History is littered with all sorts of practical, effective, awe-inspiring, and powerful warships. But some of them are just downright weird. If you have any doubts, just take a look at our previous instalments of World of Weirdships, particularly about monitors and seaplane tenders.
In this edition, we will be singling out five ironclad warships that stick out for their truly bizarre designs. But first, what exactly is an ironclad?
Le Redoutable (1878)
As the name suggests, ‘ironclad’ is used to designate 19th century warships that possessed two particular characteristics facilitated by the Industrial Revolution: a metal-covered hull and steam propulsion. Other than that, anything was fair game. At this time of constant innovation, countless different shapes, armor schemes, and gun configurations were sampled by the world’s most ambitious navies, making for weird ships such as these:
The four-flag ironclad: Stonewall
This warship was designed and built in France for the Confederate Navy during the American Civil War, but in its long and turbulent career, she would also fly the ensigns of Spain, the United States, and Japan.
Built with blockade-breaking in mind, Stonewall (Later Kotetsu), was fitted with a long iron ram on her bow, which, along with her two sailing masts and the long exhaust funnel planted on her deck, gave the ship the appearance of a sci-fi Roman trireme.
The River Monster:Cairo
Like the previous ship, USS Cairo was built during the American Civil War, but served on the Unionist side as part of a river gunboat flotilla operating mostly in the Mississippi river, where she became the first ship to be sunk by a remotely detonated water mine.
At 53 m long, Cairo was a rather compact warship but heavily armed, with more than 10 large caliber guns protruding from her almost rectangular angled hull from three sides, while the stern was reserved for the cylindrical paddle that drove her.
The Hellish Machine:Manassas
A former icebreaker steamer, Manassas was acquired by the Confederate Navy and converted into an ironclad ram, though from a distance one might have thought it to be a small island with a smokestack, or a surfaced submarine.
The only distinguishing features of this riverboat were that smokestack and the small porthole on her forward end, from which her single gun would emerge. Despite her almost absurd appearance, Manassas managed to ram and inflict significant damage upon two Union Navy ships at the battle of Forts Jackson and St. Philip in 1862.
France’s Moving Castle:Carnot
One of the weirdest warships of the 1800s was conceived at the very end of the century, with the pre-Dreadnought battleship Carnot. This iron colossus rose steeply out of the sea, with a bulbous protrusion extending all around her lower hull, covered with countless square portholes, only interrupted by the large caliber single-gun turrets spread throughout at varying levels.
While her guns were never used in anger, the intimidation factor alone upon sighting her would likely have sent any enemy fleet running for the hills.
The Unequalled:Sans Pareil
This Royal Navy battleship had an armored superstructure equipped with port holes extending around the entire rear-half of the ship. The lower fore-end was reserved for one massive turret that would house 2x 111-ton, 413 mm, breech-loading guns: the largest guns ever to be used on any British warship in history (bigger than the HMS Nelson’s 406 mm main battery!).
While having tremendous damage potential, these guns were very slow to reload and had a tendency to droop and crack under their own immense weight, giving them a very impractical 75-shot life span.
Did we miss any weird ironclad ships? Share them in the forum topic below!