She launched 120 years ago — Ultra High Relief Twenty-Dollar Gold Coin

Today, the Ultra High Relief Twenty-Dollar Gold Coin remembers the launch of the battleship Alabama near Philadelphia on May 18, 1898.

From the United States Naval Institute Proceedings, Volume 26, published in 1900:


The First-Class Battleship Alabama.

The Alabama, whose record of 17 knots an hour on her recent official trip, places her at the front rank of our battleships for speed, will always be a vessel of particular interest, from the fact that in her we see the introduction of a new type in the United States navy.

Comparing her with the Oregon, the Iowa or the Kearsarge, the most noticeable difference is the entire absence of the 8-inch gun.

Hitherto our battleships have been distinguished from those of other navies largely by the fact that they carried a much heavier armament, due chiefly to the presence on board of a complete battery of guns which were intermediate in power between the main battery of 12-inch and 13-inch guns, and the secondary battery of rapid-fire guns of 5-inch and 6-inch caliber.

The battleships of Great Britain. France and Germany, and with a few exceptions of Russia, have carried no guns of a caliber between the 12-inch and the 6-inch weapons, and in the Alabama we see the first disposition on the part of our naval constructors to follow the European practice.

Although the absence of the 8-inch gun is very sincerely regretted by most of our officers of the line, it cannot be denied that in the Alabama the heavy secondary battery of 6-inch guns, on account of its rapidity of fire and the enormous weight of metal which can be thrown in a specified time, goes far to offset the removal of the very popular 8-inch breech-loading rifle.

The Alabama was authorized June 10, 1896; the contract for her construction by the William Cramp & Sons Ship and Engine Building Company was signed the following September; the keel was laid the December of the same year, and the vessel was launched on May 18. 1898, and has now been completed about eleven months later than the contract date, the delay being due to the failure of the builders, on account of the armor-plate controversy, to receive the necessary armor during the construction of the ship.

The vessel is 360 feet long, 72 feet 2.5 inches broad, and has a mean draft, when fully equipped for sea, and with 800 tons of coal on board, of 23 feet 6 inches.

Her displacement on the draft given is 11,565 tons.

She is driven by twin-screw, vertical, triple-expansion engines, and steam is supplied by boilers of the Scotch type.

Her normal coal supply is 800 tons and her bunker capacity with nominal loose stowage is 1200 tons, while with close stowage she can hold 1440 tons in the bunkers.

As compared with the Kentucky and Kearsarge, she has about 8 feet more freeboard, due to a spar deck which extends from the bow about two-thirds of the way out.

Her protection consists of a belt of Harveyized armor of a maximum thickness of 16.5 inches, which tapers toward the bow and stern.

Above the belt, amidships, side armor of 6 inches is carried up to enclose and protect the guns of the secondary battery.

The main battery of four 13-inch guns is carried in elliptical balanced turrets which have 14 inches of armor protection.

The secondary battery is extremely powerful and consists of fourteen 6-inch rapid-fire guns, twelve of which are carried on the main deck and two on the boat deck amidships.

She is also armored with sixteen 6-pounders. six 1-pounders, four Colts, and two 3-inch field guns.

She is fitted with four tubes for the discharge of Whitehead torpedoes.

In various articles on naval matters which have appeared from time to time in the Scientific American, we have described and illustrated, with sectional views, the structural features of the barbette of a modern warship; but we think that the most knowing of the naval “sharps” among our readers will be able to learn something from the accompanying illustration showing the interior of a barbette before the turret was installed.

The photograph from which our plate was made is one of a series of   photographs which were filed with the Chief Constructor of the Navy during the construction of the Alabama.

It was taken from the after end of the superstructure, the deck upon which the people around the edge of the barbette are standing being the main deck.

The barbette is a vertical, cylindrical, heavily armored redoubt, which extends from the protective deck to a height of 3 feet 8 inches above the main deck.

The duty of this redoubt is to protect the unarmored base of the turret, the mechanism by which it is rotated, and the hoist by which the ammunition is brought up to the guns.

Within this cylinder, which is about 12.5 feet in depth, is located a circular track upon which is a circle of twenty-one conical rollers, which are held in their proper spacing and radial position by means of two concentric rings, firmly braced together, as clearly seen in the illustration.

Upon these rollers is carried the whole weight of the turret, the guns and their mounts, a total of 277 tons.

The lower half of the turret is in the form of a circular-inverted cone and is unarmored; the upper and armored portion of the turret is elliptical in plan, and the rear portion of it projects over the top edge of the barbette, enough space being left between the turret and barbette for easy clearance in turning.

The barbette is protected for two-thirds of its circumference with 14 inches of Harveyized armor, the remaining one-third, or the portion which is nearest to the point of view from which the photograph was taken, is protected with 10 inches of armor, less protection being needed on this portion of the barbette because it is screened by the 6-inch side armor on the hull of the vessel.

The armor is bolted to a backing of teak, within which is 1 inch of steel plating attached to a heavy framing of steel beams, angles and channel beams.

The internal diameter of the barbette is 27 feet.

Immediately within and below the circle of rollers is seen the massive circular rack which forms part of the turning mechanism of the turret, rotation being effected by means of two electric motors carried in the base of the turret.

The shafts of these motors are connected by suitable gearing with pinions which engage the circular rack; and the training of the great weight of the turret and guns is accomplished with a speed and accuracy which are impossible when hydraulic, compressed air, or steam motors are used.

The after barbette of the Alabama contains altogether 26 tons of armor. The total weight of the installment, including turrets and guns, is 783 tons.

The forward barbette and turret, however, are much heavier, the total weight in this case being 978 tons. This increase is due to the fact that the Alabama carries her forward guns above the spar deck, and, therefore, some 7.5 feet to 8 feet higher above the water-line than the after pair of guns, the increase in weight being due entirely to the increased height of the barbette. — Scientific American, Sept. 8, 1900.


The Ultra High Relief Twenty-Dollar Gold Coin shows with an image of one of the Alabama’s barbettes under construction and an image of the finished ship.

Ultra High Relief Twenty-Dollar Gold Coin