IS THE FLEET STRATEGICALLY CONCENTRATED?
By Commander F. M. Perkins, U. S. Navy
"There is thus a concentration of mental and moral outlook, of resolution, as real as the physical concentration of disposable forces."—Mahan.
"Like every sound principle, concentration must be held and applied in the spirit, not in the letter only; exercised with understanding, not merely literally."—Mahan.
Before the Panama Canal was undertaken, and during the period of its construction, there were frequent revivals of the question of dividing the fleet between the Atlantic and Pacific. The influences which sought to divide it were mainly political in their origin as were also others which strove for its retention in the Atlantic. The latter, in themselves the stronger of the opposing influences, had the weight of professional opinion in their favor, largely guided by the constant warnings of Mahan and other officers of the navy who clearly read the teachings of naval warfare and accurately pointed the way toward applying their principles.
Not only did the general teachings of naval history demand the retention of our navy in the Atlantic but the specific factors which composed the international situation in the years before the existence of the Canal and the outbreak of the World War dictated the same course of action.
The outstanding features of this period affecting the disposition of our fleet were the rapid growth of the German navy and its advancement to second place in the navies of the world, German commercial development in the Central and South American republics and the impending struggle between the mistress of the seas and her self-announced rival, foreshadowed by the gradual concentration of the British navy in and about home waters.
The commercial expansion of Germany in South America had been no less rapid than her naval expansion at home. Their simultaneous growth was, in fact, interdependent; each was supplementary to and promoted the other. The larger navy afforded protection to the larger merchant marine and inspired German merchants with the confidence necessary for embarking on vast commercial conquests; the larger merchant marine was the carrier of the wealth which made the larger navy possible. The rich, undeveloped continent of South America was the mine which in large part contributed to both and from which Germany was rapidly quarrying the foundation stones upon which she proposed to rear her structure of world commercial and military dominion.
Her commercial colonization of South America, if not actually intended to develop into immediate political colonization, threatened, by its thoroughness and rapidity of growth, eventually to become as effective as if it were political in fact and gave promise of bringing up many delicate political problems in the future.
Between Germany and her rapidly materializing South American dreams stood the nominal barrier of the Monroe Doctrine of the United States which was and is and always will be equal in actual force to the strength of the navy of the United States —but no stronger. The navy of the United States at this time was, numerically, a poor third. Fortunately, England's interests and those of the United States lay in the same direction and for years not the Monroe Doctrine, not the American navy, but the navy of Great Britain was the real barrier which interposed between Germany and German territorial acquisitions in South America.
These, then, were the deciding factors which dictated the concentration of the United States fleet in the Atlantic. True, there were occasional rumblings in the Pacific and frequent demands from the West Coast states for a part of the fleet but they were without sufficient influence to effect the division. The center of the next storm area was rightly judged by the government to be in the Atlantic and there, by the decision of the Navy Department upheld, perhaps, by the political influence of the Eastern seaboard states, the fleet remained.
It is probable that the opening of the Panama Canal would have resulted in the early division of the fleet between the Atlantic and Pacific had it not occurred almost simultaneously with the outbreak of the World War, for with the completion of the Canal tactical division became possible without sacrificing strategical concentration, within the ordinarily accepted meaning of the latter term.
The division of the fleet between the two coasts of the United States was postponed for several years by the World War. With its close came a vast re-arrangement of world forces, political, military and economic. The great High Seas Fleet—the German navy—was no more. Vanished also was the great German commercial web which was being spun so rapidly and efficiently about South America.
For the first time in centuries Great Britain accepted the idea of a naval equal on the seas. This same equal had, in an inconceivably short time, developed a merchant marine from almost nothing to one which threatened the supremacy of England's mighty commercial fleet. For the United States the Atlantic atmosphere was cleared.
But the same world upheaval, which had so greatly enhanced our military and commercial prestige and had solved our problems in the Atlantic, had, simultaneously, added to the military and commercial prestige of a possible rival in the Pacific. The contemporaneous growth of United States and Japanese merchant shipping in the Pacific, the award of the German Pacific Islands north of the equator to Japan, the cession of Shantung, the prolonged Japanese occupation of Siberia and Sakhalin Island, the great naval building programs of the United States and Japan were new factors and their possible bearing upon the great British, French, American, Japanese, and Dutch eastern colonial systems, together with the still troublesome question of Oriental immigration in the United States, combined to shift world interest from the Atlantic to the Pacific and to center national and international attention upon the new situation created, and especially upon the new significance of the Open Door in China.
This new Pacific situation together with the vitally important strategic fact of the existence of a successfully operating Isthmian canal silenced the political guns of the proponents or an all-Atlantic navy and removed serious professional objection to the division of the fleet. Perhaps the great size of the navy, built and building, removed the fear that Atlantic navy yards might be left without work and thereby helped to quiet political opposition; possibly it became necessary to focus the Congressional attention upon the inadequacy of the West Coast navy yards against the day when they might be called upon to maintain the reunited fleet or to launch it forth into the Pacific; perhaps it was considered that, with the completion of the 1916 building program, we would actually have two principal fleets and that the time had come to take the first step in establishing them. Whatever the cause or causes may have been, the much discussed and long contemplated creation of a Pacific fleet of first-class ships followed closely upon the heels of the new situation.
In the summer of 1919 the fleet was divided into the Atlantic and Pacific fleets of approximately equal numerical strength, each with its own battleships, destroyers, submarines, auxiliary vessels, and aircraft. Since then the distribution of forces between the two has been modified by a gradual strengthening of the Pacific fleet at the expense of the Atlantic, but the underlying idea of two fleets, one in the Atlantic, the other in the Pacific, still remains the basis of the organization of the navy in theory and the distribution of the fleet in fact, apparently accepted unquestioningly as tactically, strategically and administratively sound, both by the professional thought of the navy and the lay thought of the country at large. And yet, although divided in two fleets for peace purposes, the necessity for concentrating them in time of war is recognized by providing an organization for combined operations.
This very brief review of the outstanding events and circumstances which preceded the division of the fleet and led up to its present distribution is but preliminary to the question which it is the purpose of this paper to discuss.
"Is the Fleet Strategically Concentrated?"
At first blush, it would appear that to ask this question is to answer it.
The writer has no desire to attempt to qualify as a naval strategist, for he has not, as yet, had the advantage of War College training. His desire is to invite consideration of the subject of the strategical concentration of the fleet from a point of view which endeavors to be somewhat broader and more inclusive than that which is ordinarily accepted as the academic point of view of strategical concentration and this, without sacrifice or compromise of any of the essential truths which guide but possibly also limit the trained strategist in the field of pure strategy.
He comes, therefore, not as the bearer of a message but, humbly, as a seeker of truth, hoping that others more capable may point out the error of his ways and allay the doubts and misgivings which have arisen in his own mind concerning the strategical concentration of the fleet.
Through the reading of various books on naval strategy and similar subjects there has gradually developed in the mind of the writer a conception of the term "concentration," as applied to warfare, which comprehends many more factors than those of position, distance and speed and which assigns to "concentration" many other first cousins than "central position," "interior lines," and "communications."
This broader conception of concentration gives to it great elasticity and endows the idea with the ability to clarify and illuminate many little problems of everyday life as well as those of wider meaning. It serves, for example, as a guide to the mind in arriving at a correct decision concerning the distribution of a few individuals for accomplishing a given result no less than it serves as an aid to correct reasoning in arriving at a decision concerning the tactical or strategical distribution of a fleet for accomplishing a given mission.
According to this conception, concentration—"strategical concentration"—is not merely a geographical matter concerning factors entirely measurable upon a chart, but true strategical concentration, in addition to the factors of positions, distances and speeds, includes many others which are just as truly a part of strategical strength and upon which strategical concentration just as truly depends.
Strategical concentration, in other words, is not realized in its entirety merely because two detachments of a fleet or force occupy such positions with relation to each other and to the enemy that they may join and reinforce each other without danger of becoming separately engaged. This would be a very narrow view of strategical concentration and yet it is one against which we must be on guard. Strategical concentration in its widest application should include consideration of many factors other than the distribution for ready physical mobilization, factors which, in time of peace, are being developed for the purpose of adding to the strength of the fleet in time of war.
After discussing the subject of concentration and illustrating his meaning by historical examples, Mahan issues a specific warning against accepting a too narrow interpretation of the term. In pointing out that concentration means mutual support, that mutual support does not necessarily imply direct contact but that "a considerable separation in space may be consistent with such mutual support"; he says:
"Like every sound principle, concentration must be held and applied in the spirit, not in the letter only; exercised with understanding, not merely literally."
The wide applicability of the idea of concentration "in the spirit" is illustrated occasionally by Mahan in his various writings. For example: "The same consideration (concentration) applies to ship design. You cannot have everything. If you attempt it, you will lose everything; by which I mean that in no one quality will your vessel be as efficient as if you had concentrated purpose on that one. On a given tonnage—which in ship-building corresponds to a given size of army or of fleet—there cannot be had the highest speed, and the heaviest battery, and the thickest armor, and the longest coal endurance, which the tonnage would allow to any one of these objects by itself."
Again, in discussing Rojesvenski's dispositions before the battle of Tsushima, Mahan points out that the Russian admiral labored under self-imposed tactical handicaps which were the result of a strategical blunder which, in turn, resulted from a "lack of unity of conception, of that exclusiveness of purpose which is the essence of strategy."
What are "unity of conception" and "exclusiveness of purpose" but the principle of concentration "applied in the spirit"?
Rojesvenski's mind was divided between battle and escape. He overloaded his vessels with coal, reducing their speed and lessening their maneuvering ability. He took his train with him and suffered the resulting tactical embarrassment. He failed to concentrate on the idea of battle; he failed to concentrate on the idea of escape. He did not even concentrate on a combination of the two ideas and form a suitable plan for carrying out that one which opportunity should favor. He lacked exclusiveness of purpose, concentration; he compromised—and lost.
These two examples, to which might be added many more, serve to point the way toward appreciation of the wide application of the idea of concentration in its military sense to other things than positions, distances and speeds and to show that true strategical concentration comprehends far more than a distribution of forces which enables them to concentrate without danger of being beaten in detail. It includes "unity of conception," "exclusiveness of purpose." It includes concentration of ideas, the habit of concentration of thought.
"There is thus a concentration of mental and moral outlook, of resolution, as real as the physical concentration of disposable forces."
We should bear in mind that even the narrowest and most academic point of view of concentration refers to the concentration of force, not necessarily synonymous with concentration of numbers; therefore if the division of numbers operates to weaken or lessen the force which any detachment in itself should be capable of contributing, the distribution, although it may be geographically correct, is strategically unsound.
True concentration, then, includes not merely the ready mobilization of the fleet but it presupposes, as its very essence, the complete readiness of the fleet to develop at the moment of mobilization the maximum offensive power of which it is or should be capable.
Such complete readiness is based upon many factors which are in daily process of growth, stagnation or disintegration; factors which are elements both of tactical and strategical strength; factors upon which the entire battle fleet must be daily concentrating with "unity of conception" and with "exclusiveness of purpose."
These factors might be greatly varied and extended; the writer conceives the essential ones to be: 1. Leadership; 2. Loyalty; 3. Discipline; 4. Fleet spirit; 5. Training.
If the history of naval warfare teaches any one lesson which stands out from all others, it is this: That the character, spirit, ability and example of the commander-in-chief far outweigh any other factor on the day of battle. As a corollary of this proposition it need only be stated to be accepted that his influence will be felt throughout the fleet according as his commanders, his captains, and his officers understand his character, are endowed with his ability, inspired with his spirit, and capable of intelligently interpreting and following his example. This was the main-spring of Nelson's genius and it came about not through mere casual association with his subordinates, but through his deliberate cultivation of their acquaintance and his persistent, personal instruction in his own ideas.
The genius of leadership is partly inborn, partly acquired. Whatever its source may be, it is indisputable that it can reach its full growth and exercise its full control only when those through whom it must be exercised are capable of receiving, transmitting, and putting into action its commands; quickly, accurately, intelligently, and sympathetically.
Especially is this necessary in naval battles, which may be won or lost in minutes, where tactical plans are certain to be modified and perhaps entirely changed to meet the rapidly changing situations; where the issue may depend upon the initiative of a subordinate commander who must act on the instant without time to communicate with the commander-in-chief.
Not only should the commander-in-chief have commanders and captains who thoroughly understand his own ideas and methods, but he should, himself, through personal acquaintance with them have an intimate knowledge of their individual characters, capacities and special abilities, as well as their weak points.
What commander-in-chief, upon being joined by half his battle fleet on the eve of battle, would not wish that he might have had its commander and subordinate commanders and captains under his personal training and observation, not for a few days or weeks but for many months—yes, or years? What would he not give to know through previous personal contact, the characters and special abilities of his newly joined subordinate commanders and captains as well as he knows those with whom he has been serving? A crisis arises in the battle. A special situation demands special action, perhaps not provided for. The unexpected happens. Who will best meet the emergency? Who will understand intuitively his wishes expressed in the least number of words when the life of the nation is being measured by seconds? Which division commander has cool judgment in a crisis? Which one must be given detailed instructions? Is there one to whom a word will tell everything? Is he determined, resolute? If the situation again changes, will he know what to do? It may be there is dangerous work for a destroyer squadron. A desperate chance must be taken. The work to be done is clear. Judgment is not required as much as dash, reckless daring. Who will best meet these requirements? And so on.
These are real situations. Great battles are filled with them. Campaigns are filled with them.
Indoctrination will facilitate the work of the commander-in-chief; it will not replace intimate knowledge of the characters and special abilities of his subordinates. Nor will it replace knowledge and understanding on the part of subordinates of the character, methods and ideas of the commander-in-chief. Such mutual knowledge and understanding can be gained only by intimate and continued association. Indoctrination gives us all the same point of aim; it does not reduce us all to a common caliber nor assign us all the same muzzle velocity. We are not standardized and until some method is discovered of standardizing character and reducing human talents to a common denominator, we never will be standardized. Personal knowledge on the part of the commander-in-chief of the character and abilities of his commanders is not an imaginary asset. The history of fleet actions proves that it is not. To a great leader it is as real an asset as the commanders themselves and the ships which they command. Can this knowledge be gained when part of the fleet is in the Atlantic and part in the Pacific except for brief periods each year? Can circular letters and general orders and all the forms of organization that departmental ingenuity can provide, weld into one inspired whole for the day of battle, a fleet divided by thousands of miles and under two commanders-in-chief in time of peace? Are we concentrated on leadership?
Loyalty is of two kinds: that which we give involuntarily because of affection or admiration for an individual and that which we give more deliberately because of our respect for the office which he holds.
The first is born of an influence which the individual exercises over us through some indefinable attribute which, for want of a better term, we call charm, personal magnetism. The fortunate leader who possesses this quality commands our loyalty doubly; we render him not only the loyalty which is due out of respect for his office but also the personal loyalty which he inspires.
The second is born of military training and of allegiance to a common cause. He who would command a full measure of loyalty to the office which he holds must exercise the duties of that office in a way to command respect and must uphold the high traditions to which he is heir.
The leader who inspires our personal loyalty does so largely by virtue of his opportunity for knowing us and of our opportunity for knowing him. We must feel his living presence to be inspired; even the most humble of us must occasionally have the opportunity of seeing him in the flesh. The flower of personal loyalty thrives in the soil of admiration and affection when cultivated with a human, personal touch. It flourishes in the warm air of personal acquaintance, but it dies in the cold, dry atmosphere of aloofness, distance.
The leader who does not possess the inborn gift of inspiring personal loyalty may aspire to develop it in some measure by deliberate effort. His high office carries with it our respect, our deliberate loyalty. Through the execution of the duties of his office he may soon command our admiration and this, in time, may ripen into a sense of personal loyalty which approaches in depth of feeling that given through affection. But it is a plant of slow growth. It is not readily susceptible to forcing. Its essentials are time and the opportunity for personal attention, acquaintance. Its enemies are aloofness, coldness, distance.
Can the spirit of fleet loyalty to the one and only leader who can command in chief on the day of battle reach its full development with the fleet maintained in two detachments several thousand miles apart? Will the fleet, which finds itself suddenly become a fleet on the eve of battle, be inspired by complete personal loyalty to a commander-in-chief who has theretofore commanded only a part of it? Are we concentrating on loyalty?
The quality of the discipline of a ship's company is invariably a reflection of the aptitude for command of the ship's captain.
If an able captain has indifferent officers with which to work he will encounter difficulty in bringing his crew to the state of discipline which he desires, for he must first instruct and, possibly, discipline his officers but, in the end, his standards will prevail and become those of the officers and crew. They may be somewhat modified by the handicap under which the captain works but, eventually, the tone of the ship will be that which he gives it.
If a captain of little or indifferent aptitude for command has an excellent set of officers under him the slack standards which he sets will prevail and become those of the officers and crew. They may be somewhat modified by the efforts which his officers will make for a while but finally they will tire and the tone of the ship will be that which he gives it.
These things are true of any organized activity; commercial, military or naval. Especially are they true of ships where the leader, the captain, lives in such daily intimacy with his men; where his authority is so supreme.
As the officers and crew of a ship reflect the standards of discipline set by the captain, so do the captains of a fleet reflect the standards set by the commander-in-chief, modified only by their varying abilities and aptitudes for carrying out his wishes and by the extent to which they, themselves, are disciplined.
There are many ideas of what constitutes a proper state of discipline and varying methods of acquiring it. The appearance of ship's boats, the quick stand to attention, the smart salute, quietness, order, precision, are the outward forms which, to some, indicate a proper state of ship's discipline. Others are content with less of form and look elsewhere for the tell-tale signs of discipline; they read it in facial expressions, in the tone of the voice, in idle conversations. They are content with the spirit of discipline if the form is not altogether outraged.
Actually these two ideas are not altogether opposed nor are they incompatible. They are, in a degree, complementary and are often co-existent in the same ship and with excellent results. They are simply manifestations of the differences in individuals and of their different ways of accomplishing the same result. The "sun-downer" and the captain who holds the personal affection of his entire crew may get an equal number of hits on the day of battle. Between these two extremes are found varying temperaments in which both tendencies exist, one or the other predominating or the two, perhaps, reaching a balance.
It is fortunate that captains do not have to lean to one extreme or the other to be successful; it would be very difficult, indeed, to find enough out of one mold to supply the fleet. "Different ships, different long splices"—and most of the long splices hold up under strain.
It goes without saying that discipline, in the sense of punishments and reprimands, must be fair and impartial. But there is another underlying principle equally important—consistency. The captain who rules with a rod of iron must maintain that rule consistently to maintain the respect of his officers and crew. This does not mean that he may not have his human moments, that he may not commend good work, that he may not even look pleasant. It does mean that he shall not be harsh or strict one day and lax the next in his punishments, his methods and his bearing, for his laxness will be interpreted as weakness and he will lose his grip on officers and crew.
Similarly, the captain who rules largely through the personal affection of officers and crew may not indulge in too frequent bursts of temper. This does not mean that he may not be strict on occasion or severe in his reprimands or punishments when necessary. It does mean that he shall not be too changeable; pleasant one day and harsh the next, or he will forfeit that which constitutes the greater part of his natural aptitude for command.
Now all this apparently has very little to do directly with the question or the strategical concentration of the fleet. But it is for the purpose of showing that, whatsoever the means of bringing a large organization to a satisfactory state of discipline, the guiding principle is consistency, uniformity, "exclusiveness of purpose," concentration.
As it is in a ship, so it is in a fleet. Consistency and, as far as obtainable, uniformity of standards must obtain to develop the highest state of discipline. Limited only by the capacities of its several captains, the standards of discipline of a fleet invariably reflect the standards of its commander-in-chief. Since human beings are what they are it is inevitable that a divided fleet will have divided standards of discipline. Will not such divided standards, developed and maintained through years of peace, serve to lessen the effective power of a fleet united in time of war? Are we concentrated on discipline?
The spirit of a fleet is a subtle, intangible thing, difficult to define. To analyze it, subdivide it, classify its component parts and properly tag each one requires the skill and knowledge of a trained psychologist and, unless he himself has lived in and been a part of the fleet, he is apt to go wrong.
It does not, however, require a trained psychologist to be able to realize the fact of the existence of this very real thing which we call fleet spirit and to observe its effects. One need not have studied psychology or even know the meaning of the word to realize that the spirit of the fleet has a very definite and recognizable character of its own, or to be able to perceive that its influence is all-pervading and all-powerful; more powerful at times than the most ironclad order which the commander-in-chief may issue.
If the President of the United States, himself, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the navy, should issue the most stringent order he could indite commanding the fleet to be cheerful, to carry on Its maneuvers, drills, and daily routine in a happy, cheerful, joyous manner and the spirit of the fleet said "No!" all the deliberate and willing effort which the President's order would unquestionably call forth would be futile until the opposition of Old Man Fleet Spirit had been overcome. Once overcome, however, he would be the most powerful friend and ally possibly obtainable. He would read the fullest meaning into our commander-in-chief's order; he would illuminate it; he would show us new ways of complying with it; he would inspire us to try to outdo each other in putting it into effect. And on his part the commander-in-chief of the fleet would find his work vastly simplified for he would feel that to issue his orders would be to have them carried out gladly, sympathetically, and completely.
Nowadays our old friend fleet spirit is more commonly called morale or fleet morale. Sticklers may claim that they are not synonymous but, to all intents and purposes and with the possible exception of some very delicate distinctions with which we are not concerned, they convey the same meaning.
A healthy fleet spirit—or morale, if you will—is the outgrowth of contentment brought about by the resultant effect of many and various forces. Its origin and source must be outside of and higher than the fleet itself. The writer has no intention of attempting to dissect and classify its many factors. It is sufficient merely to point out that the final development of a real, live, active, inspiring fleet spirit, is of slow growth; that it is of very complex structure toward which a thousand and one things contribute; that it is not amenable to hot-house methods of cultivation; that it can be killed or injured by the kindness of its best wishers through over-attention, and that it thrives best in an atmosphere which provides for a slow but steady, progressive, normal growth.
Fundamentally it is rooted in the feeling and attitude of the whole nation toward the navy as sensed by the fleet in what it sees, hears and feels. It is affected by an entente cordiale, or absence of it, between Congress and the Navy Department. It is fostered by a wise and consistent policy inaugurated and carried on by the Navy Department and from these principal sources it has countless ramifications which reach down to the things which affect the mental, moral and physical welfare of the individual sailor-man.
We who cannot analyze it from the viewpoint of psychology have at least observed some of the causes and effects of fleet spirit. We have observed, for example, that different fleets or squadrons have different characters, no less than different ships; that one organization may be indifferent, uninspired, lacking that indefinable something which might unify it and make it a living thing instead of a mere collection of ships. We have observed other organizations in which the existence of a living spirit was shown in a thousand ways. Something about the ships seems to breathe it as they steam into the harbor and let go together; the smile on the face of the bow man shows it when one of the newly arrived captains comes alongside to pay his call; the rapid disappearance of the coal or stores from the lighters proclaims it; the faces, the conversations, the dress, the bearing, the alert, confident manner of the officers and liberty parties on shore speak of the existence of some controlling, unifying, compelling community of interest which seems to animate every member of the organization. It is the spirit of the fleet.
Such a spirit is not the product of this thing or of that. It is not the result of circular letters, free moving pictures, prophylaxis and ice cream on Sundays. A discordant, unhappy family cannot be made contented and happy by the purchase of a player piano, an automobile and a radio set. These things have their value when applied at the right time and in the proper proportions; they also have very definite limitations.
The fleet, spiritually, is a family. Its spirit—atmosphere, tone—is the result of contentment brought about by mutual acquaintance, identity of interests and of experiences; by understanding which comes only by sharing together hardships, good times and bad, work, play and danger; by "sticking it out" together; by the mutual sympathy which is born of intimate, continued, personal acquaintance. Above all, the tie that binds is acquaintance and all that it promotes and fosters. Time and the opportunity for developing the family tradition are essential to the growth of the fleet spirit. Long cruises in company, common adventures in foreign lands, mutual interests in the little daily events at home or abroad, at sea or in port, on board ship and ashore; working, playing, rejoicing and suffering together—these are the means by which a fleet can find its own soul and become a fleet in reality. These are the means by which such a fleet spirit can be developed that the least desires and commands of its commander-in-chief are inspirations to excel and to outdo each other in accomplishing them.
The two detachments of a divided fleet may independently develop an excellent spirit, each complete and satisfactory unto itself and each inevitably with a character of its own—but they will not blend; they cannot blend. They are born of different experiences, different sympathies, different leadership, different standards of discipline, different atmospheres. In time they may partly blend and partly determine the character of a new spirit. But that is the vital point: time. Time is necessary—not weeks, not months—but years; not during a period of strained relations—not after a declaration of war—but in the years of peace—now.
Are we concentrated on the development of a fleet spirit?
More or less loosely, perhaps, and incompletely, the mission of the fleet in time of peace may be stated as preparation for action in time of war. It is certain that a war with any first-class power would require the concentration of our divided fleet. Our organization is based on this fundamental assumption. We have a Pacific Fleet organization and an Atlantic Fleet organization for time of peace and, on paper, a combined organization for time of war. Once a year they meet for combined maneuvers. They failed to meet last year for lack of money with which to buy fuel. Their division was a peace time strategical weakness no less than it would have been before the existence of the canal. Had the fleet been united, tactical maneuvers undoubtedly would have been arranged for; possibly strategical maneuvers also. One year was lost in the training of the fleet as a fleet. Last year the cause was lack of money; what will it be next year?
The training of a great fleet to develop its maximum striking power in battle is the greatest task in organization, control, and concentrated timely effort, that man has ever set for himself. Far more than in war on land does it call for skill and resourcefulness in the commander-in-chief; far more does it call for initiative, intuition, and instant readiness on the part of subordinates to meet the ever changing situations; far less is it susceptible of detailed planning in advance. A general engagement on land may last for days, for weeks; the first five minutes of an action between fleets may decide the history of a people.
The measure of the difficulty of training this vast array of men and materials is the measure of the necessity for each cog, large and small, in the whole organization to do its part at the right time, in the right place, in the right way.
All our experience teaches us that nothing but unremitting drill and rehearsals will enable us to approximate the maximum development of the men and materials we control. It has long been held as a cardinal principle of gunnery training in the United States navy that drill conditions should simulate as closely as possible conditions apt to be met in time of battle. And yet we divide our fleet for training!
The problem of developing the maximum power of a fleet in the face of the enemy is a problem of fleet tactical control. It is a complex problem requiring control over the movements, distribution, development of the offensive power and of the special objectives of battleships, scouts, destroyers, submarines, aircraft, mine layers and possibly other special types. It is a fleet control problem, very similar in nature to the ship control and fire control of a ship, but vastly more complicated. We have learned that the complications of fire control within a single ship are such that almost daily drill is necessary to hold the organization up to the mark.
How do we hope to master the far more intricate problem of fleet control with a fleet divided some eleven months out of the year?
Not only does our general naval training and in particular our target practice training teach us the value, the absolute necessity of team work, of drilling together, of simulating actual conditions, but everything in our school life, in commercial life and in our whole modem, national existence points in the same direction. "Team work" is the foundation of all training which requires the simultaneous play of many forces. True of sports, true of industry, true of business, it is a thousand times true of the delicate, intricate, timely interplay required of the many forces which make up a fleet.
The analogy of the team work of the football team, although well worn, is just as true today as ever. Let us suppose that Yale University and the University of California should agree to develop a single football team, Yale furnishing one side of the line and two backs and California furnishing the rest of the line and the other two backs, each division of the team having its own captain. If we suppose that their training is independent, except for two or three days a month when they meet for combined training, and that the captain of the Yale contingent is captain of the combined team on such occasions, we shall very closely reproduce the essentials of the present fleet distribution. Exchanges of correspondence and of signals, of plans of attack and defense, of ideas, will be of little value when the opening of the season comes. The captain from Yale, no matter how complete his knowledge of the tactics and strategy of football, will not be accustomed to applying them to such a large team. The straight line bucking may go fairly well but the forward passes and shifts which require the two sides of the line to work together in nice precision are apt to result in fumbles and ragged work. In fact, as a team, it wouldn't amount to much although the individual players might be excellent. A first-class high school team might beat it.
Is the division of the fleet so very different in respect to its training? Will a brief annual mobilization for combined maneuvers replace the habit of acting together as a fleet, of thinking in terms of a fleet? Can we, in one month out of each year, develop in a fleet that team work which we find requires several days a week the year round to develop in a single ship? Are we concentrated on training?
Now there are other considerations than leadership, loyalty, discipline, fleet spirit, and training. Are the Eastern navy yards adequate for the maintenance of the combined fleet? Are the West Coast navy yards adequate for its maintenance? What about the political opposition which would develop against moving the remainder of the active fleet to the Pacific or returning the Pacific fleet to the Atlantic? Would not such action by the Navy Department alienate some of the navy's most powerful political friends? Why become alarmed at the idea of separated detachments joining up on the eve of battle? Is not the history of naval warfare full of such instances? Does not that great master of warfare, Napoleon, say: "The art of war consists in dissemination of force in order to subsist, with due regard to concentration in order to fight"? Is not the division of the fleet between the two seas a dissemination in order to subsist and does not the canal provide for concentration in order to fight?
To answer these questions we have only to examine them in the clear light of the principles of concentration, "the A, B, C of naval strategy" of concentration applied in the spirit, and we shall find that the naval strategy of peace is not so different from that of war. We shall find that the objections to actual concentration in time of peace are of importance, well founded and well worthy of careful consideration but we shall find also that they are not vital and that they are not insuperable. We shall find that the considerations which have led to the division of the fleet are those of expediency. We shall find that the considerations which demand an undivided fleet are vital and fundamental and that they cannot be disregarded nor material arrangements substituted for them.
Napoleon's own definition of the art of war—"Dissemination of force in order to subsist, with due regard to concentration in order to fight,"—is obviously based on the assumption that the dissemination is necessary. There is no virtue in the separation of forces merely for the sake of separation. The separation is a means to an end; the end is subsistence, maintenance. Separation is a necessary evil to be accepted only when the end justifies the means; when subsistence cannot be provided except by dissemination. A partial dispersion in time of war may be necessary for the purpose of masking a proposed stroke or for observing the several detachments of a divided enemy or for affording the means of making a ready concentration at one of several points over a given area. These are situations incident to war. In time of peace the mission of the fleet is preparation for war, anticipation of war. The deployment of the fleet in time of peace should be that which most readily facilitates accomplishment of the mission. If the division of the fleet in time of peace is not necessary for purposes of maintenance, upon what legitimate grounds from the viewpoint of strategy can it be defended?
Let us briefly examine the maintenance facilities of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and attempt to determine whether a division of the fleet is necessary for purposes of maintenance.
It is pertinent to point out first that the United States fleet, built and building, at the time of the decision to divide it between the two seas comprised twenty-nine dreadnaughts and six battle cruisers or a total of thirty-five first-class ships, not including eighteen pre-dreadnaughts. Since this decision was made the premises upon which it was based have entirely changed. At the Conference on the Limitation of Armaments we gave up this great fleet and restricted ourselves to eighteen first-class ships for the next ten years. Our total fleet of first-class ships therefore is now and for ten years will be less than half the number contemplated at the time of the division of the fleet
With regard to the adequacy of the Eastern navy yards for maintaining this fleet there can be no question and no need for argument or for laboring the point in detail. The repair and docking facilities of the navy yards of Portsmouth, N.H., Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Norfolk, and Charleston will be more than sufficient after the scrapping of the old battleships shall have been accomplished. Their effective facilities for the maintenance of the active fleet in commission could be further increased, if necessary, by transferring destroyers and other vessels in ordinary, in reserve or out of commission to the Pacific navy yards.
On the Pacific coast the situation is different. Would the material condition of the fleet in time of peace suffer through lack of facilities to maintain it under the present conditions if concentrated on the Pacific coast? One of the greatest lessons of the World War was the discovery of our own capacity for taking care of material when the opportunity for active service furnished the incentive. Ships which had been the best friends of the navy yards but strangers to the sea went across and held their own in active service for over a year without mishap. We do not need another war to be able to duplicate this; we know what we can do; we must and will continue to do it. With this recently gained knowledge and experience and the wonderful development of the repair ship in recent years we are much less dependent upon navy yards than in former years.
Repair ships and all the initiative, enthusiasm and technical knowledge in the world, however, cannot provide dry-docks. How do we stand in this respect on the Pacific coast? For war purposes they are unquestionably inadequate. For peace purposes they are not all they should be but, in the opinion of the writer, they are sufficient to maintain the "Treaty Navy" on a peace footing if continuous docking schedules are maintained and their utmost capacity utilized.
The navy owns but one dry-dock on the west coast of the United States of sufficient capacity to dock any of the eighteen battleships. This dock is at Bremerton. At Hunter's Point in San Francisco Bay is a larger dry-dock belonging to the Bethlehem Steel Company which will take our largest battleships and the two battle cruisers which are to be converted to airplane carriers. Arrangements have been made by the Navy Department for the use of this dock. At Pearl Harbor is an immense dock which also will take all battleships and the airplane carriers. At Balboa is a fourth dry-dock larger than any of the others.
Bremerton, San Francisco, Pearl Harbor, and Balboa;—true, the distances are great; docking schedules will involve more difficulty than would be necessary with more adequate facilities, but the cruising involved, the acquaintance gained with these strategically important positions and their resources, the experience gained by the shore stations themselves in docking and repairing big ships—all these come under the head of preparation and training for war.
The two dry-docks at Mare Island and the remaining dock at Bremerton are available for cruisers, vessels of the train and all vessels smaller than battleships. In addition to these there is an enormous combination building way and shallow dry-dock at Bremerton with twenty feet of water over the sill in which several entire squadrons of destroyers or submarines could be docked at one time or large numbers of mine layers, light cruisers and other medium draught vessels.
Unquestionably the shore facilities of the Pacific coast are meager; beyond all doubt San Francisco Bay, the strategical center, should shelter a naval base of the first order, capable of docking and repairing the largest ships. But—for the maintenance of the fleet in time of peace it is not outside the bounds of conservatism to say that the development of the full capacities of the existing shore establishments of the Pacific coast together with the assignment to the fleet of all repair vessels will provide for the maintenance of the entire active fleet in full commission without lowering its standard of material condition. This presupposes that all manufacturing and shipbuilding work now done in the western yards be assigned to those of the Atlantic coast, that all vessels out of commission, in ordinary or in reserve be maintained at eastern navy yards and that the full capacity of the west coast yards be devoted to repairs, maintenance and supply—the true functions of navy yards.
The concentration of the active fleet on either coast would undoubtedly be accompanied by a great outcry from the states of the opposite coast. This would be partly political in origin and partly due to an honest but uninstructed belief by a great many that their coast or their states would be left unprotected. The truth of the matter is that a concentrated fleet in the Pacific is a better protection for the Atlantic states than half a fleet on either coast. It is equally true that a fleet concentrated in the Atlantic is a better protection for the Pacific states than a fleet divided between the two seas. We may not be able to overcome political opposition to reuniting the fleet. We may alienate powerful political friends of the navy. We may temporarily sacrifice valuable Congressional support. But this much is certain: We cannot afford to sacrifice a vital principle for expediency. If division of the fleet vitiates the principle of strategical concentration; if continued division in time of peace weakens the strength of the fleet for battle, then we cannot afford to keep the friends who can be held only at the price of division. We must not forget that there are many states which do not lie on either coast but which are just as dependent upon the navy for protection as New York or California.
We have not created a Pacific fleet for the protection of the Pacific states and an Atlantic fleet for the protection of the Atlantic states but we have divided the one and only fleet which we own and which was built for the protection of the United States.
And yet the people of the nation firmly believe that by dividing the fleet we have added to the security of the country; that we are now protecting both coasts where formerly we protected but one. Are we of the navy beginning to believe this too?
We should not allow the fleet organization which assigns battleships to the battle force, the scouting force, and the control force to obscure the clear, essential fundamentals of concentration. Whatever assignment of some of our eighteen first-line ships to other forces than the battle force may be necessary for special purposes they yet remain members of the battle force in fact, and we may be sure that the commander-in-chief will look to a disposition which will permit every one of the eighteen to lie in the line when the day of battle comes.
Our present battleship distribution gives approximately two thirds to the Pacific and one third to the Atlantic. Is not the two thirds in the Pacific a partial concession to concentration in principle and is not the one third in the Atlantic a concession to other influences and a denial of concentration in fact? Is not the result a compromise rather than a strategic combination and are not military compromises usually disastrous?
Is not the "wall of steel round our ocean boundaries'' in reality a weakening through attenuation? A marline-spike or a sash weight is a better weapon than an equal amount of metal drawn out into a long wire. Its force can be concentrated.
The division of the fleet as it now exists can be defended only upon the ground of the existence of the Panama Canal and the interior position which it gives us. It is our central position connecting our sea frontiers. We hope that it is impregnable. We were once told that Liege, Namur, and Antwerp were impregnable—and that was in the days before great bombing planes. Is not a division of the fleet on either side of and distant two thousand to three thousand miles from our connecting central position a standing invitation to an enemy to attack the Canal as the first step in an attempt to make the division permanent? Has any sure defense been developed against surprise attack by bombing planes?
Policy may require that the fleet be in the Atlantic at one time or in the Pacific at another but, insofar as the requirements of sound strategy are concerned, is it not the truth, the sum and substance of the whole matter, that it is immaterial whether the fleet be in the Atlantic or in the Pacific provided only that we keep it concentrated; a fleet in fact?
What of the period of strained relations, of days, weeks, perhaps months, which usually precedes a declaration of war? Would not the mobilization in our case be such an obvious, overt act that probably it could not be undertaken for fear that this hostile movement of the navy might precipitate the very war which, by a show of concentrated force, it might have prevented?
Are not the very names "Atlantic fleet" and "Pacific fleet" misleading? Can they do otherwise than lead the nation and perhaps ourselves to believe that we actually have two fleets? Have we in reality two fleets or have we two parts of one fleet?
Are not the essentials of the principle of concentration being violated today just as certainly, if not to the same extent, as they would have been by a similar division of the fleet before the building of the Canal?
"Like every sound principle, concentration must he held and applied in the spirit, not in the letter only; exercised with understanding, not merely literally."
"There is thus a concentration of mental and moral outlook, of resolution, as real as the physical concentration of disposable forces."
Are we applying the spirit of concentration? Have we, with our divided fleet, a concentration of mental and moral outlook? Have we concentration of purpose? Of effort?
Is the fleet strategically concentrated?