Odd Historic Moments that Are Almost too Weird to Handle
Odd Historic Moments that Are Almost too Weird to Handle

Odd Historic Moments that Are Almost too Weird to Handle

Khalid Elhassan - May 31, 2021

Odd Historic Moments that Are Almost too Weird to Handle
The Novgorod in 1873, a few days before her launch. Wikimedia

4. The Bizarre Russian Ship

In 1874, the Imperial Russian Navy commissioned one of history’s most bizarre warships, the monitor ship Novgorod. It featured a circular hull, and gained one of the poorest reputations ever attached to a ship. The idea behind the round hull was to give her as shallow a draft as possible, and allow her to carry a heavier weight of armor and weapons than other ships of a similar size but conventional designs. It turned out to be one of modern history’s worst designed warships. A 2500-ton vessel, it was powered by six steam engines that drove six propeller screws, and was so clumsy that contemporaries compared it to a floating soup dish.

Odd Historic Moments that Are Almost too Weird to Handle
The Novgorod shortly after her launch in 1873. English Russia

On the plus side, the Novgorod was largely immune to ramming – a common tactic back then. It featured an armored belt that was nine-inches thick, its round shape deflected strikes, and its vital components were well inside the hull. It sported a pair of eleven-inch guns, which were powerful for the era. Its shape and flat bottom also gave it a draft of only twelve feet, which allowed it to operate close to the coastline in shallow waters. That was about it for the ship’s advantages. As seen below, they were greatly outweighed by the disadvantages.

Odd Historic Moments that Are Almost too Weird to Handle
The Novgorod. MN Modular

3. This Weird Ship’s Design Defects Were Matched by Terrible Manufacturing Defects

The bizarre circular hull of the Novgorod played havoc with the rudder’s ability to steer the ship or turn it around. In a storm, she was unsteerable, and even in calm weather, it took 45 minutes for the ship to make a full circle. On top of that, in rough seas the wide flat bottom made the vessel susceptible to pitching so severe that the propellers came out of the water. The blunt hull did not slice through water so as to reduce its resistance, but pushed large volumes of water out of the way by sheer brute force.

The preceding made the ship very fuel-inefficient, and caused it to consume coal at a prodigious rate. In addition to design defects, the Novgorod was plagued with sundry manufacturing defects. Low quality materials and poor workmanship led to persistent recurring problems with the ship’s propulsion, from blades to shaft to drive, that lasted for the vessel’s entire career. Additionally, she suffered from poor ventilation that no amount of troubleshooting could fix, even after ventilation cowls were installed on the gun emplacements.

Odd Historic Moments that Are Almost too Weird to Handle
The Novgorod. Imgur

2. Firing Her Guns Made The Novgorod Spin Like a Top

The Novgorod not only looked weird and handled bad, it also sucked at it the core mission of a warship: she was a poor fighting platform. The ship’s pair of eleven-inch had a muzzle velocity of 1290 feet per second, and could punch through eleven inches of armor at 800 yards – respectable for that era. However, the guns had an exceptionally slow rate of fire: it took them ten minutes to let off a shot. The rotating mounts on which the guns were placed were also slow, and took three minutes to traverse 180 degrees.

The problem was exacerbated by weak locks, that caused the gun mounts to rotate on their own from the guns’ recoil. To add to her woes, the guns’ firing caused the ship to rotate uncontrollably, like something out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Because the flat-bottomed vessel had no stabilizing keel to keep her in line and keep her guns pointed towards the target, the only solution was to moor the Novgorod in a fixed position. That effectively transformed her from a ship to a floating fortress anchored in place, with her guns pointed seaward.

Odd Historic Moments that Are Almost too Weird to Handle
Model of the Novgorod. National Maritime Museum

1. The Russians Could Tried to Palm this Bizarre Ship Off on the Bulgarians, but they Were Not Interested

The Novgorod and other round hulls were summarized thus by a naval historian: “they were a dismal failure. They were too slow to stem the current in the Dniepr, and proved very difficult to steer. In practice the discharge of even one gun caused them to turn out of control and even contra-rotating some of six propellers was unable to keep the ship on the correct heading. Nor could they cope with the rough weather which is frequently encountered in the Black Sea. They were prone to rapid rolling and pitching in anything more than a flat calm, and could not aim or load their guns under such circumstances“.

During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 – 1878, the Novgorod was assigned to the defense of Odessa in the Black Sea. It was discovered that her outer engines contributed little to her performance, so they were removed. The modifications brought her already low speed lower down still, to a mere 6 knots (6.9 miles per hour). After the war, she was stationed in Sevastopol, where she deteriorated and gathered rust until she was finally stricken from the Navy list in 1903. The Russians tried to sell her to Bulgaria in 1908, but the Bulgarians were uninterested in the bizarre ship, so it was sold for scrap in 1911.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Booth, Martin – A Magick Life: The Biography of Aleister Crowley (2000)

Curious Rambler – Boney Napoleon Scares British Children

Encyclopedia Britannica – Bela I, King of Hungary

Gerard, Frances – The Romance of King Ludwig II of Bavaria: His Relations With Wagner and His Bavarian Fairy Palaces (1901)

History Answers – Napoleon’s Battle Against Rabbits

History Collection – Mass Hysteria Outbreaks

Independent, The, January 5th, 2015 – Nazi Super Cows: British Farmer Forced to Destroy Half His Murderous Herd of Bio-Engineered Heck Cows After They Try to Kill Staff

Jewish Encyclopedia – Eleazar

Mental Floss – The Time Napoleon Was Attacked by Rabbits

Military Factory – Novgorod: Circular Monitor Ironclad Warship, 1874

Preston, Antony – The World’s Worst Warships (2002)

Scullard, Howard Hayes – The Elephant in the Greek and Roman World (1974)

Smithsonian Magazine, July 2nd, 2015 – The Great Moon Hoax Was Simply a Sign of its Times

Vice – Whatever Happened to Imelda Marcos’ 3000 Pairs of Shoes?

Wikipedia – Michael Malloy

Wikipedia – Phonebooth Stuffing

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