The first question that arises in entering upon the subject is whether or no modern arms and modern inventions have so changed all methods of naval warfare as to make the lessons drawn from history useless, and also if it is impossible to lay down any rules for the guidance of naval commanders besides the few points of minor details that illustrate the handling of a few vessels or single vessels—in fact, minor tactics, with the gun, ram, and torpedo as weapons. If it is true that the march of progress has so altered the conditions of warfare as to make the study of naval history useless, then we have no guide except what can be found in the study of modern naval peace maneuvers and a few recent naval battles, of which that of Lissa is the most important; but even from these slight data it is possible to deduce certain rules, and it will be found that these rules agree with those deduced from historical examples, and that it is only minor tactics which must be radically changed with the improvement of the weapon.
There has always been an outcry raised against laying down rules for the conduct of warfare. Military rules have been opposed because of the numerous elements of uncertainty that enter into every problem, and in the case of naval rules the opposition has been still stronger, because of the additional uncertainty introduced by the necessity of contending with the elements. The great master of the art of war, Jomini himself, says that "war, far from being an exact science, is a terrible and impassioned drama, regulated, it is true, by three or four general principles, but also dependent for its results upon a number of moral and physical complications." In another place he says, "war in its ensemble is not a science but an art. Strategy, particularly, may indeed be regulated by fixed laws resembling those of the positive sciences, but this is not true of war viewed as a whole. Among other things, combats may be mentioned as often being quite independent of scientific combinations, and they may become essentially dramatic, personal qualities and inspirations and a thousand other things frequently being the controlling elements. Shall I be understood as saying that there are no such things as tactical rules, and that no theory of tactics can be useful? What military man of intelligence would be guilty of such an absurdity?" Baron de Jomini lays down general rules for the guidance of the military student, and, by analyzing numerous campaigns and battles, shows how he has derived the rules and illustrates the battles. The march of improvement on land has been great, and yet Jomini is still an authority of the highest value. Because the improvement in the weapons at sea has been great, and because all rules are difficult of application to warfare on the sea, the elements of uncertainty being numerous, shall we therefore say that naval warfare not only is not a science, but also is not even an art, that it is a mere matter of brute force , that no rules can be used as a guide, and that the naval commander must trust to the hard fighting of his individual vessels, and that the best work an admiral can do for his fleet is to command the largest vessel and make it conspicuous in the fight? One might answer in the language of Jomini, What naval (military) man would be guilty of this absurdity, were it not for the high naval authority cast upon the side of no rules—not openly and plainly, yet with language that will bear no other construction.
Many officers beyond doubt think that there is no better method to conduct a fleet than to carry it on the shortest road to the enemy, trusting to hard fighting to win the day. They say that on the sea all operations and maneuvers are plainly visible to the enemy, whereas on land there may be doubts in the mind of either side as to the position and strength of the troops opposed, and a portion of the line may be strengthened or weakened without the knowledge of the opposing force. Strategy, with its political, geographical, and military or regular strategic points, remains now, as throughout the history of war, the same, but tactics are useless. The advocates of brute force are not confined to those who pin their faith on any one weapon; there are adherents of the gun, the ram, and the torpedo, who point to the sentence extracted from Nelson's famous Trafalgar order, "No captain can do wrong if he places his ship alongside that of an enemy," as the best rule of the greatest of naval commanders, and yet every line of that order, of which the above is a short extract, shows Nelson to be a believer in tactics and a great tactician, and throughout it he is striving to line out the course to be pursued by his fleet, in accordance with the various positions of the enemy, so that he may combine his strength upon a portion of the enemy's, the aim of all tacticians. The tactics to be pursued in any given case must somewhat depend upon strategical considerations. It may frequently happen that it is not to the best interests of the country to risk a decisive battle, for the resources of the enemy may be so superior that the loss Incurred in defeating him will be ruinous to us while not felt seriously by him. If our enemy be decidedly inferior to us, it may be wise to endeavor to overwhelm him at all points at once; but where the two fleets are nearly equal, we can hardly expect that our fighting qualities will be so far superior to his as to give us a decided victory. If both sides rush together and engage in a melee, chance will rule; but the result must be disastrous to both fleets, and the victor of such a combat can have but little fighting value left. In most of the great battles won by the English fleets they gained some decided tactical advantage in the outset through superior handling of their fleets, and in those days their superior seamanship and gunnery, and higher state of discipline made an English vessel far superior to a French, Spanish, or Dutch vessel of the same size. We know that many of their commanders, notably Collingwood, paid great attention to rapidity of fire. The fire was generally reserved until close quarters, and then poured in by broadsides; the opposing crews, less skillful and fatigued by firing at long range, could not compete with the English in rapidity of fire, and their guns were silenced. The slaughter was usually far greater on the enemy's vessels than on the English, and, although courageously fought, they were obliged to surrender. This great slaughter was largely due, undoubtedly, to the rapid firing, and some may have been due to superior ballistics. Because of this superiority, they adopted the tactics, when to windward, of cutting through the enemy's line and engaging him to leeward, thus preventing him from slipping away to leeward when disabled. Can we expect to have this superiority to all enemies?
In 1812 our officers and vessels were superior to the English, and our crews at least their equals, but the fact remains that in spite of our victories in the naval duels, if the war had continued longer, we would have been without a vessel able to keep the sea. It would be egregious vanity for us to assume any individual superiority over European vessels or fleets as now situated, and if our only dependence must be on hard fighting,—unless we contemplate building a naval force equal or superior to our possible foes,—we might as well cease our endeavors to build up a navy. It certainly seems improbable that for many years to come we can expect to have a large fleet. We may hope to have a small fleet of battle-ships, and if this must rush at the enemy whenever he is sighted, we may expect to beat him once, we may hope to defeat his second fleet, but for a third encounter we would certainly have no fleet. There may arise occasions when, because of the political situation, it may be necessary to risk our small fleet; that is, an immediate victory may serve to prevent another nation from joining the enemy, or may serve to induce an ally to join us, but certainly under ordinary occasions it would be foolhardy to attack the enemy at once and insure our final destruction, while on these extraordinary occasions it certainly would be wise to endeavor by maneuvers to gain some advantage over the enemy, and, while destroying him, preserve as many of our vessels as possible.
To begin with, let us see if we cannot find some rules by which we may be guided, and from which, if we follow them, we may hope for advantage, and which, if we violate them, will plainly give the enemy the advantage if he adopts the correct course.
There will be three cases to consider in the conduct of a fleet; when meeting one of equal strength, when meeting one of superior strength, and when meeting one of inferior strength.
When meeting an equal force, the first thing to be considered is whether an immediate and decisive action is necessary to the interests of the country, or whether it is advisable merely to delay the enemy until we can receive reinforcements; or, is our fleet so important to us that it must not be risked until we have reasonable certainty of a complete victory? Undoubtedly the most satisfactory course for any commander to pursue is to press on to an immediate engagement; his responsibilities are lighter, and his anxiety is shortened. He has only to have confidence in his own courage and that of his officers. Even if he should be defeated he can fight hard, injure his enemy, and leave his courage unimpugned. On the other hand, if he wait, he must be vigilant day and night; he must restrain those who, desirous of ending their anxiety, will try to force a fight. He knows that if by an unfortunate accident he should lose touch of the enemy he will be subjected to adverse criticism. There will always be those under him whose only idea of fighting is to have it out at once, win or lose, and until he has achieved success they will believe he is wanting in courage. The adventurous side will always be popular. Still, the commander of a fleet of the United States will in many cases find it his duty to risk little in order to preserve his fleet in fighting condition, and win the game by strategy and tactics in place of hard fighting. Suppose we had but a fleet of eight battle-ships—and it must be some time to come before we shall have that force: the enemy, say England, having many vessels, sends a fleet of eight battle-ships to attack our coast. If we were to attack that fleet, rush out and meet it halfway, we might be victorious; in fact, I think we would be victorious, but at the end of the battle I should expect to find our fleet utterly unfit for further contests. The next fleet that came over would have free play on our coast as far as any opposition from our fleet was concerned. Now, history shows us how a small fleet may be handled to advantage in the defense of a coast where the principal points are fortified; and I think common-sense reasons may be shown by which a waiting game may be made to pay, and how a flanking fleet may be a powerful defensive weapon in the hands of an able commander.
The first and easiest case to handle is where the two opposing fleets are equal and both desire to bring on an engagement. Still the question is sufficiently complicated. What shall be the order of battle, and will the fleets stand off and use the guns, or will they close for a ramming encounter? Again, we have those officers who care little about the formation but who would attempt to ram their enemy at all hazards, and there are some good arguments on their side. They have only to concentrate their mind on one idea; straight for the enemy is all they need think about. Their mind is made up, and immediately the enemy is sighted there is no hesitation on their part. If the enemy hesitate or flinch, they will undoubtedly be caught at a disadvantage and probably rammed and defeated. This would undoubtedly be the better course to pursue if you were certain of the pluck of your officers, but doubtful of their skill and your judgment. We certainly can always depend upon the pluck of our officers, and by proper training we should be able to depend upon their skill.
Now for the method of attack. Jomini says that no rational man would, under ordinary circumstances, attempt to attack along the whole extent of an enemy's line; that there are always three points for him to choose from, the right, center, or left, two of which maybe equally good and the third can be rejected. On land it is usual to endeavor to extend the front equal to that covered by the enemy, to prevent outflanking, because troops struck in the flank are crushed in detail and rolled up unless strongly supported; but the movement of vessels is more rapid and free, and there is not the same danger from having the flank overlapped by the enemy. Upon sighting the enemy the commander would ordinarily be able to determine immediately the point upon which he intended to press his attack. Before indicating the circumstances that will guide him, it will be first necessary to open the vexed question of the relative importance of the modern weapons, the gun, the ram, and the torpedo. It is here necessary to state I am a firm believer in the gun as the first and foremost weapon. And it seems to me that it is the only position to be maintained logically. I believe that within certain limits you can say what the gun will do, what the ram may do, and what you hope the torpedo will do. And in starting from the other end you can draw the limits of the power of the weapons very closely. For the torpedo the degree of accuracy is poor, the range is short, the number of shots few, and the damage is not greatly in excess of shell. With the ram, while the range is still shorter and the probable damage is greater, the delivery of the blows must be few and far between. The number of blows from the gun are practically unlimited; for the smaller calibers the rapidity with which they can be delivered is very great, and the destructive effect of the larger calibers almost as great as that of the other weapons. I believe each has an appropriate time for its use and its distinct tactical value; besides this, there is a strategic value that may overbalance the tactical one. It must be remembered that the subject of fleet actions is now being discussed, as in individual duels there is room for a different discussion of these weapons. In the case of the gun, the commander of a fleet who has had an opportunity properly to exercise his fleet, and who finds it manned with well trained gunners, should be able to calculate very closely the damage he may reasonably expect to inflict with his guns, according to the composition of the enemy's fleet and the state of sea and weather. He should be able to select a range and concentration of fire that would insure his damaging the enemy. In this selection, and in so handling his fleet, his personal skill would be clearly manifested. With highly trained gunners, good guns, and well protected ships, he would leave less to chance by using the gun than if he selected the ram. If he should select the ram, he can make the best arrangement to rush to the attack, but after that, he can have but little management of his fleet, and his success or failure must largely depend upon individual skill and the accidents of a close encounter, and it would be out of his power to remedy any defects in the execution of his program after it was once initiated. Certainly a commander who is confident of his own skill and of his power to wield his fleet as a single machine, would prefer that weapon upon which he can base his calculations and throw out the element of chance as far as possible. He would first use the gun until, his calculations proving correct, he had disabled a portion of his enemy's fleet; then the great value of the ram would be seen; it certainly becomes a highly powerful weapon when wielded against a disabled antagonist. At this time its value far exceeds that of the gun, and a good commander would push his advantage home with the ram. Much has been claimed for the torpedo, but whenever it has been practically tested its performance has fallen far below the expectations of its advocates. As at present developed, it has little or no tactical value in fleet actions. Not that I would advocate doing away with the torpedo in battle-ships; only I would be willing to sacrifice very little to the weapon, and it would not alter in the slightest degree the tactical disposition of the fleet or the maneuvers in battle. It may help to disable an enemy, and in the case of a vessel already disabled it may enable her to injure the vessel that is about to ram; but it is hardly powerful enough to prevent ramming, and is too uncertain in its action and effect to change the maneuvers of the vessels engaged. Many will say that in selecting a range at which to engage, concentrating the fire and finally charging the disabled vessels with the ram, the enemy can take the same advantages; this is true of all strategy and all tactics, and at sea, where all motions are plainly visible to the enemy, he would be aware of each maneuver and could make the proper reply. The only thing is to be prepared and make the best moves according to sound tactics, and if the best reply was made, the terms would still be equal; but if a weak move should be made, and a strong reply by the enemy, the latter would then have an advantage. In studying the tactics of all naval battles, the moves made by the successful commander are readily comprehended, and the reply is plain to the student; he wonders why the defeated commander failed to make it, until he realizes that what is so plain on paper becomes more difficult when undertaken amid the excitement and confusion of a battle when resting under the responsibility of conducting a fleet. He realizes that the commander who despises tactics and considers it too simple a matter to be worthy of study, meets his antagonist without preparation, and for want of a proper reply is defeated, while the successful commander, having the few simple rules well in mind, and having considered their application to all the possible positions of the enemy, is ready to make the strong move and take every advantage of his enemy, and defeats him. The old method of doubling up on the enemy's line was always easily answered by starting to double back on his line when he made the move, but this reply was generally neglected. And in all history there is very rarely seen a case at sea or on land where more than two or three strong moves are followed by the same number of sound replying moves; although plain and simple to the student, to the commander in action they become difficult, and sooner or later the more skillful gains a decided advantage. Perhaps the finest campaign in all history to study and see the best move followed by the strongest reply is the advance of Sherman upon Atlanta, and Johnson's retreat upon that city. Johnson had the weaker force and must retreat if properly pushed, and vet he was too strong to be attacked rashly. Sherman would extend one flank or the other, and by threatening Johnson's flank, or threatening to cut him off from his base, would force the Southern army to retreat. Johnson would retreat at the right moment and fall back to the next strategic point with great skill. Had Johnson made a mistake, he must have suffered a crushing defeat; had Sherman made a false move, if not defeated, his advance would have been checked and he must have awaited the arrival of reinforcements.
The range at which it is best to engage now becomes a question for consideration, and this can be readily fixed for our present guns by reference to the "Text-Book of Ordnance and Gunnery," by Lieutenants Meigs and Ingersoll, and the ''Tactics of the Gun," by Lieutenant Meigs. With our present guns and with the present type of battle-ship, 2000 yards should be the opening range under ordinary circumstances, as then the probable target would catch one fourth of the shots fired. The effective range being about 1100 yards, the inside range, or where the gun is no longer supreme, is affected by three things: the range of the torpedo, from 300 to 400 yards; the magazine rifles and machine guns, their fire becoming dangerous at less than 500 yards; and the danger of being rammed, which depends upon the tactical diameter of vessels engaged. This latter is the most important limitation to the range to be selected, for if within the space where the enemy may ram, it becomes necessary to turn your bows to his vessels, unless you have superior speed and intend to run away. Leaving this out of the question, if you come within this distance, a ramming conflict becomes inevitable, and the gun is subordinated to other weapons. Therefore the range will ordinarily be in the neighborhood of 1000 yards, not over 2000 and not under 600 yards. Should the enemy's vessels be slightly protected in comparison to ours, or should his guns be of less power, it may be advisable to engage at greater ranges so as to take full advantage of our superiority. The angle of presentment is the next point to be considered, and this is regulated by the distribution of the guns and armor. The modern tendency is to armor the entire exposed surface and give strong bow fire; then, approaching end on, or nearly end on, will allow the use of full strength of fire and expose the least surface with the armor at the best angle; but when intending to carry on a gunnery combat there will be very little time occupied in passing from the outer to the inner limit of the gunnery range, so that the angle of presentment must be regulated so as to keep the fleet between the limits and yet as much less than 90° as possible.
The next question is the order of formation. The fleet should be so formed as to give full opportunity for engaging with the battery, and yet it must be a flexible formation, readily maintained and easily reformed when once broken. The first thing to be observed by a fleet is close order, and this should be very close, so as to give good mutual support in case of ramming. Then if your vessels are nearer together than the enemy's, you have a greater force than his on some part of the line, and you move your vessels in less space. A formation in column is generally bad, for many reasons, and certainly in very close order it becomes dangerous if steaming at high speeds. Should one vessel become disabled, the line might be thrown into disorder and collisions might take place. A formation in line is bad, as it does not permit a full development of the fire of the battery, and should the enemy pass through, your shot would be almost as dangerous to friend as to foe, and any vessel disabled and dropping astern would be without protection. I believe that a bow and quarter line, or echelon, is the formation that most nearly answers the requirements, and this in spite of the adverse criticisms in "Modern Naval Tactics." Admiral Randolph makes the following remarks on bow and quarter line: "It is hard to preserve; the opportunities, however, for using the battery are very good. It is not the most efficient for mutual protection from ramming, as the stern-most of two vessels receives none from her bow neighbor, and the leader of two, not the utmost possible from her quarter neighbor. Furthermore, it is not a good formation for ordinary steaming, as it is hard to maintain your station, and is difficult to change direction in, although it permits great liberty of movement of the vessels themselves."
In three years' experience in the North Atlantic Squadron I have seen the vessels frequently cruising together in most of the prescribed formations, and do not believe that it is hard to preserve this formation or difficult for vessels to maintain their stations. Commander Colby M. Chester used on the Galena, attached to the squadron, a small instrument that greatly facilitated keeping in position in any formation except column of vessels. It consisted of an alidade on deck with a rigid connection to the engine room below, where a pointer was attached that moved with the alidade. When in position, the pointer was set at the zero of the scale with the alidade on the mainmast of the guide. A man was stationed to keep the alidade on the mainmast of the guide, so that the position of the pointer showed the engineer on watch how the ship was maintaining her bearing with the guide, and when it was necessary to diminish or increase the number of revolutions of the propeller. All that is necessary beyond this is for each vessel to have the error of the compass accurately known and to steer a fairly straight course. To change the direction of the line of bearing, bring the fleet into column of vessels in natural or reverse order by a simultaneous change of course to the direction of the line of bearing 1/8 or 3/8 of a circle. Then give the leading vessel, the guide, the direction of the new line of bearing as a course; this will be taken by each vessel in succession. When all are on this line, give the new course, making an angle of 45 degrees with the new line of bearing; this will be assumed by the vessels simultaneously and they will be in bow and quarter line. The direction can be changed by wheeling while in this formation as readily as when in line abreast, but wheeling with an extended front of vessels is an awkward maneuver. Even if the bow and quarter line is a difficult formation to maintain, we must increase our skill in holding positions. As we cannot afford to reject fine instruments of precision because sailors have been accustomed for a long time to the handling of coarse ones, so we cannot afford to reject formations or evolutions because we lack experience. The officers and men must be educated up to the required point. With every improvement introduced in the Navy have come objections from some that the instrument was too intricate to be placed in the hands of sailors; still, so far, neither the sailor nor the officer has failed when called upon for additional skill, knowledge, or intelligence; all that is needed is time to adapt themselves to the instrument or method that they are required to use. Commander Bainbridge-Hoff says: "Formations en echelon present to the enemy a line of rams and a line of fire. Yet it is a dangerously bad formation if it is attacked in its line of bearing, as it is not flexible." I think he has gained the impression of the want of flexibility in the formation from the old method of handling a fleet en echelon, viz., forming it only from line abreast and requiring a return to line abreast to change the formation; this is all changed in the new evolutions with which he has had so much to do, and certainly there is no want of flexibility if properly handled. As to its weakness, in all formations there are points of weakness and points of strength against an attack. In line abreast, which is strongly advocated by some, an attack upon either flank would find the weak point of the formation. To meet this by a change of direction, there being sufficient time to make the change, would take no longer en echelon than in line abreast. And to meet it by change to column would require the vessels en echelon to alter their course forty-five degrees against ninety degrees for those vessels in line abreast. The fact that this formation presents to the enemy both rams and a line of fire, and permits great liberty of movement to the vessels themselves, more than balances any disadvantages there may be in this formation. The introduction of the ram and torpedo caused many to remodel their ideas of naval tactics, and a rather sudden departure was made from old formations and maneuvers. It may be that this was too sudden, and that where so much must be speculation and derived from paper arguments, we may still be able to take some lessons from history. Sir Howard Douglas carefully derives his steam tactics from experience with sailing vessels and from the history of naval warfare when sail was the motive power. All this was thrown aside when the ram was re-introduced, but more modern experience has shown, I think, that his arguments were well founded and need only slight changes to adapt them to the present time. Thus it is no longer necessary to bring the broadside to bear upon the enemy in order to deliver the full strength of the battery. By consulting the valuable diagrams of Lieutenant Chambers in General Information Series Nos. 5 and 6, it will be seen that the average vessel can deliver as effective a fire at an angle of fifty degrees from the keel as at ninety. Because of the ram, it is advisable to meet the enemy nearly head on, and it may be advisable to alter the angle of the keel with the line of bearing from forty-five to something nearer ninety, and this may be done without sacrificing any strength of fire. The group system has been strongly advocated, and many ingenious evolutions have been laid down, but the system is cumbersome and sacrifices a portion of the offensive strength of the fleet to increase the power of defense; its advocates have been misled by the undue prominence given the ram. In groups of three, a portion of the fire strength is sacrificed, and there will be a strong tendency to split into groups after the first rush of the attack. There are times when the group system may be advisable; such as when our fleet is somewhat weaker than that of the enemy and it is necessary to make a strong showing and to run unusual risks in our attempt to defeat the enemy; then the unarmored vessels may be brought into the line of battle, and their inherent weakness somewhat remedied by the formation of groups, preferably groups of twos.
The ideal fleet is one composed of eight line-of-battle ships in four divisions of two each, right, center, left, and reserve divisions. This forms groups of two, but very pliable groups; the divisions keeping together in fleet formation as long as possible and then separating into pairs; each division to have its fast cruiser and sea-going torpedo-boat, and the fleet to have in addition such specially devised boats, rams, and dynamite cruisers as may be deemed advisable; six vessels to cruise together in en echelon, cruisers sent out as scouts, and the reserve with torpedo-boats, etc., in the rear.
There is good authority for placing unarmored vessels in the line of battle. Still, believing as I do that the gun is the principal weapon, and that it would be allowable to place them in the line only in some such exceptional cases as mentioned above, the argument of Admiral Sir Geoffrey Hornby, K.C.B., seems unanswerable. The Admiral says: "You may put an ironclad in any position you please, and if she is attacked by three of these unarmored vessels she will make a run at one vessel or the other, attack her with her guns, and threaten her with her ram, and it must be death to that vessel if she touches her in any way. The two other vessels, you say, will follow and disturb the action of the ironclad; but it must be recollected that the ironclad will always be firing at them, one gun at least, and with shells, the bursting power of which must necessarily, as far as we know, destroy the fighting power of the cruiser. If any one contemplates what the bursting of a shell filled with 37 pounds of powder in the center of any unarmored vessel would be, I think he would agree there would be no more fight left in the ship. It is no answer to say that the ship is armed with a gun as heavy as the ironclad has; the morale of the people will be destroyed, and they will be unable to continue the action against the concentrated force to which they are opposed. For that reason I hold that the unarmored ship cannot contend against the armored."
The improvement in rapid-fire guns, and the adaptation of the system to larger calibers makes it a necessity to protect the people working the batteries against shell from these guns. Therefore the unarmored vessels will cruise in advance and on the flanks, acting as scouts and giving warning of the approach of the enemy, and then taking up positions well away on the flanks. The fleet will be so maneuvered as to bring the line of bearing in such a direction as to make an angle of 45° with the enemy's course, and the course of the vessels so varied as to draw the line towards the enemy and also to give full development to the fire. If he is in line and shows signs of intending to charge through, fix the course so as to bring the bows of the vessels to the bows of the enemy. The fleet will then be en Echelon.
With the fleet right in front, under ordinary circumstances, the reserve division will support the left flank, as it is most in danger of being doubled on; and should it be evident that the enemy have no intention of adopting ramming tactics, they can be used to lengthen the firing line. In all cases such torpedo-boats and rams as may be attached to the fleet will shelter themselves behind the battle-ships until the confusion of the enemy or the smoke affords good cover for an attack. When the left is clear of the enemy, all go about with the same helm as pre-arranged or signaled, and stand down for the enemy again. If the enemy decide to pass our line firing, the fleet will be so handled as to keep about one thousand yards from the enemy's vessels, and at the same time to give ample opportunity to the batteries, the effort being made to draw the fleet past one flank of the enemy without incurring the dangers of an oblique attack. In the days of sailing vessels and smooth-bore guns the oblique attack nearly always proved ruinous to the attacking party, for his leading vessels were exposed to the fire of the entire line of the enemy, and were badly cut up before the guns of the rear vessels could be brought to bear. At the present time there is less danger, as the vessels are a much shorter time under fire, owing to their great speed, and nearly the whole strength of fire can be brought to bear as the guns are now distributed. Still, an oblique attack tends to induce the enemy to concentrate his fire upon the leading vessels. The fire of the heavy guns of the fleet will be concentrated upon one or two vessels of the enemy, according to the distance, state of sea, and weight of fire of the fleet, taking into account the probable number of hits and the disposition of the armor of the opposing vessels, the idea being to insure as nearly as possible the disabling of at least one of the enemy's vessels, rather than distributing the damage over several vessels. Should some of the enemy be more lightly armored than others, they should be selected as the target, if so placed in the line as to be readily aimed at. One vessel disabled will tend more to throw the enemy's line into confusion than if the hits were distributed; besides, with distributed hits the damage may be repaired without reducing the fighting efficiency of the vessel. The fire of the lighter calibers, particularly the quick-firing guns, should be left to the commander of each vessel, he pouring it into his nearest available enemy, so as to keep down the fire of the heavy guns, damage torpedo tubes, and riddle unarmored ends.
If the enemy decides to try ramming tactics and attacks formed in column, he will charge through some portion of the line; the reserve and torpedoes will form in rear and strengthen that portion. The concentrated fire of the fleet should be able to damage the leading vessels of the column. The reserve must be ready to fill any gap in the line that may be caused by vessels being disabled, the most likely point being where the enemy charges through the line, for the vessels there will be liable to be rammed, and will receive the fire of the enemy as they pass through. The torpedo-boats will be ready to attack any disabled vessel of the enemy, and with the reserve must make a strong attack on the rear vessels, should the others succeed in getting through without being disabled. If the enemy attempts to ram with his vessels in line, the ordinary position for the reserve would be in rear of the center division.
The question of weather or lee gage has given rise to some controversy. If it were possible to hold the weather gage during an action without sacrificing other points, it would be well to hold it; for to windward you can see your own ships and gain occasional glimpses of the enemy, while to leeward you can see but little of either. But with steam fleets in action, the interchange of positions is likely to be rapid and frequent; it would then be preferable to start from the leeward position, as then, the formation being well preserved, the position of your own vessels and that of the enemy would be known, and after charging through you would have the weather position clear of the smoke in which to reform the fleet, and the enemy would have the drifting smoke to add to his confusion. At least this is the conclusion I have reached after witnessing many target practices and some sham attacks where blank charges were used. "Parker's Steam Tactics" is the only authority I can quote to support my idea as to the position of the admiral in command of a fleet in action. All former experience seems to be against me, and yet I find myself unable to relinquish the opinion that the line of battle is as improper a position for the commander of a modern fleet as it is for the general of an army. The history of former naval battles shows us that the admiral arranged his plans before the action, informed his captains, and after hoisting the signal for going into action, closed his signal-book and turned his attention to fighting his flagship until the close of the action, when he resumed his office of admiral. The following appears to be the idea most generally held: "The admiral's flag belongs on the largest and most powerful vessel, which should outshine all others as a brilliant example in the heat of battle. History shows that the admiral must himself be in the midst of the fight. If he wishes to be the vital element in his ship and to make the best use of all the components of his command, then he must put himself in a position to see everything and to be seen of all."
How an admiral can see everything and make the best use of all the components of his command, and at the same time outshine all others as a brilliant example in the heat of battle, is hard to conceive. It sounds well, but it is not practicable. There is now greater opportunity for the tactician to handle a modern fleet, and an admiral can be better employed than he would be if setting an example by the way he fights his flagship. When we have to fight modern vessels we shall have no lack of captains to fight them boldly, bravely, and skillfully; but if the combat is to be with the fleet combined, and not a confused melee of separate conflicts between two or three vessels, the fleet will require the undivided attention of the admiral, and he should be so placed as to be able to concentrate himself upon the entire action, and not have his attention especially drawn to the conduct of one vessel. Being in the most powerful ship, he would be most likely to disable an enemy, and in the charge through might be detained to give the coup de grace, while his fleet, having passed through, would be without his direction when reforming. Again, to him is confided the policy of his government and the condition of the entire force at its disposal, and he will have carefully estimated what risks it is wise to run with his fleet; and the exigencies of the case may require him to withdraw his fleet from action, which would be a difficult task if he were in the thick of the fight, even if he were able from this position to judge of the condition of affairs. I firmly believe that the admiral should withdraw as much as practicable from the heat of the battle by taking his station on a strongly protected despatch-boat, in designing which everything must be sacrificed to speed and buoyancy. During the artillery portion of the combat he can shelter his vessel under the battle-ships, and in the charge through escape at the flanks. He may run as little risk as is consistent with keeping his fleet well in sight, unless in cases of desperate emergency, when, as a general may sometimes choose to lead a last charge, he may go on board one of his vessels of the line and lead the attack upon the enemy. Undoubtedly, it will require some moral courage for an admiral to take his station in battle on a despatch-boat, at least until the idea receives more general approval. He will think of the long line of illustrious men who have always been in the thickest of the fight. Some will point to the time at Mobile when Farragut, rushing ahead with his flagship, saved the fleet and won the battle; but, on the other hand, if Admiral Byng's attention had not been distracted by a collision, he might have signaled to his rear squadron to engage, and perhaps have gained a victory off Minorca; at least he would have saved his reputation and his life. Still, if the admiral has had practice with his fleet, and finds his captains skillful in maneuvering, and the fleet under his control acting as a machine, he will not only take pride in handling it, but will have confidence that in its combined action lies the secret of success. And he will feel that his station on a despatch-vessel, while it does not withdraw him from danger, gives him a position from which he can see and maneuver his fleet, so that it becomes a mighty engine of destruction in his hands, and not a mere conglomeration of vessels. He will prearrange his plans as far as possible, and fully inform the captains of his intentions and desires. Many points may admit of preconcerted action, particularly which helm is to be used in turning after the charge through; but, for the skillful maneuvering of the fleet, signals will be wanted, and we need further practice with battle signals. Flag signals must be frequently obscured during an action, and some other method of communicating with the fleet must be adopted. I think the so-called Japanese day signals would be found to work admirably. These signals are light wooden bombs, projected into the air from mortars. When they explode they throw out shapes, which can be greatly varied and are readily distinguished at a considerable distance. The smoke lies most thickly near the water, and these signals, thrown well up into the air, would be usually visible from deck, and always from an elevated point aloft. The numbers and combinations necessary for battle signals would be few. Large distinguishing flags or shapes should be carried at the highest points by all the vessels of the fleet, so that the admiral may readily judge of their positions. These would be generally visible from aloft.
An attack having been decided upon and the force of the enemy being equal to ours, what point of his line shall we attack? There are many different situations which may arise that will require each a different answer. If the enemy should be formed in column, particularly if he shows signs of intending to ram, the head of the column would seem the best point upon which to concentrate the fire of the vessels, for, by disabling the leader or leaders, the column would be thrown into disorder. As in all cases when it has been decided to bring the enemy to close quarters, if he is determined to charge through and try the ram, we must present our bows, and cannot prevent his using the ram, so in this case we must endeavor so to set the course of our fleet as to cause him to charge through at or near our center. This will give our vessels all along the line the best opportunity to fire at the leading vessels of his column, and should he be able to pierce our line near either flank he might be able to detach and destroy the flanking vessels. He should never be allowed when in column to pass along either flank of our fleet, for then he would have the advantage of concentration upon the flank vessel. If he attempts this by withdrawing or refusing the squadron on that flank until his center has passed, we can head for his line and charge through. But the best point for us to make would be to oppose our center to his leading vessels, when we could combine the fire of six of our vessels on his one or two during the advance, the two in the reserve division being ready to meet with their fire the vessels as they pass through. Here the enemy would be able to pour the fire of their eight vessels into our center vessels; still, at this point, each vessel of the enemy will meet with the fire of four of ours, the two between which they are passing and the two of the reserve squadron.
It is true that the enemy having reserved their fire from necessity, being in column, will be able to use their heavy calibers, but at this range the smaller calibers, the quick-firing and machine guns and magazine rifles will have the advantage; the smoke will be great and the heavy guns must be fired un-aimed and amid a shower of missiles from our four vessels. I think the chances will favor our damaging his leading vessel and escaping with our center vessels uninjured. If the leading vessel is injured, some of our torpedo-boats or rams should finish its career. The enemy may charge through our fleet without ramming; it would seem as if it would be natural for our vessels to crowd imperceptibly a little towards the flanks, leaving him a free passage, and it would certainly seem a most dangerous attempt for any of his vessels to sheer out of the column and attempt to ram; if he should charge through, our two center vessels and reserve squadron, with torpedo-boats and rams, if we have any, should block the way for the rear of the column and attempt their destruction. But should the shock come, and his leaders meet our vessels with the ram, their speed must be suddenly checked; the other vessels must sheer to continue their course, his formation must be broken, he must meet our rams at a disadvantage, and we should succeed in doing far the greatest injury. I firmly believe that the attempt to charge in column or columns will always prove fatal to the fleet making the attempt; that their complete success at the point of shock by ramming their opponents would be their own undoing, as in arresting the advance of the leaders the mass would be thrown into confusion, and would in turn become the prey of a well-formed line. The impetus of the body is not increased by its mass; it must fly apart at the first shock unless it would be its own instrument of destruction; it cannot submit to further compression with safety. Then the leaders should be damaged by our concentrated fire and would have therefore less than an even chance at the point of shock.
If the enemy be formed in line and he decide to ram, our line should be so maneuvered as to bring our center opposite to one of his flanks—to his right flank if our bow and quarter line is formed right in front, and to his left flank if our fleet is left in front. This would enable the fire of our fleet to be concentrated on his flank vessels, and if he in turn concentrate on our flank vessels they will be farther away, being refused, than if we attacked on the other flank. The reserve will strengthen the flank that must charge through the enemy. Such of the fleet as clear the enemy's flank should change direction simultaneously 12 points towards the enemy—that is, to the left if right in front, to the right if left in front—and follow up his engaged wing. If this wing has continued its course, our vessels will again change course simultaneously 4 points, when in their rear, and follow them up. If the enemy attempt to turn immediately after passing through our line, our fresh wing would strike them in the flank when they were disordered and when they were probably weakened by the attack of the first wing. The first wing should go about together as soon as the last vessel was clear of the enemy's line, and be ready with the reserve to meet the enemy's fresh wing. The torpedo-boats and rams will keep in rear of the wing that clears the enemy, and change course and move down upon the enemy with that wing.
If the enemy intend to engage in an artillery conflict he will be in some extended formation, as line or echelon. Then selecting the same flank as before, that is, his left, if we are right in front and vice versa, we try to draw our line along this flank; if he make the correct reply to this move the fleets will pass on parallel lines and all will depend upon accuracy and concentration of fire. Then on most occasions the fleet would go about, change direction 16 points, and pass again, watching for the opportunity to strike with the ram when vessels were disabled or the fleet disorganized. In all cases the gun would be our first and principal weapon, and whether he charged our line or passed firing we should attempt by concentrating the fire of our vessels to injure seriously one or more of his. If forced to ram by him, our concentration of fire should give us the advantage before the shock; if not forced, we should gain a decided advantage before using the ram. Never waste our ammunition at great ranges and pour in the lighter missiles at close quarters.
The formations and evolutions necessary for such tactics are very simple; column, line, and echelon are the only formations necessary, and the change from one to the other by simultaneous or successive changes of course. But the formation in column should never be a complete bow and stern line; each vessel should hang a little on the quarter of its leader, thus enabling a very close order without risk of accident; the proper signal to be made for each to take the starboard or port quarter of her leader, or to alternate, as the case might require. The formation for attack being as near a bow and quarter line as the circumstances permit, will be probably something between the line and the column, never reaching either limit, but adopting the course between the two that will tend to draw the fleet along one flank of the enemy; the line of bearing of the fleet being at an angle of about 45° with that of the enemy, rarely being parallel to his, and never at right angles; the course of the vessels always being brought nearly or directly opposite to that of the enemy when within ramming distance, that is, presenting ram to ram.
Strategy may require us to attempt the complete destruction of the enemy and thus somewhat modify our tactics. Our fleet may be masking the enemy's while we have another engaged in blockading, bombarding a fortified port, or forcing a landing; in such cases we could not afford to allow a large proportion of his fleet to escape, even if we destroyed the remainder. We must bring his entire fleet into a decisive engagement. Now, while preferring to start with an artillery combat if we are certain of preventing an escape, should there be any uncertainty, we must bring the ram into play; but even then we should be guided as in the first two propositions, and if he be in column, charge so as to bring the head of it at our center; and if he be in an extended formation, charge with our center abreast one portion of the line. In both cases we shall concentrate our fire upon the selected point, the only difference being that we must make greater efforts to ram in the charge. If we have superior speed, or have a sufficient force of swift torpedo-boats and rams to force a fleeing enemy to turn, then we may endeavor to injure his flank vessels with artillery before charging.
Again, strategy may require us to avoid for the time a decisive battle. Our fleet may be opposed by the masking fleet of the enemy, while he has another fleet engaged in blockading or attacking one of our fortified ports or endeavoring to force a landing of troops. If we meet the combined fleets it must be our endeavor to prevent him from separating and engaging us with one fleet while the other fleet proceeds about its undertaking. If he succeeds in opposing us with his masking fleet alone, we must endeavor to escape from this fleet without too great a sacrifice, and then proceed to interrupt the operations of the other fleet. In neither case can we afford to risk a decisive engagement at once. In the first case we should run the risk of being overwhelmed by a superior force, and in the second, even if we should defeat the masking fleet, it would be at the risk of so crippling our own vessels as to leave his remaining fleet free to carry out his hostile intentions. Strategy here requires us to play a waiting game. In the case of the combined fleet we must proceed against them with our cruisers well in advance, our battle-ships next, with rams and torpedo-boats in the rear. Push forward the protected cruisers to resist the advance, as a game of long bowls with its chances of accident, we being near our repair shops, is in our favor. Let them fall back only when too closely pressed by a superior force, being careful to keep beyond the range of rapid-fire and machine guns. When they fall back they will disclose our line of battle, which will retire when the advance of the battle-ships of the enemy threatens to bring on a general engagement. Encourage the enemy by every means in our power to expend ammunition and fuel. At night bring forward the rams and torpedo-boats. By risking some of these and sustaining the attack with one or two battle-ships or armored cruisers, fast ones, the enemy may be forced into expending considerable ammunition. These attacks need not be pushed home and can be undertaken advantageously with but little idea of damaging the enemy's vessels, but undertaken mainly with the expectation of forcing him to reduce his supply of ammunition, a most serious thing for any fleet undertaking a distant expedition, for not only must reserve supplies of ammunition and fuel be carried with the fleet, but also the vessels must have time and opportunity to refill. The enemy would be able probably to defeat a real attack from torpedo-boats and rams, with the aid of electric lights and rapid-fire guns, but he will be more than human if he does not fire away when they are first sighted and before they incur imminent danger, especially if he be stirred up by a few large torpedoes from a dynamite cruiser. Here will be one use of a torpedo-boat designed to carry pneumatic guns, for at four thousand yards distance one could throw in among the fleet enormous charges of dynamite, and even if they failed to damage the vessels their moral effect must be great. It will certainly require skillfully executed maneuvers to harass the enemy and yet prevent a general engagement; but after all it is only a question of ratios. At the speed of modern vessels, the enemy pressing steadily onwards, the speed of our retreat must be great and yet it must not become a flight. The ratio of the speeds must be carefully regulated so as to check the enemy and then avoid him. If he makes hot pursuit he may be made to cover much ground, with the consequent expenditure of fuel, by frequent changes of direction. The enemy's fleet would be likely to have with it a number of auxiliaries to carry coal, ammunition, and possibly troops, and the expedition might be seriously crippled by the destruction of these vessels. Many attempts might be made for this purpose both during the day and at night. Cruisers might be sent around the flanks if the unarmored vessels of the enemy kept well in the rear; torpedo-boats and rams might get around the flanks or through the fleet at night, or our fleet might charge through the fleet of the enemy and seriously damage the auxiliaries before they could escape. After a false attack had been made on the fleet with torpedo-boats, a second one might be made and pressed home, being closely followed by our battle-ships, which, charging through the enemy's line, could attack the transports, etc., with every hope of destroying them before their own battle-ships could come to the rescue.
If our fleet is masked by the enemy either by being caught or pressed into port, then it must make every endeavor to escape the masking fleet so as to attack the active fleet of the enemy. It then becomes a matter of escaping blockade, the only question being whether it would be advisable to escape singly or in fleet. Single vessels might escape and again combine at some selected rendezvous, but such a separation of the fleet would be dangerous ordinarily and might result in disaster. The fleet should attempt to force their way out together. By repeated attacks with torpedo-boats and false alarms created by apparent attempts to escape, the enemy can be continually harassed; he will be forced eventually to send some of his fleet away for coal, and possibly for ammunition. Then let the fleet seize the proper moment, possibly a dark night or during bad weather, and, attacking first with torpedo-boats, push through with the fleet. The harbor may be such that it will be necessary to have range lights showing to guide the fleet. Should this be the case, it would be well to show lights in this vicinity for several nights before the attempt to escape is made, and pretend to signal with them to boats or vessels in the harbor, so that when really used the enemy would not know their character. Otherwise a vigilant enemy would readily pick up ranges leading out of the harbor and know that a real attempt was to be made. Perhaps the most difficult case to encounter would be where the masking fleet could seize a harbor near the fleet that they were masking, and, without attempting to blockade our fleet, merely keep up a close observation with cruisers and torpedo-boats, being ready to slip and pursue when our vessels attempted to escape. But even here we could make a vigorous attack upon his observation vessels, and frequently make a pretence of escaping, forcing him to pursue, until the proper moment came for an actual attempt. Certainly there would be ample opportunities for the exercise of the talents of skillful seamen and tacticians on both sides. If the enemy equaled us in these points, we should escape unless his fleet was much the stronger. Having escaped, we must attack his other fleet and prevent the accomplishment of his designs. Our fleet would probably be in telegraphic communication with the point attacked, and we might be able so to time our escape as to reach the threatened point at a time when his fleet was engaged with the fortifications and when we could strike him at a disadvantage. Having made our escape, we should have but little time to wait before attacking, for, as soon as the masking fleet lost touch of ours it would naturally look for us near the point attacked. Now comes the moment in which the bold commander will always delight; there is no longer room for hesitation, the points for and against an attack can no longer be weighed, we must make a vigorous attack, and, damaging the enemy, either drive him off or cut through to the harbor defenses. If we fail to drive him off or so injure his fleet as to prevent the further prosecution of his design, we are defeated, and it will be no advantage to the country to preserve the vessels from harm if their fighting strength is nullified. Heretofore we have refused a decisive engagement to preserve our vessels for this crucial moment; now we must do the greatest possible damage to the enemy even if we sink our entire fleet. But we should command success, for if our attack be well timed he must not only engage the forts but must also be caught between the fire of our harbor defenses and our fleet. At the moment when the enemy has pushed close in to attack the forts or is trying to pass into the harbor, then if our fleet strikes him in the rear we shall have done the best that can be expected of strategy and tactics, and our fate will depend upon our seamanship and strength.
We may have more than eight battle-ships cruising together; if they are over ten, I believe they can be more successfully fought if they are divided into two fleets. When the number of auxiliaries accompanying a fleet is taken into account, and the extended line of battle, even when in very close order, is considered, it would seem that, if too close a combination were used, tactics would be almost impossible, and the difficulty of seeing and obeying signals would lead to confusion. If sailing together, they should be divided into separate fleets and maneuvered separately, but having the same object in view. When together, the ordinary sailing order should be in parallel lines of bearing, the right vessel of the rear fleet being directly astern of the right vessel of the leading fleet, the distance between lines being at least one-half a mile. This will make an excellent formation for battle, unless the enemy advance with extended front, and from want of speed or because of our position we cannot charge through his line. If this be the case the fleets must be so maneuvered as to extend our front to give a strong line of fire. If we can charge through an extended front of the enemy while we are in parallel lines, we should be able to destroy or disable some of his vessels. This formation combines the advantages of the column and the line, as we have depth with a sufficiently extended front to deliver a strong fire. The distance between lines should be enough to allow each preceding line to be well clear of the enemy before the following line charges through. The leading vessels should not attempt to ram unless forced by circumstances, or unexceptionable opportunities offer, so as to leave a clear space for the last line, which, after charging through, should turn and stick to the enemy and ram and use torpedo-boats freely, the leading line or lines turning when well clear of the enemy and moving in such a direction as to attack the remaining vessels of the enemy not heretofore closely engaged. If the enemy forms his fleet in compact order, then we must endeavor to draw our line across his front and strike him in the flank if possible. In handling a large number of vessels the reserve fleet will be a most important point, and the commander who has his reserve well in hand and can throw it upon the enemy when his formation is confused by a close attack should win the day.
In this discussion of naval tactics there is no attempt to provide for many of the cases that may arise in battle; it is only intended to show that there still is room in naval warfare for tactics, and the chances will favor the tactician, other things being equal; that the gun first, and afterwards the ram, are the principal weapons, and that the fundamental principle of naval as of military tactics is to combine our force against a portion of the enemy. The evolutions and maneuvers must be simple, the tactics must be plain; the enemy may readily answer every move, but should he fail to be a tactician or make a wrong move we can seize the advantage and should defeat him. On the other hand, if we fail to adopt any tactics and rely on the prowess of individual vessels, our fleet will be a confused mass, and a skillful enemy will surely hold us at a great disadvantage.
There have been great strides made in naval weapons, but in looking over the field with an eye to tactics, it appears to me that the love of novelty and invention has carried us too far in both guns and torpedoes. Our high-power guns are magnificent weapons, but are they entirely designed to meet the work they must accomplish? Their great range is of no advantage in an ordinary naval combat, as the necessarily limited supply of ammunition will prevent us from firing at an enemy until the probable chances of a hit are within reasonable limits. If, as seems highly reasonable, the opening range hereafter will be about 2000 yards, cannot we save in weight of gun without greatly lessening the penetration or increasing the height of the trajectory, diminishing the efficacy and the accuracy of fire? As all know, this weight might be used to great advantage in many ways—in more guns, more ammunition, more armor, or more coal. The supposed terrible effect of torpedoes has led to their adoption on board any and every vessel. It seems to me that torpedoes on the ordinary type of vessels are likely to prove more harmful to friend than to foe; that their main use should be on specially designed vessels; for in armored vessels and above-water tubes, and in any kind of tube in unarmored vessels, the rain of missiles from rapid-fire and machine guns that will be poured in before the range of the torpedoes is reached will make it probable that they will explode on board, while only possible that they will explode under the enemy. The chances should be at least the other way before a weapon is generally adopted.
Our great need is to study strategy closely in time of peace, and to adopt simple formations and evolutions, in order to ascertain carefully the limits of our weapons. Much must be left to conjecture, and can be demonstrated only in battle; and even then tactics can only be outlined, a few broad general principles laid down, and the rest left to the admiral of the fleet. It would be impossible to provide for every case, and he should not be hampered with binding instructions. With the general plan of attack in his mind, the tactician will be ready to take advantage of every mistake of his opponent, and will hold victory in his grasp.