For several years the navy has been struggling with the problem of reorganization with a view of obtaining a more businesslike system of conducting the affairs of the Navy Department, and producing rapid and efficient work at the navy yards. That such a system is needed has been apparent for years, and one of the greatest arguments in its favor has been the delay and waste under the old system. It has been realized that legislation is necessary for such reorganization, and Congress will doubtless pass the necessary laws when a well digested plan is presented by the Navy Department.
It might be well, however, for the navy not to rest on the assumption that nothing can be done in the way of economy of administration until the needed reforms are equalized, but to search for methods of reducing expenses or increasing efficiency which require no Act of Congress to make them possible.
The writer is far from advocating a reduction of expenses when such reduction means a reduction of fighting efficiency. But he does believe that large sums are spent which do not, in any way, further the fighting efficiency of the fleet.
Any economy in which the fleet suffers is false, as by such a course, the whole object for which the navy exists is assailed.
When St. Vincent became First Lord of the Admiralty, in 1801, the excessive economies which he placed in force left the British Navy unprepared for the Napoleonic wars that followed. But it was the unparalleled waste and corruption that existed in the dock yards prior to St. Vincent's term of office that led to his radical reforms, and blinded him to the real needs of the navy; so that the unpreparedness of 1804 was as much due to former extravagance as to St. Vincent's misdirected economy.
During the years following the Civil War our own naval appropriations were reduced to the lowest limit, nothing was voted for new construction, the personnel stagnated and the object for which the navy exists was lost to sight. All this was dearly paid for in later years, when the necessity for a fighting navy became apparent. While foreign navies had been advancing by a steady wholesome growth, our own was called upon to emerge from a condition of archaic inefficiency and assume a foremost position in a few short years. At once the effect of years of stagnation became apparent. We went abroad for many of the accessories of a man-of-war. Even the plans of some of our earlier vessels were purchased abroad. At the present day we are indebted to foreign countries for torpedoes, boilers, range finders and the method of making armor. And the United States is supposed to be the most inventive nation in the world. Would this condition have existed had the growth of our navy been spread over the years from 1865 to the present time? It is needless to say not, and the present stage of efficiency attained in a few short years lead to interesting reflections as to what might have been accomplished if our navy had been one of gradual increase.
Every nation realizes at the present day that a navy is as necessary as the police force of a city. When the millennium is reached and arbitration replaces all recourse to arms, the necessity for a navy disappears and the vast sums at present spent on military preparation may be diverted to other uses. This is one extreme of naval expenditure.
The other extreme is the appropriation of such sums as will make that nation invincible upon the sea. This extreme is as impracticable as the first owing to the limitation of national incomes. Hence it is between these extremes that the appropriation must fall and the amount that shall be spent is decided upon by the law makers of the country.
The direct responsibility of the naval authorities begins when such sums are turned over to them for the maintenance and increase of the naval establishment and upon them is the burden of proof as to its judicious expenditure.
It is a truism to state that the navy is built for war; hence we expect that the sums are spent in preparation for that ultimate object. The implements of modern naval warfare are battleships, scouts, destroyers and submarines; with the fleet auxiliaries consisting of colliers, supply ships, repair ships, hospital ships, and the repair stations and bases on shore.
The annual report of the Paymaster-General gives clearly and concisely the manner in which the annual appropriation is expended. In the report for the year ending June 30, 1908, on page 108, is found an interesting table showing the total cost of maintaining ships in commission. From this table it is seen that the total cost of maintaining the fleet was nearly $35,000,000. Can all of the vessels included in this list be classed as effective implements of war, and can the sums spent on doubtful ones be justified?
It appears to the writer that this table offers a great field for argument and as a basis for such argument he has selected the following list of ships which in his opinion could be stricken from the navy list without diminishing in the slightest the effective fighting value of the navy:
Adams $ 95,395.56 Maintonomah 8,875.46
Alliance 64,834.37 Mohican 147,603.87
Annapolis 74,478.46 Monongahela 217,086.35
Arkansas 118,536.62 Montgomery 116,842.69
Callao 27,282.92 Nevada 123,016.54
Chattanooga 235,987.43 Newark 49,658.65
Chicago 386,760.48 Paducah 125,340.89
Cleveland 223,416.39 Quiros 28,850.79
Concord 152,151.48 Scorpion 72,301.09
Denver 248,959.16 Severn 106,764.05
Des Moines 225,200.54 Supply 145,819.49
Dolphin 145,610.71 Sylph 23,608.01
Dubuque 123,265.57 Tacoma 240,884.55
El Cano 33,062.03 Texas 48,436.29
Eagle 56,082.23 Villalobos 40,661.93
Florida 57,719.38 Wasp 32,209.26
Galveston 226,734.38 Wilmington 176,945.83
Hartford 137,329.19 Wolverine 89,288.29
Helena 159,725.39 Yankton 88,416.16
Marietta 117,227.35 Yorktown 162,592.38
Mayflower 171,121.41 $5,528,093.62
The above list is believed to be a very conservative one and that many other vessels might be added.
The assumption is made that a navy is built and maintained for war. Of what possible use are the vessels on this list in case of war? The total fighting value of this unique collection is not equivalent to one 12-inch turret. The six of the vessels of the Denver class cost as much to maintain as two battleships, yet the reason for existence of this class of ships has never been satisfactorily explained. They can neither fight nor run away. The total sum spent to maintain the given list of vessels would build one battleship or maintain six in commission.
It may be argued that many of the above vessels are of great service as receiving or training ships, or as gun boats defending American interests in China or in certain unstable Central American governments. If we admit this argument, we must recede from the principle that a navy is built for war only, and assume that it is built for peace also. If this is true then let this sum be separately appropriated for by Congress and labeled "For the defence of American interests in countries with unstable governments." Perhaps this would call the attention of the nation at large to the necessity of regulating the affairs of certain of our next-door neighbors whose domestic affairs are a scandal to the civilized world. It would clear the navy of the burden of a vast indirect expense which is difficult to explain when a war cloud gathers and the nation expects a return in victories and safety, for the vast sums spent for that purpose.
It is apparent from many articles written on the subject of our navy and the number of fighting ships required, that the writers ignore absolutely the cost that such a naval force would entail. The question must be looked at from the pecuniary point of view as well as that of strategy. It is a purely business proposition of obtaining the greatest fighting value from the annual sums that the people of the United States are willing to contribute for the purpose of National defence. That the question of cost is sometimes omitted in the calculations of writers on naval needs is shown in a recent article in which it was stated that to meet the present condition of world politics our navy should consist of 48 battleships, 22 armored cruisers, 64 scouts and numerous auxiliaries. Such a force is more than double our present one and would entail an annual budget of perhaps $250,000,00o. Such a sum is out of the question, and popular as the navy is at present with the country at large, it is doubtful whether the yearly appropriation will reach such a sum for many years.
The number of the different classes of ships stated to be necessary in the article mentioned might be desirable if men and money were unlimited. But when we inquire into the cost of construction and maintenance of certain classes of ships, their desirability becomes most questionable, especially when we keep in mind the fact that we must obtain the greatest fighting value on a certain amount of money. We have in our service 10 armored cruisers that cost as much to construct, and more to maintain in service than any battleship at present in commission. We sold their birth right of guns for a paltry gain of a knot or so in speed. Would not many minds be easier if in place of these cruisers in the Pacific, we had there a fleet of the corresponding number of battleships. All of which could have been obtained without the slightest addition to past appropriations, had the navy declared itself for battleships. The day of the armored cruiser is past, but another dream of the naval strategist in the form of the "scout" has appeared to threaten the integrity of the Treasury. We have invested in three of these naval "necessities," and for the same money one first-class battleship could have been built. In the article above mentioned, 64 scouts are stated to be necessary.
64 scouts equal 21 battleships. Which are worth more in time of war?
When Sir John Fisher became First Lord of the Admiralty he began his regime by consigning scores of obsolete vessels to the scrap heap. This was done in the face of great opposition, but the wisdom of this step has since been universally recognized. The money necessary for their maintenance was diverted to vastly more useful purposes.
With this example to guide the way it should not be difficult to do the same in our own service. Let us look forward to the day when every vessel's name on the navy list represents a fighting unit.