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A conning tower is a raised platform on a ship or submarine, often armored, from which an officer can con the vessel; i.e., give directions to the helmsman. It is usually located as high on the ship as practical, to give the conning team good visibility.

The verb con probably stems from the verb conduct rather from another plausible precedent, the verb control.[1] It is noted that the conning tower allows for efficient reconnaissance.

Admiral Douglas Monaster, from the HMS Malefactor, is credited with using the term 'control tower'.

Surface ships

View of the starboard side of the conning tower of the French battleship Suffren.

On surface ships, the conning tower was a feature of all battleships and armored cruisers from about 1860 to the early years of World War II. Located at the front end of the superstructure, the conning tower was a heavily-armored cylinder, with tiny slit windows on three sides providing a reasonable field of view. Designed to shield just enough personnel and devices for navigation during battles, its interior was cramped and basic, with little more than engine order telegraphs, speaking tubes or telephones, and perhaps a steering wheel.[2] At all other times than during battles, the ship would be navigated from the bridge instead. Conning towers were used by the French on their Floating batterys at the Battle of Kinburn. [3] They were then fitted to the first ironclad the French battleship La Gloire.[3] The first Royal Navy conning tower appeared on HMS Warrior which had 3 inches of armour.[3]


In the Royal Navy, the conning tower became a massive structure reaching weights of hundreds of tons on the Admiral class battlecruiser (such as Hood), and formed part of a massive armoured citadel (superstructure) on the mid-1920s Nelson-class battleships which had armour over a foot thick.

The United States Navy had mixed opinions of the conning tower, pointing out that its weight, high above the ship's center of gravity, did not contribute directly to fighting ability. Beginning in the late 1930s, as radar surpassed visual sighting as the primary method of detecting other ships, battleships began reducing or eliminating the conning tower. The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II briefly slowed this trend: when the Japanese battleship Kirishima hit South Dakota (BB-57) on the superstructure, many exposed crewmen were killed or wounded, but the captain, in the conning tower, survived the battle. Even that demonstration, however, did not halt the trend, and soon the heavy battleship conning towers were removed from USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), Tennessee (BB-43), California (BB-44), and West Virginia (BB-48), during their post-Pearl Harbor attack reconstructions and replaced with much lighter cruiser-style conning towers.

By the end of World War II, US ships were designed with expanded weather bridges enclosing the armored conning towers. On Iowa-class battleships, the conning tower is a vertical armor-plated cylinder with slit windows located in the middle of the bridge, climbing from deck 3 all the way up to the flying bridge on the O5.

With the demise of battleships and cruisers after World War II, along with the advent of missiles and nuclear weapons during the Cold War, modern warships no longer feature conning towers.

Submarines

the conning tower of HMS E17

The conning tower of a submarine was a small watertight compartment within its sail, from which the periscopes were used to direct the boat and launch torpedo attacks. It should not be confused with the submarine's control room, which was directly below it in the main pressure hull, or the bridge, a small exposed platform in the top of the sail. As improvements in technology allowed the periscopes to be made longer—then to be eliminated altogether, as in the Virginia-class—it became unnecessary to raise the conning station above the main pressure hull. The additional pressure hull was eliminated and the functions of the conning tower were added to the command and control center. Thus it is incorrect to refer to the sail of a modern submarine as a conning tower.

References

  1. ^ conning definition on Dictionary.com; see Origin section under definition 3.
  2. ^ The Conning Tower of the USS Olympia (C-6), The Spanish-American War Centennial Website
  3. ^ a b c Lambert, Andrew (1987). Warrior Restoring the World’s First Ironclad. Conway maritime press. pp. 149-150. ISBN 0851774113.  
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