When the Spanish-American War started in April 1898, the American public experienced something that had not been experienced by them since the War of 1812, war with a naval power. Of course for one day in 1862 the populace of Washington was terrified of the prospect of the CSS Virginia/Merrimac steaming up the Potomac River to shell the city but the next day the duel between the Virginia and the USS Monitor reassured them and the fear evaporated. However, this was not 1898 with the USN facing one southern ironclad but 1898 with the USN facing a Spanish fleet dominated by armored cruisers. When Admiral Cervera sailed west, fears along the American coastline were rekindled. Every seaport thought that the Spanish squadron would show up on their door, shelling the city and causing untold mayhem and mischief. Every mayor screamed to Washington for naval protection against the marauding Spanish. This presented the unusual spectacle of the superior naval power being hesitant in committing warships to operations, after the inferior naval power undertook active operations.
This uncertainty and out-right fear generated many consequences. One bank in Boston moved lock, stock and barrel, fifty miles inland. Admiral Sampson, commander of the North Atlantic Squadron, saw his strength cut in half, as he lost battleships Iowa, Massachusetts, Texas and armored cruiser Brooklyn. These were formed into a new force dubbed the "Flying Squadron" under Commodore Schley. The sole mission of this squadron was to stay at Hampton Roads and await the appearance of the Spanish cruisers off the US coast and then to bring the Spanish squadron to action. It was not until the Spanish squadron was located far to the south, off of Curacao, that the fears were calmed and the Flying Squadron departed southward towards Cuba. Another consequence was in the area of naval appropriations. Members of Congress now demanded that the navy operate harbor defense ships to prevent any future such threat. This resulted in the last of the monitors. On May 4, 1898 shortly after war was declared, Congress authorized four new monitors in what was characterized in 1901 as "panic legislation".
The USN had already built six monitors in the late 1800s. Five of these were of iron, the large Puritan and the four ships of the Amphitrite Class. All five had been the result of book-keeping slight of hand. They were new construction labeled as repairs for Civil War monitors of the same names. Under this ruse they took almost 20 years to build and as a result they were obsolete before they were launched. The Amphitrite Class could be said to be the worst class ever built for the USN but there are plenty of other contenders. The Monterey was of steel construction and was without a doubt the best of the lot and ironically was the first to be completed. During the Spanish-American War the Puritan saw action in the bombardment of San Juan, Puerto Rico and Amphitrite, Miantonomoh and Terror also were involved in bombardment missions. Monterey and Monadnock made sweltering voyages to the Philippines but did not see action. Rear Admiral Sampson did not like the monitors. He considered them a millstone for the rest of the fleet because of their slow speed and very limited endurance. They would have to be towed on many occasions.
The navy really didn’t want to expend the funds of new monitors but with the mandate of Congress, design on the new class started. Although the class was authorized to have two turrets, as in all the earlier monitors, the navy opted for the ships of the new class to only have one. This was said to be because of the limited funds available for their construction but also was probably done to minimize, as far as possible, construction expenditures and manpower requirements for the ship’s crew. The class was to be given state names, the same as battleships, to emphasize their strength. This was probably done in part to reassure the citizenry that there were first class warships delegated to protect their ports. The new design became the four ship Arkansas Class. The new class were to be armed with the most powerful guns available and received two 12-Inch/40 guns. This was the same gun selected for the latest battleship class, the three ship Maine Class of 1899. The previous Illinois Class had 12-Inch/35 main guns. The Arkansas was the first ship to be completed with this new armament, beating the Maine to commissioning by two months.
The first ship to be laid down was the USS Florida BM-9, which was started on January 23, 1899 but she was the last to be completed. Oddly the name ship Arkansas BM-7 was the last of the four to be started but the first to be completed and commissioned on October 28, 1902. The other two were Nevada BM-8, which was launched as USS Connecticut but was subsequently renamed, and Wyoming BM-10. As the monitors were being completed, their worth was already greatly diminished. After two successful battles of annihilation at Manila Bay and Santiago, the American public now thoroughly loved the big ship ocean going navy and the limited ability monitors were accurately seen for what they were, warships of extremely limited ability and mission. They were considered unworthy of the new Great White Fleet. The Scientific American had always featured articles on the details of construction of the warships of the American Steel Navy. In December 1901, in addition to calling the class a product of "panic legislation", the publication further correctly stated that they would be almost useless in naval operations in an open ocean environment. This condemnation came before any of the ships were completed.
The class was apparently completed with an open bridge. At some point in time the bridge was partially enclosed with a front face that curved to the sides. Photographs further indicate that the design for this bridge face varied. Arkansas appears to have been given square windows, as provided in a photo-etch part in the Box 261 kit and the other three appear to have small round porthole type windows. Due to the low regard in which this class and monitors in general were held, the merits of the class were overlooked. The other six monitors were sweltering ovens in any tropical environment but the Arkansas Class addressed this problem. The ship had eight ventilating systems with 11 fans, two powered by steam and the other nine by electricity. The blades of the two propellers were adjustable pitch. Extensive use of electrical systems was found throughout the design. The class received few alterations during their service as monitors and this service was brief indeed.
One year after the last two of the class were commissioned, Secretary of the Navy Charles Bonaparte stated that "it was thought that vessels of a special type (monitors and coast defense battleships) were needed for coast defense…this idea is now outgrown…an old heresy in our naval policy." Although brand new ships, the Arkansas monitors were now vessels without political or popular advocates. In 1908 the navy started to look around for new missions for their heavily armed artifacts. Florida still manned by her crew, was employed to test the effects of heavy guns and torpedoes on modern armor plate, with the target being another evolutionary dead end, the steam ram Katahdin. In 1908-1909 the ships were stripped of their state names. Arkansas became Osark, Florida became Tallahasee, Nevada became Tonopah, and Wyoming became Cheyenne. In 1909 Cheyenne was the first USN warship to be fitted for oil burning propulsion. Ozark, Tallahasee and Tonopah were relegated to the status of drill ships at the naval academy in Annapolis. In 1913 the ships were designated as submarine tenders, due principally to their very low freeboard. Throughout the First World War they served as station ships, receiving ships, training ships, gunnery training ships, ships of state militias and targets. In 1922 all were sold and broken up, except for Cheyenne. She survived the mass destruction of all of the monitors because of her 1909 conversion to oil firing. Cheyenne served on as a Naval Reserve drill ship until 1937 and was sold in 1939, the last of a breed that started with USS Monitor in 1862. (History from The American Steel Navy by John D. Alden; Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860-1905; and Arkansas Class Monitors, Warship Volume VIII by Frances J. Allen)
The Box 261 USS Arkansas
The latest 1:350 scale model from Box 261 is also their first venture in producing a kit of an USN subject, the USS Arkansas. The company from Kiev has changed the resin mix to a mid-gray which shows the model’s detail much better than the very light colored resin that they used in their first three releases. Additionally the detail on the model appears crisper than the earlier kits. Box 281 provides a two piece hull separated at the waterline. For modelers that which to portray the ship in a diorama or like to build waterline ships, this of course is the optimum arrangement. The extremely low freeboard of this design is emphasized when built as a waterline version. For those that wish to build a full hull Arkansas the Box 261 kit does not present any significant problem. The two hull halves come clean and ready for attachment to each other. The fit is good with no major gaps requiring filling. Of course after attaching the hull halves to each other, there still will be a small seam to be filled and smoothed. However this will be minimal work compared to the mating of two piece hulls from other manufacturers.
It appears that there is one significant error in the hull casting. The deck of the Box 261 Arkansas clearly shows steel plates. The plate pattern is similar to that found on the decks of American Civil War monitors but not on the USN monitors of the late 19th Century. You can find clear photographs showing the deck of one of the class in the article in Warship Volume VIII, which had one of Cheyenne in drydock. This shows wood plank decking. An even better photograph is found on page 101 on The American Steel Navy by John Alden. This is an early photograph of a ship of the class when it still had an open bridge. There is no doubt, there is a wooden deck. I have never seen any photograph of any of the last ten monitors of the USN, Puritan through Arkansas that had a metal plate deck, rather than wood planking. If I am correct that the class had wooden decks, how do you address the problem? One procedure would be to sand the deck to eliminate the plate pattern but that would probably eliminate some of the other excellent deck detail found on the casting. Another procedure would be to scribe length wise planking on the deck but that would require considerably work. A very thin prescribed plastic sheet could be laid over the plated deck but that has its own considerable problems. For most modelers the solution will probably be in the paint job. Once the deck is painted and the length-wise scribing accentuated by darkening with a dark brown ink wash, hopefully the plate pattern will be obscured by the paint. This is by far the easiest solution but will probably not satisfy the purist. The plate detail is very well done but unfortunately appears to be inaccurate.
The deck fittings are very crisp and well defined. Most noticeable are the numerous coal scuttles, which were required to load the fuel for the coal fired engines. These scuttles add interest to the deck and are one of the features that I find most appealing in the ships of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The openings to the anchor cable locker are very well done, bollards are clean and significant deck hatches break up the open deck space. Normally these hatches had raised bulkheads surrounding them. Because the deck was frequently awash, they were intended to keep seawater from coming into the hull through the deck hatches. The kit does not include these but they are easily fabricated, except for the flared lip. Check the photographs to see the detail.
The hull has a raised deck edge scupper with cleat fittings. The scupper was and still is a feature that was incorporated to lower the chance of a sailor from being washed overboard. In theory, if a sailor was knocked down, the scupper would stop him from sliding off the edge of the deck. With the extremely low freeboard of these monitors, they certainly would need the scupper and even then a crewman on one of these ships would be foolhardy to walk the main deck at speed or in any seaway. The 01 superstructure and deck are cast integral to the hull. The separate deck shown in the photographs should have been labeled the 02 deck, instead of the 01 deck. The 01 deck does show well done wooden planking but the features that really struck me were the base plates for the four-inch QF guns. You can actually count the rivets attaching the plate to the deck.
Because of the low freeboard, there is limited area for hull detail on the sides of the hull. The detail is at the bow. Most noticeable are the anchor boards on either side of the bow. Other details are the anchor chain hawse fittings and horizontal strake separating the hull from the bow bulkhead. The sides of the 01 superstructure are where you find portholes because this design had none in the hull. You’ll find that the access doors to this level have handles and hinges. One last detail is found on the upper outside edge of the 01 bulkheads. There is a prominent lip running the length of the bulkheads, which is verified by looking at photographs of the ships. The ships were originally fitted with bow scrollwork of varying designs. To see the differences in the designs, look at the photographs included in this article. By 1909 the scrollwork had been removed. The Box 261 Arkansas does not have scrollwork.
Smaller Resin Parts
The separate raised 02 deck (labeled 01 in the photographs) has some nice detail. The projecting boat skids really stand out and the middle position on both sides has a planked walkway extending outward, over and past the edge of the hull. Other detail includes raised coamings for inclined ladder passages, ventilators, and stack. Four smaller QF guns are found on this deck. Like the four-inch guns, one deck lower, these QF guns have their own deck plates. Instead of raised rivets as on the 4-inch deck plates, these plates have recessed bolt or rivet positions captured on the casting. Box 261 provides an excellent stack that is very cleanly executed. There are two large reinforcing bands at the top and towards the base with three smaller bands between. The conning tower has incised vision slits and the upper mast platform has supports cast as part of the platform.
One of the nicest and most important of the smaller parts is the 12-Inch gun turret. It is very nice indeed. They are very crisply done and free of any defect. The raised gun openings, roof plating and especially the unique sighting hoods make the turret a stand out piece in this kit. Once you attach the banded guns it will probably be the focal point of the kit. The four 4-Inch QF guns have separate pieces for the mounts with shielding. These are also banded but there is no breach detail. This a minor point since these guns are located on the 01 deck, under the flying boat deck.
The pilot house has wood panel detail with incised windows. With the early fit of these monitors with open bridges, the detail of the pilot house will be readily visible but if you build the kit with the bridge facing partially enclosing the bridge, as shown in the instructions, the pilot house will be hidden to a certain degree. The J ventilators are top notch with hollowed cowlings, training bands and all together clean and requiring no preparation for attachment, other than sanding the base. The running gear with propellers and struts, as well as the anchors are fine but the rudder seems to have paneling too far recessed. The ship’s boats have decking, rudders and chocks cast as part of the pieces. Other nicely done smaller parts include searchlights, a binnacle and a capstan. Although not a resin part, Box 261 also throws in a paper ensign and jack.
Brass Photo-Etch Fret
There is a complete set of boat thwarts is included on the fret. Also included are life buoy racks with separate life buoys, light QF gun shields with support posts and stock, fighting top guns, flag staffs with supports, small anchor with stocks, and deck supports for the boat deck. Most of the parts that need to be folded have a thinner crease line where it will be bent. Included are two perforated platforms with supports, which are supposed to go outboard of the hull level with the aft superstructure. The original plan sketch from the Bureau of Construction shows these platforms in place but I haven’t found them fitted in the photos of the completed warships. Of course there are the generic railing, incline ladders and vertical ladders. The railing does not have a bottom rung or gutter but end in individual stanchions. Since the Box 261 Arkansas included a raised scupper on the hull casting, individual stanchions will be appropriate than photo-etch railings with a bottom gutter. However, this type of railing does take a little more time to attach to the hull. Anchor chain is done to create a three dimensional illusion. The alternating links reflect a flat link and then a link seen end on, which actually creates a more realistic appearance than chain of all flat links. Of course Box 261 provides a relief etched name plate.
Box 261 Instructions
The last page has a color scheme with plan and profile. Don’t follow this scheme, as it is incorrect. The scheme shows a white hull and turret, gray barbette, superstructure & stack and a green lower hull. This seems like an odd mixture of the original white and buff scheme with the later all gray scheme. Their paint scheme is simple, 1902-1909 white and buff. There seems to have been two distinctive white and buff schemes used on this class. One had only the hull in white with all superstructure, turret, barbette and stack in buff and the second had the hull, 01 superstructure, turret and barbette in white and everything above that in buff as shown in the colorized postcard used for the title photograph of this article. In 1909 they all went gray, the exact shade of which I don’t know. Red lower hull as I have never heard of the lower hull of any USN warship being painted green.
Box 261 seems to have crisper and more defined resin parts with their USS Arkansas. The detail on the parts ranges from good to excellent but the incorrect deck pattern does take away some of the impact. Physically the parts are clean, defect and breakage free. Even without the wood deck planking the Box 261 USS Arkansas is a good kit of an interesting and over-looked topic.