Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Battleship USS Virginia Builder's Model

This is the original builder's model of the battleship USS Virginia (BB-13).  It is currently on display in the museum's 1907 exhibit on the third floor of Nauticus.  Currently on loan from Naval Sea System's Curator of Navy Ship Models, this all-wood model dates back to 1901, and is one of the largest models in the museum's collection (second in size only to the museum's builder's model of USS America (CV-66)). 

When the model was located at the Pennsylvania Building at Naval Station Norfolk (the museum's first home), a steam pipe burst, causing severe water damage to the ship.   When a repair team from the Curator of Navy Ship Models began to work on the model, the group discovered this note from the ship's design team:

Francis T. Bowles, Chief Constructor
Washington Navy Yard
Model started July 12, 1901
by E.R. Marceron and H.K. Prossev and James Baker
Edwin Phillips made small boats [etc.]
Painting [etc.] by John Henry Walker
Charles Charleston
Joeh Evans, Quartermaster
this paper put in
model Aug. 8, 1901
& the model closed & glued together

"Francis T. Bowles" refers to Rear Admiral Francis Bowles, USN, who served as the Navy's chief architect and designed the Virginia-class battleships.  His design--particularly the weapons arrangement--was controversial.  Notice that there are four guns grouped together on the bow and stern of the vessel.  The lower guns are 12-inch/40 rifles, typical guns for an American battleship.  However, many people wanted the ship to have 8-inch/45 rifles, one of the Navy's most accurate weapons.  The resulting debate and budgetary restrictions forced Bowles to produce a compromise that satisfied no one. 

Built at Newport News Shipbuilding, Virginia served in the Great White Fleet, the 1914 Vera Cruz Expedition, and World War I, before being sunk as a target ship off the coast of Cape Hatteras in 1923.

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