The Laird Rams: Warships in Transition 1862-1885
English, Andrew Ramsey
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
The Laird rams, built from 1862-1865, reflected concepts of naval power in transition from the broadside of multiple guns, to the rotating turret with only a few very heavy pieces of ordnance. These two ironclads were experiments built around the two new offensive concepts for armoured warships at that time: the ram and the turret. These sister armourclads were a collection of innovative designs and compromises packed into smaller spaces. A result of the design leap forward was they suffered from too much, too soon, in too limited a hull area. The turret ships were designed and built rapidly for a Confederate Navy desperate for effective warships. As a result of this urgency, the pair of twin turreted armoured rams began as experimental warships and continued in that mode for the next thirty five years. They were armoured ships built in secrecy, then floated on the Mersey under the gaze of international scrutiny and suddenly purchased by Britain to avoid a war with the United States. Once purchased, they were largely forgotten. Historians rarely mention these two sister ironclads and if mentioned at all, they are given short shrift. Built with funds obtained in part through the Confederate Erlanger loan, these ironclads were constructed at Lairds shipyard in Birkenhead and represented an advanced concept of ironclad construction through new proposals involving turrets, the ram, heavy guns and tripod masts on an armoured ship, as advocated by Captain Cowper Coles, R.N. They proved too much of a leap in one design but when their roles caught up to the revised designs, the ships were modified to meet new requirements. After several mission and design changes they then performed to standard. This belated success occurred when the concept of the ideal armoured warship was in flux throughout the middle Victorian years.
PhD in Maritime History