It is true that some of the finest vessels of war that any nation ever possessed were built for our government by the “Old Board of Navy Commissioners,” composed of three captains of the navy, a secretary, a chief naval constructor and a few clerks; but times have greatly changed since we had magnificent line-of-battle ships and frigates, propelled by sails alone. Then, again, I think all who have had much to do with boards have come to the conclusion that it rarely, if ever, happens that there is not one bright, or strong-minded, or self-willed member who virtually controls his colleagues, while he only bears his proportional share of blame for any shortcomings of the whole board.
In conclusion, I think we owe our thanks to Mr. Chambers for the trouble he has taken to read to us his excellent essay.
Commander Brown—The arguments of the essayist for building battleships of the Italia type are unquestionably good; and if we are to retain our stand on the Monroe doctrine, it is absolutely necessary, in view of the probable completion of the Lesseps Panama, or some other, canal, that we should in the near future possess a sufficient force to maintain command of that waterway. It is true, also, that we must eventually have vessels similar to those of Type I of the Essay, as coast defenders; but, that our cruising navy is not to have vessels of the size of the Chicago or Atlanta—nothing between the displacements of 800 and 10,000 tons—is, I think, a great mistake. The duties of our navy must be chiefly those of protection to our commerce and citizens abroad, of our rights as neutrals, and of the display of a reasonable amount of force (with the assurance that there is more behind it, if necessary) sufficient to make the moral influence of the republic largely felt; and this can be more cheaply accomplished by vessels of the type of the Chicago, Atlanta or Esmeralda, which cannot be obtained even from the enlarged merchant marine that we would all like to see. Experience has shown to our British cousins that their merchant marine, large as it is, cannot be depended upon for this purpose. Vessels cannot be made good freight or passenger steamers and good men-of-war likewise, any more than the best qualities of sailing ship and steamer can be united in one construction.
With regard to torpedoes, the essayist is somewhat contradictory, asserting in one place that “they will render almost certain the destruction of sea-going ships at short range,” and in another, that it would be possible for a Thunderer to successfully attempt the passage of a torpedo-lined channel. Torpedoes towing astern would not be of much utility, it appears to me, and the idea that “the transfer of supplies” from the large battle-ships to the smaller ironclads could be accomplished at sea, is one the difficulty of which no one has yet, so far as I know, had the genius to surmount.
It seems to me that enough weight has not been given to the construction of such vessels as Ericsson's Destroyer, which is likely to turn out as valuable an invention as that of the Monitor, and which I greatly regret has not been received with more favor.
“Whatever vessels we do build, should be constructed in accordance with that system which is thus formulated in the essay:
“No ship should be built that is not superior, or at least fully equal, to those of any other nation of the same type contemporary with it.”
With this maxim I most heartily agree, for, following this plan, we should soon be in the relative position we occupied in 1859-60.
The suggestion as to the designs of revenue marine vessels, etc., being under the control of the Navy department is a most excellent one; but I fear that the extreme jealousy manifested by the Treasury officials, at the suggestion lately made concerning the personnel of the Revenue Service, will be again aroused, and that personal interests will conquer those of the general public. The increase of the navy might well extend in this direction, and the 800-ton gunboats would make efficient revenue vessels.
The idea of a general staff is one that is gaining ground gradually; and if we are ever to have a naval policy, it is one that must come to the front. That the Secretary would be much better off with an assistant, as provided in the essay, would seem to be a matter admitting of no debate; but I fear that the millennial period, when such an office could be filled satisfactorily to all schools of thought in the navy, is so far distant that the proposition will not be favorably received.
We all know how ideas which appear at one time Utopian, not infrequently make unforeseen headway; and it is not impossible that the strong navy which the essayist would build up may soon be existent. Some of the debates at the last session of Congress would lead us to suppose that there are a number of our legislators who would gladly see the money appropriated for such a purpose; and it is greatly to be hoped that the possible dangers to which we may be exposed, and which have been so ably recounted by the successful essayist, will arouse a public feeling which shall compel an advance in our defensive and offensive powers.
Lieutenant Danenhower.—It seems to me that in case of war with Great Britain a prompt and vigorous stroke against her merchant marine should be made, and that the vessels of Type III would not be adequate to the work. It is stated that the vessels in the freight-carrying trade do not average more than eight knots, and it is proposed to build gunboats of “moderate speed—not less than ten knots at maximum,” light draught, and with considerable sail power to increase endurance.
The gunboats to be of about 800 tons displacement and to cost 1300,000 each. Type III is very similar to the “light gunboat” proposed by the Naval Advisory Board, to have about 750 tons displacement—nine feet draft—to be suitable for seagoing work as well as that on the Great Lakes, and to cost, when fully equipped and armed, $269,000.
In the event of war Great Britain could immediately patrol the principal routes of trade with cruisers far superior to those described above, and her fleet would soon be reinforced by her trans-Atlantic steamers converted into swift cruisers, with speed, armament and torpedo accessories far superior to those of Type III, and the latter would not be found in accord with the sound maxim of the essayist: “No ship should be built that does not designedly occupy her place in the great scheme for national defense.”
To perform the work proposed for Type III, viz.:
(C) “To intercept the enemy's food and industrial supplies in transit to the seat of government,” it seems to me that a special class of gunboat of about 1000 tons displacement, not less than sixteen knots speed at maximum (eighteen would be preferable), and to be armed with one six-inch B.L.R, and two machine guns would be necessary. The gunboats to be constructed of steel and to cost about $350,000 when completely armed and equipped. To be lightly rigged with most improved spars and sails, and to have as small a complement as possible consistent with service intended.
This class of vessel should be sent to the Asiatic Station and to the Pacific coast, but the greatest number should be kept on the Atlantic seaboard, in squadrons, which should move and exercise together and be in readiness for prompt service. Should trouble occur in the West Indies or on the Isthmus, a squadron of gunboats could go quickly to the scene of disturbance, to be followed, if deemed necessary, by the “battle-ships” of Type II.
On the eve of war this class of gunboats should be ready to prey upon the enemy's commerce, and with such a standing menace to its merchant marine, Great Britain would not suddenly spring a declaration of war upon us as she might now in our present condition. Such a gunboat could cruise under sail and steam on the highways of trade, capture and destroy the freight-vessels and elude the superior vessels of the enemy, but giving battle to equals and fighting bows on with her 6-inch rifle. The maximum speed would seldom be needed, and the easy speed of eight to ten knots could be maintained and the gunboat have more than the average endurance at sea, for her armament and complement being very small, her coal capacity would be greatly in excess of that of the average vessel of her tonnage, and could be made a protection for her. The estimated cost of the Chicago is $1,295,000 when fully armed and equipped. Four of the swift cruisers above described could be built for one Chicago, and for the special service intended they would be superior to her. These little Cossacks of the sea could also harass the English coast and keep a good portion of the British fleet diverted from our own coast.
In discussing the subject of the reconstruction of the Navy and the means for defending our harbors and coast, a full investigation should be made into the merits of a system of defence by permanent floating-batteries and by heavily armored turrets on outlying islands and points of land. A large circular hull, supporting a heavily armored citadel containing high-powered rifle guns, would make a strong defence when supported by submarine mines, powerful rams and numerous torpedo-boats.
The first cost of such batteries would be much less than that of the vessels of Type I ($2,000,000), and their maintenance would be a small fraction of the sum usually expended on a heavy ironclad. Such a battery would afford a steady platform, and would present a small target. It could be towed into position and only a limited amount of machinery would be needed, viz. for working guns, electric lights and torpedoes, also for ventilation. The citadel could be made practically invulnerable, and the gunnery from it could be far superior to that from an unsteady platform, such as a moving vessel. The battery could be moored in a deep place between shoals which would afford a protection against rams, and the defence against torpedoes could be affected by permanent iron nets on out-riggers and by having many compartments in the hull. If assailed by boarders they could be repelled by streams of scalding water, grenades and machine guns. The floating-battery could also be made an aid to navigation. They would, doubtless, last much longer than the proposed armored vessels of Type I (Class A), and would be comparatively inexpensive. The turrets spoken of are to be used at commanding points, and to be supported by earthworks from which a body of soldiers or the naval brigade could resist an assault. The turrets to be heavily armored and to mount heavy rifles. They would make small targets for the enemy's shot, could be put where heavy fortifications could not be built, would take less time for construction and would be less expensive.
By this system a permanent water-line of defence could be established about ten miles from Boston Common and arranged to protect Marblehead and Salem. A very effective inner line of turrets on small islands and floating batteries, to enfilade the mid channel, could be made in Boston harbor.
Floating batteries could be moored inside of Sandy Hook, between the shoals, to command Gedney's and the east channel, while heavy turret batteries on Sandy Hook could sweep the south channel.
Three floating batteries moored inside of Cape Henlopen in six fathoms water could concentrate on the main channel, and turrets on Cape May could command the narrow Cape May channel of the Delaware.
The Chesapeake could be defended in this way, and the system of defence could be used at many places on the Great Lakes.
A strong line of defence from Fisher's Island over to Plum Island could keep the enemy out of the middle part of Long Island Sound, and prevent the ravage of the Connecticut cities near the shore.
It would be better to keep the floating batteries moored in their places and always in an efficient condition, though it might be deemed advisable to lay them up until the first indication of war.
Twenty such floating batteries could doubtless be constructed for less than it would cost to fully arm and equip ten of Type I, and would be more effective in defending the coast. There is one point more about the proposed Type I, (class a). I do not think that with maximum speed of eight knots and steaming capacity of only 3000 miles they would be considered available to send down to the American Isthmus, when we get into trouble with France over the canal subject. The “battle-ships” of Type II will then be required, and the “Rams,” (class b), Type I, with many torpedo-boats, which latter are not held of special importance in the essay.
It is true that we are in a totally helpless condition, and the sooner we can make the country appreciate the growing power of the mighty empire on our northern border, as well as the complications with France that we are so liable to experience, the sooner will the absolute necessity for a navy be realized and the appropriations be forthcoming.
Commander Hoff—We have just heard read the most interesting essay by Mr. Chambers, which I am certain we have all enjoyed, although there may be some things in it with which we do not agree. Certainly some of his ideas which bear upon naval tactics are sufficiently novel to be discussed, and I now take advantage of the opportunity afforded me to make the following remarks:
If Mr. Chambers built rams at all they would be rams “pure and simple.” This form of vessel, once so popular, has passed out of the minds now of tacticians as a war factor. Rams are necessary and will be built, but they will be furnished with torpedoes and mechanical guns, although the ram is to be considered their principal weapon. They have two screws, it is true, in order to give them the proper tactical mobility, but it would hardly do to pin your faith on engine power alone. Besides this, according to Captain Chabaud-Arnault, the ram is the only vessel which can use an auto-mobile torpedo in a naval duel, from a broadside installation, since it alone can fire across its tactical diameter, and, therefore, that weapon should be supplied to this class of vessel. The range of this weapon is set down, after years of experience, at 200 metres at sea. It is easily seen that such a weapon used from such an installation, which could not reach the opponent of a vessel engaged in an artillery duel, and circling, would be very dangerous, especially as it is now thought that the limit of torpedo range has been reached; not from the fact that the limit of invention in this direction has been attained, but from the inherent badness of the element in which this arm performs its trajectory.
Mr. Chambers also speaks of fighting his enemy stem to, in his “dangerous wake,” as he calls it, where the enemy must stay as long as Mr. Chambers chooses to keep him there. The essayist also speaks of “stern rams” and torpedoes towed in his wake to prevent ramming.
Tacticians say, history proves that in action only 25 per cent, of shot strike effectively at 450 metres. Now, if there is to be a combat, the ships under consideration must first come sufficiently near to make their shots tell, and then we will suppose Mr. Chambers to round to. Let us put this distance as great as 1000 metres. Although Mr. C. will have his ship's stern towards me, still I am not in his wake, and his torpedoes will do me no harm. I am not in his wake until I, chasing him, come to some spot which he has left. This I, as a skilful commander, will never do, but I will keep out of his wake altogether by running alongside of it; and will only cross it when he compels me to do so by turning. I would not fear his torpedoes at this time, since it would require too neat a calculation for him to make to throw me on top of one. Should I be obliged to stand on in his wake I would not worry about being blown up, as the results in the French navy show that torpedoes do not explode against a target which makes an angle of less than 30° with the line of sight, and my stem is at a much less angle than that. Then, again, the disadvantage will naturally belong to that vessel whose screw and rudder are exposed, although perhaps a “stern ram,” whatever that may be, might put us on a better footing in this respect. Again, suppose I am chasing Mr. Chambers, and he wishes to give me the benefit of the fire of anything but his stern battery; every time he turns or twists, I having to turn on the circumference of a larger circle to keep my head on him, have my speed less injured, and so every time he touches his helm I gain on him, until finally I ram him.
Now, if he stands for me in the first place to a distance of about 600 metres, and then rounds to, I would ram him before he could turn through sixteen points, since I could cover the distance between him and myself quicker than he could turn through the required number of points. Lieutenant G. N. Bethell, R. N., for this reason says, no commanding officer can wittingly permit a vessel to enter his wake at a less distance than 700 yards, and Lieutenant Besson, of the French navy, lays it down as a theoretical principle, which experience has proved true, that in a duel, if one vessel wishes to engage in a ramming contest, the other vessel will be obliged to do the same.
Another point about fighting in chase. If I am fighting Mr. Chambers and disable him, he drops into my jaws. If his fire, on the contrary, damages me, I drop out of the fight and probably make good my retreat.
As regards Mr. Chambers making use of his smoke to blind his pursuer, I am of the opinion that the most thoughtful tacticians look upon smoke merely as an unmitigated nuisance, as bad for one party as the other. It is a screen between you and your enemy. You each fire at a target you cannot see.
What I have said about single ships also applies to the essayist's remarks on fighting fleets with his stern towards them, but with still greater force. In the nature of things, the fastest of the pursuing squadron would gain on the slowest of the chased squadron, the mutual support of the vessels in this latter would be broken up, and the formation becomes flanked. If you attempt to succor your lagging vessels, now beset by the enemy, you would have to turn, and if you turned you would probably be rammed before you got your head in the required direction. So, in conclusion, I merely venture the remark that Mr. Chambers' wake is more “dangerous” to the pursued than to the pursuer.
Lieutenant-Commander Elmer.—I had not intended to take part in the discussion this evening. With what appears to me the main point of the essay, the absolute necessity of armored vessels, both for offence and defence, I agree heartily, but there is one point in Commander Brown's criticism with which I desire to express my concurrence, and that is the mistake in confining our cruising or unarmored navy to gunboats. The essayist would seem to have devoted his attention too exclusively to a war with Great Britain and the consequent importance of transferring a naval force from the Gulf to the Great Lakes; on no other ground can I see any argument for thus frittering away strength. Aside from the loss of morale to the service at large, inseparable from almost continuous gunboat service, and to my mind that is an important point, these vessels would make but little show of force, and exercise but little of that moral effect so necessary in our intercourse with semi-civilized powers. The great draft of water of the “battle-ships,” Type II, would shut them out of most ports and render them of little value as peace cruisers; in all such places we would be dependent upon gunboats to protect our interests. During the past twenty years it has been frequently necessary, especially on the Asiatic and Pacific stations, to send on shore landing parties to protect property or punish offenders. It would require a fleet of lightly manned gunboats to furnish as effective a landing party as one Chicago.
The moral effect of the possession of a few heavily armed, fast cruisers was shown in the late French and German war, when the entire German mercantile fleet was laid up at the outbreak of hostilities.
While appreciating the value of the floating batteries or turrets described by Lieutenant Danenhower, as portions of our coast defence, I cannot see how they will take the place or do away with the necessity of vessels of Type I, whose duties will be offensive as well as defensive, raising or preventing blockade as well as defending harbors.
Commander Goodrich.—The essay is marked by an earnest desire to reach a logical solution, based on strategical considerations, of the problem proposed. It will, doubtless, be criticized after the fashion which is but too common among us and be pronounced as admirable, or the reverse, according to the passing fancy of the critic. For myself, I think it an able and suggestive paper, although I am unprepared to accept the plan in all its details as the best to be followed in our naval renaissance. The writer has given the subject careful thought. Those who oppose his deductions should remember this fact, and its consequent obligation not to find fault lightly, and they should seek to destroy only where they are ready to build up.
I have noticed several points to which attention might be profitably directed, but as most of these have been touched upon by others, I confine myself, at the risk of repetition, to a few which seem of especial importance.
I am glad that the writer insists upon sufficient depth for his battle-ships, and am strongly disposed to claim the same element for all large vessels. The most successful naval architects are not hampered in this constructional dimension, upon which simplicity of engine design and economy of performance, combined with high speed, are so largely dependent. I venture to hope that the day will soon come when it will be generally conceded that big ships need deep channels, and that the former should be built without the ruinous condition of ability to enter every port on our coast.
In his schedule of ships I am naturally disposed to complain of the sins of omission. Throwing out his “torpedo-proof auxiliary supply vessels,” I agree with him fully as to the necessity of his three types, but in my opinion it is neither desirable nor expedient to deprive ourselves of such fighting powers as are possessed by the Riachuelo, for example, which displaces less than half as much as his proposed battle-ships and which costs vastly less. With the exception of the Italian ironclads, the Dandolo, Duilio, Lepanto and Italia, the French Baudin, Amiral Duperre, twenty others, and the English Inflexible, Benbow and twenty others, the Riachuelo could render a good account of herself in action with any vessel afloat to-day. It would appear a wise economy to introduce a number of such powerful and relatively inexpensive ships into our new navy. Granted that a $3,500,000 Italia could engage, with practical certainty of victory, any ironclad extant, why should we be forced to use so tremendous a weapon to crush an antagonist not half as strong? Better to adapt the tool to the work, have a number of second-class ships, the best of their kind, and call upon the battle-ship when the enemy brings out his greatest strength. It must not be forgotten that numbers are of as much moment oftentimes as individual strength, even in naval combats.
The Chicago and Boston types should be preserved, at least sol think, as a reply to future vessels similar to the Esmeralda. Much of our current duty abroad takes the shape of armed landing parties. The deep draft and unwieldy battle-ship is often ill adapted to such work, and the crews of the proposed gunboats would be ridiculously inadequate. For this purpose the crews of the Chicago and Boston might well be made as numerous as the berthing space on board will permit. If to these two objects we add driving away from an outer blockade any unarmored ship of the enemy, acting as armed despatch boats, breaking up a convoy, destroying lines of communication—in short, doing a hundred things which an ironclad should not be employed to do, and which a gunboat could not do, I think we shall find abundant grounds for self-congratulation upon the possession of a class of ships which, as far as they go, are really so admirable that they are being widely copied abroad in all essentials.
The question suggested by the essayist as to the probable outcome of an encounter between a Chicago and a torpedo cruiser is easily answered. The latter would be seriously crippled long before getting to close enough quarters to be effective. In discussing the value of machine guns the fact is too often lost sight of that their aim is corrected by the fall of the shot. Beyond the distance at which this phenomenon can be noted, machine guns may be or may not be useful—it is largely a matter of luck.
The essayist is not the only person who trusts to the merchant marine for improvised Atlantas. Beyond the probability that we could ill afford to spare any fraction of our very meager troop-transporting power, there remains the fact that a makeshift is a makeshift after all. To fit them for carrying efficient guns of the present standard would involve their practical reconstruction and introduce serious complications into the matter of stability.
If swift enough to escape an armed foe they would damage unprotected commerce very seriously, but, at best, they could never properly replace during war such well-contrived fighting craft as our new cruisers, while the latter will serve as excellent schools at all times, and be as effective as the heaviest armored vessels in distant operations on barbarous coasts, and but little less so in encounters with other unarmored ships. For these reasons I am inclined to doubt the possibility of England's equipping from her mail steamers a fleet of cruisers more powerfully armed than the Chicago, as stated in the essay.
The essayist considers the moot question of how best to arm our fleet, and arrives at conclusions opposed to those of the Gun Foundry Board. As the members of this Board enjoyed unequalled opportunities of investigation, one is forced to accept their recommendations as final, and to protest in the most positive terms against the proposition of a government loan in any form to private establishments. The steelmakers should be encouraged to put up adequate plant for the production of their metal in suitable masses, by contracts for current supplies sufficiently large in amount and extending over sufficiently long periods to make the undertaking profitable.
Similarly, the construction of a certain number of guns annually should be entrusted to two or three responsible firms, to enable them to supplement the government shops in time of need.
I am sorry to see the essayist wander away into the field of political economy and lend the weight of his pen to the doubtful project of reestablishing our lost commercial prestige by resorting to subsidies. How this plan worked in the cases of the Brazilian and the Pacific Mail lines should not be forgotten.
A prize essay published by so important a body as the Naval Institute goes before the world stamped with a rare authority. While the author is, of course, alone responsible for his views and statements, still, to prevent misapprehension, I think it well to urge that subsidies are not generally approved in the naval service or out of it, and that the more rational method, by the removal of harmful and vexatious restrictions, has many and strong advocates.
The writer has formulated a scheme of supplementary naval administration, whose adoption, more or less on the lines proposed, seems inevitable if the navy is to become a fighting machine. At present, with a dozen or more persons legally competent to issue an order to a commander-in-chief, and a separation of the navy into a number of bureaus, whose efforts are not always free from the suspicion of self-interest at the expense of the service at large, the wonder remains that even a lesser measure of efficient co-operation should not exist.
Without entering into details I think the proposition to use the battle-ships as transports for ammunition, coal, men, guns, etc., ought not to pass unchallenged.
The ideal navy would contain no fighting vessels weaker than the Italia, I grant, but, as it is quite out of the question to have such a navy, a wise economy would seem to suggest the replacing of a few Italias by two or three times their number of powerful second-class ironclads.
I have not touched upon all the points covered by this interesting paper. Many of those passed over in silence deserve our heartiest commendation. One I venture to quote nearly in the author's words : No ship should be built that is not superior to those of any other nation, of the same type, contemporary with it. The observance of this principle prior to the rebellion secured for us the respect of the civilized world; its neglect since then has made us the world's laughing-stock.
In general terms the essayist's scheme of reconstruction appears excellent. Individually, and for the reasons indicated, I think it should be extended to include a fair proportion of Riachuelos, Chicagos and Atlantas. I should like to see these modifications introduced, but better a thousand times execute the scheme as it stands, than not adopt some well-matured and progressive system similar on a small scale to that which, settled upon by France in 1871, enables her to-day to dispute with England the claim to naval supremacy.
Lieutenant T. B. M. Mason.—Our Prize Essayist has so clearly and completely stated his case that little remains to be said from his point of view. Although we may not all agree with him in every particular, still I think that we must admit that, as a general scheme for reconstruction, or rather construction, of our navy, his plan is very nearly what we require.
Those who have criticized the essay have strengthened it, as a whole, by finding fault with so few of its details.
There are a few points upon which I would thank you to hear me.
A “peace navy” every thinking man knows to be a farce. A navy must be created gradually, and cannot be improvised, except to oppose an enemy laboring under similar disadvantages.
There is no more sense in a “peace navy” than there could be in a city's fire brigade organized and equipped for other than its legitimate duties. Like a fire brigade, the naval force of a country, be it large or small, must always be prepared for action. It must be thoroughly equipped, manned and disciplined, so that at any moment and from any cruising distribution it may enter upon active operations against an enemy.
If besides its regular duty of preparing for war, a modern navy can be made useful in the advancement of the maritime and scientific interests of a country, so much the better for the treasury; but it is doubtful whether the disadvantages of withdrawal from professional preparation and the antagonism of civilians shut out of employment will benefit the navy in the end. One thing is certain, and that is, that civil duties should never be allowed to interfere with naval ones. Our people must be made to understand that a navy is for war. Once that fact is well understood there will be no necessity of making excuses for its existence in time of peace. They should also be brought to appreciate the fact that the navy does not belong to the administration, the department or naval officers, but to the people, who, through their representatives in Congress, are entirely responsible for its condition. Therefore, that when our illustrated papers, and the press generally, ridicule the navy they are ridiculing their own belongings and accentuating their own neglect of the national interests. When a fire engine breaks down it is quickly repaired or replaced. When a fireman is seen reposing himself awaiting a call to duty he is not held up to ridicule and animadversion as a useless member of the community and an unnecessary expense.
Our regular navy will probably be called upon in the event of war to perform the active work on the high seas and to furnish leaders and a disciplined nucleus for our coast defence. We have no reserve to draw from for deep-sea work; our small number of deep-sea merchant service officers and men will be required to officer and man the ships upon which they are now serving when converted into transports, supply and hospital ships.
The crews of the coast defence ships must be led by trained officers and a few trained men; these in time of peace will be required to guard and keep in order their ships, and to train the people required to complete their complements in time of war.
The armor-clads, gun-vessels and torpedo-boats of the coast defence should be built to meet the necessities of the part of the coast which they are expected to defend. If possible, they should be built near their scenes of operation, so that local pride might be aroused in regard to them and local interests developed. In time of peace they should be stationed at the principal ports of their base in order that their war crews might be accustomed to their duties. These war crews should form a corps of national naval militia, or, if considered best, State corps of naval militia, enlisted in the same manner as the present land militia, but uniformed, organized and disciplined as seamen. We have seen during the last summer a regiment of militia doing garrison duty in a sea-coast fort as artillery. Summer camps are occupied every summer. Why should we not have summer cruises and winter ship drill?
The vessels of the Revenue Marine and Coast Survey should be built under supervision of the Navy Department even if these services remain under a civil head, and their officers and crews should be prepared to fight their ships in defence of the coast. The tenders of the Light-House service should, in like manner, be prepared for use in placing and working torpedo mines, a duty for which their appliances and expertness in handling buoys seem to fit them.
It is very doubtful if any reliance can be placed upon our merchant marine to furnish cruisers. The best of English authorities seem unanimous in declaring that in their case it would be an impossibility, and every one knows that they have the best plant for such an undertaking. The experience of our last war teaches us that the price paid by the government for merchant steamers was far in excess of that which would have provided and kept in preparation regular war vessels.
Our people must not be carried away with the torpedo-boat craze, and it is the duty of naval officers to explain to them that torpedo-boats are a part of the system of coast defence, but not the whole of it by any manner of means. The results of foreign experiments show that a properly equipped modern vessel has not much to fear from torpedo-boats under ordinary circumstances. The coast defence must consist of a judicious mingling of guns, ships, rams, forts, torpedo-boats and fixed and auto-mobile torpedoes. There are no two harbors which can be defended in exactly the same way. A thorough and impartial study, made in the locality itself by a mixed board of naval and military experts, should decide what is necessary for the defence, what portion should be undertaken by the navy, and what by the army.
An officer of broad naval experience, as a commander in war and peace, as a Chief of Bureau and member of the Light House Board, has given his opinion in regard to the fallacy of board rule. There is another class of rule which is even worse, and that is the rule of nine executive heads, serving independently and claiming equal authority in the management of naval affairs. We never can have any sort of a modern war navy until the construction of our material is centralized, or until our active navy is placed entirely, both as regards personnel and material, under one naval executive. The appropriations made by Congress might be made to support a small modern war navy if judiciously apportioned, but it falls utterly short of its purpose when we try to run nine separate organizations. It is not overstating the case to say that the present organization, or rather want of organization, of our central control is the greatest obstacle which the navy has to contend with in any effort of reconstruction; and since Congress has erected this obstacle, Congress alone can remove it.
There are a few more points for which I must ask your consideration. We have no docks capable of docking the largest type of vessels proposed. Ships without docks would soon become useless. Docks require as much time to build, if not more than, ships; therefore, when we commence our ships we must commence docks for them, located where they can best reach them in time of war.
In order that tools may be handled to the best advantage the workmen must have experience in their use. This seems to be one of the strongest arguments for a war navy. If the country is to get the greatest advantage from its costly ironclads, cruisers, gun vessels, rams, and torpedo-boats in time of war, they must be commanded and manned by the officers and men who have handled them in time of peace. Granted that on the outbreak of war the government should discover a spare Aladdin's lamp and wish a war navy into existence, it would take months to prepare the personnel.
The Chairman, Commander Farquhar.—This discussion has been very instructive and interesting. The various points for and against the essay have been well put. Indeed, so well has it been reviewed that there is little left for me to say.
It seems to me that to build a man-of-war to have a less speed than seventeen to eighteen knots per hour is a waste of money, unless the vessel should be intended for harbor defence or only for cruising in times of peace. In this point of speed I think all of the vessels proposed are defective, and Class III almost useless.
It is to be hoped that as one result of this essay Congress will be induced to appropriate money to rebuild the navy.
I fear very much that the sinking fund obtained from the sale of old vessels will not be a drop in the bucket as to what will be required to keep up an effective navy.
Ensign Chambers (the Essayist).—I am flattered by the amount of criticism which my essay has evoked, and am glad to have an opportunity to reply, and to elucidate parts in which my meaning seems to be somewhat obscure.
Commander Brown asserts that certain statements are contradictory, but a more careful perusal of the essay will show that such is not the case. The statement that torpedoes will render the destruction of sea-going ships almost certain at short ranges does not apply to operations in a torpedo-lined channel, and I can scarcely regard the Thunderer as a sea-going ship, particularly when encumbered by a cordon of auxiliary vessels, possible in a harbor only, for protection against torpedoes. This use of auxiliary supply vessels, by the way, was mentioned merely to show the possibilities of torpedo protection in coast defence vessels of existing types.
Ericsson's Destroyer I relegate to the class of torpedo boats provided for in the essay, but I cannot regard that vessel, with her want of speed, and the want of range and accuracy of her torpedo projectile, as a first-class vessel of the torpedo-boat type.
In regard to the transfer of supplies at sea, a difficulty which Commander Brown thinks no one has had “the genius to surmount,” several methods have been suggested which, like many other important tactical problems, still slumber in the realms of conjecture, oblivious of the certainty and economy attending a few trials or experiments. I consider myself fortunate in having had an opportunity, while on board the coaling steamer Loch Garry, with the Greely Relief Expedition, to settle the problem to my own satisfaction. While towing the Alert from Godhaven to St. Johns, and on getting into rough weather, the steel towing hawsers parted several times, and it became necessary on one occasion to send her the end of a hemp hawser, and on two other occasions to obtain from her the end of our broken steel hawser, the ships meanwhile towing by the remaining hawser. Cork fenders were used in sending the hauling lines, and our steam winches made light work of hauling both fenders and hawsers on board. I was convinced at the time that, with the proper towing arrangements and without other facilities than those which could have been improvised on board, I could have transferred, without much difficulty, our whole cargo of coal, which was stowed in bags of 100 lbs. each.
It is generally conceded that a certain number of Chicagos or Esmeraldas could protect or destroy commerce more efficiently than could the same number of gunboats, and I am sure we would all prefer, for the sake of comfort, to serve on board ships of the former class; but it is only by regarding our peace-footing as a unit, and the work it would have to do both in peace and war, that we can see the policy of doing without the intermediate class of vessels during peace, and of relying upon our merchant marine for them in time of war. So far as I know, it is generally conceded that we need battle-ships, and I hold that they should form a part of our regular cruising fleet in times of peace, in order to properly maintain our prestige abroad, to accustom our personnel to their use to prevent their being an expensive dead-weight on our hands during peace, to regard them as a standing menace to foreign nations against a hasty resort to arms, and, particularly, to ensure their efficiency when required for war service. In England the advocates of a commerce-protecting fleet are numerous, but I do not think the magnitude of the work imposed upon such a fleet is seriously recognized. I do not believe the combined fleets of Europe could afford absolute protection to goods carried in merchant ships under belligerent flags, without maintaining an effective blockade. It is supposed that commerce could be protected either by convoy or by commerce-protectors stationed at the crossings of the trade routes and patrolling the lines between them; but the former would require a convoying ship to each merchantman, and both methods would furnish easy prey to a few battle-ships, or cruising flagships, passing from one trade crossing to another, en route to the United States. It would be very obliging in our enemy thus to station his ships, at certain well-known localities, where a few powerful ironclads could destroy them, as well as a great portion of the commerce, in detail and in very short order. There would be great doubt about the protection, even if our enemy could send a fleet of battleships to each of the numerous trade crossings. To obtain the protection of neutral flags, as did the Peruvian merchants during the Chilian war, nothing more is required than the completion of certain arrangements involving the payment of money and the signing of names; and, therefore, if the only safety for commerce during war lies in a transfer of flags, a special fleet of unarmored commerce-destroyers does not possess sufficient importance to make its maintenance during peace a great necessity.
A transfer of flags would probably raise the premiums on insurance and freights, and trade would suffer to a limited extent, but it would not force a capitulation. England is the only power whose commerce is vital to her existence, but no nation can protect its commerce nowadays from the ravages of a maritime power, and I am persuaded that, with the Alabama's deeds fresh in memory, and the existing facilities for communication with all parts of the world by telegraph, ship-owners will not again delay action as long as did ours during the Civil War.
It must be borne in mind that Congress is always backward in appropriating funds for the Navy, and our construction policy, to be successful, should be based on the combined efficiency of our nucleus for war purposes. And if, as I suppose, the protection or destruction of commerce during war would be of minor importance, the most efficient nucleus possible would be that created by devoting the greater share of our appropriations to coast-defenders and battleships, the latter of which are commerce-destroyers, as well as destroyers of commerce-protectors, par excellence.
Another point: the more attention we give to special commerce-destroyers before war, the sooner a transfer to neutral flags will take place; and if we can relegate the destruction of commerce to our improvised merchant steamers, the greater will be the confidence of our enemy's merchants, the slower the transfer, and the greater our opportunity to injure the enemy. Furthermore, if we reconstruct our merchant marine with a view to efficiency for war purposes, our ship-owners will take precautions to deliver their ships quickly for sale to the government at the opening of hostilities, instead of transferring them to neutral flags.
Generally speaking, fighting ships, regardless of efficiency, can be improvised quicker than they can be built. Commerce-destroyers can be improvised quicker than battle-ships, and, in the event of a modern war, blow will follow blow in such quick succession that we should be ready to do a certain amount of improvising in order to gain as soon as possible that power which sometimes obtains more from numbers than from individual efficiency. And for the very reason stated by Commander Goodrich, “a makeshift is a makeshift,” it would be sound policy to assign our makeshifts to the least important class of our war footing. Rather be obliged to improvise a hundred Chicagos or five hundred Dolphins than one battle-ship. Moreover, if a reliance is placed on those makeshifts they will be more efficient as fighting ships, when the transformation takes place, through the care that will be taken to make them so.
The latest merchant steamer added to the Admiralty Contingency List, the Umbria, can steam around the world, without stopping, at the rate of 15 knots per hour, her cargo space being used for coal and her stability being maintained by substituting water ballast in compartments for the coal consumed; she can also steam for 16 days at the rate of 18 knots; she possesses unusual structural strength, great beam in proportion to length, and, although her displacement is over 10,000 tons, her deep draught is but 22.7 feet. As efficiency is directly proportional to endurance, speed and power, I think a study of this vessel will substantiate my statement about the Chicago, to which Commander Goodrich takes exception.
As to the adaptability of improvised vessels for carrying guns, I would refer to the Hecla, English improvised torpedo supply ship, which, in addition to her supply of torpedoes and torpedo-boats, is said to carry her six battery guns very well. The Angamos, a Chilian cruiser, hastily improvised from a beef carrying steamer, is another example of the possibilities in this direction. She was armed with one of Armstrong's late-pattern high-power 8-in. B.R.L.—the want of guns only prevented her carrying more—and she distinguished herself in the bombardments of Arica and Callao by her remarkable firing at 8000 yards. But for the unfortunate accident at Callao, caused only by faults in the gun, she would doubtless have rendered a still better account of herself.
Whatever be the merits of an improvised cruiser, as compared with those of a Chicago, I think the cream of a merchant fleet, improvised and equipped for war purposes only, could be relied upon to destroy merchantmen hampered by commerce, and to avoid the enemy's ironclads, quite as well as the same number of Chicagos.
But my principal reasons for recommending this reliance upon the merchant marine are: (1) to ensure its reconstruction along with that of the navy; (2) to create a better knowledge of naval requirements in marine architecture among our private builders, and (3) to produce such a merchant marine as will be most efficient and more economical than it heretofore has been when called upon to increase our power during war.
The false economy, however, resulting from a too implicit reliance on the merchant marine should be carefully guarded against, and we should never entertain the idea that it could be relied upon for our most important types. If I were to accept the present general type of merchant steamer as the nearest approach to a fighting ship that could be produced with economy to its more legitimate uses, I might hesitate about placing so much reliance upon it. But if we will only furnish the proper encouragement to those who are already at work on the problem, great strides of improvement will result in the future. Several plans and petitions are before Congress, and if the claims of some are substantiated the problem is solved already.
If we fail to encourage the reconstruction of our merchant marine, and thus neglect to foster our shipbuilding establishments, we might as well admit our inability to build our own ships for national defence, and allow our possible enemies to excel us in the skill which is vital to the protection of our industries.
I think that naval officers are unanimous in condemnation of the vexatious and harmful restrictions imposed upon our merchant marine by our navigation laws. Their views concerning subsidies have been quite freely recorded in a previous prize essay devoted especially to the merchant marine; but whatever be the weight of opinion, I wish to urge my plea (1) for the encouragement necessary to allow our shipbuilders to increase their facilities and thereby reduce the cost of production without a corresponding reduction in the wages of skilled labor; (2) for the encouragement necessary to allow ship-owners to possess ships of the best quality only.
If England and other countries find it necessary to grant liberal subsidies for the performance of public service, such as carrying the mails, we can improve on that policy, only by making the percentage of subsidy depend upon individual efficiency for war purposes.
Subsidies are not usually advocated in the interest of shipbuilders or from disinterested motives, and in advocating them I wish to emphasize the necessity for protecting them from vultures by surrounding them with such conditions as will ensure increased efficiency in ships and increased study and competition among builders.
This is an age distinguished for the moulding of Utopian ideas into practical truths, rendered so by mechanical skill and genius; and even at the risk of a strong opposition, I wish to advocate a measure calculated to raise the premium on skill and to encourage genius.
I endeavored in the essay to point out the value of gunboats cruising on foreign, stations, in combined operation with the flagship; for by means of the gunboats, the ocean-monarch, the battle-ship, provided with a numerous crew, is enabled to transport her power into shallow waters or to spread that power in different directions at once. I know of no combination more powerful and economical, or better suited for landing parties and for the display of our flag in semi-civilized or barbarous countries, and it is pre-eminently adapted for a school of tactics, experiment and experience.
The battle-ships would represent the power to ensure our prestige abroad, and would not draw as much water as the majority of flagships. The English rely upon two ironclads to perform, alternately, the duties of flagship on the China station, simply because all other available ones are too deep to pass through the Suez canal, 24.5 feet being the limit. Service on board both battle-ship and gunboat would represent the extremes of experience, which would tit officers and men for the intermediate types also. The internal economy of the extreme types could be readily adjusted to suit that of the intermediate ones, and the combined action recommended in the essay would produce a high standard of efficiency.
I like Lieutenant Danenhower's picture of the “little Cossacks of the sea,” and I accept his 1000 ton vessel for Type III. One of the dominating ideas in writing this essay was to disparage an old method of laying down types, an offspring of sailing ships which has survived their decay, and to insist that the absolute tonnage is the last thing to be fixed. When the 1000 ton vessel is completed, perhaps some other critic, following the same reasoning, will exclaim, “But our enemies can patrol the lines with vessels superior to the above, let us build them of 1200 tons!” after which others will continue the strain with 1 500, 2000, 3000 or 5000 tons, and so ad infinitum.
Then again some one will demand an increase of speed by eight or ten knots, and I will distinguish myself by demanding thirty knots and no less.
If we can obtain a 1000 ton cruiser having “more than the average endurance” at the ''easy speed of eight to ten knots” under steam, I think we have already arrived at the goal of perfection in naval architecture.
Lieutenant Danenhower is mistaken in stating that Type III is not in accord with the maxim, “no ship should be built which does not designedly occupy her place in the great scheme for national defence.”
It was the necessity for a class of vessels to operate on the great lakes and in our shallow coast-waters and rivers and to harass the enemy's commerce with the first notes of war, which preceded the conclusion that the same type would be suitable to perform the greater part of the work with which our cruisers are constantly occupied during peace. The first restriction to place upon them was light draught; with a load or sea-draught somewhat greater, inasmuch as they could be deprived of the greater part of their endurance, their sail power, on arriving in the United States. They were required to be handy, which imposed a certain restriction as to size, and to be habitable and seaworthy; and with the performances of recent vessels of the same type as a general guide, I considered 800 tons and a sea-speed of ten knots a safe margin. But I also laid down the maxim, that no ship should be built inferior to any other of the same type contemporary with it ; and if the conditions can be satisfied, and a speed of twenty knots with sufficient endurance can be obtained in a vessel of 1000 tons, I think that is the kind of a gunboat called for by the essay. Although a little skeptical about the possibility of driving such a gunboat in moderate weather at sea more than ten to twelve knots, I am confident one could be built to attain eighteen knots in smooth water.
My ideal gunboat would be fitted with Hereshoff or Belleville boilers and high revolution engines, with small twin-screws attached to shafts having universal joints under the run, so that they could be lifted up at each side when under sail. Steam could be raised and the screws lowered in a few moments, when required, and the utmost economy could be practiced with regard to the use of sails. Their protective decks could be arranged so as to be readily fitted with extra armor and greater offensive power after their spars had been abandoned, on arriving in the United States; after which they would represent a coast defence type similar to that proposed by Admiral Porter, valuable on the lakes and in chasing blockading cruisers from the coast.
I agree with Lieutenant Danenhower that a full investigation should be made into the merits of a system of defence by permanent batteries, but as no nautical skill in the handling and care of such batteries would be required, I regard that as an army problem. I do not think, however, that the army would conclude to build floating batteries; the plan has often been considered by eminent engineers, and at one time was tried in the harbor of New York, but it is not generally in favor, the idea being that fixed armored batteries, on outlying shoals and islands, are more economical and efficient. If we would substitute floating batteries for vessels of Type I, we must be prepared for a monstrous outlay of funds on coast defenses, because we would have to line the whole coast with them, and to repair and replace them at intervals as they deteriorate, the same as with ships. And after all, they could be passed by Type I of the enemy, and we would still feel the need of Type I for operations against an enemy's bases.
I regard torpedo-boats as extremely useful auxiliaries to oblige an enemy, intent on operating against our ports, to adopt cumbersome precautions. As yet we possess none of these useful auxiliaries to which foreign builders have given great attention, and it is probable that experiments performed with them and experience in handling them will develop changes in their build or armament which we may wish to make. Moreover, they belong to a class of small vessels which, in emergency, could be constructed more readily than the other types to which more space is devoted in the essay; but in their construction I would strictly adhere to the maxim concerning individual superiority or equality, which seems to have met with such general favor.
I think the substitution of a number of Type II for a number of Riachuelos, recommended by Commander Goodrich, would prove a bad policy, and would nourish that false economy incident to a disregard of the object upon which I have laid so much stress in the groundwork of the essay. The Riachuelo, although a peer among many ships of the present day, is a compromise between Types I and II, and in comparison with the ships which we could build she would be ill-adapted to perform the services assigned to either type. The battle-ships should have no peers at sea, and the coast defenders should have no superiors in port. The new ships we are praying for exist, as yet, in the imagination only, and I think they should be designed to engage those of other nations, of the same type, which will be launched when they are launched, rather than those which are afloat to-day. In the words of the essay: “If, then, it is not possible or even necessary for us to possess a very large fleet, great care and sagacity are required to maintain the fleet we do possess in a condition thoroughly adapted to the requirements of war, so that it may be efficient when required for use.”
The substitution doctrine is always fascinating, and apt to lead us, through inviting channels and by apparently short cuts, to dangerous shoals. If there be no limit to it, the same fascinating doctrine might lead us to advocate four Riachuelos of 3000 tons to replace the two of 6000 tons, which had formerly replaced one battle-ship of 12,000 tons; but unfortunately the limit is a stumbling-block which declares that, in the most important cases, the smaller ships, combined or singly, could not do the work of the larger. It is argued, “adapt the tool to the work,” but unfortunately our enemies would not agree to match ships for a contest, and we could not always anticipate just when the enemy would call out particular ships; but even if we could anticipate, the substitution policy would deprive us of a certain number of the right tools when the call came for battle-ships. The Riachuelo, with 15 knots and 9-inch guns, might render a good account of herself in action with many vessels afloat to-day, but there would still be the greater chance of giving a different account of herself in action with a battle-ship of the future, with 20 knots and 15-inch guns, excelling her in protection, endurance, steadiness of gun-platform, stability, seaworthiness and habitability.
While agreeing that occasions may arise when the smaller ships, owing to increased numbers, may perform more efficiently the duties of a larger class, I regard it as exceedingly dangerous to foster the idea with regard to battle ships. This idea, if encouraged, would result in one of two evils; we would either have a certain number of battle-ships substituted by the same number of Riachuelos, or some of each class would remain inactive throughout their ages of efficiency, and, consequently, would be inefficient, to a certain extent, when required for use. The reason is explained at length in the essay. It is probable that the battle-ships would be neglected altogether, and we would not be accustomed to their use when the time came. I think we can safely assume that service on board a battle-ship would fit us for service on board of any smaller type of sea-going ironclad.
Commander Goodrich's criticism of my views on the construction of guns gives me the opportunity to explain that this essay was written before the report of the Gun Foundry Board, and in a candid spirit, deeply impressed with the success of private gun-firms in Europe and the conservative blindness of various national gun foundries. Whichever method may be adopted, I hope the government will not neglect to encourage private firms sufficiently to enable them to compete in the outside market, and to interest our civil talent in the details of this industry so important to our national defence.
I see no objections to the use of battle-ships as transports, for minor operations or raids against an enemy's West Indian possessions; and for extended operations against an enemy's bases, I think they would furnish powerful mobile bases, supplemented of course by auxiliary supply vessels.
Although I regret that the vastness of the subject and the limitations as to space in the Proceedings have made the essay somewhat obscure in parts, I am pleased to note that Commander Goodrich has misconstrued the meaning of my reference to the probable outcome of an encounter between the Chicago and a torpedo cruiser, for thereby I have gained additional weight for my reply to the criticism of Commander Hoff. The question, “If future actions are not to be fought at long range, ought we not, etc.” . . . was simply intended to convince others that the decisive blows of future actions would be fought at long range, and not that the Chicago would have much to fear from a torpedo cruiser bristling with rapid firing and machine guns.
I am glad that Commander Hoff takes exception to the idea of building rams “pure and simple,” for I certainly did not intend to convey the idea that I would build such vessels. There is little doubt in my mind, however, that if success in ramming is easy of attainment, and ramming is to be the first resort in action, it would be policy to build vessels in which all other weapons are subordinate. The idea intended to be conveyed was, that in laying down the qualities necessary for our battle-ships, capacity for endurance and speed is so important that it were best to obtain it even at the sacrifice of a certain amount of handiness which is so essential to a ram.
In regard to the “dangerous wake”: suppose I have approached so close to my adversary that I cannot turn without danger of being rammed; if I pass him in an opposite direction I am not obliged to turn j but if, after passing, he wishes to close in “bows on,” he will have to turn, and in doing so will expose his broadside to my torpedoes. If, after passing in opposite directions, he turns towards me under my stern, as laid down in the rules for ramming tactics, I can either have a convenient towing torpedo to give him a warm reception, or I can back astern as he crosses my track, and, by shifting my helm and going ahead at the proper moment, I can get inside of his circle to give him the benefit of both bow and broadside installations of guns and torpedoes, with the greatest advantage to myself if he continues that line of tactics. It seems to me, however, after such an overture it would be folly for both ships to go circling about and doubling each other's tracks, possibly to encounter the wandering torpedoes which might have missed their primary targets, or which might have been dropped overboard on purpose for such an event.
Let us begin the action again, and suppose that when I have sighted my adversary at a distance of four or five miles I turn so that he will bear four points on my bow; if he wishes to shorten distance most rapidly he will take a course at right angles to mine; I can then deceive him as to my intentions by slowing down, if necessary, and can use my guns to best advantage. When he discovers that I have not accepted his tactics he will turn towards me, and I can continue, with safety, to turn away from him and to choose the range at which I wish him to follow. If he follows on my quarter, and I wish to keep him in my wake, I will turn away from him and he will be obliged to cross and re-cross that wake every time I turn away, and in doing so to traverse a greater distance than I do, owing to the abrupt curves he must make to keep out of my wake. Every time he turns to cross my wake he must expose his bow or broadside to my torpedoes. In pursuing this sort of tactics any increase in the speed of both ships renders my adversary's torpedoes more dangerous to himself, less dangerous to me, and increases the effective range of my torpedoes. If he possesses a superiority of one knot in speed, and succeeds in ramming my stern, his blow will be glancing and harmless. Hut suppose he has arrived at the only position abreast suitable for ramming in chase; if I stop or go astern, as he puts his helm over, he will cross my bows and give me the best of opportunities for planting my ram plump into his broadside. In other words, it is not only extremely difficult for a chasing ship to attempt to ram, but it is very hazardous, and the destructiveness of a successful blow from astern is very problematical.
In discussing naval tactics, however, and particularly the uncertain phases of the ram, one cannot help feeling that it is mainly speculation; but there are two certain rules which can be laid down: (1) one ship cannot force another to attempt to ram without first gaining some advantage with other weapons; (2) one ship can force another to fight at long range, astern or on the quarter, as she chooses. The fact that one adversary can dictate certain lines of action to another, without superior handiness, leads me to conclude that there need be no limit to the size of battle-ships on account of the importance of handiness.
In an engagement between fleets, concerted action is of primary importance, and the possession of the weather gauge not only insures a clear understanding of signals, but gives great advantage in properly executing maneuvers; and I think Commander Hoff will agree with me, as most tacticians do, that a stem to stem, or bow to bow, encounter would result in glancing blows or would prove barren of results, so far as injury to the hull is concerned. Similarly, a bow to stern encounter would be quite as unprofitable if the stern attacked were properly protected; and if a following fleet. A, were allowed to get so close that it would be hazardous for the leading fleet, B, to turn, a pre-concerted slowing, stopping or backing maneuver on the part of B would then render ramming blows glancing and harmless. After the fleets have passed through each other, a turning maneuver on the part of A is required, if his bows are to be presented again, in executing which A is in danger, and if B does not choose then to ram, the fleets will again pass through each other, bow to bow, with glancing blows.
If ramming were attempted too early or too indiscriminately in fleet engagements, a mass of accidents would follow, friend would injure friend, and victory would soon be left to chance. The impossibility of being able at once to see everything and to be thoroughly protected from machine gun fire at close quarters, should remind a commanding officer, however confident of his skill as a ramming tactician, that a too hasty resort to the charge, a la Balaklava, would deprive him, at the critical moment, of the chance to exercise that skill. A commanding officer who decides to try his skill at long range, before resorting to the more furious attack at close quarters, will diminish his chances for a “glorious death,” but will deserve the more credit and praise in victory.
The Huascar hesitated about ramming the Esmeralda because it was supposed the latter was defended by torpedoes; and furthermore, it was not until after the Esmeralda's engines were disabled that the Huascar, after several unsuccessful attempts, finally succeeded in ramming.
In the duel between the Buvet and Meteor, off Havana, during the Franco-Prussian war, the Frenchman steered straight for his antagonist at full speed; the German slowed down, trained his guns, and waited bows on. The Frenchman struck a harmless glancing blow, which slewed the guns around, and the German disabled his adversary's engines, in passing, by a well directed shot. The top-hamper which fell from aloft, however, fouled the German's screw and allowed the Frenchman to make sail and to escape into Spanish waters.
I also differ with the authority quoted by Commander Hoff as to the future effectiveness of mobile torpedoes. I do not say that the Whitehead will be effective at more than 200 yards at sea, although it is probable it will continue to make further strides of improvement; but I do think that a torpedo, discharged with low velocity, and afterwards impelled by a self-contained charge of rocket composition, can be made more effective, less expensive, and less complicated than the Whitehead. The medium through or over which it moves will surely not cause its flight to be more erratic than it formerly did the flight of smooth-bore common shell, which often did the best execution when fired en ricochet. It would not be difficult, under the stimulus of the proper investigation and experiment, to perfect an elongated ricocheting projectile provided with a suitable tail for accuracy, and a mechanical contrivance for dropping and exploding the torpedo contained, on impact.
The details would be a matter of cheap experiment, and this view of the question is in accordance with what I regard as the chief spirit of the essay, i.e. if we begin to expend a few dollars annually on original experiments to encourage our American inventive genius, we will be able to solve important questions for ourselves, and will not be dependent on the ideas or led into the mistakes of others.
In conclusion, I desire to express my thanks for the kindly spirit with which my essay has been received; but if there be any to whom the opinions expressed appear presumptuous or egotistical, indulgence is asked and zeal is pleaded as an excuse. The need of a vigorous progressive policy is acknowledged, and I sincerely hope that those who still differ with me in any of the details of the plan for reconstruction, may be induced to elaborate their views and submit them for further discussion by the Institute. It is important that many of the details should be more exhaustively treated, and such contributions can never fail to arouse the interest of those who desire again to see our flag proudly float over ships worthy of its honor.