We usually think of aërial superiority almost entirely in terms of aircraft strength and are prone to forget that it is equally dependent upon antiaircraft strength. The tendency toward such thinking is a chronic peace-time failing. In the days before 1914, for example, we heard much of the potentialities of the submarine, but very little about the necessity for measures of defense against it. Thirty or forty years before that, the torpedo boat was hailed as the potential scourge of the seas; yet it took just about one generation to evolve the obvious counter, the light cruiser, and to produce battleships which were adequately protected against the underwater menace.
Then, too, it is human nature to think chiefly of whatever is most obvious. The spectacular tactics of aircraft render them inevitably the cynosure of all eyes. Planes in peace-time maneuvers, furthermore, can act out more realistically than surface vessels their probable battle performance. This is always impressive to the eye and therefore to the mind. When we see a flight of light bombers, motors thundering and wires screaming, diving out of the sun or some low-hanging cloud straight at our battle line, we can easily visualize the damage which they might do to our ships.
Unfortunately for our sense of proportion, we see the battleships make no reply, and in peace time it is impossible for them to do so. They simply steam on in apparent helplessness. If we could see them actually shooting down plane after plane, it would forcibly remind us that there are two sides to the question and furnish us an impressive demonstration of the importance of the development of antiaircraft strength. We cannot present such a spectacle as an aid to the restoration of a balanced viewpoint and as a stimulant to thought, but we can frankly acknowledge this unfortunate tendency and take drastic steps to remedy it.
This matter of antiaircraft strength, however, goes far beyond a mere problem in gunnery; it involves ship design, strategy, and tactics. It is useless to develop antiaircraft guns, fire-control instruments, and modern ship designs, unless our ideas on strategy and tactics are equally abreast of the times. This slowness in changing tactics to meet new conditions is what Mahan inveighs against in our opening quotation.
It is unsafe to assume that current ideas are in tune with the existing situation. History shows us too many instances to the contrary; for example, Churchill reports that, when he became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, the British war plans were based on the principle of a close blockade of the German coast. It now seems almost incredible that expert opinion could have gone so far astray. Let us not spend too much time, however, in contemplating the mote that was in the strategical eye of our British brothers, but rather let us investigate to see if there is not a beam in our own strategical and tactical eye.
This paper therefore deals chiefly with the neglected subject of antiaircraft strength, dwelling upon the reasons for its importance and offering suggestions leading to its further development, not only in the field of weapons and instruments, but also in the realm of strategy and tactics. Although we have no idea of attempting to belittle the necessity for developing aircraft strength, it has been so thoroughly discussed by others that only one phase remains which we could examine profitably here. Since this phase is of special current interest, it is next taken up.
If we exclude matter relating purely to aviation, such as the design, procurement, upkeep, and tactical employment of aircraft, training of personnel, and improvements in equipment, our problem becomes one of how to get the maximum number of planes to the scene of action. One solution which has been advocated is that we should equip every type of warship with all the airplanes that it can possibly carry. Our contention, however, is that, with the exception of carriers, we should equip surface vessels with only such aircraft as are needed for the service of the individual ship. Spotting planes, for example, are an integral part of the fire- control organization of a battleship or cruiser and, as such, should be carried aboard the given vessel. We maintain that planes carried for the sole purpose of adding to the air strength of the fleet as a whole should be placed aboard either our regular carriers or merchant vessels with improvised flying decks.
All classes of warships are now limited as to their maximum individual tonnage and as to the total tonnage of each class which may be built. The designers of the various navies are therefore competing to produce the maximum fighting strength on the given displacement in each category. The addition of airplanes or other weapons which do not directly add to the fighting strength of the given type must then be avoided, especially when the planes can better be carried aboard merchant vessels which are limited neither in tonnage nor in number. Would it not be almost as unwise to build a combination battleship and aircraft carrier as to build a combination battleship and fleet repair ship?
Are we not compelled to admit that the ever-growing number and complexity of weapons necessitates a corresponding multiplicity of specialized warships with resulting interdependence between the various types? The march of progress everywhere has replaced the Jack-of-all-trades by the specialist and the general tool by the specially adapted tool. Is there any reason for assuming that navies are an exception to such a universal law? We know how, in the competition for the world’s markets, a primitively organized country like Turkey goes down before a highly industrialized country like Germany. Will not a fleet, which refuses to recognize the necessity for specialization, go down similarly before a fleet which does recognize that necessity?
In discussing the basic principles of ship design, Mahan writes as follows:
Confusion of thought and consequent confusion of object, is fatal to any conception, at least to any military conception; it is absolutely opposed to concentration, for it implies duality of object.
Again he writes:
In the design of the individual ship of war . . . exclusiveness of purpose ... is the secret of great military successes.
If we agree with Mahan as to the necessity for exclusiveness of purpose, it follows that we should redouble our efforts to develop our merchant marine in order to have the necessary raw material for converted aircraft carriers, mine layers, transports, and auxiliaries, as well as to carry on vital commerce in time of war. Our people need to be taught that it is a patriotic duty to patronize American shipping. It would also be a great help if the enthusiastic proponents of aviation could be made to see aërial strength and surface strength as complementary and interdependent, not as antagonistic and irreconcilable.
Before we drop the subject of building up our aircraft strength there is one possibility held out by the London treaty which deserves investigation. That treaty makes the following provision:
The fitting of a landing-on or flying-off platform or deck on a capital ship, cruiser, or destroyer, provided such vessel was not designed or adapted exclusively as an aircraft carrier, shall not cause any vessel so fitted to be charged to or classified in the category of aircraft carriers. . . .
Not more than 25 per cent of the allowed total tonnage in the cruiser category may be fitted with a landing-on platform or deck for aircraft.-
These hybrid cruisers will be discussed in the following section.
Flying Deck Cruisers
In any discussion of a new type we must avoid an error commonly made, the assumption that a cruiser which carries twenty airplanes is better than one which carries two, or that a cruiser which makes thirty-five knots is better than one which makes twenty- five knots. Such may or may not be the case; it all depends upon what other qualities have been sacrificed to obtain the given superiority and upon what the cruiser is to be used for, which, in turn, depends upon what functions must be executed and upon what other vessels are available.
The operations of this type of cruiser may be divided into three classes. The first of these is an engagement with opposing forces beyond gun range, when only the planes could be employed. For this purpose, a converted merchant vessel of suitable type and an all-gun cruiser should be a more effective combination. The liner could carry more planes and would not suffer from interference between antiaircraft gunfire and flying operations, as would be the case aboard the hybrid cruiser. The all-gun cruiser, furthermore, could mount a much more powerful antiaircraft battery than could a hybrid cruiser. Thus the combination would represent both greater aircraft strength and greater antiaircraft strength than the proposed hybrid.
The second class of operations is gun fighting with other surface vessels. Here, the presence of the airplanes with the inevitable quantities of gasoline would add greatly to the fire hazard in the hybrid cruiser. The flying deck would probably not last long in a gun engagement, while the large hangar would use up valuable displacement and center-line space, block the effective arc of fire of the guns, and add to the size of the target. If the cruiser is to use its guns effectively, the course it steers will be dictated by the necessities of the gun action. This course will rarely permit flying operations. Even if it did and the flying deck were still intact, such operations would be greatly hampered by gun blast, flying splinters, and wreckage, as well as by the general incident confusion. In other words, in a gun action, the flying deck and planes would constitute a hindrance as well as a hazard, and would use up tonnage needed for guns, armor, or ammunition. On the contrary, the all-gun cruiser would suffer from none of these disabilities; while its consort, the auxiliary carrier, could remain out of the gun fight and proceed uninterruptedly with flying operations.
This might suggest that, during a battle, we use these hybrid cruisers as carriers primarily, with the further idea that their powerful batteries would serve, not only to protect themselves against hostile aircraft, but also to protect our less well-defended, improvised aircraft carriers. For this third class of operations, it will be seen that, if these hybrid cruisers devote themselves chiefly to flying operations, the protection they would afford the improvised carriers would probably be of a desultory and ineffective nature. In any case it would be much less than could be afforded by an all-gun cruiser.
We conclude, therefore, that while a 10,000-ton out-and-out aircraft carrier would be worth building and a 10,000-ton out-and-out cruiser would be worth building, the tactical employment and material requirements of the two types differ so fundamentally that a hybrid type would be a failure for gun fighting; while, for flying operations, a converted merchant vessel and an all-gun cruiser would be a more effective combination. We do not mean to say that a hybrid cruiser would be of no value, but that it would not be of so much value as either of the other types. Furthermore, as will be shown in a later section, the element now most needed to balance the fleet is anti-aircraft strength. For this, we need the all-gun cruiser.
Whether or not it should eventually be desirable to build some of these hybrid cruisers, one must concede that it is now unwise to use our precious available balance of cruiser tonnage to build types designed primarily to add to the aircraft strength of the fleet, when we still have a large unexpended balance of carrier tonnage; when we can get far more aircraft strength per ton in a larger out-and-out carrier; when we can get aircraft strength without any expenditure of combatant tonnage by utilizing suitable merchant vessels; when we possess no adequate defense for the carriers we already have; and when we desperately need our remaining cruiser tonnage to provide such a defense, as well as to execute certain other functions of the all-gun cruiser.
There is, however, a specialized function for which the hybrid cruiser should be invaluable ; that is to serve as the fleet flagship. This vessel operates behind a surface screen and is therefore subject ordinarily to attacks only by aircraft, but probably by many of them. It has little use, consequently, for an 8-inch battery but must have an unusually strong antiaircraft battery of 6-inch and smaller guns. A flying deck and several planes are also necessary in order to provide the necessary facilities for observation by members of the staff. Since twenty or thirty planes are probably more than sufficient, the relatively small plane capacity of the hybrid cruiser is no handicap; on the contrary, the powerful antiaircraft battery made possible by the reduced airplane capacity is exactly what we need. This is not the place to go into a discussion of the various characteristics most desirable for such a vessel. It is mentioned only because it would be unfair to sweepingly condemn the hybrid cruisers for general cruiser functions without calling attention to the fact that this type is ideal for a fleet flagship.
Aside from the factors previously mentioned, there has been an unfortunate trend of thought which has hampered the development of antiaircraft strength. It is the tendency to regard this development as a purely passive measure of defense. The contention of this paper, however, is that antiaircraft strength is required, not only to enable our surface forces to execute their missions with a minimum of interference from hostile aircraft, but also to enable our fleet air force to be employed more effectively. It does the latter by freeing our planes from defensive duties for which they are not suited and enabling them to concentrate on offensive operations for which they are admirably suited, and to continue such operations by making secure their mobile base, the carriers. This contention can be clarified by taking up some concrete examples.
Suppose, in the first case, that our fleet is in mid-ocean facing a fleet of equal strength both in surface craft and aircraft, but that our fleet has an adequate gun defense against aircraft while the opposing fleet has only a weak gun defense of the type now found in the various navies. During the approach, we have the option of launching or withholding our aërial attack. If we allow the enemy to attack first, our adequate gun defense will not only repel the attack, but also destroy a large percentage of the planes and shake, if not shatter, the morale of the opposing air force. Then, when our attack is launched, it will encounter no resistance in the air worth mentioning, the gun defense of the enemy fleet will not do much damage, and there will be really nothing serious to prevent the total disablement of the hostile carriers before the surface fleets are in contact. We would then have undisputed command of the air with results which need not be dwelt upon.
Suppose again that we launch our attack first and deliver it while the hostile planes are aboard the carriers. The opposing gun defense would not stop our planes and the first big attack under such circumstances would, to say the least, disable the carriers enough to prevent further flying operations. Again, command of the air would be gained at slight cost.
Or suppose that both air attacks are launched simultaneously. Since the mission of both air forces would be offensive rather than defensive, they would probably continue to their objectives, even though they sighted each other en route. In the event of a clash between the air forces, however, our air force would have the advantage, because it would not have been compelled to leave any fighting planes behind to protect the fleet. We could have, consequently, more offensive planes and just as many defensive planes or vice versa. When the opposing air forces reach their objectives, the enemy- air force will be met with a withering blast of flying steel and will be repulsed, while our air force will encounter no serious resistance unless all enemy fighters happened to be in the air at the time. Even in that case, it is doubtful if the defense would be effective. Extensive maneuvers over London a few years ago indicated that the airplane is a poor defense against other planes.
Let us take another case in which again the surface fleets and air forces are equal, but in which neither side has an effective gun defense against aircraft. Since an adequate defense cannot be supplied by planes alone, it follows that the side which launches its attack first will gain a decisive advantage. This is leaving things too much to chance. That this is the existing state of affairs in our fleet, is indicated by the maneuvers off Panama for the past two winters. In both cases, the side which first launched its attack, was successful for the simple reason that there existed no adequate defense for either carrier. Under these conditions, if the attacks were launched simultaneously, there would simply be an orgy of mutual destruction with no result. This would appeal only to those minds who judge a battle, not by the results achieved, but by the size of the butcher’s bill.
We then may say that, in the judgment of expert and experienced officers, the question of aërial superiority would be decided largely by chance if our fleet encountered another fleet which was similarly lacking in antiaircraft strength. It also follows that, if our present fleet were to encounter a fleet which had built up an adequate gun defense, we would promptly and inevitably be driven out of the air. Can we afford to tolerate longer such a situation ?
The enormous potentialities of the airplane are conceded by even the most conservative among us. The question no longer is whether it is or is not an effective weapon, but whether we will or will not take the necessary measures to meet this indubitable menace. In fact, the case may be stated even more strongly. No doubt, we must eventually face the situation squarely and meet it fully. The question really is whether we will meet it now or whether we will wait until it is perhaps too late.
We do not have to hark back into ancient history to find a somewhat parallel situation. In 1914, the submarine had developed into a formidable weapon and Sir Percy Scott began making some very sensational claims as to its future. The conservatives of the Royal Navy launched furious attacks upon these claims, but did nothing whatever to prepare means of combatting the submarine in case war should break out. As things turned out, the submarine did constitute the most serious threat which the British had faced since the days of Napoleon. If the conservatives had used the same amount of energy in devising means of countering the submarine that they did in attacking Sir Percy Scott, the British Empire would have been much better off.
The point which they did not realize was that when a new weapon is developed, it pays not only to push the development of that weapon, but also to push with equal energy and enthusiasm the development of an adequate defense against it. Whenever a new weapon appears, either we must conquer it, or it will conquer us. Once conquered, it becomes a useful servant. Until conquered, it simply paralyzes our fleet, so far as offensive operations are concerned.
We all can remember how the submarine came to dominate the whole situation in 1917. Had the entente powers been ready in 1914 with the various counter measures which they finally adopted, the course of the naval war would have been very different. The under-sea weapon would promptly have been forced into its proper minor role instead of becoming the whole show.
The story of the torpedo, the mine, the rifled gun, and all new weapons, shows the same lag between the development of the weapon and of the counter thereto. We do not mean to say that nothing has been done to meet the aërial menace. On the contrary, much progress has been made, probably as much as has been made in any navy. What we do mean to say is that the development of antiaircraft strength has lagged notably behind the development of aircraft strength. Can we not profit from history and push the development of the former with the same vigor and resources that we have used in pushing the latter?
It requires no great stretch of the imagination to foresee that, if war were to break out tomorrow, the battle fleets of the great powers would be paralyzed by the airplane, so far as offensive operations are concerned, just as the Grand Fleet was paralyzed by the submarine and the mine. Are we to allow our magnificent fleet to be hamstrung by this lack of antiaircraft strength? Then, is not the development of the maximum antiaircraft strength in the minimum time a problem which we can no longer afford to dally with? Toward its solution, the following section is aimed.
On the one hand, the great weakness of the airplane is its vulnerability, the ease with which it can be shot down by even a small gun, once that gun finds its target. Although, in the closing days of the war, planes began to be armored, it is manifestly impracticable to give them protection against the guns carried by surface vessels. This vulnerability then must be put down as an irremediable weakness.
On the other hand, the great asset of the airplane is its mobility, its great speed and its freedom to maneuver in the vertical as well as the horizontal plane. This extreme mobility makes it hard to hit, gives it a wide choice of objectives, and enables it to concentrate superior forces against the comparatively fixed surface units, unless the latter are already concentrated. This mobility, furthermore, will steadily increase.
Our problem then may be stated in general terms as follows: how can we exploit to the fullest possible degree the weakness of the airplane, its vulnerability? And how can we neutralize most effectively the plane’s great asset, its mobility?
In regard to the former, we propose to take the fullest advantage of the plane’s vulnerability by mounting, so far as practicable, every gun on every ship so that it can be used as an antiaircraft gun, by pushing the development of every possible means of improving their accuracy and rate of fire, by developing special guns which are particularly suited to engaging aircraft, and by adopting tactical dispositions which will permit the maximum concentration of antiaircraft fire against planes approaching from any direction and at any level.
When it comes to neutralizing the mobility of the airplane, it is well to remember that all previous large-scale operations of aircraft have been against land forces which labor under several handicaps not imposed upon sea forces. To begin with, the enormous area covered by a modern army demands that its antiaircraft batteries be widely dispersed. Not only are the various batteries usually out of supporting distance of each other, but also the isolated battery is hopelessly weak in comparison with the forces against which it is supposed to afford defense. The remarkable mobility of the airplane thus enables the commander of the hostile air force to choose any one of many widely separated objectives and to bring an overwhelming concentration of force to bear upon the selected point of attack.
When an air force commander is dealing with a fleet, however, he has a vastly more difficult problem. In the first place, the fleet can be kept concentrated so that he has no choice of widely separated objectives, but must come to the fleet. His ability to effect concentrations is offset by the fact that the fleet is already concentrated. Thus he loses two of the great advantages of his mobility, if we keep our fleet concentrated.
The one remaining advantage of the airplane which we must neutralize is that its high mobility makes it hard to hit. This offers no insuperable difficulties. It will be conceded that, in high visibility when there is a reasonable amount of time to get on the target, it is simply a matter of improving the accuracy and rate of our gunfire and of firing simultaneously enough shells to render untenable a sufficiently large section of the atmosphere to offset probable maneuvers by the plane while the shells are in flight as well as the inevitable slight inaccuracies in gunnery. It is when the ceiling is low and planes can come diving unexpectedly out of the sun or near-by clouds that we will have trouble in disabling them before they land their attack.
According to a London dispatch in the New York Herald Tribune of September 21, 1930, the British Navy has already solved this problem. Extracts from this dispatch follow:
The new weapon is a multiple machine gun of considerable size with an extremely rapid rate of fire, and furthermore has projectiles large enough to stop any planes which fly.. ..
Experts here do not assert that the new gun will be able to engage planes flying at altitudes of 5,000 to 15,000 feet, which still must be left to larger guns, but they do believe that the new gun, discharging a comparatively small projectile, in which all of its many barrels are fired simultaneously, will act much the same say as a shotgun used to drive away marauding birds. . . .
There are two types of the aërial machine guns, one having eight barrels, the other four. . . .
Naval gunnery experts, however, are now satisfied they have produced a weapon which meets all requirements.
This is just the sort of weapon which we want. The problem is similar to shooting ducks and can be met in the same way. The obvious answer is a multiple machine gun with divergent barrels which will give the effect of a huge automatic shotgun.
We might even carry this one step further by equipping our vessels with sound-locating gear for detecting the approach of planes before they become visible. Once we have developed satisfactory multiple mounts, and sound-locating gear which is efficient regardless of ship noises, the menace of the diving bomber, the low-flying attack plane, and the torpedo plane, is ended.
The foregoing, however, by no means completes our list of ordnance requirements. We need a new 6-inch gun and mount for use against either surface craft or aircraft. We need new turrets, both 8- and 16-inch, so designed that when occasion demands, the guns can be used against aircraft. The necessary fire-control instruments constitute another major problem. The aërial menace can be met, but meeting it necessitates a period of the most intensive development of material that the Navy has ever known.
Airmen may laugh at the desultory antiaircraft fire which they encountered in France, but they will not laugh at the antiaircraft fire which we can and must develop in our fleet. A closely concentrated fleet represents a cohesive mass of destructive power such as is never grouped in a similar area in land warfare. If the total destructive potentialities of that fleet are so organized that they all can be turned against aircraft, the result will be a veritable tornado of flying steel through which no possible concentration of hostile planes could penetrate in condition to deliver an effective attack. Since it is possible to design a fleet which can do this; since antiaircraft strength is vital to aërial superiority; and since aërial superiority is a prerequisite to victory, why not go after this problem in earnest?
The Defensive Use of Aircraft
The reader may object that the defensive use of our own aircraft has been ignored. This has been done for several reasons. One is that it requires some time for fighting planes to takeoff, gain the necessary altitude, and get in formation. Due to the swiftness with which an aërial attack materializes, we could not count on having sufficient warning to get our fighters ready. We therefore must have a defensive patrol of fighting planes in the air at all times after we learn that the hostile air force is within striking distance. This defensive patrol necessarily would constitute only a fraction of our total number of defensive planes. Since the enemy air force could bring practically its entire strength to bear at a selected moment, it is manifest that this defensive patrol would fail to defend the fleet and would itself be annihilated by overwhelmingly superior forces. Another reason is that the enemy could, by dilatory tactics, so exhaust our pilots that they would be worn out before the first attack was launched. It is also apparent that the utilization of our planes defensively would seriously hamper the development of our antiaircraft fire, due to the difficulty of distinguishing friend from foe in a melee or, even when this could be done, of hitting the foe while avoiding the friend. The final reason is that experience has shown that the plane is a failure as a defensive weapon; that it is primarily an offensive weapon and can be utilized most effectively as such.
Our proposed system of gun defense, however, has the following advantages: The guns are always ready to provide the necessary protection. If we build up an adequate gun defense for the fleet, we can use all our planes offensively. Another advantage is that when our surface vessels shoot down the attacking planes, they are not only defending themselves and their own carriers but also they are whittling down the opposing air strength and disrupting enemy morale; best of all, they are doing this without any attrition of our own air force. In other words, we are conserving both our surface and our air strength while destroying enemy air strength. Finally, an adequate gun defense permits us to deliver or withhold our air attack as we see fit. In other words it gives us the initiative in the air.
The great Moltke was one of those who saw clearly the folly of invariably committing one’s self to a headlong offensive. He believed that, when it was possible to take a strong defensive position in which his opponent would be compelled to attack him, it was better to do so and allow the enemy to wear himself out in fruitless assaults. Then Moltke would take the offensive against the weakened antagonist who was now incapable of effective resistance. Our point here is that, by building up our strong gun defense against aircraft, we can start off with either the offensive or the defensive as may seem best, instead of being compelled to launch an immediate attack as our only hope of gaining aërial superiority.
Even Foch, that ardent and unwavering advocate of the offensive under any and all conditions, advised a certain discretion. He wrote:
The art of war does not consist for the highest officers and for the commanders of an advance guard in falling upon the enemy like a wild boar. . . .
A constant preoccupation, while we prepare and combine an action against the enemy, must be to escape his will, to parry any undertaking by which he might prevent our action from succeeding. Any military idea, any scheme, any plan, must therefore be connected with the conception of security. We must, as if we were fencing, attack without uncovering ourselves, parry without ceasing to threaten the adversary. . . .
This does not mean that war can be made without running risks, but it does mean that we should do everything possible to insure that an enemy will not be able to wrest the initiative from our hands.
An article by Lieutenant Ramsey in the Proceedings for August, 1930, discusses possible offensive operations. It is of particular interest in that he largely ignores the use of antiaircraft fire and depends almost entirely upon our own airplanes for defense against airplanes. One cannot read this article without being struck by the utter impracticability of an offensive under such conditions, even though the aggressive fleet possesses a vast superiority in surface strength. Lieutenant Ramsey, for example, gives only two hours for reaching a decision in the main engagement between the surface fleets, after which the offensive fleet must withdraw due to the exhaustion of the fuel supplies of its fighting planes. The history of previous naval battles indicates that much more time would be required for attaining decisive results. He, furthermore, fails to discuss what would probably happen to the aggressive fleet after its means of defense had been compelled to leave the air, or before it took the air, if that fleet had no adequate gun defense.
An important point here is that the security of the fleet which has an adequate gun defense against aircraft is largely independent of the relative strength of the opposing air force. Such a fleet, moreover, has the advantage that it can launch its own planes against the hostile carriers without worrying over its own safety, even though the hostile air force may have just been reenforced by shore-based aircraft. It is therefore apparent that building up the antiaircraft strength of the fleet is of even greater consequence, so far as ability to take the offensive is concerned, than is building up the aircraft strength of the fleet. We are not attempting to minimize the urgency of the latter, but merely to call attention to the importance of the neglected subject of antiaircraft strength and especially to the fact that it is vital to the effective employment, not only of our surface forces, but also of our aërial forces.
It was asserted previously that two of the great advantages which the airplane owes to its mobility could be neutralized by keeping our fleet concentrated. It is easier to assent to this self-evident assertion than to realize its far-reaching implications. Since space does not permit going deeply into these implications, we must content ourselves with calling attention to two of the most obvious. This will be done by means of concrete illustrations in the following section.
The Need for Concentration
Suppose that we have two fleets of equal strength in mid-ocean; that one of the fleets is closely concentrated; and that the other has a loose formation with a strategical scouting line of cruisers several hundred miles ahead of the main body. These cruisers are using planes for supplementary scouting and the carriers of the hostile main body are also using planes for scouting. Although it is likely that the scouting planes operating from the carriers will be larger, better equipped, and of longer cruising radius; let us give the cruisers the benefit of the doubt and assume that their planes make contact with the hostile main body at the same time that the scouting planes from the carriers discover the nearest cruiser of the scouting line.
The latter will be out of supporting distance from its own carriers, while the air force commander of the concentrated fleet can bring to bear as many bombers and torpedo planes as he wishes. It is simply a matter of how many he considers necessary to do the job most effectively. That cruiser must inevitably fall a victim to overwhelmingly superior forces.
The logical conclusion, furthermore, will be that the cruiser is part of a scouting group. If the others have not already been located, hunting for them will be immediately started. Even though all cruisers retreat at full speed on hearing of the first contact, it is likely that at least the nearest two will be similarly annihilated, and it is possible that the entire line will be wiped out. The result would be the same, regardless of whether that scouting line were composed of cruisers of the Omaha type, the Pensacola type, or the much-discussed hybrid type.
A cruiser carries from 400 to 600 highly trained men, takes three years to build, and costs from $10,000,000 to $20,000,000. The loss of even one such vessel would be a stiff price to pay for the single report. It would be trying, furthermore, to order a search when it was known that the cruiser making the contact and probably one or two cruisers on each side of it would not have a fighting chance unless the contact was made at nightfall. They could, of course, bring down some planes; but history shows that, whenever an overwhelming superiority of force can be brought to bear, the objective is attained with slight loss.
It is also worth noting that no speed which can be given a surface vessel would enable it to run away from an aërial attack. In other words, high speed is no longer a defense for the scout cruiser. We used to think it sound policy to build ships either to fight or to run. It is now useless to think of building them to run; we can build them only to fight. They can avoid fighting overwhelmingly superior forces, not by high speed, but by proper tactical dispositions. In short, the fleet must be kept closely concentrated when within striking distance of large hostile air forces.
There is no escaping the conclusion that, except in low visibility, surface vessels of all types whatsoever are now unsuitable for scouting. We must employ new material and make an entirely new approach to this highly important subject. We must find some way of producing submarines capable of a sustained surface speed of twenty knots and of carrying at least one small seaplane. We must have scouting planes of greater speed, cruising radius, seaworthiness and reliability, both amphibians operating from carriers and flying boats operating from tenders. We must effect improvements in aërial navigation which will permit the elimination of isolated reference vessels. We must have large airships carrying planes for supplementary scouting. We must further develop the employment of submarine listening gear for low-visibility scouting by surface craft. Finally we must have a new book on security and information.
If we carry our hypothetical case one step further to the air phase of a battle, we see again that this matter of keeping the fleet concentrated is of crucial importance. Suppose that the fleet which believes in concentration has its aircraft carriers with the main body and that main body in such a formation that planes attempting to attack the carriers will be exposed to the antiaircraft fire of the whole fleet. Suppose also that the opposing fleet has its carriers fifty miles or more in the rear of the main body, and part of its light forces spread out in a screen ten or fifteen miles from the battleships.
As the fleets approach, scouts from both sides will report the opposing dispositions. The concentrated fleet has the option of launching its planes against the main body and of retreating until the planes have returned and are ready to be launched against the carriers, or of waiting until the opposing carriers are in bombing range. If the concentrated fleet so chooses, it can bring to bear overwhelming concentrations of force upon the isolated and comparatively weak units of the opposing screen. Under such circumstances, severe damage could be inflicted on the light forces at slight risk to the attacking planes.
Whether the attack on the carriers is made first or after this attack on the light forces, the carriers of the dispersed fleet will be defended by only their own guns, while the carriers of the concentrated fleet will be defended by the antiaircraft fire of the entire fleet. Under these circumstances, the isolated carriers will inevitably be disabled, or destroyed, while the well-defended carriers will suffer little if at all.
Imagine the situation which will then exist. The dispersed fleet will have been driven out of the air; its light forces will have been badly mauled; while probably bombers and torpedo planes already will be attacking its battleships. On the other hand, the concentrated fleet will be practically intact. All this is simply the logical result of modern tactical dispositions by one fleet and obsolete tactical dispositions by the other.
The reader may object that too much has been based on hypothetical cases. One can assert the result in each case with confidence because the consequences of ignoring the definitely established principles of war are always disastrous, if one is facing a capable opponent. It was one of Napoleon’s axioms that an army should always be in a position to put forth the whole resistance of which it is capable. The same thing, of course, applies to a fleet.
Before the advent of aircraft, it was possible for a fleet to be dispersed over a comparatively wide area, provided that the outlying ships had enough speed to avoid more powerful hostile units and to rejoin before the enemy could attack in force. The development of powerful air forces at sea means that there is now no time for the surface units to concentrate before an attack can be delivered by the incomparably swifter aërial forces. It also means that any desired concentration of force from the entire air strength down to one plane, can be brought to bear on any isolated unit of the fleet. The inevitable consequence is that a fleet must concentrate before entering the area in which it is exposed to attack by air forces, and must remain concentrated until it leaves that area. Otherwise it cannot put forth its maximum powers of resistance against aërial onslaughts, and it leaves the isolated units exposed to concentrated air attacks which they never could survive.
Since our fleet does not now have the necessary types to carry on satisfactorily the service of information and security with all surface vessels concentrated, it follows that the production in the shortest possible time of the necessary auxiliary types is a matter of the utmost urgency.
Development of Material
The list of urgent material developments is almost staggering. We must have satisfactory multiple mounts for machine guns and small automatic guns; we must have sound locating gear and submarine listening gear which is efficient in spite of ship noises; we must have a new 6-inch gun and mount as well as new 8- and 16-inch turrets, all equipped for use against either surface craft or aircraft; we must have the accompanying fire-control instruments; we must have satisfactory airship engines of American manufacture; we must have airships carrying planes for supplementary scouting; we must have better airplane engines and more reliable aërial navigation; and finally we must have improved submarines with greatly improved Diesel engines. These developments are not merely desirable, they are absolutely mandatory if the fleet is to be able to do more than cower in some secluded base. The magnitude of the task is appalling, even when one considers the enormous resources of the Navy Department.
Does not the gravity of the situation warrant further modifications in our methods of development? It is significant that of the foregoing list of necessities, the two which show the greatest promise of fulfillment, better airplane engines and rigid airships carrying planes, are the results of private initiative with government aid. The excellent airship designs were obtained by offering a substantial cash prize. This was the way in which Tirpitz developed the remarkable engines for his submarines and, incidentally, paved the way for the still more remarkable engines of the Ersatz-Preussen. Even if we spent $10,000,000 or $15,000,000 in the next few years for cash prizes, history indicates that we could not spend a similar sum in any other way which would yield us such a rich harvest of improvements.
The promise of contracts and the commercial possibilities of the product have been sufficient incentives to produce gratifying results in many cases. In this way, we have obtained excellent airplane engines, planes, fire-control instruments, and machine guns. This method, of course, is suitable only where existing industries are capable of supplying our wants.
There will still be plenty for the Navy to do, if it turns all possible material development over to private enterprise. The new 8- and 16-inch turrets, for example, offer problems which can be solved only by the Navy. The mere framing of the requirements for the other material, the testing of the manufacturer’s product, and the elimination of faults therein, constitute a huge task. Then some current ideas on tactics, and possibly on strategy and war plans, will need a thorough overhauling. It is safe to say that the necessary changes and the production of the enormous amount of greatly improved material could not be handled within a reasonable time by the Navy Department alone without a great expansion in personnel and facilities.
Has not the time come for us to frankly admit that the variegated duties of a naval officer do not permit him to acquire the highly specialized knowledge necessary for the production of the complicated material now required? He knows what is wanted and can state the requirements. When he does this and turns the problems over to commercial concerns, the results are very gratifying. Here is a method which works, whenever and wherever it has been tried. Why not utilize it to the fullest possible extent?
1. There is a tendency to think of aërial superiority almost entirely in terms of aircraft strength and to ignore the equally important element of antiaircraft strength.
2. Aircraft strength should be augmented by building up to the treaty limits of carrier tonnage and by developing our merchant marine, rather than by building hybrid types or by overloading existing gun vessels with airplanes.
3. A fleet lacking in antiaircraft strength will inevitably be driven out of the air by a fleet of equal strength which has developed an adequate gun defense against aircraft. If two fleets equally lacking in antiaircraft strength should meet, the result would be decided by chance. A fleet lacking in antiaircraft strength cannot take the offensive against even a much weaker fleet. The building up of our antiaircraft strength is therefore vital to our security.
4. Antiaircraft strength may be augmented by the development of suitable weapons, instruments, types of ships, and tactics.
5. Except for building a fleet flagship and possibly a relief flagship, we should utilize our unexpended balance of cruiser tonnage for types calculated to add to the antiaircraft strength of the fleet rather than to its aircraft strength.
6. Our Navy is not prepared to meet the situation which would confront it if war should break out tomorrow, in that individual ships and the fleet as a whole are lacking in antiaircraft strength; in that some current tactical ideas need modernization; and in that we lack the greatly improved types of aircraft, submarines, and listening devices needed for the service of information and security.
7. The production in the shortest possible time of the enormous amount of material required, is a vital problem. Turning those problems over to commercial concerns, offering either cash prizes or substantial contracts as incentives, has produced consistently excellent results. The Navy Department will have all that it can do in solving those problems which cannot be solved elsewhere. The way out of our difficulty lies, therefore, in the maximum utilization of private enterprise and individual genius.