"There are no specifics in warfare."—Mahan
For some time there has been apparent a disquieting basic trend in naval war—an unmistakable progressive decrease in the utility of surface fleets. Recent developments, however, indicate the practicability of not only reversing this unfortunate trend but also waging a type of campaign in which a navy can function with a swiftness, range, and power hitherto unknown. Furthermore, because of its unique geographic location, both this threat and this opportunity mean more to the United States than to any other nation. A review of this situation is offered in the pages which follow.
The far-reaching significance of a basic trend in war can best be seen by an example in which the cycle has been completed, leaving the results standing out unmistakably. Such an instance is found in the past 80 years of military history. Anyone who now reviews this period has no trouble in detecting a steady increase in the difficulty of the offensive on land. Neither does he find it hard to discover that this increase was due chiefly to the successive improvement in firearms. Since such improvement was likely to continue indefinitely, it was bound, in the absence of effective countermeasures, to create an eventual situation in which the offensive would be utterly impracticable. Soldiers ignored this unmistakable trend and continued to apply the old Napoleonic specifics to conditions which had changed beyond all recognition. The result was that not a single army could execute its war plans in 1914. The offensive became utterly impracticable and remained so for three years. Under the stress of war, new material was developed while tactics and strategy were belatedly readjusted; so that both sides were able to wage successful offensives in the last year of the war. These efforts to adapt material and technique to the new conditions were continued after the Armistice. The German Army was exceptionally skillful in effecting this transition. The consequence was its amazingly successful blitzkrieg against Poland. Nevertheless, when that same army turned against its foes to the westward, it found them fully prepared; and a deadlock resulted. This glance at military history shows the importance not only of recognizing such a basic trend but of doing so and acting before the enemy does. The time element is crucial.
The first signs of the corresponding trend in naval warfare became apparent in 1914. Then the Grand Fleet found itself unable to take the offensive against a force barely half its size and based only a few hundred miles away. A navy which had long boasted that the frontiers of England were off the enemy coast discovered that it could neither offer battle in hostile waters nor take effective action to force a decisive engagement elsewhere. Consequently the most powerful war fleet ever assembled was compelled to settle down to the wearisome passivity of a distant blockade.
The resulting war of attrition had two disadvantages. One was that it left the victor almost as exhausted as the vanquished. The other was that the long campaign gave the weaker navy too many opportunities to try out new weapons. When one of these, the submarine, proved unexpectedly effective, the attrition went into reverse and nearly lost the war.
That the difficulties of the offensive continued to increase was shown in September, 1939, when a far weaker German Navy sufficed to keep the British from entering the Baltic in support of Poland. Although geography and the Nazi Air Force were exceptionally strong deterrents in this case, there is no escaping the conclusion that something has been happening to sea power.
Just what this is and how it came about can best be seen by going back to Nelson's time. That battle-scarred veteran could boldly take his fleet anywhere and fight an enemy. His great strategic mobility was due partly to his independence of fuel supplies, but still more to the fact that the only weapon he faced was the gun. This meant that, so long as he kept out of range of hostile shore batteries, he could operate off the enemy coast with little more risk than in home waters.
Two generations later, David D. Porter used his various commands with more aggressiveness, skill, and unremitting vigor than any admiral in our history, if not in all history. He was able to employ his ships so freely because the adoption of armor gave them a relative immunity to gunfire, greater than that of any ships before or since. For example, the 250 hits survived by the New Ironsides caused the twenty-odd hits on the most severely damaged ships at Jutland to fade into insignificance. Such ironclads as were lost in our Civil War usually succumbed, not to gunfire, but to the new weapons of stealth then effectively utilized for the first time. It is a remarkable tribute to American ingenuity that the mine, the torpedo, the torpedo boat, and the submarine were not only originated but also first employed in war in this country.
The important point to this review, however, is the influence on naval operations of these weapons of stealth. Although they were still too primitive to have any great influence on the course of the Civil War, their subsequent development and utilization resulted in making the offensive far more difficult. They had this effect primarily because of the neglect to develop an adequate defense against them. They could, moreover, be employed most effectively close to shore. Consequently they greatly increased the risks of a campaign in hostile waters. Furthermore they all were weapons of concealment and surprise. Mines were wholly invisible, submarines could seldom be seen, and torpedo boats were hard to detect in time on a dark night. A disquieting imponderable was thus introduced into naval war. Nelson, for example, knew exactly the odds against him when he saw ten 3-deckers and 4 frigates approaching. Now when an admiral steamed into a mine field or an area in which submarines were operating, he could neither weigh the risks he was running nor foretell when he would be attacked. Those risks might prove ridiculously small, or they might prove utterly disastrous. The resultant fear of sudden and irreparable losses constituted a new mental hazard of far-reaching consequences.
Besides increasing the difficulty of the offensive, these new weapons greatly added to the potentialities of the weaker fleet. In former days, a small navy could do little more than attempt occasional raids and function as a "fleet in being." These weapons of stealth, however, could be employed constantly against the power attempting to control the sea; whereas they could be utilized against the raiding fleet only when it left port. As these weapons were steadily improved, the weaker navy could thus exact an increasing toll of the stronger navy for its use of the sea lanes.
The impact of these changes was, nevertheless, not seriously felt until 50 years after they began to work. This delayed reaction was due to the one-sidedness of the Sino-Japanese, Spanish-American, Russo- Japanese, and minor wars of that period. In all of them, superior numbers, training, and morale enabled the victorious fleet to be used continuously and aggressively, despite the growing hazards of offensive operations.
In the World War, however, things were different. Morale and training were at last nearly balanced, while numbers were not hopelessly one-sided. The Germans, moreover, had developed these weapons of stealth with exceptional skill. This development had so far outdistanced the corresponding defensive measures that, when faced with the surprising effectiveness of German submarines and mines, Jellicoe decided that he commanded a fleet which not only was unable to face the risks of the strategic offensive but also needed to be very cautious in the tactical offensive. Although hindsight indicates that he overestimated the dangers he faced, he had to make his decision while the facts were still shrouded in the obscurity of war. There is no denying that it was entirely practicable for the Germans to have arranged a mine field or submarine trap in which he might have encountered swift and irretrievable disaster. As Churchill put it, "Jellicoe was the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon." The result of this consciousness of excessive vulnerability was that he treated his capital ships like art treasures in a museum—something to be kept under glass and admired, to be taken out only on rare occasions, and then to be handled with the utmost care. This is said, not in condemnation of Jellicoe, but in emphasis on a deplorable state of affairs.
The simplest method of explaining away this unfortunate situation is to blame it all on Jellicoe. Many critics have done precisely that. In so doing, they ignore the fact that Jellicoe was an admiral of outstanding ability, wide experience, sound judgment, and repeatedly-demonstrated personal courage. They also seem to forget that the stamp of official approval was placed on his cautious policy by both Lord Fisher and Winston Churchill. Has anyone ever classed either of these men as timid or irresolute?
Instead of sitting back in one's armchair and using the wisdom which comes after the event to condemn British strategy and tactics, is it not more intelligent to try and discover how a situation was created in which an admiral of proved courage and exceptional ability, supported by a Board of Admiralty of wide experience, believed that the offensive was prohibitively risky? If these underlying causes can be laid bare, it will then be possible to forestall the arising of conditions in which our Commander in Chief might some day feel that he could not actively employ his fleet without serious risks of fatal losses. If he has well-grounded confidence that his ships have been designed to cope with every weapon they must face, and have a sufficient margin of defensive strength to stand a little rough handling, he will be relieved of that paralyzing consciousness of excessive vulnerability. The nightmare of irretrievable disaster from weapons he cannot see will be banished, and he can then concentrate on his proper job of destroying the enemy ships which he can see. Such a fleet can face the offensive with something like the equanimity of the fleets of Nelson and Porter.
The first step then is to discover those influences which restrained officers from developing the obviously-needed defense against weapons of growing effectiveness. The literature of that period indicates that the main hindrance was an unthinking aversion to anything which bore the label defensive. This antipathy had its roots in an illogical belief that careful attention to defensive measures was inconsistent with the offensive in tactics and strategy. Mahan paid his respects to this attitude in these words:
. . . while the man is unfit for command who, on emergency, is unable to run a very great risk for the sake of decisive advantage, he, on the other hand, is only less culpable who takes even a small risk of serious harm against which reasonable precaution can provide. It has been well said that Nelson took more care of his topgallant masts in ordinary cruising, than he did of his whole fleet when the enemy was to be checked or beaten; and this combination of qualities apparently opposed is found in all strong military characters to the perfection of which both are necessary.—Lessons of the War with Spain, pp. 190-91.
Mahan's penetrating study of history also enabled him to predict the results of this nonchalant attitude regarding defense; for in the introduction of that same book, he wrote:
Indifference in times of quiet leads directly to perturbation in emergency; for when emergency comes, indifference is found to have resulted in ignorance, and fear is never so overpowering as when, through want of comprehension, there is no check upon the luxuriance of the imagination.
The practical results of substituting emotionalism for real thought were seen in 1914. The outbreak of the World War found all navies with no defense against the submarine, only the beginnings of a defense against the mine, and an inadequate defense against surface torpedo craft. The Royal Navy, in which this unfortunate prejudice was especially strong, was definitely inferior to the German Navy in underwater protection, damage control, and armor. Jellicoe emphasized these deficiencies in justifying his policy of caution. It was one of Fate's little ironies that this blind devotion to the offensive should have been mainly responsible for the subsequent adoption of the defensive.
Meanwhile another powerful influence had been at work. This was the growing desire for speed. Although some of the factors which resulted in exaggerating the importance of mobility have been discussed frequently, one powerful stimulus—the fear of raiders—has received little attention. Lord Fisher was obsessed by this fear and was always repeating the first line of Mrs. Glassé's recipe for jugged hare, "First catch your hare." This emphasis on pursuit was strengthened by the nature of the naval engagements of 1914. In all except one, the Germans had thought of nothing but flight. The result was to accentuate Fisher's previous tendency to obtain speed at the expense of protection. He demonstrated this by designing the Renown and Repulse for 32 knots and by providing them with an armor belt only 6 inches thick. Such flimsy protection came far from balancing their 15-inch main batteries, and was further evidence of the half-contemptuous attitude toward defensive strength then prevailing in the Admiralty.
Just as these ships were being completed, Jutland was fought. After its lessons had been digested, it was realized that too much attention had been diverted to the pursuit of raiders; that this was only a secondary consideration; that the criterion by which any warship stood or fell was its utility in decisive battle; that this hinged upon the ability to defeat enemy ships of the same type; and that such success required the ability not only to administer punishment but also to withstand it. Accordingly the Hood was designed with a 12-inch armor belt which was twice as thick as those of her predecessors. This sudden respect for armor indicated as sharp a reversal of thought as has been seen in our times.
Another repercussion of Jutland was Jellicoe's decision to avoid the southern half of the North Sea. This restricted mobility was the inevitable result of Fisher's fondness for speed and neglect of defensive measures. He had failed to distinguish between speed in peace-time maneuvers and mobility in war; he did not perceive that the former hinges upon nothing but propulsive machinery, whereas the latter depends also upon the striking and resisting power necessary to overcome the enemy's efforts to restrict that mobility. When he carried his enthusiasm for speed to the point where he made serious sacrifices in armament and protection, he lost, rather than gained, strategic mobility.
This mistaken emphasis in design had an even more striking result which was manifested when Beatty was given command of the Grand Fleet. He, whose personal courage amounted almost to foolhardiness, had been so shaken by the sudden disasters to his flimsy ships at Jutland that he officially recommended to the Admiralty that it was "no longer desirable to provoke a fleet action, even if the opportunity should occur." That he, who had previously been eager to engage regardless of handicaps, should make such a recommendation when England faced a crisis on both land and sea, can be explained only if we assume that his previous underestimation of his foe had swung to the opposite extreme of overestimation. Many critics of Beatty overlook the fact that he was no shrinking violet; on the contrary, he enjoyed danger and had a genuine zest for fighting. If his confidence could be shaken and his judgment could be warped by the inability of his ships to stand punishment, the same conditions may be expected to have the same effect on other stout-hearted men in the future. This influence of unsound design on morale is second only to its physical results.
It is also noteworthy that Beatty, who had been very critical of Jellicoe, adopted an even more cautious policy when the responsibility for the Grand Fleet was placed squarely on his own shoulders. Apparently it is one thing to criticize when someone else is responsible, and another thing to act when that same responsibility is one's own.
This disheartening impotence of the Grand Fleet at a time when defeat stared England in the face was forecast by Mahan at the close of the Russo-Japanese War. "To this same double eye to two sets of functions, radically distinct," he wrote, "is to be attributed the undue stress upon extreme speed for battleships. . . . They, by the accepted spirit of the day, are not only to fight but also to run; between which two stools a fall may be looked for." He did not then foresee the precise nature of that fall, but he knew that a disregard of basic principles was bound to result in a crash.
Another pertinent phase of the World War was the attempt to use sea power at the Dardanelles. The well-known result was bloody, disheartening failure in what is now regarded as the outstanding strategic opportunity of that conflict. Although many factors contributed to this unfortunate outcome, there is no denying that the somber history of that campaign might read very differently if Allied ships had been prepared to deliver a well-directed fire in adequate volume at critical points. The old slap-dash methods of the past did not suffice, because the increasing difficulties of the offensive ashore demanded a new type of artillery support. The laying-down of a barrage sufficiently close to advancing troops to meet modern conditions differs widely from the ordinary problems of naval gunnery; yet it is a task which the fleet of any great amphibious power should manifestly be fully prepared to carry through. It is second in importance only to the winning of a decisive fleet engagement. Because this urgent duty had not received from any navy the attention it deserved in warship design, in fire-control equipment, or in training, ships could not do their jobs at the Dardanelles. The brightest hope for a short war then and there fizzled out.
The foregoing may be summarized:
- Inattention to defensive strength and overemphasis on speed resulted in a fleet which was unable to take the offensive, which lost rather than gained strategic mobility, which suffered sudden disasters adversely affecting morale and judgment, and which could wage only a long war of attrition.
- The inattention to defensive strength may be laid to a chronic aversion to defensive measures. One result was the nearly fatal failure to develop in advance a defense against submarines.
- The overemphasis on speed was partly due to the pursuit of ulterior aims, chasing raiders rather than victory in decisive battle.
- Naval unpreparedness for combined operations contributed to the failure at the Dardanelles.
The influence of these lessons on naval thought during the ensuing 21 years is especially interesting. The first indication of that influence was to be seen in the design of the Nelson and Rodney. In these, the first post-Jutland battleships, the emphasis on striking and resisting power rather than upon speed showed that the British were then thinking of decisive battle rather than of chasing raiders. Unfortunately the building of the Deutschland by Germany revived the ancient bogy. France promptly countered with the 26,500-ton, 13.2-inch-gunned Dunkerques. These two ships were obviously designed to run down and destroy the Deutschland type. The folly of building a warship for the sole purpose of outclassing a smaller, slower, and weaker predecessor was seen shortly afterward when Italy laid down two 35,000-ton battleships armed with 15-inch guns. France then realized that she had blundered in building major units which were incapable of meeting new ships of their own type. She was consequently compelled to reply with 35,000-ton battleships which she should have built in the first place.
When the expiration of the limitation treaties allowed England to resume the construction of battleships, it became apparent that she too was again haunted with her old fear of raiders. As a result, her units of the King George V class were designed for 30 knots instead of the 23 knots of their predecessors. They differed, however, from pre-war fast ships in one important respect. It was that this speed had been purchased at the expense of armament rather than of protection; for no less than 40 per cent of their displacement was devoted to armor, whereas their main battery of ten 14-inch guns was the weakest mounted in any British battleship since the Iron Duke. Few now question the importance of keeping a warship afloat; the only point at issue is, what is she to be kept afloat for? Is it that she may exercise her mobility? Or is it that she may exercise her gun power? Mahan had no doubt regarding this priority. "Force does not exist for mobility," he wrote, "but mobility for force." The danger of the weak armament of the King George V must have been recognized in the Admiralty; for they boosted displacement and returned to the 16-inch gun in the Lion class. They manifestly could not afford to continue building 14-inch-gunned battleships while Italy and Germany were building 15-inch-gunned vessels of that type. Nevertheless, increases in tonnage are only a temporary expedient. The tendency of other navies to follow each such increase eventually forces a decision for either higher speed or superior striking and resisting power.
What light has been thrown upon this issue by the current hostilities? It is noteworthy that, although England and France possessed five capital ships far superior in every characteristic to Germany's three Deutschlands, the latter kept the sea for three months before the first of them came to grief. This victim succumbed to a concentration of smaller and weaker British cruisers. Apparently the possession of larger, faster, and more powerfully-gunned hunting vessels neither insures the speedy running down and destruction of raiders nor is necessary to the achievement of that end.
This is in accordance with previous experience. During the World War, raiders of inferior speed operated for periods ranging up to 449 days. In the course of our Civil War, the Kate ran the blockade at Charleston 60 times, the record; yet she could make only 7 or 8 knots. Although speed is theoretically the primary requirement for raiding, hunting, or blockade running, history indicates that in actual Practice it is of little importance. The Germans apparently realized this; for, although they have been building a raiding fleet rather than a battle fleet, in no type from battleship to destroyer have they aimed at higher speed. Instead they have emphasized striking and resisting power. This may also explain why they have relied chiefly upon pocket battleships rather than upon fast, light cruisers in their war on commerce.
An arresting feature of the cruises of their raiders in this war has been the relatively small amount of damage they have inflicted. Although this is probably partly because of the effectiveness of the Allied convoy system, it is simply impossible to supply capital ships as escorts for all convoys. The meager captures of these raiders are apparently due more to their being content to lurk in the mists near the Arctic and Antarctic Circles with only an occasional thrust at the trade routes. Why do they not operate with the boldness of their predecessors in 1914, the Emden and Karlsruhe?
Is not the answer to be found in the reports by neutral vessels that British aircraft carriers were searching in mid-Atlantic, and in the two Admiralty announcements of the location of the Ark Royal? Such employment of aircraft carriers opens a new chapter in the control of the seas. Their planes can search unprecedentedly large areas in a single day. If they sight a raider, they can swiftly concentrate overwhelming force against it. Furthermore they can do this regardless of the speed of the raider. For them, the overtaking of a 40-knot cruiser is not appreciably more difficult than the catching of a 10-knot merchantman. Once this concentration of planes is effected, the raider can at least be disabled sufficiently to permit it to be overtaken by the slowest battleship.
All this is so obvious that the Germans evidently realized that their surface vessels would be quickly located and destroyed if they operated in areas where flying is usually practicable. The logical course therefore was to remain hidden in the mists most of the time and to appear only often enough to replenish supplies and remind the Allies of the inadvisability of abandoning the convoy system. In this way they serve to slow up shipping and exercise a high nuisance value with a minimum of risk.
In thus curtailing the activities of the surface raider, the advent of the aircraft carrier has an important influence on the design of other warships. This influence is due to the fact that superior speed no longer either insures the safety of the raider or is essential to the hunting squadron which includes a carrier. In other words, the threat of the super-cruiser need no longer influence warship design.
Still other far-reaching effects of aerial development are to be seen. The fact that Germany has not attempted any coastal bombardments in this war, indicates that she believes the risks of a raid in force to be greatly increased by the effectiveness of the airplane as a scout and in a fast striking force for countering such raids. That same effectiveness should also assist in blockade operations wherever flying is practicable. The airplane, moreover, is scoring many successes against submarines. Aside from the U-boats actually sunk or damaged by aerial bombs, the daylight patrol by airplanes of areas in which undersea craft operate is bound to increase both the physical hardships and the mental strain on their crews. Finally the attacks on German naval bases indicate that the airplane furnishes a means of direct attack upon a weaker navy which is avoiding battle.
All this adds up to the fact that at last a weapon has appeared which strengthens the hand of the power attempting to control the sea. It is high time that this happened; for during the preceding century, each new weapon had successively increased the difficulty of the offensive and the cost of controlling the seas; in fact, these weapons of stealth threatened to create a situation in which the use of the sea lanes would become prohibitively expensive. That is to say, the weaker navy, without being able to use the sea itself, could exact an increasing toll of the stronger navy for that use until a point might be reached at which the ocean became a no-man's area on which only stealthy forays were possible. There would then be no point in having a more powerful fleet. Consequently the advent of the airplane which facilitates the reversal of this dangerous trend is a development of profound significance for all those who long to witness the return of sea power to its former glory.
The effectiveness of the Allied campaign against U-boats cannot, however, be laid entirely to the airplane. Credit must also be given to three noteworthy British reactions to their World War experience. One was the establishment of an organization for scientific inquiry and fact-finding. Another was that they so far overcame their repugnance to defensive measures that they made a recognized specialty of anti-submarine operations, just as they previously had of gunnery, torpedoes, and submarines. A further indication of their changed attitude was the building in peace time of anti-submarine craft. These steps are significant not only as indicative of a new respect for defensive measures but also as explanatory of the large number of U-boats destroyed.
The unexpected effectiveness of the current German mining campaign indicates, however, that the defense against mines was not improved during the years of peace. The heavy losses show how any defensive weakness can be exploited by an alert foe who is not attempting to control the seas and who is therefore not himself vulnerable to the improved form of attack. The paradox is that defensive measures are of greater importance to the offensive fleet than to the defensive fleet; in fact, an adequate defense is essential in direct proportion to the extent to which the sea is used.
Another lesson from this mining campaign is that command of the seas is not insured by merely accumulating ships and guns. That mastery also requires a continuing program of development in order to insure superiority of weapons. This primacy is essential not only for its own sake but also to permit immediate work on an adequate defense against the improved weapon. Then, when the enemy also effects that improvement, we are ready to meet his attack instead of having to improvise hasty countermeasures under the urgent pressure of war.
The evolution of British thought regarding anti-aircraft defense is also illuminating. Their usual dislike for anything defensive was shown when they provided only six 4.7-inch guns and 8 pom-poms in the anti-aircraft batteries of the Nelson and Rodney. They also mounted only four 4-inch and a few smaller guns to protect their heavy cruisers against air attacks. Then opinion began to develop rapidly, for they initiated the development of multiple mounts for automatic guns, both large and small. These, incidentally, are now said to be especially feared by German airmen. The Ethiopian crisis, with the threat of having to fight it out with the Italian Air Force in the Mediterranean, was another powerful mental stimulus. There is nothing like being faced with a concrete peril to awaken one to defensive needs. England has since led the way in building up fleet anti-aircraft strength.
This leadership was manifested in several ways. The first indication was the powerful defensive batteries of the King George V class of battleships. They were given sixteen 5.2-inch dual-purpose guns, thirty-two 40-mm. automatic guns in octuple mounts, and 16 machine guns in quadruple mounts. Furthermore the antiaircraft batteries of the latest 10,000-ton cruisers consist of twelve 4-inch guns, sixteen 40-mm. automatic guns in octuplet mounts, and 8 machine guns in quadruple mounts. The British, moreover, were not content with merely strengthening the defensive batteries of existing types of warships; for they originated the anti-aircraft cruiser. At the time of the Ethiopian crisis, they hurriedly converted a few old C-class cruisers by removing their 6-inch batteries and substituting ten 4-inch guns and sixteen 40-mm. automatic guns in octuple mounts. These vessels met so obvious a need that they then laid down the Dido class of 5,500-ton cruisers armed with ten 5.2-inch dual-purpose guns and sixteen 40-mm. automatic guns in octuplet mounts. This was the second purely defensive type which they began to build in peace time—a notable reversal of their pre-1914 attitude.
These moves to increase the anti-aircraft strength not only of individual ships but also of a fleet as a whole, are noteworthy because the offensive employment of a fleet is predicated upon its having an adequate defense against any number of enemy aircraft which can be brought to bear. If the Germans resort to massed air attacks, the outcome will throw badly-needed light on the question of whether or not even the exceptionally thorough measures taken by the Royal Navy are sufficient against a strong air force.
That the British aversion to defensive measures is a national trait, not merely a peculiarity of naval men, was shown in their politicians' slowness about providing anti-aircraft defenses for their cities. Their humiliation at Munich was due nearly as much to this lethargy as to the lagging strength of the Royal Air Force. It is unfortunate that the Anglo-Saxon is so unimaginative and so averse to being thought an alarmist that he ordinarily refuses to acknowledge the existence of a menace until it has him by the throat. This trait and its results are of special moment because of our own racial heritage.
The current hostilities offer material for reflection in still another respect. It is the unrestricted employment of the Nazi Air Force against Poland as contrasted with its limited use against England and France. Evidently Germany has no scruples as to unrestricted air warfare, so this reluctance to start it against the great powers must be ascribed to the fear of reprisals. The Polish campaign apparently taught Germany that an air force is so terrible a weapon that it means mutual economic annihilation if employed against a nation able to retaliate. The point is that the ability to utilize one's air force while preventing the enemy from striking back is a new factor in warfare which may prove quickly decisive.
Although the present war has not progressed far enough for any final conclusions to be drawn, its first 4 months point to the following inferences:
- The airplane and its carrier provide an enormously improved service of information and security as well as a striking force of unprecedented mobility. They consequently add greatly to the hazards faced by surface raiders, submarines, and raids in force; they increase the effectiveness of a blockade; they provide a means of striking directly at the weaker fleet; and they thus offer a means of reversing a trend which was threatening to strangle sea power.
- The British have profited by their World War experience and gone in for scientific investigation to improve both weapons and defensive measures. Wherever they have pushed this work, they have gotten excellent results; wherever they have neglected it or allowed it to lag, they have had to pay dearly.
- An adequate defense against all weapons is more essential to a navy on the offensive than to one on the defensive.
These lessons are of interest chiefly because of their possible application to the U. S. Navy. On first thought it would seem better to wait until the close of hostilities before attempting to draw conclusions or apply them. Nevertheless, even tentative conclusions are helpful in enabling one to set up a working hypothesis. Then with a clear idea of what he wants to find out, a man can watch the course of events with greater interest and keener penetration. When the time comes that he can draw final conclusions, they will be both more definitely formed and more firmly grounded.
In applying these tentative conclusions, two precautions are necessary. One is to bear in mind that this is not a struggle between two great naval powers for control of the sea; it is merely a form of guerilla warfare in which the weaker navy has no hope of winning and exercising such control, but is only trying to make the stronger navy pay as dearly as possible for the use of the sea lanes. Consequently the operations of surface vessels are confined to raiding and the defense against raiders. Meanwhile Germany's lack of a battle fleet precludes any major naval engagement. This war will therefore tend to divert thought on warship design toward the pursuit of ulterior aims, chasing raiders, and away from the true criterion, fitness for decisive battle.
The second precaution is to guard against trying to apply these lessons without regard for the unique geographical location of this country. The fact that it is separated from its rivals by the full width of an ocean profoundly alters its problems.
This isolation makes it far more difficult for us to maintain a distant blockade against any of our rivals than it is for England to employ this form of pressure against Germany. The British, moreover, required four years to achieve results with such strategy, despite their remarkable geographic advantage for employing it. It is therefore manifest that, if our fleet is to win a war quickly, it must be able to exert more decisive forms of pressure. In other words, it must be able to take the offensive. That would be far more difficult across the full width of an ocean than across the narrow waters of the North Sea. English warship designs consequently do not fit our more rigorous requirements. Clearly then, we must seek direct and independent solutions for our problems in both strategy and warship designs.
The Atlantic and Pacific are, nevertheless, advantageous in that they serve as a barrier to attack by shore-based airplanes from either Europe or Asia. All the other great naval powers are within easy bombing distance of neighboring rivals. The United States is thus the only country for which a navy offers both a defense against aerial attack and the only means of returning such attacks. That is to say, if the U. S. Fleet can be made strong enough to escort the Fleet Air Force within easy striking distance of hostile shores, this country will be in the enviable position of being able to carry air warfare to the enemy while preventing him from carrying it to us.
Such air attacks offer not only a badly-needed means of applying economic pressure but also a way of forcing a weaker and unwilling enemy fleet to come out and seek decisive battle in an effort to stop the raids. If our fleet is built to win the resulting engagement despite the handicaps of fighting in enemy waters, the first and most difficult obstacle to a swift and successful offensive is surmounted.
The next step will normally be the seizure of an advanced base in order to facilitate air raids, submarine operations, and the institution of a blockade. There are some bases which could not be captured, and others which would fall easily. In many cases, however, success or failure would hinge upon the ability of the ships to deliver gunfire with the accuracy and volume necessary to enable the troops to land and advance far enough inland to permit artillery, reinforcements, and supplies to be landed without excessive interference. Further combined operations might be needed to take hostile insular outposts which threatened our lines of communication; in fact, after the opposing fleet is crushed, the main duties of our own fleet will be to support combined operations, to escort the Fleet Air Force on raids, to protect convoys, to hunt down individual raiders, and to establish a blockade.
One is immediately struck by the prominent part to be played by the Fleet Air Force in all these operations. Even in the decisive fleet engagement, the outcome will hinge upon the ability to employ aerial spotting while denying the enemy that facility. Obviously then, no effort should be spared to build up the Fleet Air Force and to insure its continued operation. The latter will depend largely upon the effectiveness of the defense afforded carriers by other vessels of the Fleet.
This brings up the problem of surviving the hazards to be encountered in such a campaign. One's first thought is that, if the Grand Fleet could not wage an offensive across the North Sea, the U. S. Fleet could not hope to wage one across an ocean. It is evident, however, that the underlying reasons for the paralysis of the Grand Fleet were the aversion to defensive measures and the fear of raiders. These obstacles to a rational approach to the problem have fortunately been banished, and nothing now prevents a candid examination of the difficulties.
Although we shall probably know far more about this problem in another year, existing knowledge indicates that it can be solved if the hazards are taken one by one. They are the weapons of stealth, the hostile air force, and the handicaps of fighting a fleet engagement in enemy waters. Their combined effect is sufficiently great to preclude continuous operations off hostile shores; so the offensive will have to consist of a series of carefully-timed thrusts until advanced bases have been seized and made secure. Lack of space prevents any detailed discussion of the means of circumventing all the weapons which must be faced in such a campaign. The only thing that can be said here is that it will mean special attention not only to defensive strength in each class of warships but also to the building of exclusively defensive types such as anti-submarine destroyers, mine sweepers, net layers, and anti-aircraft cruisers.
In deciding upon the degree of defensive strength to be incorporated in each design, one chronic error must be avoided. It is the tendency to design warships to meet the weapons and conditions of the last war instead of the next one. The British, for example, had modernized the Courageous and the Royal Oak so that they were admirably prepared to cope with single torpedoes as fired in the World War, but unable to survive the torpedo salvos of 1939. Although the coming months will probably shed badly needed light on the antiaircraft defense required for each type of warship, our new designs must be calculated to meet, not the air forces of 1940, but of 1950 and 1960. Unless they can do so, the vessels might as well not be built.
So far, only the dangers faced by the Fleet have been considered. What could an alert enemy do to retaliate? What, for example, could he do with his submarines? They would have to cross an ocean to operate near the focal points of our trade routes. This would be so exhausting and time-consuming that, combined with the normal hazards of submarine warfare, it would profoundly discourage such a campaign, unless a near-by base could be secured. If he succeeded in establishing such a base while we were otherwise engaged, he would have to be dislodged. This possibility plus that of having to turn him out of some air base which he had similarly acquired, re-emphasizes the importance of thorough preparedness for combined operations. A further point is that our geographic isolation and the extent of our coast lines make us less vulnerable to these weapons of stealth than other leading navies.
What is to prevent an enemy from executing raids on our shores with his entire fleet and air force? Such raids cannot be lightly dismissed by reference to published cruising radii of foreign warships. Japan, for example, has not been building 20-knot tankers purely as a commercial venture. If Rozhestvensky's fleet could make its way from the Baltic to the Sea of Japan, surely a modern fleet of superior training and morale could tackle a single ocean! We are, moreover, considering the potentialities of future, not past, fleets.
In countering such transoceanic raids, would not our fleet need to be faster in order to be sure of intercepting such a force? Even though accompanied by fast tankers, the distances would still be so great that speed would be determined by the need for reasonable fuel economy rather than by the size of their engines. In the Pacific with the Fleet based on Pearl Harbor, the problem of interception would be easily solved. Once within striking distance, daylight attacks by our air force and night attacks by our destroyers could soon disable more of his light craft than he would dare abandon; in fact, he might already have been crippled by previous encounters with our shore-based airplanes or submarines. If he takes disabled craft in tow or slows down to enable those partially disabled to keep up, it makes no difference whether our fleet was originally faster or not. He will have to fight, and to do so under the handicap of engaging far from his base. The result is that such raids are not a tempting operation for a weaker fleet.
The possibility of such raids does, however, have two results of primary consequence to this country. The first is that in a two-ocean war, the Fleet could no longer be concentrated in one ocean while the passive defense was assumed in the other. The latter course would afford an ideal setup for these raids in force. The passive defense could then be made too costly for endurance. As a result, a 2-ocean navy is no longer merely desirable; it is a necessity. Costly though it would be, it would require far less money than anti-aircraft defenses for all industrial centers within striking distance of the coast. Such fleets, moreover, would preclude the necessity for turning an enemy out of bases which he had seized and consolidated in the absence of a defending fleet.
The possibility of such raids also points out a clear need for a string of insular outposts in the Atlantic similar to those we have in the Pacific. These are required not only to place a fleet in a position to intercept such raids but also to facilitate the work of our scouting planes. With such bases in our possession and properly developed, a 2-ocean navy would meet all requirements for hemisphere defense.
If this country can and does build a fleet and a fleet air force capable of either a successful defensive campaign in a 2-ocean war or of a swift, hard-hitting offensive against a single weaker power, the potentialities of the new navy will have tremendous significance both for the implementation of national policies and for the peace of the world. Our statesmen have been embarrassed frequently this past decade by encroachments on American interests in distant lands where a war to end the infringements would cost far more than the material interests at stake. If, however, this country has a fleet and a fleet air force which can cross an ocean and deliver a rapid series of stunning blows, the temptation to provoke a long-suffering Uncle Sam will disappear. The speed of such a campaign will, moreover, minimize the risk of a stab in the back while so engaged. The mere knowledge that there is a great power free to take quickly effective action wherever it is needed would be a tranquilizing influence similar to that exercised by the Royal Navy during the Pax Britannica. The world desperately needs such an influence.
Here then is a working hypothesis to be borne in mind as we watch the confused welter of world events:
- A fleet and a fleet air force capable of surviving the risks of a campaign off hostile shores can both defend this country against air attack and execute destructive raids on other nations.
- If this fleet is also capable of adequately supporting combined operations, it can wage a quickly effective offensive campaign.
- The new conditions also demand that we acquire bases in the Atlantic and build a 2-ocean navy.
- These steps will provide security for this hemisphere, implementation for our national policies, and a badly needed stabilizing influence in world affairs.