So often one hears demands for a statement of rules which will prescribe, clearly and concisely, what tactical measures are desirable in various situations that may arise on the naval field of battle. It should not take more than second thought to understand both the impracticability and the undesirability of any such elementary definition; nor to become convinced that tactical success depends upon so clear a comprehension by the commissioned personnel of the underlying principles, that correct application of the latter, to any situation which may arise in action, will become almost automatic. No form of standardized "rules for tactical conduct" can ever be an efficient substitute for this type of trained personnel.
No human endeavor is more complex and less susceptible to rigid rule than battle. Fundamentally this is true because each side always has present an enemy whose chief aim is to thwart whatever effort is made against him; every move can be met by a counter-move and each counter-move by further effort to neutralize it, and so on. It is a contest in which the complexities are endless and indeterminate. To attempt the reduction of such a problem to a form of rule of thumb would seem to be the height of folly and to lead inevitably to disaster.
It is the purpose of this paper to examine some principles of naval tactics which have determined the issue of the fights of the past, and to indicate if possible their general application to the conditions of our own time, wherein fleets expanded to large proportions, and an increased number of different types of ships composing a fleet, have added materially to the intricacies of battle on the sea.
Unfortunately records which have been preserved of naval actions previous to the sailing-ship era are so meager, as to be of little use for analytical purposes, but beginning with the Dutch-English wars there follows a period continuing to the present generation which offers a rich field to the student.
As early as the 16th century developments came about looking toward the prevention of the melee and the blanketing of fire, which had previously been the rule in sea fights due to a very general lack of organization or of understanding of the increased power possible to obtain when the efforts of units are in some measure co-ordinated. The logical outcome of such elementary development was the general acceptance and adoption of the column (or line ahead) as the formation best suited to the needs of fleet engagements. In consequence the nature of sea fights changed from the traditional melee to a duel between two columns of ships; or to be more accurate, to a number of individual duels between corresponding units in two nearly parallel columns. The poverty, of tactical conceptions during this period is apparent, but perhaps is not surprising in view of not only the primitive and weak weapons of the day but also the proverbial conservatism of the naval profession.
The first glimmer of broad tactical sense appearing in the British fighting instructions is found in those of the Duke of York; to wit: "None . . . . shall pursue any small number of enemy ships before the main body of the enemy shall be disabled or shall run." It is true that breaking the line came into favor for a time, but only for the purpose of getting the wind (when to leeward) of at least a part of the hostile fleet. Doubling was also recognized as advisable when superior in numbers to the enemy. The essence of the principle of concentrating on a part of the enemy was not, however, understood in the early days. Rigid adherence to formation was considered of first importance. This latter doctrine was based upon the disadvantages which had resulted previously from insufficiently regular formation, but, being inherently a defensive idea, it led to the undue preponderance of defensive impulses, which, added to the weakness of the offensive weapons, invariably caused indecisive battles. It is only fair to say, however, that the advantage of concentrating the major portion of a fleet against an enemy fraction was considered, and by some was advocated, though it was not recognized as a basic principle. The difficulties of maneuver, the short range, and the limited area of train of the gun in those days would have made concentration of the Nelson style difficult to execute without bringing about great confusion. The known disadvantages of confusion led to an effort to crowd the enemy into confusion rather than to crush him in detail through concentration.
The century before Nelson was a period of slow development in which many tactical principles came to be recognized in theory, but except by accident were rarely applied practically. The genius of Nelson is responsible for a great acceleration in the progress of the art. He had the wisdom and the courage to shake off the fetters of tradition, to discard the column fetish and apply those almost untried principles which, though apparently sound, had never before received due consideration in the preparation of plans for battle. He seemed to understand that what mattered was the substance and not the form; that formation was a means and not an end. Empirical rules, in his keen insight, were to be followed only when applicable.
We have a great mass of evidence to show that his conclusions were reached only after years of constant study. All the more credit is due him because but for him the advancement in tactics would have been retarded for generations. The mental caliber of officers of his time precluded the possibility of bringing forth the fruit by anyone else. This is amply shown by the fact that notwithstanding his frequent illuminating talks to his subordinates continued through many years, probably the best among them, Collingwood, failed to grasp the essence of his teaching, and after his death reverted to old forms and conventions.
The tactical principles recognized, formulated and applied by Nelson are, briefly:
(a) Principal objective is the complete annihilation of the enemy's fleet. Partial annihilation is not sufficient.
(b) Time is everything; five minutes make the difference between victory and defeat.
(c) Concentration of own masses against enemy fractions, in time, is basic.
(d) A close and decisive action is necessary.
(e) The less maneuvering the better.
(f) Signals are useless after close action has begun.
(g) Vessels must support each other and close with the enemy.
(h) The business of the commander-in-chief is to bring the enemy to action on the initial terms most advantageous to himself, after which the issue of affairs is chiefly in the hands of those under him.
(i) It is necessary for subordinates to know the plans of the commander-in-chief.
(j) Simplicity of plan is essential to a well ordered battle.
(k) Victory must be followed up.
(l) The order of sailing should be the order of battle.
(m) The division of large fleets into squadrons, whose commanders have the full direction of their line, is necessary.
(n) Consideration of the moral qualities of the adversaries is an essential factor.
(o) "Something must be left to chance." "No captain can do far wrong who places his ship alongside that of an enemy," i. e., the execution of the plan must be as circumstances dictate, subject only to the broad outlines of the general instructions.
Admiration for Nelson's tactical genius, however, should not dim recognition for his work in developing the complementary art of command. The two are inseparable in contributing to success. Attention is invited, in passing, to the manifestly close relation between command and practical tactics on the field of battle; that is, to the fact that only by the proper development and utilization of the art of command is it possible to apply tactical principles to meet the innumerable and momentary exigencies that arise during every phase of action. Perhaps if the commander-in-chief could take station in an air machine hundreds of feet above the scene, so as to get an accurate idea of the relative positions of the forces at all times and could have rapid and thoroughly reliable communication with each individual ship of his engaged fleet, the urgent necessities for detailed conduct of battle chiefly through the trained intelligence of the various subordinate commanders would be minimized. But until this is possible great success can come only by means of subordinates who are not only conversant with the letter of the principles but who are also thoroughly familiarized with every aspect of them under a great variety of conditions. Not in any sense whatever is the rule of thumb a short cut to tactical success, and the due importance of properly applied principles of command in assuring decisive victory is not generally so well understood as could be wished for.
THE BATTLE OF THE TEXEL (1673)
This battle is notable chiefly for two reasons: (a) It is among the few large fleet actions in history where the moral factor was about equal on both sides. About the only other actions falling in the same category are those of the same period between the English and Dutch. (b) It was the first time that the conventional "line ahead" was used in a large sailing-ship action. The English used it there and were subsequently in later wars copied by the French, Dutch and Spanish; becoming eventually for all sea-faring a fetish.
The action also has many occurrences illustrative of tactical principles.
The opposing forces comprised about 70 Dutch ships under De Ruyter against an allied force of 60 English and 30 French. De Ruyter's general plan was to contain the French (who composed the allied van) with an inferior Dutch detachment and to engage the English on equal terms.
The French were sent ahead by the commander-in-chief of the allies to gain the wind of the inferior Dutch van and place it between two fires. While this was in progress, and the Dutch van were meantime forging ahead as a containing force to meet the move, the two centers became hotly engaged under the direct command of both commanders-in-chief. The French in the van succeeded in getting the wind, by a good margin, of the Dutch center and rear, due partly to De Ruyter running into close action; Rupert, the English commander-in-chief, keeping somewhat away, and separating himself by a considerable distance from his allies, the French.
The Dutch containing force of 12 ships found themselves "contained" by 20 French, to leeward, and boldly ran through the French van and went to the support of their commander-in-chief. This movement of the Dutch van was brilliant tactics and conformed with the following tactical principles:
(I) Avoid action with superior detachments; (2) support the point of major contact; (3) concentrate the mass of your forces on a part of the enemy; (4) avoid detached engagements and if possible engage only with ships already under fire from friends.
The French force not only acted badly in permitting the inferior Dutch force to get through them, but afterwards committed the unpardonable blunder of not following their designated opponents and of failing to promptly support the English in the center.
Meantime the English admiral, Spragge, commanding the allied rear, showed equal poverty of tactical sense even though his valor was greater.
As a point of personal honor he wished to defeat the Dutch admiral, Tromp, and in order to bring the latter to action hove to and waited for him to come up. The English rear thus became widely separated and out of supporting distance from its main body. The separate and personal encounter that followed had no effect on the main action. This is a striking illustration of a subordinate placing his personal affairs and private glorification above the general plan of his commander-in-chief, a pernicious type of disloyalty. In addition, Spragge flagrantly and deliberately violated the principles of (1) concentration; (2) mutual support; (3) unity of action.
In the meantime the British center found opposed to it the Dutch center plus the Dutch van, and had to engage those two forces without any support from its own van or rear. De Ruyter succeeded further in applying the principle of concentration by cutting off the rear part of the English center, and containing this fraction while he surrounded the remaining 20 English ships, including the English flagship of the commander-in-chief, with 30 or 40 Dutch ships.
That the British were not badly beaten is due to the ineffectiveness of the weapons of the day. Finally the English center succeeded in getting out of close engagement and ran down, for the purpose of finding support for itself, to the detached rear under Spragge.
The Dutch followed on a parallel course, without either side firing (probably from shortage of ammunition).
Upon the junction of centers and rears, the battle was resumed, but it was then so late in the day that no decisive conclusion was reached.
The French were on the point of reenforcing the British as the battle closed.
THE BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR (1805)
The Forces engaged were: The allied French and Spanish fleet of 33 heavy and seven light ships under command of Admiral Villeneuve.
British fleet under Nelson consisted of 27 heavy and seven light ships.
Preliminaries.—The allies in Cadiz were watched by frigates, which vessels also formed a chain for communicating to the British fleet at sea, guarding the Strait of Gibraltar.
When first sighted the allies were out of Cadiz in column, heading about southwest, close-hauled on the starboard tack. Wind was light from about west-northwest. The British fleet was then about 15 miles to the westward (and to windward), heading about north-northwest, and in a formation of three columns separated by about one and one-half miles’ interval. The line of bearing of column heads was about northwest. Nelson commanded the center with 11 ships, Collingwood the right or rear with 15 ships, and six fast light ships were on the left and comprised the van.
About 7 a. m. the allied column wore in succession and headed about north, and at the commencement of the action was in a column, with center bowed considerably away from the enemy, somewhat like a half moon.
Anticipating a concentration against his rear, Villeneuve kept his reserve squadron of seven fast sailers just out of the formation and to leeward, abreast the rear center. His column was also well closed up, and further strengthened by a second column, just to leeward and abreast the gaps of the weather column.
As a defensive formation it was excellently devised to withstand the expected form of attack which was later realized.
Having the French to leeward, Nelson, at about 7 a. m., signalled to bear up and the leaders of each of his three columns headed in the general direction of the enemy fleet, course about east; wind west-northwest to west.
From the initial positions given, it will be seen that a continuation of this movement would bring the three squadrons into action in succession, Collingwood first, Nelson second, and last the light squadron. Also that the ships of each squadron would come into action in succession and approximately "teed" by the allied column.
(“Phase One – Out of Range” & “The Relative Positions Shown are an Approximate Reconciliation Between Various Confliction Authorities” – diagrams not replicated in this Word document.)
The Plan.—Nelson had previously prepared a plan to cover the situation presented and had carefully indoctrinated his subordinates in its manner of execution.
Its salient features were:
(a) To bring the enemy to decisive action.
(b) To minimize maneuvering.
(c) Squadrons to be maneuvered separately; i. e., the entire fleet as a whole was not to be brought into battle line as a whole.
(d) The order of sailing to be the order of battle.
(e) The second in command to have the entire direction of his line.
(f) No captain could be far wrong who placed his ship alongside that of an enemy.
(g) The second in command to lead through about the 12th ship from the enemy's rear and envelop the latter with 15 ships.
(h) The commander-in-chief to lead through a little ahead of the enemy's center; to include the flagship of enemy commander-in-chief. (i) The third or fast squadron to reenforce if wanted, before action, one of the two main squadrons.
(j) In addition to "leading through" the enemy center, Nelson's squadron to "endeavor to take care that the movements of the second in command are as little interrupted as is possible."
(k) In this manner the hostile rear and center were to be overpowered with superior force before they could be supported by their van.
The Battle.—In accordance with the plan, and with Nelson's indoctrination, Collingwood conducted his squadron near the enemy's rear, formed a rough line of bearing to avoid the "tee" and vigorously attacked the 11 rear ships of the allies.
Nelson with his own squadron supported by the small fast squadron first "endeavored to take care" that Collingwood's movements would not be interrupted by the hostile van. These two squadrons stood for the French van as though to attack it, until Collingwood was engaged. At this point, Nelson, seeing that the enemy van or center made no move to support its rear now hotly engaged, and probably believing that insufficient time remained for the French van to effectively support its rear, changed course and stood towards a point a little in advance of the enemy center. The fast squadron remained unengaged as a containing force against the French van.
This last movement of Nelson's squadron has been severely criticized, chiefly owing to the fact that Nelson led his squadron "teed," into the allied line. Data are incomplete and there is some doubt that he did so. If the original signal to "bear up" was intended for or executed as a simultaneous movement instead of one in succession, as Mahan assumes it to be, then there was some approximation to a line of bearing attack by the squadron under Nelson's immediate command, and it did not go into action "teed." Rear Admiral Mark Kerr of the British Navy is the principal authority who supports the latter view.
The concentration on the allied rear was successful in winning a decisive action. The allied van did not support its rear, and even had it done so it is doubtful whether it would have arrived in the mêlée in time to have changed the outcome.
Comment.—Trafalgar is notable as being the only big fleet action in which a well digested plan preceded the battle. The essentials of the plan were carried out loyally by the subordinates, resulting in that rare and difficult thing, unity of action.
With special regard to Nelson's own movements,1 the writer believes that they were more than justifiable, and that the only fair adverse criticism that can be made is that he was a little too impetuous. Yet is not this a desirable thing in the person of the commander-in-chief at a critical point in a big engagement? His example means much, psychologically, to the subordinates in his vicinity and to the morale of the enemy. The security of his person at such a stage of the fight is entirely secondary since the outcome in this respect cannot be known until the fight is won or lost.
To examine more closely what he did do:
Standing directly for the enemy fleet until just out of gun range, he changed course to almost parallel their line of bearing. This permitted his rear ships to close up and in part to form line of bearing paralleling the enemy formation.
Having the interior line and sailing free, a continuation of the maneuver would take his squadron out of supporting distance of Collingwood and would place Nelson's squadron opposite a part of the close-hauled allied line where superior forces could be concentrated against him, thus violating first principles.
1On the assumption that Mahan is correct and that Nelson's squadron went into action "teed."
Nelson's movement so far kept the enemy in the dark and indicated to the latter an attack on his van center; thus discouraging him from supporting his rear, and gaining time for Collingwood to drive home his superiority at the point of contact.
At this stage, while still out of effective range, Nelson changed course abruptly to about east-southeast and led his 11 ships through the enemy column six ships ahead of Collingwood. His feint prevented a timely concentration against Collingwood, and his ultimate act was nothing less than the throwing of the mass of his whole fleet against the area of the enemy center and rear.
He abandoned the fetish of "formation," sacred for so many centuries, and still sacred now so long after the event, for the sake of a more sound doctrine of using mass to crush a decidedly inferior enemy fraction before it could be supported. "Time is everything."
In this crisis Nelson acted in accordance with the following tactical principles:
(a) Support the point of major contact in the least time practicable.
(b) Keep concentrated, so as to afford mutual support.
(c) Avoid detached engagements.
(d) Isolate as much of the enemy as practicable while engaging the rest with the maximum force possible.
(e) Disregard formation when the situation so demands. Mass is more vital to success than formation is.
(f) Avoid action unless superior at the point of threatened contact.
(g) The example of the commander-in-chief is contagious.
(h) Time is everything. Defeat one part of the enemy before it can be reenforced.
(i) The exigencies of the moment outweigh the desirability for rigid adherence to the details of a general plan.
THE BATTLE OF LISSA (1866)
This action was the first in which any considerable number of ironclads were opposed to each other, and the only ironclad action except Tsushima from which fleet tactical principles may be gleaned.
The Italians were considerably superior in materiel, but decidedly inferior in preparation, training, and morale to their opponents, the Austrians.
(2-page “Battle of Lissa – Phase I & Phase II” not replicated in this Word document.)
The Italian admiral, Persano, was from the opening of the campaign very dilatory and showed a poverty of strategic sense as well as of combative ardor. Rather than accept the inferior Austrian fleet as his principal objective, he chose, after a long period of inactivity, to attack the Island of Lissa. Worse still, in the execution of this eccentric mission, he permitted a scattering of forces and failed to take proper precautions against surprise, so that when the Austrian fleet suddenly and unexpectedly appeared he was very illy prepared to receive it.
Two days were spent by the Italians in the vain attempt to take Lissa. Many casualties occurred among ships and men. On the third day, when first intimation of the approach of the Austrians was received, the Italian fleet was widely scattered and busily engaged in bombarding and in landing operations. Squally weather added to the plight of the Italians.
Persano had no plan, and his fleet felt the full psychological effect of a surprise. A "storm of signals sweeps over the squadron," Persano steamed confusedly about and managed in a comparatively short time to form a line of nine ironclads. After several changes of formations he finally formed a badly stretched column, about at right angles to the enemy's bearing. One armor-clad signalled she could not fight, and then deserted the field, two others were too far off initially to join action. The wooden ships were signalled to form behind the ironclad line, but did not obey.
As a final touch, when the Austrian attack was imminent, Persano stopped his flagship and shifted his flag to another ship. A great gap was thus left in his already too extended column. On boarding the new flagship, Persano "commenced to race up and down the line, doing little fighting but making numerous signals." Few captains being aware of the shift of flag "and as all the ships were so dressed with flags that signals could not be distinguished, nobody paid any attention to him, and the Italian fleet was left without leader or orders" to fight in isolated units against a concentrated force; and against captains who could see their admiral's signals and who knew his plans.
The Austrian fleet was massed; the ironclads in the lead in a wedge formation, and the wooden ships close in rear in two wedges, paralleling the van. They hit the Italian line in the gap caused by the stopping of Persano's flagship (and 15 minutes after that event), and thus divided the Italian fleet.
It is unprofitable to follow the detailed course of the action. A mêlée ensued, the Austrians keeping concentrated in two groups, wooden ships and ironclads, and the Italians becoming worse scattered. The value of a study of Lissa is not found in the geometry of tactics but in certain broad principles which were there accentuated more through the doing of the wrong thing than the doing of the right thing. These principles may be summarized as follows:
1. Enemy fleet is the principal objective.
2. Own fleet should not be weakened by engagement with shore defences until command of the sea has been gained.
3. Effective surprise is fatal.
4. A plan is a necessary prelude to a successful action.
5. Against divided, scattered forces the best point of attack is the center.
6. All forces should be brought into action as nearly simultaneously as practicable.
7. Before and during action keep tactically concentrated. Employ all your means during action.
8. Formation is a secondary consideration compared with the concentration of mass at the critical point at the proper time.
9. Signals are a poor means for conducting a fleet during action and far inferior to that co-ordination produced by a plan combined with the united intelligent effort of subordinates.
10. Mutual support between fleet fractions is an essential requisite to successful battle.
11. Combative ardor of personnel is an essential to victory.
THE BATTLE OF TSUSHIMA (1905)
This action is notable because it is the only one in history where two large modern squadrons (they could hardly be termed "fleets ") were seriously opposed.
The Japanese had the advantage of their generally successful campaign during the preceding year, which served as excellent training in all the factors of naval warfare, and also as a means of elevating their own morale while depressing that of the enemy.
The Russians had a decided advantage in the number and the power of their ships, but a greater disadvantage in depressed morale, woeful lack of training in tactics and gunnery, incompetent commanders, the presence of a train and in the fact of having had to make a very long passage immediately preceding the action.
The Russian fleet was sighted soon after daylight by a Japanese scout, which though seen by the Russians was permitted to keep touch without molestation. The Russian fleet continued on its northerly course and maintained cruising formation, in double column, until some time after the Japanese fleet was sighted standing on a nearly opposite course across the port bow of the Russians.
The Russians had some difficulty in understanding signals, and, consequently, with interior maneuvers.
Just before coming within range the Japanese changed course about eight points left and stood south-eastward across the heads of the two Russian columns. Here Rodjesvenski leading his eastern squadron tried to support his exposed column by obliquing to its support, but that support was given too late to save the leader of the port column which was concentrated on and sunk, the column being "teed."
Rodjesvenski's supporting movement resulted in the Japanese, merely by continuing their course, teeing his own column, and in its leader being so badly damaged as to be forced to leave the formation temporarily.
The Japanese shortly countermarched so as to hold the tee, and Russian head changed course four points right in an effort to remedy its bad position.
The Japanese again countermarched to parallel the Russians, concentrated fire on the Russian knuckle and gradually completed another tee on Russian head. The tee was kept for a considerable time by countermarching after the Russians had turned sharply to port. This decided the action.
The Japanese had available about four knots superior speed, and maneuvered by squadrons independently, but co-ordinately, and in accordance with a general plan. Most of their countermarches were done by squadrons maneuvering by a simultaneous movement on signal.
On account of rough seas Japanese destroyers were kept in port during the day action and only attacked at night after the enemy was badly scattered, but they used their cruisers in the line of battle.
This action emphasizes the following points:
(a) The business of logistics, while necessary, is a function entirely separate from and should be subordinated to the business of preparing for and executing the fight. A commander-in-chief who permits his mind to be engrossed with logistics and administration is badly handicapped when it comes to fighting.
(b) Exercise in the things to be used in battle, such as signals, maneuvers, and gunnery, is necessary if the fleet is to perform them well in battle.
(c) The moral element in war is the paramount factor.
(d) Well placed cruisers in the line of battle may be as good or better than poorly placed battleships. Every available ship should be used in action.
(e) Squadrons operating with good degree of independence, and in accordance with a general plan, is a much superior method to that of attempting the maneuver of the entire fleet by means of signals from one source; particularly when in the latter case there is no prearranged plan.
(f) "The order of sailing" should be the "order of battle" when contact with the enemy is anticipated.
(g) Early information of the enemy's formation is of great value during the approach.
(h) Destroyers are probably not of much use in a fleet action when the sea is rough.
(i) Concentration of force and of gun-fire on a flank is murderous.
MODERN TACTICS-GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS.
In applying the principles of tactics to the present day, we find, that even since Tsushima there have been very great changes in types of ships, in numbers that will probably be engaged, in weapons and in auxiliary appliances. The dreadnought type of battleship, the battle cruiser, the submarine, the sea-going destroyer, the long range torpedo, the floating mine, the radio apparatus, the perfected turret appliances, fire-control apparatus, gun sights, the turbine, the hydroplane, etc.
While data concerning the performance of each of these have been obtained from practical experience with them, their proper use in action and their general influence on tactics, have been determined only on the maneuver board. This method of tactical development and of tactical indoctrination is very valuable. Only by such means are adequate mental training and frequent exercises at insignificant expense practicable. While game board rules must be founded on certain data which can be obtained only through actual practice, once these data are determined the game board is a more accurate method of tactical analysis than is that of tactical maneuvers with ships. Let no one conclude, however, that tactical knowledge developed by the work of others on the game board or elsewhere, can be used successfully by an officer who has not by frequent game board practice trained his own mind to apply correct tactical principles with the celerity, certainty and determination that are essential to success.
The game board has two distinct functions. One is the careful and deliberate study of tactical principles, and the methods of best applying them. The other is the mental training of officers to use these principles and methods with a degree of expertness that will promise success. The latter function can only be achieved by the individual efforts of the student officers.
Consideration of our subject is simplified if accidental types are eliminated and only the pure types dealt in. These latter may be assumed to be: the battleship, the destroyer, the scout and the submarine.
Considering the operations of two large hostile fleets comprised of these various types, the realm of tactics begins long before the two main bodies reach sight contact. Commander Pratt has stated that the tactical area includes some 400 miles in advance of a fleet at daybreak, diminishing to about 200 miles at sunset. These figures are based upon the maximum distance from which the main body can support at daybreak a destroyer attack made during the preceding night. This assumes the proper time for a destroyer attack to be preceding an action, and that such attack should be followed up by main body attack before the enemy has had opportunity to recover order, formation, standard distance and morale. Togo's use of destroyers at Tsushima, though probably induced by bad weather before and during the action, that of attack of crippled ships on the night following the fleet action, is considered to be decidedly faulty. The employment of this type during a day fleet action will be considered later.
Assuming then that each fleet commander will aim to get in a destroyer attack in force on the night preceding an action, information of the enemy main body at a time when the fleets are close enough to support such attack by battleships the next day, becomes of great importance. Since the best defence against such an attack is a similar attack on the opposing main body, information of our own main body is of equal importance to the enemy whether or not he be acting defensively.
Normally then a fleet action will probably be preceded by vigorous and extensive operations by each side with a view to:
(a) Locating and delivering a night destroyer attack on the enemy main body.
(b) Denying the enemy information of the whereabouts of our own main body and the avoidance by the latter of the enemy's destroyer attack.
In these operations all pure types should be employed. The scouts should keep close touch with enemy main body, trusting to their speed to keep out of trouble. Destroyers should act on the information given by scouts as well as do some searching on their own account; deployment (preferably by small groups) is necessary during their search, followed by concentration before and during the attack. The destroyer objective is the hostile main body, so that screens encountered should be penetrated or avoided. In order to suffer minimum damage, both while penetrating screens and while attacking subsequently, the main destroyer attack should be massed near one point. The probability of the hostile fleet changing course, however, as soon as an attack in force develops and thus putting the latter astern, renders it desirable to precede the main attack by a feint or a secondary attack from an opposite direction, so that the fleet will turn into the main attack.
During the daylight preceding a destroyer attack, both sides will try to drive in the opposing destroyers. Scouts and destroyers will be employed for this purpose, and these should be supported by fast battleships. The latter should in turn be supported by submarines, which are also of use in penetrating enemy screens and obtaining information of his main body, even after the surface scouting force be driven off.
No matter what dispositions have been made for screening, a wise commander-in-chief will at night, whether or not his location is known to the enemy, disperse his battleships rather widely so as to reduce the torpedo target of the formation, and will be prepared to make a simultaneous change of course on radio signal, so as to put any attack in force that may develop astern of his main body. Two thousand yards between ships and 4000 between divisions does not seem too great a dispersion, and with along range torpedo even wider deployment may be advisable. The least valuable battleships should be used as a last resort to screen the more modern ships. The fact that the enemy will prefer to make his destroyer attack just preceding daylight, makes this period a very critical time because the fleet must be prepared to concentrate as day breaks in order to meet a battleship attack. Once having obtained good touch during the early night however, destroyer commanders will for fear of losing touch later on, be very loath to postpone their attack until the theoretically more perfect time—just before daylight.
THE MAIN DAY ACTION
Once having passed through the stratego-tactical period and having gotten the two fleets into sight contact by day, the functions of the various types change materially. The annihilation of the hostile fleet becomes the principal objective. The battleships' chief role is of course obvious. The gun being the main weapon of the battleship, the latter type will naturally form in a line of bearing about at right angles to the general bearing of the enemy. The types whose chief weapon is the torpedo, i. e., the destroyers and the submarines, will naturally seek a position on the bow of the enemy's formation. The water in advance of the two fleets will thus become the battleground of destroyers supported by such fast and powerful types as may be available. Scouts and fast battleships will be formed there in order to control this speed area and to project from there torpedo attacks on the hostile column, as well as to protect own battleship column head from similar attacks. It should be the aim to deliver these torpedo attacks after the main fleets have joined action, so as to force either a decided change of course of enemy fleet under gun-fire, or an acceptance by him of the risk of torpedo damage, accompanied in either case by a diminution of fire against friendly battleships, due to enemy change of course or change of target.
The faster fleet will draw ahead, isolating the rear of the slow fleet and enveloping its head, unless the slow fleet turns away and moves on an inner circle. With submarines present they must have high surface speed if they are to be of use to a fast fleet in turning enemy head. The slow fleet on the other hand may protect its head with slower submarines moving on interior lines. The slow submarines of a fast fleet may, however, attack through its own column in safety and deliver a torpedo attack on enemy center or rear of a long column. With the advent of the long-range torpedo this weapon will have a marked influence upon tactics. Fast battleships equipped with this torpedo may get within torpedo range at the expense of but slight gun-fire damage to themselves. The value of the submarine and the destroyer in day actions will be enormously increased; so that when this weapon comes into general use it may with reason be expected that the range at which guns will be used will be markedly increased, and in addition, the interval between ships must be increased if the chance of a torpedo which passes through the formation making a hit is to be discounted.
A torpedo hit early in the action is of so very much more value than one hitting after the damaged ship has already delivered a great part of her gun-fire, that it seems likely that effort will be made to inflict torpedo damage in the early action and before closing the range. Thus an intermediate step will be introduced between the "approach" and the deliberate general engagement at medium ranges. This may be termed the "torpedo" stage of the action and corresponds to the artillery stage ashore, and like artillery, the torpedo will be used to some extent during all stages of the battle.
It should be a good precautionary measure against a torpedo drive from ahead, as well as against a fast wing aiming to enfilade the head with gun-fire, to open out some of the leading ships of the main column several thousand yards in advance of that column.
During the approach and during the torpedo stage of an action when gun-fire is light, co-ordination is comparatively simple. The various units give to each other and to the commander-in-chief mutual information; and the latter may not only acquaint his subordinates with the salient features of his general plan as it develops in accordance with the information received from time to time, but also may give specific directions in regard to the movements and operations of the various detachments. As the torpedo stage develops into more general and closer contact, this frequent communication will become difficult and situations will change so rapidly that interior direction by the commander-in-chief will be impracticable. There is, then, necessity for a substitute for personal direction at that time by the commanding admiral. No other method can be sound than that of such co-ordination as may be obtained through indoctrination preceding the action, coupled with a uniform system of command by means of which it will be well understood just what the function of each commander is to be in any undertaking that may arise. In every sea fight there will soon arise a situation in which formations will become ragged and plans confused. This will be the time when victory hangs in the balance; what has preceded will be relatively unimportant. It is for this critical stage and not for the mere introduction to an engagement that fleets should be best prepared. Then will become most apparent the very great value of properly trained subordinate commanders who are authorized and able to use that type of initiative which Von der Goltz defines as "independence, based on intelligence, which prompts an inferior to promote the ends of his leaders." Let us now examine more closely those general principles which should govern subordinate leaders under such circumstances that unity of action can be obtained.
The fundamental principle of tactics is the concentration of the mass of one's own forces against enemy fractions, at the critical time and place. This is easily understood as a principle, but its application is more difficult. From this principle and from the foregoing historical analyses may be deduced certain doctrines for the conduct of ships, divisions and squadrons in a fleet action.
(1) Keep sufficiently concentrated to ensure mutual support.
(2) Endeavor to get all forces into action simultaneously.
(3) Support the point of major contact in the least practicable time. (4) Avoid detached engagements.
(5) Avoid action with enemy forces not already under fire, and if possible isolate them from action.
(6) Avoid action unless superior at the point of threatened contact.
(7) Fast wing and destroyers avoid action till main body engages.
(8) Use individual initiative without signal where necessary to (a) further the general plan; (b) take advantage of a position gained; (c) to recover from a disadvantage.
Before a proper conception of naval tactics is possible, the value of time must be thoroughly appreciated. Nelson has said that time is everything and that five minutes may mean the difference between victory and defeat. This is as true to-day as in his age. Farragut said: "The best defence against the enemy's fire is a well directed fire from our own guns," and in this saying lies the essence of the time factor to-day. A slight superiority of gun-fire will in a few minutes become a great superiority.
The damage done by our first salvo lessens the effectiveness of the enemy's succeeding salvo. Our subsequent damage is correspondingly slight and our fire effect proportionately greater, thereby still further weakening the enemy fire. And so on; by this cumulative process any initial superiority is rapidly increased and becomes tremendously greater at the end.
It is this time element which makes it so inadvisable to tell off a reserve force at sea, except in the sense in which Nelson used a reserve; i. e., as a force to join a designated squadron before the fight; the battle will otherwise probably be lost before a reserve can get into action. This time factor also makes a containing force inadvisable to use; particularly when operating on interior lines. Better by far to get the containing force at the point of major contact for a few minutes in advance of the force that would otherwise be contained; it will thus serve a more useful purpose toward winning the fight. An exception to this may be made where submarines are available for use as a containing force or where inferior speed prevents getting the containing force into action.
A commander-in-chief who would go into action without a well considered and clearly formulated general plan would be grossly culpable. Not only must such plan be clearly understood by himself and staff, but it must be imparted to all principal subordinates in order that they may co-ordinate their efforts among themselves and with the commander-in-chief himself, to the end that unity of action may be obtained. As a basic principle of co-ordination and unity of action, "loyalty to the plan" of the commander-in-chief by all participants is absolutely essential.
Such plan must be firmly based on rudimentary tactical principles and should follow the lines along which indoctrination has previously followed. The battlefield is no place to introduce tactical novelties. United action is very difficult under the best conditions and impossible in battle except on terms entirely familiar to all the participants. In this connection it may be noted that one of the chief sources of a high morale is self-confidence which is born of familiarity with the task in hand, and this fact is one of the greatest arguments for previous training in games and fleet exercises. Doctrine, which is essential to the successful execution of any battle plan, cannot be otherwise established during peace coincidently with conviction of its soundness, and doctrine without general conviction is an empty form which will not survive the stress of battle.
The very simplest plan will involve more friction in its execution under fire than is desirable. Simplicity of plan is then an essential to success. It may be remarked also that the plan should not go far into details; it must be very general and indicate only the principal intentions.
The unlimited discretion of the enemy precludes any possibility of carrying out a plan which projects much beyond the first few operations after the battle opens. The plan then is merely an introduction to the fight.
Finally the plan must aim at the best use of the means at hand considered in connection with the means to be met, i. e., the enemy fleet. Every available means, every type of ship, and all ships, must be utilized to the limit of their capability or else the plan cannot be an acceptable one. The slightest factor may mean the difference between victory and defeat.
FORMATION AND MOVEMENT
The general arrangement of types on the battlefield has been previously sketched, and the fact noted that the two fleets will normally take up positions on general lines of bearing approximately parallel to each other. As a rule the two fleets will move in the same general direction and at the best speed which each can maintain.
Formation is of course merely a means and not in itself an end to be attained. At all stages of the action the formation should primarily conform to the best compliance which the general situation will allow with the fundamental tactical rule of concentrating the major portion of one's own forces against weaker parts of the enemy. In practice this will mean, as has been already pointed out, that engagement should be refused, or only accepted at great ranges, except when superior in force at the point of contact, and that detachments must keep within supporting distance of each other. It will also mean ordinarily that full broadsides should be brought to bear on the enemy, and that when superior at a point of contact the range should be reduced as much as practicable. The resulting formation normally then will be a concentrated fleet in an approximate "column" or "line ahead," but broken as the enemy's formation and movements make necessary or as they furnish opportunities for pushing an advantage. Of course, too, these general considerations may be frequently modified in practice in order to accomplish some special momentary objective such as the execution of a particular part of a general plan. Nelson at Trafalgar, for example, accepted the transitory handicap of exposing the leading ships of each column to greatly superior fire in order to carry out the general plan of concentrating his entire fleet on the hostile center and rear.
Many believe in the pure column formation on the ground that it is the best formation from which gun-fire may be delivered. Certainly the best manner for the employment of all of our weapons should be adopted, and since the gun is the primary weapon it should be given preference in selecting the formation to be used. But certainly also this reason alone is inadequate for the adoption of any unchangeable formation. It is hardly likely that a wide-awake enemy will get close enough to all parts of a fleet in one long column to permit the collective broadside to be used in such an ideal manner. If he does not do so we must be prepared to go after him or protect ourselves in such other formation as the occasion demands. No fleet can afford to be the slave of any formation, which in principle is but a tool to be used in the manner most advantageous to its master. Our fleet must learn to be a skilled master of this tool.
Another advantage frequently claimed for the column is that it is the formation most likely to minimize confusion incident to position keeping and to poor co-ordination. This is perhaps true if it be admitted that a fleet of 30 or 40 heavy ships can maintain position in single column. The writer once witnessed an effort of 19 well trained battleships to cruise in column, in time of peace with bridge stations occupied and instruments in use. It resulted in surprising failure and was abandoned within about half an hour. The last six or eight ships had a bad time of it, and incidentally their frequent great changes in speed would have played havoc with gun-fire. Nelson's judgment that a fleet of 40 large ships could not with profit be brought into battle as a unit and should be subdivided into partially separated and somewhat independent squadrons is as sound to-day as it was in his time. It is indeed a confession of weakness if we admit at the start our inability to learn to properly co-ordinate the detachments of a fleet so divided. The writer cannot concur in the latter premise and therefore does not believe we should limit our choice of battle formation to one which is clearly weak and dangerous.
The lack of homogeneousness in most fleets introduces the problem of the proper order of ships in the formation. Many believe that dreadnoughts should be concentrated at one end; others that they should be concentrated in the center. In the latter case both flanks would be left weak and the dreadnought speed could not be used to advantage. In the former case one flank is weak, the dreadnoughts will separate from the slower ships and the slow ships probably will not get into action against a faster fleet. Placing dreadnoughts in the lead should be good against a fleet of inferior speed, since in such case all ships could certainly get into action. With own fleet of inferior speed, placing the slowest ships in the center, dividing faster ships on each side of them and putting half the dreadnoughts on each flank might be advantageous. Here the formation would remain concentrated and the fast ships utilize their extra speed in preserving the line of bearing perpendicular to the bearing of the enemy. The resulting movement would be a wheel about a movable center, preferably by division columns. One would thus accept the defensive but would have to submit to it anyway due to inferior speed, unless of course the fast ships alone were superior in force to the enemy fleet, in which event the concentration of speedy types which permits taking the offensive would be more advisable.
Movement in general under fire is better done by division columns than in any other manner. Simultaneous movements of single ships are no doubt impracticable not only on account of signal friction, but also because of risk of collision. Division column movements require well trained division commanders who will take the initiative promptly whenever the situation demands, without trepidation for the responsibility assumed. Divisions of three ships better serve the division column tactics than do those of four ships.
Any radical change of course greatly disturbs a ship's gun-fire, so that course should, if possible be changed only a little at a time. For the same reason if the enemy can be forced to turn abruptly while he is under fire, for example, by a destroyer of fast wing drive on his head, a decided advantage will have been gained over him.
In days gone by the weather gage gave to its possessor the choice of fighting or of avoiding action, and for that reason was of great value.
Recent experience with gun practice has developed the fact that funnel smoke and powder gas interference is decidedly disadvantageous to gun-fire, and for that reason the lee gage is generally considered preferable notwithstanding the other handicaps of spray from the sea and from enemy shorts, and of spotters having to face the wind. Perhaps further experience and other considerations may modify opinions in this respect.
It seems possible, for example, that the heavy funnel smoke-cloud normally emitted by a large fleet steaming at high speed, may, under, certain conditions of range, wind and atmosphere, operate to obscure a part of the lee fleet to such an extent as will prevent the efficient use of its guns, and permit the weather fleet to concentrate its entire gun-fire upon that fraction of the lee fleet which offers a good target. Such a condition of affairs would be almost as good a "concentration of mass" against enemy fractions as could be desired.
Frequent comment has been made above with reference to the use of destroyers and submarines, which need not be repeated.
In the use of the torpedo in general, the most advanced conception is that the formation rather than the individual ship should be considered as the target. In the column formation the chance of hitting by torpedoes passing through the formation is the ratio between the length of the ships and the open water between. With other formations the chance of hitting varies greatly with the position of the firing ship in respect to the formation.
There is considerable doubt in the writer's mind as to whether destroyers can be used to better advantage by day or by night. If the hostile battleships are unprotected by their own destroyers or other screening force, an attack by night could scarcely be resisted, and is unquestionably justifiable. On the other hand, where a screen must be pierced before the battleships can be reached, there is some reason to believe that the destroyers had best be saved for the day action on the morrow. This is particularly true if the enemy has superiority in destroyers. The losses incident to screen piercing will usually be great. Further losses will come from battleship fire after penetrating the screen and in greater degree than if the screen had not been present to warn the battleships and enable them to maneuver to place the attack astern. Those boats not badly damaged will fire torpedoes at widely scattered targets and the percentage of hits will necessarily be small. There will be few torpedoes remaining to take part in the day action.
By day, on the other hand, the enemy will be in sight, his course and approximate speed known, and his formation concentrated giving a good target. The fire sustained by day will be relatively small if the attack is well supported and takes place while the enemy main body is under gun-fire. He may shift all his battery to the attacking destroyers but to do so he must greatly slacken fire on our own heavy ships whose fire will be correspondingly improved. If the destroyers can come in under the shelter of smoke they will not be badly damaged. The great amount of smoke made by a large fleet steaming at a speed to be expected in battle is not generally appreciated. Under certain atmospheric conditions this smoke-cloud remains close to the surface for a long time. When two big fleets are within range, good vision through sight telescopes may be very difficult.
Certainly a day attack of this sort is more in keeping with the fundamental principle of tactics—concentrated attack by the whole force at the critical time and place—than is the night attack. It certainly would seem to offer such chances of undermining the enemy morale, at a time of great nervous stress, that a reasonably successful destroyer attack then would win the fight.
The effectiveness of destroyers is greatly enhanced by using them en masse. The failure of the Japanese to do this instead of using the boats individually in their war with Russia, has since been concluded by the Japanese General Staff to be the principal cause for their poor success.
Torpedoes furnish the only weapon of the submarine. Inasmuch as a position forward of the target beam is greatly preferable to one abaft of it, it follows that submarines should have sufficient speed to place themselves in the desired position. So great speed under water being impracticable, it follows that high surface speed is the only solution that offers. Without such speed the usefulness of this torpedo carrier is reduced to that incident to stealth and to pure chance; except where the use of interior lines is practicable. At night the efficiency of submarines is reduced owing to their vulnerability at that time—for during darkness the periscope is valueless and the boats must operate in an awash condition, thus falling an easy prey to destroyers or even to picket launches. When used in conjunction with destroyers or in a night attack it seems bad in principle to have the submarines accompany the destroyers. A probable better use is to separate them so that the submarines will be in position to intercept ships turning away from the destroyer attack.
The new type of large submarines fitted with heavy oil engines makes a craft of long radius capable of accompanying the fleet at sea and introduces a new factor in sea fleet actions. Their influence no doubt will be to make both fleets wary during the approach period, but in the end one fleet must accept the hazard boldly, and endeavor to break through the cordon believed to be surrounding the fleet on the defensive. Once inside this cordon the submarine's danger is greatly reduced, though never wholly eliminated. In the defence of bases and the guarding of passages the submarine is an extremely valuable auxiliary to which there is no satisfactory answer. The best reply seems to be in a superiority of surface torpedo craft and in speed. In one sense the submarine may be regarded as a movable mine field.
The Russo-Japanese War brought the mine very much to the fore, both as a defensive and an offensive weapon. The defensive carrier can be any type of vessel. One of special type is preferable. For offensive uses the best type is one possessing speed, thus supplying the factor of mobility which the mine itself lacks. Occasionally the battleship may have opportunity to use mines in an offensive sense, notably when retreating preliminary to an attack. Owing to this danger as well as to that of the submarine, fleets will no doubt in future be deterred from following a retreating foe which has not already been badly punished or is not greatly inferior, and even then the opponents' wake will be avoided if practicable. Owing to their speed, seagoing qualities and diminutive size, the offensive mine carrier par excellence is the destroyer. Those vessels equipped with floating mines will be very dangerous both by night and day. A destroyer attack following mine damage will be very effective, particularly at night, and by day as well if properly supported. No weapon has a greater influence on the enemy's nerve than this unseen one. Success in its use would create all the well known advantages of surprise and would cause the enemy grave confusion and loss of morale by both men and officers.
The introduction of the floating, as well as of other types of mines, renders necessary constant sweeping operations in advance of a fleet underway. Means for efficient sweeping should be greatly perfected.
Finally it seems probable that attacks on the underwater body of ships will be a very deciding factor in the next war. Structural design to minimize the damage from this form of attack is an imperative necessity.
Of all the many factors entering into tactics, as well as into the other branches of war, the moral one is pre-eminent. Without moral force "the material is worth no more than old iron."
The field battle is primarily a contest of will and character.
Victory comes to those who, regardless of the balance of material force, longest and most stubbornly keep alive their will to conquer and their conviction of ultimate success.
Once the confidence of strength and the belief of victory is badly shaken, the battle is lost. "Battle, from its nature, exacts of man a superhuman effort that strains all the fibers of his organism; and this abnormal tension can only be produced and maintained by the hope of victory. As soon as that disappears, the reaction at once sets in, and the worn-out man gives up."
In planning and executing all his battles, Napoleon's chief aim was to shatter the enemy's morale. In his ability to do so lay the greatest secret of his success. It is well to profit by his example and to formulate our own plans with the same end in view, and to direct every detail with the principal object of undermining the enemy's morale. Surprise him, throw him into confusion, and before he has had opportunity to recover, throw the mass of one's forces into the critical area. The prompt following up of a real advantage or even of a situation which to the enemy only appears disadvantageous, is one of the best means of lowering his morale and making him believe that his case is hopeless.
High morale springs primarily from self-confidence, and this in turn is derived from knowledge of or belief in one's skill and strength, as compared with the enemy. Familiarity, then, with war operations gained by frequent practice during peace constitutes a great element of moral strength. Another is the assurance of the timely and adequate mutual support of our fellow fighters, and still another is conviction of the soundness of the doctrine which uniformly guides our side.
In modern fleet actions the range will be so great as to prevent true appreciation of the damage which is being done to the enemy, our own damage being meanwhile subject to undue exaggeration and concern. This fact makes it more than ever necessary exhaustively to study the subject of morale and its allied subject of psychology.
The spotter, the range-finder operator, and the gun pointer who are afraid or unduly agitated will begin the disintegration of our forces through lowering the efficiency of our fire and consequently raising that of the enemy.
We must study man and particularly the American man, with a view to developing in our officers and our crews now, during peace, such moral qualities as will sustain us in action, through the pre-combat stage when the enemy is approaching and nerves are at the breaking point; through the punishment stage when men act mechanically and habit and discipline only may sustain them against the fundamental instinct of self-preservation; and through the disintegration stage when the fabric of our mental systems begins to go to pieces. Character and will, alone, then stand between defeat and victory.