December 13, 2021

The Herreshoff Brothers and their Torpedo Boats, Part V: HMCo. #118, STILETTO and the Torpedo Cruiser, 1883 – 1885

A series of papers on bringing innovation to the “New Navy”

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by John Palmieri

See on-line THE HERRESHOFF CATALOGUE RAISONNÉ for detailed information on HMCo. # vessels including photos, half model images and descriptive documents

Introduction

Part 4 developed the model test basis for the hull design of STILETTO (HMCo. #118) and identified the torpedo machinery and vessel business opportunities opening to Herreshoff. Part 5 covers the years 1883-1885, exploring how Capt. Nat Herreshoff's torpedo boat hull HMCo. #118 came to be built as the yacht STILETTO, the torpedo cruiser collaboration with Admiral of the Navy David Dixon Porter and ends with a view to the opportunities and risks facing the Herreshoff's in the following years. In telling the story of STILETTO we cannot be 100% sure we have it right. Neither John or Nat explained directly and completely the thinking and process that brought them to design and build STILETTO. They never wrote on the subject, save for comments by Nat in 1893 regarding the company's experience combining in one vessel, most probably STILETTO, the characteristics of a torpedo boat and a high-speed yacht. Starting from that point in 1893 the story is developed from the latest research of Herreshoff and HMCo. records, correspondence from various sources, official US Navy records and contemporary newspaper accounts.

We are also near the time when Nathanael G. Herreshoff, came to be addressed as "Capt. Nat." We certainly owe him that respect, and so address him going forward.

Figure 1– The 94-foot STILETTO (WTB-1)- the 118th steam vessel built by the Herreshoff Manufacturing Co. as converted for torpedo boat service. Launching a Howell automobile torpedo from the bow tube c. 1890. (US Navy Photo)

Combining the Torpedo Boat and the Yacht

[1] Richard S. West Jr. The Second Admiral: A Life of David Dixon Porter. (New York: Coward McCann, Inc. 1937) Pgs. 315-18.

[1] Stewart A. McKenna & Larrie D. Ferreiro, “The Scientific and Management Revolution and Shipbuilding on the ‘Two Clydes’ 1880-1900.” Nautical Research Journal Vol.58, No. 2 Summer 2013. Pages 105-128. All information about the shipyards on the Clyde and the Delaware, their technology, and dates of the technology are taken from this research paper.

On November 16 & 17, 1893, the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME) held its inaugural meeting in New York City.  Naval architect William Gardner presented a paper titled. "The Steam Yacht as a Naval Auxiliary". [1]

[1] Richard S. West Jr. The Second Admiral: A Life of David Dixon Porter. (New York: Coward McCann, Inc. 1937) Pgs. 315-18.

William Gardner (1858-1934) entered Cornell University at age 15 and following graduation acquired a practical knowledge of shipbuilding working in the plate shop and foundry of John Roach's Delaware River yard.  Inspired by two US Navy Constructors he entered US Government service and obtained entrance to the Royal Naval College, Greenwich England where he studied the design and construction of warships including torpedo boats, followed by two years practical work in the Clyde and Tyne River shipyards. Returning to the US in 1888, he established a successful naval architect firm in New York with many famous (mostly sail) yachts to his credit.[2]

[1] Richard S. West Jr. The Second Admiral: A Life of David Dixon Porter. (New York: Coward McCann, Inc. 1937) Pgs. 315-18.

In his paper Gardner noted, "The weakest branch of our naval service at the present time is unquestionably the torpedo-boat division. We have only two in service, with a third about completed." (In service were Herreshoff's conversion the wooden torpedo boat STILETTO (WTB-1) and their 138-foot steel sea-going torpedo boat CUSHING (TB-1); under construction at the Iowa Iron Works was the 150-foot ERICSSON (TB-2).) He postulated that a "type of steam yacht now being developed, is a vessel having good accommodations below, large deck-houses, high speed, light draft, the ability to turn quickly, and to get up steam and get underway at short notice. These characteristics, as far as they go are all in keeping with torpedo-boats." He proposed an economical way to acquire a large fleet of torpedo boats was for the Government to offer "an inducement for men to build yachts adapted to this purpose".

[1] Richard S. West Jr. The Second Admiral: A Life of David Dixon Porter. (New York: Coward McCann, Inc. 1937) Pgs. 315-18.

Under Gardener's plan an owner would submit to the Navy "complete drawings of the vessel as a yacht and as a torpedo boat with specifications of the changes and additions to make the change." Upon agreement by the Navy, the owner would be paid a subsidy towards building the vessel and to provide for any structural enhancements necessary to allow rapid conversion at a future date. 

[1] Richard S. West Jr. The Second Admiral: A Life of David Dixon Porter. (New York: Coward McCann, Inc. 1937) Pgs. 315-18.

Because the paper was late in submission there was no discussion, rather comments were solicited to be published later in the Transactions. Capt. Nat, one of the 22-member Council of the Society was requested by W. L. Capps of the Executive Committee, to submit a written critique of the paper. He was uniquely qualified for this task. He had done with STILETTO almost exactly what Gardner was proposing; created an efficient, low resistance, high speed hull for torpedo boat service, fitted it out as a yacht, and later reconfigured for torpedo boat service.   In his critique, Capt. Nat, strongly disagreed with Gardner and from that we can infer his thinking, and experience at that time, about the Herreshoff's approach to torpedo boat design and construction.[3]

[1] Richard S. West Jr. The Second Admiral: A Life of David Dixon Porter. (New York: Coward McCann, Inc. 1937) Pgs. 315-18.

"The subject is one that has already come under the attention of our Company as builders of steam yachts and torpedo-boat for many years, and I am quite free to confess, after trying to combine the two, that the torpedo type for a yacht is not popular, and I think will never be with yachtsmen. The reasons are:

First. To obtain the very highest speeds the vessel and machinery have to be very lightly but strongly built, entailing great cost to construct. (In his pencil draft he wrote "double the cost to construct.")

Second. In being so light the life is very much shortened, and the expense of repairs and up-keep is much greater. 

Third. On account of the machinery having to be designed with a smaller coefficient of safety, there is always a much greater risk of break-down, resulting in injuries or loss of life to the attendants.

 A passage in one of these high-speed boats is very exciting and exhilarating, but to the owner or any one responsible for the welfare of the crew, and who is going on the boat often, the exhilaration soon wears away, and the strain on the nerves, together with the bodily fatigue from the constant vibration will soon disgust any real yachtsman with a steamer that approaches anywhere near that of a torpedo-boat in speed. 

To get any comfort and pleasure in a steam yacht, about one-third of the torpedo boat's speed has to be sacrificed, and such a craft would be utterly useless in place of a true torpedo-boat in actual service."

Capt. Nat did offer, "The larger and faster of the seagoing yachts would, without a doubt, be of service to the Navy in time of war for dispatch vessels, and to patrol our coast."

[1] Richard S. West Jr. The Second Admiral: A Life of David Dixon Porter. (New York: Coward McCann, Inc. 1937) Pgs. 315-18.

Gardner responded that not running the boats at full speed on a daily basis would provide a factor of safety, and that he did not believe in cutting the weights of essential parts of the hull and machinery to the extent that was previously done. He concluded, "I do not consider that the design of a steam yacht that will make a successful torpedo boat is a simple problem…it is… a very difficult one. Every detail of the hull and machinery must be worked out with great care. It is to the mastery of difficult problems that advance in naval architecture is due."

[1] Richard S. West Jr. The Second Admiral: A Life of David Dixon Porter. (New York: Coward McCann, Inc. 1937) Pgs. 315-18.

We do not know Capt. Nat's opinion of Gardner's response, but we can assume he was not pleased. He did not need someone ten years his junior, who had never designed and built a torpedo boat, to lecture him on the means to advance the science of naval architecture. He had been mastering difficult problems, better than any of his contemporaries, since he first took pencil to paper. 

[1] Richard S. West Jr. The Second Admiral: A Life of David Dixon Porter. (New York: Coward McCann, Inc. 1937) Pgs. 315-18.

STILETTO Conceived as a Torpedo Boat: The Evidence

[4] Thomas Wildenberg and Norman Polmar. Ship Killers: A History of the American Torpedo. (Annapolis, MD, USNI Press, 2010) pgs. 16-17.

The evidence related to hull and machinery demonstrate STILETTO was intended to be a torpedo boat.  It starts with the two earliest surviving records of the hull design.  

[40] Annual Report of The Secretary of the Navy November 28, 1881. Washington GPO 1881 Pgs. 3, 5, 6.

1.  An undated, record of superimposed penciled hull sections, some with pinpricks labeled "94 ft Torpedo boat 1883". It is among similar sections for contemporary smaller Herreshoff vedettes, torpedo boats and launches.[4]

2.  The second is the "No 118 "offset book dated November 16, 1883. The first page of the book Capt. Nat identifies the offsets as "94 feet Torpedo Boat Model".[5] (See Figures 2).  The undated STILETTO half model was likely carved a short time before the offsets were taken; influenced by Capt. Nat's 1879 inspection of the 80-foot HMS LIGHTNING, and his model test results of Oct.-Nov. 1880.

The cover of a brown old book with

Figure 2; STILETTO  HMCo. 118 Offset Book;  Source Hart Nautical Collections MIT Museum

[21] Frederick J. Rowan A.M.I.C.E., M.I.E.S. The Practical Physics of the Modern Steam Boiler. (P. S. King & Son, London; D. Van Nostrand, New York, 1903). Pg. 481.

[22] The details of HMCo #44 are taken from (1) “Torpedo Boat Experiments” Irish Times, Jan. 10, 1879, page 3. (2) “The Herreshoff Torpedo Boats” Recent Practice in Marine Engineering Two Volumes. Edited by William Henry Maw. Publisher: London Offices of Engineering, London & J. Wiley & Sons New York 1884. Pages 280-6. This document is available online at www.hathitrust.org. All quotes about HMCo #44 are from this paper.

In 1883, a 94-foot length was representative of first-class torpedo boats. The British Royal Navy had twenty 96-foot first class torpedo boats capable of 20 knots, although lengths were beginning to increase. Thornycroft was building a 113-foot vessel to carry the Whitehead torpedo and the US Naval Advisory Board, now headed by Commodore Shufeldt, recommended building a 100-foot cruising torpedo boat.[6]

[21] Frederick J. Rowan A.M.I.C.E., M.I.E.S. The Practical Physics of the Modern Steam Boiler. (P. S. King & Son, London; D. Van Nostrand, New York, 1903). Pg. 481.

[22] The details of HMCo #44 are taken from (1) “Torpedo Boat Experiments” Irish Times, Jan. 10, 1879, page 3. (2) “The Herreshoff Torpedo Boats” Recent Practice in Marine Engineering Two Volumes. Edited by William Henry Maw. Publisher: London Offices of Engineering, London & J. Wiley & Sons New York 1884. Pages 280-6. This document is available online at www.hathitrust.org. All quotes about HMCo #44 are from this paper.

Power density data of STILETTO's machinery in pounds per indicated horsepower (Figure 3) show that at the time of construction in 1885 STILETTO was at the forefront of light weight machinery for high-speed naval vessels. Light weight was achieved by use of the square boiler and a compound engine where the weight of moving parts had been reduced to a minimum, forgings replacing castings, bronze replacing steel where possible, and pistons operating at a high running speed.  Also, ihp was boosted 25% by forced draft; using a steam powered blower to pressurize the fire room.[7] (For information Figure 3 includes the power density of all later HMCo. steam torpedo boats built for the U.S. Navy.) To further make the case that STILETTO's machinery was designed to be that of a torpedo boat, and not another Herreshoff high-speed yacht, we should also display power density for the latter, but have not found the data.  It is a hole in our research we have yet to fill.  

[21] Frederick J. Rowan A.M.I.C.E., M.I.E.S. The Practical Physics of the Modern Steam Boiler. (P. S. King & Son, London; D. Van Nostrand, New York, 1903). Pg. 481.

[22] The details of HMCo #44 are taken from (1) “Torpedo Boat Experiments” Irish Times, Jan. 10, 1879, page 3. (2) “The Herreshoff Torpedo Boats” Recent Practice in Marine Engineering Two Volumes. Edited by William Henry Maw. Publisher: London Offices of Engineering, London & J. Wiley & Sons New York 1884. Pages 280-6. This document is available online at www.hathitrust.org. All quotes about HMCo #44 are from this paper.

Figure 3: STILETTO Lightweight Machinery Comparison | Machinery Lbs/IHP

1885
HMCo 1888-97

British Warships- 300-360

CUSHING TB 1 – 70

New US Navy

ABC Cruisers- Average 434

PORTER/DUPONT TBs 6 & 7 – 50

British First-Class torpedo boats- 57.7

MORRIS TB 14 – 61

STILETTO- 39

GWIN/TALBOT TBs 15 & 16 – 55

Sources:

1. British Warships, TBs & ABC Cruisers. N. B. Clark, Chief. Engr. USN (Ret), “Motive Power for Warship” Letter to the Editor. Army Navy Journal Vol 23. March 27, 1886. Pages 713-4.

2. Herreshoff vessels calculated from available data.

There is another data point. In early 1891 Capt. Nat conducted a short study of his torpedo boats and high-speed yachts. He compared the indicated thrust per unit of vessel displacement required in speed trials of the vessel to achieve design speed (A), with the resistance of the 4½-foot 1880 model per unit of model displacement at that speed (B). The Ratio (B/A) of the torpedo boats STILETTO at 0.75 & CUSHING (HMCo. #152) at 0.73, averaged 0.74; while the high-speed yachts, the 132-foot SAY WHEN (HMCo. #150) at 0.58 and 84-foot NOW THEN (HMCo. #142) at 0.69, averaged 0.64. The torpedo boats averaged 16% better than the yachts at achieving the performance of the most efficient model in Capt. Nat's 1880 model tests.[8]

[21] Frederick J. Rowan A.M.I.C.E., M.I.E.S. The Practical Physics of the Modern Steam Boiler. (P. S. King & Son, London; D. Van Nostrand, New York, 1903). Pg. 481.

[22] The details of HMCo #44 are taken from (1) “Torpedo Boat Experiments” Irish Times, Jan. 10, 1879, page 3. (2) “The Herreshoff Torpedo Boats” Recent Practice in Marine Engineering Two Volumes. Edited by William Henry Maw. Publisher: London Offices of Engineering, London & J. Wiley & Sons New York 1884. Pages 280-6. This document is available online at www.hathitrust.org. All quotes about HMCo #44 are from this paper.

Additionally, STILETTO's hull was not that of a typical steam yacht. W. P. Stephens wrote at the time:[9]

[21] Frederick J. Rowan A.M.I.C.E., M.I.E.S. The Practical Physics of the Modern Steam Boiler. (P. S. King & Son, London; D. Van Nostrand, New York, 1903). Pg. 481.