On the Present Position of Cruisers in Naval Warfare
"On the Present Position of Cruisers in Naval Warfare" was a paper given by Rear-Admiral Samuel Long to the Spring Meeting of the Institution of Naval Architects on 23 March, 1893. Sadly, Admiral Long died just a month later following a riding accident.
Being requested by the Council of this Institution to contribute a paper to your annual meeting, it occurred to me that, in view of the approaching completion of the "Hamilton" programme, comprising no less than 41 vessels classified as cruisers, the work such vessels are likely to be called upon to perform in case of war might advantageously be brought before you.
It is true that Lord Brassey, in his valuable paper, "On the Future Policy of War-ship Building," read here in 1891, has already treated the subject from a statesman's point of view, while previous papers from Sir Edward Reed, K.C.B., F.R.S., at the Royal United Service Institution, from Mr. W. H. White, C.B., F.R.S. (whose paper, entitled "Notes on recent Naval Manœuvres," read April, 1890, contains all information available concerning the sea-going qualities of various types of war-ships), and Mr. Biles, Sir N. Barnaby, K.C.B., Mr. Watts, Mr. Durston, and Mr. Seaton, here, with the discussions thereon, exhibit the salient points of the constructive and engineering aspects of cruisers. There are, however, some points connected with their use which, falling within the province of a naval officer, it is hoped may be of sufficient interest to merit your attention, and, perhaps, to assist in forming a correct judgment on the subject of our requirements.
In order to avoid exaggerating the importance of any class of war-ship and to truly exhibit the functions it is called upon to perform, it must be noticed that a policy of construction implies the existence as its basis of a strategic plan, in the formation of which the naval strategist is largely dependent on the teaching of history.
Naval warfare as practised in the European wars ending in 1815 has been the theme of many historians, and its importance to this country was emphasised by Sir A. Alison, when he stated that "at Waterloo England fought for victory, at Trafalgar for existence." Many of our statesmen, notably Lord Brassey, Sir C. Dilke, and Sir J. Colomb, have done much to enlighten their countrymen as to the measures needed to defend the British Empire and trade in its present unexampled position, but a naval officer, Captain Mahan, United States Navy, may, perhaps, claim to be the first who has set forth in a clear, terse, and accessible manner the part played by sea power in the development of nations, and his works "on the Influence of Sea Power on History" should be read by everyone interested in the prosperity of the British Empire.
Vice-Admiral Colomb's work on Naval Warfare is likewise of great value, and these authorities concur in accepting Admiral Earl St. Vincent's strategy as still applicable to the present time, a view adopted by the umpires of the 1888 manœuvres, and by Rear-Admiral Cleveland in his essay on the subject contributed to the Royal United Service Institution.
Earl St. Vincent's strategy, which, as Admiral Colomb puts it, implies that in war time the enemy's coast is your frontier, involves blockade by fleets, following of escaped cruisers, and convoy of slow steamers, as means to securing that sea power which is only to be gained by making the war-ships of the enemy the objective in war, and cannot be obtained by the destruction of commerce.
The fleet may be divided for strategical purposes into battle-ships, cruisers, and vessels intended for service in the narrow seas.[* Compare Mons. L. E. Bertin's work, "Etat actuel de la Marine de Guerre."]
Cruisers, though secondary in importance to battle-ships, are indispensable accessories to them, and are the successors of the frigates and corvettes of former days; but the change of motive power from sails to steam, involving the entire dependence of our war-ships on coal supply, accompanied by radical changes in the number and power of weapons, renders it necessary to notice one or two resulting modifications in the vessels of to-day.
Steam replacing sails as a motive power claims a far larger share of the displacement allotted to the naval designer than its predecessor. As an example, the Vernon frigate may be compared with the third-class cruiser Pearl of nearly the same displacement.
The comparative weights and displacements are as follow :—Vernon, 2,500 tons, Pearl, 2,575 tons. Vernon's masts, rigging, sails, and accessories, 160 tons, ballast 80 tons, which, if included as a necessary, makes a total of 240 tons. Pearl's engines and boilers, including water in condensers and feed tanks, weigh 485 tons, which with 300 tons of coal makes a total of 785 tons, so that, if both vessels were equipped for sea, 9.6 per cent, of Vernon's and 30.6 per cent, of Pearl's weight are respectively devoted to propulsion.
The late Mr. Scott Russell devotes a chapter of his work on naval architecture to this subject, and states that in 1865 he had concluded that a full-powered fast steam merchantman could scarcely be expected to pay unless her tonnage reached one ton for each mile she had to perform under steam at high speed and full power.
Thus it would seem that no arguments as to dimensions based on the practice of sailing days are applicable to the requirements of a fleet propelled by steam, leaving out of account the claim of protective armour to a share of displacement.
Steam has also compelled the naval strategist to recognise the important influence the limits and character of a theatre of war may exercise on the type of vessel most suitable for service therein. In former days a small sailing vessel built for speed and endowed with a large area of canvas was sure to outsail the larger and heavier war-ships, and could continue to do so in average weather across any extent of ocean. The fast torpedo-boat catcher of to-day, with a speed of 26 to 27 knots, can outstrip any other vessel in smooth water. There is, however, a limiting condition of sea under which this speed cannot be maintained, besides which the supply of coal is too small to allow of its maintenance for more than a short time, under any circumstances, without replenishing coal supply. Moreover, such vessels are devoid of protection.
At the same time the invention of the locomotive torpedo by Mr. Whitehead, has rendered small vessels capable of inflicting serious, if not fatal, injury on large ones. Such vessels are formidable only by contrast with the more costly ones they can assail under cover of darkness or thick weather; nevertheless, if fleets are to operate in narrow seas and on hostile coasts, a special flotilla will be required to act in concert with them, and such a flotilla can, it would seem, act most advantageously from a base of its own, so that, while co-operating with, it should be independent as regards supplies, of the fleet to whose movements it is subordinate. A war fleet falls, then, conveniently into three categories :—battle-ships, cruisers, and coast flotillas. Battle-ships are the most important, take longest to build, and constitute the backbone of the fleet, while requiring the co-operation of the other classes. Cruisers as a class comprehend a great variety of ships with displacements varying in our own navy from the Blake of 9,000 tons to the Pearl of 2,575, and in foreign navies from the Russian Rurik of 10,923 to the French Cosmao of 1,877 tons. They are classed as armoured, first, second, and third class, and mercantile; but the difference between armoured and first-class cruisers, when it exists only with respect to the disposition of the weight allotted in the design to defensive armour or protection, is not such as by itself to warrant either class being pronounced superior.
Such a conspicuous difference in the size and offensive powers of cruisers points to the necessity of carefully distinguishing between the parts allotted to them in war, and would, it appears, justify attaching the name of battle-cruisers to many of them, such an extension of classification appearing to meet the facts of the day, and to assist in an accurate distribution of the fleet. The work of cruisers in war falls conveniently under three heads :—
(1) To act as look-out ships or scouts for fleets.
(2) To act independently of fleets for the protection or attack of commerce, as well as for distant expeditions.
(3) To convoy slow steam traders.
In order to estimate the fighting and steaming qualities of vessels suited to each requirement, we are at once compelled to inquire what are the corresponding qualities of the possibly hostile vessels.
Steam has introduced a further difficulty here, where sea-keeping vessels are concerned. Formerly a war-ship was designed to fight her counterpart, and escape by superior speed from her more powerful enemies, and this superior speed might be associated with small dimensions, and frequently was so. Now, the superiority in speed is apt to be on the side of the larger and more powerful ship, even in fine weather, and is almost certain to be so when the sea is rough. Hence, the second and third-class cruisers, while unable to fight the superior class to their own with more than a very poor chance of success, would be unable to escape from them.
Naval history shows that in single ship actions a superiority of force is generally decisive. The frigate actions in the war with the United States in 1812, and the action between Leander and Généreux in 1798 may be cited; also the case of the Révolutioinnaire, 110 guns, and Audacious, 74, and consorts on May 28, 1794, in Lord Howe's action, concerning which Captain Mahan says: "The Révolutionnaire was nobly fought; and the concentration upon her, while eminently judicious, served to bring out vividly the advantage, which should never be forgotten, of one heavy ship over several smaller, even though the force of the latter may in the aggregate be much superior. The attacks this day made upon her were, from the nature of the case, not simultaneous."
When hostile ships are in presence the fighting qualities are of paramount importance, and, if equal seaworthiness be assumed to exist on both sides, the speed, offensive and defensive powers of the vessels constitute those qualities. Naval actions have generally been won by the destruction of the crews of vessels rather than that of the vessels themselves, and although the almost universal adoption of submarine weapons in all ships may bring about a change in this respect, yet the increased power of artillery is such as to maintain its priority over the other weapons.
The discussion of the relative merits of the various arrangements adopted for protecting the vitals and gun emplacements of a cruiser from hostile fire is a subject of itself, and involves a detailed knowledge of the powers of guns, projectiles, and explosives not generally accessible.
All that can be said is, keep out shells[* Captain Orde Brown, R.A., states in Proceedings R.A. Institution: "Principal attack on ships of war now, shell attack. Perforations of shell carrying fire through armour, assuming a remaining velocity of 1,000 ft. per second, per calibre thickness perforated, is—Common shell, half a calibre; armour piercing shell, one calibre; forged steel shot, two calibres." Also, see The Engineer, August 9, 1889, for effects of explosives.] if you can, and where coals are made use of in aid of other protective arrangements, let the stowage be such that critical points shall not be denuded of protection after a passage of reasonable length, nor large spaces left free to be occupied with water. In some ships of old type, the upper coal bunkers stow more than the lower ones, and a very limited amount of steaming necessitates emptying some upper coal bunkers. Greater length of ship, allowing of carrying coals in athwart-ship bunkers, would obviate this, and has been adopted in recent vessels.
Ready accessibility is also of great importance in the disposition of coal supply.[† See work by Chief Inspector of Machinery Harry Williams, R.N., "The Steam Navy of England."]
In the absence of war experience it would appear essential that the British Navy should include vessels in each of its classes fully equal in fighting qualities to those of any possible enemy, although the possession of coaling stations at convenient intervals may justify some diminution in space allotted to coal storage.
We may here recall the opinion expressed by the Committee of 1872, on the designs of ships of war, that "important interests in distant parts of the world are best secured by the establishment of centres of naval power whence first-class fighting ships may operate, rather than by relying on cruising ships of limited fighting power."
If the fighting ships alluded to are endowed with speed sufficient to catch an enemy in view, this opinion may, doubtless, apply in some cases; but the old proverb of "first catch your hare" applies to cruisers, and a battle-ship of less speed than a battle-cruiser will be unable to check the operations of the latter on the high seas.
In considering the duties of cruisers attending on fleets, I shall confine myself to those intended to act as look-out ships, observing that it is possible first-class or battle-cruisers may be attached to fleets to play the part assigned by Lord Howe to his fast-sailing battle-ships on May 28, 1794, so well described by Captain Mahan. In fact, it seems not impossible that offensive power and speed may be developed in future battleships at the expense of armoured protection. The duties of scouting for intelligence, while avoiding action, would doubtless be best fulfilled by mercantile auxiliaries and ships like Iris and Mercury. As an example of the importance of such duties, we may recall the case of the French expedition to Egypt in 1798, when the French and British fleets passed within sixty miles of each other without discovering each other's presence, and Nelson felt so strongly the want of look-out ships and scouts, that he said, if he died then, "want of frigates would be found written on his heart."
The duties of look-out ships attached to a fleet are most important, and in war will involve frequent chasing and examining of vessels seen. The coal endurance of the cruisers, in comparison with that of the battle-ships, will govern the time any cruiser can act efficiently; and, in order to form any estimate of the probable requirements in war, it is necessary to notice the great cost in coal consumption at which speed is obtained, even with the most recent types of engines.
I am indebted to Admiral J. A. Fisher, C.B., Controller, and Mr. A. J. Durston, Engineer-in-Chief, for some assistance in connection with this question, viz., for the contents of Table C; and, although the figures given have no pretence to rigid accuracy, they may serve as a guide from a strategical point of view. The consumption at cruising, or 10-knot speed, and at chasing or natural draught maximum speed, is given in Table A (compiled by myself), for some typical ships, together with an estimated constant expenditure to cover condensing, cooking, and working auxiliary machinery.
In connection with the coal endurance of war-ships, it must be remarked that a reserve of coal must always be retained sufficient to enable the ship to fight an action, in addition to that required for her return to her base of supply, allowing a reasonable margin for adverse weather.
As regards Table C, it may be remarked that the consumption for electric lighting purposes, including search lights, is very heavy. In the case of the Warspite,[* I am unable to account for so heavy an expenditure for electric lighting only.] 475 tons of coals were consumed in 119 days for those purposes. This makes it probable that in war the consumption for electric lighting would be restricted within narrow limits.
If the daily consumption of a cruiser of Sirius class be estimated on the assumption that for four hours each day she is at chasing speed, and the remainder of the time at 10 knots, it will be found to reach 45 tons, at which rate her coal supply of 400 tons would last about eight days, allowing the margin necessary to return to a base 240 miles distant.
The consumption of battle-ships steaming at 10 knots may roughly be put at 65 tons a day; but, should they occupy a position by merely moving very slowly, the consumption of coal would be far less, and there would be a corresponding reduction in the consumption of the attendant cruisers.
It is hoped that these figures (Table A) are sufficient to show that no such statement as that a vessel can go a certain distance at 10 knots is any criterion as to her suitability for her work in war, though it affords a means of comparing her with others as regards coal endurance.
It would seem desirable that the coal endurance of look-out ships should enable them to fulfil their functions for a week without coaling, and a judicious distribution of their work would doubtless enable a fair proportion of steaming at high speed to be apportioned to each.
An analysis of the facts contained in the tables concerning knots traversed per ton of coals burnt at 10-knot speed, reveals, that in ships of large displacement like BlaJce and Warspite, more than 45,000 tons weight are transferred one knot for each ton of coals burnt at that speed, against about 34,000 tons for Sirius, and about 25,700 tons for Pallas.
As regards the fighting powers of ships detailed for this service and having a fleet to retreat upon, moderate-sized guns with rapidity of fire are preferable to heavy ordnance, the first phase of a naval engagement being an artillery duel, in which, - assuming that the motive and steering powers of the combatants are protected from damage, the ship which can strike its opponent most frequently must gain an advantage likely to prove of great importance in subsequent attempts to use torpedo or ram.
Here it seems opportune to remark how constantly the criterion of "How will this arrangement stand the ordeal of battle?" should be present to the mind of constructors of ships of war, especially where the communications with the motive and steering powers and those powers themselves are under consideration. The most heroic commander will be helpless if his steering-gear is paralysed, and it has often occurred to the writer that the spectacle of a ship careering at speed while under no intelligent control, is one that may easily occur in a naval action of the future.
The second-class cruisers of the "Hamilton" programme appear well adapted for such service in all localities likely to be the theatre of operations of fleets in war, but the increased displacement adopted in the Astræa class will be viewed with satisfaction by naval officers. The work of cruisers received some illustration during the 1892 manœuvres, and the 1889 type of cruisers proved capable of successfully pursuing the 1885 torpedo boats.
The work falling to the lot of cruisers, acting independently of fleets for the protection of commerce, includes many naval operations, and is of a most extensive nature ; the possible theatre of war being coextensive with the world, though practically limited to certain well-known lines of traffic.
The present has been called the "oceanic epoch," steel ships and triple-expansion engines having imparted such regularity to ocean transit as to enable great centres of population to profit by the productive powers of the remotest regions of the earth; and each hemisphere, as it receives the summer heat of the sun, to despatch its crop in aid of the regions temporarily deprived of solar influence.
The British Empire has at present the largest share in the carrying trade resulting from these conditions.
Table B shows that 6,881 British steamers above 100 tons, and 5,084 sailing ships are employed in the carrying trade.
The number of sailing ships is important, in view of the usual assumption that it would be impossible to afford them protection in war against maritime Powers, owing to their uncertain and divergent routes.
The steamers having a speed over 12 knots are classified by Lloyd's list according to speed at sea at ½-knot intervals. They may be divided into mail steamers, fast cargo and passenger ships, and ordinary slow traders.
In attempting a rough classification of merchant steamers for purposes of commerce protection, we may eliminate smaller vessels, employed on local routes, by applying a tonnage criterion to the speed lists. If the combination of 18-knot speed with a minimum gross tonnage of 5,000 be adopted as a first class, it will contain only 17 vessels—11 British and 6 foreign. If a second class be defined as vessels of or above 16-knot sea speed and 4,000 tons gross tonnage, it contains 56 vessels—34 British and 22 foreign. A third class may comprise vessels of or above 14 knots sea speed and 3,000 tons gross tonnage, which contains 130 vessels—96 British and 34 foreign. All vessels below 14 knots sea speed or 3,000 gross tonnage would constitute a fourth class. Such a classification shows only 147 British steamers in the first three classes out of the total 6,881.
With regard to the first class, especially those on the Atlantic routes, they may at present, when once on the ocean, be deemed capable of escaping from existing ships of war except in smooth waters, when a few of the latest type might overhaul them. In view of the great importance of obtaining intelligence in war along the regular mail routes, it seems worth consideration whether subsidies should not be given to mail steamships traversing their routes at such a speed as to be practically exempt from capture by men of war.
It is sometimes supposed that the protection of steamships on ocean routes may be attained by tracing routes remote from hostile bases, and confining trade to such routes under protection by cruisers patrolling.
The number of ships required to patrol a route effectively, depends on the assumed difference of speed between the pursuer and the pursued. This is evident from the consideration that the time which elapses between sighting your enemy, say, ten miles off, and his approach within effective gunshot, say, two miles at sea, is the time available for the pursued vessel to gain shelter from his protectors. If the difference in speed is great, the time available is short, and the shelter must be near, and conversely.
As we have seen, the great bulk of steamships have a speed at sea below 14 knots, and as, in view of the cost of speed in the present state of the arts, this condition is not likely to change, it is obvious that, compared with war-ships designed to prey on commerce with speeds of from 17 to 20 knots, the time available to a pursued merchant steamer is likely to be short, and the number of protectors to require indefinite multiplication.
We cannot expect the number of our cruisers to exceed some reasonable ratio to the number of possible assailants; it would therefore seem most advantageous in the present state of the communications of the British Empire to trust the protection of traffic on defined ocean routes to powerful cruisers based on coaling stations, the communications being maintained by telegraph, where possible, and very rapid mail steamers, assuming that only so-called commerce destroyers were to be reckoned with.
This seems the place to notice that sail power, if suitably applied, might still be of value in assisting cruisers to assume and maintain positions on remote ocean routes, and that if it be finally and definitely abandoned the argument in favour of large displacement for cruisers is thereby strengthened. The Pacific Ocean is perhaps the only part of the world in which British possessions are so far apart as to render the absence of sail power a practical inconvenience.
The protection of commerce at points of convergence of trade routes, especially when these points chance to be near a hostile base, would demand the organisation of an efficient system of patrol, resting on the nearest practicable base of supply. Much of such work might be done by third-class cruisers if supported by more powerful vessels at convenient rendezvous.
The most important trade route to England, from a naval point of view, appears to be that viâ Gibraltar and the Suez Canal. Our trade with India alone has an annual value, exports and imports combined, of sixty-three millions sterling, and that to the countries bordering the Mediterranean is of equal value. By the courtesy of the Secretary to Lloyd's, I am able to state that, in the year 1892, 3,773 British steamers and 67 sailing vessels passed Gibraltar, while the Suez Canal returns for 1891 show that 3,217 British steamships passed the Canal that year.
It may here be convenient to mention that the present limit of draught of water for passing the Canal is 25 ft. 7 in. (7.8 mètres), that the greater number of vessels navigate both during day and night, and that the average duration of passage is below 24 hours; 76-47 per cent, of the total number of vessels passing through (4,207) were British.
Many competent judges think the Suez Canal would be closed, either by force or treachery, on the outbreak of a serious European war. As such an incident would divert so great a number of ships to the Cape route, it may be interesting to contrast the alternative distances. From Plymouth to Bombay by the Suez Canal is, in round numbers, 6,000 knots, while to the Cape of Good Hope is 5,780 knots, and thence to Bombay 4,542 knots; hence the increased distance to be traversed, if the Canal is closed, is 4,424 knots, the greatest distance apart of coaling stations being 2,340 knots, from the Cape to Mauritius.
It is a question how many of the steamers on the Canal route would be suited to the alternative route. It appears that the mean net tonnage of vessels passing the Canal in 1891 was 2,067. Whatever reply shipowners may make to this question, it is obvious that the protection of so great a volume of trade over such a vastly increased distance would require an augmentation in the number of cruisers of the larger classes.
Passing to the third class of cruisers' duties, that of convoy, steam has simplified this, so far as relates to keeping vessels together along a pre-determined track.
As regards attack, so long as the route was remote from hostile coasts, the defence would merely involve the provision of squadrons of suitable vessels, of which the old battle-ships converted into armoured cruisers might form part, assuming that organised attack could only be made by vessels escaped from the supervision of the fleet.
In cases where a trade route passes along a hostile coast with ports containing numerous vessels of the rapid type suited to coast flotilla warfare, and where no base of operations suitable to an opposing flotilla is available, it would be very difficult to protect a convoy of slow vessels from disaster, assuming an energetic enemy.
The convoy which transferred the allied armies from Varna to the Crimea in 1854 was composed of 27 steamers towing 2 ships each, 2 steamers towing 1 ship, and 2 not towing. In all 31 steamers, 56 sailing ships, and 7 tugs, formed in 6 lines 4 cables apart, with the ships 4 cables apart, making a square of, roughly, 2£ miles each side. The allies possessed undisputed command of the sea. The voyage occupied two days of fine weather, without any difficulties becoming apparent.[* See paper by Admiral Sir William Mends, G.C.B., read at R.U.S. Institution, April 7, 1862.]
As an instance of the battles incidental to convoy in time of war, Admiral Hawke's action with M. L'Etenduère in October, 1747, may be recalled. The account of it given in Prof. Montagu Burrows' life of Lord Hawke is replete with lessons to the naval student. Hawke, with fourteen ships, met L'Etenduere with nine and a convoy of 300 [† French account states 252.] sail bound from France to Martinique. He fought for seven and a half hours against an enemy of whom we read: "M. L'Etenduère and his captains have never received their full share of credit for this battle. It was a splendid achievement. They did nothing that was not the best that could be done under the circumstances. When the English squadron, which, making all allowance for their smaller size and weight of metal in each ship, were a decidedly superior force, was first descried, one large ship was detached to help the frigates to protect the convoy; and so sufficient was that protection that it saved the whole; while the remaining eight ships were skilfully formed into line, with a van, centre, and rear; and, though ready to make off if the English would let them, yet they contrived to keep the weather gage, and make an excellent fight of it. Indeed, they inflicted on the English a loss of 700 killed and wounded, a loss very nearly equal to their own, which amounted to about 800. . . .
"On a consideration of the whole affair, it is clear that much of the success of the French resistance should be attributed to the comparative size and thickness of the sides of their ships, to the number of their crews, and weight of metal. . . .
"Out of the six ships captured, Hawke in the Devonshire, a heavy ship indeed, but mounting only sixty-six guns, took the Severn of fifty and the Terrible of seventy-four guns; while he silenced the Trident of sixty-four guns, leaving her to be taken by others, and attacked the Tonnant of eighty guns in such a way as would probably have added her to his list, had it not been for the lower deck guns of his ship carrying away their breechings at the critical moment.
"This of itself was a proof of the work he had already got out of his guns ; and with many other indications, though we have no direct evidence from logs or other books, shows that he must have paid extraordinary attention to the practice of quick-firing. Such wonderful results were not gained without constant exercise and remarkable skill."
In his despatch Admiral Hawke states :—"As to the French convoys escaping, it was not possible for me to despatch any ships after them at first, or during the action, except the frigates, and that I thought would have been imprudent, as I observed several large ships of war among them; and to confirm me in this opinion I have since learned that they had the Content, of sixty-four guns, and many frigates from thirty-six guns downwards. . . . As soon as I could man and victual the Weazel sloop I despatched her with an express to Commodore Legge, Leeward Islands."
The report of the council of war called by Hawke, and the remarks by Sir Peter Warren and Admiral Knowles, show the opinions held in that day by officers concerning the relative powers of British and foreign ships of war, and it may perhaps be said that those times were more similar to our own than the period when the strength of France had been sapped by revolutionary excesses. The example of M. L'Etenduère may well be followed by any officer placed in a similar position, but the contrast between the interval of sighting and fighting an enemy in those days and now would be very marked.
Before concluding this survey of the work of cruisers in war, it may be well to advert to the numerous foreign centres of naval power now existing in distant parts of the world.
Many foreign nations now possess vessels of the most recent type built in England, and, while we may hope that their navies maybe enlarged by more ships from the same workshops, we must not forget that the task of our own navy in the event of political complications is thereby rendered more onerous.
The instance of the Shah and Amethyst engaging the Huascar off Ilo in May, 1877, detailed again lately in Captain Eardley-Wilmot, R.N.'s, useful work on "The Development of Navies," reminds us that speed and offensive power may be neutralised by defensive armour, combined with handiness and favourable local conditions. In this it but reiterates the original lesson of the Merrimac and Monitor, showing that the high freeboard and great coal storage of the cruiser involve sacrifices in other directions which make her unsuitable to contend with vessels of different design in their own sphere of action.
All navy lists contain vessels of very different dates of construction, and many vessels are likely to be afloat at the beginning of a war of types infinitely inferior to the most recent productions. This applies especially to the cruiser class, and every arrangement should be made to avoid exposing inferior vessels to the attack of superior ones on a war breaking out. Vessels entirely unarmoured and unprotected should be relegated to coast flotilla work.
To summarise briefly the impressions derived from this imperfect survey of the position of cruisers,[* Compare M. Bertin's classification of war-ships in his work, "Etat actuel de la Marine de Guerre."] it appears—
(1) There exists, in fact, a class of cruisers analogous to battle-ships. These might advantageously be termed "battle-cruisers."
(2) That speed and coal endurance are qualities of primary importance in cruisers, and should be associated with high freeboard; but that the fighting qualities should never be diminished below those of corresponding vessels of other nations, but, if necessary, resort should be had to increased displacement.
(3) If a quantitative estimate may be hazarded, the minimum sea speed now acceptable should be 20 knots, and the coal supply sufficient to last a minimum of seven days, 20 hours each day, at 10 knots and four hours at chasing speed, besides enough to proceed to and from the base at 10 knots and fight an action.
(4) That powerful cruisers at the end of a telegraph wire will be more conducive to sea power than numerous small ones, where ocean routes are concerned.
(5) That subsidies should be given to steamship companies for all vessels maintaining a sea speed of 21 knots.
(6) That the convoy of slow merchant steamers is likely to form an important feature of naval work in war, and would be a more effectual and economical means of protecting trade, by ensuring the simultaneous presence of war-ship and merchantman, than any other at present contemplated.
A word may be said as to coaling at sea, which was shown by Admiral Sir Michael Culme-Seymour, Bart.,[* Admiral Sir Michael Culme-Seymour was unfortunately prevented from attending the meetings.] during the 1891 manœuvres, to be practicable under favourable conditions.
Our great countryman, Earl St. Vincent, used to provision his fleet, while cruising, by taking the store-ships in tow, as required, by ships in succession, and transferring stores and provisions in boats.
It would seem easy to transfer coals from one ship to another along a wire hawser, if suitable arrangements were made, and there is much economy in towing ships when great speed is not a factor in the situation.
There is another aspect of the cruiser question which cannot be passed over in silence by a Naval officer.
If it be necessary to create fleets, it is no less necessary to ensure sufficient exercises to elucidate all tactical problems and afford officers the means of determining how best to use those costly appliances committed to their charge. When we reflect on the rapidity with which hostile squadrons will close on each other at current speeds, and the destructive weapons now employed, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that at no period of history has it been so necessary for officers to be familiar with the conditions under which battles may be fought and the tactics to be employed therein.
Have our admirals in command a sufficient number of cruisers to ensure the requisite amount of practice, in addition to meeting the inevitable requirements of political exigencies? Are all the tactics of cruisers under the infinite variety of contingencies probable in a naval engagement between squadrons or fleets worked out, and recorded for the information of the constantly changing body of men who may have to practise them under stress of war? These are questions of grave importance to the efficiency of the fleet. Annual manœuvres are most valuable for the solution of questions involving the mobilisation of large fleets, but it is to the regular working of our permanently organised squadrons that we must look for the solution of the tactical questions which constant changes in material are ever bringing anew to the front.
Whatever may be the cost of experiment, we may be sure it is less than the expenditure involved in deciding questions affecting a war fleet without that indispensable preliminary, whether the construction or conduct of the fleet be under consideration; hence it appears most desirable that single experimental ships should be always under construction, to test the value of supposed improvements, before committing ourselves to them on an extended scale; also, that a squadron of exercise should be constantly investigating tactical problems.
In conclusion, let us recognise that supremacy at sea in the neighbourhood of our own country is vital to the security of our island home, all other considerations being of secondary importance—a fact it has been the aim of this paper not to obscure, while giving other important interests their due relative positions.
The ability displayed in the design and execution of the Hamilton programme, the great powers of production manifested by our dockyards and private firms, coupled with the expenditure on the Navy sanctioned in the National Budget, prove that our country has both the will and the power to maintain that maritime position won under God's blessing by the valour and sacrifices of our forefathers, and apparently more than ever essential to the prosperity of the British Empire.
Tables and Appendix
- Holmes, George. Ed. (1893). Transactions of the Institution of Naval Architects. XXXIV. London: Institution of Naval Architects.