Vesuvius III (Dynamite Gun Cruiser)
An Italian volcano located on the eastern side of the Bay of Naples. Its most famous eruption, on 24 August 79 A.D., completely destroyed the city of Pompeii and the town of Herculaneum.
The third Vesuvius, a unique vessel in the Navy inventory which marked a departure from more conventional forms of main battery armament, was laid down in September 1887 at Philadelphia, Pa., by William Cramp and Sons Ships and Engine Building Co., subcontracted from the Pneumatic Dynamite Gun Co. of New York, N.Y.; launched on 28 April 1888; sponsored by Miss Eleanor Breckinridge; and commissioned on 2 June 1890 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Lt. Seaton Schroeder in command.
Vesuvius carried three 15-inch pneumatic guns, mounted forward side-by-side. In order to train these weapons, the ship had to be aimed, like a gun, at its target. Compressed air projected the shells from the "dynamite guns." The explosive used in the shells themselves was actually a "desensitized blasting gelatin" composed of nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine. It was less sensitive to shock than regular dynamite but still sensitive enough that compressed air, rather than powder, had to be utilized as the propellant. Ten shells per gun were carried on board, and the range of flight, varying from 200 yards to one and one-half miles, depended on the amount of air entering the firing chamber.
Vesuvius sailed for New York shortly after commissioning and then joined the Fleet at Gardiner's Bay, N.Y., on 1 October 1890. She operated off the east coast with the North Atlantic Squadron into 1895. Highlights of this tour of duty included numerous port visits and participation in local observances of holidays and festivals, as well as gunnery practice and exercises. Experience showed that the ship's unique main battery had two major drawbacks: first, the range was too short; second, the method of aiming was crude and inaccurate.
Decommissioned on 25 April 1895 for major repairs, Vesuvius re-entered service on 12 January 1897, Lt. Comdr. John E. Pillsbury in command. The ship got underway from the Philadelphia Navy Yard, bound for Florida, and operated off the east coast through the spring of the following year, 1898. By this time, American relations with Spain were worsening. The American Fleet gathered in Florida waters, and Vesuvius hurried south from Newport, R.I., and arrived at Key West on 13 May. She remained there until the 28th, when she headed for blockade duty in Cuban coastal waters. Vesuvius performed special duties at the discretion of the Fleet Commander in Chief and served as a dispatch vessel between Cuba and Florida into July of 1898.
On 13 June, Vesuvius conducted the first of eight shore bombardment missions against Santiago, Cuba. The cruiser stealthily closed the shore under cover of darkness, loosed a few rounds of her 15-inch dynamite charges, and then retired to sea. Psychologically, Vesuvius' bombardment caused great anxiety among the Spanish forces ashore, for her devastating shells came in without warning, unaccompanied by the roar of gunfire usually associated with a bombardment. Admiral Sampson wrote accordingly, that Vesuvius' bombardments had "great effect."
After hostilities with Spain ended later that summer, Vesuvius sailed north and called at Charleston, S.C.; New York, and Newport, before reaching Boston. Taken out of active service on 16 September 1898, Vesuvius remained at the Boston Navy Yard until 1904, when she began conversion to a torpedo-testing vessel. Vesuvius lost her unique main battery and acquired four torpedo tubes-three 18-inch and one 21-inch. Recommissioned on 21 June 1905, Vesuvius soon sailed for the Naval Torpedo Station at Newport to begin her new career.
She conducted torpedo experiments at the station for two years until decommissioned on 27 November 1907 for repairs. Recommissioned again on 14 February 1910, Vesuvius remained at Newport for the next 11 years, on occasion serving as station ship, into 1921. Decommissioned and ordered appraised for sale on 21 October 1921, Vesuvius was sold for scrap on 21 April 1922 to J. Lipsitz and Co., Chelsea, Mass.