units were thriftily used and reused to the maximum.
The real star of the Royal Helllenic Navy, the Averof, steams up the Bosporus behind the taffrail of the Kilkis in this triumphalist tableau. The dome and minarets of Hagia Sophia are just visible on the skyline of our spectacular enlarged view, dating this scene to the Allied occupation of Istanbul, 1918-22. The defeat of Turkey and the Allies' initial advantageous position seduced Venizelos into dreams of a "greater Greece" constituted by "reconquering" substantial territory from Turkey. This was to come from the central Turkish Aegean coast around Izmir (Smyrna), which had a large ethnic Greek minority, having been a Phoenician settlement in ancient times. Partly as a retaliation against the Greek invasion, much of the ethnic Greek population was expelled from Turkey after 1922. The Greek quarter of Izmir was burnt to the ground in vengeance.
The Second World War
The Kilkis and Lemnos were sunk April 23, 1941 by Nazi dive bombers during the Axis invasion of Greece. As neither ship was an active unit, loss of life was minimal. Coming on the heels of an ineffectual Italian attempt to take over the peninsula, the Nazi blitzkrieg ushered in an exceptionally harsh occupation in which Greeks were expected to starve so their harvest could feed the German armies engaged in Operation Barbarossa -- the June 1941 invasion of the USSR.
From inspection of the wreck photos, we can see that the Greeks had kept the ships' wire lattice masts intact for 3 decades: far longer than the USN employed them. Along with the already-defunct Russian battleships of the Andrei Pervozvanny class, they were the only European battleships to employ this type of mast. The wrecks remained in the Salamis Channel for more than a decade (color photo), being salvaged for scrap in the 1950s.