The U.S. had experimented with armored cruisers through a few one-off designs and foreign purchases: the famous French-style Brooklyn, the solid and seaworthy New York, both prominent players in the Spanish-American War.
No one profited more politically from that brief conflict than former Assistant Navy Secretary Theodore Roosevelt (left), who parlayed his well-publicized courage at San Juan Hill into the governorship of New York State and, barely a year later, the Vice Presidency.
From then it was only months until President Teddy Roosevelt took the oath of office on the assassination of President McKinley. Coming to power in 1901, Roosevelt made sure the U.S. maintained its naval buildup with undiminished vigor. In keeping with the navy's new global mission, one of the steps taken was to build ten large armored cruisers to a uniform design; the first six of the class were authorized in 1900. The result was the Pennsylvania class, pioneered by the name ship, Armored Cruiser No. 4, launched at Cramps on Aug. 22, 1903 and commissioned March 9, 1905. Essentially following the British pattern, these were large, handsome, moderately fast, and well-protected ships. One point of difference with the British pattern was the U.S. preference for flush-deck design, dating back to Old Ironsides and the old sailing Navy of John Adams: British armored cruisers all had a raised forecastle deck, whereas this generation of American ships had all their main guns on one level, and substituted a long foredeck and fine entry in an effort to keep the guns dry. The Pennsylvanias were somewhat more economical to operate than their European counterparts, but were otherwise quite comparable.
Authorized in 1903, four improved Pennsylvanias were brought into service in 1907-08. These beefed-up cruisers carried a main armament of 10"/40 (254 mm) instead of 8"/45 (203 mm). Sometimes known as the Tennessee class, they were also slightly larger, with an additional 3' beam and 1,100 tons displacement. The vessels with the ten-inchers were the Washington, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Montana). Schematic
In their 20-to-25-year lifespans, these ten armored cruisers gave devoted service to the United States, and never more so than in ferrying the victorious troops home after World War I. But in reality, the imperial mission of projecting America's influence overseas was a great part of these ships' raison d'être. Beginning in 1908, four of the class were permanently stationed in Manila as the spearheads of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, with back-up a cablegram away. Others beefed up the permanent squadrons stationed in the Caribbean and Latin America. So it should come as no surprise that Pennsylvania's experience reflected both hemispheres of influence.
Pennsylvania had a long and varied career, composed of many segments. She did two stints in the Asiatic Fleet, the first in 1906-07; pioneered naval aviation in 1911; assisted the U.S. intervention in revolutionary Mexico in 1914; patrolled the sea lanes off South America in WWI; was the flagship of the U.S. Mediterranean Fleet in the early Twenties, and of the Asiatic Fleet during the Kuomintang takeover of China in 1926-28; brought the U.S. governor-general of the Philippines on a goodwill tour through China and Southeast Asia; and gave her all for her country in 1931. She bore two names, relinquishing her original monniker to the super-dreadnought battleship (and sister of the USS Arizona) in 1912; still only eight years old, the cruiser was known as the Pittsburgh thereafter.
One of the less savory episodes in the ship's career came during her WWI service as flagship, U.S. Pacific Fleet, in Latin America. In part because her skipper, Captain Bradshaw, neglected to quarantine sick crewmen, the ship developed a full-blown epidemic of the Spanish influenza which was ravaging the world on the heels of the Great War. During the emergency in Oct. - Nov. 1918, 80% of the ship's crew became infected; 58 of them died as a result.
As the U.S. fleet burgeoned in the years 1912-23, states' names were in demand for new battleships. One by one, all the Pennsylvanias and Tennessees relinquished their original names and were re-christened for cities in their original states: Washington became Seattle; Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh; and so on. For a complete guide to the ten ships' nomenclature, click here. This cascade of renaming echoed the 1905-08 re-christening of the Arkansas class coastal monitors to open the states' names for the Pennsylvania class itself!
One of the sister ships became a casualty of war: the USS San Diego (née California) was mined and sunk by U-156 while steaming to rendezvous with an eastbound convoy 11 miles SE of Fire Island, July 19, 1918. Six crewmen died, but more than 1,100 were picked up by rescue craft. On its return voyage to Germany after despatching 36 merchant ships and the cruiser, U-156 hit a mine and perished in the North Sea Barrage, a massive belt of mines laid between Scotland and Norway by American hands. All the remaining Pennsylvania and Tennessee class cruisers navigated safely through the perilous waters of WWI and came to a natural end.
Plans and Specifications
Specifications for the Pennsylvanias:
Dimensions: 503'11" OA x 69'7" x 26'6". Displacement: 13,680 tons. Armament: (4) 8"/45 cal (2x2), (14) 6"/50, and (18) 3" 14-pdr guns; (4) 3-pdr MG; (2) submerged 18" torpedo tubes except last four built had four 10"/40 (2x2) instead of 8", an additional 3' beam and 1,100 tons. Armor: Krupp Cemented type throughout. 6"/3½" belt, 6½/6" turrets, 6" casemates, 5" upper belt & battery, 9" conning tower, 5" secondary conn; 4" deck slopes, hoists, and bulkheads; 2½" screens in battery. Fuel capacity: 900 tons of coal normal; 1,929 tons maximum. Propulsion: (16) coal-fired B&W boilers, (2) 4-cyl vertical triple expansion engines developing 23,000 hp, shafted to outward-turning twin screw. Speed: 22.44 knots. Crew: 830. Engineering note: Pennsylvania and Colorado were originally boilered with Niclausse; converted to Babcock 1912-16. All converted to oil fuel 1926.
Ships in class: Pennsylvania · West Virginia · Colorado · California · Maryland · South Dakota
Improved version (Tennessee class): Tennessee · Washington · Montana · North Carolina
Dimensions: 153.6m OA x 21.2m x 8.1m Displacement: 13,680 tons. Armament: (4) 203 mm/45 cal (2x2), (14) 152 mm/50, and (18) 76 mm 14-pdr guns; (4) 3-pdr MG; (2) submerged 45-cm torpedo tubes, except last four built with four 254 mm/40 (2x2) instead of 203 mm, an additional .91 m beam and 1,100 tons. Armor: Krupp Cemented type throughout. 152 mm belt, 165/152 mm turrets, 152 mm casemates, 127 mm upper belt & battery, 229 mm conning tower, 127 mm secondary conn; 102 mm deck slopes, hoists, and bulkheads; 63.5 mm screens in battery. Fuel capacity: 900 tons of coal normal; 1,929 tons maximum. Propulsion: (12) coal-fired B&W boilers, (2) 4-cyl vertical triple expansion engines developing 17,151 kW, shafted to outward-turning twin screw. Speed: 41.6 km/hr. Crew: 830. Converted to oil fuel 1926.
A Pennsylvania Class Picture Gallery
Pennsylvania shows off her beautiful brand-new bow scrollwork and crisp dress flags at the Oyster Bay Naval Review, Sept. 4, 1906. Oyster Bay was President Teddy Roosevelt's home town on Long Island. These ships do look "bully" for the occasion!
Washington on her first visit to her namesake state, beautifully captured by the lens of Asahel Curtis, iconic Seattle photographer. The snow-capped Olympic Mountains can be seen in the distance in this long-lens shot made from one of the downtown Seattle piers, 1908. Enlarge
Understanding the secondary armament layout is a snap with a shot like this. You can see the redoubt section actually does break out from the hull with recesses cut into the hull to assist the corner guns' arcs. Five 6" range along the lower tier and two more at the corners of the redoubt on the deck above; four 3" nestle between the corner 6-inchers along the upper deck. These batteries were protected by 6" (15 cm) of Krupp armor on the lower tier, and 5" on the upper. Comparable armor proved very effective in World War I, keeping out shot up to 6" at short range, although a direct hit could disable a gun in the array. USS Washington (later USS Seattle) at Redondo Beach, CA, 1908.
USS Maryland on a c. 1912 visit to the City of Roses. The costumes on float and brow bespeak bourgeois prosperity and style. Look at the length of that quarterdeck alone! This is one of the best crafted rotogravure cards that has come our way. The crisply painted flag is a delight -- probably done in a French or German printing plant's art department, but full of spirit whatever its origin.
Undeniably the Pennsylvania's most famous exploit was an experimental aeroplane landing on San Francisco Bay, January 18, 1911. The pilot's name was Eugene Ely. This photo was snapped from a small boat positioned to watch and record the event. The cruiser's masts and decks were packed with spectators. Yet within a few years, this sort of thing would seem quite routine. Click here for a panoramic expanded view!
It took courage to take stick in hand in those early days of aviation. To prove it, we present the rarely-seen companion to the picture above: Here is Ely taking off the makeshift flight deck. His shadow is just creeping over the ship's name on the stern: it is the moment of supreme faith. The inscription reads, "Ely Flying Home After a Visit On Board." The pioneer pilot was killed in a mishap at an air show in Georgia later that same year.
The original bridgeworks and foredeck layout of the class are seen in this stiffly posed shot on the Washington made at Redondo Beach, CA in the summer of 1908. The design was a miniature of that used in contemporary U.S. battleships. What this washday photo lacks in spontaneity, it makes up for in crisply focused detail. Note the gratifying size of those guns. The Washington was one of the "final four" Pennsylvanias, sometimes known as the Tennessee class, equipped with 10"/40 cal Mark 3 main guns.
The Pennsylvania at anchor in her original rig, c. 1907. Yes, that's real old-time penmanship at the bottom, not some fancy script typeface.
In WWI the Pennsylvanias were refitted as shown: a clunky, angular bridge-house was substituted for the original; atop it, a wire cage mast replaced the foremast; and an aircraft catapult appeared over the fantail.
Dazzle pattern camouflage became de rigueur during the Great War. It supposedly confused submarines about the size and direction of travel of the ship. This boldly patterned convoy escort is the USS Huntington (ex-West Virginia).
Here's a novelty: the USS Huntington photographed from overhead by one of her own aircraft. Catapult and flight deck are visible at stern. After flights were completed, floatplanes landed on the surface and were hoisted aboard by crane.
From 1926 to 1931, the remodeled Pittsburgh (CA-11) served as flagship of the Asiatic Fleet, based at Cavite in the Philippines. This photo captures her in the Whangpoa River near Canton, c. 1929. Uniquely among the Pennsylvania class ships, the ship was changed to 3-funnel profile on conversion to oil fuel. The ship's bridgeworks were modernized -- and uglified (compare to original) -- before WWI. Note that there were few other alterations to her outward appearance, and that No. 2 Bunker Oil can be fully as polluting as black diamonds on the grate.
The end of a famous warship: the Pittsburgh's stacks topple after a direct hit during aerial bomb tests in October 1931. Compare the profile of the bridgeworks with the original disposition in the photo below.
This energetic shot of the Colorado captures the élan of the entire Pennsylvania class.
ACR-4 PENNSYLVANIA - Renamed Pittsburgh
ACR-5 WEST VIRGINIA - Renamed Huntington
ACR-6 CALIFORNIA - Renamed San Diego
ACR-7 COLORADO - Renamed Pueblo
ACR-8 MARYLAND - Renamed Frederick
ACR-9 SOUTH DAKOTA - Renamed Huron
ACR-10 TENNESSEE - Renamed Memphis
ACR-11 WASHINGTON - Renamed Seattle
ACR-12 NORTH CAROLINA - Renamed Charlotte
ACR-13 MONTANA - Renamed Missoula