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GLEANINGS FROM THE SEA OF JAPAN
[By Captain Seaton Schroeder; this paper received second honorable mention in the U. S. Naval Institute. The quoted portion is the third part of the contribution.] (Ed. note: transcribed version reprinted in The Army and Navy Register, 7 July 1906)
One cannot ponder a battle such as that in the Japan Sea without the instinctive thought that at last some lessons have been told which will modify or confirm the reasonings which have gradually led to the evolution of naval war material in its present shape and to our understanding of the best means of employing it. Such is, indeed, the case, and the developments, while not startling, have generally tended to confirm these reasonings; and this is something of a compliment to the sagacity of naval thought.
In the summary of the causes of the defeat the great preponderance bears upon the personnel. Every support is given to the universally quoted fact that the best man will win the day even against material odds. It only remains to point out how far-reaching is shown to be the real definition of that "man behind the gun;" he comprises the admiral, the captain, the range officer, the division officer and engineer officer, as well as the gun-pointer, ammunition handler and fireman.
Among the most important deductions from the battle is that usually clothed in the expression, "The torpedo has rehabilitated itself." The honor has fallen to the Japanese flotillas of demonstrating that even in daylight can the torpedo boat go into action and achieve success. Greater daring and dash has never been shown than by the crews of those little vessels, their attacks being marvels of fury, resolution and skill. But we must be careful not to let our admiration for the players carry us too far in lauding the play; we must take account of the stage-setting. There appears to be no doubt that the battle ships Suvaroff, Sissol Veliki and Navarin, and the armored cruisers Nakhimoff, Monomach and Dmitri Donskoi were torpedoed with effects more or less instantaneous. There is some dispute as to the Borodino; she caught fire about 6:40 p. m., and at 7:23 blew up and sank (as stated in Admiral Togo's report) supposedly from the fire reaching her magazine; a Japanese officer states that she was attacked by two flotillas and was finally sunk by two torpedoes, but it is possible that it was the Suvaroff that the officer saw.
Without the slightest disparagement of the valor of the men who attacked or of the terrible effects of a torpedo hit, it would be very misleading to disregard the circumstance that no attack was made until after the battle had raged for some time, three of the battle ships having been completely crushed and all very much reduced in resisting power. Admiral Togo states in his report: "Our flotillas approached to such short distances that the Russians could not train their guns to bear upon them." If this be literally true, it could only refer to the main batteries, showing that everything not behind heavy armor had been swept away. All were struck under conditions which must still be considered as absolutely essential to success. This matter is so important that it will be better to describe each case separately.
The Suvaroff, receiving at once the concentrated fire of a large part of the Japanese fleet, burst into flames and fell out of line about 3 p.m., disabled. While enveloped in flame and smoke she was attacked unsuccessfully by two destroyer flotillas. At 3:46 she was attacked again by torpedo craft; and again at 4:45, this time effectively, being hit on the port side aft, which resulted in giving her a list of ten degrees. Unable then to use any gun except one small R. F. at the stern, she was again attacked by a destroyer flotilla, hit by two torpedoes, and sunk at about 7 p.m.
It is related that in one case, supposed to be the Suvaroff, after the destroyers advanced to the attack some of the Japanese ships kept up their fire, when the destroyers signaled, "We will finish her," using the words "todome wo sasu," which signify, the dagger thrust in the throat of a defeated adversary, most significant to a Samurai and indicating clearly that the torpedoes merely delivered the coup de grace.
Sissoi Veliki, with her battery largely, if not wholly, disabled by gun fire during the two engagements on the 27th, was subjected to continuous torpedo attack from 8 p.m., until about 11 p.m., and some of these were apparently successful, for when sighted by the Japanese the next morning about 30 miles north of Tsushima she was in a sinking condition and finally sank at about 11 a.m. Her captain, however, states positively that although she was torpedoed once her sinking was caused by gunfire and not by torpedoes.
Navarin, with her battery crippled by the day's fighting on the 27th, was attacked during the night by a destroyer flotilla and sunk by four torpedoes at 2 a.m.
Nakhimoff and Monomach, disabled by gunfire during the two engagements on the 27th were attacked continuously by torpedo craft from 8 p.m. to about 11 p.m., and sank at about 10 a.m. on the 28th, near Tsushima.
Donskoi, seriously damaged on the 27th, escaped during the night, but was sighted, chased and attacked by the Uriu division and two destroyer flotillas and two cruisers; was torpedoed, but escaped in the darkness; kept afloat by pumping until near Matsushima early in the morning of the 29th, when pumping was stopped and valves opened, and she sank.
Apart from the crippled condition of the Russian ships, the circumstances of this battle were furthermore exceptionally favorable to the employment of torpedo boats by the Japanese in the proximity of the scene of operations to home ports, where they lay while the rough weather lasted and from whence they were called to action as the sun and wind went down. Rarely will conditions lend themselves with such notable liberality to the use of a weapon of restricted field.
It is evident from all this that while the torpedo boat is entitled to at least all the honors which it has held with greater or less continuity, it is not in a position to assail the supremacy of the battle ship. Naval professional opinion has all along been fairly unanimous on the subject, and no reason for any material change has been furnished. The absolute confirmation of the theories held must certainly produce some effect upon that small group who have remained enamored of the idea of producing large results with small means. Nothing can be more completely proven than the restriction of the torpedo boat to the role of supplementary weapon.
There may be some truth in a suggestion that in this individual event the result would not have been materially different if there had been no torpedo boats present. Admiral Togo hurried toward Vladivostok and would have unfailingly intercepted any Russian ships which escaping destruction by the torpedo boats, might have reached the vicinity of that port; and it seems hardly possible that any that actually were sunk could have otherwise reached neutral ports and been interned. But the simple and great fact remains that a number of powerful and important fighting units can be and actually were destroyed by torpedo attack after their powers of resistance had been destroyed by the gun. And this, in turn, points to the necessity of destroyers for the defense of the big ships after the main battle. Apart from the evident helplessness of those that were successfully torpedoed, the photographs showing the tangled maze of wreckage and debris in all parts of Orel not armor-protected are an eloquent exposition of the torpedo boat's opportunity.
It may therefore, be emphatically stated that no naval force can be considered complete or in the plenitude of its powers without a large number of both destroyers and torpedo boats. Admiral Togo's fleet is said to have had over sixty of them in action and he says that, "Our flotillas attacked the Russian ships so thickly that the Russians had no time to give them proper reception." Here is a lesson in tactics, and in programs, too.
Positive endorsement of the torpedo was, of course, restricted to its employment in torpedo craft, as none were discharged from any ship of the battle line. Any deduction regarding torpedo tubes in battle ships is, therefore, only inferential and therefore perhaps less convincing. Every battle, however, cannot illustrate every known method of attack; and not only is it well to look at actual occurrences through smoked glasses so as not to be dazzled and led to exaggerated conclusions, but reasonings of simple logic should be applied to incidents not actively illustrative. In the Donnybrook Fair engagement off Lissa in 1866, before the day of the automobile torpedo, the keynote of Admiral Tegethoff's plan of action was to "charge at everything gray," and as a result, after three unsuccessful attempts, he succeeded in ramming and sinking Re d'Italia, which had suddenly and opportunely emerged from the smoke right under his bows; as a consequence, the ram then took a great and illogical spurt which has never been justified. The extreme ranges used in the battle of August 10, 1904, off Port Arthur, gave prominence and favorable endorsement to the rising idea of homogeneous batteries of one heavy caliber, based upon the diminished precision of fire from medium calibers at long range; and it also tended to cause a revulsion of sentiment in regard to torpedo tubes in battle ships, the demand for which had been increasing. Now comes the battle of the Japan Sea, fought at ranges at which the 8-inch gun proved itself to be admirably efficient, and which also came perilously near efficient torpedo range. It certainly cannot be foretold that the next battle will be fought at under or over 4,000 or 5,000 or 6,000 yards; and in the uncertainty it would not be a wise measure to cease installing the underwater tube which deters the enemy from seeking close quarters under circumstances favorable to him, and furnishes one's self with a safe and powerful weapon of offense if circumstances should permit its use. A range of 4,000 yards at 26 knots or more will surely often make circumstances favorable.
No word has been heard from the submarine. It is understood that those had been shipped across the Pacific some six months before were not yet in condition for service. Aside from that, however, the place and circumstances of the battle were quite prohibitive for craft of the size and type that were on hand. And so the submarine's baptism of fire is reserved for a future occasion--which, let us hope, will be a long time in coming. In the meantime, with all its growing achievements, it would not be safe to ignore that coming additional auxiliary.
In regard to the ram, that short-range weapon may certainly be said to have received its quietus. The development of the fish torpedo and of smokeless powder has long indicated the end of its possible utility. In the battle of the Japan Sea the opposing ships did not come even within torpedo range of each other; and beyond that, it is pertinent to note that throughout the entire war the only instances of the use of the ram have been in collisions with vessels of the same fleet--Yoshino being sunk by Kasuga and Oshima by a sister ship. There seams to be no reason for continuing the practice of building ships with a protruding spur which is only a menace to friends who are always in close quarters, while the enemy ships are always far away.
The battle developed nothing new concerning the influence of speed. The victory was won by the faster fleet, but that does not necessarily carry the conclusion that speed was a determining factor; as a matter of fact, a close study fails to reveal any material advantage properly attributable to it from the moment that tactical contact was established until the Russian fleet was shattered and its remnants seeking refuge in flight. A very general popular commentary, so uniformly voiced as to sound almost stereotyped, has been that "the Japanese fleet by its superior speed kept pressing the head of the Russian column, continually capping it," etc. But that does not appear to reach the heart of the matter. As remarked ante, all that is necessary to prevent being capped under those circumstances is to keep turning away, the leader not allowing the leader of the enemy column to get materially forward of the beam. A simple calculation shows that with a distance of 4,000 yards between columns, the outer having a speed of 15 knots and the inner 12 knots. If the inner keeps heading off and the outer keeps circling to retain the same distance and threaten to cross ahead, the diameter of the inner circle will be about 16 miles, under which conditions the inner fleet will certainly not be bunched to such an extent as to present an unduly favorable target.
It is not likely that one would have either the time or the inclination to use traverse tables and enter into computations after action had commenced; mental processes are less simple at such a time than when playing chess or studying the tactical game-board, but an instinctive and natural plan would be for the leader to keep the enemy's leader about abeam--with as little swerving as possible, of course, to help out the gun-pointers; if the enemy were to reduce speed you would insensibly tend to cap him, but in any event he could not cap you. By no conceivable probable superiority in speed can one fleet cap another if the other keeps turning away on an inner circle; nor by any such action, intelligently carried out, would there be any danger of the inner fleet being massed to an undesirable degree. So the apparently prevalent argument that it was by their superior speed that the Japanese were able to press the heads of the Russian columns and cap them does not appear to be tenable.
Even in the matter of the Japanese closing the range--that is one thing that superior speed can do while still maintaining broadside and presentment, by keeping the enemy bearing forward of the beam. But the frequent and attractive expression that one fleet can thus choose the fighting range does not represent a wholly safe assumption. The faster fleet can avoid action ab initio, and can always bring on close action; but, if the other resolutely opposes the choice, it cannot maintain a long range without continually frankly heading off, and that is attended by several grave considerations; take it all in all and considering that any preponderance in end-on fire is generally forward, no ship or fleet will be apt to place itself in the direct retreating position except to attain some important specific objective. Returning to the case in point: a fleet with as many 12-inch guns as the Russians had, and no 8-inch, should be expected to prefer long range in action with a fleet carrying a number of 8-inch; yet it is more than probable that the Russians recognized that, with their limited gun practice, short range would suit their gun-pointers better; and, therefore, in the matter of the faster Japanese fleet apparently choosing the range, the closer range was undoubtedly not unfavorable to the other side and was not contested, and the greater speed was of no value in determining it.
Greater speed would, no doubt, have enabled several ships to escape in the final sauve qui peut; but that hardly seems a valid argument, because to provide security in case of defeat is a consideration very secondary to so proportioning and combining forces as to favor victory.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that if the Russians had had the better speed, and if the engagement had taken place a little further on with more sea room, they could have gradually worked around the head of the other column and at least a portion of the fleet gone on its way rejoicing to Vladivostok. This was exemplified in the British naval maneuvers in 1903. Greater speed would also have taken the Russian fleet more quickly through the critical part of the Tsushima Strait, and possible might have resulted in the action beginning under totally different circumstances and with the Japanese coming up on their port quarter instead of ahead, which would quite possibly have modified the final outcome because in this situation and without the advantage of superior speed the Japanese might have failed to bring on a general or at least a decisive engagement. All of which would have gone to confirm the undeniable value of speed in the general conduct of a campaign and in attaining positions of strategical and even tactical importance in individual operations. And this should not be lost sight of when noting the penury of evidence in the battle proper. Only if in addition to the undoubted strategical value of speed fallacious arguments be admitted assigning to it a great tactical importance as well, a false coloring would be lent to suggestions of higher speed at the expense of guns and armor. When the hour has come and the battle is joined, it is the guns that will decide the day, not the speed.
If by the application of turbine effort, or gas engines or mechanical stokers, or liquid fuel, or other means, ship speeds can be increased without increase in weight, that will be progress--a positive advance from which all may profit, and, therefore, a relative advance for none; but any who fail to keep up will effect a marked relative retrogression. Eternal vigilance is the price of preparedness, for there is no finality in shipbuilding.
What has been positively emphasized in connection with speed, in the Japan Sea, is the great importance of uniformity in this, as in all other features of the vessels of a fleet. Admiral Togo suffered from wasted engine power in his armored cruisers, with the attendant diminution of their gun power; while Admiral Rojestvenski's pace was set by a few comparatively slow ships whose deficiency in engine power was not retrieved by any important gain in battery because of their small size and limited carrying power. Two of the Russian battle ships were sheathed and coppered, and although that entailed no restriction of battery or armor, yet, by association with unsheathed vessels, they lost all of the advantages sought, and, as concentration in squadrons has now come to be a necessary policy and single ship actions between battle ships will hardly occur it follows that any such device advisable per se is of no material benefit if applied only to isolated ships. There is, indeed, no detail of homogeneity, however small, such even as standardized fittings that does not carry increased efficiency in its train. When it comes to reaching the important conclusion as to speed and guns, the one decision should apply to all the units of a tactical group; otherwise individual superiorities will be wasted and combined efficiency positively impaired.
Closely related to the question of speed is that of steaming radius. If the Russian ships had had greater fuel and endurance, there would have been less temptation to overload them with deck loads for a passage of no great length and with a battle almost surely anticipated. Per contra, the Japanese, being in their own waters, with coaling facilities close at hand, were able to use some of their bunker room for an additional supply of ammunition, and with the session of August 10 fresh in mind they took that precaution. In spite of the development of improved methods of coaling at sea, capacious bunkers (or tanks) seem to still be important. And smokeless fuel is the best material to put in them.
Danger from Fire
Three Russian battle ships burst into flames during the action, and burned to an extent that destroyed them or put them out of action permanently until they sank or blew up. There is no telling in how many others minor fires were started; in Orel, which was taken to Maidzuru, it was observed that a 12-inch shell had started a fire in a wardroom compartment which was gutted, and it is said that she was on fire three times. Admiral Rojestvenski has since stated that there was very little wood in his ships, but that the incessant explosion of shell made them seem veritable furnaces, the pumps being soon smashed and the very paint itself taking fire; he seemed indeed impressed with the great danger caused by the amount of paint which covers everything on shipboard. It seems possible that an accumulation of R. F. ammunition in the batteries may have done its share toward the terrible result; it is reported that this practice, which is common to many services, had previously led to fires in Rossia and Gromoboi, the fixed ammunition being struck and ignited and the fires extending by means of linoleum, oilskins, decks, boats and inflammable material. A further partial explanation may perhaps be found in a passage in Admiral Enquist's report to the effect that the "Suvaroff, without masts or funnels. . . and covered with flames and black smoke, hauled out of line. . .;" the loss of the funnels, added to the experience of the Tsarevitch on August 10, emphasizes the necessity of protecting the bases of the funnels up to the upper deck.
Protection of Stability
At least one of the Russian ships (the Alexander III) certainly capsized before sinking, and probably others. Some contradiction exists in the treatment of this matter; in one and the same critique will appear a comment on the lack of stability of the Russian ships as shown by their heeling outwardly in turning, and a farther comment upon their heavy rolling which impaired the shooting and exposed the hulls below the waterline to a greater extent than in the steadier Japanese ships--a manifest confusion of qualities and effects. All battle ships heel in turning, but it is significant that in rehabilitating the captured Orel (now Iwami) the Japanese are so shaping the alterations as to increase the metacentric height. Still, in the Alexander's normal condition there could not have been any very serious lack of stability; the question is, how was her normal stability impaired? There is food here for thought along several lines, one of which trenches upon a possible neglect on the part of the ships. The error possibly committed was that of going into action with coal on deck; a heavy deck load was found still in Orel, although a good deal had been used from the bunkers, and it is understood that some if not most of the others had similarly taken a supply on deck before leaving The Saddles.
There has been no known instance during the entire war of the heavy armor having been pierced, except possibly by one shot in Retvisan on August 10. Admiral Rojestvenski in a recent interview stated that the repeated impacts and explosions of shell against the armor sprang the bolts and rivets and shook the plates from their backing so that water entered and caused the ships to list and finally sink. This is an interesting explanation. Battering attack has been less seriously considered since the development of modern high velocities and capped shell, although in the battle of the Yalu it was indicated that the cumulative effect of a number of non-penetrating hits was more disastrous than that of several perforations. But here is now an important concrete instance, under up-to-date conditions, which should not be disregarded. The armor of Alexander III and class, above the 10-inch waterline belt, is only 6 inches thick, and here is where perforation was probable and where the smashing was apparently accomplished. It is true that this armor is above water, but as there was a considerable sea on, water in serious quantities could have entered there, and this, if confined to the side, would have destroyed the stability. With a deck load of coal to bring her down in the water, the upper edge of the main belt was correspondingly nearer to if not usually below the surface; if it be that the weight of the deck load had been gradually offset by the consumption of coal from the bunkers, then two powerful agents of instability were working in unison.
This dramatic incident puts in question the practice of fitting longitudinal wing bulkheads unless means be afforded of promptly relieving the burden possibly imposed on either side. In Alexander III, there was a 4-inch armored bulkhead about 8 feet inboard, which virtually formed a downward extension of the protective deck; the wing passage thus formed was apparently unprotected at the top, and water entering near the waterline evidently found its way down there through open or disrupted hatches or scuttles. In Suvaroff the same arrangement existed, and it will be remembered that, when torpedoed, she took a list of 10 degrees, which prevented using the battery. It was the same with Borodino, which, according to some accounts, also turned turtle. On the other hand, a one-half inch bulkhead, some 15 feet inboard, was all that saved Tsarevitch after being torpedoed on February 8, 1904; she listed about 18 degrees, but was righted by filling the corresponding compartments on the opposite side, which increased her draught aft about five feet, but left her able to navigate and enter port. It is quite patent that a heavy bulkhead affords protection to the vital interior of a ship; but it seems to be equally evident that capacious drains should connect corresponding wing compartments on opposite sides, fitted with valves which may be opened or shut at will. Valves are not like doors.
Apart from the care of the water when it once gets in, it seems that in order to keep it out the heavy armor should be carried well up, for battle ships are not expected to fight in millponds; monitors are good enough for that. With the impending increase in heavy batteries at the expense of the intermediate and with perforation shown to be not the only danger, the possible value of thin armor for keeping something out becomes greatly reduced, and the fate of Alexander III seems to cry aloud in support of the plea to devote all the weight of thin broadside armor to carrying up the main belt as high as possible, undiminished in thickness.
The great importance of the work done by the Japanese scouts need hardly be commented upon. The only question that has ever arisen has been as to the means, and a new implement has sprung into the arena. "The battle of the Japan Sea was won by the wireless telegraph," is the reported exclamation of one enthusiast. And there is no denying that it did marvelous work. It was by means of it that the Japanese commander learned of the approach of the enemy and understood, while still miles away, his exact strength, position, formation, course and speed, and could make his initial moves before sighting him or being sighted by him. It is worthy of note that the first intelligence of the enemy was flashed, not by an armored cruiser or even by a protected cruiser, but by a large merchant ship scout, Shinano Maru. Torpedo craft had been used as picket boats off Port Arthur, being fitted with wireless and being thus also ready to oppose any night sortie; but a sound appreciation of the difference in conditions was shown in now keeping them for their legitimate work and not assigning them to duty as high-sea scouts. Apart from the wearing out of crews, to attempt to combine the two types would indeed result in a hybrid of minimized value. Destroyers may possibly come to be larger than at present, for their own purposes; but information service is sui generis, with an importance all its own. Speed, and size to maintain it in a seaway, are the prime requisites, supplemented by powerful wireless apparatus and enough battery to prevent being driven off by torpedo craft.
Whether or not the wireless was employed as a means of signaling to the fleet during the action is not known at the present writing; it is most improbable. But we read farther in Admiral Togo's report of how Admiral Nebogatoff's squadron was interrupted and surrounded: "At 5:20 a.m. I received a report from our cruiser squadron which was about 60 miles behind steaming to the north, that several columns of smoke were seen in the east. Soon after, the same squadron approached the enemy and reported again that the enemy consisted of four battle ships (afterwards it was found that two of them were coast-defense ships) and two cruisers and were then heading northeast. It was certain that those ships were the principal remnant of the Russian fleet. Upon this the battle ship and armored cruiser squadrons reversed their course and gradually steamed toward the east so as to appear at the head of the enemy and at 10:30 a.m. we completely surrounded this enemy ." Greater tributes to the success and value of this invention would be difficult to conceive. It now remains to accomplish selectivity, with all that term implies.
Incidentally, it may be remarked, Admiral Nebogatoff at least, undoubtedly remains impressed by certain disadvantages attending the use of soft coal.
"A prominent Japanese naval officer" is quoted as deducing from the battle the opinion that "in the armament of a battle ship there should be not only 12-inch guns but also 10-inch and 8-inch, with an auxiliary equipment of 6-inch pieces." The same officer, however, in speaking of armored cruisers is made to say that "There can be no doubt, however, of the inferiority of four 6-inch pieces to two 8-inch," which seems rather to invalidate a portion of the former remark. Vice Admiral Saito also has expressed himself in favor of 6-inch guns. The Japanese fleet closed somewhat with the enemy in order, no doubt, to bring within effective range their numerous 8-inch guns, of which the Russians had none; and the fire of these was apparently most accurate and effective. But it is to be observed that in none of their ships was a 10-inch or a 12-inch associated with anything heavier that a 6-inch, with the single exception of Kasuga, which carries one 10-inch and two 8-inch. The same applies to the Russian ships with the exception of Nicolai, which carried two 12-inch and four 9-inch. Eight-inch guns (properly installed and protected) are very formidable and excellent weapons; but, given the flatter trajectory and the greater natural accuracy of heavy guns; given the present uncertainty of combined fire due to the erratic performance of smokeless powder; given, above all, the indubitable fact that Osliabya, Suvaroff and Alexander III, which were so quickly put out of action, received their maltreatment at the hands of the leading ships of the enemy (battle ships) and were, therefore, evidently crushed by 12-inch fire, we should be chary of accepting opinions from however high a source challenging the present tendency to restrict main batteries to one large caliber. More to the point is the opinion of the defeated Rojestvenski, who spoke wisely from the depths of bitter experience: "Battle ships carry a great many small guns of 1.5 to 2-inch caliber, which make a great deal of noise and do no earthly good; moreover, their crews, having no protection, are immediately killed. In future, battle ships should carry no guns smaller than 3-inch, and very few of those. The only role of these small guns is to repel torpedo attack. The only guns for battle are the 12-inch and 10-inch pieces. Guns of this caliber alone have the power necessary for naval fighting; handled by cool and well-trained men these will be for many years the kings of naval battles." In France, M. Lockroy, former minister of the navy, reached the tersely expressed conclusion that "The ideal should be a single type of ship;" which sentiment is echoed by M. Charles Bos in the recent report on the budget. England, not tarrying to talk, is already about to launch Dreadnought, carrying ten 12-inch.
Intimately connected with the tendency to accept as the ideal a single type of gun, is the present leaning toward bigger ships, for the reason that bigger ships are admissible only if they carry heavier batteries, and the only way in which batteries can be adequately increased is by unifying the calibers. The big ship proposition is without doubt the most interesting now in the fore; but, in trying to draw light upon it from this battle, all that can be done is to weigh the pros and cons and try to determine how a change would have operated on that occasion.
For all service other than fleet action, diffusion of power is needed, within certain limits, of course, which limits are a matter of judgment and not of mathematical calculation. But as participation in a fleet action is the one great function and raison d'etre of a battle ship, the question should be studied solely from that point of view. Initial comparison will be best made by consideration of two fleets of equal combined tonnages but with different numbers of units having armaments in proportion to size. Questions of space and its adaptation operate so as to make the problem of increasing heavy gun armament proportionally with the displacement a complex one; for instance, while one gun becomes a large proportion of the whole, an odd number of guns, such as nine, is impossible without accepting at least one single-gun turret, and wasting upon it the choice of middle-line position; or in a ten-gun ship there can be no gain in broadside fire over an eight-gun ship without resorting to single turrets, and it is very doubtful even then. It is, therefore, difficult to exemplify the case with ships and armaments as it may be found possible to develop them; but the principles involved will be quite well illustrated by supposing an engagement between six ships of 16,000 tons and four of 24,000. As the former can carry a battery of eight 12-inch guns, the latter may be allowed twelve. Then the opposing fleets will each carry 48 guns.
We are now immediately confronted with a salient and incontrovertible fact: with equal numbers of guns in the two fleets, the smaller ships will present the heavier combined broadside. The six cited in the comparison can fight on either side their entire battery, or 48 guns; while the other four can at the very most fight ten on either side, or 40 in all. As a partial offset the end-on fire of the larger ships may be heavier individually, though probably not so collectively.
The big ships will present better targets than the smaller ones. The total target area of the six smaller ships will, of course, be the greater, but the target for each shot is a single ship, and the proximity of another ahead or astern does not increase the chance of hitting. As far as hitting is concerned, the four present the better targets, each being longer, broader, and higher.
Fire control at battle ranges is naturally dependent upon observing the falls and correcting the range. There are consequent objections to directing the fire of any one ship at more than one target, because each target requires a separate fire control station and system, and fire control stations are limited, besides being apt to be knocked out. Therefore, the four big ships would possible operate at a disadvantage if firing at more than four of the other fleet.
The loss or disablement of one of the big ships by accident or injury to steering or motive power or otherwise would be in more serious proportion to the whole than that of one of the smaller ships. And, furthermore, the injury inflicted on any one larger ship by a single shot would never be less and would often be greater in effect upon the total force engaged than the same injury to one of the smaller ships, e.g., the death of the captain, damage to a boiler uptake, jamming of the steering gear, etc.
The six ships will form a longer column than the four, and, with the centers abreast, they would overlap at both ends; but this overlap will be modified by the fact that the 24,000-ton ships will almost certainly maneuver at greater distance than the 16,000-ton ships. Should the latter maneuver at 400 yards and the former at 500, there would be an overlap at each end of 250 yards, which is immaterial at the fighting ranges. The advantage of any concentration effected in big ships will be felt when opportunity offers to emphasize tactical concentration; when the squadron of four is abreast of or projecting beyond the van or rear of the other, all of the four may be able to concentrate their tremendous fire on a few of the others, while some of the long column of six will be out of effective range; in the extreme case of capping this advantage will be still further greatly emphasized. And this is the situation which was presented in the battle of the Japan Sea. If the Japanese ships had been larger, with batteries in proportion, they would have increased advantage in capping the Russian column. If, on the other hand, the Russians had had the heavier ships with batteries in proportion, they would have been able to reply more vigorously from the heads of their columns. Concentration, within practical limits, will undoubtedly be of advantage in flet actions; that is to say, concentration of guns; the ship is of no importance except as the gun carrier.
The opportunities for speed in the larger ships are greater, because with the greater length a fixed ratio of engine weight to displacement will result in a continued increase of speed as the displacement increases. Also, any difference in fuel endurance will be in favor of the larger ship, because with the greater length and the increased maximum, speed, the most economical steaming will be at a higher rate of speed; the fleet harbor consumption may also be less in the smaller number of larger ships. Furthermore, the weight of the hull for the same strength is relatively less in the larger ship, leaving a margin for additional power or fuel.
Other minor considerations are: The bigger ship will be the steadier platform, and it will have the advantage of single direction of the greater proportion of offensive power; also the larger ships will occupy less sea and the group will be under better control, especially in smoke or fog. Decrease in the personnel and in the cost of both construction and maintenance will also favor the smaller number of ships. Handiness, once of great importance when single-ship actions at close range were possible is no longer a considerable feature and can not be cited in favor of the smaller ship.
The comparison stated between the two types appears to result favorably to the smaller ship, because the restriction of total broadside fire seems to check the possibilities of increased concentration. Evidently, it is not a cut-and-dried proposition. There are considerations, however, which may not appear in an academic discussion of features with inflexible percentages of weight and equalization of total tonnages, but which nevertheless do enter into the actual problem. Considering the matter in its general aspect, serious increase of total battery power being rendered possible by unifying the calibers, the field open to the naval architect is to increase the available fire in proportion to the size and importance of the ship. It so happens that with two-gun turrets the relation of a normal size of ship to the size of gun now universally adopted is such that an increase in displacement may not be attended by a proportional increase in the number of broadside guns, if the percentage of weight devoted to armament remain the same. But there are various ways of effecting concentration of gun power--for instance, eight 13-inch guns are more formidable than eight 12-inch similarly disposed; or, with three guns in a single-deck or double-deck turret, the strength of broadside fire may be made a larger percentage of the whole; or other expedients may suggest themselves.
If, in a ten-gun ship, there cannot be effected any increase in broadside fire over an eight-gun ship; and if the battery of a twelve-gun ship can be so disposed as to present ten on either side, then the ten-gun ship would better be left wholly out of consideration and study be confined to the twelve-gun type. That would be a very big ship requiring deepened harbors and canals and larger docks, and, far from being immune, it would be increasingly open to dangers of navigation, collision, torpedo and mine. It is doubtful if such a size would be advisable from the standpoint of maximum fleet efficiency. But if increase in power be decided upon, there is no use in taking half-way measures if they do not produce a commensurate argument of gunfire; the gain in speed alone would not justify an advance in size. The whole question is as to the practicability of obtaining a proportional increase in available fire; if it can be done, there is no doubt that fleet efficiency will be increased by the possible concentration. General Forrest's intuitive conception of tactics, popularized in the rule to "get there the fustest with the mostest men," may well be paraphrased for sea work "to get at the leastest ships with the mostest guns."
In a certain sense, to quote a recent remark by Lord Brassey, "shipbuilding for the navy must necessarily be an answer to construction in hand elsewhere." This applies primarily to the amount of tonnage; but it applies with no less vigor to types. If other nations were to build nothing but torpedo boats and fast protected cruisers carrying 6-inch guns, there would manifestly be no reason for building battle ships which could resist 12-inch guns. As some nations are building heavier ships, it is doubly incumbent upon the others to determine the best way of meeting the changing conditions.
There is but one thing more to be said about it, and this is indeed the crux of the whole question. The practical outcome in any country will be, not a restriction to a certain tonnage expressed in larger units, but about the same number of larger units. This being the case, there is no doubt that the safest way to ensure at least equality, if not superiority, of fleets is to ensure at least equality of ships. So it really comes back to a question of how to produce the most efficient, hardest-hitting single ship. There have been most attractive accounts published abroad lately of expected combinations of gun-power, armor, speed and endurance, so far ahead of anything yet produced as to indicate nothing short of actual revolution in means and methods. If these designs materialize in actual ships, other services can but "hide their diminished heads" and yield tribute in that sincerest form of flattery--imitation. It remains to be seen how far those flamboyant expectations will be realized.
The writer is not prepared to follow M. Lockroy in the advocacy quoted above of a single type of projectile, although apparently this battle was won mainly by common shell. The Japanese evidently used very few armor-piercers; wherever Orel's armor had been struck the shell had simply splashed on it; and all those that had struck above the armor had burst immediately into hundreds of little fragments, the radius of destruction of even the 12-inch seeming to be limited to about 15 feet from the point of impact. Throughout the entire war the favorite practice of the Japanese seems to have been to use common shell to wreck the unarmored parts and demoralize and kill the personnel; and throughout the entire war the comment of able observers and critics has been that there shell have such sensitive and quick-acting fuses that they burst upon striking even such light things as funnel casings, Chinese tile roofs, etc., while the character of the bursting charge is such that the explosion, while terrific in instantaneous force lacks volume. The effects in every case noted were very much localized; in some instances they were actually exterior to the ship, while in others hammocks, mens bags, etc., afforded adequate protection from the fragments. Yet these shells destroyed several battle ships, and by wiping out all means of secondary offense in others put them in condition to be easily disposed of by torpedo boats. Furthermore, while the fire in Alexander III must have been caused by common shell, it seems probably that the same instrumentalities are to be credited with the injuries that made her capsize.
Two of the Japanese battle ships had each a 12-inch gun disabled during the action by premature explosion of a shell in the bore, which same accident is understood to have occurred several times on August 10 with more or less disastrous effects. Whether these prematures were caused by super-sensitiveness of the Shimose burster or fuse, or by the weakness of the shell, or by erratic action of the cordite propelling charges causing excessive pressures, is not known. Leaving it to the victors in the battle to decide for themselves whether or not the doubtful advantages of such sensitive material are commensurate with the dangers of handling it, there will probably be no resulting tendency to greatly modify the character of ordnance material generally. In regard to what kind of shell to use, the suggestion is manifest that if torpedo boats are on hand in effective numbers and condition, the common shell will pave the way to successful attack by them.
While on the subject of projectiles the opportunity cannot be neglected of pointing out the possible usefulness of a few stand of grape or very-heavy case-shot for each heavy gun, for employment against torpedo craft. This may seem to smack of using a steam hammer to kill a fly, but when circumstances approximate to those at the end of the day fight of May 27, when all unprotected guns had been swept away, a round or two from a 12-inch gun would be well expended in crippling a torpedo boat.
An emphasis, which should not be needed, has been laid upon the dire effects of upper works and fittings when struck and converted into langridge. As a single instance among many, it is said that on board Mikasa 23 men were killed or wounded by fragments of a semaphore struck by a shell (It seems possible that some of the shell fragments were mingled with those of the semaphore). There were also incidents recalling the experience of Tsarevitch on August 10, when her military mast, almost wholly shattered in its support by the explosion of a shell, was in a condition to endanger or to seriously impair the efficiency of the ship. All upper works must be designed so as not only to offer the minimum target but also to minimize the effect of shell striking; superfluous bridges and derricks must be done away with, and masts and smokestacks, etc. must be well stayed.
One final circumstance well worthy of note in connection with the conduct of this battle, is that the position, and the only position, assigned to armored cruisers on either side was in the line of battle. All theories that have been advanced as to the roles to be played by vessels of this type have failed of confirmation. If the Russians had had an effective scouting and anti-scouting service, it might have been necessary for the Japanese to do their scouting by reconnaissance in force; but throughout this entire war armored cruisers have played no important part as such. Three large ones were at Vladivostok at the outbreak of hostilities, and the Japanese told off an adequate force of the same type to watch and if possible contain them; their presence on one side furnished a use for them on the other, and it must be admitted that the principle similia similibus curantur has some application in the determination of naval programs as well as in homeopathic therapeutics. There is no doubt that the steadily converging paths of development of battle ships and armored cruisers are nearing a point of junction. Some years ago 10-inch guns began to appear in the battery of the latter, and the speed of the former has continually increased. The two types have thus unmistakenly approached each other, and the assignment of the cruisers to positions in the line of battle emphasizes the true nature of their most important and ultimate function; and in performing this function their two to five knots greater speed was not utilized while they suffered a serious diminuation of battery power for the sake of obtaining it. The Japanese are said to be now building heavy armored cruisers to carry 12-inch guns with some 8-inch in one and a number of 6-inch in another; but, victorious as their fleet was, its lack of homogeneity seems to impugn the soundness of their program. Although these new vessels will carry heavier guns than any cruisers built heretofore, they will presumably be faster than battle ships, and there may arise circumstances in which they will be useful; but the refinement could go still further and useful work be found for still a third type with a little less speed and a little heavier battery. The question is--is such a multiplicity of classes desirable? In a service which can afford the luxury of both, there may be at times be a useful variation from the standard type of battle ship; but it if is a question as to one or the other, there is no avoiding the plain fact that in the battle of the Japan Sea and the operations leading up to it, and indeed throughout this entire war, the armored cruiser has failed to justify its existence.
Such seems to be the principle gleanings from the Sea of Japan, and deductions of a reasonable logic crystallized in the fierce light of that epoch-making battle. While the event does indeed mark a new era in naval history, it is noteworthy and a most interesting circumstance that the suggestions emanating from it are in the main confirmatory of peace-begotten theories and practices based upon professional judgment. Lights and shadows have become a little more pronounced, while we are reminded that nature will not be coerced and that her immutable laws must be invoked in aid, not violated.
After all is said and done, nothing remains so steadily confirmed as the supreme influence of the human factor, the personnel, the man behind the gun. More important than the production of the finest weapons is the production of the finest skill and nerve and endurance in using them; and this can exist only hand in hand with the familiarity born of constant practice by all, from the admiral and the captain to the gun-pointer and mechanic. In commenting upon what seems to be the lessons from this direction, as from others, criticism of personnel has been a far less agreeable task than discussion of material. But in distilling future guidance from past achievement it is not possible to wholly follow Emerson's sweet counsel not to bark against the bad but rather to chant the beauty of the good. It is from failures that the most pointed teachings are drawn. The battle of the Japan Sea has thundered forth anew the lesson that bravery is not all that is required--else there had been no such defeat.
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