News from 1889: Teutonic as Armed Merchant Cruiser

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Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The New-York Times, 18 August 1889

There has been much said about the new White Star steamer Teutonic as a
passenger ship. Little remains to be told concerning her interior
decorations and fittings, while as to her principal dimensions they were
long ago made public.

It has been casually mentioned now and then that the Teutonic was a
subsidized vessel of the British Government, that in time of war she
would act as a commerce destroyer and form part of the mobilized fleet
of Great Britain. Further than this little has been said of the new
comer as a fighting ship, it evidently being difficult for the lay mind
to separate the Teutonic as a subsidized cruiser from the Teutonic the
passenger ship. In point of fighting efficiency, in point of excellence
in the positioning of gun batteries and type of armament provided, the
Teutonic is without doubt at the head of all the subsidized cruisers of
the British Navy engaged in the transatlantic trade. When the British
Admiralty, some years ago, commenced putting in the gun fittings of all
new vessels designed for future use as commerce destroyers it was not
without considerable trouble and labor that certain ships were rendered
available for the reception of heavy guns. So many different designs of
construction were met that it was found impossible to hit upon any one
buttery type for all merchant vessels. Accordingly, to avoid difficulty
it was decided that the designs of all new vessels intended for cruiser
work should be first presented to the Admiralty for approval or
alteration before the work of construction was commenced. Under this
ruling all the cruiser ships launched within the last ten years have
been built in part from Admiralty designs, received their structural
strengthening pieces, and were fitted with all the battery appurtenances
excepting the guns and carriages before launching. Not even at this late
date has any one design been decided upon by the Admiralty, it being
agreed by the latter to attempt improvements with each new ship.

The Teutonic as she appears when carrying passengers will not differ
greatly from the Teutonic as a fighting ship. The whole of the awning
deck running fore and aft the vessel's main deck will be torn down,
while much of the "gingerbread work" about the rails, along with some of
the main deck boats and davits, will be gotten rid of, permitting a
clearer run and train for the broadside guns. The battery of the
Teutonic will consist of twelve thirty-three-pounder rapid firing guns.
These guns will ail be mounted on Vavasseur carriages, four on each
broadside, one on each bow, and one on each quarter. The broadside and
the forward and aft pivot guns will all have the same type of carriage
mount. So far only four platforms are in place, namely, those on the bow
and those on the poop. The strengthening frames for all the gun
positions were of course built in as the hull was constructed, but the
platforms themselves for the broadside guns have yet to be placed.
Standing on one of the bow platforms there is observed a magnificent
range for firing. A gun here has an unobstructed fire right ahead and
directly aft, and might, it necessary, fire across the bow in the event
of its opposite becoming disabled. Judging, however, from the
magnificent manoeuvring qualities of the Teutonic, the gun captains will
have little cause to complain of the ship not readily throwing the
different pieces into action. The Vavasseur carriage, on which the
Teutonic's guns are to be mounted, is the type of carriage now peculiar
to the whole British service. It admits of the gun being run out after
the recoil by the action of cylinders placed under the carriage. The
length of the recoil in made as great as practicable. It is usually from
three to four times the calibre of the gun on the mounting. A high slide
and low top carriage are used, hydraulic compressor cylinders being made
as part of the top carriage, and placed as close beneath the trunnion
bearings as possible. Protection is afforded the gun crews by large
circular shields, which are carried by the carriage slide. The gun
projects through an aperture in the shield. These shields are destined
to afford protection only against small-arm and machine-gun fire.

The Teutonic's type of rapid-fire guns is the first issued to any
British vessel. Only four of the guns are ready, and these are kept
stored conveniently at hand for taking aboard on the first receipt of
orders. The bow and poop guns were mounted when the Teutonic appeared
among the mobilized fleet off Spithead. Notwithstanding the admirable
fittings of the Teutonic's battery there is reason to believe that the
bow gun crews will find it troublesome serving their pieces in anything
of a seaway. These two guns are well below the bridge, yet in her recent
passage across the officers on watch were compelled to wear oilskins the
better part of the time. If spray and water can reach the bridge,
situated as it is forty-two feet above the twenty-foot water line, we
can imagine how wet it must be below on the forecastle. Yet it will be
while running at full speed in chase that the guns must be served. The
battery of the Teutonic is powerful enough to warrant her engaging a
regular cruiser vessel, and we doubt seriously if the Yorktown, or any
vessel not provided with heavier guns than six-inch rifles could succeed
In sinking the big Teutonic before she was down upon her with a rush and
a ram. There is much worthy of consideration when it is recalled that
vessels such as the Newark and Philadelphia are receiving only six-inch
rifles. As one British naval officer recently remarked: "Give me command
of a vessel of the City of Paris type, arm her with efficient rapid-fire
guns, and I will not hesitate to engage partially-protected cruisers of
less speed power, even if they are provided with slightly heavier

The subsidy paid by the British Government for the privilege of calling
into service the Teutonic on the outbreak of hostilities is $15,000 a
year. All of the vessels of the White Star Line are subsidized by the
British Government, and all of the ships are liable to compulsory
purchase on the likely approach or immediate outbreak of hostilities.
All of the White Star ships have a fixed price set on them by the
British Government, plus 10 per cent for compulsory sale, namely:
Britannic, £130.000; Germanic, £130,000; Adriatic, £100,000; Celtic,
£100,000. Of this 10 per cent. increase, however, there is to be an
abatement of 6 per cent. per annum on the depreciated annual value for
the period that might elapse between the 1st of January, 1887, and the
data of purchase by the Government. In the event of the vessel being
merely hired the Government is to pay 20s. per gross registered ton per
month, the White Star people furnishing the crew, or 15s. per mouth, the
Admiralty finding the crew. Similar arrangements are in operation with
the Cunard Line and Inman Line people.

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