From the earliest issues of Proceedings in the 1870s, there was a front-and-center focus on the need for a new fleet and new weapons for the ships of that fleet. “Our naval history has been a glorious one,” Lieutenant J. C. Soley wrote in December 1878:
Our flag has never been dishonored on the sea, but, though few in numbers, our ships have always held their own, and done noble service against a powerful enemy; but our successes in 1812 were due to the fact that our fathers, with wise forethought, built their individual ships so as to be stronger than those with which they would have to cope; where the English had 38 gun frigates, we had 44 gun frigates; where they had 32 pdr. carronades we had 44 pdrs.; where they had long 18s we had long 24s. So it must be in the future, if we are to enforce obedience to our laws on our coasts and in our own harbors, or if we are to fight with honor to ourselves and our country.
Other Proceedings authors such as Lieutenant Edward Very focused on the new shipboard weapons required. He looked at the gun systems adopted in France, England, Germany, Russia, Austria, Italy, and Spain in December 1877:
With the introduction of the 8-inch converted rifle, the United States Navy has taken its first decided step in the practical development of a system of rifled ordnance. . . . I believe that to Colonel Treuille de Beaulieu of the French Artillery belongs the merit of having proposed the first successful system of rifling for heavy artillery, about 1842.
By the early 1880s, Congress had authorized the better-gunned, faster, steel cruisers Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago and the dispatch vessel Dolphin. In 1884, Lieutenant W. H. Jacques again looked at European advances and called for “The Establishment of Steel Gun Factories in the United States.”
The longer-range, more-accurate guns would require better explosive power. Naval Academy Professor of Chemistry Charles E. Munroe began publishing in Proceedings in January 1879 on international developments in explosives and gunpowder, including the advances being made by Sweden’s Alfred Nobel:
For some time past, rumors have reached this country concerning the discovery of a new explosive by Nobel which was said to possess even more power than nitroglycerin while it was at the same time more stable and better adapted to military uses. This explosive was known as explosive gelatin or gum dynamite.
Munroe went on to spell out how Nobel had converted his liquid chemicals—dangerous to store, transport, and use—to a solid form suitable for gunpowder.
In the late 1880s, Proceedings essays started flowing on another weapon of war—torpedoes. Lieutenant Commander W. W. Reisinger wrote in July 1888 that the United States had the benefit of years of experiments by European navies and could develop the new weapon improving on their successes.
For the Navy, the dawning of the 20th century would open an era of the big-gunned, high-seas fleet. Future admiral Lieutenant Commander William F. Sims established himself as an authority on the need for better training of gun pointers and better sighting equipment for the fleet’s new 12-inch guns in his July 1904 article “Training Ranges and Long-Range Firing.” He laid out 12 issues requiring attention and concluded:
The most serious of these [issues] can be compensated for only by fitting the guns with properly designed sighting appliances. It follows that long-range firing underway, carried out with guns not so fitted, is profitable only to the manufacturers of ammunition.
In his 1910 article “The Destroyer–Our Naval Weakness,” Lieutenant Commander Yates Sterling Jr. addressed another dimension of the weapons and weapon-systems challenges:
Dreadnoughts have so filled the mind that we have hypnotized ourselves into believing that such warships are invulnerable. . . . That destroyers are vitally needed appears only too plainly, and that we all have not awakened to this injurious omission in our naval budget is to be deplored. The Navy Department has asked for a few destroyers each year; and suddenly awakening to the urgent necessity in 1907, five were ordered and again in 1908 ten more, and then in 1909 six more, but this year the few recommended were stricken from the appropriation bill.
“The External Ballistic Problem of the Anti-Aircraft Gun,” a January 1916 article by G. J. N. Carpentier addressed another new reality.
We have not to look ahead for anticipated problems—the fourth [air] arm exists. It has come to stay and, although in its infancy, is already able to work terrible havoc, hence the necessity of sparing no effort to develop the efficiency of anti-aircraft guns for the Navy as well as the Army. The problem of firing against aircraft is not an easy one; the difficulties of hitting a moving target on the water are sufficiently great.
In one of the successful innovations of World War I, to counter powerful German long-range shelling in France, the Navy created and deployed five 14-inch-gun railroad batteries—great guns mounted on trains, assembled in the United States, shipped across the Atlantic, then rolled in France—an important contribution to the Allied victory. Each unit had a crew of 500 enlisted men and 50 officers. A speed of six miles per hour was set for the 350-mile run to Helles-Mouchy. As Lieutenant Commander L. B. Bye wrote in June 1919, “The naval railway batteries fired a total of 782 rounds against the enemy. The guns were fired on 25 different days. [They] were used for strategic purposes entirely, and fired at ranges between 30,000 and 40,000 yards.”
Reporting on one of the war’s key sea fronts, Squadron Commander Captain Reginald R. Belknap published his account of “The Yankee Mining Squadron or Laying the North Sea Barrage” in 1919. The American Mine Force had come to Scotland, arriving 26 May 1918, to cooperate with the British in laying a great barrier of mines, from the Orkney Islands across the North Sea to Norway. The small mine force, consisting principally of the old cruisers San Francisco and Baltimore, had been augmented by eight converted merchantmen.
The stroke of a mine is sudden and powerful, and while a vessel on the surface may survive it, to a submerged submarine it is usually fatal. All classes of vessels shy at a minefield, and that the Germans shared this aversion was shown by captured papers, which made it clear that the submarine dreaded nothing so much as mines.
While accounts of different World War I actions would continue to flow, there were articles in the early 1920s on improving weapons and their use:
• Manufacture of 14- and 16-inch cupronickel rotating projectile bands by the centrifugal casting machine process.
• Opportunities for increased ships’ use of “indirect fire”—the firing of guns without the target being visible.
• Technical writing on the probability and accuracy of gun fire.
As a lieutenant commander, future Admiral R. K. Turner and coauthor Lieutenant T. D. Ruddock wrote in the October 1922 article, “Gun Defense Against Torpedo Planes,” that:
Due to the fact that torpedo planes must necessarily be large, their speed will in all probability be low and their angle of descent small. The speed at which a torpedo can be launched from a plane is limited to a very slow plane speed. With these assumptions in mind, we may proceed to the consideration of the problem in hand, that of placing such a plane under fire from the maximum number of guns at the earliest moment and assuring a reasonable chance of successful fire against it.
Looking to improve weaponry in his July 1924 essay “Some Torpedo Problems for Destroyers,” Lieutenant Commander H. H. Frost detailed four primary requirements: the development of an absolutely reliable torpedo carrying the maximum explosive; the study of tactics to determine the best positioning and timing for firing; a better study of projected maneuvers of the target during the torpedo run; and installation of suitable control equipment in the torpedo control station to ensure positive and rapid control over the torpedo battery.
In the same issue, Lieutenant Commander R. P. Guiler Jr. provided a detailed history of “The Naval Gun Factory” from its founding in 1799 as one of six yards for the building of the “largest ships of war,” to its destruction in the War of 1812, and its growth into the 20th century. In March 1925, Captain Ralph Earle traced the biography of one of the yard’s most famous users—inventor of the Dahlgren Gun—John Adolphus Dahlgren (1809–70).
Navy gunboats were using their weapons protecting U.S. merchantmen and broader U.S. interests, as documented by Lieutenant Commander Glenn Howell in his April 1928 article, “Operations of the United States Navy on the Yangtze River—September 1926 to June 1927”:
American interests along the Yangtze and its navigable tributaries are normally looked out for by the Yangtze Patrol. The force consists of the Isabel (flagship) and six gunboats, the Pigeon, Penguin, Palos, Monocacy, Elcano, and Villalobos. [When disturbances began], it became necessary to supplement the regular vessels of the patrol with men-of-war belonging to other units of the fleet.
Howell summarized several engagements, including:
On April 25, the Penguin, after being persistently fired upon by rifles and machine guns at a point eight miles below Kiangyin Forts, returned this fire with machine guns. She then was fired upon by field pieces, which fire she returned with her main battery. The Penguin was hit many times, and five sailors were wounded, one suffering a clean hole through the chest.
In his September 1931 article “Treaty Cruisers,” Commander E. S. R. Brandt wrote,
The two limitation conferences have unquestionably affected the degree to which the maritime powers can exercise command of the sea, in that warship types adapted to commerce destruction have been definitely limited. Among these types the cruiser stands out as the most dangerous to commerce.
The Washington Conference upset all previous calculations by practically eliminating the battle cruiser from future consideration and by creating the 10,000-ton cruiser carrying 8-inch guns—a type no navy could subsequently afford to be without and yet one for which war experience provided no justification as far as European navies were concerned.
Another teaching from World War I was that of “Naval Gunfire in Support of Landings—Lessons from Gallipoli,” presented in the July 1932 Proceedings by Lieutenant Walter C. Ansel. He cautioned,
Naval gunfire at Gallipoli divided itself into two general types and it is believed that these divisions will hold for any landing operations. They were:
(1) The naval gunfire on the beaches and their immediate defenses, that is, the preparation fire that immediately preceded the landing. . . . and, (2) the naval gunfire on inland targets, that supported advances inland from the beach, counter battery fire, fire on
call, etc. . . .
We will confine ourselves to the first type of fire . . . Under its effect the change of command from Navy to Army is made, the troops must disembark and rush the beach defenses. If the naval guns have not properly done their part the troops will be caught at the mercy of machine guns and other rapid-fire weapons.
While adhering to the 1921 Washington Naval Conference limits, the U.S. Navy continued to grow through the 1930s, with aircraft carriers and their aviation wings joining the fleet alongside new battleships. As Rear Admiral J. K. Taussig wrote in his July 1940 article “The Case for the Big Capital Ship,” the battleship was still seen by most as the key offensive weapons system:
To force our will on the enemy, power must be exerted. It requires no argument to justify the conclusion that the bigger the gun, the more power it exerts. Nor does it require argument to substantiate the fact that the bigger the gun with its necessary protective armor, the bigger must be the ship in which it is installed.
Six future 45,000-ton Iowa-class battleships—the USS Iowa (BB-61), New Jersey (BB-62), Missouri (BB-63), Wisconsin (BB-64), Illinois (BB-65), and Kentucky (BB-66)—with nine 16-inch guns were on the building ways in 1940–41, and would join the 35,000-ton battleships of the Washington class with their 16-inch guns.
From the late 1800s on, the fleet had been growing, evolving, expanding in fits and starts. How was it performing in action? In a May 1943 article, Lieutenant and gunnery officer William P. Mack described early 1942 action in the Java Sea on the four-stack destroyer USS John D. Ford (DD-228), having sailed from Manila as a ship of the Asiatic Fleet following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor:
My men were spoiling for a fight. I didn’t have to tell them what to do, just when. . . . At 2:45 a.m. I saw my first Japanese ship. . . . My talker was calmly counting off seconds as our first torpedo ran toward its target.
“Mark,” he shouted, as the time came for it to hit. Seconds passed. Nothing happened. . . . Then came a blinding, ear-shattering explosion. . . . The explosion of a torpedo at night at close range is an awe-inspiring sight. The blast is terrific, blinding; then comes the concussion wave, which leaves you gasping for breath.
In the mid-1940s, articles started flowing on the remarkable achievements of the Navy, the armed forces, and the allies across the globe in World War II.
In “Naval Gunfire: Scourge of the Beaches,” written in November 1945, Marine Lieutenant Colonel R. D. Heinl Jr. underlined the essential role played by battleships and smaller ships bombarding beachheads and enemy positions further inland, clearing the way for troops to go ashore:
The missions of naval gunfire support are: first, to destroy, prior to the landing, every known weapon or installation which is capable by direct fire of hindering the movement ashore of our forces—in a word, to clear the beaches; second, to provide all supporting fires for our forces ashore prior to the landing of artillery; finally, after the artillery comes in, to assist further efforts to the maximum by reinforcing and augmenting the organic artillery of the landing force.
Paul Martin looked to another dimension of these naval horizons in his August 1945 article, “The Future of the Rocket in Naval Warfare.” The use of rocket support ships in support of amphibious landings began in 1944. Their relative lack of accuracy was a reason for not deploying them in larger numbers as shipboard weapons on larger units of the fleet. In the future, he wrote, there might be another rocket projectile—the “controlled” missile.
Captain W. D. Brinckloe turned the page with “Missile Navy” in the February 1958 Proceedings:
If your credit is A-1, you can drive away a surface-to-air Terrier, without radio, heater, or launching equipment. . . . The solid propellant weapon has gone afloat with the converted cruisers Boston and Canberra and the fin-stabilized converted destroyer Gyatt.
Terrier’s shipboard kit bag is a joy to behold. Completely automatic, it carries ready missiles in a below decks “Coke machine” stowage. In seconds the missile which you select rotates to the hoist and shoots up to the launcher arms, which instantly come to the computed heading for firing at the exact precomputed instant to hit at the best range.
[Talos] climbs with its 40,000 horsepower to a higher level flight ceiling than any known bomber. . . . Its speed of Mach 2 or more brings down both attacking planes and their air-to-surface missiles. Talos’s sophisticated steering-intelligence system is remarkably reliable and has been extraordinarily accurate even at the missile’s extreme range. . . . Talos will be the major armament of the converted missile cruiser Galveston commissioning this year, of the Little Rock and Oklahoma next year, and of the new nuclear-powered missile cruiser Long Beach.
As a captain, future Chief of Naval Operations Elmo R. Zumwalt gauged the future in his November 1962 article “A Course for Destroyers”:
The equipment required to make the DLGNs and DLGs of the future competent to operate with the fast carrier task force will likely give them the electronic capability to serve as command-and-control-communications ships in situations where speed and defensive capability are critical. A third major function of such vessels may be to serve as the cruisers of the future in reconnaissance and raiding missions.
The July 1963 Proceedings would feature a cover painting and photo feature of the USS Bainbridge (DLGN-25). The ship had Terrier missiles mounted fore and aft on two twin launchers and was fitted with two 3-inch/50-caliber twin mounts amidships. Her armament also included torpedoes launched from six tubes amidships and the foredeck-mounted antisubmarine rocket (ASROC) system.
There were some other great surface-weapons photo features at the time. In “Anti-Aircraft Cruisers: The Life of a Class” in January 1965, Norman Friedman traced U.S. and British gunned antiaircraft cruisers from their conception in the 1930s, through combat, to post–World War II demise with antiaircraft capabilities being built into new destroyers and the arrival of guided antiaircraft missiles.
In “Gunboats in the River War, 1861–1865” in March 1965, Lieutenants (j.g.) John Roberts and Richard Webber joined a stunning selection of historic photographs with excellent text to capture the role of Union gunboats in the Civil War operating up from the Gulf of Mexico east, west, and north on the nation’s branching rivers.
In 1969, retired Marine Colonel Robert Heinl Jr. was on board the USS New Jersey (BB-62) reporting as a military correspondent for The Detroit News.
It had to be explained to the reporters that dropping a one-ton 16-inch shell within a hundred yards of an unseen target 18 miles away, on the opening round, represented superb shooting . . . Observation for her initial mission . . . was conducted by a Marine A-4 configured for high-performance air spotting. About mid-morning, when things clearly were going well, the A-4, despite many regulations against such cockiness, buzzed the battleship at well below masthead level and very close to the speed of sound. As the spotter whooshed by, he transmitted the message “Welcome to the War.”
Lieutenant Commander William O’Neil asked “Gun Systems? For Air Defense?” in March 1971 and invited his readers to appreciate advances in shipboard guns and gunnery. He looked at the Navy’s 5-inch/54 Mk Mod 9 rapid-fire gun and a range of U.S. and foreign shipboard antiaircraft mounts and their advanced gunfire control systems—their ability to deal with highly advanced incoming missile and air attacks.
In May 1983, the USS New Jersey (BB-62) would launch a Tomahawk land-attack conventional cruise missile on a fully guided 500-mile mission off the California coast. In his December 1983 article, “The Offensive Surface Ship,” Lieutenant Commander T. J. McKearney wrote, “The accuracy and reliability of the Harpoon has led us to enlarge the traditionally defensive role of our major surface combatants to include an offensive purpose as well.”
The Navy turned an important new surface weapon system page with the commissioning on 4 July 1991 of the USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), the first of the Arleigh Burke–class guided-missile destroyers that continue in production today and have become the backbone of the surface navy fleet.
The ships were fitted with four, flat-faced, Aegis SPY-1 radars mounted on the forward deckhouse, where they had 360-degree coverage and made the ships ideal for air and missile defense of carrier battle groups. Armament included standard surface-to-air missiles, Harpoon and ASROC missile vertical launching systems, four .50-caliber guns, two triple torpedo tubes, and two Phalanx close-in weapon systems. Commander John G. Morgan Jr., the Arleigh Burke’s first commanding officer, reported on the ship in the December 1988 and July 1991 issues of Proceedings.
One of the proposed uses for the Aegis radar-weapons-control system was “Combating the Ballistic Missile Threat,” addressed by Willard G. Fallon in July 1994:
The first step would be to modify the Aegis radar and weapons-control-system computer software to enable theater ballistic-missile detection, tracking, and engagement by sea-based missiles. The existing radar computer programs would be modified to allow search at higher elevations and longer ranges. . . . to provide early detection of extremely fast ballistic missiles. . . . Finally, on-board command-and-control electronics would be modified to interface with other elements of ballistic missile defense, such as satellites or ground-based sensors.
While the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) would not be commissioned until 2016, Rear Admiral Mike Mullen, as Director, Surface Warfare, was writing about the future DD-21 class, as it was known then, in his October 1998 article “Where Surface Warfare is Headed—and Why”:
As joint warfighting capabilities shift toward network-centric architectures, and the precepts of offensive distributed firepower are further realized, the surface Navy will introduce DD-21, a multimission destroyer with advanced systems throughout, focused on land attack. The land-attack destroyer will signal a significant technological leap and major change in ship design.
“Investing in naval rail gun development . . . offers the potential to meet every naval surface fire support requirement with a system that can deliver the capabilities of extended hypersonic missiles at gun-like cost . . . A Mach 7 rail gun could deliver a lethal payload 100 nautical miles in about two minutes.” So wrote Lieutenant Commander David Allan Adams, future Proceedings Deputy Editor in Chief, in “Naval Rail Guns Are Revolutionary,” in February 2003. Unfortunately, the Navy’s rail gun dreams have not become reality.
If the earliest Proceedings authors of the 1870s were calling for more modern and powerful weapons on new, more capable ships, so that call continued as the Navy sailed ahead in the 21st century. In his January 2019 article “Redesign the Fleet,” Captain Arthur H. Barber III wrote:
Today’s fleet—a mix of ship types that are simply evolutionary improvements and larger versions of designs from two or more decades ago—is too small, and the ships on average are too large. It is time for the Navy to make broad, significant changes in the fleet’s design.
The ability to detect warships at long ranges or even globally is no longer a U.S. monopoly. Commercial space sensors are burgeoning, and their data is available in the marketplace.
Surface combatants will remain key to sustained sea control and maritime security operations, but the mix of ships must change. Their survivability in high-threat environments and their need for both threat detection at longer ranges and increased magazine depth must lead to a new approach. Manned and unmanned ships must be designed to fight together as a single networked combat system.