The 19th Century Military Technology of the Lajta Monitor

This is our entry in Dutch goes the Photo!’s Tuesday Photo Challenge — Technology.

When we were in Budapest this April, we took a one hour tourist cruise on the Danube to help us locate the major attractions. As we were passing the Parliament building, our jaws dropped when we saw a ship that is known to every student of the American Civil War — a monitor. When they were built, monitors were the most technologically advanced ships ever seen. They were constructed of metal rather than wood, sailed low in the water to expose a minimal target, and had a rotating turret that allowed the guns to be aimed without turning the ship.

A few days later, we toured the ship — the SMS Leitha (or Lajta Monitor) — on a rather cold and rainy day.  The Leitha is closely based on the 1861 design of the USS Monitor and was in service as a warship from 1871 to 1921. After that, the guns were removed and it was used to haul gravel.  The ship was rediscovered more that 80 years later and restored to its 1871 configuration. After the 19th century, monitors saw action in World Wars I and II and ships derived from the design were even used in Vietnam. It was pretty stunning to learn how advanced monitor ships were and how long they were in service. It was fascinating to explore a ship so close to one of the most famous ships in the Civil War (the Huntley and the CSS Virginia would be the others).

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