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UNITED STATES NAVAL INSTITUTE
Vol. 45, No. 6 JUNE, 1919 Whole No. 196
U. S. NAVAL INSTITUTE, ANNAPOLIS, MD.
Military power, whether afloat or ashore, has in all ages been measured in units of skilled fighting men, properly equipped. Improved equipment increased the value of the unit, as is instanced by the success of the armored Greek, when opposed to the unarmored Asiatic.
Equipment was more or less permanent, could be captured, or passed on to new men; the men were but mortal; and, on the average, lack of men set limits to the power of the state.
From this fact arose the effort to increase, by constant improvement, in the equipment, the effectiveness of the fighting man at the front, and, as civilization developed, and the mechanical arts with it, the value of the unit of power was constantly augmented.
Equipment grew in effectiveness, and also in cost. In the Middle Ages equipment became so expensive that only a small part of the fighting men could be fitted out with the best equipment. Cost is a question of labor used in production, and a certain part of the man-power is required to furnish this labor.
Economy in money requires that we obtain as good equipment as is possible with the money available, for the numbers of fighting men we can count on. It must be here remembered that money means labor, and labor means time. It would be a simple matter to improve the equipment of the fleet, if there were no question of cost. No objection could be found to a complete replacement of the battleship force by new ships of much greater size and power, if there were no loss of time, and no increase in the cost of maintenance. It is not necessary to argue that the men now on the old ships would have much greater fighting power on the new ships. But the millennium has not yet come, and there is the ever present spectre of cost.
When all is said and done, there is available a certain amount of money, to be expended in a given time, for fighting ships. Leaving out of consideration the small craft and auxiliaries, which consume but a small fraction of the total, the available funds will build, in a given time, a number of capital ships, the number depending on the type. What type shall be built? Clearly, the type or types that will give their crews, of a fixed number, the greatest fighting power. And why build capital ships? For the reason that the capital ships do give to a fixed number of men the greatest fighting power. Fighting power means offence and defence. It is just as necessary to protect our own men and material, as it is to damage or destroy the enemy's men and material.
The battleship has been developed into a machine that represents the greatest amount of fighting power that can be obtained from its crew. There is both offence and defence, balanced evenly. At different periods we will see battleships of different sizes, and different degrees of effectiveness, depending on the state of mechanical development at the time. But always there is the balance between offence and defence. A ship is no more a battleship, if she has no armor, than if she has no guns; if she has no torpedo protection than if she has no offence against torpedo vessels. The battleship has consistently represented the maximum fighting power for a given crew, which is the only thing that counts on the day of battle.
Many times have we seen special types evolved, even in capital ships. They have been brought about in most cases, perhaps in all, by ideas that might be traced to other bases than the fundamental one of fighting, and of producing fighting equipment. Already we have seen many of them disappear, after a short life, while the battleship type so far has remained. We need only mention the ram, the commerce destroying cruiser, the armored cruiser, the monitor. They all have wasted money that should have gone into fighting ships. We now have the battle cruiser. that has grown until it is twice as expensive as a battleship of its date. Has it adequate fighting power against capital ships? There is but a limited offence and practically no defence. We shall perhaps see the battle cruiser go the way of the others.
We cannot tell who will be our enemies of the future. It takes a long time to build a fighting fleet, much longer than it takes to start a war. As long as we cannot predict whom we shall have to fight, and what forces we must have, we can only prepare on the basis of our own ultimate strength. We can tell how many, skilled fighters we can obtain for the navy, and how many others must be reserved for the army. The number is large, the cost of equipment is large, and we cannot afford to waste any labor in building it—waste it on material that will not give our men an adequate amount of fighting power for the cost represented. That should always be the criterion. Do we get a proper return in fighting power for the expenditure?
What is fighting power in a battleship? First, it is represented by the destruction the ship can accomplish. Secondly, it is the defence it affords, from destruction, to its own crew. We must consider these separately.
The first, the offence, is nowadays easily measured. We no longer expect to lay alongside and board, or to ram, or perhaps even to torpedo, in a capital ship action. The power of offence in a battleship is measured by the number of effective hits she can make with her main battery, before her allowance of ammunition is expended. It is useless to make hits that glance off armor or decks, that make small holes in light upper works, or that do minor damage about the decks. It is only when serious damage is being done that the fighting power of the enemy is being crippled. Also, it is useless to rain projectiles about his ships, without hitting.
Let us now consider the defence. This has perhaps shown up better in the battles of the present war than has the offence. Battleships have been torpedoed in battle, and have remained in line. Ships have been exposed to heavy fire, such as, before the war, would have been considered fatal, and they have been heavily hit, but they went on fighting. But still, some of the ships, after receiving a few hits, were out of control, and some ships barely reached port. There is still much to be desired in the defence. There should be no lucky shots, a ship should withstand severe pounding and still remain a fighting ship; she should be able to receive several torpedoes and not only remain afloat, but an effective fighting ship, with speed and control undiminished, and offensive power intact. Do we say that this is impossible? It is not. It can be done, if we give to protection its proper place. It may be that in Farragut's time the best defence was a vigorous offence, but times have -changed; main batteries at short range are now entirely too vigorous for an undefended ship to withstand.
These two, offence and defence, are the main requirements in a capital ship. We have gotten into the habit of expecting a certain fixed amount of them in every battleship, depending on its size; in other words, these two have been given a fairly standard percentage of the total displacement, and it has not been a small one either. Perhaps this has been a bad habit, but there you are, and, after all, a habit is always the result of subconscious justification, if nothing more. We can often justify an action to ourselves, even without logic. If it withstands the test of time, it is usually right.
Providing as large an amount of offence and defence as possible in each ship ensures fighting efficiency and economy of expenditure. These two, offence and defence, should be as large as it is possible to make them, and other factors should be of secondary importance, and receive corresponding attention and weight. Not to do so means that we distrust our premises and neglect what should be considered an axiom, namely, that fighting power consists of but two things, as we have said, offence and defence.
Chief of the secondary factors that go to make up the battleship, leaving out of consideration the hull that carries all, is mobility. A battleship must of course be brought to the scene of action, and within striking distance of the enemy. When she has arrived at the distance she chooses, she must maintain her position so as to fight her battery to the best advantage, and she should be able to take advantage of the changing conditions of the battle. To do all this she must have power of motion and of controlling her motion. We need not here discuss the question of manoeuvering ability, since this does not cost much, and is not so important as it was in the days when the ship herself was intended to be the weapon.