Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Turtle ships from Korea. Did Korea make the first ironclad fighting vessels? .....What ship was the first true and total ironclad?

A life sized model of a Korean turtle ship from the 16th century. At least an idea of what it looked like. It was developed by Admiral Yi from what is said to be an earlier design. Yet there are no contemporary records of the ships. But there seems to be enough of a historic record to say that the first(partially) iron clad ships were indeed Korean. They were used in the many wars that took place between Korea and Japan. In fact it seems that they were always at war with each other for hundreds of years!

A model of the French ship of line La Gloire of 1859...This we can say was the first Iron clad ship.

The British HMS. Warrior of 1860..This was the first British iron clad made within a year of the French. Of course the French and English, like the Japanese and Koreans seemed to have a constant sense of intent dislike for each other. So each developed ironclad ships that could be used to fight against each other. However, they never did.

The Chilean (ex Peruvian) monitor Huascar of 1866. Note how it is very different from the previous two. Below is the reason why.

A woodcut of the USS Monitor of 1862

Now we always hear of the USS. Monitor and the CSS. Virginia as the first Ironclad ships. Well that is very wrong. However, they were the first ironclad ships to duke it out in battle.
It seems that the Koreans used Iron clad ships called turtle ships to fight the Japanese. However the Japanese did not have ironclad ships to fight them. If indeed any of these ships were involved in a battle. There is little information on them.

The French have the credit of coming up with the first "ironclad" ship that was completely ironclad on its sides. The British followed suit in 1860.

Now we come to USS. Monitor. While we can give some credit to the Koreans, French, and British it was really the American ship called the USS. Monitor that was the first true and totally ironclad vessel. The decks and well as its sides were completely clad in armor.
So while the USS. Monitor was not the first, it was the most original of them all.
As all of the others used the design of sailing ships, or the hulks of them as in the case of the CSS. Virginia.
But in the USS. Monitor's design it was totally new. It was developed by John Ericsson, a Swedish inventor who brought about a total change in ship design. One that would have more profound effects than any other design!

The USS. Monitor was the first vessel to have a turret that could turn in the direction of the enemy rather than having the whole ship having to do so. It was a major innovation that is still used today. Also instead of having the high side out of the water like many of the sailing ships of yore, the Monitor had a low free board that had her very low in the water and made her a very difficult target.
She was referred to as a "cheese box on a raft". That is really perhaps the best description of her.
Perhaps the greatest complement to the Monitor was that after its development all of the ironclad ships all over the world were made to her design and style. The age of the Ironclad ship looking like a ship of line was over.

So in closing we can give each group some credit for the innovation of the ironclad. For had not the others done it, perhaps John Ericsson would have never come up with his great improvement.
In time I will go into more detail on John Ericsson. I have found some great information about him written in the 1880's and I will share some of that in a later posting.