"When his commanding officer was struck, young Bagley rushed forward, exclaiming: ‘Captain, I am sorry you are hurt. I have good luck, however, in these things, ‘ and then returned to his station aft. A few minutes later, there was a sharp crack, as if one had stepped upon a match, only a trifle louder, and the first hero of the war fell, literally torn to pieces by the explosion of a shell. He expired almost at the foot of the staff from which the Stars and Stripes were still defiantly waving in the balmy breeze." (The Story of the War of 1898, W. Nephew King, Peter Fenelon Collier, New York 1899, at page 95)
It appears that young Bagley greatly overestimated his luck. Ensign Worth Bagley perished and became the first American officer killed in the Spanish American War. He was commemorated by having a torpedo boat and subsequently destroyers named after him, including the lead ship of Bagley class of World War Two. Ensign Bagley was the Executive officer of the USS Winslow TB5 and died as this early torpedo boat design entered a shallow channel leading into the Cuban port of Cardenas on Cuba’s north coast.
The American Civil War was the first major war of the industrial age. The Napoleonic Wars saw the introduction of mass nationalization and conscription but it was the ACW that mass produced weapons and used the railroad to strategically move troops. It has more in common with the First World War than the Napoleonic Wars with the siege of Petersburg a forecast of trench warfare of World War One. In the naval arena it saw the first ironclad versus ironclad engagement and introduced the ancestors of two new ship types built around a weapon’s system. Although both were built around the same weapon, the torpedo, the two types had a very different future. The types were the submarine and the torpedo boat and both types were successfully used in the ACW. The CSS Hunley, although not a true submersible, did sink a federal sloop. As for the torpedo boat it was Lieutenant William Barker Cushing who commanded a small steam launch used to sink the ironclad CSS Albemarle. Although the submarine was long in gestation, it now remains with the aircraft carrier as the most potent weapons system at sea. The torpedo boat was a type that came and went, although in some regards the modern small missile boat may be considered an heir to the tradition.
The problem with the Hunley and with Cushing’s launch was the weapon. In both cases a spar torpedo was used with an explosive charge attached to a long pole or spar. This charge successfully sank their intended victims but the attacking vessel had to be so close to the explosion that they were destroyed as well. It was not until the invention of the Whitehead self-propelled torpedo in the 1870s that both the submarine and torpedo boat became truly feasible. With that invention the torpedo boat burst forth as a wildly popular type, while the submarine would have to wait until problems with underwater propulsion were solved. By 1880 it was clear that the French Navy could not out-produce their arch rival the Royal Navy in ocean going ironclads. The Ecole Jeune or Young School gained ascendancy in the French Navy with a radically different theory. Rather than try to build expensive battleships, mass-produce a cheap alternative, the torpedo boat. Led by France, the navies of Europe started building hundreds of these wonder weapons. Even one of these inexpensive, quickly built boats could sink a battleship, which cost millions and took years to build.
In the mean time the US Navy was in a long hibernation since the American Civil War. The navy had atrophied since the American Civil War from one of the largest in the world to a collection of rusting monitors in scattered yards, while still relying upon a handful of steam powered wooden ships for showing the flag. After more than a quarter of a century in this time vacuum, it finally dawned upon some in Congress that the country may benefit by having ships more modern than the hopelessly impotent menagerie that was possessed. The 1880s saw the birth of the modern Steel Navy. Initially construction efforts went into the construction of a haphazard assortment of indifferently protected cruiser designs. In was not for another decade that the USN started developing their own battleship designs and also belatedly started serial construction of their own torpedo boats.
The first boat was an experimental model built by the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company of Bristol, Rhode Island. Built with company funds in the hope that the navy would buy it, the boat was successful and was purchased by the government as an experimental vessel. This was the wooden hulled Stiletto and the next year the very first US torpedo boat was ordered in 1886, to be aptly named USS Cushing TB1, built by Herreshoff with a galvanized steel hull but not launched until 1890, she was 139-feet in length and displaced 105-tons. The 2nd torpedo boat was the USS Ericsson TB2, a slightly improved Cushing, was authorized with the new battleship construction and commissioned in February 1897 after a laborious construction saga in Iowa, done in a politically inspired attempt to spread the pork around. In 1892 the USN had one torpedo boat in service while France had 220, Great Britain 186, Russia 152, Germany 143 and Italy 129. There was a financial downturn in the early1890s and the government did not order new battleships. However, the cheap torpedo boats were affordable and in 1894, the first multiple ship class was authorized on July 29, 1894 and comprised three boats of the Foote Class. These were again, as with the Ericsson, an improved Cushing design. USS Winslow TB5 was one of this class and all three were built by the Columbian Iron Works of Baltimore, Maryland. The first two Herreshoff built boats had a top speed of 23-knots but this increased to 24.5-knots with the Foote Class. Foote TB3, Rodgers TB4 and Winslow TB5 were 160-feet in length and displaced 142-tons. As with the previous Herreshoff designs the primary armament was three 18-inch Whitehead torpedoes plus three 1-pounder guns, although the Ericsson had four tubes. The complement was two officers and 21 enlisted men. Foote was first in service on August 7, 1897 followed by Winslow on December 1897 and Rodgers on April 2, 1898. In fact the Rodgers was rushed into service because of an intervening event, the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana harbor in February 1898. War was coming and the navy needed as many ships as could get. The Winslow had been laid down on May 8, 1896 and launched January 6, 1897.
War was declared on April 25, 1898, only three weeks after the Rodgers’ commissioning. The fledgling torpedo boat service comprised a puny five boats, and was eager to get at the Dons. With small crews and high speed for the time, torpedo boat service was considered glamorous and dashing. Never mind that living conditions aboard the ships were miserable. Berthing areas were stiflingly hot from being located too near the boilers or frigid from poor hot water radiators. They would bob in a seaway because of their lightweight and would rock as fast as 25 cycles per minute. With no refrigeration, food would quickly spoil and water turn rusty. Because of the very low freeboard moving through rough seas would cause the boats to take it green, with water coming down ventilators or open hatches. As with WW2 submarines constant condensation on the interior bulkheads always kept the interior dank.
Action was not long in coming. On May 11, 1898 the USS Winslow, commanded by Lieutenant J. B. Bernadou with Ensign Worth Bagley being the only other officer was with a small force, including the gunboat USS Wilmington and the revenue cutter USRCS Hudson. They were east of Havana, when a Spanish gunboat was seen in the port of Cardenas. Odds are you will not find mention of this action, as it amounted to little more than a badly planned skirmish. At the conclusion of the Spanish American War there was a rush in the publication of multiple volumes on the history of the war. One volume describes it as the "Battle of Cardenas", one as the "Tragedy of Cardenas" and a third as the "Disaster at Cardenas". Perhaps the third description is the most accurate because the battle plan was poorly developed and the assets misapplied.
"On the afternoon of Wednesday, May 11th, the little torpedo boat Winslow, under Lieutenant J. B. Bernadou, immortalized herself in a plucky engagement against overwhelming odds at Cardenas, on the north coast of Cuba…In Spanish, Cardenas means purple, and the clear waters of the bay, sparkling in the tropic sunshine and studded with innumerable green islands, formed a worthy background for the thrilling drama there enacted – that in which the first officer of the war met a glorious death – Ensign Worth Bagley, a youth scarce out of his teens and handsome as the ideal Belvidere." (The Story of the War of 1898, W. Nephew King, Peter Fenelon Collier, New York 1899, at page 92-94.) Purple is right but it is more in the nature of purple prose, however, I delight in the unvarnished nationalistic, jingoistic writing of that earlier more innocent age found in the last year before the 20th Century.
"It had been the intention of the commanding officer of the gunboat Wilmington to enter the harbor on the afternoon of that fatal day, but owing to the great draft of his vessel, this was deemed impracticable. Among the three channels leading to the city, two were known to be mined. The third, between Romero and Blanco Cay, which showed, according to the chart, a depth of one and three fourths fathoms of water, remained still unexplored." (The Story of the War of 1898, W. Nephew King, Peter Fenelon Collier, New York 1899, at page 94.) If one was going to sweep a minefield in the USMC manner with one’s left foot, why not send in a smaller ship. The commander of the Wilmington did have such an instrument in the form of USS Winslow TB-5. The "great draft" of the Wilmington was nine feet as gunboats are designed for shallow water operations.
"In addition, masked batteries were supposed to exist somewhere along the shore, and it was also desired to locate these. Finally, when a small Spanish gunboat was observed moored to a wharf some distance away, the Winslow was ordered to go in and cut her out." (The Story of the War of 1898, W. Nephew King, Peter Fenelon Collier, New York 1899, at page 94.) Now there is a battle plan! First the diminutive Winslow was to use her bow to determine if there were any mines in the channel, then she was to take her fragile hull to present a juicy and vulnerable target for a Spanish shore battery, and lastly she was to cut out a gunboat, presumably by boarding, all the while the Wilmington played voyeur from a safe distance. Taking prizes was still popular. In fact the USS New York, armored cruiser, had used her speed to chase down and take some large merchant prizes before she got down to more serious business at Santiago de Cuba.
"With torpedoes set for surface runs, and the fans upon the warnoses worked up for explosion at short range, the little Winslow steamed fearlessly into the harbor. When she had reached a distance of fifteen hundred yards from the gunboat, the first shot of the action flashed from the enemy’s bow. The torpedo boat replied immediately with her 1-pounders. This was followed by a fusillade from the shore batteries, marked by an almost total absence of smoke. The first shot that pierced the Winslow disabled her steam and hand steering gear, and carried away both wheel ropes. She was then held bow-on by means of her twin screws, until another shot disabled one of her engines. The little vessel now swung broadside on to the enemy, who had by this time accurately obtained her range." (The Story of the War of 1898, W. Nephew King, Peter Fenelon Collier, New York 1899, at page 94-95.) As damage piled up on the Winslow, crew members made their way to Lieutenant Bernadou with the damage reports. "The propeller, revolving without guidance of the rudder, set the little boat moving to and fro like a shuttle, and to the men on the other vessels it seemed as though the Winslow was doomed." (Cuba’s Fight for Freedom and the War with Spain, Henry Houghton Beck, Globe Bible Publishing Company, Philadelphia 1898, at page 445)
"When the first shell had pierced the thin plating of the Winslow, water tender William O’Hearn came on deck and, calmly saluting Lieutenant Bernadou, said in a matter-of-fact manner: ‘Starboard boiler’s gone sir!’ ‘What is the trouble?’ asked the commanding officer. ‘Have you burned out a tube?’ ’No sir; a shell burst in the middle of it. A few minutes later, chief machinist Johnson came on deck and reported in much the same manner: ‘Starboard engine’s gone sir.’ ‘Go below and fix it,’ said Lieutenant Bernadou. ‘I can’t sir,’ the machinist replied; ‘a shell burst in the cylinder and spiked it." (The Story of the War of 1898, W. Nephew King, Peter Fenelon Collier, New York 1899, at page 98) By now Commander Todd, commander of the Wilmington, saw that he had a full fledged fiasco in the making and had his ship and the cutter Hudson swing into action in order to fire upon the Spanish.
"Early in the action, Lieutenant Bernadou was severely wounded by the fragments of a shell which entered his left thigh. Sending below for a towel to check the blood, which was flowing freely, this gallant officer, unable to stand, sat down, and directed the handling of his vessel during the remainder of the action." (The Story of the War of 1898, W. Nephew King, Peter Fenelon Collier, New York 1899, at page 95.) It was at this time that Ensign Bagley had checked with Lieutenant Bernadou and returned aft to the rear conning tower to get a tow line from the Hudson, when a Spanish shell killed him. Bagley was in the process of receiving a line from the Hudson. "Apparently, however, the Spanish commander had gone mad on the subject of destroying the torpedo boat, for he did not deign to fire at the Hudson, but continued to hurl shells at the hapless Winslow. The guns of the latter barked back at the foe viciously. As the Hudson approached the Winslow, Ensign Bagley cried out: ‘Pass us a line quickly! This is too hot!." (Cuba’s Fight for Freedom and the War with Spain, Henry Houghton Beck, Globe Bible Publishing Company, Philadelphia 1898, at page 446)
"At the fierce cheers of triumph which arose from the Spanish crews, the Hudson dashed in to the assistance of her wounded consort and endeavored to throw a line to her imperiled crew…. Finally, after trying in vain for twenty minutes, the Hudson was able to approach near enough to throw a line to the Winslow. The fire from the Spaniards was terrific; shells were exploding all about. ‘Heave her, heave her,’ shouted Ensign Bagley from the deck of the Winslow. ‘Don’t miss it,’ came from an officer on the Hudson. ‘Let her come. It’s getting too hot here for comfort’ Bagley shouted back with a smile. At the instant the line was thrown, a shell burst in the very midst of the little group on the Winslow. Ensign Bagley was instantly killed, others fell groaning on the blood stained deck. Helpless and disabled, the Winslow swayed under the murderous fire of the Spanish gunboats; another cheer came from the Spaniards, and the rain of shell fell faster." (Battles and Heroes of the American Navy, Edward Shippen and Robert C.V. Meyers, P.W. Ziegler & Co., Philadelphia and Chicago 1902, at pages 385 to 386)
"The explosion of the shell was not accompanied by either fire or smoke, and five men fell in a heap – three killed and two mortally wounded. Lieutenant Bernadou, notwithstanding his own painful wound, limped aft for the purpose of separating the living from the dead, and then had the bodies hidden from the rest of the crew by torpedo covers. The nature and appearance of Ensign Bagley’s wounds showed that he had died instantly, while those of the others indicated that they had been produced by particles of an explosive shell, probably an 11-pounder, and that the cuts were of great magnitude. Owing to the high velocity of the fragments of the projectile, the men were nearly cut in two; the pieces did not wound, they severed." (The Story of the War of 1898, W. Nephew King, Peter Fenelon Collier, New York 1899, at page 96)
"Lieutenant Bernadou, finding that he was unable to control his vessel, devoted his efforts to withdrawing from close range, and keeping clear of the line of fire of the Wilmington, under Commander Todd, and the revenue cutter Hudson, under Lieutenant Frank H. Newcomb. The heavy guns of the Wilmington soon silenced and put out of action the Spanish gunboat; but the shore batteries concentrated their fire upon the Winslow until, practically disabled, she was forced to signal the Hudson for a line. The revenue cutter, in the face of galling fire, steamed alongside the torpedo boat and threw her a line. This soon parted, by another and heavier one was heaved aboard, and the gallant little craft was hauled out of danger." (The Story of the War of 1898, W. Nephew King, Peter Fenelon Collier, New York 1899, at page 95) Another contemporary volume had a different slant. This volume entitled the action as "The Cardenas Tragedy" rather than the "Battle of Cardenas" as it was so entitled in the above volume. "The plucky little torpedo-boat replied and pressed on nearer. Then a 10-inch shell struck her, wrecking her steam steering gear and rendering her for the time helpless." (Cuba’s Fight for Freedom and the War with Spain, Henry Houghton Beck, Globe Bible Publishing Company, Philadelphia 1898, at page 444) Further the volume continues and states that it was another 10-inch shell, which killed Ensign Bagley. A 10-inch shell would have done a lot more to the Winslow than cutting the steering gear. The author apparently confused a 10-inch shell with a ten-pounder shell. Also according to this volume, Lieutenant Newcomb of the Hudson acted on his own initiative to save the Winslow, without orders from Wilmington. I believe this because the after action reports, as well as a message by President McKinley to Congress commend Newcomb without mention of Commander Todd.
In the after action report Charles H. Allen, Acting Secretary of the Navy, wrote in the official report: "During the action at Cardenas, the Winslow was under heavy fire; her commanding officer, Lieutenant Bernadou, was wounded and the second in command, Ensign Worth Bagley, U.S. Navy, with four men, were killed. The vessel herself was disabled. Lieutenant Frank H. Newcomb, U.S.R.C.S., commaanding the U.S.S. Hudson, whom, with the officers and men of the vessel under his command, the Department commends for bravery displayed in towing the Winslow out of action, reports as follows: ‘…I take pleasure in testifying to the remarkable bravery displayed by Lieutenant Bernadou and the men of the Winslow, and consider it a s one of the greatest privileges of my life to have been an eye-witness of their conduct at a time when many men would have felt justified in abandoning all hope. With such officers and such men the American nation may well be proud of its Navy." (The Story of the War of 1898, W. Nephew King, Peter Fenelon Collier, New York 1899, at page 100) In spite of the glowing verbiage, the action at Cardenas certainly could not be described as a battle. In fact the American force was repulsed without accomplishing its intended mission and this first action for an American torpedo boat was known for the pummeling Winslow received and the deaths of Ensign Bagley and four of her crew.
The USN torpedo boats did not fare well in their experiences in the Spanish American War. They were discredited as a type for two different reasons. First they were employed in missions for which they were not suited. Clearly using the Winslow to force a harbor in face of shore guns and a gunboat was a bad idea. Other boats were used as dispatch carriers or patrol vessels. Of course for the most part they never had a chance to be employed in their main mission, as the Spanish squadrons stayed in harbor. They second reason was their small seize. Torpedo boats were designed for coast defense not deep-water duty. They were too light and too small for heavy weather duty. There was already another type of warship with the size necessary for open ocean duty, capable of overwhelming by gunfire a torpedo boat, with the speed necessary to catch them and also capable of launching their own torpedoes. Developed in Great Britain in the late 1880s, they were designed specifically to counter the numerous French torpedo boats. Originally called torpedo boat catchers, then torpedo boat hunters, and finally torpedo boat destroyers, the name was subsequently reduced to destroyers.
After the problems with their torpedo boats, the USN switched to the bigger destroyer and curtailed development of the torpedo boat. However, by the time that the deficiencies of the type became known, a total of 35 torpedo boats had already been ordered, including the last five on May 5, 1898, one of which would become USS Bagley TB24 of the three ship Bagley class torpedo boats built at the Bath Iron Works in Maine. However, all things considered, the failure of the US torpedo boat was not too much of a waste, considering the hundreds of torpedo boats purchased for all of the major European navies. Indeed it was a small price to pay to discover the type was too small for true fleet service. Although the boats ordered in 1898 continued to straggle to completion as late as 1908, they merely joined their bottle-green painted sisters in reserve, as production of new destroyers supplanted the type. By 1910 some were striped and used as targets in fleet gunnery practice. The end for USS Winslow came in 1911, when the fourteen-year-old boat was sold. The US torpedo boat would dramatically reemerge in one, short spectacular nova in a very different form with the PT boats of World War Two but the USN steam torpedo boat line came to a screeching halt after the Spanish American War.
Flagship Models USS Winslow TB5
The main deck runs most of the length of the ship. On centerline are the oval base plates for the widely spaced funnels. Aft of the forward conning tower is a cluster of the small circular skylights that allowed a limited amount of sunlight into the cramped forward berthing area and the base plates for the two forward torpedo tubes. Between the two funnel positions are four base plates for photo-etched deck hatches, locator holes for ventilator cowlings, a small square deckhouse. Outboard of these on each side are locator holes for the collapsible boat davits, and base plates for the torpedo storage tubes. Between the aft funnel and aft conning tower is a locator hole for a centerline ventilator, outboard coal scuttles and numerous circular skylight positions. The quarterdeck is merely an extension of the main deck that starts aft of the rear conning tower. There are locator holes for four more ventilator cowlings, the base plate for the stern torpedo tube, locators for another cluster of skylights and a couple of access hatches. A small resin runner contains the rudder, and two pairs of propeller shaft support struts. The resin castings need light sanding and clean up.
The kit provides eighteen white metal parts. These are for the two stacks, eight ventilator cowlings, two propellers, three torpedo tubes and four torpedo storage tubes. These castings are satisfactory, with the torpedo tubes and storage tubes being a notch above the others. However, it is the brass photo-etch parts that add the lovely detail to this kit. The fret is thoroughly relief-etched. All parts are numbered on the fret with the part numbers matching the same number on the instructions. The two largest parts are the collapsible boats but it is in the arena of the smaller parts that the relief etching commands attention. The access hatches and coal scuttles have beautifully raised details, which will add the intricate detail to the hull. Even the numerous circular skylights have a raised rim. The three 1-pounder deck guns and the tripods for the beam guns are located here as well as the tripod and hand wheel for the emergency throttle control found aft of the forward funnel. The forward 1-pounder is mounted on the crown of the forward conning tower. Torpedo tubes get additional detail in the form of aiming tubes and individual hand wheels. Funnels get steam pipes and U-shape retaining brackets. The mast gets turnbuckles for the guy wires. On each side of the bow are anchor retraction plate assemblies as well as brass anchors stowed on the deck. Other parts include cleat assemblies, boat davits, navigation light platform, individual railing stanchions for the main deck, safety railing for the forecastle, and pilothouse handrails. Additionally a tapered brass mast and plastic rod are provided.
Now you can bring a smile to the face of young Ensign Bagley, Lieutenant Bernadou and the 21 men of USS Winslow TB5 on their perch in Valhalla. Thanks to Flagship Models, you can bring confusion and consternation to the murderous Dons of the skulking gunboat flotillas and treacherous masked batteries. Brought to you in a generous and manly 1:192 scale, the Flagship multimedia USS Winslow will allow you to relive the heroic exploits of this plucky torpedo boat in the epic Battle of Cardenas.