Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Clipper Battleship Mississippi at Newport News Shipbuilding - 1917

This is a photograph of the battleship Mississippi (BB-41) being launched from Newport News Shipbuilding into the James River on January 25, 1917. Displacing 31,000-tons and equipped with twelve 14-inch/50 rifles, Mississippi and her sister ships were the centerpieces of Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels' "Second-to-None" shipbuilding program.

From this angle, the battleship looks like any other battleship constructed in the previous thirty years. Fortunately, a photographer with an eye for detail took a picture of the battleship from the starboard side a few hours before workers launched the ship. Notice that the bow has a very sharp angle, like a razor blade. This was called a "clipper bow."

Taking a page from the clipper ships of the 19th century, naval architects decided to break with tradition on battleship bows with the New Mexico-class battleships, of which Mississippi was the third ship of the class. As the concept of this bow came from wooden clipper sail vessels, architects labeled the bow a "clipper bow." Older classes of battleships, such as Pennsylvania, had what was called a "straight stem" bow. Even older ships had what was called a "bell bow." Commodore Richard Meade (nephew of Civil War General George Meade) wrote about the problems with non-clipper bowed ships: "There was no doubt something graceful and majestic about the aspect of these bows and they buffeted the waves triumphantly. Meanwhile, the vessel was engaged in something other than its duty."

Clipper bows allowed a ship to slice through a wave, instead of going over it, allowing the ship to navigate more efficiently. While the clipper bow had been known about for sometime, the Navy did not adopt the design until the New Mexico-class ships and was subsequently used on other types of vessels, such as heavy and light cruisers. In time, the clipper bow was found to have its flaws, namely water pouring over the decks in heavy seas. This led architects to develop the "hurricane bow" found on Iowa-class battleships.

1916 artist sketch of the New Mexico-class battleship

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