By Rear-Admiral S. B. Luce, U.S. Navy.[Reprinted from the North American Review.]
In his "Essay on History," Lord Macaulay observes that "no past event has any intrinsic importance; the knowledge of it is valuable only as it leads us to form just calculations with respect to the future." Agreeably to that precept, a retrospective survey, so appropriate in this centennial year, will enable us to form just calculations as to what may be reasonably anticipated in respect to the development of our new navy. A necessary condition of the forecast is that no violent political eruptions or international complications shall disturb the course hitherto followed by legislation on naval affairs.
Before proceeding further, let us inquire what constitutes a navy. A navy is, in one sense, a sea army. Or, to speak more correctly, its principal constituent, a fleet, is a sea army, to which all the other component parts are but subsidiary. The French habitually speak of les armies de terre et de mer. The analogy between a land army and a sea army is often so close that at some points it merges into identity; and in certain problems of war the two may be reasoned upon as identical. Thus the main body of the land army, composed of infantry, maybe compared to a fleet of battle-ships. The infantry of the line acts in masses, and on the field of battle constitutes the principal fighting force. The same is true of a fleet. Well disciplined, a mass of infantry in column or in square is almost impenetrable. Witness the terrible, but fruitless, charges of the French cuirassiers on the solid masses of the English infantry at Waterloo. One of the great lessons of war is that cavalry charges, except against cavalry, are indecisive unless supported by infantry. Says Hamley, in his "Operations of War": "All the formidable inroads of Napoleon's horsemen on the British line availed nothing, for the want of infantry support." The same principle, precisely, applies to the operations of the sea army. The inroads of cruisers, which are analogous to cavalry, will avail but little unless supported by battleships. This position is incontestable. Napoleon regarded the infantry as the arm of battles and the sinews of the army. Infantry, in short, is the first instrument of victory. It finds a powerful support, however, in the cavalry and the artillery.
These tenets are admitted by all military writers, and are universally accepted. Let it now be asked how an army could be organized without infantry of the line. The soldier would probably answer that the question is an absurd one and unworthy of a serious reply. And yet that is just what we are trying to do with our sea army, otherwise known as the navy of the United States. That is to say, we are pretending to build up a navy without the constituents of a line of battle. We are building cruisers of various sizes, which correspond to the cavalry and light artillery of the land army; and we have monitors for coast and harbor defense, which supplement our fortifications; but we have no battle-ships to correspond to the infantry of the line, which constitutes the main strength of the line of battle.
James, one of the best historians of the English navy, remarks that the strength of the navy is the line of battle, rather than its detached or frigate force. "The latter may cruise about," he says, "and interrupt trade, or levy contributions on some comparatively insignificant colonial territory; but it is the former that arrays itself before formidable batteries and strikes dread into the heart of the parent state." Vice-Admiral Penhoat, a distinguished officer of the French navy and an author of note, reaches the same conclusion. "The most powerful agent that can be employed for the defense of the coast," he observes, "is the fleet of line-of-battle ships. That is the active force of all others that is capable of defending any point on the coast that may be threatened by an enemy."
After discussing the necessary qualifications of a battle-ship, he says: "It will be seen, from what has preceded, that the fleet of the line is the foundation of a navy; and that no operation at sea of importance, such as bombardments, the transportation of troops, etc., etc., can be undertaken with security unless the enemy's fleet of the line has first been rendered powerless."
"It is the line of battle, then, which should take precedence in its development over those accessory forces which, when joined to it, constitute together a navy. The secondary forces, the cruisers, transports, armored coast-guards, etc., should each, according to its importance, have a certain relative proportion to the whole ; but they should not impede the development of the principal power."
The policy thus clearly lined out has been advocated by the executive and combated by the legislative branch of the United States Government since the beginning of our existence as a nation, and up to a comparatively recent period ; and describes accurately the course followed in England, where everything relating to the navy is done seriously and with a definite purpose. Chief Engineer J.W. King, U.S.N., in his admirable report on "European Ships of War," under the head of "The British Navy," writes:
"It is to the production of the most powerful sea-going fighting ships that the resources of the navy are first directed: ships sufficiently armored to resist the projectiles of any ordinary kind; sufficiently armed to silence forts, or to meet the enemy under any conditions proffered; sufficiently fast to choose the time and place to fight; and sufficiently buoyant to carry coal and stores into any ocean."
This statement finds emphatic confirmation in the recent admiralty program announced by Lord George Hamilton, the First Lord of the Admiralty. In brief, that program calls for the building, between April, 1889, and April, 1894, of seventy vessels of war, ten of which are to be battle-ships and sixty cruisers of different types. The report says: "A battle-ship when completed is not entirely efficient unless she has certain small vessels attached to her as scouts; and we consider that out of the seventy vessels, twenty are satellites of the battle-ships. The remaining cruisers will be effective whether used in squadrons or individually. . . . Later on, when an increase is made to our battle-ships, each battle-ship will be accompanied by two smaller vessels; and thus there will be no drain upon our force of independent cruisers."
The strength of the British line is to be brought up in the near future to something over one hundred battle-ships, with cruisers, great and small, in proportion.
Let us now suppose the battle-ship to be subtracted from the floating force of Great Britain. How long could she hold Gibraltar and Malta, control the Suez Canal, and maintain her Indian Empire, by the eastern route? How long could she hold the line from London to Halifax, Esquimalt and India, by the western? How long could she prevent Germany from establishing a military port on the Scheldt? How long could she hold the great strategic points at Jamaica, Barbados, and St. Lucie, which dominate the West Indies, the Spanish Main, and the Isthmian Canal, which will eventually open to her a short cut to the Pacific? Without battle-ships the whole British Empire would crumble to pieces, "and, like the baseless fabric of a vision . . . leave not a rack behind."
In the absence of anything and everything that might resemble a naval policy, we have reversed the usual order of naval development. The battle-ship being the very foundation of a navy, and the United States having no battle-ship, it is plain that in a military sense—the only sense in which a navy can be discussed—she has no navy. Not only that, but she has no foundation whereon to build one. She has the accessories only—the satellites, the cruisers, and the coastguard ships. The great central body about which the satellites revolve—the solid masses of the line, which give the cruisers moral and material support—are altogether wanting. In military parlance, we have a few light infantry (cruisers) for scouts, and cavalry (cruisers) for reconnoitering; but, in case of repulse, there is no main body of the line to fall back upon. One of the functions of light infantry is to protect the flanks of the army. Our cruisers are to protect the' flanks of—what? Nothing! There is no main body, no line of battle, no battle-ship, no navy—nothing, in short, but accessories.
Let us test the truth of this. International complications arise of such a character that the government finds it necessary to send a number of our best ships to a distant point—Samoa, for example. On reaching the place designated, the American admiral, in the Baltimore, as flag-ship, and accompanied by the Newark, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, all splendid 4000-ton ships of the most approved types, finds himself confronted by four battle-ships to dispute his way. The vital parts of the foreign ships and the crews are well protected by heavy masses of steel; while the sides of the Baltimore and her consorts, though of steel, are but little thicker than a single number of The North American Review, or, to be exact, five-eighths of an inch thick—sides of no greater powers of resistance than the frigate Constitution, launched in 1797, possessed. Do the people of this country expect their admiral to risk a battle under such circumstances? Hardly, for those ships were designed expressly to run away from battle-ships, as will presently be shown. That is the fundamental idea which is guiding the development of the new navy: to run away.
It may be observed here that the word fleet is sometimes used to express the entire floating force of the navy. This use of the word is common both in England and in France. In a more limited and technical sense, a fleet is an assembly of twelve or more battle-ships. Used in this latter sense, Great Britain will soon be able to put afloat seven or eight fleets, each fleet filled up to its tactical complement of twelve battle-ships; each battle-ship accompanied by two satellites, with cruisers, torpedo depot-ships, and hospital-ships: while cruisers, acting independently, will be left to protect her own commerce and annihilate that of an enemy. If the military necessities of England compel her to maintain, say, six fleets and their accessories, and the great powers of Europe keep afloat proportional numbers, is it not to the interest of the people of this country to have a floating force of something more than mere accessories? Is it not to the interest of our people to have a navy in reality, instead of the semblance of one? Is it not to our interest to have at least one fleet of twelve battle-ships? That is the question the Executive has been presenting to Congress for the past one hundred years.
With all her enormous iron shipbuilding facilities, England allows from three and a half to four years to build a battle-ship. In this country it would probably take a little longer. The keel of the Chicago, which is not a battle-ship, was laid in 1883, and she is not yet ready for sea; and this at a time when the government is much pressed for ships. Should either of the battle-ships Maine or Texas ever be launched, her time on the stocks will probably cover a period of from seven to eight years. Making the most liberal allowance for increase of skilled labor in iron shipbuilding, it would be twenty years at least before the United States could get a fleet of battle-ships to sea, and in these days wars are reckoned by months. If the American people contemplate building up a navy, it is not a day too soon to formulate some definite plan of development beyond mere accessories.
If there is any one fact made clear by the history of the past, it is the true function of our navy. The role of a navy is essentially offensive, as contrasted with seacoast fortifications, which are defensive. This broad distinction must be borne in mind, if the persistent but unavailing efforts of our highest naval authorities, in time past, to organize a navy, are to be understood.
"The proper duty of our navy," it was declared long since, "is not coast or river defense; it has a more glorious sphere—that of the offensive. Confident that this is the true policy as regards the employment of the navy proper, we doubt not that it will in the future be acted on as it has been in the past; and that the results, as regards both honor and advantage, will be expanded commensurately with its enlargement. ... In order, however, that the navy may always assume and maintain that active and energetic deportment, in offensive operations, which is at the same time so consistent with its functions and so consonant with its spirit, we have shown that it must not be occupied with mere coast defense."
The great principles on which our entire system of seacoast defense has been erected have been laid down with mature deliberation by our highest military and naval authorities. "The means of defense," say they, "for the seaboard of the United States, constituting a system, may be classed as follows: First, a navy; second, fortifications; third, interior communications by land and water; and fourth, a regular army and well organized militia."
The term navy is defined as "that portion only of our military marine which is capable of moving in safety upon the ocean and transporting itself speedily to distant points." This can be done only by battle-ships equal, if not superior, in fighting power to the average battle-ship of a possible enemy. "Floating batteries," etc., were regarded as pertaining to land defenses, and were deemed "powerful auxiliaries." "The navy," it was said, "being the only species of offensive force compatible with our institutions, it will be prepared to act the great part which its early achievements have promised and to which its high destiny will lead."
Benjamin Stoddert, our first Secretary of the Navy, thoroughly understood the office of a navy. In a communication to the House of Representatives under date of December 29, 1798, after advancing the most cogent reasons, he recommended the building of twelve battle-ships and as many frigates. "Had we possessed this force a few years ago," he adds, "we should not have lost, by depredations on our trade, four times the sum necessary to have created and maintained it during the whole time the war has existed in Europe." In a subsequent report, January 12, 1801, the secretary enunciates a sound principle. He says, in effect: Let our enterprising privateersmen prey on the enemy's commerce. The government should "attend principally to a provision for battle-ships and frigates." The two reports are noteworthy as clearly indicating the true lines of naval development, by the building, first of all, of battle-ships, and showing that the preying upon an enemy's commerce was altogether secondary and not the first objective of the navy.
It cannot be said that Congress responded with alacrity to these earnest appeals. We were paying tribute at the time to the Barbary powers. French cruisers were depredating our commerce, and English vessels of war were impressing seamen out of our merchant vessels; but the navy which could, and eventually did, put a stop to these indignities, found little favor with our national legislature. The Naval Committee, reporting to the House, December 17, 1811, said: "The important engine of national strength and national security, which is formed by a naval force, has hitherto, in the opinion of the committee, been treated with a neglect highly impolitic, or supported by a spirit so languid as, while it has preserved the existence of the establishment, has had the effect of loading it with the imputations of wasteful expense and comparative inefficiency."
We were on the verge of war with England when this "languid spirit" in regard to naval affairs prevailed in the House of Representatives. In 1799 Congress had authorized the building of six battle-ships; but, the amount appropriated being insufficient, no steps had been taken towards setting them up, beyond the purchase of some ship timber, so that a few frigates and sloops-of-war were all we had of a navy.
On the 19th of June, 1812, war was proclaimed against England. Elated by the success which attended our little navy in its first encounter with the English at sea, Congress, now that the war was actually begun, authorized the President, "as soon as the materials could be procured," to cause to be built, equipped, and employed, four battle-ships and six frigates. "This was the first step," says Cooper, the historian of the navy, "that was ever actually put in execution towards establishing a marine that might prove of material moment in influencing the results of a war." But—and this is one of the impressive lessons of history— although hostilities lasted two and a half years, the first battle-ship to be launched, the Independence, was too late to take part in the war. The successes attending the war of 1812, and the placing the Navy Department upon a better footing by giving the Secretary of the Navy a staff of experienced officers—the Navy Commissioners—to assist him in his duties, excited a passing interest in naval affairs. This was not a little enhanced by the brief war of 1815 with the Barbary powers. Under the impulse of this feeling, Congress authorized the augmentation of the navy to twelve battle-ships. Owing to the limited amount of the annual appropriations, and the small number of seamen allowed by law, but four of them were kept in active service. Three were, during many years, laid up "in ordinary," and five held in reserve on the stocks in such an advanced stage of completion that, on the first sign of approaching hostilities, they could have been launched and equipped for sea in a comparatively short space of time. Built of well seasoned live-oak, they could almost be said to defy the ravages of time. They were broken up, or diverted to other purposes than originally intended, only when the type of battle-ship they represented had become obsolete. They were, with but two exceptions, the very best specimens of naval architecture of the period, and distinctively American in weight of batteries, great strength, capacity, sea-going qualities—everything, in short, that constituted a high order of excellence in a battle-ship of their day.
A flag-ship, it may be remarked, is a fair exponent of the strength of a navy. In the noontide of our naval power, the flag (or broad pennant) of the commander-in-chief was flown by a battle-ship. Today it is displayed either from a second-rate, that has already reached the limits of usefulness, or from a third-rate but little better off. These are soon to be replaced by a class of flag-ships whose character shall be portrayed later on.
In 1823 President Monroe announced the doctrine which has since taken his name. It embraced two interdependent parts—one political, one military. The former only is now remembered. The formal declaration that the American continents "are not to be considered as subject to colonization by any European power" carried with it an obligation to maintain the means by which that policy could be enforced. Hence the President's admirable letter of January 30, 1824, to the United States House of Representatives against an undue reduction of the navy. The message was accompanied by a letter from the Secretary of the Navy, in which the naval policy of the government was plainly stated.
"When the vessels now authorized by law to be built," he writes, "are completed, there will be twelve battle-ships . . . The vessels having been built, we must train officers to command and manage them ... A great portion of the science of the naval commanders can be acquired only on the ocean and by years of labor and discipline."
Accompanying these letters was the draft of a bill for a naval peace establishment; but it found little favor in Congress, and nothing was done.
In 1836 we had reached the meridian of our naval power. On the 18th of February of that year the Senate passed a series of resolutions, one of which ran as follows: That the President be requested to cause the Senate to be informed of "the probable amount that would be necessary to place the naval defense of the United States upon the footing of strength and respectability which is due to the security and to the welfare of the Union."
The Executive replied that "the force to be prepared ready for use when circumstances may require it should consist of fifteen battleships, twenty-five frigates, twenty-five sloops-of-war, twenty-five steamers, and twenty-five small vessels, and that the frames, ordnance, etc., should be prepared for ten battle-ships and ten frigates." It was proposed, further, that six battle-ships, eleven frigates, fifteen sloops-of-war, and a number of smaller vessels should be kept in active service during peace, "for the protection of our commercial interests, and to prepare officers and others for the efficient management of the force proposed for a state of war." The year 1850 was fixed upon as the most remote period at which the proposed force ought to be ready. The board was of the opinion, however, that it might be prepared much sooner, "should Congress deem it advisable to make larger appropriations than those suggested." But Congress did not "deem it advisable"; indeed, did not deem it advisable to make any increase whatever. Six years after making their report, the able staff of the Secretary of the Navy—the Navy Commissioners—were legislated out of existence, and the year 1850 passed, and 1860, 1870 and 1880, and now we find ourselves approaching the year 1890, and instead of a "gradual increase," there has been a gradual degeneration of the navy, and we have not to-day a single battle-ship to succeed those launched in 1818-20.
The decline of our naval power cannot be attributed to a radically defective form of naval administration alone, though that is responsible for much of the evil. There is another cause. According to natural laws, the military and mercantile marine of a state rise and fall together. The exception to this law is when a purely military policy compels the maintenance of a war marine; and we are not a people to exercise military prevision.
In the early days of the world's history war-vessels were needed to keep down piracy and enable traders to pursue their way in peace. An extensive commerce begot distant colonies, and both required the constant protection of a war marine. Then a navy came to be an exponent of a nation's wealth and power. The commerce and navy of Tyre grew together, and together fell. Carthage in her days of prosperity monopolized the trade of the Mediterranean, and her navy for a time defied the whole power of Rome. During the middle ages, the Italian Republics, Venice and Genoa, had large interests in commerce and powerful navies. With the loss of the one the other passed away. Spain, Portugal, and Holland, each in its turn, went through the same experience. England presents the greatest example in history of enormous wealth acquired through foreign trade. Colonial possessions followed, and a navy which defies the united forces of any two maritime countries in the world was the natural result.
For a time the United States followed England in her extension of ocean commerce. The American flag became a familiar sight on every sea, and the tonnage engaged in our foreign trade ran up to be second only to that of England. But our foreign shipping had already begun to decline before the breaking out of the rebellion in 1861. Our people were, and are, content to have their carrying trade borne in foreign bottoms, and to see what was once a source of national pride and strength and power, transferred to foreign flags to help make their countries rich and strong. Having sacrificed a large measure of our shipping interests, and with no outlying possessions to protect, what more natural than that there should be a decline of our naval power? Blind or indifferent to the military aspect of the question, the resultant of the several causes has forced the navy to abandon its principal and time-honored role as the offensive arm of the government, thrown it back upon the lines of defense, and gradually withdrawn it from the sea. The tendency of the entire navy now is to get on shore and stay there.
The "new navy" took its rise in 1881. The very term is suggestive. It is peculiar to this country, and indicates our methods of procedure in all matters connected with naval affairs. In the maritime countries of Europe naval architecture kept pace with the changes that have been going on for years past in naval and military science. Marine architects and their artisans moved with the times; and the naval officers and seamen had no difficulty in adapting themselves to the continuous, but gradual, changes. These changes were brought about by such slow degrees that there was no precise date to mark the decease of an obsolete type of ship and the birth of anew. It was not so in the United States. On the close of the war of the rebellion we sat down to rest. What mattered it though we had given the Monitor to the nautical world, and a fresh impetus to marine architecture? We ourselves sat down to rest. The building of vessels of war, in which we had once led the navies of the old world, became to us a lost art; and a quarter of a century after the Monitor had effected a revolution in the art of naval warfare, we find ourselves compelled to go abroad for the models of our war- ships; meanwhile having our naval constructors educated in foreign schools of naval architecture. The building of the battle-ship Texas from English designs marks a distinct era in the history of the United States Navy.
For twenty years from the war of the rebellion the Executive had been urging the augmentation of the navy with monotonous iteration; but the people, or their representatives in Congress assembled, would not have it. What wonder we should drop from the list of sea powers? The first Advisory Board was instructed to "recommend such vessels as Congress would be likely to approve"—not what, in the judgment of the Executive, the country ought to have, but what it could get. This was the lesson of generations of experience in naval administration. The board reported, therefore, that as the limit of money Congress would be willing to appropriate for the navy was, without doubt, a very restricted one, the construction of ironclads (battle-ships) was not recommended, though "such vessels are absolutely needed for the defenses of the country in time of war; and if Congress be willing . . ." But, as in 1836, Congress was not willing. Hence the plan for the new navy was not for a navy at all, but for a sort of pis aller.
The new steel cruiser upon which we pride ourselves—and justly so—is designed, as already stated, with a special view to run away from battle-ships. She must be able to escape from ironclads, and outrun, so as to capture, merchantmen. "If slower than ironclads, she could not keep the sea; and if slower than merchantmen, she might as well remain in port." (Report of the Secretary of the Navy, December 1, 1888.) This is all very well, but fifty years ago we could have sent to sea a squadron of ten battle-ships that would have compared favorably with those of any nation on the globe, and to-day we have none.
It is true we have the keels of two battle-ships on the stocks, and they may be finished and even sent to sea before the types they represent become obsolete. Even that addition to the navy would avail but little unless they are the forerunners of others. In 1836 the official program called for fifteen battle-ships. To-day we need twenty at least. When we shall have put one-half that number afloat we may begin to talk about "rehabilitating" our navy without provoking a smile of derision.
But the people, or their representatives in Congress, are not willing to rehabilitate in that sense. Hence the United States Navy of the future is to be made up of coast-defense vessels, which, according to our custom, will be laid up "in ordinary," and thin-sided steel cruisers for the high seas. Consequently the American flag is to be displayed upon the ocean only by vessels designed to prey upon private property, and this notwithstanding our own proposition to amend the rules of international law by exempting private property at sea from capture.
During the Franco-German war in 1871 it was the French battleship that dominated the North Sea. The preying upon the private property of the citizens of either belligerent played a wholly insignificant part in the war. And yet that part, insignificant as it is in a maritime war, is the principal objective of the United States Navy of the future. Thus do we virtually abdicate our position as a sea power.
Kinglake, in his "Invasion of the Crimea," draws, with pardonable pride, a fine picture of the moral effect of the presence of an English man-of-war. It was just before the battle of Alma, when, "as though in arrogant yet quiet assertion of an ascendant beyond dispute, one solitary English ship, watching off the Sebastopol harbor, stood sentry over the enemy's fleet. Men had heard of the dominion of the seas; now they saw it." That "solitary ship" represented the vast, living power of a people ever ready to wield it.
A solitary American steel cruiser, with its delusive prefix of "protected," represents the latent possibilities of a great country placidly awaiting some national disaster to generate its mighty forces.
Ensign Bernadou.—I have read with care the interesting and valuable paper now under discussion. While realizing the great advantages in the way of increasing national prestige that would speedily result from the creation of a fleet of battle-ships, yet I cannot but believe that a different line of development would be more in keeping with our present interests.
The problem seems to me to be how, with a moderate appropriation continued through a series of years, to build up a navy that will enable us, first, to defend the approaches to important points on our coasts, and to extend the defensive radius at these points until it equals the radius of offense of modern ironclads; second, to assume an offensive up to distances, say of 3500 miles; third, to injure an enemy by crippling his commerce. For these purposes there would be four classes of vessels needed: coast defense vessels in kind and number proportionate to the requirements of the various sections of the coast; torpedo-boats in great number; a moderate fleet of ironclads; protected cruisers, swift and of great coal endurance.
I think that we should develop these vessels as rapidly as possible, bearing in mind our needs in the order of their importance, which I take to be as follows: protection of our coast cities; protection of our commerce; maintenance of our national policy. Let us therefore begin by building coast defense vessels, heavily armed and well protected, light of draught and of good maneuvering powers.
With the ultimate object of protecting our commerce at sea in time of war, let us in time of peace aim directly at increasing the efficiency of our cruising squadrons, and continue to build protected cruisers of high speed and endurance, well armed with numbers of rapid-fire guns.
Finally, to every five of our coast defense vessels, say, let us build one seagoing armor-clad, a powerful vessel primarily intended for defensive purposes, but able to act on the offensive when needed. To obtain this latter capability we must lighten draught and therefore increase beam; by so doing we sacrifice speed, but we gain by being freed from the necessity of constructing enormous hulls on speed lines.
I consider that the importance of commerce-destroyers is overrated; for the chief lines of trade of the world, at present, either emanate from our own country, or else skirt the western coasts of Europe, where merchant vessels could easily be protected by any European power; e.g., by convoy from headland to headland. I say this to emphasize my belief that we should go ahead rapidly with the construction of our coast defense vessels, and take a more moderate pace with other types.
As to what our navy shall be at sea in times of peace, I think that we may borrow ideas from the system followed at present in Germany, where, at such times, ironclads are kept at home, partly manned or in ordinary, to be fully manned and exercised at stated times; while lighter vessels are sent abroad. Were battle-ships used by us as flag-ships, we would find, in time of trouble, a large number of our best vessels—doubtless constituting an important fraction of our offensive forces—scattered over the waters of the globe, and in these days of quick action there would be no time to assemble them.
Let us run for the present the risk that a lack of torpedo-boats would entail, and get them when appropriations for larger craft are not forthcoming.
Captain Mahan.—I have only to express my entire concurrence in the general tenor of this admirable paper, and in the principles of naval policy adopted in it. Such being the case, having nothing to criticize and little I should care to add, I would have said nothing, were it not that the matter is so important to the country and to the service that it is desirable to re-enforce the paper by as large a consensus of professional opinion as can be obtained.
It is much to be hoped that the whole question of dependence upon swift cruisers and commerce destroying, as a principal mode of warfare, may be more seriously considered than it has been by the navy. If I am right in my opinion, which I understand to be that of Admiral Luce as well, that a war against an enemy's commerce is an utterly insufficient instrument, regarded as the main operation of war, though doubtless valuable as a secondary operation, the United States and its people are committed to an erroneous and disastrous policy. No harm has been done in building the new cruisers, for ships of that kind are wanted; but great harm has been done by the loss of so many years in which have not been built any battle-ships, which are undoubtedly the real strength of a navy.
Lieutenant Wainwright.—Admiral Luce has clearly struck the keynote of our naval policy, and there must be very few naval officers who do not know that the present necessity for the navy is to create a fighting force, viz., to build battle-ships. The great value of his article is that he so clearly and interestingly exemplifies the point as to impress it upon the general public. All naval officers must be convinced that the real reason for their existence as such is to fight in case of need, and that while useful and ornamental in time of peace, they will be of little ornament and no use in time of war without battle-ships. The public have heard so much of the fine navy that has been building for some years past that they imagine the United States Navy has considerable fighting power. Admiral Luce's paper is well calculated to disenchant their minds of this fallacious impression. Then it is for the people of the United States to say whether they will properly protect their immense interests, or leave them under the doubtful shelter of a limited number of desperate expedients.
I do not think that it was a mistake to begin by building unarmored cruisers, because at the time the new navy was commenced the want of plant or experience necessary for building vessels of war would have prevented our building armored vessels in anything like reasonable time. It was very sensible to gain the experience on the less complicated ships and to gather the plant slowly. Now we have the plant and the experience, everything necessary but the appropriation. It is to be hoped that the public will recognize that battleships are necessary to oppose battle-ships, that until they are provided a large proportion of the wealth of the country is at the mercy of any maritime power, and, furthermore, that it takes years to build a battle-ship. They must learn that fortifications, mines, floating batteries, and torpedo-boats are auxiliaries to the main defense, that by their means they may protect some points of the coast from actual assault, but not all, and beyond this that by none of these can they prevent blockade. Let this idea strike in and we will have battleships. It will only then be necessary to determine the quantity and quality. The quantity may be determined by the force maintained by the strongest probable enemy. He will be able to devote a certain proportion of his battleships to attack us. If we have suitable auxiliary defenses such as fortifications, mines, torpedo-boats, and coast defense vessels, our fleet of battle-ships may be smaller than the one he can send against us, for not only can we count upon the aid of the coast defense vessels, but also he will be unable to accomplish anything unless he can mask our fleet. Taking this into consideration, it would seem as if the twelve battle-ships mentioned by Admiral Luce were the smallest number sufficient to give a fair amount of security to our coast.
The type of battle-ships to be selected is a far more difficult problem, and the American battle-ship of the future has yet to be designed. With a small number of battle-ships, all of them must be able to enter our principal ports, and this puts a limit on their size. They must have the necessary battery, protection, speed and endurance. As their ma-in sphere of usefulness will be near our own coast, they might have less coal endurance and a smaller supply of ammunition than foreign battle-ships of the same size, and this saving of weight could be used to increase the weight of battery or armor, that is, in coal endurance they would have a little less than ordinary battle-ships and more than coast defense vessels.
Whatever the type selected may be, we must have battle-ships, and we may rely upon it we have talent enough in the navy to design the best that can be built within the necessary limitations, if the task be assigned and the money be forthcoming.
Commander Harrington.—Great Britain possesses 71 armored vessels, of an aggregate displacement of 509,000 tons and cost of 131 millions of dollars. Of these, 27 ships, of a total displacement of 224,00c tons, have been built since the year 1880 at a cost of 70 millions of dollars. About 50 per cent of the naval force in armored vessels is of more recent design and construction. Nevertheless, 8 armored battle-ships of 14,150 tons each and 2 of 9000 tons each, an aggregate of 131,000 tons, are building and to be completed by April, 1894, at an estimated cost of 42 millions of dollars.
The unarmored cruising navy of Great Britain is composed of 182 vessels, of an aggregate displacement of 316,000 tons, and cost of 71 millions of dollars. Of these, 118 vessels of 204,000 tons have been built since 1880 at a cost of 47 millions of dollars. (The protected cruisers are included.) About 64 per cent of the unarmored and protected cruising navy is of more recent design and construction. Nevertheless, 60 cruisers, of 188,000 tons displacement, and estimated cost of 43 millions of dollars, are to be added to the navy by April, 1894.
The torpedo-boats owned by Great Britain number 147, costing nearly seven millions of dollars.
All the figures relating to cost of this navy are exclusive of the cost of armament.
Assuming that the power of armament is proportional to the displacement of the vessels carrying it, we find that about 60 per cent of the cruising naval force of Great Britain is placed in armored ships.
The vast sums of money which the people of Great Britain willingly spend upon their navy is the insurance of a mighty sea trade and the cost of maritime empire. No other country has such interests upon the sea, and none has emulated Great Britain's naval expenditures. Naval force is maintained by each nation with a primary regard to its necessities, defensive or otherwise, however limited by difficulties of finance. The number of torpedo-boats relates to the number of ports and the extent and navigability of coast. Fast cruisers are necessary to any country which, like Great Britain, has numerous ocean lines of commerce to convoy and protect; and they a-re desirable for any country to raid the commercial routes of a possible foe. The number of armored battle-ships is determined not only by the demands of coast defense, but by the existence of colonies, by obligations of protection or defense voluntarily conferred upon distant countries or people, by international relations in general and the part and influence it is intended to exert upon the sea and in the affairs of the world.
The necessities of foreign countries, as illustrated by their naval constructions, do not present a measure of the amount of naval force required by the United States; but in regard to kind and quality, foreign navies offer most useful suggestions to a country just entering upon naval construction. The composition of a naval force should have a direct relation to the kinds of weapons employed by people who may become enemies. Gunboats are not built to oppose cruisers, nor cruisers to engage armored vessels. It will happen that vessels of different classes or types will meet on unequal terms. An instance has occurred in which several cruisers designed the capture or sinking of an armored ship, chiefly by ramming. Victory has often declared for the weaker antagonist using superior gunnery, strategy, or tactics, or has turned upon some fortuitous circumstance of battle. For such reasons and with such hopes, men will take the risk of odds in number and kind of weapons. But these conflicts are infrequent and arise under exceptional circumstances. As in the past, the cruiser or frigate which comes in the future under the guns of a battle-ship will be captured or destroyed. Modern cruisers are built with greater speed than armored vessels, upon the distinct idea and expectation that they will not usually pass under the guns of a battle-ship. In other words, they will run from an armored vessel, except under circumstances which will justify exposure to its battery. Ships armed for combat seek their own types of antagonists, but avoid their superiors. Undue neglect of the higher types is a fault of naval policy which confirms a naval inferiority.
Great Britain's need of fast cruisers rises with the extent of her ocean traffic. These vessels must have great coal endurance, and, as their speed must be maintained in heavy seas, they must have great length and draft. Accordingly, there is a marked increase in the displacement of the later cruisers. The average displacement of the vessels of the existing unarmored navy of Great Britain is about 1740 tons, while that of the additional sixty cruisers building is 3138 tons. Forty-two of the latter average 4168 tons, the remaining eighteen being torpedo gunboats of 735 tons. The number of cruisers is controlled by the conditions of Great Britain's commerce; but for that vast interest, the armored battle-ship of less speed would be preferred for war service. This reasonable desire for armor, in a vessel which may have to do heavy fighting in convoy duties, has brought into existence the armored cruiser, which embodies in a modified degree the heavy battery and armor of the battle-ship together with the high speed of the vessel known as the protected cruiser. The convoy of fast steamers will be the most important office of the armored cruiser, although a weapon but little inferior to the battle-ship.
The United States has no existing interest of ocean trade, comparable with those of Great Britain and other countries, demanding the creation of a large number of unarmored or merely protected cruisers. Upon a declaration of war sailing vessels will be laid in port. Merchants will not be able to place them under a neutral flag, since such a transfer subsequent to a declaration of war will not be respected. Much of the coastwise trade will pass to the railroads and internal traffic routes. Commerce, externally, must be carried on by fast steamers. The cruisers, then, will engage in their contemplated duties, as despatch vessels, as lookouts along the coast and to the fleet of battle-ships, in convoying, and in preying upon the commerce of the enemy. The vast enlargement of internal industries and traffic in our extensive country has absorbed the energies and capital of our people. Under new conditions of money and labor, when both seek new enterprises, whenever external commerce shall offer fair profit, the United States will acquire fast merchant steamers. Capital will then seek foreign trade in proportion to the existence of means of protection, the visible assurance in every part of the world that the country is resolved to defend the property of its citizens upon the sea as well as upon the land. It is the confident hope of the establishment of an American sea trade, carried under the flag of the United States, which justifies the construction of numerous cruisers for our navy.
Cruisers cannot prevent the descent of a hostile naval force upon a coast. The approach of such a force could be reported by cruisers, giving warning by signal and telegraph to all threatened points; but it is only a line of battleships which can stop a hostile fleet or control its selection of a point of attack. The enemy cannot raid the coast or attempt to lay a city under contribution while subject to an attack in rear. He must seek and defeat the fleet defending the coast before venturing upon any territorial operation. The defending fleet limits the movements of the enemy from the moment the former gets touch through its cruisers with the latter, and the defense may even choose the time and place of action. When there is no fleet the local defenses must be numerous and extensive, and there are many localities upon a coast which cannot be defended, either wholly or in part, by fixed batteries. When there is no defending fleet the enemy may often do pretty much as he pleases, and can always secure harbors for the use of his force in the vicinity of intended operations. The French ruled the seacoast of China in 1884-85 because the Chinese could not oppose to them a line of battle separated from the local defenses. The dominant fleet defending the Chesapeake in September, 1781, secured results momentous to this country. The non-existence of a fleet of defense in 1814 gave Washington into the hands of the enemy.
Rams and sea-going battle-ships can preserve control of the coast waters and give immunity to the coast from naval attack and bombardment. An armored fleet is otherwise necessary to the dignity and honor of the country. The United States has incurred obligations abroad which have been and can be discharged, without a fleet, only during the non-interference of foreign powers. A principle of rule upon the American continent rests upon the latent power of a great country, a precarious support which may be affected by the interests or ambitions of other great nations. Not many years ago an impending war with a foreign country found the United States without proper means of coast defense, and without weapons to compel a compliance with its demands. Had war ensued, our country, doubtless, would have been victorious at last, but, perhaps, after losses and humiliations. The construction of an inter-oceanic canal, owned by citizens of the United States, and the establishment of a trade under our flag, will increase the number of those occasions upon which the country should show its readiness and ability for immediate defense of its rights abroad as at home. The means must be proportioned to the ends desired: cruisers, torpedo-boats, and torpedo gunboats will not suffice.
The recent development of the quick-firing gun and high explosives has given a new value to armor. In addition to protection of a ship's machinery and buoyancy by protective decks and water-line armor and cellulose belts of suitable thickness, a moderate thickness of armor must be placed about the batteries to prevent the explosion of detonating shell among the crew, and so insure the uninterrupted service of the guns.
In the Baltimore and our newest cruisers, the protective decks are of such thickness and position as insure the floating of the ship under a heavy pounding of projectiles. This measure of safety to buoyancy and machinery is independent of the uncertain coal protection, which may or may not exist at the time of action. The special danger of these vessels is the slaughter of the crew by quick-firing gun projectiles, within the distance at which the fire of that gun may be corrected successively. In a word, they are not close action ships, though they may rightly engage at any distance vessels of their own type and similar armament. Their tactical distance for action is determined by the primary battery, but modified by the absence of adequate protection against the shorter range quick-firing gun. It is of such vessels that the London Array and Navy Gazette, reviewing the United States Navy, recently used the following language: "It will be seen that the United States are in earnest in the intention of resuming their position as a naval power. It is, however, somewhat significant that at present all this construction seems to tend in the direction of vessels more fitted to run away from an antagonist of real weight, than to sustain the glorious traditions of the American sea service. With but one or two exceptions these ships are better prepared to destroy commerce than to protect it. There is no sign of a fleet fitted to cope with European armor-clads if they crossed the Atlantic, as they have done before. After all, though, it is better to crawl before trying to run, and we may yet see designed, laid down and built by native talent, in a United States navy yard, that crux of naval construction, the 'battle-ship of the future.'"
The designs of the British armored ships Nile and Trafalgar and the Italian Re Umberto have been changed in order to provide protection against detonating shell. The British Admiralty, in possession of the results of experiments with detonating shell and quick-firing gun projectiles, gave four inches of armor about the auxiliary armament of the new battle-ships, and, subsequently, available displacement in the designs was utilized by increasing slightly that part of the armor. Armored ships building for Chili, Greece, and Russia have a similar feature.
In the Dupuy de Lome and other side-protected cruisers of the French navy, the battery armor is four inches of steel. The water-line armor is reinforced by a coffer-dam filled with obturating material. The new British cruisers of the first class are to have similar protection to their batteries, notwithstanding an increase in the protective deck to a maximum thickness of five inches. It is but a step in the further development of such vessels to the armored cruiser and the battle-ship.
As we have seen, the marked drift in construction of cruisers is armor for batteries and external protection, as well as internal armor to preserve the buoyancy and stability; and we must inevitably follow that tendency. The powerful battery of the Baltimore is not installed merely to harry commerce. She will fight her own kind at least. Our next first-class cruisers should meet the improved types, with which the Baltimore may not be matched on equal terms. The evolution passes to the armored cruiser, and towards that conclusion Spain, Russia, and other nations, as well as England, have turned a considerable part of their naval constructions.
In each type of war vessels our ships should equal the best afloat under foreign flags; and since the total naval force will be inferior in number to those of many nations, the navy should be composed chiefly of ships of the higher types. The Petrel and the Dolphin are very useful and economical war vessels for a time of peace, but the reason of their existence for a state of war is not apparent. Every ship should have a distinct office in war, and her construction should be determined with reference to that office. If the duty assigned is to oppose a war vessel at sea, armor is a part of construction which, at the present day, cannot be neglected.
If two battle-ships and a suitable number of auxiliary vessels are laid down annually, a quarter of a century will elapse before the naval force will be commensurate with the need of the country. A dozen armored vessels should be built as soon as the material can be obtained. While these are building, with an annual program of additional construction duly arranged, the manning of the completed force will require some attention and legislation. But each measure, providing ships or men, should make perfect some part of a definite and lasting naval policy.