Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V19, Page 317 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: it!
NAVAL STRATEGY AND TACTICS Historical Evolution.—That the methods of conducting war at sea have been conditioned by the capacity of the ships and their armament, and that capacity and armament have interacted upon one another, may appear to be platitudes. But they are none the less truths which must always be borne in mind when we are considering the history of naval strategy, that is, of the large movements by which a commander secures the advantage of fighting at a place convenient to himself, or of tactics—which are the movements he makes in battle. Throughout antiquity and the middle ages till the 16th century, the weapons relied on were—(1) the ship itself, used as a ram, (2) the swords of the crew, (3) such missile weapons as bolts from heavy crossbows fixed on the bulwarks, bows and arrows, weights dropped from a yard or pole rigged out, and the various means of setting an enemy alight; by shooting arrows with burning tow or by Greek fire or wild fire, blown through tubes (cannae, whence " cannon "). The nature of the " Greek fire " is still an unsettled question, and it is believed by some authorities that the Byzan- tines of the middle ages were acquainted with the use of gun- powder. However that may be, it is certain that even after the introduction of artillery in the 14th century, the were very feeble. All actions, therefore, were fought at close quarters, where ramming and boarding were possible. But the use of the ram was only available for a vessel driven by oars. A sailing vessel could not ram unless she were running before a good breeze. In a light wind her charge would be ineffective, and it could not be made at all from leeward. There-fore, while fleets depended on the methods of battle at close quarters, two conditions were imposed on the warship. She must be small and light, so that. her crew could row her with effect, and she must carry a numerous crew to work her oars and board or repel boarders. Sails were used by the triremes and other classes of warship, ancient and medieval, when going from point to point—to relieve the rowers from absolutely exhausting toil. They were lowered in action, and when the combatant had a secure port at hand, they were left ashore before battle. These conditions applied alike to Phormio, the Athenian admiral of the 5th century B.C., to the Norse king Olaf Tryggveson of the loth century A.D., and to the chiefs of the Christian and Turkish fleets which fought the battle of Lepanto in A.D. 1571. There might be, and were, differences of degree in the use made of oar and sail respectively. Outside the Mediterranean, the sea was unfavourable to the long, narrow and light galley of 120 ft. long and 20 ft. of beam. But the Norse ship found at Gokstad, though her beam is a third of her length, and she is well adapted for rough seas, is also a light and shallow craft, to be easily rowed or hauled up on a beach. Some medieval vessels were of considerable size, but these were the exception; they were awkward, and were rather transports than warships. Given a warship which is of moderate size and crowded with men, it follows that prolonged cruises, and blockade in the full sense of the word, were beyond the power of the sea commanders of antiquity and the middle ages. There were ships used for trade which with a favourable wind could rely on making six knots an hour—that is to say, twice the average speed attained by Captain Cook in his voyages of exploration. But a war fleet could not provide the cover, or carry the water and food, needed to keep the crews efficient during a long cruise. So long as galleys were used, that is to say, till the middle of the 18th century, they were kept in port as much as possible, and a tent was rigged over the deck to house the rowers. The fleet was compelled to hug the shore in order to find supplies. It always endeavoured to secure a basis on shore to store provisions and rest the crews. Therefore the wider operations were slowly made. Therefore too, when the enemy was to be waited for, or a port watched, some point on shore was secured and the ships were drawn up. It was by holding such a point that the Corinthian allies of the Syracusans were able to pin in the Athenians. The Romans watched Lilybeum in the same way, and Hannibal the Rhodian could run the blockade before they were launched and ready to stop him. The Norsemen hauled their ships on shore, stockaded them and marched inland. The Greeks of Homer had done the same and could do nothing else. Roger di Lauria, in A.D. 1285, waited at the Hormigas with his galleys on the beach till the French were seen to be coming past him. Edward III. in A.D. 1350, stayed at Winchelsea till the Spaniards were sighted. The allies at Lepanto remained at anchor near Dragonera till the last moment. Given again that the fighting was at close quarters with ram, stroke of sword, crossbow bolt, arrow, pigs of iron or lead and wild fire blown through tubes, it follows that the formations and tactics were equally imposed on the combatants. The formation was inevitably the lane abreast—the ships going sideby side—for the object was to bring all the rams, or all the boarders into action at once. It was quite as necessary to strike with the prow when boarding as when ramming. If the vessels were laid side by side the oars would have prevented them from touching. It may be added that this rule prevailed equally with the sailing ship of later times, since they were built with what is technically called " a tumble home," that is to say, their sides sloped inwards from the water line, and the space from the top of the bulwarks of one to the other was too great to be jumped. The extent to which ramming or boarding would be used respectively would depend on the skill of the rowers. The highly trained Athenian crews of the early Pelopon- nesian War relied mainly on the ram. They aimed at Ancient dashing through an enemy's line, and shaving m off the methods. oars from one side of an opponent. When successfully practised, this manoeuvre would be equivalent to the dismasting of a sailing line of battle ship. It was the beE c r?ous, and it enabled the assailant to turn, and ram his crippled enemy in the stern (7repiirXous) But an attack with the ram might be exceedingly dangerous to the assailant, if he were not very solidly built. His ram might be broken off in the shock. The Athenians found this a very real peril, and were compelled to construct their triremes with stronger bows, to contend with the more heavily built Peloponnesian vessels—whereby they lost much of their mobility. In fact success in ramming depended so much on a combination of skill and good fortune that it played a somewhat subordinate part in most ancient sea fights. The Romans baffled the ramming tactics of the Carthaginians by the invention of the corva or crow, which grappled the prow of the rammer, and provided a gangway for boarders. After the introduction of artillery in the 14th century, when guns were carried in the bows of the galley, it was considered bad management to fire them until the prow was actually touching the enemy. If they were discharged before the shock there was always a risk that they would be fired too soon, and the guns of the time could not be rapidly reloaded. The officer-like course was to keep the fire for the last moment, and use it to clear the way for the boarders. As a defence against boarding, the ships of a weaker fleet were sometimes tied side to one another, in the middle ages, and a barrier made with oars and spars. But this defensive arrangement, which was adopted by Olaf Tryggveson of Norway at Swolder (A.D. 1000), and by the French at Sluys (A.D. 1340), could be turned by an enemy who attacked on the flank. To meet the shock of ramming and to ram, medieval ships were sometimes " bearded," i.e. fortified with iron bands across the bows. The principles of naval warfare known to the ancient world descended through Byzantium to the Italian Republics and from them to the West. With the growth of ships, the development of artillery, and the beginning of the great sailing fleets capable of keeping the sea for long periods together, came the need for a new adaptation of old principles. A ship which depended on the wind for its motive power could not hope to ram. It could still board, and the Spaniards did for long make it their main object to run their bow over an enemy's sides, and invade his deck. In order to carry out this kind of attack they would naturally try to get to windward and then bear down before the wind in line abreast ship upon ship. But an opponent to leeward could always baffle this attack by edging away, and in the meantime fire with his broadside to cripple his opponent's spars. Experience soon showed the more intelligent sea officers of all nations, that a ship which relied on broadside fire, must present her broadside to the enemy; it was also soon seen that in order to give full play to the guns of the fleet, the ships must follow one another. Thus there arose the practice of arranging ships in the line ahead, one behind the other. For a time sea-officers were inclined to doubt whether order could be maintained among vessels subject to the forces of wind and tide. But in the very first years of the 16th century, a Spanish writer of the name of Alonso de Chaves argued with force that even an approach to order is superior to none—and that, given the accidents of early means of injuring an enemy at a distance were nil, or history. Sailing ships. 314 wind and tide, the advantage would rest with him who took his precautions. The truth was so obvious that it could not but be universally accepted. The line ahead then became "the line of battle." This term has a double meaning. It may mean the formation, but it may also mean the ships which are fit to form parts of the line in action. The practice of sorting out ships, so as to class those fit to be in a line of battle apart from others, dates from the second half of the 17th century. Its advantages had been seen before, but the classification was not made universal till then. The excessive number of ships collected in those naval wars, their variety in size, and the presence in the fleets of a large proportion of pressed or hired merchant ships had led to much bad execution. But in the final battles of the first war between England and the Dutch Republic (1652-53), the Parliamentary admirals enforced the formation of the line by strong measures. On the conclusion of the war, they drew up the first published code of fighting instructions. These give the basis of the whole tactical system of the 17th and 18th centuries in naval warfare. The treatises of Paul Hoste, Bigot de Morogues and Bourde de Villehuet, which were the text-books of the time, all French in origin but all translated into other languages, are commentaries upon and developments of this traditional code of practice. The governing principles were simple and were essentially sound. The ships were arranged in a line, in order that each should have her broadside free to fire into the enemy Principles without running the risk of firing into her own friends. alighting tactics. In order to remove the danger that they would touch each other, a competent space, to allow for a change of course in case of need, was left between them. It was fixed at two cables—that is, 200 fathoms, or 400 yds. —though less room was occasionally taken. To reduce the number of men required to handle the sails, and leave them free to fight the guns, the ships fought under reduced canvas. But it was necessary to retain the power to increase the speed of a ship rapidly. This was secured by not sheeting home one of the sails—that is to say, it was left loose, and the wind was "spilt out of it." When the vessel was required to shoot ahead it was easy to sheet the sail home, and " let all draw." The fleets would fight " on the wind "—that is to say, with the wind on the side, because they were then under better control. With the wind blowing from behind they would take the wind out of one another's sails. When the course had to be altered, the ships turned by tacking—that is, head to wind—or by wearing—that is, stern to wind, either together or in succession. To tack or wear a large fleet in succession was a very lengthy operation. The second ship did not tack, or wear, till she had reached the place where the first had turned, and so on, down the whole line. By tacking or wearing together the order of a fleet was reversed, the van becoming the rear, and the rear the van. It must be remembered that a fleet was divided into van, centre and rear, which kept their names even when the order was reversed. Orders were given by signals from the flag-ship, but as they could not be seen by the ships in a line with her, frigates were stationed on the side of the line opposite to that facing the enemy " to repeat signals." A main object which the admirals who drafted the orders had before them was to obviate the risk that the enemy would double on one end of the line and put it between two fires. It is obvious that if two fleets, A and B, are sailing, both with the wind on the right side, and the leading ship of A comes into action with the seventh or eighth of B, then six or seven leading ships of B's line will be free to turn and surround the head of A's line. This did actually happen at the battle of Beachy Head. Therefore, the orders enjoin on the admiral the strict obligation to come into action in such a way that his leading ship shall steer with the leading ship of the enemy, and his rear with the rear. The familiar expression of the British navy was " to take every man his bird." The regular method of fighting battles was thus set up. In itself it was founded on sound principles. As it was framed when the enemies kept in view were the Dutch, who in seamanship[STRATEGY AND TACTICS and gunnery were fully equal to the British, its authors were justified in prescribing the safe course. Unhappily they added the direction that a British admiral was to keep his fleet, through-out the battle, in the order in which it was begun. Therefore he could take no advantage of any disorder which might occur in the enemy's lines. When therefore the conflict came to be between the British and the French in the 18th century, battles between equal or approximately equal forces were for long inconclusive. The French, who had fewer ships than the British, were anxious to fight at the least possible cost, lest their fleet should be worn out by severe action, leaving Great Britain with an untouched balance. Therefore, they preferred to engage to leeward, a position which left them free to retreat before the wind. They allowed the British fleet to get to windward, and, when it was parallel with them and bore up before the wind to attack, they moved onwards. The attacking fleet had then to advance, not directly before the wind with its ships moving along lines perpendicular to the line attacked, but in slanting or curving lines. The assailants would be thrown into " a bow and quarter line "—that is to say, with the bow of the second level with the after part of the first and so on from end to end. In the case of a number of ships of various powers of sailing, it was a difficult formation to maintain. The result was that the ships of the assailing line which were steering to attack the enemy's van came into action first and were liable to be crippled in the rigging. If the same formation was to be maintained, the others were now limited to the speed of the injured vessels, and the enemy to leeward slipped away. At all times a fleet advancing from windward was liable to injury in spars, even if the leeward fleet did not deliberately aim at them. The leeward ships would be leaning away from the wind, and their shot would always have a tendency to fly high. So long as the assailant remained to windward, the ships to leeward could always slip off. The inconclusive results of so many battles at sea excited the attentions of a Scottish gentleman, Mr Clerk of Eldin (1728-1812), in the middle of the 18th century. He began a clerk,s series of speculations and calculations, which he em- theories. bodied in pamphlets and distributed among naval officers. They were finally published in book form in 1790 and 1797. The hypothesis which governs all Clerk's demonstrations is that as the British navy was superior in gunnery and seaman-ship to their enemy, it was their interest to produce a melee. He advanced various ingenious suggestions for concentrating superior forces on parts of the enemy's line—by preference on the rear, since the van must lose time in turning to its support. They are all open to the criticism that an expert opponent could find an answer to each of them. But that must be always the case, and victory is never the fruit of a skilful movement alone, but of that superiority of skill or of moral strength which enables one combatant to forestall or to crush another by more rapid movement or greater force of blow. Clerk's theories had at least this merit that they must infallibly tend to make battles decisive by throwing the combatants into a furious mingled strife. The unsatisfactory character of the accepted method of fighting battles at sea had begun to be obvious to naval officers, both French and English, who were Clerk's contemporaries. The great French admiral Suffren condemned naval tactics as being little better than so many excuses for avoiding a real fight. He endeavoured to find a better method, by concentrating superior forces on parts of his opponent's line in some of his actions with the British fleet in the East Indies in 1782 and 1783. But his orders were ill obeyed, and the quality of his fleet was not superior to the British. Rodney, in his first battle in the West Indies in 1780, endeavoured to concentrate a superior force on part of his enemy's line by throwing a greater number of British ships on the rear of the French line. But his directions were misunderstood and not properly executed. Moreover he did not then go beyond trying to place a larger number of ships in action to windward against a smaller number to leeward by arranging them at a less distance than two-cables length. But " Line of battle." an enemy who took the simple and obvious course of closing his the conduct of war at sea. The time of revolution in means of line could baffle the attack, and while the retreat to leeward remained open could still slip away. On the 12th of April 1782 (battle of Dominica) Rodney was induced, by the disorder in the French line, to break his own formation and pass through the enemy. He took the French flag-ship and five other vessels. The favourable result of this departure from the old practice of keeping the formation intact throughout the battle ruined the moral authority of the orthodox system of tactics. In the French war which began in 1793 Lord Howe (battle of 1st of June) ordered his fleet to steer through the enemy, and to put them-selves on his line only as a means of bringing his fleet into action, and then played to produce a melee in which the individual superiority of his vessels would have free play. Throughout the war, which lasted, with a brief interval of peace, from 1793 to 1815, British admirals grew constantly bolder in the method they adopted for producing the desired melee (battles of St Vincent, Camperdown, Trafalgar). It has sometimes been argued that their line of attack was rash and would have proved disastrous if tried against more skilful opponents. But this is one of those criticisms which are of value only against those who think that there can be a magic efficacy in any particular attack, which makes its success infallible. That the tactics of British admirals of the great wars of 1793–1815 had in themselves no such virtue was amply demonstrated at the engagement off Lissa in 1811. They were justified because the reliance of admirals on the quality of their fleets was well founded. It should be borne in mind that a vessel while bearing down on an enemy's line could not be exposed to the fire of three enemies at once when at a less distance than 950 yds., because the guns could not be trained to converge on a nearer point. The whole range of effective fire was only a thousand yards or a very little over. The chance that a ship would be dismasted and stopped before reaching the enemy's line was small. The improvements in the construction of ships, which had so much influence on the development of tactics, had its effect also Influence on strategy. The great aims of a fleet in war must be of ins. to keep the coast of its own country free from attack, proved to secure the freedom of its trade, and to destroy ship- the enemy's fleet or confine it to port. The first and building. second of these purposes can be attained by the successful achievement of the third—the destruction or paralysis of the hostile fleet. But till after the end of the 17th century it was thought impossible, or at least very rash, to keep the great ships out of port between September and May or June. Therefore continuous watch on an enemy by blockading his ports was beyond the power of a'ny navy. Therefore too, as the opponent might be at sea before he could be stopped, the movements of fleets were much subordinated to the need for providing convoy to the trade. It was not till the middle of the 18th century that the continuous blockade first carried out by Lord Hawke in 1758–59, and then brought to perfection by Earl St Vincent and other British admirals between 1793 and 1815, became possible. Modern Times.—The interval of ninety years between 1815 and 1904 (the opening of the Russo-Japanese conflict) was marked by no naval war. There was fighting at sea, and there were prolonged blockades, but there were no encounters between large and well appointed navies. During this period an entire revolution took place in the means of propulsion, armament and material of construction of ships. Steam was applied to war-ships, at first as an auxiliary force, in the second quarter of the 19th century. The Crimean War gave a great stimulus to the development of the guns. It also brought about the application of iron to ships as a cuirass. Very soon metal was adopted as the material out of which ships were made. The extended use of shells, by immensely increasing the danger of fire, rendered so inflammable a substance as wood too dangerous for employment in a war-ship. France has the honour of having set the example of employing iron as a cuirass, while England was the first to take it as the sole material. Changes so sweeping as these could not take place without affecting all the established ideas as topropulsion, armament and construction was also a time of much speculation. Doubts and obscurities remained unsolved because they had never been brought to the test of actual fighting on an adequate scale. As the 19th century drew to a close, another element of uncertainty was introduced by the development of the torpedo. A weapon which is a floating and moving mine, capable up to a certain point of being directed on its course, invisible or very hard to trace, and able to deliver its blow beneath the water-line, was so complete a novelty that its action was hard indeed to foresee and therefore particularly liable to be exaggerated. From the torpedo sprang too the submarine vessel, which aims at striking below the surface, where it itself is, like its weapon, invisible, or nearly so. How to solve the problems which science has set has been the task of thoughtful naval officers—and of the governments which the military seaman serves. The questions to be solved may be stated in the following order. What would be the effect: 1st, of the employment of steam, or of any substitute for steam other than the wind or the oar; 2nd, of the development of the gun; 3rd, of the use of metal as a material of construction; 4th, of the use of a weapon and a vessel acting below the surface of the water, and if not wholly invisible at least very much hidden? The belief that steam had given the lesser fleet an advantage over the greater—that it had, in a phrase once popular among Englishmen, " bridged the Channel,"—need only be touched on for its historical interest. It was an intelligible, perhaps pardonable, example of the confusion produced by a novelty of improved capacity on the minds of those who were not prepared to consider it in all its bearings. A mo ment's thought ought to have shown that where both sides had the command of steam, the proportion between them would remain what it was before. The only exception would be that the fleet which was steering in a direction already laid down would have a somewhat greater advantage than of old, over another which was endeavouring to detect its presence and course. Its movements would be more rapid, and it could steam through a fog by which it would be hidden in a way impossible for a sailing ship. On the other hand, such a fleet could be much more rapidly pursued and interrupted when once its course was known. The influence which the freedom and certainty of movement conferred by steam would have on the powers of fleets and ships presented a problem less easy to dispose of. Against the advantage they conferred was to be set the limitation they imposed. The necessity for replacing indispensable fuel was a restriction unknown to the sailing ship, which needed only to renew its provisions and water—stores more easily obtained all the world over than coal. Hence doubts naturally arose as to how far a state which did not possess coaling stations in all parts of the world could conduct extensive operations over great distances. The events of the recent Russo-Japanese War lead to the conclusion that the obligation to obtain coal has not materially limited the freedom of movement of fleets. By carrying store vessels with him, by coaling at sea, and taking advantage of the friendly neutrality of certain ports on his route, the Russian admiral, Rojdesvensky, reached the Far East in 1905 in less time and with !ess difficulty than he could have done in days when he would have been liable to delay by calms, contrary winds and loss of spars in gales. The amount of skill on the part of the crews required to carry a fleet a long distance would even appear to be less than it was of old. From this it would seem to follow that modern fleets possess no less capacity than the old sailing fleets for the great operations of war at a distance, or for maintaining blockades. Advantage and disadvantage counterbalance one another, and the proportion remains the same. Blockade is only another name for the maintenance of a watch on an enemy's squadron in port by a force capable of fighting him if he comes out. Admiral Togo blockaded the Russian squadron at Port Arthur in 1904 as effectually as any admiral has done the work in the past. The mobility given to the blockaded fleet by steam has been exactly counterbalanced by the increased mobility of the watch. The proportions remain the same. But if the power to undertake far-ranging operations, and to confine an enemy to port by keeping him under observation, and driving him back when he comes out remains the same, the strategy of war at sea cannot have undergone any material alteration. The possession of ports where stores can be accumulated and repairs effected is an advantage as it always was. But a powerful fleet when operating far from its own country can supply itself with a store-house (a base) on the enemy's coast, or can be served at sea by store-ships, as of old. If beaten, it will suffer from the want of places of refuge as it always did. Among the speculations of recent years, a good deal has been heard of the " fleet in being." If this phrase is only used to Fleet In mean that, so long as any part of an enemy's navy wog." is capable of acting with effect, its existence cannot be ignored with the certainty of safety, then the words convey a truth which applies to all war whether by land or sea. If it means, as it was at least sometimes clearly intended to mean, that no such operation as the transport of troops oversea can be undertaken with success, so long as the naval forces of an opponent are not wholly destroyed, it is contrary to ancient experience. The Japanese in the beginning of 1904 began transporting troops to Korea before they had beaten the Russians, and they continued to send them in spite of the risk of interruption by the Vladivostok squadron. There was a risk, but risk is inseparable from war. The degree which can be incurred with sanity depends on the stake at issue, the nature of the circumstance and the capacity of the persons, which vary infinitely and must be separately judged. The war of 1904-05 may also be said to have shown that the vast change in the construction of ships, together with the develop- Ramming. ment of old and the invention of new weapons, has done far less to alter the course of battles at sea than had been thought likely. Two calculations have been successively made and have been supported with plausibility. The first was that steam would enable the ship herself to be used as a projectile and that the use of the ram would again become common. The sinking of the " Re d'Italia " by the Austrian ironclad Ferdinand Max at the battle of Lissa in 1866 seemed to give force to this supposition. Accidental collisions such as those between the British war-ships " Vanguard " and " Iron Duke," " Victoria " and " Camperdown " have also shown how fatal a wound may be given by the ram of a modern ship. But the sinking of the " Re d'Italia " was largely an accident. As between vessels both under full control, a collision is easily avoided where there is space to move. In a melee, or pell-mell battle, to employ Nelson's phrase, opportunities would occur for the use of the ram. But the activity of science has developed one weapon to counterbalance another. The torpedo has made it very dangerous for one fleet to rush at another. A vessel Torpedoes. cannot fire torpedoes ahead, and when charging home at an opponent presenting his broadside would be liable to be struck by one. The torpedo may be said therefore to have excluded the pell-mell battle and the use of the ram except on rare occasions. But then arose the question whether the torpedo itself would not become the decisive weapon in naval warfare. It is undoubtedly capable of producing a great effect when its power can be fully exerted. A school arose, having its most convinced partisans in France, which argued that, as a small vessel could with a torpedo destroy a great battle-ship, the first would drive the second off the sea. The battle-ship was to give place to the torpedo-boat or torpedo-boat-destroyer which was itself only a torpedo-boat of a larger growth. But the torpedo is subject to close restrictions. It cannot be used with effect at more than two thousand yards. It passes through a resisting medium, which renders its course uncertain and comparatively slow, so that a moving opponent can avoid it. The vessel built to use it can be easily sunk by gun-fire. By night the risk from gun-fire is less, but science has nullified what she had done. The invention of the search-light has made it possible to keep the waters round a ship under observation all night. In the war between Russia and Japan the torpedo was at first used with success, but the injury it produced fell below expectations, even when allowance is made for the fact that the Russian squadron at Port Arthur had the means of repair close at hand. In the sea fights of the war it was of subordinate use, and indeed was not employed except to give the final stroke to, or force the surrender of, an already crippled ship. This war (and as much may be said for the war between the United States and Spain) confirmed an old experience. A resolute attempt was made by the Americans to block or blind (in the modern phrase to " bottle-up ") the entrance to Santiago de Cuba by sinking a ship in it. The Japanese renewed the attempt on a great scale, and with the utmost intrepidity, at Port Arthur; but though a steamer can move with a speed and precision impossible to a sailing ship, and can therefore be sunk more surely at a chosen spot, the experiment failed. Neither Americans nor Japanese succeeded in preventing their enemy from coming out when he wished to come. Since neither ram nor torpedo has established the claim made for it, the cannon remains " the queen of battles at sea." It can still deliver its blows at the greatest distance, and Gan-fire. in the greatest variety of circumstances. The change has been in the method in which its power is applied. Now, as in former times, the aim of a skilful officer is to concentrate a superior force on a part of his opponent's formation. When the range of effective fire was a thousand or twelve hundred yards, and when guns could only be trained over a small segment of a circle because they were fired out of ports, concentration could only be effected by bringing a larger number of ships into close action with a smaller. To-day when gun-fire is effective even at seven thousand yards, and when guns fired from turrets and barbettes have a far wider sweep, concentration can be effected from a distance. The power to effect it must be sought by a judicious choice of position. It is true that greater rapidity and precision of fire produce concentration in one way. If of two forces engaged one can bring forty guns to bear on a chosen point of its opponent's formations, while that opponent can bring fifty guns to bear on a part of it, the superiority would seem to be with the larger number. But this is by no means necessarily the case. The smaller number of guns may give the greater number of blows if fired with greater speed and accuracy. Yet no commander has a right to rely on such a superiority as this till it has been demonstrated, as it had been in the case of the British fleet by the time that Trafalgar was fought. Therefore an able chief will always play for position. He will do so all the more because an advantage of position adds to any other which he may possess. He may dispense with it for a particular reason at a given moment and in reliance on other sources of strength, but he will not throw it away. When position is to be secured the first condition to be thought of is the order in which it is to be sought for. The " line ahead " was imposed on the sailing fleets by the peremptory position. need for bringing, or at least retaining the power to bring, all their broadsides into action. Experiments made during manoeuvres by modern navies, together with the experience gained in the war of r9o4-o5 in the Far East, have combined to show that no material change has taken place in this respect. It is still as necessary as ever that all the guns should be so placed as to be capable of being brought to bear, and it is still a condition imposed by the physical necessities of the case that this freedom can only be obtained when ships follow one another in a line. When in pursuit or flight, or when steaming on the look-out for a still unseen enemy, a fleet may be arranged in the " line abreast." A pursuing fleet would have to run the risk of being struck by torpedoes dropped by a retreating enemy. But it would have the advantage of being able to bring all its guns which can fire ahead to bear on the rear-ship of the enemy. When an opponent is prepared to give battle, and turns his broad-side so as to bring the maximum of his gun-fire to bear, he must be answered by a similar display of force—in other words, the line ahead must be formed to meet the line ahead. Both fleets being in this formation, how is the concentration of a superior force to be effected? If the opponents are equal in number, speed, armament, gunnery and the leadership of the chiefs, accident alone can confer an advantage on either of them. Where equal weights are tried on accurate scales one cannot force up the other, but this evenness of power is rarely met in war by land or sea. The knowledge that it existed would probably prevent an appeal to arms between nations, since no decisive result could be hoped for. It is needless to insist that superior numbers make the task of concentrating comparatively easy, unless counterbalanced by a great inferiority in speed. Speed is the quality which an admiral will wish his fleet to possess, in order that he may have the power to choose his point of attack. The swifter of two forces, otherwise equal, speed. can always get ahead of its opponent, and then by turning inwards bring the leading ship of the force it is attacking into a curve of fire. The leader of the slower fleet can avoid the danger by also turning inwards. By so doing he will keep the assailant on his beam, opposite his side. Then the two fleets will tend to swing round in two circles having a common centre, the swifter going round the outer circumference and the slower round the inner. As the difference in length of these two lines would be always great and perhaps immense, the less speedy fleet could easily avoid the risk of being headed. On the other hand the outer fleet will be in a concave formation, and therefore able to bring all its guns to bear on the same point, while the inner fleet will be in a convex line, so that it will be unable to bring the guns of both van and rear to bear on the same mark. The advantage is obvious, but it may perhaps be easily exaggerated. The swifter fleet on the larger circle can in theory concentrate all its fire on one point, but all its ships will still be under fire, and in practice it is found very difficult to make men neglect the enemy who is actually hitting them, and apply their attention entirely to another. Moreover the ships on the outer circle, having the larger line to cover, cannot allow themselves the same margin of steam-power to make good loss of speed by injury from shot. A fleet would not go at its maximum rate of common speed in action. A blow on the water-line might fill part of the ship's watertight compartments and reduce her speed. She must be able to make good the loss by putting on a greater pressure of steam, which she would not be able to do if already going at her maximum rate. In actual battle very much will depend on the respective skill of the gunnery. The swifter fleet might well find its superiority neutralised by the crippling of two or three of its leading ships. In such an action as this it will be, if not impossible, at least exceedingly difficult to give orders by signal. An admiral will therefore have to direct by example, which he cannot do except by placing his flag-ship at the head of the line. In that place he will be marked out as a target for the enemy's concentrated fire. He may indeed decide to direct the battle by signal from outside the line. Yet the difficulty he will find in seeing what is happening, as well as the difficulty the captains will find in seeing the signals, will always be so great, that in all probability the admirals of the future, will, like Nelson, be content to lay down the general principles on which the battle is to be fought, and trust the captains to apply them as circumstances arise. A large measure of independence must needs be allowed to the captains in the actual stress of battle. Ships must be placed at such a distance apart as will allow them room to manoeuvre so as to avoid collision with their own friends. The interval cannot be less than Soo yds. When the length of the vessels themselves is added, it will be seen that a line of twelve vessels will stretch six miles. Modern powder is nominally smokeless, and it certainly does not create the dense bank of smoke produced by the old explosives. Yet it does create a sufficient haze to obscure the view from the van to the rear of an extended line. The movements must be rapid, and there will be little time indeed in which to take decisions. The torpedo may not be used during the actual battle. Its part will be to complete the destruction or enforce the surrender of a beaten enemy, and to cover retreats. The submarine and submergible vessel were brought into prominence by France in the hope that by diminishing the value of battleships they would reduce the superiority of the British navy. The example of France was followed by other powers, and particularly by Great Britain; but their value as weapons of war is necessarily a matter of speculation.

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.