Naval Strategy And Tactics
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NAVAL STRATEGY AND TACTICS. The introduction of steam, armour, the torpedo, and other modern changes must necessarily have produced modifications in naval strategy and tactics since the days of the last great naval war. In the course of the last eighty years wars on land, both in Europe and elsewhere, have been frequent, and soldiers have thus been enabled to keep pace with modern inventions; and to accommodate their strategy and tactics to the ever-changing conditions of the problem. But since 1805, when Great Britain, by her crowning victory of Trafalgar, placed herself in undisputed command of the seas, and, having rendered herself superior to all possible combinations against her, was thus enabled to found unmolested her unrivalled colonial empire, the world has seen no naval war of sufficient magnitude to enable seamen to lay down maxims of strategy and tactics founded on actual experience. It does not follow, however, that we must necessarily give up the problems as insoluble ; we are entitled to reason by analogy. The lessons of history, if not followed too slavishly, will act as a useful guide; and when we have made due allowance for the superseding of sail by steam power, and the consequent limits to the mobility of all.
fighting ships dependent on their supply of coal, when we have taken into consideration the cutting of the Suez Canal and the possibility of another through Panama, and when we have given due weight to the possession by various nations of certain strategic points on the surface of the globe where coal may be obtained, we shall be able to construct some not altogether imaginary theories of future naval strategy, and shall probably find that the problem, at least as between Great Britain and her maritime rivals, bears a striking family resemblance to that which presented itself in the past. The geographical factors are not greatly altered. Sonic new naval powers have sprung into existence, and must be taken account of, whilst some of those which figured conspicuously in the beginning of the century have dwindled into insignificance; but the relative interests of the two great maritime rivals, Great Britain and France, are practically unchanged.
Strategy. - The great continental powers of Europe, in consequence of their land frontiers, have to depend mainly on their armies to defend their position, and maintain their independence, and they have all been constrained to adopt a system of forced military service, and to support great standing armies, with prodigious reserves, and vast stores of war material constantly at hand. For them the problems with which we are now dealing are questions of minor importance, and must be held entirely subordinate to their military requirements. Italy is probably the only one of them which has reason to fear invasion by sea, or descents and raids upon her extended coast line ; and she has lately been making gigantic efforts to supply herself with a powerful war navy, though she is still far behind France, the only power from whom she has any cause to apprehend attack. To Great Britain alone of the great ' powers of Europe are the problems of naval strategy of paramount importance. Upon a thorough knowledge and just appreciation of them, with a sufficient provision of physical force to secure their successful development in her own interests, depends the existence of the British empire.
The two primary factors which must decide the future naval strategy of Great Britain are the command of the English Channel and the protection of her mercantile marine. Upon the former depends her own safety from invasion, or from partial but disastrous raids upon her open commercial cities and coast towns; and upon the latter depends the no less vital consideration of the uninterrupted supply of food and of raw material for manufacture.
Her naval supremacy in the Mediterranean is of vast importance, for upon it will depend the freedom of her principal route to India and Australia, and also the eventual retention of Malta, Gibraltar, mid Cyprus, and of that priceless possession vaguely termed naval prestige, upon which alone she can found a claim to be classed amongst the great powers of Europe. But, notwithstanding the importance to Great Britain of being able to hold her own in the Mediterranean, either with or without allies, in the event of a war with France, or with France and Russia combined, it cannot be considered as vital to the existence of the empire ; and it is possible to conceive circumstances in which she might be driven from that sea, or for strategic reasons be induced temporarily to withdraw her ships, and yet, if she could keep open her alternative trade route by the Cape of Good Hope, and protect her food supplies from America, she might secure time to develop her unrivalled maritime resources, and eventually, notwithstanding the enormous temporary loss of prestige, regain her wonted supremacy on all seas.
The naval strategy of the past was necessarily a somewhat inexact and haphazard business. The fact that fleets had to depend entirely for locomotion upon the fickle and uncertain power of wind rendered it impossible to form accurate schemes of combination, and thus the most carefully planned expeditions and enterprises were of ten frustrated and rendered abortive almost at the moment of consummation by a foul wind or storm. All this is now changed ; the present development of steam-power renders fleets practically independent of wind, and even storms can only slightly affect them. The limit to their range of operations dependent on their coal supply, with the question of the possibility of replenishing, adds another element of certainty to the data upon which we can form accurate calculations as to the power and mobility of fleets. It has become possible, therefore, to say that naval strategy is no longer the inexact and haphazard business, depending largely on chance, which it was of old, but an accurate and most interesting science, worthy of the close attention and practical study of the most skilled experts.
The two principal objects of the naval strategy of Great Britain - the command of the narrow seas around her coasts, and the protection of her mercantile marine - are to a certain extent different, though not actually independent of each other. Thus she might, by providing an overwhelming fleet of iron-clads, and neglecting to build a sufficiency of fast cruisers, retain undisputed command of the narrow seas, and yet have her commerce swept off the ocean by an enemy provided with numerous fast, far-ranging cruisers ; and on the other hand, it would be useless for her to provide vast numbers of vessels of the latter class to protect her commerce all over the world, if by neglecting her iron-clads she lost command of the narrow seas, and saw her merchant ships captured in sight of their ports. It is obvious, therefore, that her only safety depends upon an ample supply of both.
The naval strategy of the last war may be briefly but comprehensively described as a blockade of the enemy's ports. The question which now exercises the minds of seamen is whether blockade is at present possible, and if so under what conditions ; and the conclusion which seems to have been arrived at by the ablest naval strategists of the present day appears to be that a close blockade, carried on under the old system, is, for various reasons, no longer possible. What is now practicable is observation, or watching by a chain of look-out vessels in connexion with a superior fleet, in such a way that the squadron in port would be masked (to use a military term), or in other words, that they would be unable to leave the port without the extreme probability of being obliged to meet and engage with a superior force. The distance at which the masking fleet should remain from the blockaded port, and the question whether they should be kept under weigh, or at anchor at some suitable anchorage, are points of detail which come more under the head of tactics, and must be decided in each individual case in accordance with local circumstances, and with such considerations as the prospect of the blockading fleet being or not being subjected to the attacks of torpedo boats and coast defenders, which, although not strictly speaking sea-going vessels, are yet capable of exercising potent energies within a certain zone of their port, by selecting the most suitable time and weather for their operations. Such considerations render it obvious that the blockading ships must greatly exceed the sea-going force in the port blockaded, as they render themselves liable to all sorts of subsidiary but very effective attacks from comparatively insignificant forces, which, in consequence of their own distance from their base of operations, they would be unable to reply to in a similar manner. If the blockading force is to be kept constantly under weigh, its numbers must be still further increased, as in that case a certain proportion of the ships, variously estimated at from one-sixth to one-third, must be continually absent from their station for the purpose of replenishing their coal supply, and of making those repairs to machinery which are incidental to steam ships kept constantly under weigh.
The effective blockade of an enemy's ports would of itself provide for the protection of commerce, for if no hostile ships could escape there would be nothing to prey upon the commerce. Such experience, however, as was gained during the American civil war, supported by numerous peace trials and general nautical experience on the subject, tends to show that a perfectly effectual blockade is impossible, as against steamers: some vessels of high speed will certainly find means of escaping on dark nights or during thick weather, so that it becomes necessary for a rich commercial nation, whose merchant ships cover every sea, to make arrangements for providing at least two cruisers of superior speed and greater coal endurance, to look after every one of the hostile raiders which may escape the blockade and endeavour to adopt the tactics of the famous "Alabama." Some half-dozen Confederate cruisers of feeble power and insignificant speed succeeded in driving the merchant flag of the United States off the ocean, and deprived that country of the large share of the carrying trade of the world which it then possessed. A similar disaster to Great Britain in her present unique position would, it is almost superfluous to point out, have far wider consequences.
Some high political authorities have given it as their opinion that no fleet of fast cruisers which it would be possible to provide would suffice for the protection of Great Britain's commerce in case of war with a maritime power. This may or may not be the case, but it is a view not generally shared by the highest naval authorities, who take into consideration the possession by Great Britain of the principal coaling stations of the world.
A novel but apparently not unpractical proposition has been made by one of the ablest and most thoughtful admirals of the British navy, with a view to prevent the wholesale transfer of the mercantile marine to a neutral flag on the outbreak of war with a maritime power. It is to the effect that the national exchequer should guarantee to make good all war losses, provided owners conformed to a few simple but not too harassing regulations as to routes and times of sailing, to be laid down by the Admiralty from time to time. It is quite possible that the call on the national purse might be enormous, perhaps a hundred millions sterling during the first six months of the war; but no mulct it would be reasonable to conceive would equal the amount of the indirect national loss which would accrue from the wholesale transfer of the carrying trade of the country to a foreign flag.
The subject is worthy of the attentive consideration of all those who essay to deal with the great questions of naval strategy, as the protection of the mercantile marine of the country from either direct or indirect destruction is one of the principal factors in the problem.
Tactics. - If naval strategy has been modified by the recent inventions and alterations in warlike materials and the motive power of ships, it is certain that the same causes have had a still greater effect upon all preconceived notions of naval tactics.
Weather gauge will no longer be sought for as an advantage. In fact in all cases of attack by surprise, such as an assault by torpedo boats, or other light craft, for the purpose of harassing a fleet, the attacking force would certainly approach from the leeward, by which tactics the smoke from every gun fired by the fleet would act as a screen to hide their movements, and protect them from machine gun fire ; for not even the beams of the electric light can penetrate smoke.
A large amount of speculative writing has lately been indulged in, by both English and French writers, as to the naval tactics of the future. We hear of "ramming tactics," " the end-on attack," " the melee," and various other somewhat vague phrases, used to express the views of theorists as to the probable tactics of a future naval battle ; and, whilst the torpedoist tells us that his weapon (meaning the locomotive torpedo) will certainly decide an action, and forbid ships to approach near enough for ramming, the artillerist laughs to scorn the inaccuracy and limited range of torpedoes moving in such a dense medium as water, and maintains that his weapon, of far greater accuracy, almost equal destructive power, and immensely greater range, will as of old decide the battle.
It is probable that all three weapons, ram, gun, and torpedo, will play a part in future naval battles, though many thoughtful and practical seamen seem to be coming to the conclusion that the ram will not be deliberately used, except perhaps to give the coup de grace to a ship with her engines already disabled; and this even would appear to be a wanton destruction of a ship which might become a valuable prize, and an inhuman sacrifice of lives no longer capable of exercising any material influence on the battle.
It seems to be thought that ramming when it takes : place in action will be as often accidental as deliberate ; and indeed the present high speed and great size and weight of iron-clads would probably forbid practical seamen from adopting that mode of attack. Two ships of from ten to thirteen thousand tons, meeting end-on at a speed of 28 knots an hour (assuming the speed of each to be 14 knots), would certainly produce mutual destruction, with loss of the lives of almost all on board, and it seems difficult to believe that any two men who still retained calm judgment and reason would deliberately adopt such a suicidal method of fighting, if indeed it be possible to steer two large ships at high speed with such accuracy as to cause a direct collision, - a point which many practical seamen doubt.
On the other hand, a ship striking another on the broadside, or at any angle approaching a right angle, would probably cause the destruction of the latter, with but trifling injury to herself, supposing her bows to be properly constructed for ramming ; but, in order to place a ship in a situation to strike such a blow (both ships proceeding at speed), she would herself have to assume a very critical position ; that is to say, she would have to expose her broadside, or in other words, she would have to place herself almost as much across the assumed path of her adversary as the adversary was across hers; in which position the miscalculation of a few seconds in time, a knot or two in speed, or even a small touch of the helm of either ship at the last moment, would turn the would-be rammer into the victim. It is probable therefore that, if ramming takes place in action, it will be more frequently by accident than design, Much has been made by the advocates of ramming tactics of the incident of the battle at Lissa, where the Austrian wooden ship "Ferdinand Max " rammed and sank the Italian iron-clad " Re d'Italia "; but it has been stated on high authority that the brave Tegethoff himself has disclaimed any preconceived design in the matter, further than that he suddenly observed through the smoke a grey object in front of him, which he took to be an enemy, that he ordered his ship's engines to be put " full speed a-head" and his ship to be steered for the object, and that he then found he had rammed and sunk the " Re d'Italia."
In some instances modern ships have been designed and built with a view to carrying out sonic special plan of tactics. Thus in the British navy several ships have been built for the " end-on attack," as it is called, a somewhat vague term for expressing the desire of some officers to fight their ships end-on to the enemy, - tactics, however, which can only be consistently carried out if the enemy consents to run away ; otherwise it is evident that, if both ships continue to advance towards each other, they will meet, and if they do not strike and sink each other, they must pass from the " end-on " to the " broadside-on," then " stern-on," and then, unless they mutually agree to run away from each other, they must pass through the " broadside-on " position again before they resume the " end-on " or bow attack.
It would seen therefore to be wise not to construct the ordinary battle ships for any particular method of attack, whilst the whole subject is in such an untried and speculative condition, and so much necessarily depends on the tactics of the enemy, but rather to make ships as strong all over, both offensively and defensively, as it is possible to do upon a given displacement and at a certain cost.
The principal tactical formations for modern fleets are - single column in line ahead ; two and three columns in line ahead ; the same in line abreast ; quarter line or line of bearing ; indented line ; and the group formation. In the last-named, a group of three ships becomes the tactical unit instead of the single ship ; there is a leader with a ship on each quarter at different angles and different distances ; and in this, and also in the indented line formation, the object is to keep the broadsides of the ships open or clear of consorts ; but, in consequence of the more recent battle ships not being built specially with a view to broadside fire, these somewhat complicated formations are not generally popular.
Science and the ingenuity of inventors are day by day adding fresh weapons of more terribly destructive energy to the already prodigious list of war material, and the attack may be said to keep always well ahead of the defence, so that it becomes more difficult to lay down fixed rules for tactics than for strategy. Much will depend upon the personal genius, nerve, and happy inspirations of the individual admirals and captains who first find themselves engaged in a modern naval battle ; and national instincts, and practical experience in handling steam ships at high speed, will count for much towards the issue. (a. C. P. F.)