A page featuring selected quotes from this military history book from 1988, originally titled The Price of Admiralty. The book uses four naval campaigns Trafalgar, Jutland, Midway and the Atlantic to examine war at sea, using the same approach as Keegan's classic The Face of Battle.
- Battle at Sea from Man of War to Submarine
~ Trafalgar - The Wooden World
~ Jutland - The Fall of the Wooden Walls
~ Midway - The Coming of the Aircraft Carrier
~ Atlantic - The Emergence of the Submarine
~ Conclusion - An Empty Ocean
~ Beyond The Book
How men have fought at sea, from the heyday of the ship of the line to the coming of the submarine, is the subject of this book. It is one I have long wanted to write because, before ever chance turned me into a military historian, it was a naval historian that I wanted to be. Not difficult to explain why: I am English; No Englishman - no Briton - lives more than 80 miles from tidal water, and no Briton of my generation, raised on food fought through the U-boat packs in the battle of the Atlantic, can ever ignore the narrowness of the margin by which seapower separates survival from starvation in the islands he inhabits.
These impressions are reinforced by others: those transmitted by the extraordinary grace and beauty of the physical means of naval warfare, the hulls, masts, apars, weapons and instruments of the warship. The artistry which went to the making of 'Victory', paradign of the sailing-warship world, touches anyone who visits her... Victory is a cool and deadly instrument of war. But she is also a thing of beauty, as are often her descendants, in wood, iron and steel, in our own day.
The beauty of such ships, though enhanced by artifice, is fundamentally determined by the nature of the perpetual struggle that the sailor wages with the elements. The run of a ship's lines, the proportionality of breadth to depth and length, the point and counterpoints of its spars and rigging are not a product of the shipwright's whim but the fruit of millennia of experience in pitting wood, metal and fibre against the forces of wind and water. A ship is first of all a vessel for brining those who sail in her safe from one landfall to another.
There is a profound and powerful set of values that inhibits the waging of maritime war, roughly summarised by the phrase "fellowship of the sea". What that implies is a code of mutual self-interest... But ships, by their nature, are objects of capital intensity. They are valuable in themselves, and that they carry may be more valuable still. The temptation to attack and take a ship, when opportunity offered, could thus all too easily overcome the inihibitions imposed by the sense of risk shared between sailors; when it did so, the practice of war-making at sea was born.
By the 17th century, the North European admirals,
particularly the Dutch and English, had grasped that broadside gunnery
was the key to victory and were laying their fleets in 'line ahead' - bow
to stern with each other, that is, from first ship to last in parallel
lines - and fighting the issue out by firepower. The battles that resulted
were bloody. Few ships were sunk in these encounters, for the wooden ship
was virtually unsinkable by solid shot unless it caught fire. But solid
shot caused grievous casualties among crews, as long as ships clung together
at man-killing range. Naturally few admirals who sensed casualties mounting
chose to sustain punishment, even in the bitter Anglo-Dutch cannonades
of the 17th century. And the particular circumstances of sailing-ship warfare
offered them a ready escape. Because attacking fleets sailed downwind to
engage an enemy, and it was attacking fleets which normally inflicted the
casualties, the defending fleet automatically retained the option of sailing
itself downwind away from the battle when battle grew too hot. And they
The consequence was that almost all the great battles of the wooden-wall epoch porved inconclusive, and the pantheon of sailing-ship admirals who fought them - most of them British - are in truth partial rather than decisive victories. Not until the coming of the ironclad steamship would the spectre of annihilation confront an admiral who grievously mismanaged his fleet; and the ironclad era itself would be almost past before - at Midway and the subsequent battles of America's war with Japan in the Pacific - such an outcome transpired. Jutland, the greatest but also one of the earliest clashes of ironclads to occur before the Pacific War, fell short of decision because of uncertainties felt by the opposed British and German commanders as to how a conflict between large fleets of such novel and untested warships should occur. Both were inhibited from pressing the decision by fear of the submarine, a revolutionary instrument of war which was to create its own challenge to the exercise of "command of the sea" in the battle of the Atlantic.
Tactical stalemate may therefore be seen as the determining quality of most action in naval warfare throughout the period from the appearance of the shipborne gun in the 16th century until its supersession by the embarked aircraft and the submarine-launched torpedo in the 20th... The wonder is not that one body of ships should fail to defeat another but that either should have arrived intact and battleworthy at the point of conflict. And yet, at the very end of the sailing-ship era, fleets and admirals had begun to find, fix and defeat the enemy with something akin to regularity. Three admirals, all British - Rodney at the battle of the Saints in 1782, Howe at the Glorious First of June in 1794, Duncan at Camperdown in 1797 - had shown how a decisive battle between sailing ships might be fought. In 1805, a fourth, Horatio Nelson, demonstrated that total victory lay within the grasp of a commander bold enough to seize it.
# TRAFALGAR - The Wooden World
A 'wooden world' was what sea officers called navies themselves 200 years ago. The modern visitor who ducks his head below one of the ships that survive from that age - Victory at Portsmouth, Constitution in Boston Navy Yard - will instantly comprehend what they mean. Wood surrounds and encloses him... And, if the ship could still move, the *sound* of wood would surround him also: timbers moving with and working against each other in a concerto, sometimes a cacophany, of creaks, groans, shrieks, wails, buzzes and vibrations. Six thousand years of craftsmanship would orchestrate the woodwind of the ship in motion, singing of tolerances between frames and planking, marriages of timbers hard and soft, pliancies and rigidities, give and take, first learned by rule of thumb, then transmitted by word of mouth, finally refined by calculation on a thousand slipways from the Pharaonic Nile to the fiords of Viking Norway.
The great wooden ships that survive in our
own age can convey to the visitor's imagination a picture of the battles
they were built to fight far more intense and immediate than any he can
conjure up for himself on a battlefield ashore. The battlefields of the
sea bear no physical place of the events that transpired in those places,
the depths engulf the ships and men that fell victim to the action. Land
battlefields are marked more lastingly. The soldier's spade leaves scars
that may persist for a 100 years, as those of the American Civil War do...
the landscape of the First World War trench zone will bear the traces of
that terrible tragedy long after the great-grandchildren of the actors
are in their own graves. And memory relates this or that episode of past
battles to landmarks which will stand for all time. Little Round Top at
Gettysburg, the ridge at Waterloo, the pass of Thermopylae, the cliffs
at Omaha Beach will be remembered as places of aggression and suffering
as long as collective memory holds. Yet the exact circumstances, let alone
the rhythms and dynamics of land battle, defy easy reconstruction even
by the expert vistor to Gettysburg or Waterloo. Did it take 5 minutes for
the head of Pickett's division to breast Cemetery Ridge, or 7, or 12?
By contrast, the gundecks of Victory can translate a visitor in imagination directly to the heart of action... the visitor will find himself forced to adopt exactly the same posture, follow the same movements, squint at exactly the same angle of vision as the seamen gunners who laboured there are their cannon 200 years ago... No one can enter those gundecks without catching some echo of Trafalgar and bearing it away with him.
Britain, like Japan, is one of the supreme oddities of the international order. Small in population and deficient in traditional natural resources, it emerged as a rival to the far richer and inherently stronger kingdoms of continental Europe because of its dominant geographical position and unique topography. Britain abounds in natural harbours, offering safe anchorage to fleets - commercial or military - every 60 miles along its lower coastline. Further, that coastline bestrides every approach route to the far less numerous entrances to the hinterland of continental Europe. France, over twice the size of Britain, offers only 5 good harbours along its 1000 miles of Atlantic and Channel coast - at Rochefort, Nantes, Lorient, Brest and Le Havre... Britain, economically and demographically so unimportant, is thus strategically one of the two or three most significant centres of power in the inhabited world. Had fate robbed it of the chance to unify its social order at an early date, it would have been fought over and exchanged between external sovereigns as frequently as Sicily or Ceylon. Because Britain, more particularly England, achieved statehood in the centuries before Europeans learned the technology and technique of oceanic voyaging, it succeeded in defying conquest (except by the Normans, who captured without destroying its unitary government) until such time as it stood ready to venture its own power in the strategic world. Once that moment came, at the very outset of the era of gun-carrying ships, it was to prove not only unconquerable by neighbours, but a mighty base in its own right for the carrying of conquest far beyond its own shores.
Then, from the beginning of the 18th century, Britain suddenly began to acquire overseas possessions that translated the potential of its burgeoning navy into actual power. The capture of the Caribbean islands of the Bahamas and Jamaica in 1670 gave the British a substantial foothold in what was becoming the principal wealth-producing area of the colonial world. The expansion of the Indian enclaves at Bombay, Madras and Calcutta put them into contention for eventual control of the decaying empire of the Moguls. Most important of all, the acquisition of Gibraltar in 1704 and Minorca in 1708 made Britain a force in the Mediterranean.
Wat shifted the balance in the inland sea
incontestably to the British side was that, as a consequence of Napoleon's
expedition to Egypt, Britain acquired the central Mediterranean island
of Malta... Malta is the key not to one sea but to a complex of three,
all interconnected, each of differing strategic and economic significance
- the western Mediterranean, the Adriatic and the eastern Mediterranean
with its dependency, the Aegean. Malta, in the hands of a strong naval
power, can deny intercommunication between all, this frustrating the strategic
policies of the three great territorial entities which border them - the
Latin bloc, central European and the Levantine.
The seizure of Malta, in combination with the possession of Gibraltar, determined that thenceforth an "out-of-area" state, Britain, would be the dominant naval power in the Mediterranean.
Napoleon not only sustained a larger strategic vision than any of his subordinates could frane; he was also driven by a far more powerful resolution, all the stronger because his ignorance of the sea dissolved the difficulties that they knew to lie between the vision and its realisation. Napoleon truly thought on a global scale, devising plans which comprehended all the war's battlefronts, active and latent, in a single interconntecting scheme. Land, sea, Europe and the Americas, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, Britain and Austria were each allotted values, each given a place in his timetable of future events, each marked down for an outcome which would drive his strategy to its ordained conclusion.
The Spanish alliance (with France), by extending the range over which the British had to maintain their blockade, strengthened Napoleon's hand and weakened theirs. By any paper calculation, the cards were falling inexorably his way. But naval wars, even less than land wars, do not fall out as paper calculations predict... Napoleon the general might have found ways of defying winter on land. Austerlitz would be won in December of 1805. Napoleon the admiral could not command the waters. All the probabilities were that foul weather would disrupt his designs. So it turned out.
"The fear of Nelson has got the upper hand
- General Lauriston, on Admiral Villeneuve's state of mind before Gibraltar
What manner of men were they (Nelson and Villeneuve) who fought out a duel for psychological dominance over 5 months of time and 7000 miles of ocean?
"Difficulties and dangers do but increase
my desire of attempting them."
- Admiral Horatio Nelson
"Each task has its man and each man his place.
A ship contains a set of human machinery in which every man is a wheel,
a band or a crank, all moving with wonderful regularity and precision to
the will of its machinist the all powerful Captain."
- Samuel Leech, veteran of sailing ship warfare
By the autumn of 1805 the Royal Navy had
already fought 9 naval battles in its effort to contain the hegemonistic
urge released by the French Revolution. They were the Glorious First of
June, fought in the Bay of Biscay in 1794; the Ile de Groix, again fought
in the Bay of Biscay, and the Mediterranean battle of Hyeres, brough in
1795; Cape St Vincent, fought in the Atlantic off Spain, and Camperdown
against the Dutch off Holland in 1797; the Nile in 1798; Copenhagen and
Algeciras, fought near Gibraltar in 1801; and Calder's action in the Bay
of Biscay on 22 July 1805. It had also conducted and supported a score
of amphibious operations designed to assault the French continental empire
at its periphery and capture its possessions and those of its satellites
beyond the seas.
This chronicle reflects both the extraordinary strategic outreach achieved by navies in the days of sail and to the degree to which such outreach had been incorporated into the Nelsonian navy's routine. Not yet constrained, as later fossil-fuel fleets would be, by the endurances imposed by the capacity of their coal bunkers or oil tankers, Britain's wooden walls, creaking south, west or eastwar at 50 or 60 miles a day, could keep the seas and cover distances without the need to touch land for periods never achieved before or since... The Royal Navy during the Revolution and the Napoleonic years almost effortlessly sustained a network of maritime control and intervention over more than half the globe's surface.
Of the 9 battles fought, four had been indecisive engagements with the French - Groix, Algeciras, Hyeres and Calder's action - while three of the five victories had been won against allies of France (Spanish, Dutch and Danes) rather than France itself. Only the Glorious First of June and the Nile counted as unequivocal defeats of French power.
Why was it that mastery of the seas still eluded the Royal Navy's crews and captain? The Royal Navy kept striving to win its battles in a fashion that negated the effort made. Naval warfare remained the prisoner of tactics - linear tactics - which reduced even the most elaborate strategy, at its culminating point, to a simple struggle of unit of force against unit of force, single broadside against single broadside, ship against ship. Armies imprisoned by the same linear tactics since the beginning of warfare had just begun to escape their limitations.
Hindsight enbales us to see that navies had
arrived in the 18th century at a state of development that armies would
not until some 200 years later... 210 years after the battle of Malaga,
the European armies on the Western Front would find that the firepower
they generated nullified their capacity to maneuver on the battlefield.
The British, perhaps because of their essentially maritime approach to
warmaking, rapidly perceived that the means of breaking the stalemate lay
in the construction of a machine which would combine the qualities of maneuver
and firepower within itself. They characterised this conception as a 'landship'
and only later, when a prototype had actually been built, christened it
Landships did indeed revolutionize the nature of land fighting; but they were not to become decisive weapons until the first stages of the Second World War when their intrinsic capabilities for maneuver and firepower were supplemented by the exterior capabilities of massive and rapid resupply of the tank's necessitites - fuel and ammunition - and centralised, comprehensive and 'real time' command. The first was supplied by mechanical transport, the second by radio. In concert, these capaibilities transformed individual landships into genuine land fleets.
The wooden man-of-war, for all its outwardly antiquarian appearance, was in fact an astonishingly efficient, highly developed, even 'modern' instrument of war. Its designers had endowed it with capabilities, particularly those of 'endurance' in the widest sense, which the naval architects of later generations would seek in vain to supply to their creations... HMS Victory was designed to store enough biscuit, beef and beer, the sailor's staples, for 850 men for four months and enough poweder and shot for estimated expenditure in a three-year commission.
The artillery powe of the sailing man-of-war is best conveyed by comparison with that exerted by contemporary armies... The gun power of Nelson's Trafalgar fleet exeeded that of Napoleon's Waterloo army 6 times; and if it had had to be transported by land - at a speed five times less - it would have required over 50,000 gunners and 30,000 horses, as well as a daily supply of some 300 tons of fodder and 75 tons of food; the comparable daily intake aboard Nelson's fleet was 70 tons. In brief, six times as many guns, of much heavier calibre, could be transported daily by Nelson's fleet as by Napoleon's army, at one-fifth of the logistic cost and at five times the speed.
In his ships, contemporary admirals had military instruments whose equivalents the land commanders would not possess until the middle of the 20th century; strategic in their capacity to detach themselves from fixed points of supply, tactical in their power to deliver overwhelming force at a critical offensive point... However his inability to articulate them en masse at the moment of contact with the enemy had driven him to adopt exactly the same expedient as generals would find themselves forced to accept at the outset of the 20th century: that of exerting equal pressure along the whole length of a line of engagement for want of a means to identify and concentrate against the critical point. 18th century battles at sea, it is not going too far to say, resembled First World War battles on land... though fortunately not with the same catastrophic cost in human life.
The Battle of the Saints and Camperdown indicated the only means by which one sailing fleet could defeat another in a mobile engagement on the open sea. It was a means fraught with danger: a long approach in line abreast, when the attacking fleet, its broadsides masked, exposed the fragile bows of its ships to the enemy's guns, entailed the risk of crippling damager before ever any could be done in return. The passage through the enemy's line required the most skilful ship-handling.
At the beginning of the 19th century, it was Nelson who grasped that the signalling evolution predicated, through the proper retraining of his subordinate captains, the realisation of the intrinsic power of sailing-ship fleets to deliver decisive victory at sea.
Events were to prove that Nelson's fleet harboured no Judases, not even a doubting Thomas.
In the morning of 19 October the frigate Sirius, waiting outside Cadiz harbour, signalled to the fleet below the horizon, "Enemy have topsails hoisted." An hour later it hoisted signal No. 370, "Enemy ships are coming out of port." The hoists were mnade to the next frigate in the signalling chain, Euryalus, which in turn signalled No. 370 to Phoebe. And so No. 370 travelled down the chain, from Phoebe to Naiad, Naiad to Defence (a line-of-battleship), Defence to Colossus, and Colossus to Mars, standing in Nelson's line of battle itself, 48 miles from the mouth of Cadiz harbour. The new reached Nelson at 930. He immediately ordered "General Chase south-east" and steered to place the fleet between Cadiz and the Straits of Gibraltar. The opening move of the battle of Trafalgar had begun.
It is a considerable confusion that navies tended not to change the names of ships captured from the enemy, and then sometimes passed on a foreign name to a new construction. This explains why there was both a French and British 'Swiftsure' at Trafalgar, as well as the British Bellisle, Temeraire, Spartiate and Tonnant... British ship names were largely traditional; Nelson's Trafalfar Swiftsure was the fifth of that name. However, the appearance of some names, like Victory, Defence and Britannia, in wars as far apart as the Seven Years and the Napoleonic is explained not by rebuilding but by longevity. Those three were the same ships, laid down respectively in 1765, 1763 and 1762. When constructed of seasoned oak frames and properly maintained, men-of-war could serve successfully for decades.
Nelson intended the 'order of sailing' to be the 'order of battle, and the order of sailing was not be a mere parallel formation but a pair of spearheads aimed ay the gaps in the Combined Fleet of Spanish and French ships. Such gaps were naturally present, ships normally sailed at a cable's (200 yards) distance and it was into that interval that he intended to plunge. He also counted, with realism, on the enemy's poor seamanship opening larger gaps. With never explained prescience, Villeneueve had anticpated Nelson's intention.. With almost Nelsonic barvura ("No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of an enemy"), Villeneueve enjoined that a "A captain who is not under fire is not at his post". And in the anticipation of the 'pell-mell' battle that Nelson wanted, he had instructed that "the formation being broken, every effort must be exerted to go to the assistance of the ships assailed and to close on the flagship, which will set the example."
Terrible mortality had fallen on those ships which had been chosen targets by the leaders of the British columns, been encircled in the course of the action or had fought with unusual zeal, categories which in some cases overlapped.
A well-aimed and well-timed first broadside, like an equivalent first salvo of musketry by well-drilled musketry, was probably worth the half-dozen following.
In the British fleet, deaths and woundings among the fighting and sailing officers varied between one-sixth and one-third, according to duties. Captains suffered 22% casualties, lieutenants 19% and marine officers 18%. All or many of these officers would have had their stations on the quarterdeck, unprotected by anything but the bulwarks and hammock nettings, where they would have been exceptionally exposed to sharpshooters... Total casualties among British officers was 17%... Among the sailors, on the other hand, amounted to nearly 9%. As the action station of the majority of sailors was below decks, where they were protected by stout timbers on four sides, the discrepancy further bears out the supposition that it was exposure above decks - to musketry as well as roundshot - rather than mere presence in battle that constituted the greater danger in sailing-ship warfare.
Trafalgar, a 'revolutionary' battle in its effects, owed its nature to revolutionary tactics; but those tactics, so the argument runs, were chiefly the product of a revolution in control, brough about by the innovation of Home Popham's telegraphic signalling system. It was because Nelson had at his disposal the means to direct his ships wherever he wanted them to go at whichever moment he chose that he could risk the experiment of "breaking the line from to windward", and so encompass the destruction of the Combined Fleet.
The incontestable conclusion is that it was "man killing" not "ship killing" that won the battle of Trafalgar... The decisive fighting of the battle centered on for ship "clusters": Santissima Trinidad, Redoubtable and Bucentaure, which were the targets of Nelson's break-in; Indomptable, Santa Ana and Fougeux, the targets of Collingwood's; and further down the line, Aigle, Achille and their neighbours, which sailed at points where the rest of Collingwood's division broke in. Six of those eight ships struck their colours (Achille blew up, Indomptable got away but in a devastated condition). All struck because of appalling loss of life. None of the ships apart from Achille were "killed" in any material sense. What happened, on the contrary, was that British gunnery slaughtered their occupants, above and below decks, in droves. Santa Ana had 104 killed and 137 wounded. Fougeux's captain reported three-quarters of the crew killed or wounded, Aigle's two-thirds, Redoubtable's five-sixths, while Bucentaire had 450 casualties and Santissima Trinidad 400 killed and 200 wounded. These must be compared with the worst losses in the British fleet of 57 dead about Victory and 47 dead aboard Temeraire.
Trafalgar was, in short, a massacre. As massacres go, it compared not at all with the worst of what Napoleon - or Wellington - was wreaking or would shortly wreak on land. The total of 8500 killed and wounded out of some 50,000 present (17%) must be set against 5000 among 192,000 at Waterloo (29%). However, it was a figure unprecedented in sea fighting, and even though inflated by the drownings of crews wrecked in the gale that followed the action, one which set the battle apart from any fought in the 50 preceding years of wooden-wall warfare. In its human horror, it both emphasised how half-hearted had been the urge to victory of all European admirals before Nelson and anticipated how very more brutal naval warfare would become once truly ship-killing, and therefore mass man-killing, weapons appeared to lend Nelsonian naval tactics of do-or-die attack their essential point.
It was an ironical but also logical outcome
of Trafalgar that Nelson should have been its principal victim. The greatness
of Nelson as a commander, like the greatness of Wellington, whom he resembles
not at all in personality but closely in intellect, was to have comprehended
the essence of the form of warfare he practised and reduced it to an operational
procedure. What Wellington comprehended was that the firepower of infantry,
when infantry was disposed in careful conformity to the topography of a
defensive position, would, under scrupulous, direct and personal management,
defeat any attack thrown against it; and by defeating it create the circumstances
in which counter-attack would deliver victory. He had grasped, in short,
that the defensive was the stronger form of warfare between gunpowder armies
and devised a 'system' - his word - to capitalise on that perception. Nelson
had perceived an opposite truth: that the offensive was the stronger form
of warfare between gunpowder navies.
Wellington's system, depending though it did on his immediate personal presence, did not expose him continuously to the fire of the enemy at close range; Nelson's by contrast, did exactly that. As a result, while Wellington survived 16 battles as a commander at the cost of some near misses, Nelson succumbed in his first command of a general engagement at sea to a point-blank shot.
The 'old system' which Nelson had rejected had been an effort to defeat a whole fleet by the action of another whole fleet; his new system was an attempt to defeat a whole fleet by the devastation of a few of its parts.
The human consequences of the Nelsonian 'system' were barbaric. His own last two and a half hours of life convey all too realistically the agony undergone by a badly wounded man carried down to the orlop deck of a man-of-war in the course of action. The worst hit of the French and Spanish ships were charnel houses, their orlops overflowing with wounded, many others lying unattended among the guns. And the agonies of the wounded were soon compunded by the vicious hull motion imparted by the gale, and then the terror, frequently realized, of drowning below decks.
The successors of the wooden man-of-war would go further, shoot further and hit harder than anything wrought from oak, fastened by copper and rigged with flax and hemp; but no product of the shipwright's art - perhaps not even the nuclear submarine - would ever serve the purposes of those who pay and those who command so narrowly. The passing of the age of wooden ships, which had made their last great encounter at Trafalgar, marked a moment of fundamental change, by no means for the better, in human history.
# JUTLAND - The Fall of the Wooden Walls
When Russia's Black Sea fleet surprised Turkey's at Sinope in 1853, the former firing shells, the latter traditional solid shot, the result was devastation. It was already too late for the British and French navies to add any anti-shell protection to the wooden walls sent against Russia in the Crimean War that began the following year; but fortunately the Russian wooden walls did not the challenge them to battle. However the warning was too strong to be ignored... In a rash of activity after the Crimean War, the French and British admiralties reacted accordingly... In 1860, Britain launched 'Warrior', which is rightly regarded as the first battleship of the modern age. Warrior was steam-propelled, shell-firing, iron in construction from keel to bulwarks and heavily armoured aswell. Seeing her lying at anchor beside the surviving wooden walls of the Channel Fleet, Palmerston said she looked like "a black snake among the rabbits."
After 1865 all the Royal Navy's new ships were built of iron; the most modern of the old were cut down and ironclad. By the next decade all navies with a claim to be regarded as modern had battle fleets exclusively composed of iron ships driven by steam, mounting shell-firing guns and protected over their engine-rooms, magazines and gun batteries by plates of metal armour. Yet most battle fleets remained small until the end of the century. Britain's redical and adventurous dismantling of her wooden walls in the 1860s confronted her naval rivals - France and Russia - with costs they did not choose to meet.
The new German empire chose to consider that a place among the foremost states of the world consistent with its economic and military power could be achieved only by the building of a large High Seas Fleet... Tirpitz was to argue a strategy which offered a realistic chance of nullifying British naval power from a basis of German inferiority - marginal inferiority, it is true, but inferiority nonetheless. Tirpitz called his strategy 'risk theory'... If a German navy could threaten, even at heavy cost to itself, such losses to the Royal Navy that its ability to confront one of its other naval rivals - France, Russia, the United States - was thereby compromised, it would shrink from the challenge. In doing so it would concede to Germany a freedom of action of its own in international politics and thereby open the way for Berlin to move from great power to world power status.
Tirpitz did not, however, expect the British to acquiesce in a direct German challenge to the Royal Navy's power. Contrary to popular conceptions, he did not plan to conduct an open naval race. His design was to make ground on his rival by stealth... But to the alarm of the British his Second Navy Bill of 1900 elicited funds for the doubling of the fleet... For all Germany's resolve to "operate carefully like the caterpillar before it had grown into a moth", British hypersensitivity to a naval challenge from any direction, but particularly from a point as close to home as the North Sea, ensured that the caterpillar and moth came under immediate parliamentary, press, and public scrutiny.
With the promotion of Admiral Sir John Fisjer to the post of First Sea Lord, the Royal Navu was plunged into the most radical reorganisation it had ever undergone, designed to transform it from a sprawl of far-flung squadrons at the margins of empire to a rationalised instrument of world power with, at its centre, a great striking force based on Britain.
War when it came in August 1914 was an eventuality for which the Royal Navy's bare margin of material security would not compensate for its marked lack of attention to strategic or even tactical thought. Professionally the Royal Navy had grown complacent. For all its dedication to the Trafalgar ideal and the Nelsonian memory it had no clear-cut vision of how Trafalgar might be refought in modern conditions and no proven battle leaders... Anti-slaving, gunboat diplomacy and the coastal operations of the Crimean War had provided the fathers and grandfathers of Britain's sea-officers of 1914 with a taste of action. Late Victorians and Edwardian empire had not offered even those opportunities... Not only was experience lacking; so too was talent.
"At the outset of the conflict we had more
captains of ships than captains of war."
- Winston Churchill
"In war the first principle is to disobey
orders. Any fool can obey orders."
- Admiracl Jackie Fisher, looking for initiative from his sea captains
Dogger Bank was incontestably a British victory, but it was an incomplete one, which damaged and alarmed the High Seas Fleet but did not defeat it... Any immediate repitition of the Dogger Bank battle was now forbidden by the Kaiser, who chose to preserve the High Seas Fleet for a decisive action... Not until 5 March 1916 did it appear in strength in the North Sea again, and then very briefly... as soon as the High Seas Fleet was opposed, it broke off action and headed for home. Tirpitz's pre-war risk theory had now apparently been stood on its head; any risk threatening the High Seas Fleet was deemed too heavy to bear, forcing it back into port and leaving freedom of the same, as for a hundred years, to the Royal Navy.
The ironclads - the term armourclads, Professor
Bernard Brodie has percipiently suggested, better characterises their nature
- in which Sheer and Jellicoe steamed to their rendezvous were ships unlike
any on which the navies before or since had counted for victory. 'Victory'
and all the men-of-war of the wooden world had been, it is true, specialized
in function; none the less, they did not differ in construction, means
of propulsion or essential configuration from their merchant sisters which,
in the last resort, it was their function to protect... Victory, with its
21-foot depth of hold containing stores for four months' cruising, was
a considerable bulk carrier in her own right.
'Dreadnought', by contrast, had no space to carry anything but fuel for her own propulsion, munitions for her armament and supplies for her crew. Of the three commodities, fuel was by far the bulkiest... Dreadnought, carrying some 2000 tons of coal, would burn that amount in five days' steaming at 20 knots. Victory's endurance was, of course, limited only by her capacity to load food and drink. Oil, to which Britain turned in the design of her latest pre-war dreadnoughts, extended endurance by some 40 per cent.
In action every man in the crew had duty which took him into the ship's central fighting zone. Here lay a crucial difference between the functions of the crew in wooden-wall warfare and those of the armourclads. At Trafalgar those functions had been few: a minority of the crew continued to act as sailors, handling sails above deck; another small minority - officers and marines - also remained in the open, to command or to act as small-arms men. A tiny minority of specialists working in the powder rooms, the sick bay or at damage control kept to the bowels of the ship; but the vast majority worked as members of the gun teams. On a dreadnought, the division of fighting labour was immensely complex. There was, to begin with, the division between the propulsion team and the rest of the ship's company... The wooden navy had 'rated' men in only four ways: as able seamen, fit to go aloft or serve guns; as less than able seamen, consigned to labouring or servile work; as craftsmen in timber or sailmaking; and as marines. The dreadnought navy had a dozen rates.
The central factor in the reduction of the High Seas Fleet to an inoperative force was the action of Jutland itself. Germany had built a navy for battle. In the only engagement fought by its united strength it had undergone an experience its leaders did not choose - any more than the leaders of the Combined Fleet after Trafalgar chose - to repeat. What had happened to deter it from fighting again?
Of major importance to the understanding of Jutland is a recognition that equals did not fight equals. Trafalgar had been a contect between ships of the line and though some were stronger than others, the majority had been roughly equal in their ability both to give and receive punishment. Such was not the case at Jutland. The late 19th century diversification of ship-types, promoted by the development of the torpedo and the turbine, whose principal products were the battlecruiser, the destroyer and the submarine (though the latter played no part in the events of 31 May 1916), pitched 'weak' ships against 'strong' ships in perumtations sailors had never known hitherto. In the central phase of the battle, when Jellicoe's battleships had fought Scheer's, the fight had been between equals. So too had it been while Hipper's and Beatty's battlecruisers had struggled for advantage in the opening encounter. But battlecruisers also fought battleships, at great disadvantage to themselves, and cruisers and destroyers capital ships - as well as each other - at suicidal risk.
The battlecruisers, though 'risk' ships, were expected to have been proof against running salvoes in the preliminary to the main action, even if unsuitable to stand in the line of battle; Seydlitz and her sister ships passed that test. For the British, the vulnerability of Invincible, Indefatigable and Queen Mary to German long-range armour-piercing fire wwas to be the most unsettling outcome of all the events of the Jutland encounter.
Torpedo-boats and destroyers - the latter
originally the enemies of the former, but by 1916 simply their equivalent
in a larger version - remained potent threats to capitals ships, despite
the multiplication of secondary armaments designed to destroy them. However
for alll their speed - British destroyers easily exceeded 30 knots at Jutland
- torpedo-craft were acutely vulnerable to shellfire, even to the shells
fired by each other's 4-inch guns. In exchange for speed they sacrificed
every vestige of protection, so that a hit by any calibre of shell penetrated
the hull and might strike into the vitals of the engine-rooms or magazines.
Light cruisers, though larger, were scarcely more robust. Their function was to scout for the battlecruisers and hold torpedo-boat and destroyer flotillas at bay, for which their heavier armament, guns of 6-inch calibre, well fitted them. However, should they encounter capitals, they were wholly at their mercy and could only hope to escape destruction by using their high speed to put sea room between themselves and danger. To so-called armoured cruisers, forerunners of the battlecruisers by which they had been wholly eclipsed, had no place at all in a major fleet action between dreadnoughts. Slow, weak and undergunned, they were little menace to light cruisers or torpedo-craft and were victims to anything larger. The British lost three at Jutland - Black Prince, Defence and Warrior.
The loss of a few small ships by either side could not alter the outcome of the battle. That turned on the number of capital ships which remained battleworthy after the action was over, and the continuing will of their admirals and crews to take them to sea again. However, the tally of small ship losses contributed to the general impression of victory (or defeat) that the world would gain when the news of Jutland broke; and in that respect the Royal Navy had come out of it better than the German. Moreover, the losses of small ships and their crews, shipmates to the men who had survived behind the armour and big guns of the capital units, directly affected the morale of the fleets as a whole... No fewer than four German light cruisers and five German torpedo-boats and eight British destroyers were lost at Jutland.
The human cost, however, had fallen far more heavily on the British. The truth was that over 6000 British officers and sailors had gone down with their ships or been killed on their decks whle the Germans had lost only a few more than 2500. The casualties of the ironclad with those of wooden-wall warfare were gruesome. The solid shot exchanged by Nelson's and Villenueve's ships dismembered or decapitated, and tossed showers of wooden splinters between and across decks. However, if the missiles did not kill outright, their victims retained a chance of clean and recover... The casualties at Jutland suffered wounds almost unknown to an earlier generation of naval surgeons; metal fragmentation wounds, scouring trauma by shell splinter and, most painful and hardest of all to treat, flash and burn effects and flaying by live steam.
Ironclad navies, vulnerable to defeat "in an afternoon", as Winston Churchill percipiently put it, were fragile instruments of national supremacy. They were expressions not of the strength of a whole national system - social, financial, industrial - but of no more than a single one of its technological aspects. Germany's naval technology was proved by Jutland to be superior to Britain's. Her ships were stronger, her guns more accurate, her ordnance more destructive... Because the German navy took second place in national life to the Germany army, on which the bulk of the state's wealth was spent, Germany's admirals could not transform technological into strategic advantage over their British counterparts; but Britain's admirals were themselves the servants of a naval technology supported by a financial and industrial power which had, since the 1870s, been in relative and irreversible decline... The Grand Fleet may have appeared in the years between 1914 and 1916 to be the largest embodiment of naval strength the world had ever seen, as in weight of firepower it unquestionably was. However, it was a pyramid of naval power trembling on its apex, at risk from overtoppling by any new technological development that that threatened its integrity. The dreadnought fleet was ultimately a thing of steel - steel ships, steel guns, steel shells. Yet not only ws Britian by 1914 third among the world's steelmakers, exceeded in output by both the US and Germany; steel was a material whose domination of technology had itself passed its apogee. The thrust of industrial innovation had moved to light metals and alloys, of which the most dramatic expression would be the aeroplane.
# MIDWAY - The Coming of the Aircraft Carrier
The presence of the seaplane carrier 'Endagine'
with the Grand Fleet at Jutland was, as a portent, an event almost as significant
as the battle itself. Alfred Tennyson had written seventy years before
(in 'Locksley Hall'):
For I dipped into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rained a ghastly dew
From the nations airy navies grappling in the central blue;
The idea of the aeroplane had captured the human imagination long before such a machine approached practicality; and the idea had been imaginatively invested with military purpose almost from the outset. Why should it have been otherwise? The aircraft was a thing of magic, a means of transforming man into bird. While some birds are objects of beauty and sources of pleasure, valued for their plumage and their song, others have always been feared as omens of evil or envied as symbols of power. The taming of birds of prey kestrels, harriers, even eagles adumbrated the harnessing of human powers of flight to warfare. Almost as soon as mechanical flight became practicable for all that Orville and Wilbur Wright clung idealistically to their belief in the aeroplane they had invented as a means of diminishing distance and therefore differences between the families of mankind its military applications were not merely recognised but rapidly implemented. As early as 1912 the Italians had employed aircraft to bomb Ottoman forces in Libya. Even earlier, in November 1910, an aeroplane had been successfully launched from the bows of an American warship as an experiment.
In 1868, at the conclusion of a bitter internal struggle between reactionaries and modernisers, the Emperior Meiji proclaimed the policy by which his medieval kingdom would meet the West on equal terms. "Knowledge shall be sought," he affirmed, in what would become known as the Charter Oath, "from all over the world and thus shall be strengthened the foundation of the imperial polity."
Admiral Yamamoto was a fervent Japanese patriot,
but he saw the danger into which militarism was leading his country and
constantly warned of the danger of challenging America for mastery of the
Pacific... As a result, and also because of his opposition to alignment
with Germany, he attracted the hostility of the 'double patriots' (officers
'more royal than the king') in the lower ranks of the officer corps and
for his own safety since assassination was a favoured expression of 'double
patriotism' in the late 1930s was promoted commander-in-chief of the
Combined Fleet in August 1939, a post which took him to sea and kept him
beyond the reach of the long knives.
The direction of Japanese policy had been decisively altered in February 1936, when mutinous officers in Tokyo murdered the leading moderates in the imperial government and effectively conferred power on the army, itself under the leadership of generals committed to overseas expansion and to gambling with the with the risk of war with the Western powers.
Exhilirated by its emergence as the second naval power in the world, as it was by 1918, the United States Navy looked forward to becoming the first, a place which federal finance and national industry capacity would easily allow it to take... What saved the Royal Navy was Woodrow Wilson's fall from office and replacement by Warren Harding, who was committed to a reduction of international competition between the victors of the First World War and to isolationism in American foreign policy. The result was the Washington Naval Treaty of 1921, which unilaterally restricted America's industrial ability to outbuild Britain but used the military preponderance of the two great maritime powers to impose restrictions on the naval strength of Japan, France and Italy. The results of the treaty were to hold American naval strength at a level with Britain's throughout the interwar years. It established between them exact parity in capital ships and aircraft carriers, forced the scrapping of much obsolete and building tonnage and assured the artificial dominance of the British and United States navies over all others in the world. The logic of the treaty was greatly enhanced by the world slump of 1929-30, which inaugurated politics of severe retrenchment in federal financing. Even had Washington wished to expland the US Navy in the 1930s, it could not have afforded to do so.
As war drew near in the late 1930s, the problems (for the US) of penetrating Japan's Pacific island barrier zone began to recede into insignificance beside the complications of a wider strategy. German and Italian rearmament threatened Britain's control of Western waters, all the more menacingly because of Britain's economic inability to enlarge its fleet. The Royal Navy of the Munich years, apart from some recently built aircraft carriers, was scarcely more modern than the fleet which had fought at Jutland; many of its first-line battleships had indeed fought at Jutland, while it was deficient in destroyrs, submarines and even cruisers, the principal medium of control over its seas of empire to which the Versailles Treaty had very greatly added in extent.
"By God," a former fleet admiral exclaimed after his return from Pearl Harbor on a presidential mission at the end of December, "I used to say a man had to be both a fighter and know how to fight. Now all I want is a man who fights." In Admiral Chester Nimitz, appointed to command the Pacific Fleet on 17 December, the United States would find a man as Lincoln did in Grant who would fight. Nevertheless, before he could contrive the circumstances in which his slender carrier striking force could take the Japanese at a disadvantage, America still had much humiliation to undergo.
Admiral Nagumo, in command of the Japanese Carrier Striking Force, was ebullient, direct and uncomplicated. He was a sea dog, happier afloat than ashore, absorbed by shipboard routine, devoted to his sailors and loyal to old shipmates... Nagumo, though, was not truly 'air-minded'. Raised in the tradition of ship destruction by close combat with guns and torpedoes, his mind grappled uneasily with the spatial and time dimensions of engagement over long distances. He thought in terms of massing an overall superiority which his numbers easily allowed him to do rather than keeping the right 'mix' of aircraft, ready for action, airborne over his own ships and heading for the enemy, which was the secret of successful carrier command.
Superiority of ship numbers counted for nothing in long-range carrier encounters if the more numerous fleet were caught without its combat air patrol aloft and threw away its strike aircraft in serial and uncoordinated attacks.
Admiral Raymond Spruce, commanding USS Enterprise and Hornet towards which Nagumo was now heading, had been thinking exactly as a carrier commander should in those fateful minutes while his opponent had dithered between the choice of ship or shore strikes. Spruance's original plan had been to launch his Dauntless and Devastator aircraft at 9 o'clock, when they would have less than 100 miles of sea to cover to reach Nagumo's estimated position. News of the Japanese attack on Midway had suggested to him, however, than an earlier launch might catch the two Japanese carrier groups recovering and refuelling their aircraft, a particularly desirable moment to launch bombs and torpedoes, for the flight decks would be cluttered with inflammable fuel lines... Accordingly, and even though it meant committing his pilots to a flight of 175 miles, with the attendant danger that some would 'splash' for lack of fuel on the return journey, he decided shortly after 6 o'clock to launch at seven. He also decided to make the strike 'all or nothing', launching every dive- and torpedo-bomber, so that the Japanese would be hit simultaneously by a concentrated mass.
Nagumo, who might still have recovered from his error if given an opportunity to think for flight time over the 150 miles of sea space still separating the two carrier fleets was an hour at contemporary aircraft cruising speed was distracted by a strike from Midway. Delivered at 0820 by 11 old and slow Marine Corps Vindicators, it was driven away from the carriers by concerted Zero attacks and did no damage to them or their escorts. Neverthless, it had the effect of confusing Nagumo's capacity to analyse time, speed and distance at a moment when he most needed to think clearly.
In human terms, Midway had been a 'cheap' battle for vanquished and victors alike. The Japanese had lost not more than 3000 dead, the Americans fewer than 1000 a total of fatalities lower than at either Trafalgar or Jutland. The aeroplane, though deadly as a ship-killer in precision strikes, spared crews the terrible battering of repetitive gunnery salvoes in the flank-to-flank engagements of the battle line. This was not to mean that the great Pacific War would be a 'cheap' campaign. As it swelled in intensity, and Japanese resistance to the Americans' inexorable counter-offensive grew in desperation, crew losses would rise in horrifying number. Resort to kamikaze tactics, forced on the Japanese by the destruction of their trained air carrier groups, would entail the immolation of dozens of American radar picket destroyers, as well as many larger ships, while orthodox American surface-ships, submarine and aircraft strikes would sink Japanese ships by the score.
Midway was an 'incredible victory', as great a reversal in strategic fortune as the naval world had ever seen, before or since, and a startling vindication of the belief of the naval aviation pioneers in the carrier and its aircraft as the weapon of future maritime dominance.
# BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC: The Emergence of the Submarine
"The only thing that ever really frightened
me during the war was the U-boat peril."
- Winston Churchill
As with that other island empire, Japan, Britain's military and economic power rested on her ability to import raw materials, oil and food in enormous and regular quantities. Britain, though self-sufficient in coal, produced no oil and less than half her food requirements... Her total annual import requirements were 55 million tons.
The import trade was chiefly supported by Britain's fleet of 3000 ocean-going merchantmen, with a carrying capacity of 17 million tons. It was still the largest in the world... The officers and crews employed aboard numbered 120,000, as asset as precious and difficult to replace as the ships themselves. Both were highly vulnerable to loss by U-boat attack.
By early 1941, Donitz, with a hundred U-boats under command, of which six were operational in the Atlantic at any one time, had sunk 400 ships in the previous eight months, a rate of sinking twice that of new construction. The effect on the British war and domestic economy was crippling. Annual imports of all commodities had decreased from 55 million tons (in 1939) to 35 million tons by January 1941. Food imports were at an irreducible minimum of 15 million tons.
"How willingly," wrote Winston Churchill, "would I have exchanged a full-scale attempt at invasion for this shapeless, measureless peril, expressed in charts, curves and statistics."
The battle of the Atlantic differed from earlier struggles at sea above all in the range and complexity of the forces engaged and the weapons they deployed against each other. It was not merely a struggle between ships and commanders, as Trafalgar and Jutland had been, or between ships and aircraft also, as Midway was, but a pitting against each other of ships, aircraft, intelligence and communications systems, and surface, underwater and air weapons in a complex and fast-moving competition for advantage, in which mistakes were punished with pitiless severity. The chief components of the struggle were the convoys themselves, their U-boat enemy, the surface escorts, surveillance and attack aircraft, anti-submarine weapons, radio intelligence and command systems and cryptanalysis.
The U-boat's principal enemy was the convoys'
close escort, exclusively Britian or Canadian (or Allied) until September
1941, then alternatively American also. At the outset the escort was typically
a destroyer of one of the older classes, unsuitable for fleet operations
but capable of over 30 knots and, when a boiler was removed at the expense
of some reduction in speed, able to criss the Atlantic without refuelling.
These destroyers, usually of the V and W classes, to which the famous 50
American First World War 'four-stacker's were added in September 1940,
were excellent in close support, being fast and maneuverable. However,
with their narrow hulls and low displacement, they were miserable sea boatds,
wet above decks and violent in motion. They were also expensive and slow
to build. From the outset, therefore, the Admiralty added to the escort
fleet by constructing cheaper, smaller but more seaworthy and specialist
craft initially corvettes and sloops, with speeds as slow s 16 knots,
but with large batteries of depth-charge launchers.
By 1942, however, the Admiralty had recognised the need for a specialist class of anti-submarine warship, intermediate in size and speed between the destroyer and the corvette... The result was the frigate, a true ocean-going escort, able to make over 20 knots, cross the Atlantic without refuelling, deploy a full battery of underwater weapons including forward-firing depth-charge launchers, and accomodate a crew of a hundred men in reasonable comfort.
Hostile aircraft terrified the seamen of the Atlantic battle, those of the convoys as much as the U-boat crews who were their enemy. As soon as the Biscay ports fell to ther Germans, a force of long-range Focke Wolf 200, Gruppe 40 of thirty aircraft, was based in Brittany to undertake reconaissance and strike missions against the convoys; and though it was initially unsuccessful in guiding U-boats to distant targets, it quickly demonstrated how lethal bombing attacks against merchant ships could be. Early in 1941 the Admiralty reacted by equipping some merchant ships with catapult launched Hurricane fighters, 'one shot' aircraft, since the pilots had to ditch once launched, but effective in shooting down the FW 200, chasing them away or deterring them from interfering altogether. By April of that year it had been decided that every convoy should include a catapult fighter (CAM) ship, and in June another expedient appeared: 'Audacity', a merchantmen adapted to launch several fighters, out of which would develop the escort carrier, most potent of all anti-submarine weapons.
Donitz left behind a terrible legacy. The Tirpitz navy into which he had been apprenticed was born from a naked and selfish rivalry for power and died in frustrated rancour. The Hitler navy, of which Donitz was the chief architect, had forsworn every principle of the sea's fellowship mutual help in the face of nature, instant assistance to the shipwrecked, magnanimity in victory and fair play at all times against a code of 'hardness' justified by the appeal to national survival. The consequences for Atlantic seafarers had been appalling. Over 30,000 British, American and Allied merchant seamen died in the sinking of 2603 merchant ships. However, the consequences for his own men had been proportionately worse. The pool of seamen on which Donitz's U-boats had inflicted their losses numbered several hundred thousand. His own U-boat crews totalled no more than 40,900 from war's beginning to war's end, and of those 28,000 had gone down with their boats, a casualty rate of 70%, unapproached by that of any branch of any other service in the country... Among those who did not survive the U-boat war were Donitz's own two sons. Peter Donitz had died beneath the North Atlantic in U-954 on 19 May 1943, sunk by a Liberator, and Klaus, whom his father had withdrawn from the Atlantic battle by use of privilege, was killed in a patrol-boat action in the Channel on 14 May 1944. Over neither death did Donitz permit himself the smallest interruption of his daily routine. The hardness he so often urged on his captains had entered into his soul.
# CONCLUSION - An Empty Ocean
By the end of the Second World War, indeed well before its end, the submarine and the aircraft carrier had established themselves indisputably as the dominant weapons of war at sea.
The majesty of the American carrier groups maneuvering at sea exceeded even that of the dreadnought fleets. The spectacle of those great floating airfield steaming upward at 25 knots under the vast Pacific sky to launch and recover a hundred aircraft in a single sortie, surrounder by the cruisers, destroyers and radar-pickets of their air defence screens, left an indelible impression of grace and power on all who witnessed it.
Yet the defeat of Japan was not solely to be ascribed to the aircraft carrier; in the opinion of Tojo, the Japanese war leader, the submarine played an equal part in the American victory... Submarines destroyed two-thirds of the Japanese merchant navy. By mid-1945 American submarines were operating with impunity in the Sea of Japan itself, and had brought most traffic between the home islands to a halt. In short, what Donitz tried but failed to achieve in the Atlantic the Americans succeeded in doing in the Pacific. Their submarines locked a stranglehold about the enemy economy and squeezed it into paralysis. For Japan, to an extent even greater than Britain, was a country dependent upon seaborne imports for its raw materials and means of subsistence... America's threat to interdict its import of oil and metals was the pretext it had chosen for making war in 1941.
With the launching of the George Washington class of nuclear submarine in 1959, half measures in the revolutionisation of the submarine disappeared and it moved in a single step to the first rank among units of naval power. 'George Washington' was unquestionably a capital ship, if that dated term still had validity.
The wooden world knew only one category of ship, differentiated by size alone; but size differentiation ensured that the larger were not a threat to the smaller, and vice versa, since the low speed and maneuverability of the heavily gunned ship ensured it could not bring the more lightly armed to battle, while the more lightly armed ship dare not use its superior sailing qualities to challenge a heavier adversary. Frigates, in short, fought frigates, and line-of-battleships fought each other. The coming of the irconclad, of the weapons coeval with the ironclad and particularly the torpedo, altered that stratification. The torpedo-boat was designed specifically to challenge the largest ships in an emeny's fleet. Its appearance called forth the torpedo-boat destroyer, which in turn required the multiplication of light cruisers, then of heavy cruisers, and ultimately the creation of the battle cruiser. Fleet actions, in consequence, imposed on admirals a bewildering duty to orchestrate diverse ship-types which, as Jutland demonstrated, not even the worthiest and most dedicated could always get right. The later addition of submarines and aircraft carriers to the simultaneous equation admirals were called upon to solve in their heads, against the time-urgency and space variables of battle, compounded their difficulties still further.
These difficulties of orchestration are now threatening to transfer themselves underwater, as the efficient parts of fleet progressively acquire diverse submarine types... a vision of the future something akin to an underwater Jutland... But it remains an unsolved weakness of modern submarine operations that communication, both to submerged submarines from the surface and between one submerged submarine and another, is a problem which scientists are still struggling to solve... The consequence is that submarine fleets, though undoubtedly the most powerful instruments of naval forces ever sent to sea, are unamenable to either tactical or strategic control. As the history of naval warfare, over the 500 years in which it has been waged in an oceanic dimension, is essentially the story of an effort to impose first tactical and then strategic control over fleets, it is clear that admirals have far to go before they can resume the powers of command which ironclad and wooden-wall predecessors exercised with some degree of certainty. Yet command of the sea in the future unquestionably lies beneath rather than upon the surface.
Between the upper pincer of the aircraft carrier and the lower of the submarine, the conventional surface ship of whatever size - battleship, cruiser, escort - awaited an inevitable constriction.... The conventional surface ship is now a marginalised instrument of military force, while the submarine and the aircraft carrier directly challenege each other for command of the sea.
It is with the submarine that the initiative and full freedom of the seas rest. The aircraft carrier, whatever realistic scenario of action is drawn, will be exposed to a wider range of threat than the submarine must face.
Five hundred years ago, before the sailing-ship pioneers ventured into great water, the oceans were an empty place, the only area of the world's surface in which men did not deploy military force against each other. In a future war the oceans might appear empty again, swept clear both of merchant traffic and of the navies which have sought so long to protect it against predators. Yet the oceans' emptiness will be illusory, for in their deeps new navies of submarine warships, great and small, will be exacting from each other the price of admiralty.
Quotes from other works
by John Keegan:
Warpaths * Intelligence In War * Soldiers * First World War * History of Warfare
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