On July 2, 1864, a single-turreted ironclad monitor designed by John Ericsson was launched at Continental Iron Works in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York. This monitor, to be named the USS Puritan, suffered from construction delays and she was never completed after her construction was suspended in 1865. This vessel would have slipped into relative obscurity if she were not involved in a minor scandal that came to light in the 1870s.
The unfinished Puritan suffered extensive deterioration in the years following the American Civil War and her combat value was questionable at best. Secretary of the Navy George Robeson, one of several influential proponents of the monitor class of warships, basically saw an opportunity to pull a fast one. Robeson appropriated funds to carry out extensive repairs on the Puritan and the four monitors of the Miantonomah class that were in a similar condition of decay. Apparently it was easier to authorize funds for repairs than new construction. The Puritan was in such poor condition that in order to carry out the planned "repairs" it actually required building essentially new a ship that bore no resemblance to the original Ericsson design. The same method of "repairs" was also needed on the Miantonomah class ships as well. A scandal resulted when it was revealed that Robeson was paying for new ships with funds authorized to repair for the old ones. The fact that the new ships were named the same as the old Civil War relics made it easier to keep the truth from getting out for a time.
By the time the facts can to light on the Puritan and the other monitors, it was essentially too late to do anything other than to complete them as now planned. William H. Hunt, Secretary of the Navy in 1881, lambasted the monitors at the center of this controversy as "simply bad copies of old models." He strongly felt that completion of these monitors "would introduce a worthless class of vessels into the Navy." Yet Hunt acknowledged that the decision to proceed with the construction was essentially the lesser of two evils.
The new Puritan was laid down in 1874 at John Roach & Sons in Chester, Pennsylvania. She was launched on December 6, 1882 and she was completed at the New York Navy Yard in Brooklyn, New York. The USS Puritan was commissioned on December 10, 1896, which means that 22 year elapsed between keel laying and commissioning. The Puritan was the largest of the 5 monitors at the center of the funding scandal. She measured 296’ 3" long and she had a beam of about 60 feet, a draft of 18 feet and displaced 6,060 tons. While the original Puritan was a classic Ericsson design of the cheese box on a raft variety, the new Puritan had four 12-inch rifles in a pair of cylindrical turrets, a superstructure, tall funnel and a military mast. Her secondary armament was comprised of six 4-inch guns and several 6-pounders. The Puritan’s twin-screw horizontal compound engines were as originally planned in 1874 and by the time of her commissioning, they were better suited for display in a museum.
Although the Puritan was essentially obsolete and of dubious value to the US Navy when the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, she did have a busy but brief wartime career. The Puritan was assigned to the squadron blockading Cuba and on April 27, she joined the USS New York and USS Cincinnati in shelling Matanzas. In May she joined Rear Admiral William T. Sampson’s force that would contain and eventual destroy the Spanish Fleet at Santiago on July 3.
After the war, Puritan served as a practice ship at the Naval Academy and then as receiving ship at League Island. In 1904, she was loaned to the Naval Militia of Washington, D.C. until 1909. She was decommissioned on April 23, 1910 and stricken on February 27, 1913. She was then used as a gunnery target and eventually sold for scrap on January 26, 1922.
Iron Shipwright is trying to spread "monitor fever" with the release of the Puritan in their expanding line of Spanish-American and Great White Fleet kits. I built their USS Monterey kit and there are a lot of similarities not only between the actual ships and in the models as well.
The Puritan was the largest of the USN monitors of this era and one could say that this kit is essentially a larger version of the Monterrey kit. Like the Monterrey, the largest part of this kit is the one-piece full hull and main superstructure casting. It very nicely represents the stocky look of the monitors on this era. A good level of detail is cast into this part. The planking is finely done and the deck is dotted with an array of shielded glass ports that provided light to the spaces below. Holes are pre-drilled for the anchor handling davit and the 4-inch & 6-pounder secondary guns on the upper deck level. The casting is generally well done with a few pinholes that need to be filled in here and there and a bit of over resin overpour at the extreme tip of the bow that needs to be chiseled away. The rather large resin-pouring stub along the keel has to be sawed off and the area around needs to be sanded smooth. There are a few larger holes that are the result of air bubbles that need to be filled and sanded underneath are there is some rough surfaces around the area where the rudder and propeller struts go that also needs to be sanded. Aside from these minor flaws, the casting of this hefty piece of resin shows a consistent improvement in this area by Iron Shipwright.
The next largest parts are the pair of 12-inch turrets, the pilothouse, the tall funnel, the bridge levels and the rear platform. Again, these parts are very well done, with the turrets needing to be trimmed from the casting wafer. The pilothouse is particularly nice with the windows and doors neatly framed and the paneled wood done quite realistically. The flying bridge wings are a little warped and the best way to hopefully take care of this is to soften it in hot water and placing it under a heavy flat object to flatten it out.
This kit came with a plethora of smaller parts which include a variety of boats and steam launches, boat racks, rudders, propellers and propeller struts, bases for the 4-inch guns, anchors, 12-inch gun barrels, military mast and fighting top. Some of the smaller parts area little roughly cast, such as the bases for the 4-inch guns, and will require sanding and cleaning up. The military mast in warped and will be better used as a pattern to make a replacement out of brass rod.
The brass photo-etch for this kit is truly outstanding and it is chock full of parts. It contains all of the railings, most of which have the awning support stanchions, supports for the flying bridge and rear deck, gun shields for the 4-in and 6-pounder guns, funnel cap grill, inclined and vertical ladders, davits, boat oars, boom pulleys and hooks a pair of ship’s wheels and about 30 1-pounder guns. I am particularly pleased with the shields for the 6-pounder guns, which are the correct style. The shields provided on the Monterey’s photo-etch set looked more like shields for 20mm Oerlikons. Some of these parts come with plenty of extras should be clumsy and either mangle or lose some – I know that I will probably be.
Also included in the box is a decal sheet that has been developed for their series of models from this era. The sheet contains eight 45 star and eight 46 star United States flags in two sizes (3/16" x 9/16" and 1/8" x 7/16") and styles (standard and windblown").
The instructions for this kit are better than those for the Monterey, but not as detailed as some of the instruction sheets that I have seen in some of their other kits. The first page contains a map of the photo-etch set and a numbered key to the specific parts that are to be used with the Puritan. The sheet then opens up to show a number key and diagram for most of the resin parts and several diagrams showing part placement and the proper assembly of certain sections, such as the rear platform and the bridge.
I am looking forward to building the Puritan. I had a lot of fun building the Monterey and this kit promises to be just as much fun. The supports for the flying bridge wings are a lot more complex than those on the Monterey. For this reason I would not recommend the Puritan as a first resin kit but it would make a great second or third kit, especially if you are into ships of this era. Somebody call me a doctor, I think I'm coming down with "monitor fever".