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The cruiser USS Olympia helped the US wipe out the powerful Spanish fleet

When the cruiser USS Olympia entered service with the US Navy in January 1895, she was expected to withstand heavy attack thanks to her high speed, thick steel hull and powerful firepower. Many people think it has too much firepower for its size and nickname the USS Olympia the “Pepper Warship”.

In fact, this battleship wiped out an enemy fleet and then conducted coastal bombardment and escort duties during its 27 years of service.

Painting of the USS Olympia during the Battle of Manila Bay on April 27, 1898. Image: Wikipedia.

At the end of the 19th century, the US was struggling to find a direction for naval development for the years to come. The naval battles of Merrimack and Monitor during the American Civil War showed that wooden ships were becoming obsolete, while the emergence of steel ships made even iron-hulled battleships difficult to survive. In terms of the propulsion system, the mast was a cheap and effective method, but the steam engine showed a clear advantage, giving the commander more flexible options in battle.

The US Navy must build coastal defense ships on a tight budget while being prepared to serve the power projection goal cherished by many presidents.

To meet these demands, the US Navy decided to build an entirely new fleet of steel-hulled cruisers, fitted with steam engines but still with masts to take advantage of the wind when needed.

Due to a tight budget, the ships will focus on firepower and maneuverability rather than sporting thick steel armor like European warships of the same era. These cruisers were able to get ahead of the enemy fleet by shelling the enemy flagship while out of range of other ships.

The star of this new fleet was the C-6, the battlecruiser launched in 1892 and commissioned a year later as the USS Olympia, named after the state capital of Washington at the time.

The USS Olympia meets all the requirements of the new naval development plan. The ship is 104 m long, 16 m wide and has a displacement of 6,694 tons at full load. Equipped with two steam engines and 6 boilers, it could reach a speed of 40 km/h, while most warships of the time only had a top speed of 33 km/h.

It is armed with four main 203mm Mark 4 guns in the bow and stern turrets. In addition, USS Olympia is equipped with 10 127mm Mark 2 guns, 14 57mm guns, 6 37mm guns and 4 Gatling machine guns, as well as 6 450mm torpedo tubes.

Some observers at the time criticized the design, arguing that it was too heavily armed for a cruiser and was no different from a miniature battleship.

The USS Olympia was deployed in the Pacific Ocean before the cruiser USS Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor in February 1898. The United States declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898 after accusing it of attacking the USS Maine, although the explosion occurred later than a munitions-carrying casualty noted.

The squadron, led by the USS Olympia under the command of Admiral George Dewey, was sent to Manila Bay, Philippines on April 27, 1898 to engage the Spanish fleet there. The American cruiser was supposed to break through the Spanish coastal guns and attack the enemy fleet with superior firepower.

USS Olympia as a museum ship in Philadelphia 2007. Photo: Wikipedia.

The American fleet moves in two lines behind the USS Olympia as she approaches the battlefield. Admiral Dewey ordered his ships not to fire before dawn, and they spotted the enemy fleet’s position, although this could result in American forces being spotted and intercepted during the night.

The Spanish fleet was then anchored near shore under the protection of coastal defense guns. In the early morning of May 1, two ships of the US fleet were suddenly attacked and had to return fire, but the rest still entered the bay without firing any guns. The group of American ships received a barrage of Spanish artillery until they were within effective range and firing angles when Admiral Dewey ordered the captain of the USS Olympia to open fire.

The Spanish warships and defensive guns were less accurate than the American ones, causing the battle to quickly tip in favor of the USS Olympia group of ships. The American fleet sank every enemy warship and captured Manila harbor within hours. Nine American sailors were wounded and had no material loss, while the Spanish lost their entire fleet with 161 dead and 210 wounded.

USS Olympia and Admiral Dewey rose to fame after the battle. American cruisers continued to be used as escort cruisers during World War I. She took part in coastal bombardments and supported the amphibious assault on Murmansk during the Russian Civil War in 1918.

However, the USS Olympia could not compete with modern warships after World War I and was decommissioned in 1922 to become a museum for visitors to Philadelphia since 1958.

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