U.S.S. Iowa (BB-4) - 1897

Ship's History - Read on.    |    Specifications    |    Photos

Seen above, Iowa in her battle paint, from a series of popular postcards of Spanish war vintage. USS Iowa (BB-4) was built by Cramps in Philadelphia (whose flag she flies proudly from the foremast in the trials photo shown below). Completed in time to fight the Spanish in 1898, Iowa was a clear derivative from the Indiana class, with roughly the same armament layout of four 12" guns in twin turrets fore and aft, four twin 8" turrets at the corners of a diamond-shaped citadel, six sided 4" rapid-firing guns, and assorted smaller weapons. Several design modifications, however, made the Iowa a far more successful warship than her immediate predecessors.

The main turrets were of a cylindrical, centrally-balanced design, eliminating the troublesome listing which plagued the Oregon when guns were trained abeam. The 12" turrets were hydraulically trained, the 8" turrets by a less precise steam mechanism. Compared with the preceding Indiana class, the size of the main armament was reduced from 13" to 12"; with a raised forecastle deck under the bow turret, the Iowa added a considerable margin of freeboard, resulting in a far more stable and seaworthy hull than their predecessors could boast. Iowa's belt armor was thinner than the Indianas but of an improved type which gave better protection for a lower weight. Iowa's turrets and barbettes were substantially better protected with 14" armor on the faces. The weight traded off into a slightly larger ship with increased speed, at nearly 18 kts fully competitive with the British Majestics, to which she compared favorably, point by point, considering her much smaller size -- some 3,500 tons lighter.

At left is a photo of the Iowa easing up to the starting line in the October 5, 1898 New York victory parade celebrating the U.S. triumph in the Spanish-American War, in which she played a leading role under the command of Capt. Robley "Fighting Bob" Evans. Click here for a terrific enlarged view. The resemblance to the Oregon is unmistakable, with the single-mast/twin-funnel profile, identical varnished wooden wheelhouse and bridgeworks. Just as unmistakable is the higher sheer of the hull, the considerably taller "stovepipe" funnels, and the more vertical overall look. The increased freeboard gave Iowa improved stability and dryer conditions for gunnery: importantly, she carried her big guns high enough out of the waves that they were not rendered inoperable by choppy conditions. The 4" casemate guns carried in embrasures in the hull were most susceptible, but even they were positioned 7 feet higher from the waterline than the Indianas' 6" rapid-firing guns. Under the hand of vigorous, cigar-smoking Capt. Evans, the Iowa drilled incessantly at target practice -- boarding drill -- brisk maneuvers while war with Spain loomed ever closer during her first year in commission.

All this emphasis on gunnery was not misplaced: a month before the victory review seen above, Iowa had been a key player in the obliteration of Adm. Cervera's squadron at the Battle of Santiago, July 3, 1898. Well placed at the start, Iowa traded fire with the Spanish flagship Infanta Maria Teresa as she emerged in the van of the Spanish squadron. Iowa soon took two hits from the Colón which caused a worrisome fire in the American ship's lower decks. Prompt action by Fireman Robert Penn extinguished the blaze, possibly sparing the ship from a lethal explosion; the fireman later received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his timely and courageous intervention. As this situation was developing, the Brooklyn, Oregon, and Texas rushed past to pursue the fleeing Spanish cruisers and run them ashore in flames. Even so, it was later calculated that the Brooklyn and Iowa together accounted for 70% of the large-calibre U.S. hits in the battle. Coming on the scene and noticing that Cuban insurgents were taking pot-shots at the Spanish crewmen struggling to escape the Vizcaya, Capt. Evans sent a boat ashore to warn the partisans that if they did not quit firing at the vanquished Spaniards, he would open fire on the Cubans with his heavy artillery.

Arriving at the scene after the Vizcaya exploded and beached herself at Playa de Aserraderos, the Iowa lowered boats to rescue Spanish crewmen who had dived into the shark-infested waters to escape the inferno aboard their wrecked ship. One of the Spaniards fished from the floating wreckage was Capt. Don Antonio Eulate of the Vizcaya, soaked in oil and wearing a sooty, bloodstained bandage about the head. On arriving aboard Iowa, Eulate with impeccable posture and dignity tendered his sword to Capt. Evans in token of surrender. Evans returned it and motioned the Spanish captain to his quarters where his wounds could be tended. At the companionway, Eulate turned toward the burning wreck of his ship, crying "Adios, Vizcaya!" Almost immediately, the flaming ship's magazine exploded, dramatically completing her destruction.

Having commenced the battle, Iowa now closed it by receiving Adm. Cervera and his staff on board for the formal surrender. Transferred to the liner St. Paul, the 1,612 Spanish survivors, including Eulate and Cervera, became U.S. prisoners of war at Camp Long, on an island of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. Relieved to have survived, many of the POWs showed enthusiasm for things American; they were well fed and well treated during their 10-week stay, which ended in a mid-September prisoner exchange. An armistice on Aug. 12 ended hostilities; peace was formalized on Dec. 10, 1898 by the Treaty of Paris, which transferred to American rule the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico, while granting nominal independence to Cuba.

The lopsided win over Spain was cause for nationwide rejoicing and the Iowa was a prominent participant in the New York naval review and a number of other celebrations. Following the postwar festivities, Iowa steamed around the Horn to join the Pacific fleet for more than two years. Subsequently she was decommissioned and placed in reserve and so missed the round-the-world voyage of the Great White Fleet. Recommissioned and modernized in 1912, she served as a receiving ship and later as a training vessel home-ported at Hampton Roads during WWI. Starting in 1919, she became the Navy's first radio-controlled target ship. In this capacity she was sunk off Panamá by 14" salvos from the dreadnought USS Mississippi in 1923.

Plans and Specifications

Schematic of USS IOWA, BB-4, 1897

Specifications for the Iowa:
Dimensions: 360 feet x 72 feet x 28 feet. Displacement: 11,340 tons. Armament: (4) 12"/35 (2x2), (8) 8"/35 (4x2), (6) 4"/40 RF, (20) 6-pdr and (4) 1-pdr guns; (4) 14" Howell torpedo tubes. Armor: Harvey type. 14"/11" belt; 14" main turrets, barbettes; 10" CT; 12" bulkheads; 8" secondary barbettes; 6" secondary turrets; 5" upper belt; 3" deck. Fuel capacity: 625 tons of coal std; 1,780 tons maximum. Propulsion: (12) cylindrical coal-fired boilers; (2) sets inverted vertical triple expansion engines developing 11,000 hp, shafted to twin screw. Maximum speed: 17.5 kts. Crew: 600. Cost: US $3 million at 1897 valuation.

Metric specs:
Dimensions: 110m x 22m x 8.5m. Displacement: 11,340 tons. Armament: (4) 305 mm/35 (2x2), (8) 254 mm/35 (4x2), (6) 100 mm/40 RF, (20) 6-pdr and (4) 1-pdr guns; (4) 36 cm Howell torpedo tubes. Armor: Harvey type. 356/280 mm belt; 356 mm main turrets, barbettes; 254 mm CT; 305 mm bulkheads; 254 mm secondary barbettes; 152 mm secondary turrets; 128 mm upper belt; 76 mm deck. Fuel capacity: 625 tons of coal std; 1,780 tons maximum. Propulsion: (12) cylindrical coal-fired boilers; (2) sets inverted vertical triple expansion engines developing 8,203 kW, shafted to twin screw. Maximum speed: 32.4 km/hr. Crew: 600. Cost: US $3 million at 1897 valuation.

Profile plan of the Iowa, showing hits sustained in the Battle of Santiago.

A U.S.S. Iowa Picture Gallery

Period image of the ship with inset of Capt. Evans
Souvenir postcard of Iowa with inset of Capt. Robley "Fightin' Bob" Evans.

USS IOWA on her trials
On her trials, USS Iowa proudly flew her builders' flag at the fore.

Gunners work the IOWA's 12in guns inside turret
Well-muscled gunners work Iowa's 12" guns within the turret.

Capt. Eulate surrenders to Capt. Robley Evans aboard USS IOWA, July 3, 1898
Capt. Eulate of the Vizcaya surrenders aboard Iowa, July 3, 1898.

Jubilant crewmen grouped under IOWA's 12in guns after Santiago victory
Iowa's crewmen pose under the big guns after their Santiago victory. Enlarge

IOWA's aft turret and quarterdeck
Iowa's aft 12-inch turret and superstructure.

Stern view of IOWA, moored @ Hampton Rds.
Iowa moored at Hampton Roads, 1897 or 1898. Cruiser USS Columbia in the distance. Enlarge.

Oil painting of the IOWA steaming through stormy seas on an even keel
In a commemorative painting, Iowa steams resolutely through storm clouds, on a keel so even as to be suspect.

IOWA riding at anchor

Iowa at anchor, the light modeling her hull sponsons and 8" barbettes. It seems quite likely the dramatic painting above was based on this photograph.

Plan of the 1898 IOWA
Iowa's profile, plain and simple, the way Iowans would want it.

IOWA burning, straddled by shellfire of US fleet, 1923
The end of a famous battleship: sunk by shellfire of her own navy in target practice, March 1923.

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