During the late war with Spain the writer was on the Iowa and had command of the secondary battery on the upper deck—sixteen 6-pounders and two 4-inch R.F.
So much has been written, in a popular way, of the merits of secondary battery, and there has also been so much talk on the subject, from which erroneous conclusions (in the writer's opinion) have been drawn, that the writer has thought to give his views from deductions made after seeing the battery under service conditions.
It was a general opinion in the Navy that since no good rangefinder had been developed the secondary battery might be used for this purpose, and much has been written on the subject. It was found in actual service that against forts or in fleet action these guns could not be thus used, because, in the great number of shots delivered, those of a particular ship or of a particular gun could not be located, and therefore no range could be determined by an individual gun or group of guns. In action between two ships the secondary battery might, under some circumstances, be used as a range-finder, but it is the writer's belief that since the larger guns will begin an action they certainly will never stop firing to allow the smaller guns to get the range, and the range cannot be determined by a small gun unless the larger guns cease firing.
In the bombardment of forts at San Juan, Captain Evans soon saw that the secondary battery was making no impression, although the number of hits was great, so he ordered the small guns to cease firing, and from that time on the 6-pounder guns were not again used against forts.
July the 3d was the day on which the secondary battery in the popular mind came to the front, and yet if this action be carefully analyzed the secondary battery will not be so important as we are led to believe from common report. The secondary batteries of the large ships did what they were called on to do in the case of the torpedo destroyers, and that was legitimate and complete work in their line.
The secondary batteries of the large ships also did most of the damage to the four armored cruisers. Yet, does it follow from this that the main batteries should be reduced in number or size? The writer thinks not, for the following reasons:
1. The Spanish ships were whipped so quickly that there was no time to develop the ultimate fighting strength of our vessels.
2. The Spanish vessels were loaded with wood, and their destruction was due secondarily to this fact, as fire was an important feature in their destruction.
3. The Spanish gunners did no good shooting, so that our service of the secondary battery guns was never materially interfered with.
For these reasons the writer thinks that if the battle had been between two fleets of battleships, practically non-inflammable, with good gunners on both sides, the first part of the action would have seen the mutual destruction of the secondary batteries and crews, and the final test would have been between the heavy guns and the armor.
Therefore, let us not be led away by an accidental victory of small guns and say that we should have more rapid-firing guns and a reduction of the main battery, but rather let us keep on in our former paths with big ships and big guns, and let the little ones keep their place as secondary, for secondary they certainly are.