There may be cases in which no other kind of naval defence is practicable. The immense costliness of modern navies puts it out of the power of smaller states to maintain considerable sea-going fleets. The historic maritime countries—Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Portugal, the performances of whose seamen are so justly celebrated—could not now send to sea a force equal in number and fighting efficiency to a quarter of the force possessed by anyone of the chief naval powers. The countries named, when determined not to expose themselves unarmed to an assailant, can provide themselves only with a kind of defence which, whatever its detailed composition, must be of an intrinsically localised character.
In their case there is nothing else to be done; and in their case defence of the character specified would be likely to prove more efficacious than it could be expected to be elsewhere. War is usually made in pursuit of an object valuable enough to justify the risks inseparable from the attempt to gain it. Aggression by any of the countries that have been mentioned is too improbable to call for serious apprehension. Aggression against them is far more likely. What they have to do is to make the danger of attacking them so great that it will equal or outweigh any advantage that could be gained by conquering them. Their wealth and resources, compared with those of great aggressive states, are not large enough to make up for much loss in war on the part of the latter engaging in attempts to seize them. Therefore, what the small maritime countries have to do is to make the form of naval defence to which they are restricted efficacious enough to hurt an aggressor so much that the victory which he may feel certain of gaining will be quite barren. He will get no glory, even in these days of self-advertisement, from the conquest of such relatively weak antagonists; and the plunder will not suffice to repay him for the damage received in effecting it.
The case of a member of the great body known as the British Empire is altogether different. Its conquest would probably be enormously valuable to a conqueror; its ruin immensely damaging to the body as a whole. Either would justify an enemy in running considerable risks, and would afford him practically sufficient compensation for considerable losses incurred. We may expect that, in war, any chance of accomplishing either purpose will not be neglected. Provision must, therefore, be made against the eventuality. Let us for the moment suppose that, like one of the smaller countries whose case has been adduced, we are restricted to localised defence. An enemy not so restricted would be able to get, without being molested, as near to our territory—whether in the mother country or elsewhere—as the outer edge of the comparatively narrow belt of water that our localised defences could have any hope of controlling effectively. We should have abandoned to him the whole of the ocean except a relatively minute strip of coast-waters. That would be equivalent to saying good-bye to the maritime commerce on which our wealth wholly, and our existence largely, depends. No thoughtful British subject would find this tolerable. Everyone would demand the institution of a different defence system. A change, therefore, to the more active system would be inevitable. It would begin with the introduction of a cruising force in addition to the localised force. The unvarying lesson of naval history would be that the cruising division should gain continuously on the localised. It is only in times of peace, when men have forgotten, or cannot be made to understand, what war is, that the opposite takes place.
If it be hoped that a localised force will render coast-wise traffic safe from the enemy, a little knowledge of what has happened in war and a sufficiently close investigation of conditions will demonstrate how baseless the hope must be. Countries not yet thickly populated would be in much the same condition as the countries of western Europe a century ago, the similarity being due to the relative scarcity of good land communications. A part—probably not a very large part—of the articles required by the people dwelling on and near the coast in one section would be drawn from another similar section. These articles could be most conveniently and cheaply transported by water. If it were worth his while, an enemy disposing of an active cruising force strong enough to make its way into the neighbourhood of the coast waters concerned would interrupt the 'long-shore traffic' and defy the efforts of a localised force to prevent him. The history of the Great War at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth teems with instances of interruption by our navy of the enemy's coast-wise trade when his ocean trade had been destroyed. The history of the American War of 1812 supplies other instances.
The localised defence could not attempt to drive off hostile cruisers remaining far from the shore and meaning to infest the great lines of maritime communication running towards it. If those cruisers are to be driven off at all it can be done only by cruising ships. Unless, therefore, we are to be content to leave our ocean routes, where most crowded and therefore most vulnerable, to the mercy of an enemy, we must have cruisers to meet the hostile cruisers. If we still adhere to our localised defence, we shall have two distinct kinds of force—-one provided merely for local, and consequently restricted, action; the other able to act near the shore or far out at sea as circumstances may demand. If we go to the expense of providing both kinds, we shall have followed the example of the sage who cut a large hole in his study door for the cat and a small one for the kitten.
Is local naval defence, then, of any use? Well, to tell the truth, not much; and only in rare and exceptional circumstances. Even in the case of the smaller maritime countries, to which reference has been made above, defence of the character in question would avail little if a powerful assailant were resolved to press home his attack. That is to say, if only absolute belligerent considerations were regarded. In war, however, qualifying considerations can never be left out of sight. As the great Napoleon observed, you can no more make war without incurring losses than you can make omelettes without breaking eggs. The strategist—and the tactician also, within his province—will always count the cost of a proposed operation, even where they are nearly certain of success. The occupation of a country, which would be of no great practical value to you when you got it, would be a poor return for the loss to which you would have been put in the process. That loss might, and probably would, leave you at a great disadvantage as regards enemies more nearly on an equality with yourself. It would, therefore, not be the improbability of breaking down the local naval defence of a minor maritime state, but the pressure of qualifying and only indirectly belligerent considerations, that would prevent its being attempted.
In a struggle between two antagonists of the first rank, the circumstances would be different. Purely belligerent considerations would have fuller play. Mistakes will be made, of course, for war is full of mistakes; but it may be accepted that an attack on any position, however defended, is in itself proof that the assailant believed the result hoped for to be quite worth the cost of obtaining it. Consequently, in a struggle as assumed, every mode of defence would have to stand on its intrinsic merits, nearly or quite unaided by the influence of considerations more or less foreign to it. Every scrap of local defence would, in proportion to its amount, be a diminution of the offensive defence. Advocates of the former may be challenged to produce from naval history any instance of local naval defence succeeding against the assaults of an actively aggressive navy. In the late war between Japan and Russia the Russian local defence failed completely.
In the last case, a class of vessel like that which had failed in local defence was used successfully, because offensively, by the Japanese. This and many another instance show that the right way to use the kind of craft so often allocated to local defence is to use them offensively. It is only thus that their adoption by a great maritime power like the British Empire can be justified. The origin and centre of our naval strength are to be looked for in the United Kingdom. The shores of the latter are near the shores of other great maritime powers. Its ports, especially those at which its fleets are equipped and would be likely to assemble on the imminence of war, are within reach of more than one foreign place from which small swift craft to be used offensively might be expected to issue. The method of frustrating the efforts of these craft giving most promise of success is to attack them as soon as possible after they issue from their own port. To the acceptance of this principle we owe the origin of the destroyer, devised to destroy hostile torpedo-boats before they could reach a position from which they would be able to discharge with effect their special weapon against our assembled ships. It is true that the destroyer has been gradually converted into a larger torpedo-boat. It is also true that when used as such in local defence, as at Port Arthur, her failure was complete; and just as true that she has never accomplished anything except when used offensively.
When, therefore, a naval country's coast is so near the ports of another naval country that the latter would be able with swift small craft to attack the former's shipping, the provision of craft of a similar kind is likely to prove advantageous. War between great powers is a two-sided game, and what one side can do the other will at least be likely to attempt. Nothing supports the view that it is well—either above or beneath the surface of the water—to stand on the defensive and await attack. Everything points to the superiority of the plan of beating up the enemy's quarters and attacking him before he can get far from them on his way towards his objective. Consequently the only justification of expending money on the localised vessels of which we have been speaking, is the probability that an enemy would have some of his bases within reach of those vessels' efforts. Where this condition does not exist, the money expended is, from the belligerent point of view, thrown away. Here comes in the greatest foe of belligerent efficiency, viz. political expediency. In time of peace it is thought better to conciliate voters than to prepare to meet an enemy. If local defence is thought to be pleasing to an inexpert electorate, it is only too likely to be provided, no matter how ineffectual and how costly in reality it will turn out to be.
Not only is the British Empire the first of naval powers, it is also the first of colonial powers. One attribute is closely connected with the other; neither, without the other, would be applicable. The magnitude of our colonial domain, and especially the imposing aspects of some of its greater components—the Dominion, the Commonwealth, South Africa, New Zealand—are apt to blind us to a feature of great strategical importance, and that is the abundance and excellence of the naval bases that stud our ocean lines of communication. In thinking of the great daughter states we are liable to forget these; yet our possession of them helps greatly to strengthen our naval position, because it facilitates our assuming a far-reaching offensive. By themselves, if not too numerous, they can afford valuable support to the naval operations that are likely to prove most beneficial to us. The fact that they are ours, and not an opponent's, also constitutes for us an advantage of importance. Of course, they have to be defended, or else they may fall into an opponent's hands. Have we here a case in which highly localised or even passive defences are desirable? No doubt we did act for a time as though we believed that the question could only be answered in the affirmative; but that was when we were under the influence of the feelings engendered by observation of the long series of land wars previously discussed.
Perhaps we have not yet quite shaken off the effects of that influence; but we have at least got so far as to tolerate the statement of the other side of the question. It would be a great mistake to suppose that the places alluded to are meant to be ports of refuge for our ships. Though they were to serve that purpose occasionally in the case of isolated merchant vessels, it would be but an accident, and not the essence, of their existence. What they are meant for is to be utilised as positions where our men-of-war can make reasonably sure of finding supplies and the means of refit. This assurance will largely depend upon their power of resistance if attacked. Before we can decide how to impart that power to them we shall have to see the kind of attack against which they would have to be prepared. If they are on a continent, like, for example, Gibraltar, attack on them by a land force, however improbable, is physically possible. Against an attack of the kind a naval force could give little direct help. Most of our outlying naval bases are really or virtually insular, and are open to attack only by an expedition coming across the sea. An essential characteristic of a naval base is that it should be able to furnish supplies as wanted to the men-of-war needing to replenish their stocks. Some, and very often all, of these supplies are not of native production and must be brought to the base by sea. If the enemy can stop their conveyance to it, the place is useless as a base and the enemy is really in control of its communications. If he is in control of its communications he can send against it as great an expedition as he likes, and the place will be captured or completely neutralised. Similarly, if we control the communications, not only can supplies be conveyed to it, but also no hostile expedition will be allowed to reach it. Thus the primary defence of the outlying base is the active, sea-going fleet. Moderate local defence, chiefly of the human kind, in the shape of a garrison, will certainly be needed. Though the enemy has not been able to obtain control of the communications of the place, fitful raids on it will be possible; and the place should be fortified enough and garrisoned enough to hold out against the inconsiderable assaults comprised in these till our own ships can drive the enemy's away.
Outlying naval bases, though but moderately fortified, that contain depots of stores, docks, and other conveniences, have the vice of all immobile establishments. When war does come, some of them almost certainly, and all of them possibly, may not be in the right place with regard to the critical area of operations. They cannot, however, be moved. It will be necessary to do what has been done over and over again in war, in the latest as well as in earlier wars, and that is, establish temporary bases in more convenient situations. Thus much, perhaps all, of the cost and trouble of establishing and maintaining the permanent bases will have been wasted. This inculcates the necessity of having not as many bases as can be found, but as few as it is possible to get on with.
The control of ocean communications, or the command of the sea, being the end of naval warfare, and its acquisition being practicable only by the assumption of a vigorous offensive, it follows as a matter of course that we must have a strong and in all respects efficient mobile navy. This is the fundamental condition on which the continued existence of the British Empire depends. It is thoroughly well known to every foreign Government, friendly or unfriendly. The true objective in naval warfare is the enemy's navy. That must be destroyed or decisively defeated, or intimidated into remaining in its ports. Not one of these can be effected without a mobile, that is a sea-going, fleet. The British Empire may fall to pieces from causes as yet unknown or unsuspected: it cannot be kept together if it loses the power of gaining command of the sea. This is not a result of deliberate policy: it is inherent in the nature of the empire, scattered as its parts are throughout the world, with only the highway of the sea between them.
Such is the position of the fleet in the defence of the empire: such are its duties towards it. Duties in the case are mutual, and some are owed to the fleet as well as by it. It is incumbent on every section of the empire, without neglecting its land forces, to lend zealous help in keeping the fleet efficient. It is not to be supposed that this can be done only by making pecuniary contributions to its maintenance. It is, indeed, very doubtful if any real good can be done by urging colonies to make them. It seems certain that the objections to this are greater than any benefit that it can confer. Badgering our fellow-subjects beyond sea for money payments towards the cost of the navy is undignified and impolitic. The greatest sum asked for by the most exacting postulant would not equal a twentieth part of the imperial naval expenditure, and would not save the taxpayer of the mother country a farthing in the pound of his income. No one has yet been able to establish the equity of a demand that would take something from the inhabitants of one colony and nothing from those of another. Adequate voluntary contribution is a different matter.
There are other ways in which every trans-marine possession of the Crown can lend a hand towards perfecting the efficiency of the fleet—ways, too, which would leave each in complete and unmenaced control of its own money. Sea-power does not consist entirely of men-of-war. There must be docks, refitting establishments, magazines, and depots of stores. Ports, which men-of-war must visit at least occasionally in war for repair or replenishment of supplies, will have to be made secure against the assaults which it has been said that a hastily raiding enemy, notwithstanding our general control of the communications, might find a chance of making. Moderate fixed fortifications are all the passive defence that would be needed; but good and active troops must be available. If all these are not provided by the part of the empire in which the necessary naval bases lie, they will have to be provided by the mother country. If the former provides them the latter will be spared the expense of doing so, and spared expense with no loss of dignity, and with far less risk of friction and inconvenience than if her taxpayers' pockets had been nominally spared to the extent of a trifling and reluctantly paid money contribution.
It has been pointed out on an earlier page that a country can be, and most probably will be, more effectually defended in a maritime war if its fleet operates at a distance from, rather than near, its shores. Every subject of our King should long to see this condition exist if ever the empire is involved in hostilities. It may be—for who can tell what war will bring?—that the people of some great trans-marine dependency will have to choose between allowing a campaign to be conducted in their country or forcing the enemy to tolerate it in his. If they choose the latter they must be prepared to furnish part at least of the mobile force that can give effect to their choice. That is to say, they must be prepared to back up our sea-power in its efforts to keep off the tide of war from the neighbourhood of their homes. History shows how rarely, during the struggle between European nations for predominance in North America, the more settled parts of our former American Colonies were the theatre of war: but then the colonists of those days, few comparatively as they were, sent strong contingents to the armies that went campaigning, in the territory of the various enemies. This was in every way better—the sequel proved how much better—than a money contribution begged or extorted would have been.
Helping in the manner first suggested need not result in dissociating our fellow-subjects beyond the seas from participation in the work of the active sea-going fleet. It is now, and still would be, open to them as much as to any native or denizen of the mother country. The time has fully come when the people of the greater outlying parts of the empire should insist upon perfect equality of treatment with their home fellow-subjects in this matter. They should resent, as a now quite out-of-date and invidious distinction, any difference in qualification for entry, locality of service, or remuneration for any rank or rating. Self-respect and a dignified confidence in their own qualities, the excellence of which has been thoroughly tested, will prompt the King's colonial subjects to ask for nothing but equal chances in a force on which is laid so large a part of the duty of defending the empire. Why should they cut themselves off from the promising career that service in the Royal Navy opens to the capable, the zealous, and the honourable aspirant of every grade? Some of the highest posts in the navy are now, or lately have been, held by men who not only happened to be born in British Colonies, but who also belong to resident colonial families. Surely in this there is a strong moral cement for binding and keeping the empire together. It is unnecessary to expatiate on the contrast between the prospect of such a career and that which is all that a small local service could offer. It would soon be seen towards which the enterprising and the energetic would instinctively gravitate.
In the defence of the British Empire the fleet holds a twofold position. To its general belligerent efficiency, its strength and activity, we must look if the plans of an enemy are to be brought to nought. It, and it only, can secure for us the control of the ocean communications, on the freedom of which from serious interruptions the prosperity—indeed, the existence—of a scattered body must depend. In time of peace it can be made a great consolidating force, fostering every sentiment of worthy local patriotism whilst obliterating all inclination to mischievous narrow particularism, and tending to perfect the unity which gives virtue to national grandeur and is the true secret of national independence and strength.
NAVAL STRATEGY AND TACTICS AT THE TIME OF TRAFALGAR
[Footnote 91: Written in 1905. (Read at Institute of Naval Architects.)]
The subject on which I have been invited to read a paper, and which is taken as the title of the latter, would require for anything like full discussion a much longer time than you can be expected to allot to it. To discuss it adequately, a volume of no diminutive size would be necessary. It may, however, be possible to indicate with the brevity appropriate to the occasion the main outlines of the subject, and to suggest for your consideration certain points which, over and above their historical interest, may furnish us with valuable guidance at the present day.
In taking account of the conditions of the Trafalgar epoch we have to note two distinct but, of course, closely related matters. These are the strategic plan of the enemy and the strategic plan adopted to meet it by the British. The former of these was described in the House of Commons by William Pitt at the beginning of the war in words which may be used without change at the present time. On 16th May 1803 the war, which had been interrupted by the unstable Peace of Amiens, was definitely resumed. The struggle was now to be a war not so much between the United Kingdom and the French nation as between the United Kingdom and the great Napoleon, wielding more than the resources of France alone. Speaking a week after the declaration of war, Pitt said that any expectation of success which the enemy might have must be based on the supposition that he could break the spirit or weaken the determination of the country by harassing us with the perpetual apprehension of descents on our coasts; or else that our resources could be impaired and our credit undermined by the effects of an expensive and protracted war. More briefly stated, the hostile plan was to invade the United Kingdom, ruin our maritime trade, and expel us from our over-sea possessions, especially in the East, from which it was supposed our wealth was chiefly derived. The plan was comprehensive, but not easily concealed. What we had to do was to prevent the invasion of the United Kingdom and defend our trade and our outlying territories. As not one of the hostile objects could be attained except by making a maritime expedition of some kind, that is to say, by an expedition which had to cross more or less extensive areas of water, it necessarily followed that our most effective method of defence was the keeping open of our sea communications. It became necessary for us to make such arrangements that the maritime paths by which a hostile expedition could approach our home-coasts, or hostile cruisers molest our sea-borne trade, or hostile squadrons move to the attack of our trans-marine dependencies—that all these paths should be so defended by our navy that either the enemy would not venture to traverse them or, if he did, that he could be driven off.
Short as it is, the time at my disposal permits me to give a few details. It was fully recognised that defence of the United Kingdom against invasion could not be secured by naval means alone. As in the times of Queen Elizabeth, so in those of George III, no seaman of reputation contended that a sufficient land force could be dispensed with. Our ablest seamen always held that small hostile expeditions could be prepared in secret and might be able to slip through the most complete lines of naval defence that we could hope to maintain. It was not discovered or alleged till the twentieth century that the crew of a dinghy could not land in this country in the face of the navy. Therefore an essential feature of our defensive strategy was the provision of land forces in such numbers that an invader would have no chance of succeeding except he came in strength so great that his preparations could not be concealed and his expedition could not cross the water unseen.
As our mercantile marine was to be found in nearly every sea, though in greater accumulation in some areas than in others, its defence against the assaults of an enemy could only be ensured by the virtual ubiquity of our cruising force. This, of course, involved the necessity of employing a large number of cruisers, and of arranging the distribution of them in accordance with the relative amount and value of the traffic to be protected from molestation in different parts of the ocean. It may be mentioned here that the term 'cruiser,' at the time with which we are dealing, was not limited to frigates and smaller classes of vessels. It included also ships of the line, it being the old belief of the British Navy, justified by the experience of many campaigns and consecrated by the approval of our greatest admirals, that the value of a ship of war was directly proportionate to her capacity for cruising and keeping the sea.
If the ocean paths used by our merchant ships—the trade routes or sea communications of the United Kingdom with friendly or neutral markets and areas of production—could be kept open by our navy, that is, made so secure that our trade could traverse them with so little risk of molestation that it could continue to be carried on, it resulted as a matter of course that no sustained attack could be made on our outlying territory. Where this was possible it was where we had failed to keep open the route or line of communications, in which case the particular trade following it was, at least temporarily, destroyed, and the territory to which the route led was either cut off or seized. Naturally, when this was perceived, efforts were made to re-open and keep open the endangered or interrupted communication line.
Napoleon, notwithstanding his supereminent genius, made some extraordinary mistakes about warfare on the sea. The explanation of this has been given by a highly distinguished French admiral. The Great Emperor, he says, was wanting in exact appreciation of the difficulties of naval operations. He never understood that the naval officer—alone of all men in the world—must be master of two distinct professions. The naval officer must be as completely a seaman as an officer in any mercantile marine; and, in addition to this, he must be as accomplished in the use of the material of war entrusted to his charge as the members of any aimed force in the world. The Emperor's plan for the invasion of the United Kingdom was conceived on a grand scale. A great army, eventually 130,000 strong, was collected on the coast of north-eastern France, with its headquarters at Boulogne. The numerical strength of this army is worth attention. By far the larger part of it was to have made the first descent on our territory; the remainder was to be a reserve to follow as quickly as possible. It has been doubted if Napoleon really meant to invade this country, the suggestion being that his collection of an army on the shores of the Straits of Dover and the English Channel was merely a 'blind' to cover another intended movement. The overwhelming weight of authoritative opinion is in favour of the view that the project of invasion was real. It is highly significant that he considered so large a number of troops necessary. It could not have been governed by any estimate of the naval obstruction to be encountered during the sea passage of the expedition, but only by the amount of the land force likely to be met if the disembarkation on our shores could be effected. The numerical strength in troops which Napoleon thought necessary compelled him to make preparations on so great a scale that concealment became quite impossible. Consequently an important part of his plan was disclosed to us betimes, and the threatened locality indicated to us within comparatively narrow limits of precision.
Notwithstanding his failure to appreciate all the difficulties of naval warfare, the Great Emperor had grasped one of its leading principles. Before the Peace of Amiens, indeed before his campaign in Egypt, and even his imposing triumphs in Italy, he had seen that the invasion of the United Kingdom was impracticable without first obtaining the command of the sea. His strategic plan, therefore, included arrangements to secure this. The details of the plan were changed from time to time as conditions altered; but the main object was adhered to until the final abandonment of the whole scheme under pressure of circumstances as embodied in Nelson and his victorious brothers-in-arms. The gunboats, transport boats, and other small craft, which to the number of many hundreds filled the ports of north-eastern France and the Netherlands, were not the only naval components of the expedition. Fleets of line-of-battle ships were essential parts of it, and on their effective action the success of the scheme was largely made to depend. This feature remained unaltered in principle when, less than twelve months before Trafalgar, Spain took part in the war as Napoleon's ally, and brought him a great reinforcement of ships and important assistance in money.
We should not fail to notice that, before he considered himself strong enough to undertake the invasion of the United Kingdom, Napoleon found it necessary to have at his disposal the resources of other countries besides France, notwithstanding that by herself France had a population more than 60 per cent. greater than that of England. By the alliance with Spain he had added largely to the resources on which he could draw. Moreover, his strategic position was geographically much improved. With the exception of that of Portugal, the coast of western continental Europe, from the Texel to Leghorn, and somewhat later to Taranto also, was united in hostility to us. This complicated the strategic problem which the British Navy had to solve, as it increased the number of points to be watched; and it facilitated the junction of Napoleon's Mediterranean naval forces with those assembled in his Atlantic ports by supplying him with allied ports of refuge and refit on Spanish territory—such as Cartagena or Cadiz—between Toulon and the Bay of Biscay. Napoleon, therefore, enforced upon us by the most convincing of all arguments the necessity of maintaining the British Navy at the 'two-power standard' at least. The lesson had been taught us long before by Philip II, who did not venture on an attempt at invading this country till he was master of the resources of the whole Iberian peninsula as well as of those of the Spanish dominions in Italy, in the Burgundian heritage, and in the distant regions across the Atlantic Ocean.
At several points on the long stretch of coast of which he was now the master, Napoleon equipped fleets that were to unite and win for him the command of the sea during a period long enough to permit the unobstructed passage of his invading army across the water which separated the starting points of his expedition from the United Kingdom. Command of the sea to be won by a powerful naval combination was thus an essential element in Napoleon's strategy at the time of Trafalgar. It was not in deciding what was essential that this soldier of stupendous ability erred: it was in choosing the method of gaining the essential that he went wrong. The British strategy adopted in opposition to that of Napoleon was based on the acquisition and preservation of the command of the sea. Formulated and carried into effect by seamen, it differed in some important features from his. We may leave out of sight for the moment the special arrangements made in the English Channel to oppose the movements of Napoleon's flotillas of gunboats, transport boats, and other small craft. The British strategy at the time of Trafalgar, as far as it was concerned with opposition to Napoleon's sea-going fleets, may be succinctly described as stationing off each of the ports in which the enemy's forces were lying a fleet or squadron of suitable strength. Though some of our admirals, notably Nelson himself, objected to the application of the term 'blockade' to their plans, the hostile ships were to this extent blockaded, that if they should come out they would find outside their port a British force sufficient to drive them in again, or even to defeat them thoroughly and destroy them. Beating them and thus having done with them, and not simply shutting them up in harbour, was what was desired by our admirals. This necessitated a close watch on the hostile ports; and how consistently that was maintained let the history of Cornwallis's command off Brest and of Nelson's off Toulon suffice to tell us.
The junction of two or more of Napoleon's fleets would have ensured over almost any single British fleet a numerical superiority that would have rendered the defeat or retirement of the latter almost certain. To meet this condition the British strategy contemplated the falling back, if necessary, of one of our detachments on another, which might be carried further and junction with a third detachment be effected. By this step we should preserve, if not a numerical superiority over the enemy, at least so near an equality of force as to render his defeat probable and his serious maltreatment, even if undefeated, a certainty. The strategic problem before our navy was, however, not quite so easy as this might make it seem. The enemy's concentration might be attempted either towards Brest or towards Toulon. In the latter case, a superior force might fall upon our Mediterranean fleet before our watching ships in the Atlantic could discover the escape of the enemy's ships from the Atlantic port or could follow and come up with them. Against the probability of this was to be set the reluctance of Napoleon to carry out an eccentric operation which a concentration off Toulon would necessitate, when the essence of his scheme was to concentrate in a position from which he could obtain naval control of the English Channel.
After the addition of the Spanish Navy to his own, Napoleon to some extent modified his strategic arrangements. The essential feature of the scheme remained unaltered. It was to effect the junction of the different parts of his naval force and thereupon to dominate the situation, by evading the several British fleets or detachments which were watching his. Before Spain joined him in the war his intention was that his escaping fleets should go out into the Atlantic, behind the backs, as it were, of the British ships, and then make for the English Channel. When he had the aid of Spain the point of junction was to be in the West Indies.
The remarkable thing about this was the evident belief that the command of the sea might be won without fighting for it; won, too, from the British Navy which was ready, and indeed wished, to fight. We now see that Napoleon's naval strategy at the time of Trafalgar, whilst it aimed at gaining command of the sea, was based on what has been called evasion. The fundamental principle of the British naval strategy of that time was quite different. So far from thinking that the contest could be settled without one or more battles, the British admirals, though nominally blockading his ports, gave the enemy every facility for coming out in order that they might be able to bring him to action. Napoleon, on the contrary, declared that a battle would be useless, and distinctly ordered his officers not to fight one. Could it be that, when pitted against admirals whose accurate conception of the conditions of naval warfare had been over and over again tested during the hostilities ended by the Peace of Amiens, Napoleon still trusted to the efficacy of methods which had proved so successful when he was outmanoeuvring and intimidating the generals who opposed him in North Italy? We can only explain his attitude in the campaign of Trafalgar by attributing to him an expectation that the British seamen of his day, tried as they had been in the fire of many years of war, would succumb to his methods as readily as the military formalists of central Europe.
Napoleon had at his disposal between seventy and eighty French, Dutch, and Spanish ships of the line, of which some sixty-seven were available at the beginning of the Trafalgar campaign. In January 1805, besides other ships of the class in distant waters or specially employed, we—on our side—had eighty ships of the line in commission. A knowledge of this will enable us to form some idea of the chances of success that would have attended Napoleon's concentration if it had been effected. To protect the passage of his invading expedition across the English Channel he did not depend only on concentrating his more distant fleets. In the Texel there were, besides smaller vessels, nine sail of the line. Thus the Emperor did what we may be sure any future intending invader will not fail to do, viz. he provided his expedition with a respectable naval escort. The British naval officers of the day, who knew what war was, made arrangements to deal with this escort. Lord Keith, who commanded in the Downs, had under him six sail of the line in addition to many frigates and sloops; and there were five more line-of-battle ships ready at Spithead if required.
There had been a demand in the country that the defence of our shores against an invading expedition should be entrusted to gunboats, and what may be called coastal small craft and boats. This was resisted by the naval officers. Nelson had already said, 'Our first defence is close to the enemy's ports,' thus agreeing with a long line of eminent British seamen in their view of our strategy. Lord St. Vincent said that 'Our great reliance is on the vigilance and activity of our cruisers at sea, any reduction in the number of which by applying them to guard our ports, inlets, and beaches would, in my judgment, tend to our destruction.' These are memorable words, which we should do well to ponder in these days. The Government of the day insisted on having the coastal boats; but St. Vincent succeeded in postponing the preparation of them till the cruising ships had been manned. His plan of defence has been described by his biographer as 'a triple line of barricade; 50-gun ships, frigates, sloops of war, and gun-vessels upon the coast of the enemy; in the Downs opposite France another squadron, but of powerful ships of the line, continually disposable, to support the former or attack any force of the enemy which, it might be imagined possible, might slip through the squadron hanging over the coast; and a force on the beach on all the shores of the English ports, to render assurance doubly sure.' This last item was the one that St. Vincent had been compelled to adopt, and he was careful that it should be in addition to those measures of defence in the efficacy of which he and his brother seamen believed. Concerning it his biographer makes the following remark: 'It is to be noted that Lord St. Vincent did not contemplate repelling an invasion of gunboats by gunboats,' &c. He objected to the force of sea-fencibles, or long-shore organisation, because he considered it more useful to have the sea-going ships manned. Speaking of this coastal defence scheme, he said: 'It would be a good bone for the officers to pick, but a very dear one for the country.'
The defence of our ocean trade entered largely into the strategy of the time. An important part was played by our fleets and groups of line-of-battle ships which gave usually indirect, but sometimes direct, protection to our own merchant vessels, and also to neutral vessels carrying commodities to or from British ports. The strategy of the time, the correctness of which was confirmed by long belligerent experience, rejected the employment of a restricted number of powerful cruisers, and relied upon the practical ubiquity of the defending ships, which ubiquity was rendered possible by the employment of very numerous craft of moderate size. This can be seen in the lists of successive years. In January 1803 the number of cruising frigates in commission was 107, and of sloops and smaller vessels 139, the total being 246. In 1804 the numbers were: Frigates, 108; sloops, &c., 181; with a total of 289. In 1805 the figures had grown to 129 frigates, 416 sloops, &c., the total being 545. Most of these were employed in defending commerce. We all know how completely Napoleon's project of invading the United Kingdom was frustrated. It is less well known that the measures for defending our sea-borne trade, indicated by the figures just given, were triumphantly successful. Our mercantile marine increased during the war, a sure proof that it had been effectually defended. Consequently we may accept it as established beyond the possibility of refutation that that branch of our naval strategy at the time of Trafalgar which was concerned with the defence of our trade was rightly conceived and properly carried into effect.
As has been stated already, the defence of our sea-borne trade, being in practice the keeping open of our ocean lines of communication, carried with it the protection, in part at any rate, of our transmarine territories. Napoleon held pertinaciously to the belief that British prosperity was chiefly due to our position in India. We owe it to Captain Mahan that we now know that the eminent American Fulton—a name of interest to the members of this Institution—told Pitt of the belief held abroad that 'the fountains of British wealth are in India and China.' In the great scheme of naval concentration which the Emperor devised, seizure of British Colonies in the West Indies had a definite place. We kept in that quarter, and varied as necessary, a force capable of dealing with a naval raid as well as guarding the neighbouring lines of communication. In 1803 we had four ships of the line in the West Indian area. In 1804 we had six of the same class; and in 1805, while the line-of-battle ships were reduced to four, the number of frigates was increased from nine to twenty-five. Whether our Government divined Napoleon's designs on India or not, it took measures to protect our interests there. In January 1804 we had on the Cape of Good Hope and the East Indies stations, both together, six sail of the line, three smaller two-deckers, six frigates, and six sloops, or twenty-one ships of war in all. This would have been sufficient to repel a raiding attack made in some strength. By the beginning of 1805 our East Indies force had been increased; and in the year 1805 itself we raised it to a strength of forty-one ships in all, of which nine were of the line and seventeen were frigates. Had, therefore, any of the hostile ships managed to get to the East Indies from the Atlantic or the Mediterranean ports, in which they were being watched by our navy, their chances of succeeding in their object would have been small indeed.
When we enter the domain of tactics strictly so-called, that is to say, when we discuss the proceedings of naval forces—whether single ships, squadrons, or fleets—in hostile contact with one another, we find the time of Trafalgar full of instructive episodes. Even with the most recent experience of naval warfare vividly present to our minds, we can still regard Nelson as the greatest of tacticians. Naval tactics may be roughly divided into two great classes or sections, viz. the tactics of groups of ships, that is to say, fleet actions; and the tactics of what the historian James calls 'single ship actions,' that is to say, fights between two individual ships. In the former the achievements of Nelson stand out with incomparable brilliancy. It would be impossible to describe his method fully in such a paper as this. We may, however, say that Nelson was an innovator, and that his tactical principles and methods have been generally misunderstood down to this very day. If ever there was an admiral who was opposed to an unthinking, headlong rush at an enemy, it was he. Yet this is the character that he still bears in the conception of many. He was, in truth, an industrious and patient student of tactics, having studied them, in what in these days we should call a scientific spirit, at an early period, when there was but little reason to expect that he would ever be in a position to put to a practical test the knowledge that he had acquired and the ideas that he had formed. He saw that the old battle formation in single line-ahead was insufficient if you wanted—as he himself always did—to gain an overwhelming victory. He also saw that, though an improvement on the old formation, Lord Howe's method of the single line-abreast was still a good deal short of tactical perfection. Therefore, he devised what he called, with pardonable elation, the 'Nelson touch,' the attack in successive lines so directed as to overwhelm one part of the enemy's fleet, whilst the other part was prevented from coming to the assistance of the first, and was in its turn overwhelmed or broken up. His object was to bring a larger number of his own ships against a smaller number of the enemy's. He would by this method destroy the part attacked, suffering in the process so little damage himself that with his whole force he would be able to deal effectively with the hostile remnant if it ventured to try conclusions with him. It is of the utmost importance that we should thoroughly understand Nelson's fundamental tactical principle, viz. the bringing of a larger number of ships to fight against a smaller number of the enemy's. There is not, I believe, in the whole of the records of Nelson's opinions and actions a single expression tending to show that tactical efficiency was considered by him to be due to superiority in size of individual ships of the same class or—as far as materiel was concerned—to anything but superior numbers, of course at the critical point. He did not require, and did not have, more ships in his own fleet than the whole of those in the fleet of the enemy. What he wanted was to bring to the point of impact, when the fight began, a larger number of ships than were to be found in that part of the enemy's line.
I believe that I am right in saying that, from the date of Salamis downwards, history records no decisive naval victory in which the victorious fleet has not succeeded in concentrating against a relatively weak point in its enemy's formation a greater number of its own ships. I know of nothing to show that this has not been the rule throughout the ages of which detailed history furnishes us with any memorial—no matter what the class of ship, what the type of weapon, what the mode of propulsion. The rule certainly prevailed in the battle of the 10th August 1904 off Port Arthur, though it was not so overwhelmingly decisive as some others. We may not even yet know enough of the sea fight in the Straits of Tsushima to be able to describe it in detail; but we do know that at least some of the Russian ships were defeated or destroyed by a combination of Japanese ships against them.
Looking back at the tactics of the Trafalgar epoch, we may see that the history of them confirms the experience of earlier wars, viz. that victory does not necessarily fall to the side which has the biggest ships. It is a well-known fact of naval history that generally the French ships were larger and the Spanish much larger than the British ships of corresponding classes. This superiority in size certainly did not carry with it victory in action. On the other hand, British ships were generally bigger than the Dutch ships with which they fought; and it is of great significance that at Camperdown the victory was due, not to superiority in the size of individual ships, but, as shown by the different lists of killed and wounded, to the act of bringing a larger number against a smaller. All that we have been able to learn of the occurrences in the battle of the japan Sea supports instead of being opposed to this conclusion; and it may be said that there is nothing tending to upset it in the previous history of the present war in the Far East.
I do not know how far I am justified in expatiating on this point; but, as it may help to bring the strategy and tactics of the Trafalgar epoch into practical relation with the stately science of which in our day this Institution is, as it were, the mother-shrine and metropolitical temple, I may be allowed to dwell upon it a little longer. The object aimed at by those who favour great size of individual ships is not, of course, magnitude alone. It is to turn out a ship which shall be more powerful than an individual antagonist. All recent development of man-of-war construction has taken the form of producing, or at any rate trying to produce, a more powerful ship than those of earlier date, or belonging to a rival navy. I know the issues that such statements are likely to raise; and I ask you, as naval architects, to bear with me patiently when I say what I am going to say. It is this: If you devise for the ship so produced the tactical system for which she is specially adapted you must, in order to be logical, base your system on her power of defeating her particular antagonist. Consequently, you must abandon the principle of concentration of superior numbers against your enemy; and, what is more, must be prepared to maintain that such concentration on his part against yourself would be ineffectual. This will compel a reversion to tactical methods which made a fleet action a series of duels between pairs of combatants, and—a thing to be pondered on seriously—never enabled anyone to win a decisive victory on the sea. The position will not be made more logical if you demand both superior size and also superior numbers, because if you adopt the tactical system appropriate to one of the things demanded, you will rule out the other. You cannot employ at the same time two different and opposed tactical systems.
It is not necessary to the line of argument above indicated to ignore the merits of the battleship class. Like their predecessors, the ships of the line, it is really battleships which in a naval war dominate the situation. We saw that it was so at the time of Trafalgar, and we see that it has been so in the war between Russia and Japan, at all events throughout the 1904 campaign. The experience of naval war, down to the close of that in which Trafalgar was the most impressive event, led to the virtual abandonment of ships of the line above and below a certain class. The 64-gun ships and smaller two-deckers had greatly diminished in number, and repetitions of them grew more and more rare. It was the same with the three-deckers, which, as the late Admiral Colomb pointed out, continued to be built, though in reduced numbers, not so much for their tactical efficiency as for the convenient manner in which they met the demands for the accommodation required in flag-ships. The tactical condition which the naval architects of the Trafalgar period had to meet was the employment of an increased number of two-deckers of the medium classes.
[Footnote 92: Experience of war, as regards increase in the number of medium-sized men-of-war of the different classes, tended to the same result in both the French Revolutionary war (1793 to 1801) and the Napoleonic war which began in 1803. Taking both contests down to the end of the Trafalgar year, the following table will show how great was the development of the line-of-battle-ship class below the three-decker and above the 64-gun ship. It will also show that there was no development of, but a relative decline in, the three-deckers and the 64's, the small additions, where there were any, being generally due to captures from the enemy. The two-deckers not 'fit to lie in a line' were at the end of the Trafalgar year about half what they were when the first period of the 'Great War' began. When we come to the frigate classes we find the same result. In the earlier war 11 frigates of 44 and 40 guns were introduced into our navy. It is worth notice that this number was not increased, and by the end of the Trafalgar year had, on the contrary, declined to 10. The smallest frigates, of 28 guns, were 27 in 1793, and 13 at the end of the Trafalgar year. On the other hand, the increase in the medium frigate classes (38, 36, and 32 guns) was very large. From 1793 to the end of the Trafalgar year the 38-gun frigates increased from 8 to 50, and the 36-gun frigates from 16 to 54.
- Napoleonic War to French the end of the Revolutionary War Trafalgar year Classes of Ships - - Commence- Commence- Commence- Commence- ment of ment of ment of ment of 1793 1801 1803 1806 - 3-deckers 31 32 29 29 2-deckers of 74 76 111 105 123 guns, and above 64 and 60 gun ships 46 47 38 38 2-deckers not 'fit 43 31 21 22 to lie in a line' Frigates 44 guns 0 6 6 6 " 40 " 0 5 5 4 " 38 " 8 32 32 50 " 36 " 16 49 49 54 " 32 " 48 41 38 56 " 28 " 27 11 11 13 -
The liking for three-deckers, professed by some officers of Nelson's time, seems to have been due to a belief, not in the merit of their size as such, but in the value of the increased number of medium guns carried on a 'middle' deck. There is, I believe, nothing to show that the two-deckers Gibraltar (2185 tons) and Coesar (2003) were considered more formidable than the three-deckers Balfleur (1947), Glory (1944), or Queen (1876). All these ships were in the same fleet, and fought in the same battle.]
A fleet of ships of the line as long as it could keep the sea, that is, until it had to retreat into port before a stronger fleet, controlled a certain area of water. Within that area smaller men-of-war as well as friendly merchant ships were secure from attack. As the fleet moved about, so the area moved with it. Skilful disposition and manoeuvring added largely to the extent of sea within which the maritime interests that the fleet was meant to protect would be safe. It seems reasonable to expect that it will be the same with modern fleets of suitable battleships.
The tactics of 'single ship actions' at the time of Trafalgar were based upon pure seamanship backed up by good gunnery. The better a captain handled his ship the more likely he was to beat his antagonist. Superior speed, where it existed, was used to 'gain the weather gage,' not in order to get a suitable range for the faster ship's guns, but to compel her enemy to fight. Superior speed was also used to run away, capacity to do which was not then, and ought not to be now, reckoned a merit in a ship expressly constructed for fighting, not fleeing. It is sometimes claimed in these days that superior speed will enable a modern ship to keep at a distance from her opponent which will be the best range for her own guns. It has not been explained why a range which best suits her guns should not be equally favourable for the guns of her opponent; unless, indeed, the latter is assumed to be weakly armed, in which case the distance at which the faster ship might engage her would be a matter of comparative indifference. There is nothing in the tactics of the time of Trafalgar to make it appear that—when a fight had once begun—superior speed, of course within moderate limits, conferred any considerable tactical advantage in 'single ship actions,' and still less in general or fleet actions. Taking up a position ahead or astern of a hostile ship so as to be able to rake her was not facilitated by originally superior speed so much as by the more damaged state of the ship to be raked—raking, as a rule, occurring rather late in an action.
A remarkable result of long experience of war made itself clearly apparent in the era of Trafalgar. I have already alluded to the tendency to restrict the construction of line-of-battle ships to those of the medium classes. The same thing may be noticed in the case of the frigates. Those of 44, 40, and 28 guns relatively or absolutely diminished in number; whilst the number of the 38-gun, 36-gun, and 32-gun frigates increased. The officers who had personal experience of many campaigns were able to impress on the naval architects of the day the necessity of recognising the sharp distinction that really exists between what we should now call the 'battleship' and what we should now call the 'cruiser.' In the earlier time there were ships which were intermediate between the ship of the line and the frigate. These were the two-deckers of 56, 54, 50, 44, and even 40 guns. They had long been regarded as not 'fit to lie in a line,' and they were never counted in the frigate classes. They seemed to have held a nondescript position, for no one knew exactly how to employ them in war any more than we now know exactly how to employ our armoured cruisers, as to which it is not settled whether they are fit for general actions or should be confined to commerce defending or other cruiser service. The two-deckers just mentioned were looked upon by the date of Trafalgar as forming an unnecessary class of fighting ships. Some were employed, chiefly because they existed, on special service; but they were being replaced by true battleships on one side and true frigates on the other.
[Footnote 93: See footnote 92.]
[Footnote 94: See footnote 92.]
In conclusion, I would venture to say that the strategical and tactical lessons taught by a long series of naval campaigns had been mastered by our navy by the time of the Trafalgar campaign. The effect of those lessons showed itself in our ship-building policy, and has been placed on permanent record in the history of maritime achievement and of the adaptation of material means to belligerent ends.
THE SUPPLY AND COMMUNICATIONS OF A FLEET
[Footnote 95: Written in 1902. (Read at the Hong-Kong United Service Institution.)]
A problem which is not an attractive one, but which has to be solved, is to arrange the proper method of supplying a fleet and maintaining its communications. In time of peace as well as in time of war there is a continuous consumption of the articles of various kinds used on board ship, viz. naval stores, ordnance stores, engineers' stores, victualling stores, coal, water, &c. If we know the quantity of each description of stores that a ship can carry, and if we estimate the progressive consumption, we can compute, approximately but accurately enough for practical purposes, the time at which replenishment would be necessary and to what amount it should be made up. As a general rule ships stow about three months' stores and provisions. The amount of coal and engineers' stores, measured in time, depends on the proceedings of the ship, and can only be calculated if we know during what portion of any given period she will be under way. Of course, this can be only roughly estimated. In peace time we know nearly exactly what the expenditure of ammunition within a given length of time—say, a quarter of a year—will be. For war conditions we can only form an estimate based upon assumptions.
The consumption of provisions depends upon the numbers of officers and men, and in war or peace would be much the same. The greater activity to be expected in war would lead to more wear and tear, and consequently to a larger expenditure of naval stores. In peaceful times the quarterly expenditure of ammunition does not vary materially. In case we were at war, a single action might cause us to expend in a few hours as much as half a dozen quarterly peace allowances. There is a certain average number of days that a ship of a particular class is under way in a year, and the difference between that number and 365 is, of course, the measure of the length of time she is at anchor or in harbour. Expenditure of coal and of some important articles of engineers' stores depends on the relation between the time that she is stationary and the time she is under way. It should be particularly noted that the distinction is not between time at anchor and time at sea, but between time at anchor and 'time under way.' If a ship leaves her anchorage to run an engine-trial after refit, or to fire at a target, or to adjust compasses, or to go into dock—she burns more coal than if she remained stationary. These occasions of movement may be counted in with the days in which the ship is at sea, and the total taken as the number of days under way. It may be assumed that altogether these will amount to six or seven a month. In time of war the period under way would probably be much longer, and the time spent in expectation of getting under way in a hurry would almost certainly be considerable, so that expenditure of coal and machinery lubricants would be greatly increased.
The point to be made here is that—independently of strategic conditions, which will be considered later—the difference in the supply of a given naval force in war and in peace is principally that in the former the requirements of nearly everything except provisions will be greater; and consequently that the articles must be forwarded in larger quantities or at shorter intervals than in peace time. If, therefore, we have arranged a satisfactory system of peace supply, that system—defence of the line of communications being left out of consideration for the present—will merely have to be expanded in time of war. In other words, practice in the use of the system during peace will go a long way towards preparing us for the duty of working it under war conditions. That a regular system will be absolutely indispensable during hostilities will not be doubted.
The general principles which I propose to indicate are applicable to any station. We may allow for a squadron composed of—
4 battleships, 4 large cruisers, 4 second-class cruisers, 13 smaller vessels of various kinds, and 3 destroyers,
being away from the principal base-port of the station for several months of the year. The number of officers and men would be, in round numbers, about 10,000.
In estimating the amounts of stores of different kinds required by men-of-war, it is necessary—in order to allow for proper means of conveyance—to convert tons of dead-weight into tons by measurement, as the two are not always exactly equivalent. In the following enumeration only estimated amounts are stated, and the figures are to be considered as approximate and not precise. It is likely that in each item an expert maybe able to discover some variation from the rigorously exact; but the general result will be sufficiently accurate for practical purposes, especially as experience will suggest corrections.
A thousand men require about 3.1 tons of victualling stores, packages included, daily, We may make this figure up to 3.5 tons to allow for 'medical comforts' and canteen stores, Consequently 10,000 men require about 35 tons a day, and about 6300 tons for six months. The assumed squadron, judging from experience, would require in peace time about 600 tons of engineers' stores, about 400 tons of naval stores, and—if the ships started with only their exact allowance on board and then carried out a full quarterly practice twice—the quantity of ordnance stores and ammunition required would be about 1140 tons, to meet the ordinary peace rate of expenditure, We thus get for a full six months' supply the following figures:—
Victualling stores 6,300 tons. Engineers' stores 600 " Naval stores 400 " Ordnance stores and ammunition 1,140 " ——- Total 8,440 "
Some allowance must be made for the needs of the 'auxiliaries,' the vessels that bring supplies and in other ways attend on the fighting ships. This may be put at 7 per cent. The tonnage required would accordingly amount in all to about 9000.
[Footnote 96: The 7 per cent. mentioned in the text would probably cover nearly all the demands—except coal—of auxiliaries, which would not require much or any ammunition. Coal is provided for separately.]
The squadron would burn in harbour or when stationary about 110 tons of coal a day, and when under way about 1050 tons a day. For 140 harbour-days the consumption would be about 15,400 tons; and for 43 days under way about 45,150: so that for coal requirements we should have the following:—
Harbour consumption 15,400 tons. Under-way consumption 45,150 " ——— Total for fighting ships 60,550 " 7 per cent. for auxiliaries (say) 4,250 " ——— Grand total 64,800 "
Some time ago (in 1902) a representation was made from the China station that, engine-room oil being expended whenever coal is expended, there must be some proportion between the quantities of each. It was, therefore, suggested that every collier should bring to the squadron which she was supplying a proportionate quantity of oil. This has been approved, and it has been ordered that the proportions will be 75 gallons of oil to every 100 tons of coal. It was also suggested that the oil should be carried in casks of two sizes, for the convenience of both large and small ships.
[Footnote 97: I was informed (on the 10th December 1902), some time after the above was written, that the colliers supplying the United States Navy are going to carry 100 gallons of oil for every 100 tons of coal.]
There is another commodity, which ships have never been able to do without, and which they need now in higher proportion than ever. That commodity is fresh water. The squadron constituted as assumed would require an average of about 160 tons of fresh water a day, and nearly 30,000 tons in six months. Of this the ships, without adding very inconveniently to their coal consumption, might themselves distil about one-half; but the remaining 15,000 tons would have to be brought to them; and another thousand tons would probably be wanted by the auxiliaries, making the full six months' demand up to 16,000 tons.
The tonnage requirements of the squadron and its 'auxiliaries' for a full six months' period would be about 74,000, without fresh water. As, however, the ships would have started with full store-rooms, holds, and bunkers, and might be expected to return to the principal base-port of the station at the end of the period, stores for four-and-a-half months', and coal to meet twenty weeks', consumption would be sufficient. These would be about 6750 tons of stores and ammunition and 46,000 tons of coal.
[Footnote 98: To avoid complicating the question, the water or distilling vessel, the hospital ship, and the repair vessel have not been considered specially. Their coal and stores have been allowed for.]
The stores, &c., would have to be replenished twice and—as it would not be prudent to let the ships run right out of them—replenishment should take place at the end of the second and at the end of the fourth months. Two vessels carrying stores and ammunition, if capable of transporting a cargo of nearly 1700 tons apiece, would bring all that was wanted at each replenishment. To diminish risk of losing all of one description of supplies, if carried by itself in a separate vessel, it has been considered desirable that each supply-carrier, when employed, is to contain some ammunition, some stores, and some provisions. There are great advantages in having supply-carriers, including, of course, colliers, of moderate size. Many officers must have had experience of the inconvenience and delay due to the employment of a single very large vessel which could only coal one man-of-war at a time. Several vessels, each carrying a moderate amount of cargo, would permit much more rapid replenishment of the ships of a squadron. The inconvenience that would be caused by the loss or breakdown of a supply-carrier would be reduced by employing several vessels of moderate cargo-capacity instead of only one or two of great capacity.
Each battleship and large cruiser of the assumed squadron may be expected to burn about 1000 tons of coal in five weeks, so that the quantity to be used in that time by all those ships would be 8000 tons. The remaining ships, scattered between different places as most of them would probably be, would require about 3500 tons. Therefore, every five weeks or so 11,500 tons of coal would be required. Four replenishments would be necessary in the whole period, making a total of 46,000 tons. Each replenishment could be conveyed in five colliers with 2300 tons apiece.
Moderate dimensions in store- and coal-carriers would prove convenient, not only because it would facilitate taking in stores and coaling, if all the squadron were assembled at one place, but also if part were at one place and part at another. Division into several vessels, instead of concentration in a few, would give great flexibility to the system of supply. A single very capacious cargo-carrier might have to go first to one place and supply the ships there, and then go to supply the remaining ships lying at another anchorage. This would cause loss of time. The same amount of cargo distributed amongst two or more vessels would permit the ships at two or more places to be supplied simultaneously.
You may have noticed that I have been dealing with the question as though stores and coal were to be transported direct to the men-of-war wherever they might be and put straight on board them from the carrying-vessels. There is, as you all know, another method, which may be described as that of 'secondary bases.' Speaking generally, each of our naval stations has a principal base at which considerable or even extensive repairs of the ships can be effected and at which stores are accumulated. Visits to it for the sake of repair being necessary, the occasion may be taken advantage of to replenish supplies, so that the maintenance of a stock at the place makes for convenience, provided that the stock is not too large. The so-called 'secondary base' is a place at which it is intended to keep in store coal and other articles in the hope that when war is in progress the supply of our ships may be facilitated. It is a supply, and not a repairing base.
A comparison of the 'direct' system and 'secondary base' system may be interesting. A navy being maintained for use in war, it follows, as a matter of course, that the value of any part of its equipment or organisation depends on its efficiency for war purposes. The question to be answered is—Which of the two systems promises to help us most during hostilities? This does not exclude a regard for convenience and economy in time of peace, provided that care is taken not to push economy too far and not to make ordinary peace-time convenience impede arrangements essential to the proper conduct of a naval campaign.
It is universally admitted that a secondary base at which stocks of stores are kept should be properly defended. This necessitates the provision of fortifications and a garrison. Nearly every article of naval stores of all classes has to be brought to our bases by sea, just as much as if it were brought direct to our ships. Consequently the communications of the base have to be defended. They would continue to need defending even if our ships ceased to draw supplies from it, because the communications of the garrison must be kept open. We know what happened twice over at Minorca when the latter was not done.
The object of accumulating stores at a secondary base is to facilitate the supply of fighting ships, it being rather confidently assumed that the ships can go to it to replenish without being obliged to absent themselves for long from the positions in which they could best counteract the efforts of the enemy. When war is going on it is not within the power of either side to arrange its movements exactly as it pleases. Movements must, at all events very often, conform to those of the enemy. It is not a bad rule when going to war to give your enemy credit for a certain amount of good sense. Our enemy's good sense is likely to lead him to do exactly what we wish him not to do, and not to do that which we wish him to do. We should, of course, like him to operate so that our ships will not be employed at an inconvenient distance from our base of supplies. If we have created permanent bases in time of peace the enemy will know their whereabouts as well as we do ourselves, and, unless he is a greater fool than it is safe to think he is, he will try to make us derive as little benefit from them as possible. He is likely to extend his operations to localities at a distance from the places to which, if we have the secondary base system of supply, he knows for certain that our ships must resort. We shall have to do one of two things—either let him carry on his operations undisturbed, or conform to his movements. To this is due the common, if not invariable, experience of naval warfare, that the fleet which assumes the offensive has to establish what are sometimes called 'flying bases,' to which it can resort at will. This explains why Nelson rarely used Gibraltar as a base; why we occupied Balaclava in 1854; and why the Americans used Guantanamo Bay in 1898. The flying base is not fortified or garrisoned in advance. It is merely a convenient anchorage, in a good position as regards the circumstances of the war; and it can be abandoned for another, and resumed, if desirable, as the conditions of the moment dictate.
It is often argued that maintenance of stocks of stores at a secondary base gives a fleet a free hand and at least relieves it from the obligation of defending the line of communications. We ought to examine both contentions. It is not easy to discover where the freedom comes in if you must always proceed to a certain place for supplies, whether convenient or not. It may be, and very likely will be, of the utmost importance in war for a ship to remain on a particular station. If her coal is running short and can only be replenished by going to a base, go to the base she must, however unfortunate the consequences. It has been mentioned already that nearly every item on our store list has to be brought to a base by sea. Let us ascertain to what extent the accumulation of a stock at a place removes the necessity of defending the communication line. Coal is so much the greater item that consideration of it will cover that of all the rest.
The squadron, as assumed, requires about 11,500 tons of coal every five weeks in peace time. Some is commonly obtained from contractors at foreign ports; but to avoid complicating the subject we may leave contract issues out of consideration. If you keep a stock of 10,000 tons at your permanent secondary base, you will have enough to last your ships about four-and-a-half weeks. Consequently you must have a stream of colliers running to the place so as to arrive at intervals of not more than about thirty days. Calculations founded on the experience of manoeuvres show that in war time ships would require nearly three times the quantity used in peace. It follows that, if you trebled your stock of coal at the base and made it 30,000 tons, you would in war still require colliers carrying that amount to arrive about every four weeks. Picture the line of communications with the necessary colliers on it, and see to what extent you are released from the necessity of defending it. The bulk of other stores being much less than that of coal, you could, no doubt, maintain a sufficient stock of them to last through the probable duration of the war; but, as you must keep your communications open to ensure the arrival of your coal, it would be as easy for the other stores to reach you as it would be for the coal itself. Why oblige yourself to use articles kept long in store when much fresher ones could be obtained? Therefore the maintenance of store depots at a secondary base no more releases you from the necessity of guarding your communications than it permits freedom of movement to your ships.
The secondary base in time of war is conditioned as follows. If the enemy's sphere of activity is distant from the base which you have equipped with store-houses and fortifications, the place cannot be of any use to you. It can, and probably will, be a cause of additional anxiety to you, because the communications of its garrison must still be kept open. If it is used, freedom of movement for the ships must be given up, because they cannot go so far from it as to be obliged to consume a considerable fraction of their coal in reaching it and returning to their station. The line along which your colliers proceed to it must be effectively guarded.
Contrast this with the system of direct supply to the ships-of-war. You choose for your flying base a position which will be as near to the enemy's sphere of action as you choose to make it. You can change its position in accordance with circumstances. If you cease to use the position first chosen you need trouble yourself no more about its special communications. You leave nothing at it which will make it worth the enemy's while to try a dash at it. The power of changing the flying base from one place to another gives almost perfect freedom of movement to the fighting ships. Moreover, the defence of the line communicating with the position selected is not more difficult than that of the line to a fixed base.
The defence of a line of communication ought to be arranged on the same plan as that adopted for the defence of a trade route, viz. making unceasing efforts to attack the intending assailant. Within the last few years a good deal has been written about the employment of cruisers. The favourite idea seems to be that peace-time preparation for the cruiser operations of war ought to take the form of scouting and attendance on fleets. The history of naval warfare does not corroborate this view. We need not forget Nelson's complaint of paucity of frigates: but had the number attached to his fleet been doubled, the general disposition of vessels of the class then in commission would have been virtually unaltered. At the beginning of 1805, the year of Trafalgar, we had—besides other classes—232 frigates and sloops in commission; at the beginning of 1806 we had 264. It is doubtful if forty of these were attached to fleets.
It is sometimes contended that supply-carriers ought to be vessels of great speed, apparently in order that they may always keep up with the fighting ships when at sea. This, perhaps, is due to a mistaken application of the conditions of a land force on the march to those of a fleet or squadron making a voyage. In practice a land army cannot separate itself—except for a very short time—from its supplies. Its movements depend on those of its supply-train. The corresponding 'supply-train' of a fleet or squadron is in the holds and bunkers of its ships. As long as these are fairly well furnished, the ships might be hampered, and could not be assisted, by the presence of the carriers. All that is necessary is that these carriers should be at the right place at the right time, which is merely another way of saying that proper provision should be made for 'the stream of supplies and reinforcements which in terms of modern war is called communications'—the phrase being Mahan's.
The efficiency of any arrangement used in war will depend largely on the experience of its working gained in time of peace. Why do we not work the direct system of supply whilst we are at peace so as to familiarise ourselves with the operations it entails before the stress of serious emergency is upon us? There are two reasons. One is, because we have used the permanent base method so long that, as usually happens in such cases, we find it difficult to form a conception of any other. The other reason is that the direct supply method is thought to be too costly. The first reason need not detain us. It is not worthy of even a few minutes' consideration. The second reason deserves full investigation.
We ought to be always alive to the necessity of economy. The only limit to economy of money in any plan of naval organisation is that we should not carry it so far that it will be likely to impair efficiency. Those who are familiar with the correspondence of the great sea-officers of former days will have noticed how careful they were to prevent anything like extravagant expenditure. This inclination towards a proper parsimony of naval funds became traditional in our service. The tradition has, perhaps, been rather weakened in these days of abundant wealth; but we should do our best not to let it die out. Extravagance is a serious foe to efficient organisation, because where it prevails there is a temptation to try imperfectly thought-out experiments, in the belief that, if they fail, there will still be plenty of money to permit others to be tried. This, of course, encourages slovenly want of system, which is destructive of good organisation.
We may assume, for the purposes of our investigation, that our permanently equipped secondary base contains a stock of 10,000 tons of coal. Any proportionate quantity, however, may be substituted for this, as the general argument will remain unaffected. As already intimated, coal is so much greater in bulk and aggregate cost than any other class of stores that, if we arrange for its supply, the provision of the rest is a comparatively small matter. The squadron which we have had in view requires an estimated amount of 46,000 tons of coal in six months' period specified, and a further quantity of 4600 tons may be expected to suffice for the ships employed in the neighbouring waters during the remainder of the year. This latter amount would have to be brought in smaller cargoes, say, five of 920 tons each. Allowing for the colliers required during the six months whilst the whole squadron has to be supplied an average cargo of 2300 tons, we should want twenty arrivals with an aggregate of 46,000 tons, and later on five arrivals of smaller colliers with an aggregate of 4600 tons to complete the year.
The freight or cost of conveyance to the place need not be considered here, as it would be the same in either system. If we keep a stock of supplies at a place we must incur expenditure to provide for the storage of the articles. There would be what may be called the capital charges for sites, buildings, residences, jetties, tram lines, &c., for which L20,000 would probably not be enough, but we may put it at that so as to avoid the appearance of exaggeration. A further charge would be due to the provision of tugs or steam launches, and perhaps lighters. This would hardly be less than L15,000. Interest on money sunk, cost of repairs, and maintenance, would not be excessive if they amounted to L3500 a year. There must be some allowance for the coal used by the tugs and steam launches. It is doubtful if L500 a year would cover this; but we may put it at that. Salaries and wages of staff, including persons employed in tugs and steam launches, would reach quite L2500 a year. It is to be noted that the items which these charges are assumed to cover cannot be dispensed with. If depots are established at all, they must be so arranged that the stores deposited in them can be securely kept and can be utilised with proper expedition. The total of the charges just enumerated is L6500 a year.
There are other charges that cannot be escaped. For example, landing a ton of coal at Wei-hai-wei, putting it into the depot, and taking it off again to the man-of-war requiring it, costs $1 20 cents, or at average official rate of exchange two shillings. At Hong-Kong the cost is about 2s. 5d. a ton. The charge at 2s. per ton on 50,600 tons would be L5060. I am assured by every engineer officer to whom I have spoken on the subject that the deterioration in coal due to the four different handlings which it has to undergo if landed in lighters and taken off again to ships from the coal-store cannot be put at less than 10 per cent. Note that this is over and above such deterioration as would be due to passing coal direct from the hold of a collier alongside into a ship's bunkers. If anyone doubts this deterioration it would be well for him to examine reports on coal and steam trials. He will be unusually fortunate if he finds so small a deterioration as 10 per cent. The lowest that I can remember having seen reported is 20 per cent.; reports of 30 and even 40 per cent. are quite common. Some of it is for deterioration due to climate and length of time in store. This, of course, is one of the inevitable conditions of the secondary base system, the object of which is to keep in stock a quantity of the article needed. Putting the purchase price of the coal as low as 15s. a ton, a deterioration due to repeated handling only of 10 per cent. on 50,600 tons would amount to L3795.
There is nearly always some loss of coal due to moving it. I say 'nearly always' because it seems that there are occasions on which coal being moved increases in bulk. It occurs when competitive coaling is being carried on in a fleet and ships try to beat records. A collier in these circumstances gives out more coal than she took in. We shall probably be right if we regard the increase in this case as what the German philosophers call 'subjective,' that is, rather existent in the mind than in the external region of objective, palpable fact. It may be taken as hardly disputable that there will be less loss the shorter the distance and the fewer the times the coal is moved. Without counting it we see that the annual expenses enumerated are—
Establishment charges L6,500 Landing and re-shipping 5,060 Deterioration 3,795 ———- L15,355
This L15,355 is to be compared with the cost of the direct supply system. The quantity of coal required would, as said above, have to be carried in twenty colliers—counting each trip as that of a separate vessel—with, on the average, 2300 tons apiece, and five smaller ones. It would take fully four days to unload 2300 tons at the secondary base, and even more if the labour supply was uncertain or the labourers not well practised. Demurrage for a vessel carrying the cargo mentioned, judging from actual experience, would be about L32 a day; and probably about L16 a day for the smaller vessels. If we admit an average delay, per collier, of eighteen days, that is, fourteen days more than the time necessary for removing the cargo into store, so as to allow for colliers arriving when the ships to be coaled are absent, we should get—
20 X 14 X 32 L8,960 5 X 14 X 16 1,120 ———- L10,080
as the cost of transferring the coal from the holds to the men-of-war's bunkers on the direct supply system. An average of eighteen days is probably much too long to allow for each collier's stay till cleared: because, on some occasions, ships requiring coal may be counted on as sure to be present. Even as it is, the L10,080 is a smaller sum than the L11,560 which the secondary base system costs over and above the amount due to increased deterioration of coal. If a comparison were instituted as regards other kinds of stores, the particular figures might be different, but the general result would be the same.
The first thing that we have got to do is to rid our minds of the belief that because we see a supply-carrier lying at anchor for some days without being cleared, more money is being spent than is spent on the maintenance of a shore depot. There may be circumstances in which a secondary base is a necessity, but they must be rare and exceptional. We saw that the establishment of one does not help us in the matter of defending our communications. We now see that, so far from being more economical than the alternative method, the secondary base method is more costly. It might have been demonstrated that it is really much more costly than the figures given make it out to be, because ships obliged to go to a base must expend coal in doing so, and coal costs money. It is not surprising that consideration of the secondary base system should evoke a recollection of the expression applied by Dryden to the militia of his day:
In peace a charge; in war a weak defence.
I have to say that I did not prepare this paper simply for the pleasure of reading it, or in order to bring before you mere sets of figures and estimates of expense. My object has been to arouse in some of the officers who hear me a determination to devote a portion of their leisure to the consideration of those great problems which must be solved by us if we are to wage war successfully. Many proofs reach me of the ability and zeal with which details of material are investigated by officers in these days. The details referred to are not unimportant in themselves; but the importance of several of them if put together would be incomparably less than that of the great question to which I have tried to direct your attention.
The supply of a fleet is of high importance in both peace time and time of war. Even in peace it sometimes causes an admiral to pass a sleepless night. The arrangements which it necessitates are often intricate, and success in completing them occasionally seems far off. The work involved in devising suitable plans is too much like drudgery to be welcome to those who undertake it. All the same it has to be done: and surely no one will care to deny that the fleet which has practised in quiet years the system that must be followed in war will start with a great advantage on its side when it is at last confronted with the stern realities of naval warfare.
The question of 'Communications,' if fully dealt with in the foregoing paper, would have made it so long that its hearers might have been tired out before its end was reached. The following summary of the points that might have been enlarged upon, had time allowed, may interest many officers:—
In time of war we must keep open our lines of communication.
If we cannot, the war will have gone against us.
Open communications mean that we can prevent the enemy from carrying out decisive and sustained operations against them and along their line.
To keep communications open it is not necessary to secure every friendly ship traversing the line against attacks by the enemy. All that is necessary is to restrict the enemy's activity so far that he can inflict only such a moderate percentage of loss on the friendly vessels that, as a whole, they will not cease to run.
Keeping communications open will not secure a friendly place against every form of attack. It will, however, secure a place against attacks with large forces sustained for a considerable length of time. If he can make attacks of this latter kind, it is clear that the enemy controls the communications and that we have failed to keep them open.
If communications are open for the passage of vessels of the friendly mercantile marine, it follows that the relatively much smaller number of supply-vessels can traverse the line.
As regards supply-vessels, a percentage of loss caused by the enemy must be allowed for. If we put this at 10 per cent.—which, taken absolutely, is probably sufficient—it means that _on_the_ _average_ out of ten supply-vessels sent we expect nine to reach their destination.
We cannot, however, arrange that an equal loss will fall on every group of ten vessels. Two such groups may arrive intact, whilst a third may lose three vessels. Yet the 10 per cent. average would be maintained.
This condition has to be allowed for. Investigations some years ago led to the conclusion that it would be prudent to send five carriers for every four wanted.
The word 'group' has been used above only in a descriptive sense. Supply-carriers will often be safer if they proceed to their destination separately. This, however, depends on circumstances.
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