The question of the distribution and defense of coaling stations is pressing and vital at the present moment, not because the Bureau of Equipment, or the Navy Department itself, is less keenly alive to its importance, but because of the check given to it by the failure of Congress to appropriate money for coal depots for the fiscal year 1904, and the allotment of only $600,000 for the fiscal year 1905. We have no definite policy, and worst of all, in the service itself, opinion seems to be somewhat at sea on the question. As other countries have definite ideas, a frank discussion of our resultant disadvantage is, at least, timely.
Are coaling stations "beyond the seas" merely a time-of-peace convenience, or are they a necessity for war purposes? Unless extensively and expensively fortified, will they not serve in time of war as a base of supply for an enemy? How many stations should we have, and how much will they cost? Which arm of the service will garrison them? Are we really sure that coal will not be supplanted by liquid fuel? Are not ordinary colliers, to accompany our ships or to meet them at given points, all that we will require in time of war, or should the navy build its own specially designed colliers, and if so, how many are needed?
THE STORAGE OF COAL.
The annual consumption of coal for ships of the navy is about 350,000 tons. We can evidently figure on a half million tons as the normal demand for the future. It would seem advisable to store coal at given points to meet this demand (1) on account of the type of furnaces in men-of-war requiring the best kind of coal; (2) the commercial demand in the open market is for inferior and cheaper grades; (3) on account of unforeseen strikes; and (4) on account of the difficulty of accumulating coal hastily when war is threatened. This brings us squarely up to the advisability of maintaining modern, up-to-date coal-storage and coal-handling plants at various points, not only as a commercial proposition, but as a war measure. As coal deteriorates in storage, there must, of course, be a nice balance between the consumption in time of peace and a reserve of not too old coal for war purposes. The French Government carries a stock of about 200,000 tons at Toulon, and Great Britain about the same amount at Malta.
Scientific coal handling means a saving in time, and is closely connected with the consideration of efficiency in ships of war, because, while coaling, a man-of-war is practically off station. The day has passed when storing coal in the open air and handling it by shovel and cart can be considered as anything else than a makeshift. In considering the establishment of coaling stations, we must recognize the fact that the mere cost of the storage and handling plant is but a small part of the initial expense, because fortifications are an integral part of a coal base for war purposes, unless we contemplate furnishing coal to an enemy.
WHAT IS BEING DONE.
We have, in our navy, the colliers Ajax, Saturn, Arethusa, Brutus, Sterling, Caesar, Nero, Nanshan, Abarenda, Hannibal, Leonidas, Lebanon, Justin, Southery, and Pompey. These we have inherited from the war with Spain in 1898. At the present time we are about to build two specially designed colliers.
We have on the Atlantic coast facilities for about 125,000 tons of coal in modern coal-storage and coal-handling plants, as follows:
At Frenchman Bay, Maine, we have a 10,000 ton modern, up-to-date station, with a 250,000 gallon standpipe for fresh water, and the army has undertaken the fortification of the entrance. Additional coal room is needed, as this our northernmost station.
The Navy Yard, Portsmouth, N. H., is a minor station with a modern plant of 10,000 tons of coal, with ample fresh water supply and with good fortifications.
The Navy Yard, Boston, Mass., has a small, modern plant for 12,000 tons, with six coal barges, and it is planned to have a 50,000 ton station in Boston Harbor inside of the fortifications.
Narragansett Bay, R. I., has an ideal plant with a capacity of 40,000 tons of coal, twelve coal barges, and a 260,000 gallon water supply, all behind excellent fortifications.
New London, Conn., has a modern 10,000 ton plant, with plans for an additional 15,000; has ample fresh water; and the fortifications are those of the eastern entrance to Long Island Sound.
The Navy Yard, New York, N. Y., has a small, modern, 9000 ton plant, with a further extension unappropriated for. It is ridiculously inadequate, but the argument is that good coal can be bought in the open market, which is not always the case.
The Navy Yard, League Island, Pa., is a secondary station, with from 3000 to 5000 tons capacity, intended principally for colliers.
The Navy Yard, Washington, D. C., has a 3000 ton supply, principally for time of peace.
At the Navy Yard, Norfolk, Va., practically nothing has been done, but a 50,000 ton plant is proposed for York River, Va., near Yorktown.
Port Royal, S. C., is to be retained as a coaling depot only. It has a storage capacity of 5000 tons, and an additional 15,000 ton plant is contemplated.
No serious plans have been made for the Navy Yard at Charleston, S. C., for other than local supply, as Port Royal will answer all purposes.
At the Naval Station, Key West, Fla., 20,000 tons are available, and at Dry Tortugas, Fla., also 20,000 tons, these two stations being only 60 miles apart, connected by submarine cable, and regarded as practically one station. Dry Tortugas is to be fortified. Key West is already well fortified.
The Navy Yard, Pensacola, Fla., has a small, 5000 ton plant, which is utterly inadequate.
At the Naval Station, New Orleans, La., a large appropriation is available, and outside of a small depot for local needs, it is probable that a large station will be erected somewhere inside of the fortifications at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Pensacola and New Orleans are regarded as practically alternate stations for the same region.
Plans have been drawn for a small coal-handling plant at Bahia Honda, Cuba, and it is proposed to have a 100,000 ton coal-storage and coal-handling plant at Guantanamo, Cuba.
At San Juan, P. R., there are now facilities for 36,000 tons of coal in the open air, but no modern appliances for handling it.
On the Pacific coast it is contemplated having about 200,000 tons available for war, but we are ridiculously short of this amount.
A 20,000 ton plant is contemplated for San Diego, Cal., now that fortifications are well assured.
At the Navy Yard, Mare Island, Cal., there are facilities for 20,000 tons, and six barges. It is contemplated building a 100,000 ton plant in San Francisco Bay.
The Navy Yard, Puget Sound, Wash., has a modern 20,000 ton coal-storage and coal-handling plant.
Sitka, Alaska, has a modern 5000 ton plant, which can be easily increased to 10,000 tons.
A small station is contemplated at Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, and a large plant at Kiska Bay, Aleutian Islands.
Honolulu, T. H., has a temporary coaling station with a capacity of 30,000 tons, but it is anticipated that a larger and more important station will eventually be asked for at Pearl Harbor. Steps are being taken to fortify the Island of Oahu.
The Naval Station, Tutuila, Samoa, has facilities for s000 tons, and there are plans for a 25,000 ton station, the harbor to be fortified.
At the Naval Station, Guam, there is a collier and a small amount of coal, but there are plans for a 25,000 ton plant and extensive fortifications.
In the Philippines, there is a 30,000 ton modern plant at Cavite, and plans for a 100,000 ton station at Olongapo. Coal is kept stored also at Isabela, Polloc and Cebu.
We thus see that up to the present time most of the work is yet to be done, and, without considering the need for coaling stations on foreign soil, modern, up-to-date coaling plants are needed at many stations, and additional storage facilities at many others. There is, however, another question that should be settled during the lull in activities.
THE QUESTION OF FUEL.
It is high time that we were deciding definitely as to liquid fuel. The attitude of Italy on this question is instructive. Over ten years ago, with no crude oil, and no coal other than lignite of poor quality within her borders, she met and promptly solved this question. Practically all of her ships were fitted to burn coal primarily, but with crude oil as an auxiliary, to be used (1) in getting up steam quickly in emergencies, and (2) for emergency full speed firing when coal comes slowly from bunkers and sustained high speed is killing on the coal passers. She built large tanks at her fortified stations, and kept them full of oil. To save large expenditures for distilling and to make up lost water from using steam to spray the oil, she built water-tank steamers to help save fuel when opportunity offered. Italy's fleet is essentially for coast defense, and high speed with limited fuel radius is a requirement of her double coast line with small area.
For more than ten years our naval attaches have reported the status of the liquid fuel question in all navies, and yet we spent thousands of dollars recently to find out that "the available supply of the world's production of petroleum that could be used as a fuel would not meet 3 per cent, of the world's demand for coal and other combustibles." That really has no bearing on the question of liquid fuel in our navy. Italy solved the question properly when the visible supply did not have the additional oil fields of Texas, California, and other recently developed areas.
Liquid fuel is a helpful auxiliary to coal. It utilizes the advantages of both. Several accidents to German battleships, or, more accurately speaking, several reported "close calls" have seemed to point to a danger or disadvantage in such use, but the German liquid fuel is an inert earth oil or tar called mazut, and it is stored in the double bottoms. The Oceanic Steamship Company's steamer Alameda, plying regularly between San Francisco and Honolulu, has a liquid fuel installation that is far in advance of anything before attempted and seems to have solved the danger question very successfully. Its merits are, from a naval standpoint, no double bottom storage; superheating or vaporizing directly at the burner, using either steam or compressed air for spraying (both fitted); isolated tanks with perfect steam smothering; and the avoidance of explosive gases by the accidental mixing of air and old vapors in receptacles. All this sounds alarming enough, but, contrary to the usually-wrong popular idea, there is less danger from oil as a fuel than from coal, and the precautions with oil are more easily taken than in the case of either coal or coal briquettes. Abroad coal briquettes are much used in men-of- war in reserve bunkers, and they are not only more dangerous than crude oil, but they produce sores on those handling them and require safety lamps and goggles for the men working in the bunkers. The important inferences from the foregoing and from the Alameda's installation, as applied to men-of-war, are that (1) all men-of-war, including torpedo boats and destroyers, should be fitted with auxiliary burners, using compressed air so as not to waste fresh water, and because compressed air is usually available in emergencies in connection with torpedo outfits; (2) crude oil should have separate isolated tanks preferably in small bunker spaces in which stowing and trimming coal is always so difficult; all coaling stations should include crude oil tanks and pumps. Crude oil does not endanger coal piles, because the tanks can be isolated, and crude oil in bulk is more difficult to ignite than coal, and with specially fitted pipes, the oil can be used to rapidly destroy coal piles when this is necessary to prevent them falling into the enemy's hands. It is more difficult to destroy coal quickly than is ordinarily supposed, and special arrangements to this end should receive due consideration.
The defect of the merchant type of collier is its slow speed. This delays the squadron using them, and makes convoying necessary to prevent their capture or destruction by an enemy. On the other hand, the cost of high speed is enormous.
In the newer types of men-of-war, with recessed ports, and guns which dismount and house inboard, the taking of coal from a collier alongside is not a difficult matter even in a moderate sea, using cotton bale or other fenders, but our older ships with sponsons have always made it a hazardous and tedious process. The Brooklyn, with her tumble home sides, has always fared better than most other ships in heavy weather coaling alongside, and this emphasizes the desirability of tumble home sides for colliers. This means expensive and unusual construction, but what is known as the "turret" type of merchant steamer is the best collier in the market. The sides curve in from the load waterline, and the superstructure is practically a rectangular box set on a turtle back hull. There is a line of these steamers known as the "Branch Line" (Olive Branch, Oak Branch, etc.), which have made fine records in coaling foreign men-of-war, and would, if Purchased and given more powerful engines and boilers, serve admirably for accompanying squadrons as improvised colliers.
From the service papers it appears that the features of the two specially designed colliers are: Length, 450 feet; beam, 60 feet; draft, 26 feet at a loaded displacement of 12,500 tons. They are each to carry 7500 tons of coal, including bunker supply, and will have 16 knot maximum speed. As further legislation is necessary before these colliers can be constructed, it is not too late to suggest that the plans be amended to that of the "turret" type, and that consideration be given to tank construction for crude oil as an auxiliary supply.
Towing colliers at sea and coaling by conveyors has been demonstrated as practicable, but the slow rate of coaling is the principal disadvantage. The "turret" type is as well adapted to this as the ordinary merchant type.
While specially designed fast colliers to accompany fleets answer all the purposes of coaling stations in a general scheme of national defense, the real solution of the question of coal supply is in having a certain number of fast colliers, a certain number of slow colliers, and a chain of well-arranged coaling stations.
In deciding upon the number of specially designed colliers to accompany the fleet in time of war, the minimum ratio should be one collier for every four ships. Considering that there are two fleets, one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific, the number of merchant colliers would probably be in the same ratio (one to four), but these can be augmented when war is imminent.
Admitting the necessity for a certain number of coaling stations, let us consider such details as storage bins or towers, cable cars and conveyors, automatic railways for coal handling, coal barges for rapid coaling, storage tanks for crude oil, adequate fire protection, the supply of fresh water in large quantities, fortifications, and the necessary garrison.
In coal storage and coal handling, the more recently constructed plants leave nothing to be desired in modern appliances. The different types of ships require different methods of delivering coal, but the mechanical handling is as rapid as any fleet can take it. Coal barges are needed to supplement even the most efficient coal-handling plants because some ships need barges on the off side, and ships in the stream require barges on both sides, where the dock space is limited and there are an unusual number of ships coaling at once. Stations must be prepared for numerous contingencies. So far about 110 coal barges have been built and distributed to the various stations. Some of them have flat tops and are designed for smooth water, while others are deep steel barges for towing at sea or for use in a sea way.
The question of storage tanks for crude oil and adequate fire protection have been considered.
In furnishing ships with fresh water at all coaling stations it is evident that every gallon taken from shore is that much coal saved since the only means the ship has of supplying herself is through evaporating and distilling. The Bureau of Equipment now has over a dozen water barges distributed around the various stations, and an excellent type has been perfected through the co-operation of the Bureaus of Equipment and Construction, so that, where ships cannot take water at a dock, the barges can deliver water in the stream.
As to fortifications, so much depends upon local conditions that the only criterion is that each station should be capable of defending itself without the aid of a fleet, or be prepared to destroy the storage plant when seriously threatened by an enemy.
As to the question of who should garrison our coaling stations one must tread softly. Certainly the army should not. This is not saying that the sea coast artillery should not, but the sea coast artillery should now be and should have been all these years under the navy. The present marine corps and the sea coast artillery should be amalgamated as a distinct corps known as the marine artillery, and they should man the sea coast defenses and go to sea on our ships as marine guards. It is true that the marine corps is older than the navy, but it exists because of the navy and its traditions are those of a branch of the naval service. The sea coast artillery bears no relation to the army other than that a knowledge of ballistics is common to both, but as the navy is strictly a sea artillery, its training is in every way parallel to that of the sea coast artillery, only there is the distinction between firing from a fixed platform at known ranges and from a moving platform at only approximately known ones. Certainly no training of an artilleryman can compare with that he can get aboard of a man-of-war. It is wasteful and illogical to have two sources of supply where sea coast and naval guns should be the same and their ammunition interchangeable. Submarine mine defenses, submarine boats, and torpedo boats should all be under the marine artillery. They are adjuncts of harbor defense, but should be operated in connection with the navy, and by people familiar with going to sea. These ideas are not popular with the auxiliary departments of the different arms of the national defense as now organized, but the infantry and cavalry can find little reason for the Army Appropriation Bill being annually saddled with the expenses of the maintenance of the sea coast artillery, when all they see of them is an occasional light battery, which really bears no relation to sea coast artillery, or an occasional artilleryman on detached service. On the other hand, the sea coast defense and harbor defense are intimately connected. It is the function of the fleet to be the first line of defense. When a fleet falls back behind the harbor defenses, its crews should in the last resort serve as reserves in the fortifications. This is co-operation carried to its logical conclusion. Recent history is full of illustrations of the aid given to sea coast defense by the crews and batteries of ships forced to seek shelter behind them.
Marines are at present artillerymen and soldiers; artillerymen on board ship, and soldiers on shore. That the sea coast artillery's function is naval is shown by the fact that their principal experience is gained in conjunction with the navy in maneuvers. Of course, the army should have siege and field guns and all of the paraphernalia of fortified defenses, but these bear no direct relation to sea coast artillery. This does not imply that the army is not needed in harbor defense, but its function is the landward defenses. The fortifications facing the sea and bordering on the channel leading from the sea, with the mine fields, submarines, and torpedo boats, should be manned by those who have had naval training, and who are controlled by the same department as that which governs the fleet. Considering only the national defense and leaving out the personal prejudices and inherited traditions, there is no logical reason why we should maintain the present flabby, flimsy and gauzy arrangement whereby the army, navy and marine corps, and the various branches of each, are constantly duplicating the other's work and encroaching on the functions one of the other. The humiliations and national disaster which await upon too close an adherence to traditions, however stupid, are the inevitable result of the failure to keep the military machinery up to date. Radical steps are needed. To man the defenses of coaling stations with sea coast artillery under the army is illogical. The sea coast artillery has suffered nothing but starvation under the War Department. Its functions and its rewards are with successful co-operation with the navy.
COALING STATIONS ON FOREIGN SOIL.
The chief of the Bureau of Equipment in the annual report for 1903 says: "The establishment of the United States coal depots for naval use in foreign waters, owing to diplomatic consideration, is not discussed in this report." This voices the difficulty of others. A view of the accompanying chart of the coaling stations of Great Britain and the United States will show the contrast in our policies. Coaling concessions at Chiriqui Lagoon and the Galapagos Islands in connection with the Panama Canal are very desirable, and the realization is well within the limits of diplomacy. We have failed to purchase St. Thomas, but with Culebra Island only a few miles distant, the Danish Islands are not liable to be of much use to anyone else. The most we have to fear is the concession of coaling stations in Hayti, San Domingo, Venezuela, or the U. S. of Colombia to other powers, and if it happens, we will probably need all the coaling stations we have.
We should lose no time in establishing strongly fortified coaling stations and bases in the Pacific. Our future lies in the control of the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean.