The Dictator Class Dictator And Puritan

With the success of the original Monitor, the Navy Department's concern was primarily with production. Contracts for monitors were spread far and wide, and as service experience indicated design modifications, they were incorporated into the ships under construction.

Although Ericsson was interested in this phase, and worked on it as required (somewhat to the concern of his partners, who saw this as an effort at times competitive to their own), his real interest was in the Dictator, and its sister ship, the Puritan.

The Dictator was a seagoing ship (rather than a shallow-draft "floating battery"), 312 feet long and with a draft of 21 feet. In the face of considerable pressure from the Navy Department, Ericsson insisted on retaining the single turret with an almost 360-degree field of fire, the basic feature of the monitor type. By this time, the single-turret concept was the subject of considerable controversy on both sides of the Atlantic. The argument against the single turret was simply that two guns are better than one (or in this case, four guns are better than two); once having constructed a hull, engines, etc., two turrets could be mounted upon it for only a relatively small total increase in weight. The argument was extended to justify casemated ships carrying even more guns. Ericsson refuted this by pointing out that the weight increase required for an extra turret could be utilized more profitably in building a still larger gun and heavier armor, so that a single-turret ship always would be more powerful than a multiple-turret or casemate ship of the same tonnage.

As usual he was right from a strictly engineering point of view, but, as his opponents were quick to reply, this argument ignored some of the operational realities of the situation: the turret could be jammed, an explosion inside the turret could occur, the ammunition hoist could break down, any number of chance malfunctions could put the turret out of action and render the entire ship harmless; whereas with two turrets, this chance factor was halved, and with a casemate, the factor diminished even further.

In subsequent warship development, the multiple-gun principle was adopted universally, although with the advent of the HMS Dreadnought there was a return to Ericsson's concept of a few really powerful guns, at least in principle. But of course this occurred only after enormous strides had been made in the efficiency of warship construction.

The Dictator was somewhat less than a complete success. She was found to be less buoyant than intended, and consequently her planned speed of 16 knots was cut to 12, and she could carry only half of her planned coal supply. Although her turret operated satisfactorily at sea, and she steered well, she was not considered capable of fighting contemporary battleships at sea, and so reverted to the typical monitor role of a coast defense ship, where her deep draft hampered her effective use.

The Puritan was even less of a success. The Navy Department insisted that she be built with two turrets, much to Ericsson's disgust. Eventually, his single turret principle prevailed, however, and she was finally built with an enormous turret mounting two 20-inch guns. The end of the war found her still incomplete. Work was resumed on her in 1874, and was stopped again. She was eventually completed in 1898 as a coast defense battleship, but by that time little remained of the original Puritan except the name.

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