Thursday, August 9, 2012

USS Winslow Model-1898 Torpedo Boat

This is a ship model of the torpedo boat USS Winslow (Torpedo Boat Number 5), currently on display in the museum's Spanish-American War gallery.  The late Bob Comet scratch-built the model over a period of two years (in other words, he did not use any prefabricated parts or plans).  Except for the smoke stacks and conning towers, the model is made entirely of wood.  The stacks and towers are made of brass.  The model won a silver medal at the Mariners' Museum's ship model contest in 1999.

The warship itself was part of a program to provide the U.S. Navy with squadrons of small warships to bring needed balance to a fleet made largely of big armored cruisers and battleships.  The program was more of a crash course instead of a well-thought-out doctrine, as the United States was the last major Navy to adopt a torpedo boat-building program.  Many navies had already begun working on large torpedo boat destroyers, the next logical step in the program.

The actual Winslow was built in Baltimore and based at Norfolk Navy Yard.  She displaced only 143 tons and was equipped with small one-pounder rifles and three torpedo tubes.  You will notice that the model is painted a dark olive green.  Most U.S. Navy warships during this time period had two different color schemes: a white/mustard yellow scheme during times of peace and a slate gray scheme during times of war.  For American torpedo boats, the hull was always painted a dark olive green color year-round.  This color made the boats stand out, and gave their company a sense of elan.  With a low free board, no armor plating, and the need to close to within 200 yards of a target, it took a very brave sailor to serve on an American torpedo boat.  Before the days of Naval aviators and Navy SEALS, torpedo boat sailors were the elite of the fleet (at least they thought so).   

During the Spanish-American War, Winslow served with a squadron of four ships blockading the northern Cuban port of Cardenas.  During this blockade, the squadron commodore decided it would be a good idea to assault the town.  The assault went badly as Spanish coast defense gunners had already mapped out the harbor.  Several Spanish shells found their mark and disabled Winslow.  The USRC Hudson steamed over and towed Winslow out.  Read more the dramatic rescue in The Daybook, Volume 14 Issue 4.

Actual USS Winslow, 1898

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