One of our younger officers, who was a destroyer commander “over there” during the war, told me two short stories of a British destroyer commander that illustrate our need to call to mind occasionally Bobby Burns’ lines:
Oh! wad some power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us.
The British destroyer commander—“B. D. C.,” I’ll call him for the sake of brevity—was aboard one of our destroyers where he saw a typewriter. He inquired all about it, how it worked, what it cost, etc., and then told the American commander he thought he’d get one for his boat. The American commander warned him against the typewriter and explained that it would get him into all kinds of trouble, but B. D. C. left the ship with his mind made up to get one of the machines “come what may.”
A few months later the American commander was aboard the British boat, saw a new typewriter on the desk in B. D. C.’s cabin and asked if it had gotten the Britisher into any trouble. “Oh! no,” replied the latter, “you see I have no one aboard who knows how to work the blinkin thing.”
The foundation of the other story was laid at the club where the two commanders were finishing up a three or four days’ sleepless escort trip. In vino veritas—as the good old saying goes— and B. D. C. was telling the American how the British would lick the United States in case of war.
“Why you Americans would be easy marks,” said B. D. C. “All the British Empire would have to do would be to declare war and keep its Navy at home six months and the American Navy would work itself to death.”
The two little incidents given above amount to nothing in themselves but they do indicate that the British Navy, which has been very successful for three centuries, takes its troubles less seriously than does the American Navy.
Just now the Navy is approaching the position it held in the hearts of the taxpayer shortly after the Civil War—along in the seventies and up to the late eighties.
Unquestionably the Navy, by closing the Southern ports to arms and ammunition and by splitting the Confederacy in two, when it held the Mississippi River, was the vital factor in winning the war. Yet, in the early eighties the number of naval vessels had fallen so low that many of our most energetic naval officers had to seek positions in the merchant marine. In the early nineties I can remember when a new ship went into commission the captain had not been to sea in eight years, and both the executive and the navigator had been on shore duty for seven years.
There are several reasons why the writer feels strongly that the Navy-is in for lean appropriations with probable drastic reductions. First is the idea—born of conceit—Americans have that this country can lick the earth with little or no preparation. The Continental Congress labored under the same delusion, when Washington, during the terrible winter at Valley Forge, spent most of his time writing pathetic appeals for “regular” troops.
Even with respect to* an intensely complicated profession like the Navy few “average citizens,” who think of the matter at all, realize that a navy cannot he prepared for war in a short space of time. They have never had it brought close home to them, that in order for the Navy to make good against intelligent enemies it must be kept absolutely up to date and that its officers must work day in and day out, year after year, with a never flagging enthusiasm.
Another reason a reduction in the Navy is to be expected is that other countries have not the money to support the present-day navies. They must cut because they cannot afford to pay the tremendous amounts the modern well-balanced navy costs.
The great majority of voters, and they, after all, are the main spring behind congressional appropriations, look at the matter, I think, in about this way. They feel that other naval powers cannot “pay the fiddler” at the rate navies are going and that the United States can afford to reduce its naval expenses along with the others and still be safe in the event of war. In this they are probably right as long as our representatives at reduction conferences play safe in practice and make sure we are equal, type for type, with any other naval power. Incidentally there is one point these representatives should always bear in mind and that is that (qualified by lack of naval bases) the power the United States exerts overseas will be in direct ratio to the comparative strength of the Navy.
It does not require unusual brilliance to recognize that Japan, for instance, exerted great influence both at the treaty making in Paris and at the Limitation of Armament Conference in Washington; and that China, with nearly eight times the population of Japan, had no influence at all. Why? Simply because Japan had efficient armed forces and China had not.
Another force tending toward further reduction in navies in the near future is that smaller, but more outspoken, party of voters who honestly, I dare say, believe the millennium has come and that there will be no more war.
These take no stock in the world-old theory that commercial wars have always engendered national hard feelings. They cannot understand that we, in the United States, are at present a little worried because the British control the rubber industry. This class does not look far enough ahead to see that America has just about arrived at a point where we must sell, outside our own country, some of the products of our industries—and on an increasing scale—if our workmen are to keep up the present high scale of living. Nor can they visualize Europe returning to normal industry and making a bitter fight for the markets we must have if the nation is to make progress.
So, for the reasons given above with the resultant pressure on Congress, and with the President in favor of it, it does seem that further reduction in the U. S. Navy is almost certain, and that naval officers must trim their sails to meet the oncoming blow.
The reduction of the Navy to a point where it cannot fight successfully in any ocean to carry out any policy our statesmen may desire to enforce now, or may desire to enforce in the future, really leaves the responsible naval officers in a parlous state. To illustrate: suppose, for instance, the United States should give up the Philippine Islands. It is not difficult to imagine some other country finding an opportunity to quarrel with the weak Philippine government. The result would be a foregone conclusion—with another flag replacing “Old Glory’’ over Manila. How would this affect the peace-loving inhabitants of the United States? What newspaper headlines there would he—covering almost the whole first page as they did at the opening of the Spanish- American War! What waving of the “red, white, and blue” all over the land! What a furore in Congress!
Under such pressure would the commander-in-chief of the U. S. fleet be permitted to delay and prepare a little better for the overseas movement because our diplomacy has left us with no naval bases in the Western Pacific? Hardly—if he held out for delay in sailing his shift would be about as short as that of General Johnston at Atlanta when his ideas of strategy did not agree with the policy of the Confederate Government.
There is little or nothing the naval officer can do with respect to the policy of further reduction of naval armament. He can advise as to the strategic value of this or that type of fighting craft and, no doubt, there will be naval officers detailed to advise our representatives at forthcoming conferences.
Once settled as to number in type of ships to be retained the whole question removes itself beyond reach of the naval officer. Then his duty becomes that of assuring maximum efficiency of the ships retained in the Navy. The question he must 'ask himself and answer conscientiously is—are we learning to make the most hits on enemy ships per dollar appropriated?
Suggested Improvements. There are so many wiser heads than mine that I feel somewhat presumptuous in making even a short list of the mistakes I believe we are making in preparation for war. The list will be very short, however, and what may be called “criticisms” will be made as constructive as possible; where I can suggest the remedy I shall do so although my answer may be entirely wrong; where I can suggest no answer I shall say so.
Complicated Tactics. At a conference of officers at the end of the fleet maneuvers in Hawaiian waters the subject of manuals, books, secret tactical instructions, etc., was brought up.
The writer, with the assistance of other officers, made a list of the publications and letters the alert officer-of-the-deck needed on the bridge during fleet tactical exercises. We made separate lists and came to the compromise conclusion that a “baker’s dozen” was the correct number!
Evidently the poorly arranged tactical manuals had been a matter of some concern to the commander-in-chief for he spoke of it at the conference and when he promised to use his influence to have our tactical manuals simplified he was roundly applauded. The applause, to my mind, shows there is something wrong—possibly we are trying to crowd more than can be crowded into one brain.
In any case when one tries to visualize what will happen in war—the great dilution of the officer personnel by reserves and volunteers who have had little training—it is certain that we must hang on like grim death to simplicity or seriously consider specialization.
Not only are our books poorly written but I believe our tactics are unnecessarily complicated. The battle formations are simple, easy to remember and are necessary, all of them—but why have so many cruising formations? Taken “full and by” simplicity is probably the most vital principle in successful tactics.
Let us compare the effect of few and many cruising formations. Suppose we have only two, one for high and one for low visibility, and call the battle formations A, the cruising formation for high visibility B and that for low visibility C. We shall assume that, to do these maneuvers well enough for use in approach to battle, officers—from the admiral down to the junior watch—must know the maneuvers practically “by heart.” With only two cruising formations then officers will have to learn thoroughly how:
(1) To go from A to B and A to C 2 maneuvers
(2) To go from B to A and B to C 2 maneuvers
(3) To go from C to A and C to B 2 maneuvers
Total to learn 6 maneuvers
Suppose now our cruising formations are increased to, say, four. Call the battle formations A and the cruising formations 1, 2, 3, and 4; officers must learn:
(1) To go from A to 1, 2, 3 and 4 4 maneuvers
(2) To go from 1 to A, 2, 3 and 4 4 maneuvers
(3) To go from 2 to A, 1, 3 and 4 4 maneuvers
(4) To go from 3 to A, 1, 2 and 4 4 maneuvers
(5) To go from 4 to A, 1, 2 and 3 4 maneuvers
Total to learn 20 maneuvers
Now considering the ramifications introduced by only a small increase in the number of battleship cruising formations illustrated by the preceding tables the following points must be borne in mind:
(a) The maneuvers leading from cruising to battle formations and vice versa are not simple. Diagrams must be looked up and tables consulted if we wish to do these maneuvers properly as we must do when approaching the enemy for battle. How much easier to learn how to do six maneuvers than twenty! And consider how much better we shall do them.
Vice Admiral von Scheer was able to go “ships about” when under fire of the enemy—a maneuver 1 have heard many high ranking naval officers speak of as “impossible.” The German fleet did the maneuver successfully under fire because it had practiced at it many times; it must have done so to be able to perform the maneuver successfully under heavy gunfire!
(b) Our captains, executives, navigators, and watch officers have no doubt the keenest desire to be thoroughly posted on all maneuvers. When one considers all the other things these officers are required to crowd into their brains, can they carry them all with any degree of success unless the whole naval profession is kept boiled down to the lowest order of simplicity? In this connection it must not be forgotten that both captains and executives have short tours at sea—the executives’ tours too short to do more than become acquainted with the ship before detachment.
(c) In addition to having more cruising formations than the writer considers necessary on account of various conditions of visibility there are other formations to cover special cases where the enemy is within certain bearings, etc. Are we not trying to “paint the lily”?
(d) The cruising formations referred to above are those of the battleships, which are our “main point of support” and will probably remain so until the aviators prove that surface craft are no longer needed in war. So if there are many cruising formations of battleships there must be a correspondingly large number of formations of destroyers, submarines, light cruisers, aircraft carriers, etc.—for as long as battleships are considered to form the “backbone of the fleet” all other types must cruise m certain relative positions to the battleship formation. It is also true that, for proper coordination, all officers on all types of warships must have a fairly accurate knowledge of the tactics of each type; so there is the same need, for instance, for cutting the number of destroyer and other formations “to the bone” as there is for keeping the number of battleship cruising formations at the lowest practicable limit.
The writer is not sufficiently familiar with destroyer tactics to judge whether they can be much simplified; furthermore it would be impracticable to go fully into the tactics of the various types in an article of reasonable length—nor could one do so without giving away confidential matter. I have been informed, however, by at least two destroyer squadron commanders that our present destroyer tactics could stand much simplification.
The main point is that all formations not necessary in war should be eliminated from our manuals. We know we are going to have to economize rigidly in the near future—even on money for fuel for maneuvers—so should we not delete our manuals of everything except the few maneuvers we shall use in war and perform these few maneuvers over and over again during time of peace so we may do them well in time of war?
Theoretical tactics must, of course, be tested out practically at sea and occasionally we have tactical boards of seagoing officers formed to go over the whole tactical situation to boil down and simplify. Two years or so ago we had such a board and its members represented all types of naval fighting craft. The composition of the board seemed ideal—but the trouble was then and always will be that no board of seagoing officers has time enough to prepare the simplest and best tactical manual. There are too many routine duties to interfere with that uninterrupted thought which is necessary to do the work carefully as it must be done.
About 200 years ago a Scotch civilian, John Clerk, wrote a treatise on naval tactics that was successfully used by Nelson and other naval leaders during the wars of the French Revolution. It is difficult to imagine a civilian writing a book on naval tactics but Clerk was intensely interested in the subject and he had ample time to give it undisturbed thought. In addition Clerk had many friends in the navy who helped him by criticizing his tactics with the result that he produced a book of practical value.
It would be absurd to suggest that a civilian simplify our present tactical manuals for us but it is far from absurd to state that no board of officers doing sea duty can ever find the time to do this work. We all know, anyway, that no matter how big a board is, in point of numbers, it is generally a “one man” board. Ideas may come from all the members but one man generally collects them and writes -them up, so why not have a small board on tactics—on shore duty with nothing else to think about—with orders to see how much we can afford to cut out of our present tactical books?
I doubt whether even our most brilliant officers can remember all the maneuvers we have in the books now and in the excitement of approach to battle, with bombs and torpedoes to distract us, I am not certain the most phlegmatic officer could find the right diagram in the right book. If we had so few maneuvers that one could remember them then the probabilities are that we could maneuver correctly even in an actual battle approach.
Communication Troubles. I believe that many of our high ranking officers are frankly worried over the ever-increasing number of men and officers assigned to communications aboard ship. This may be due to the natural conservatism that comes with age—but the senior officers have seen the communication detail grow on battleships from, say, eight or ten men in signals to four times that many and from about four in radio to as high as thirty and this at a time when there is not room aboard ship for the increased number of officers and men without living in extreme discomfort.
As our business as naval officers is to see that the Navy is kept prepared for war, it is apropos to examine the naval communication work of the World War, briefly, of course, as must be done in an article of reasonable length, and try to measure its importance and estimate whether pressure to increase communication details can be resisted with safety. With this in mind some study was made of the official dispatches of the Battle of Jutland. Taking “messages” to mean communication other than by letter and covering the time from midnight of May 3° to 9:00 p.m. May 3B the total number of messages sent and received in the British fleet was 1,502. This was at the rate of a message—either by radio, or a signal by flags, semaphore, or searchlight—about every eight- tenths of a minute.
Of the above messages 159 were sent by radio a message about every 7.9 minutes.
From the time of first contact with the German fleet, at 2:20 p.m. May 31 to 9:00 p.m. (practically the end of main body action), the radio was much busier than before contact. During this period there was a radio message sent, received or intercepted about every 3.3 minutes.
Coming back now to the importance of these messages it seems to the writer that the serious radio messages in connection with this battle were:
- Information concerning probable movements of German fleet.
- Reports of contacts with the enemy fleet giving changes of course, speed and formation of enemy when these occurred.
- Tactical signals sent by radio.
There were, of course, many tactical messages sent by radio; in presence of the enemy this will always be necessary—paralleling flag hoists and semaphore or searchlight signals to avoid misunderstanding in the confusion of battle.
Aside from tactical signals sent by radio, one can see from an examination of the Jutland official despatches that, between 2:20 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. on May 31, there were only about twenty radio messages of major importance. Whether the great number of radio messages reaching the staff of the commander-in-chief during this period—one every 3.3 minutes—caused a jam is not known. If many of them were in code the commander-in-chief must have been seriously embarrassed for, in that case the messages would have had to be decoded before the staff could pick out the important ones. Some of the messages showing enemy position after 9:00 p.m. did not reach Admiral Jellicoe’s flagship but a sufficient number did reach the British Admiral to show the positions of the German fleet during the night provided these messages were properly interpreted.
During a great fleet action there is probably as much danger in having too many radio messages reach the flagship as there is in having too few. The reporting of damage, for instance, to individual ships can only be disconcerting as, once in action, assistance should not be rendered to a wounded ship.
If the two main bodies are within sight of each other messages are not needed. If we drill enough in time of peace then we will be able to fight “according to doctrine” in time of war and when tactics are sufficiently simplified some kind of a “follow the leader method might even make it unnecessary to send tactical signals. What we shall need to know from the radio is position, formation, course and speed of the enemy and any changes in these, and nothing else should be allowed to go into the air except messages from spotting planes after the battle is on.
During the engagement at Jutland the despatches from the Admiralty were probably of some value to Admiral Jellicoe; but despatches from Naval Operations would be of no value to the U. S. Navy in a great sea fight. We at least hope the fights would be too far away for Operations to give any valuable information as to the position of the enemy—this is the matter of importance to the commander-in-chief when near the enemy and nothing else should be allowed to bother him.
History shows that when naval powers are at war their fleets eventually get together—for the mission of each is to destroy the other. The use of scouts merely gives the commander-in-chief advance information which, of course, is a good thing and for that reason there must be a radio frequency for use of the scouting forces. When once the enemy position, formation, course, and speed have been reported the scouting forces should keep quiet until there is some change.
Our experience with communications in war problems at sea has shown a marked tendency toward too many reports with danger of overloading the communication lines of the commander- in-chief. The Jutland despatches show much duplication of reports. This points to the necessity for few and only very important despatches; it also points possibly to only one communication lane when the enemy is within striking distance. Then all hands would know what is going on and could act intelligently as per doctrine. Outside of the one lane what would we need?
Naturally we must have tactical radio lanes if we must parallel visual signals and there must be spotting and scouting frequencies. It is certain, however, that with the spirit of economy in rapid development we must keep our radio details and all other special details to the lowest possible limit. The less money we spend on them the more we shall have available for landing shell on enemy ships when there is need to do so.
There is at present a tendency in the fleet toward too much use of the radio for fleet business where the business could be done by letter. This is due to a pressure from an expanding radio personnel for practice in radio communications; it is contrary to the spirit of the communication regulations but the radio personnel “get by” with it because so few of our senior officers are posted on the details of radio work.
The habit is bad, for what we do in time of peace will have a strong appeal for us in war. Furthermore it is not necessary, for if we plan efficiently, we can cover most of the messages we send, by radio on fleet business by letters.
Practice in radio communications should be obtained through test messages rather than by doing that part of the fleet business which should be done by letter—otherwise we shall find ourselves depending on the radio too much and overloading communication lines in time of war.
Professional Education of Junior Officers. We naval officers have tied ourselves up to the most complicated profession in the world—engineering, radio telegraphy, international law, gunnery, seamanship, navigation, military law,, and aviation are, most of them, professions in themselves. Sometimes it seems that the average brain could not grasp them sufficiently to enable the line officer to be an efficient “all round” officer. The British and Japanese Navies still resort to specialization. Our system probably results in better officers in the higher commands-—but there probably come times in the minds of the seniors when they doubt whether the pace can be kept.
When the midshipman graduates at Annapolis he has only the slightest smattering of the knowledge needed in his profession. There is no time now for the naval officer to be a “finished French and Spanish scholar” as there was in days of John Paul Jones— there is too much professional reading to do.
In the old days, prior to the modern navy, the best watch officer the writer ever had the pleasure of knowing read the rules of the road and duties of the officer-of-the-deck every Sunday. Perhaps some would not approve of his having done this professional reading at the time this watch officer should have been at church— but the psychology of repetition worked in this case and the officer knew his duties like A B C’s. Recently the writer saw one of our war product officers-of-the-deck send for the Navy Regulations to look up what honors to give, and when he got the book he was so unfamiliar with it he did not know where to look for what he wanted.
If it was necessary in 1895 for an officer to read up on this profession an hour a week it is essential now for our younger officers to read an hour a day. Incidentally it would not hurt the older officers to brush up occasionally. One might think it satisfactory for officers to learn by experience and by having to prepare for examinations but it is not—it is too expensive to the Navy. In the fleet there is almost constant criticism, for instance, of the lack of knowledge of the engineer officers of destroyers. Now suppose each of them spent an hour a day on the Manual of Engineering Instructions; they would become acceptable engineers in a very short time.
So I believe we must come to about an hour of professional reading every day for every officer, junior to commander, or go back soon to specialization. Our commanding officers will have to put into practical effect Kipling’s old saying, “Work him lightly in office or dog-cart—but give him no rest.”
Repair Work by the Fleet. The views of naval officers about how much of the fleet’s repair work should be done at navy yards are not in accord; some believe that practically all the work should be done at yards, others that the fleet should do everything within the capacity of the ship’s force, tenders and repair ships.
It is undoubtedly true that work at navy yards costs many times more than the same work done in the fleet, so, if the writer’s prophecy is correct that the Navy is due for a long period of lean appropriations, we can keep more naval power on the sea by having the fleet do all the repair work that it possibly can.
Another factor to be evaluated is that the more repair work navy mechanics do the more they will know about the machinery they have to operate; it is the very best school for them.
The largest factor, however, is in the answer to the question— Would our fleet be used on our own coast or at a great distance from our own coast in case of war? If the fleet is likely to be used at a great distance from our navy yards then it seems to the Writer that the only common sense solution is to make the fleet just as nearly self-supporting as possible and thereby do in time of peace what we shall be forced to do in time of war.
Finally—as far as the Navy is concerned—the pendulum is now swinging toward the point it reached a few years after the close of the Civil War when it was so neglected in appropriations that it almost went out of commission. There will, of course, be naval advisers to naval disarmament conferences, but, if the majority of people in the United States believe there will be no more war, the naval advisers will be discredited.
While it may happen that our fleet will be kept equal to the best by the conferences on naval disarmament, yet they may not take into account the fact that the fleet may sometime be needed in waters where we have no place to repair or refit, so the fleet may be handicapped in that respect. If should be further borne in mind by naval officers that the American people are the most impulsive people on the face of the earth—bar none. It will make no difference to public sentiment whether the Navy is prepared or whether it has convenient bases in all the seven seas like the British Empire; our history verifies this. When public sentiment says sail—we shall sail to seek the enemy. It therefore behooves us to make every dollar count to the utmost toward an efficient Navy and to prepare ourselves by study and drills as never before; the greatest aid to this is to keep as much simplicity as possible in the over-complicated naval profession.