By Brig. Gen. Kennard R. Wiggins Jr. (DE ANG Ret.)
In 1888, Kaiser Wilhelm II was crowned as the regent of the German Empire. He was the 29
year old grandson of England’s Queen Victoria and within two years had deposed Emperor
Otto von Bismarck, who had assembled the rising Teutonic continental empire. Kaiser
Wilhelm’s great ambition was to build a navy that would rival the Royal Navy, making
Germany a world power.
Britain had ruled the seas “in splendid isolation” almost unchallenged since the days of
Nelson during the Napoleonic wars.
Thus began a rivalry which initiated an arms race between the two nations which some have
pointed to as a cause of the Great War in 1914. The escalating sums of treasure and manpower
exacted a toll on the national treasuries as each nation tried to outdo the other. It also
inspired other new participants to join the contest such as Japan, and the United States.
Nineteenth century naval architecture was in technological transition from wooden hulls to
ironclads, and from sail to steam, from smoothbore to rifled cannon, with a corresponding
evolution of tactics.
The simplest definition of a warship is simply a waterborne platform whose purpose is to
defeat other enemy warships. This requires an armament scheme to bring fire on other ships.
This scheme can include cannons, or missiles or torpedoes. As warships evolved over the
centuries, there were always trade-offs and compromises between offensive and defensive
capabilities, between speed and range, between weight and maneuverability, and armor vs.
armament. A vessel had to be seaworthy in all types of conditions, able to engage an enemy at
sea, as well as on land.
The evolution of the Capital ship in the second half of the 19th century had still not settled on
a final design despite many experimental paths. Warships at the turn of the century had a
bewildering array of different armaments including torpedoes, guns of various caliber and
size, and were still constructed to ram an enemy. They were generally ironclad and had
forgone sails and were powered by steam engines fueled by coal.
Admiral John A. “Jacky” Fisher
Admiral John A. “Jacky” Fisher, the new First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy, proposed radical
reforms to the construction of battleships in 1904. He envisioned a ship that would carry the
largest caliber guns possible in the greatest number. All things being equal, the ship with the
biggest gun has the longest range and the heaviest firepower. This is the ship that will
prevail. Lesser calibers are worthless until in range. Fisher wrote, “In designing this ship, the
most powerfully arranged armament has been made the first consideration. Absolutely nothing has been
allowed to stand in the way of the most nearly perfect power and scope of the guns… Being a battleship,
she will have to fight other battleships. Having speed, she can choose the range at which she will fight”.
Furthermore, speed provides the flexibility to determine the place of action. The faster boat
establishes the range that is most desirable. The faster vessel can maneuver to the place where
his guns outrange his foes rendering their fires useless. Fisher summed it up by writing,
“The fast ship with the heavier guns and deliberate fire should absolutely knock out a vessel of equal speed
with many lighter guns, the number of which militates against accurate spotting and deliberate hitting.”
Tearing a page from the experience of Admiral Togo in the Japanese victory over Russia, at
the Battle of Tsushima Straits, in May 1905 the British naval attaché warned the Admiralty of
the shortcomings of the Russian fleet providing an impetus to build the ships of Fisher’s
Fisher had such a craft built that embodied speed and heavy armament at the expense of other
factors. This ship mounted ten 12-inch guns at a time when most other capital ships had
only four. Using radically new turbine steam engines the craft was capable of 21 knots when
most other ships could manage only 16-18 knots. It was christened as the H.M.S.
Dreadnought. She was launched after only one year of construction, and went to sea in
October 1906. It was headline news all over the world. It was a quantum leap. The new ship
offered a capability equal to two or three ships, for only a modest increase in size and cost
She immediately rendered all other such ships on the seas obsolete (including Britain’s own
fleet). Dreadnought became the synonym for battleship. She was the template for all that
would follow. Fisher’s basic design philosophy would reign until the very end of the
battleship line for another half century when the capital ship was superseded by the aircraft
carrier. Every navy in the world came to the realization that the Dreadnought could only be
matched by one like it, which none of them possessed. This awareness served to accelerate the
shipbuilding arms race between England and Germany, as well as among the other seagoing
During the twilight of United States President Theodore Roosevelt's administration, Roosevelt
dispatched sixteen U.S. Navy battleships of the Atlantic Fleet on a worldwide voyage of
circumnavigation from 16 December 1907 to 22 February 1909. The hulls were painted white,
the Navy's peacetime color scheme, decorated with gilded scrollwork with a red, white, and
blue banner on their bows. These ships would later come to be known as the Great White
The purpose of the fleet deployment was multifaceted. It served as a showpiece of American
goodwill as the fleet visited numerous countries and harbors. Additionally, the voyage of the
Great White Fleet demonstrated both at home and on the world stage that the U.S. had
become a major sea power in the years after its triumph in the Spanish-American War. The
voyage also provided an opportunity to improve the sea- and battle-worthiness of the fleet.
The fourteen-month long voyage was a grand pageant of American sea power. The
squadrons were manned by 14,000 sailors. They covered some 43,000 nautical miles (80,000
km) and made twenty port calls on six continents. The fleet was impressive, especially as a
demonstration of American industrial prowess (all eighteen ships had been constructed since
the Spanish-American War), but already the battleships represented the suddenly outdated
'pre-dreadnought' type of capital ship, as the first battleships of the revolutionary
Dreadnought class had just entered service. The voyage of the Great White Fleet had also been
an advertisement for America’s naval deficiencies.
President Theodore Roosevelt who had at one time been Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and
had written a history of the Naval War of 1812, and was an enthusiastic supporter of the
Navy. At the urging of Admiral Dewey, together they convinced Navy Secretary Charles
Bonaparte of the necessity of an all big-gun battleship. In due course they convinced congress
to pass the necessary authorization.
The United States commissioned its own Dreadnoughts in 1905, the USS South Carolina and
USS Michigan. These were steps in the right direction, but due to a 16,000 ton weight
limitation imposed by Congress, they were a compromised half step. The South Carolina class
was inferior in speed and in armament to the Dreadnought. However they had one design
feature that was superior – they were able to bring all their guns to bear for a broadside, so
they could match the firepower of the Dreadnought with two fewer guns. Because their
development and construction was more protracted, and more care given to planning, they
were judged to be better protected and armored as well.
The Navy’s Bureau of Construction and Repair (C&R) were able to convince Congress that
the unrealistic weight limitation constraints should be removed, and they succeeded. The
C&R labored to provide the best new design possible under the congressional restrictions and
limitations. In addition to speed and firepower, an important consideration for American
capital ships was range. America had naval responsibilities in the vast Pacific Ocean that
would require them to operate far from refueling bases. Britain had plentiful coaling stations
strategically located around the globe, an advantage America did not enjoy. The
congressional language of the authorizing act of June 26, 1906 was for a battleship "carrying
as heavy armor and as powerful an armament as any known vessel of its class, to have the
highest practicable speed and the greatest practicable radius of action." The 1906 legislation
called for two ships of the new design. These would be later known as USS Delaware (BB-28)
and USS North Dakota (BB-29).
USS Delaware (BB-28)
The Bureau of Construction and Repair proposed plans for a ten-gun, 20,500-ton battleship
that had been developed earlier but rejected due to the tonnage limit. She was provisionally to
be named the USS New Constitution. Her original naval appropriation funded $100,000 for the
restoration of the original Constitution (Old Ironsides) and $10 million for the construction
of the New Constitution.
What would that new ship be called? The people of Delaware thought it should be named for
their state. Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Navy Charles Bonaparte was lobbied by
the Delaware Congressional Delegation and deluged with letters by Delawareans urging that
the ship be named in honor of their state. Senator James Allee, and Representative Hiram
Burton cited to the Secretary the fact that their state is, “the only one of the older states of the
union that has not been given the distinction of a battleship.”
The Delaware Historical Society supported the effort to sell Congress and the Secretary of the
Navy on the idea. At that time, Delaware was the only one of the original thirteen states, and
one of only three states in the nation (Montana and Utah were the other two), not to have a
US naval ship bearing its name (although there had been previous naval vessels bearing the
state’s name). The time was right, and the cause was just. The Society passed a resolution of
support invoking Delaware’s bravery in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and the Civil
War, as well as Delawareans who had served in the U.S. cabinet, as reasons why the new
ship should bear the state’s name.
The campaign succeeded, and the USS Delaware (BB-28) was laid down at Newport News
Shipbuilding on November 11, 1907, the sixth ship of the fleet to bear that name. On
February 6, 1909, the new ship slid down the ways pushing stern foremost into the briny
making “the Worlds Largest Naval Splash” according to a headline in the San Francisco
“Call”. The newspaper added on September 1907:
“The Delaware is the very largest battleship ever launched. When Great Britain launched her
Dreadnought less than two years ago, the last word in magnitude of battleships was thought
to have been uttered.
The "Dreadnought fever" then seized the other powers. Germany, France, Japan and the
United States all accepted it as a challenge. With the least ado over the matter, the United
States has now come forward with a vessel that will be 2100 tons heavier than the
Dreadnought, and nearly that much heavier than any other warship building or projected
abroad. The Delaware will have 20,000 tons displacement when completed. This great splash
may be only the beginning; after all. Such naval enthusiasts as Rear Admiral Richmond
Pearson Hobson predict—nay, demand — battleship's of 30,000 tons!”
Miss Anne P. Cahall, of Bridgeville, on behalf of Governor Lea accepted appointment as
sponsor for the launching. Governor Lea asked Miss Cahall to christen the new Americana
Dreadnought as a courtesy to his successor Governor elect Simeon S. Pennewill, who became
chief executive of the State before the battleship was launched. Miss Cahall is a niece of the
governor elect and of Judge James Pennewill. Her father Dr. Lawrence M. Cahall was a
prominent physician at Bridgeville. With the announcement of the launching of the
battleship bearing the State's name, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Delaware
renewed its fight to have the giant vessel christened with water. (She was christened with
She was commissioned for sea duty on April 4, 1910 with Captain C.A. Grove in command.
She was trim and beautiful and the pride of Delaware and the US Navy. USS Delaware was
the most powerful battleship in the world at the time of her construction. According to the
Los Angeles Herald, October 1909:
“UNCLE SAM'S first two Dreadnoughts, the battleships North Dakota (BB-29) and Delaware
(BB-28), are practically completed and soon will be in commission. The Delaware is now
having her powerful guns installed at Newport News and the North Dakota is getting ready
for her trial at Quincy, Massachusetts. These two leviathans differ from the other battleships
of our navy in many respects aside from their tremendous size. The most striking difference is
noted in the long, rakish hulls, the absence of the high superstructures so predominant in the
older ships and the five immense turrets which protect the ten twelve-inch rifles that each of
the ships will carry. It is estimated that either the Delaware or the North Dakota with their
high speed will be more than a match for any other three ships now in the navy. The North
Dakota is to have her speed trials November 2, and if she comes up to expectations she will be
a vessel to be feared by anything that floats the seas. These great fighting machines each cost
The San Francisco Chronicle dubbed the ship “Uncle Sam’s New Constitution” describing it as
“the Most Powerful Battleship Afloat, More Destructive and Terrible than the new Floating
Giant, the English Dreadnought. The Amador Ledger added, “These ships will be far more
powerful than any others in the navy and will rival their monster prototype, which is the
boast of the British navy.”
The Delaware class was significantly more powerful than its predecessors, the South Carolina
class. The Delaware class matched the standard of the Dreadnought, and exceeded it in some
respects. The only restriction the Congress placed on their design was that the hull and
machinery could not exceed $6 million. She was constructed in only 27 months, a record at
the time for a capital ship.
Delaware was 519 feet (158 m) long overall and had a beam of 85 ft 4 in (26.01 m) and a draft of
27 ft 3 in (8.31 m). She displaced 20,380 long tons (20,710 t) as designed and up to 22,060 long
tons (22,410 t) at full combat load. She had a crew of 55 officers and 878 men. She was
among the first battleships painted in a gray war paint giving her a somber look compared to
the sparkling white of the peacetime Navy. Delaware had a very broad and high bow giving
her lots of freeboard, especially forward, offering the ability to weather heavy seas and still fire
her guns forward – an important advantage in a fight.
She bore only two smokestacks. Delaware had two fighting “skeleton” towers each mounted
forward of one of the smokestacks, of a lattice like design of iron tubing and cable, nearly
impossible to shoot away in tests. These towers are each about 120 feet high and 30-40 feet in
diameter at the base. The British use tripod masts for the same purpose, though not as high
as American towers, which are a large and tempting target for enemy gunners. A fire control
station was at the top of each tower linked by telephone to the plotting room and guns to
give fire direction.
Delaware had an electrical plant that powered her lighting, hoists, boat cranes, gun turrets,
and six searchlights. She had a complete machine ship for fabricating parts and making
repairs while at sea. Forward was a generously sized full hospital. The crew quarters and
dining areas were protected by armor plate.
The ten 12 in (30 cm) 45-caliber main guns would be in five turrets, two forward in a
superfiring arrangement (one firing over the other) and three aft. This was an addition of two
guns compared to the preceding South Carolina. The after turrets were arranged with one in a
superfiring position over the sternmost two, which were centered back-to-back on the aft
The gun housings were the Mark 8 type, and they allowed for depression to −5 degrees and
elevation to 15 degrees. The guns had a rate of fire of 2 to 3 rounds per minute. They fired 870
lb (394.6 kg) shells, of either armor-piercing (AP) or common types. The propellant charge
was 310 lb (140.6 kg) in silk bags, and provided a muzzle velocity of 2,700 fps (823 m/s). The
guns were expected to fire 175 rounds before the barrels would require replacement. The two
ships carried 100 shells per gun, or 1,000 rounds in total. At 15 degrees elevation, the guns
could hit targets out to approximately 20,000 yards (18,290 m). They were fed from electrical
hoists from the ten ammunition magazines on board.
The USS Delaware’s main armament was supplemented with fourteen five inch guns for anti-
destroyer defense. These were arrayed five on each side with two forward on the main deck
and two aft on the main deck abeam number five turret. They had a rate of fire of six to eight
rounds per minute. They fired three types of rounds: a "light" AP shell that weighed 50 lb
(22.7 kg) and a "heavy" AP round that weighed 60 lb (27.2 kg). The third type was the
Common Mark 15 shell, which also weighed 50 lb. The 50 lb shells were fired at a muzzle
velocity of 3,000 fps (914 m/s), while the larger 60 lb shells traveled at a slightly slower 2,700
fps (823 m/s). The guns were emplaced on both Mark 9 and Mark 12 pedestal mounts; the
Mark 9 version limited elevation to 15 degrees, while the Mark 12 allowed for up to 25
degrees. The 5"/50 was able to penetrate most effectively at 5,000 yards (5,000 m), which was
the deciding factor in the decision to equip the Delaware class with them. The five inch guns
were supplied with a total of 240 rounds per barrel.
While these guns were considered an improvement by the Navy over that of the South
Carolina, their placement remained problematic as even in calm water, they were extremely wet
and thus difficult to man. The forward guns were moved into the superstructure after sea
trials. The casemate-mounted secondary armament was one deck below the main deck and
provided the majority of the complaints from shipping water from the forward positions and
breaking the flow of the bow wave imparting extra drag on the design.
The Delaware was also were fitted with two 3"/50 caliber Mark 11 anti-aircraft (AA) guns in
1917. The Mark 11 was the first 3" AA mounting issued by the U.S. Navy. They had a
trunnion height of 66.25 inches (168.3 cm) compared to a height of 45 inches (110 cm) for the
pedestal mountings used against surface craft. This allowed them an elevation range between
−10 and 85 degrees. Maximum range was 14,600 yards (13,400 m) at 43 degrees and maximum
ceiling 30,400 feet (9,300 m) at 85 degrees.
As was standard for capital ships of the period, she carried a pair of 21 inch (530 mm) torpedo
tubes, submerged in her hull on the broadside. The Bliss-Leavitt 21" (53.3 cm) Mark 3 Model 1
torpedo designed for these tubes had an overall length of 196 inches (5.0 m), a weight of 2,059
pounds (934 kg) and propelled an explosive charge of 210 pounds (95 kg) of TNT to a range of
9,000 yards (8,200 m) at a speed of 27 knots (50 km/h)
Most dreadnought and pre-dreadnought battleships were armed with torpedo tubes as well
as guns. The Delaware mounted a side - loading torpedo tube. Torpedoes were transported
along a monorail above the tube and then lowered into it. Orders to the crew to fire were
delivered through the speaking tube. It was generally conceded that torpedoes were an
extremely effective weapon but that their underwater tubes were a hazard because they
constituted weak points in systems of bulkheads protecting against underwater hits. For a
time, therefore, U.S. designers and planners expected to move the tubes topside - where they
presented a fire and explosion hazard. They were therefore, omitted from the ships
reconstructed during the interwar period.
The main armored belt was eleven inches (279 mm) thick, while the armored deck was two
inches (51 mm) thick. The gun turrets had twelve inch (305 mm) thick faces and the conning
tower had 11.5 in (292 mm) thick sides. These ships were expected to do most of their firing at
ranges less than 10,000 yards (9,100 m). At such distances, deck strikes would be a rare event.
Power for the USS Delaware came from two vertical triple expansion steam engines turning
two propellers. These were reciprocating engines; unlike her sister ship North Dakota, which
utilized a new turbine engine design. She had a coal capacity of 2340 tons. The ship was
powered by two-shaft vertical triple-expansion engines rated at 25,000 indicated horsepower
(19,000 kW) and fourteen coal-fired Babcock & Wilcox boilers, generating a top speed of 21
knots(39 km/h; 24 mph). The ship had a cruising range of 6,000 nautical miles (11,000 km;
6,900 mi) at a speed of 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph).
A real innovation was her ability to burn either coal or fuel oil, or both. This was the first
American battleship to do so. Burning oil gave the ship the ability to rapidly build steam for
a quick departure. A quick boost of fuel oil on a coal burning cruising ship can offer an
accelerant in an emergency as well.
Delaware was the first American battleship capable of steaming for 24 hours straight without
suffering a breakdown or needing repairs. According to the New York Tribune October 1909:
“THE DELAWARE (BB-28), THE FIRST AMERICAN DREADNOUGHT.
Exceeded the contract speed of 21 knots on the standardization runs yesterday over the
Rockland (Me.) course making 21.98 knots and breaking the speed record for American
Conducting a shakedown cruise to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, on July 2, 1910 the crew
found that the after turret arrangement was problematic in that Number 3 could not fire
astern if Number 4 was trained forward. The placement of the rear gun turrets proved
problematic. Chief Constructor Rear Admiral Washington L. Capps placed the rear
superfiring turret, Number 3, closest amidships. Since it represented the greatest weight borne
by the ship's structure due to its tall barbette, this placement would allow it support by the
greatest amount of underwater volume available. The other two rear turrets, Numbers 4 and
5, were placed level and back to back. This arrangement was detrimental in two ways. First,
Number 3 could not fire astern with Number 4 trained forward, which left only the two 12"
guns of Number 5 to do so. Second, because the engine room was situated between Numbers
3 and 4, steam lines ran from the boiler rooms amidships around the ammunition magazine
for Number 3 turret to the engine room. These lines, it was later found, had the potential to
heat the powder in the magazine and degrade its ballistics. This design flaw was also
prevalent in several British dreadnoughts but was considered inescapable by naval designers
on structural grounds.
Another challenge with the main armament was that its weight, which had to be spread over
much of the hull, led to increased stress on the structure. The closer the weight of the heavy
guns to the ends, the greater the stress and risk for structural failure due to metal fatigue.
High speed required fine ends, which were not especially buoyant, and the amount of space
needed amidships for machinery precluded moving the main turrets further inboard. Not
having to worry about a displacement limit allowed Capps the option of deepening the hull,
which helped to some extent. He added a forecastle to allow for better seakeeping and to make
room for officers' quarters and restored the full height of the hull aft. However, the structural
stress problem itself remained.
After a brief trial voyage, Delaware returned to Newport News on October 26, 1909 in
preparation for her commissioning. As she entered the Virginia Capes she flew three brooms
from her masthead signifying a “clean sweep” at sea for her preliminary trials.
Having completed its initial sea trials and training off Newport, Boston and Provincetown,
she joined the U.S. Atlantic Fleet at Hampton Roads on September 1, 1910. Participating in
the annual summer maneuvers at the Southern drill grounds she and North Dakota bested
the other 16 battleships in gunnery, Delaware taking the top trophy only months after her
Following further training off the Virginia Capes and Thomkinsville New York with the First
Division, First Battleship Squadron Delaware steamed to Wilmington, Delaware on October
3, 1910 to receive a set of silver from the state. The 22-piece set includes gravy boats, coffee
urns and serving utensils, and some less common items such as an electrolier, or electric
candelabra. The standout piece is a 45-pound punchbowl with an eagle on the pedestal. It
was housed in a plate glass and cherry case. The service was used for ceremonies when
dignitaries would visit in foreign ports.
The silver service cost about $10,000, a princely sum at the time, raised through charitable
contributions small and large, aided by a $1000 grant from the state. Raising money for the
silver set was part of the people’s patriotic duty at the time. The ship was also presented
portraits of Commodore Jacob Jones, Commodore Thomas MacDonough, and rear Admiral
Samuel Francis DuPont, all legendary naval heroes of Delaware.
The people of Delaware took enormous patriotic pride in Delaware’s handsome lines. The
sailors were entertained and regaled with the town’s hospitality. The officers and crew of the
USS Delaware enjoyed a port visit for most of a week departing on October 9. The October 5,
1910 Evening Journal reported:
“To be sure the social pleasures are for the officers of the battleship, but “Jack” ashore, with plenty of
money right after pay day is having his own good time in Wilmington. Even if he didn’t have any money
he would have a good time this week, for street cars carry him free, theaters admit him free and there will
be dances for him, and there are other pleasures that will link Wilmington and enjoyment synonymously
for time to come.”
Proceeding south, she briefly paused at Hampton Roads for alterations before joining the
Atlantic Fleet's First Division. Later that fall, Delaware and its consorts departed on
November 1, 1910 crossing the Atlantic with the First Division Atlantic Fleet and made visits
to Britain (Weymouth England) and France (Cherbourg). Returning in January 1911, she
participated in winter maneuvers off Guantanamo Bay Cuba. She made passage for Norfolk
on January 14, 1911.
While steaming north to Hampton Roads, the battleship suffered a boiler explosion on
January 17 which killed eight. It was reported in the New York Times on January 18:
WARSHIP EXPLOSION KILLS EIGHT SEAMEN.
THEIR BODIES ARE DRAGGED FROM THE DELAWARE'S STEAM-FILLED BOILER
ROOM ANOTHER DYING. STORY TOLD BY WIRELESS.
BATTLESHIP WAS SAILING TO HAMPTON ROADS FROM CUBA TO CONVEY THE
CHILEAN MINISTER'S BODY HOME.
Washington, Jan. 17. -- Eight men met instant death and one man was so badly burned that he probably
will die as a result of a boiler explosion aboard the battleship Delaware at 9:20 o'clock this morning, the
cause of which is as yet unexplained, according to a wireless message tonight to the Navy Department
from Capt. GOVE. The Delaware was on her way to Hampton Roads from Guantanamo, Cuba, and had
been designated to transport the body of Senor Cruz, late Chilean Minister to the United States, back to
Chile, instead of the South Carolina, whose propeller met with a mishap. The nine victims were on duty in
the boiler room when the accident occurred. A terrific shock sent the crew scurrying below and nine bodies
were dragged from the cloud of hot steam that hissed through the hold. Capt. GOVE'S message to the
Navy Department reads: "At 9:20 A.M., Jan. 17, three backheaders, Nos. 8, 9, and 10 of Boiler "0" in
Fireroom 4 blew out explosively, killing eight and injuring one, who will probably die, these being all the
men on duty in the fireroom. Board of officers appointed immediately to investigate and report. Not yet
Making repairs in Norfolk, Delaware departed on the 31st to carry the remains of Anibal Cruz,
the Chilean ambassador to the United States, back to Valparaiso Chile and transferred the
ambassadors' remains arriving on March 11. She put to sea again on the 21st, touching at
Rio de Janeiro, Delaware arrived at Punta Arenas, and called at Boston before steaming to
New York harbor Navy Yard on May 5, 1911. Repairs were made in the yard. She embarked
Rear Admiral Charles E. Vreeland to represent the Navy during the forthcoming coronation
ceremonies in England for George V. On June 4, she stood out of New York harbor and
reached Portsmouth England on June 5 to participate in a coronation naval review for King
George V and Prince Albert on June 24th. She was the largest ship present at this naval
Delaware sailed for Boston on June 28th, and debarked rear Admiral Vreeland on July 9th.
Delaware completed this round trip without taking any coal on board during the voyage
leaving some 600 tons of coal in her bunkers at the conclusion of her journey proving she
had very long sea legs.
She conducted a busy schedule of battle exercises with the fleet off Cape Cod Bay and Virginia
Capes areas. She then steamed from the New York Navy Yard on December 31, 1911 for
winter base at Guantanamo Bay Cuba. In the early spring she returned to Hampton Roads
before entering New York Navy Yard for repairs. Delaware participated in tactical exercises off
Newport before returning Hampton Roads on June 3, 1912. Here she passed in review before
President Taft who was on board the Mayflower.
Two days later she set sail to Annapolis to embark Midshipmen on a training cruise off New
England, landing her squadron for the Bunker Hill Day celebration in Boston on Flag Day,
June 14 and returning to Annapolis on August 30, 1912. This would be a recurring mission
for Delaware throughout her history. It is a safe bet that many of the future U.S. naval
commanders who won World War II first went to sea upon the decks of the Delaware.
Delaware was in the Presidential Fleet Review in New York on October 14 and conducted fleet
exercises and battle tactics in waters extending from New England to Charleston South
Carolina until December 10, 1912. She then departed Hampton Roads in company with the
battleship Arkansas who embarked the President of the United States William H. Taft at Key
Delaware took on board other members of the Presidential party and the two battleships got
underway from Key West on December 21st for the Panama Canal Zone. All passengers
debarked upon arrival at Colon three days later and Captain Hugh Rodman left the Delaware
for two days at the invitation of President. Taft. Rodman was appointed for duty as Marine
Superintendent of the Panama Canal in 1914.
The distinguished passengers were returned to Key West on December 29 and Delaware
celebrated the New Year in New York for an overhaul that lasted until March 31, 1913. She
once again resumed her routine of maneuvers off Black Island Sound and the Virginia Capes.
She sailed from New York on May 31 to embark Midshipmen from Annapolis. Delaware
spent the summer training these men in waters off New York and Newport. The Middies were
debarked at Annapolis on August 24, and Delaware exercised in the Chesapeake Bay before
she put to sea from New York on October 2 in the company of battleships Wyoming (BB-32)
and Utah (BB-31) bound for Villefranche France. They paid a goodwill visit to the French
port from November 8-30, 1913.
She returned to Norfolk for voyage repairs and then practiced maneuvers in fleet battle
practice off Guantanamo Bay Cuba. Delaware then proceeded to Vera Cruz Mexico and there
from February 16 to March 5, 1914 where she “flew the flag” as a diplomatic signal to that city
during the crisis of the Mexican Revolution.
The Badger Madison Journal reported on the Atlantic Fleet February 1914. It offers a
snapshot of the fleet and the contemporaries of the Delaware at that time:
“OUR POWERFUL NORTH ATLANTIC FLEET
This is to be considered be the most powerful battle fleet in the world. Recently it returned from the
Mediterranean and left Hampton Roads for the south. During the last battle practice each of the vessels
made a record for herself while the flagship Wyoming (BB-32) broke the world's record at target
practice. The photograph shows the nine ships in the order in which they usually sail. The Wyoming is in
the lead at the right, and is followed by the Florida (BB-30), Utah (BB-31), Delaware (BB-28), North
Dakota (BB-29), South Carolina (BB-26), Rhode Island (BB-17), Georgia (BB-15), and New
The following battleships that were dispatched to Mexican waters included the:
Ohio (BB-12), Virginia (BB-13), Nebraska (BB-14), Connecticut (BB-18), Louisiana (BB-19),
Vermont (BB-20),Kansas (BB-21), Minnesota (BB-22), Mississippi (BB-23), Idaho (BB-24), New
Hampshire (BB-25), Michigan (BB-27), Arkansas (BB-33), New York (BB-34) & Texas (BB-35).”
Basing her operations from Norfolk during the next two years, she once more cruised off Vera
Cruz and Tuxpan Mexico protecting American interests during the periods July 8-October 9,
1914, and again, January 3- April 3, 1915.
Delaware anchored in the North River of New York with the entire Atlantic Fleet on May 17,
1915 for review by President Woodrow Wilson and was again reviewed the next day as she
passed out to sea with the Fleet. She engaged in operations off the Virginia Capes and an
extensive overhaul at the Norfolk Navy Yard from June 7, 1915- January 6, 1916. She
regained her sea legs with maneuvers off Cuba and fleet tactics off the New England coast.
Delaware’s dominance of the seas was to be short lived. By 1914, the Delaware class had
already been bypassed as the “most powerful class afloat”. In relatively short order,
succeeding improvements were made to the Florida class, (1909-1910) the Wyoming class (1910-
1912) and the New York class (1908-1914) ships, each more heavily armed and armored than its
Nevertheless there were critics. In November 1914, after the outbreak of the Great War, at
hearings conducted by Representative A. P. Gardner in the Senate Naval Affairs Committee,
military engineer Willard S. Isham was cited. He said, “The United States Ship Delaware (BB-28)
class, the most formidable type of Dreadnought and pride of the American Navy are nevertheless
inefficient for their lack of ability to scout an enemy position at sea. This type, as well as those now
building, is so far outclassed by ships of foreign nations that they are obsolete, and from a strategic
standpoint "no better than floating fortresses," in which speed and armament have been sacrificed
for armor plate. We possess no ships capable of operating at such a distance from our battle
fleet as to screen its formation and strength from the scout ships of an enemy.
Mr. Isham added, “Our battleships are defenseless in a fog or at night. Thirty-two of our
older battleships, carrying guns of equal or lesser power than those in the Idaho, are
inefficient for the purposes for which they were designed because they are outranged by
foreign ships having guns of superior range and possessing superior speed.”
A New York Tribune in February 1916 article cited, “Only 19 First Class capital ships
available for war, all based in the Atlantic Fleet”.
World War I
In 1917 Germany elected to resume full unrestricted submarine warfare. They anticipated this
would bring America into the war, but the Germans gambled that they could defeat Britain
by this means before the U.S. could mobilize. As the result of careful calculations, the German
high command firmly believed that their submarines could not only prevent the large scale
transportation of American troops across the Atlantic, but furthermore could also cut the sea
communications of her European enemies to such an extent as to force them to an early
surrender through lack of supplies from overseas. German planners estimated that if the
sunken tonnage exceeded 600,000 tons per month, Britain would be forced to sue for peace
after 5 to 6 months. The Germans hoped their submarines would be the decisive weapon to
win the war.
U.S. Naval Priorities:
In response the U.S. Navy set out to meet the following wartime challenges:
- Provide armed escort vessels for merchant convoys, capable of minimizing the submarine
- Provide the sea bridge to move the American Army to the Theater of Operations
- Reinforce the Grand Fleet with American Battleships
- Defeat the submarine through technology advancements (Sonar, Mines)
- Create a Naval Aviation arm to assist escort and scouting
- Augment the Army with Marines and Artillery
The main theater of World War I was the Western Front and in order to relieve the British
and European allies already on the frontline, the United States Navy was tasked with
transporting millions of American soldiers and supplies across the Atlantic to France as soon
as possible. The United States Navy was ill prepared for war though; the only solution was
to begin deploying whatever was available on convoy duty and arming merchantmen with
small naval guns and armed guard detachments.
Overseas American troop movements in our own transports began with the sailing of the
Tenadores, Saratoga, and Havana from New York, escorted by the U.S.S. Seattle, the U.S.S.
DeKalb (troop transport), and the destroyers Wilkes, Terry, and Roe, on June 14, 1917. The
movement grew at an astonishing pace, as the following table of aggregate troops transported
before the armistice demonstrates:
United States Navy transports - 911,000
Other United States ships - 41,500
British ships - 1,007,000
Other foreign ships, French, Italian, etc.- 121,000
Only the fastest vessels, such as the Leviathan, the Northern Pacific, and the Great Northern, were
allowed to go unescorted, their high speed being considered sufficient protection.
Within a few weeks after the United States entered with the World War its battleship force,
which had been cruising in Cuban waters, was sent to Chesapeake Bay. With the American
entry into the Great War on April 6, 1917 the Delaware was assigned to the Chesapeake Bay to
train five inch gunnery crews before their assignments to other naval craft as well as armed
merchant ships. Thirteen armed guard crews of five men each were trained simultaneously, as
well as a great number of apprentice firemen, seamen, and mechanics.
Some idea of the scope of the problem of training men may be gained from the fact that at war’
s start there were 70,000 men and officers in the Navy, whereas at the time of the armistice the
number had been increased to 538,000. In addition to keeping itself ready for service by
extensive maneuvers during most of the war, the battleship force was largely engaged in this
work of training. Recruits would be sent to the greatly expanded training stations on shore
for a short preliminary period of training and then to the battleships in Chesapeake Bay for a
finishing course of several weeks, including the actual firing of guns at target practice.
Finally, the men were transferred to ships in active service at sea. Delaware’s sister ship North
Dakota spent virtually the entire war in service as a training ship based stateside on the
The British First Sea Lord sent an urgent request to Washington for four coal burning
battleships to reinforce the Grand Fleet in July 1917. The Royal Navy was short of
manpower to face the growing submarine threat, and required experienced crews for its new
cruisers and destroyers. It planned to take five of its pre-Dreadnought battleships out of
commission and use their crews elsewhere. The American Battleships were to fill the gap left
The Americans had their own naval personnel problems. Many of the experienced and
trained gunnery crews from the battle fleet were lent to armed merchantmen to defend against
the submarine menace. The readiness of the battle fleet was lowered by their inexperienced
The Royal Navy request was initially rejected. The US Navy doctrine based on Alfred Thayer
Mahan’s theories was to keep the battle fleet concentrated. America had 14 modern
Dreadnought battleships at the outbreak of war in April 1917, but only 74 destroyers. These
were too few to screen the dreadnoughts and the other 23 pre-Dreadnought class battleships,
ten armored cruisers and 25 light cruisers of the fleet. The cost of the aggressive dreadnought
building campaign came at the expense of lesser ships in the years before the war.
America was wary of splitting its fleet with the possible threat of a two ocean war and an
unpredictable Japanese presence in the Pacific. The United States had already given up a
number of destroyers for convoy duty that were needed to screen the battleships. Destroyers
and other similar warships of the escort type were thought to be the most effective means of
sinking German submarines and protecting merchantmen so destroyer squadrons were based
in the British Isles. Battleships without the scouting and screening of destroyers were
vulnerable, and the destroyers were in short supply.
A visit to Britain by the two senior American Admirals gave grudging acknowledgement to
the notion of sending an advance force interposed between America and her enemy. They also
recognized that the nation would not tolerate a fleet that simply stayed home in a post war
budget battle. On November 7 the British request was approved.
The Grand Fleet
Delaware entered the Boston Navy Yard for voyage repairs on November 15, 1917 and joined
Battleship Division Nine at Lynhaven Roads on the 24th. She put to sea the following day in
company with battleships New York (BB-34), Wyoming (BB-32), and Florida (BB-30). Off the
Grand Banks the flotilla encountered 90 mile per hour gales and enormous seas. Ships boats
were crushed and hatches sprung.
They reached Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands on December 17 for duty with the Sixth
Battle Squadron, British Grand Fleet. Delaware and her consorts were greeted by British
Admiral Sir David Beatty and the crew of the HMS Queen Elizabeth. The American fleet was
placed under the operation control of the Admiralty. British flag signals, radio codes, tactical
maneuvering orders and fire control methods were adopted and Royal Navy signalmen were
lent to the ship to teach British methods.
Delaware anchored in the Forth River at Rosyth Scotland the next day and spent much of the
next six months protecting allied shipping in ocean lanes and approaches between that port
and the Orkney Islands. Target practice in Pentland Firth revealed shortcomings in gunnery
that fell short of British wartime standards. American rate of fire and accuracy needed much
Admiral Hugh Rodman was the American battleship force commander. He had previously
been the Captain of the Delaware (1912-1913). He had an amicable relationship with his
British colleagues. He and his American Captains were frequent dinner guests with Admiral
Beatty at Aberdour House in the Firth of Forth. The Americans were welcomed with a
baseball diamond and a couple of days off for the Fourth of July. Up to 200 of the crew were
given liberty on shore in relays. The Americans as guests on British ships complained that
they, “were too cold for men brought up in American homes. They were likewise poorly
ventilated by our standards.”
In their first sortie on their own, Delaware sailed with the squadron from the Orkney Islands
on February 6, 1918 as part of a supporting force of British Cruisers under Rodman’s
command for a convoy bound for the coast of Norway with an escort of eight British
destroyers. While waiting for the appearance of the returning convoy off Stavanger on
February 8, battleship Florida maneuvered to clear a torpedo wake and destroyers dropped
depth charges into the sea and another torpedo crossed ahead of Delaware by several hundred
yards. Three minutes later her lookout aloft reported the wake of a torpedo dead ahead of
Delaware who put her rudder hard left and passed just inside its wake. The destroyers drove
off the raiding U-Boat and she returned to Scapa Flow on February 10th. After the war,
German naval records revealed that no U-boats had attacked battleships that day off Norway.
The American squadron added USS Texas, a fifth battleship so the division could maintain
four ships on alert, allowing one to refit and repair as needed.
Delaware was a part of the escort for another convoy off the coast of Norway (March 8-12)
and then sailed with the Grand Fleet on April 24 to reinforce the 2d Battle Cruiser Squadron
which was on convoy duty and expected contact with the enemy. Only the vessels of the
advance screen made any contact, and the chance for sea action faded.
She stood out of Scapa Flow with the Sixth Battle Squadron on June 30, 1918, joined by a
submarine screen of British destroyers. This force was escorting the Mining Squadron into
the North Sea that afternoon when Delaware spotted the wake of a submarine periscope at 500
yards and let go with six rounds of 3-inch shells to discourage the enemy. The destroyers
moved in to drop depth charges and Delaware parted company with the Mining Squadron on
July 1, for return to Scapa Flow.
After six months of service the gunnery had been much improved. Rodman reported it as
“extremely fine, much better than we have ever done previously”. Admiral Beattie did not
agree. He regarded the Americans as “second string” and used them sparingly in operations.
They were assigned last in line, “where they were least likely to interfere with the movements
of the fleet.”
Delaware put to sea from Scapa Flow on July 6, 1918 with the Sixth Battle Squadron and
arrived at the Forth River anchorage of Rosyth on the 8th . King George V inspected the
ships of the squadron on July 22. Delaware cleared Rosyth after being relieved by Arkansas
(BB-33), on July 30, 1918 for her return to the United States after eight and half months on
station. She was escorted out to sea by the British destroyers Restless and Rowena, reaching
Hampton Roads on August 12.
During the early stages of the war the commerce of the allies was plagued by German cruiser
raiders. By 1917 these had all been accounted for, but there was always a possibility of others
escaping from Germany and raiding the important trans-Atlantic lines of communication.
After the adoption of the convoy system this danger was deemed to be even greater because of
the concentrated form in which raiders were likely to find their prey. It was for this reason
that convoys were escorted by cruisers during most of the trans-Atlantic passage. Toward the
latter part of the war, when it became more and more apparent that the German High Sea
Fleet did not intend to risk another fleet action, it was feared that the Germans might detach
one or more of their fast and very powerful battle cruisers for the purpose of raiding in the
North Atlantic. Against such a raider the ordinary cruiser escort would have been powerless,
and plans were therefore formulated to protect convoys with battleships should occasion arise.
Accordingly, a division of American battleships under Rear Admiral T.S. Rodgers, comprising
the Nevada, Oklahoma, and Utah, was dispatched to Berehaven, Ireland, and held in readiness
for this duty so soon as any reports were received of the escape of German battle cruisers. The
Germans failed to send out any battle-cruiser raiders and therefore this force had no
opportunity of engaging the enemy.
During the war, nine American battleships served in European waters, under the command
of Admiral Rodman, six with the grand fleet and three at Berehaven, Ireland. Not one ever
met the German High Seas fleet.
Delaware remained at York River until 12 November 1918, at war’s end. After overhaul in the
Boston Navy Yard and refresher training in the waters of Cuba she came off Annapolis on
June 4, 1919 to embark midshipmen for their summer training along the New England coast
until she put them ashore on August 28. She conducted exercises off Fort Pond Bay and
Newport and was in Hampton Roads on October 31 when she manned the rail for King
Albert of Belgium. She sailed from New York on December 6, 1919 to pick up Marines at
Philadelphia for transportation to Santo Domingo and Port au Prince Haiti. She was visited
by the President of the Republic of Haiti while in port on December 15 and after debarking
passengers at Philadelphia spent the Christmas holidays in Boston.
Delaware cleared port on January 6, 1920 to base her winter operations from Guantanamo Bay
and returned to New York on May 1 to prepare for another summer of training midshipmen
in waters off the New England coast. She then sailed to Boston for an overhaul (October 18-
January 3, 1921). Delaware returned to the Caribbean for Division Five Atlantic Fleet
maneuvers. She transited the Panama Canal on January 20, 1921 for battle practice with the
combined Atlantic and Pacific Battle Fleet bound for Callao Peru.
She returned to Hampton Roads for the Presidential Fleet Review of April 28, 1921 and spent
the next two years in operations from Boston to Norfolk, which included summer training
for midshipmen along the Northeast coast, winter operations off Cuba, and spring
maneuvers with the combined fleets off Panama Bay. She made two midshipmen practice
cruises, one to Colon, Martinique, and other ports in the Caribbean, and to Halifax, Nova
Scotia between 5 June and 31 August 1922.
In March, 1923 Delaware visited the Panama Canal. It was a platform for a fact finding junket,
evidently. In a letter dated March 15, to his wife Catherine, Delaware Senator L. Heisler Ball
wrote,” I am here on the Battleship Delaware about 100 miles out from Panama, on the Pacific Ocean.
Came out last evening, and we are to return tomorrow evening. Am having a wonderful time, enjoying
every minute of the time, eat three meals a day, and sleep all night. Tomorrow evening after returning on
the Delaware I rent a fishing boat with a half dozen others and we go out for a two days fishing trip which
am looking forward to with a great deal of pleasure. The weather is fine, just like a summer day, but
plenty cool enough to sleep at nights. The Canal is a wonderful engineering structure which can only be
appreciated when seen. Capt. McNeely is the Commander of the Delaware, and we are invited out to a late
dinner tonight with the other officers. The Captain gave his quarters to me so I have a fine room with bath,
just like asea in a first class hotel.”
A week later Ball added, “ Tomorrow morning at si thirty we sail from here for Kingston from there we
go to Port Antonia, I understand we drive across Jamaica from Kingston to Port Antonia to give us a good
view of the interior of the island. Then we go from there to Santiago Cuba then around Guantanamo, from
there to Port Au Prince, Santos Domingo – San Juan-St. Thomas and thence to Washington arriving April
14th. It has certainly been a wonderful trip. Last night we attended a grand reception hosted by the
president of Panama in our honor and had a wonderful time. Yesterday afternoon saw the inter-Battleship
sports and saw some fine mates - our boys from the Battleship Delaware winning the most of the contests,
which was a very gratifying time.”
Her last hurrah was a midshipmen cruise the summer of 1923 to Europe in company with
battleships Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota. Departing Hampton Roads on June 9th, she
paid port calls at Copenhagen Denmark Greenock Scotland, Cadiz Spain, and Gibraltar. She
debarked her middies at Annapolis on August 28th .
With the signing of the Washington Naval Treaty earlier that year, the US Navy agreed to
tonnage limits for the fleet. As part of the treaty, the United States agreed to scrap Delaware
and North Dakota upon the completion of USS Colorado (BB-45) and USS West Virginia (BB-48).
Delaware entered Norfolk Navy Yard August 30, 1923, and her crew was transferred to
Colorado (BB-45), a newly commissioned battleship assigned to replace Delaware in the Fleet.
Delaware was visited by the American Legion Delegates at Marble Head Massachusetts
(September 3-10). Moving to Boston Navy Yard in September, she was stripped of warlike
She entered Boston Navy Yard on September 10 to prepare for inactivation and was
decommissioned on November 10, 1923. Her name was stricken from the active list Navy list
on November 27 and she was sold for scrap on February 5, 1924 to the Boston Iron and Metal
Company for $231,862.50, and scrapped in accordance with the Washington Treaty on the
limitation of armaments.
The U.S.S. Delaware had a short service life of only fifteen years. Born as a “state of the art”
weapon, she was quickly obsolescent in a period of rapid technological progress stressed by
the fact of war. In her combat career, she barely fired a shot in anger, and then only defensive
fire from her secondary guns. The battleship was trumped by the submarine as the enemy’s
decisive sea weapon. Indeed, the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare was the very
cause of the entry of the United States onto the war.
She had been designed as a speedy heavyweight to trade blows with the enemy, but the
enemy rarely appeared and Delaware never met her designated foe. She was never given the
chance to show her stuff in a grand battle of opposing fleets. Nevertheless, Delaware served a
useful purpose, primarily as a ship “in being”. Her presence alone as a powerful warship
aided the conflict in Mexico. Under her mighty guns, other allied ships could do their job of
moving men and materiel without fear along the coast of Mexico.
Joining the British Grand Fleet in Scapa Flow, her very presence added to the weight of allied
sea power, bottling up the Germans in their home waters. Her place in the battle fleet made a
contribution to the successful blockade of goods to the Central Powers. Had there been no
Delaware, or no superior allied fleet, German surface raiders would have cut the sea lanes that
provided the materiel of war for the Allies. The German submarine force very nearly managed
to do this all by themselves. One can conclude that Delaware made a positive contribution to
the war effort, and was a useful deterrent during peacetime.
She performed the tasks of a capital warship, showing the flag, training young officers,
engaging in soft power diplomacy as the “big stick”. Delaware served only fifteen years, but
her time with the fleet filled every Delawarean with patriotic pride.
U.S.S. Delaware (BB-28) Commanding Officers
Captain Charles A. Gove, USN 4 April 1910 - 20 Nov 1911
Captain John Hood, USN 20 Nov 1911 – 24 Oct 1912
Captain Hugh Rodman, USN 24 Oct 1912 – 22 Dec 1913
Captain William L. Rodgers, USN 22 Dec 1913 – 15 Jun 1915
Captain William Gill, USN 15 Jun 1915 – 27 May 1916
Captain Archibald H. Scales, USN 27 May 1916 – 29 Nov 1918
Commander John S. Abbott USN (Temp.) 29 Nov 1918 – 14 Dec 1918
Captain Charles F. Preston USN 14 Dec 1918 – 21 Jul 1919
Captain Reginald R. Belknap USN 21 Jul 1919 – 23 May 1920
Captain John T. Tompkins USN 23 may 1920 - 31 Dec 1922
Captain Robert W. McNelly USN 31 Dec 1922 – 11 Sep 1923
Commander Vaughan K. Coman USN 11 Sep 1923 – 10 Nov 1923
Navy Department, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations
“History of Ships Named Delaware” Division of Naval History (IP 09B9), Ship’s Histories
Section, Historical Society of Delaware
"Delaware". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History
& Heritage Command.
US Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command (10 May 2000). "USN Ship Types-
Evening Journal, “Silver Service, Portraits and Flags Presented to Battleship Delaware”
Wilmington Delaware, October 5, 1910,
Feuer, A. B. The U.S. Navy in World War I, . Praeger, Westport, Connecticut, 1999
Knox, Capt. Dudley W., American Naval Participation in the Great War
(With Special Reference to the European Theater of Operations), The Navy Department
Massie, Robert K. “Dreadnought, Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War”,
Random House New York 1991
Massie, Robert K. “Castles of Steel, Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at
Sea”, Random House, New York, 2003
Wilson Emerson, “6 Navy Ships Bore Name of Delaware, Vessels’ Tale Spans Century and
Half”, Evening Journal, Wilmington Delaware, April 17, 1965,
Correspondence: Letters of L. Heisler Ball, Delaware Historical Society
|Delaware Military History