1874: USS Alarm - what was it?

KorbenDallas

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uss_alarm_torpedoes.jpg

We do not have tremendously much information on this ship. There is some, but compared to other ships it appears to be lacking info. It sure does appear to be lacking photographs. USS Alarm - an experimental torpedo boat constructed at the New York Navy Yard - was launched on 13 November 1873 and commissioned in 1874.
USS Alarm
USS_Alarm_-_19-N-25-3-34.jpg

What do you think this 25-3-34 is?
  • Designed and constructed specifically for the experimental work of the Bureau of Ordnance, Alarm served that purpose at Washington, D.C., until 1877 when she moved north to Newport, RI, to conduct experiments at the torpedo station. She returned to Washington the following year and resumed special service. In 1880, she began a tour of experimental work at New York which she carried out until she was laid up at Norfolk, VA, in 1883. In 1881, William Elbridge Sewell, who would later become Governor of Guam, was placed in command. However, she resumed her research duties at New York in 1884 and served there until she was placed out of commission in 1885 and berthed at New York.
spar_torpedo.jpg
  • A spar torpedo consists of a bomb on a long pole or spar, carried by a small, fast, low-lying boat. Under the cover of night or fog the torpedo boat stealthily approaches an enemy ship and detonates the bomb close to the vulnerable underwater hull. This may sound simple enough in theory, but experience had shown these missions to be suicidal under the best of circumstances.
USS_Alarm_(1874-1898)-1.jpg
The Hull
Luckily, we have this image of its hull. It was taken when USS Alarm was in a drydock at the New York Navy Yard. Apart from the steering screw design, which does have some documentation, I will have my regular question:
  • how was this hull put together, and where is any official record of the technology used?
uss_alarm_1-small.jpg

Larger: 4800x3714 + better

uss_alarm_1-hull.jpg


Old vs New
I assume the photo above was taken when the boat was relatively new. The one below appears to be showing the same boat but in the twilight of its career. It looks like it is either falling apart, or was serviced using some inferior technology. On the other hand may be this image shows us the hull construction tech. I have no idea, so please speak up.
  • To be honest, I'm not sure that this is the same ship. They say it is.
alarm_uss-old.jpg

Larger Image

The Steering Screw
Which propeller was used on this boat? Counting the "Mallory screw" mentioned in one of the above images, I have three names to choose from:
fowler-propeller.jpg

Source
kd_separator.jpg

KD: I only have questions:
  • Basically we appear to have this 1876 screw installed on 1873-4 ship. If the primary purpose of registering a patent was (and is) to avoid getting your idea stolen, than how did this 1876 prop end up on USS Alarm.
  • What technology was used to put the hull together?
  • How come this ship looks like some ancient Greek ram boat? Was it 1874 AD or 1874 BC?
  • Torpedo on a stick? Really? What about those 40 year old underwater rockets?
ram_ship.jpg
 

jd755

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I first came across this ship researching this thread Pre-1872 Cerbere and Belier: what are these ships?

She served as a test ship for the Bureau of Ordinance USN Ships--USS Alarm (1874-1898)

The patent date is odd as the ship's propulsion method the Fowler was deemed a failure. Did it take the Bureau over two years to find out it didn't work so the inventor filed prior to the discovery.
How long did it take to get the patent application onto the register back then.
If the failure is true she instantly became a white elephant as the drive shaft is too high to convert easily to a screw propellor. Be interesting to find out who ordered her construction and what happened to them
what is it?

Commissioned in 1874 and commenced trials. The Alarm, was radically different from any other ship then in the U.S. Navy. She was constructed entirely of iron, the first American ship with a complete double hull built on the transverse bracket system. Electricity was used throughout the ship for lighting and communications, another first. To provide superior speed and maneuverability she had received a “Fowler Wheel”, an early cycloidal propulsion system, shaped like a four-bladed, horizontal paddle wheel. By altering the angle of attack of the blades as the wheel spun around, the pilot could change the direction of the ship instantly without using a rudder. During trials it became apparent that the Fowler wheel delivered only on the latter criterion: The Alarm spun like a top, but she was dead slow. To add to the embarrassment it was soon discovered that the engines had worked themselves loose from their bed-plates, necessitating extensive repairs to the brand-new ship. For the next four years the Alarm carried out a number of experiments at the Washington and New York Navy Yards, but mostly she lay idle. Overall the experiment was seen as a costly failure.

There is more on this page but I'm not a member of the site but managed to grab this bit. Whereas other info in the links above say Isaiah Hanscom designed the Alarm. Muddy waters indeed.
Intrepid info, scant as it is, here: USS INTREPID (Experimental Steam Torpedo Ram)
The Alarm was authorized by an act of Congress, appropriating three hundred thousand dollars to build two Torpedo boats. Secretary Robeson put one under the charge of the Admiral of the Navy, who designed the Alarm; the other was put under charge of the Chief of Bureau of Construction, Isaiah Hanscom, who designed the Intrepid.

The U.S.S. Alarm By Lieut. R. M. G. Brown, U. S. N.
 
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realitycheck

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I don't think that is same ship in all photos - I see few major differences just on quick look

1. I took height of (fence?) on bow and rotated that line as measure - on 1st there are 4 lenghts before curve in bow, on 2nd there are 5+, on 3rd there are 7+ before curve - this is not precise but there should not be that much difference if that is same ship.

2. Lines on side of ship - 1st going at angle at water line, 2nd not even visible or not existing, 3rd almost parralel with water line.

3. Chimneys are different on all 3 photos - and structures on deck (but ok that can change during time).

I can understand that deck structures could have been changed during years but bow and hull (lines) on all iron ship - don't think so...

USS_Alarm_1.jpgUSS_Alarm_2.jpgUSS_Alarm_3.jpg
 

jd755

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I don't think that is same ship in all photos - I see few major differences just on quick look

1. I took height of (fence?) on bow and rotated that line as measure - on 1st there are 4 lenghts before curve in bow, on 2nd there are 5+, on 3rd there are 7+ before curve - this is not precise but there should not be that much difference if that is same ship.

2. Lines on side of ship - 1st going at angle at water line, 2nd not even visible or not existing, 3rd almost parralel with water line.

3. Chimneys are different on all 3 photos - and structures on deck (but ok that can change during time).

I can understand that deck structures could have been changed during years but bow and hull (lines) on all iron ship - don't think so...

View attachment 28638View attachment 28639View attachment 28640
Funnel on the rapidly degrading ship does look like the funnel on the USS Intrepid on the bottom left of this picture. Wouldn't be the first time pictures/photo's get mislabelled.

h84469.jpg

According to this site the Alarm was fitted and refitted with different propulsion systems. Fowler wheel first Mallory screw second. Ironic is it not that this information is found on a model site not wikiakiallmadeup, not the 'official' sources, not the semi official nor the 'interested amateurs pages.
Torpedo Boat U.S.S. "Alarm", 1874

On June 11, 1878, Lieutenant R.M.G. Brown was put in command of the Alarm, ostensibly to rescue what was left of her reputation. An enterprising and highly successful navy officer, the energetic Brown immediately launched a publicity campaign of newspaper interviews and public statements, extolling the unrealized virtues of his ship. Against a public outcry of throwing good money after bad, he successfully lobbied congress for $20,000 to replace the Fowler wheel with a better system of propulsion. By July 1881 the newly invented Mallory Steering Screw had been installed and once again the Alarm was undergoing trials in the Hudson River. Alas, the Mallory screw did almost nothing to improve her snail’s pace. In addition the 10-foot diameter of the Mallory screw had robbed the ship of her shallow draft, which had been one of her saving graces. The press had yet another field day. Undaunted, the Alarm conducted a series of experiments at the U.S. Navy Torpedo school at Newport, R.I. She eventually returned to the New York Navy Yard and was placed in ordinary.

Not convinced the internal picture description is accurate but here's the photo uss alarm – laststandonzombieisland
05050117.jpg

Behind the hatch…this is not a torpedo tube…but a fixed 15-inch artillery piece mounted directly at the front of the USS Alarm’s bow, looking out over her ram.​
 
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Casimir

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KD how did you develop a nose for metal ships without rivets? I wish the first picture with the "torpedo stick holder hole" was in color, its lines really do remind one of the older wooden ram-capable ships. The screenshot in the later years its clearly got metal all around it and riveted plates. Could the first screenshot be a wooden frame type deal before they actually get the metal on it? I have 0 experience in shipbuilding

As time goes on is it common to pile on some extra armor on your ship? Maybe this would follow depending on the tests they were apparently putting her through.
 

EmmanuelZorg

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If they used flat-head rivets you could have a smooth exterior like in the images, but I am not entirely confident such a practice was done at the time. The steel plates of the hull would have countersunk holes to allow for a flat rivet exterior, and the rivet would be inserted from the exterior through the interior, and the hammering of the rivet would take place from the inside (as I understand the technology, and surely others here know more about this subject).

My understanding is that flush head rivets began to become mainstream in the 1930's. Conventional dome-headed rivets are what we see evidenced in most images of ships and aircraft prior to WWII. I was taught that aviation was the reason for innovation of the flush head rivet, but it is possible some engineer in the 1870's was willing to try to utilize them in ship hulls.

A 1942 animated guide to flush rivet installation:

I would only focus on the first illustration as this is more likely what would have been relevant to the USS Alarm metal thicknesses, on a larger scale.
 
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Samson4prez

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Does this boat remind anyone else of Captain Nemo's submarine in "The League Of Extraordinary Gentleman"?
 

jd755

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Two sites that discuss wrought iron in shipbuilding.
The first contains in depth descriptions of how it was done. This triggered a memory of me in the shipyard training school where I was taught and actually did work a hot rivet through a hole connecting two plates with a ball pein hammer as part of our learning of the process of ships construction. Just a small part of the marine plumbing apprenticeship, thankfully.
riveting for ship's plating in 1890

The second is a fascinating account of the period where iron came into use and ends when it began to replace timber, written in 1997.
The Influence of Iron in Ship Construction:1660 to 1830.

Will have a look to see what if any machines were in use at the shipyards where Alarm and Intrepid were built.
 

Jim Duyer

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We do not have tremendously much information on this ship. There is some, but compared to other ships it appears to be lacking info. It sure does appear to be lacking photographs. USS Alarm - an experimental torpedo boat constructed at the New York Navy Yard - was launched on 13 November 1873 and commissioned in 1874.
USS Alarm
View attachment 28616
What do you think this 25-3-34 is?

  • Designed and constructed specifically for the experimental work of the Bureau of Ordnance, Alarm served that purpose at Washington, D.C., until 1877 when she moved north to Newport, RI, to conduct experiments at the torpedo station. She returned to Washington the following year and resumed special service. In 1880, she began a tour of experimental work at New York which she carried out until she was laid up at Norfolk, VA, in 1883. In 1881, William Elbridge Sewell, who would later become Governor of Guam, was placed in command. However, she resumed her research duties at New York in 1884 and served there until she was placed out of commission in 1885 and berthed at New York.

  • A spar torpedo consists of a bomb on a long pole or spar, carried by a small, fast, low-lying boat. Under the cover of night or fog the torpedo boat stealthily approaches an enemy ship and detonates the bomb close to the vulnerable underwater hull. This may sound simple enough in theory, but experience had shown these missions to be suicidal under the best of circumstances.

The Hull
Luckily, we have this image of its hull. It was taken when USS Alarm was in a drydock at the New York Navy Yard. Apart from the steering screw design, which does have some documentation, I will have my regular question:
  • how was this hull put together, and where is any official record of the technology used?
I assume the photo above was taken when the boat was relatively new. The one below appears to be showing the same boat but in the twilight of its career. It looks like it is either falling apart, or was serviced using some inferior technology. On the other hand may be this image shows us the hull construction tech. I have no idea, so please speak up.
  • To be honest, I'm not sure that this is the same ship. They say it is.
View attachment 28624
Larger Image

The Steering Screw
Which propeller was used on this boat? Counting the "Mallory screw" mentioned in one of the above images, I have three names to choose from:
KD: I only have questions:
  • Basically we appear to have this 1876 screw installed on 1873-4 ship. If the primary purpose of registering a patent was (and is) to avoid getting your idea stolen, than how did this 1876 prop end up on USS Alarm.
  • What technology was used to put the hull together?
  • How come this ship looks like some ancient Greek ram boat? Was it 1874 AD or 1874 BC?
  • Torpedo on a stick? Really? What about those 40 year old underwater rockets?
Except for the second and the last images, which seem to be a duplicate, why do none of the other profiles match? Were there several models that were tried out? And iron, are you sure? Because they sure seem to be perhaps iron-clad wood to me.
 

BrokenAgate

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How come this ship looks like some ancient Greek ram boat? Was it 1874 AD or 1874 BC?
Given that historians are fond of adding 1000 years to every date, it could be 874 AD or BC....or any other number. Someone could have made up a number.

I do have a question about iron ships: Don't they rust? How long do they last?
 

JWW427

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A ram was used by the ironclad CSS Virginia at Hampton Roads. She sank a wood ship, but that day she was invincible.
Rams were still contemplated at that time for fast light ships, but were falling out of favor. Dumb idea for the 1870's times.
The bow underwater protrusion is still used today as an efficient hydrodynamic appendage to reduce drag.
The Alarm was highly experimental, thus looks weird to us.

Spar torpedoes attached to surface ships were always a dumb idea.
Jules Verne was influenced by advances in shipbuilding at the time. No doubt.
JWW
 

jd755

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Given that historians are fond of adding 1000 years to every date, it could be 874 AD or BC....or any other number. Someone could have made up a number.

I do have a question about iron ships: Don't they rust? How long do they last?
Iron in the presence of air and water rusts. I have no idea how long an iron ships hull would last in sea water or fresh for that matter.
 
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