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each ship keeping its antagonist always on the same point of the compass. The windward fleet may thus, at any time, form a line parallel to that of the enemy, and may engage him at any distance; or it may pass through his line of battle at one or more points, as Admiral Duncan did in the action off Camperdown, and as Lord Howe attempted to do on the 1st of June, 1794; or again, the weather-fleet may bear down in divisions in line ahead, and, penetrating the enemy's line, engage him to leeward, as Lord Nelson did in the battle off Cape Trafalgar.
The great solicitude which British admirals, in particular, have ever shown to gain the weather-gage, arose mainly from the option it gave to the commander of the windward fleet, either to force the enemy to a close action, or to compel him to edge away, bear up, and ultimately retreat.
87. The advantage of obtaining the weather-gage is strikingly illustrated in the description of the naval engagements between the English and Dutch fleets off the Texel, in 1653 and 1665 (Lediard's 'Naval History'), and in the action between the French and Dutch off Stromboli in 1676 (Oharnock, vol. ii., p. 10), and in many more modern battles.
In the manoeuvres of the British and French fleets on the 9th and 11th of April, 1782, Rodney's great object was to gain the weather-gage, but, being disappointed, he passed to leeward, engaging the enemy on the contrary tack; when, taking advantage of a wide opening (A), fig. 7, made in the French line, through the ships astern of the 'Ville de Paris' having been so much damaged in their sails and rigging by the fire of the British van (B) as to be unable to keep their proper distances, he pushed the ' Formidable' (F), followed by the 'Duke' and 'Namur,' through the gap, doubled upon the French rear, and gained a complete victory.
Nelson's plan of attack for the action at Trafalgar was formed on the assumption that he should possess the advantage of being to windward, and thus have it in his power to penetrate the line of the combined French and Spanish fleets, by which manoeuvre he contemplated engaging the enemy from the leeward, and preventing him from making his escape. (Clark's and MacArthur's 'Life of Nelson.')
88. In the leeward position of a fleet, the circumstances are very different from those which existed in the case above mentioned. A lee fleet cannot force into close action, one which is to windward of it; it might itself avoid such action by edging away, keeping up a distant cannonade on the enemy as he came down; but this manoeuvre could produce no decisive result, and the affair might end in a drawn battle, of which we read many instances in naval history. It must be admitted, however, that in the case of inferior strength, the lee fleet has the advantage of its retreat being open, and may, accordingly, edge away, or retire before the wind.
A lee fleet cannot approach one to windward, each of them sailing close-hauled in line ahead upon the same tack; but if the lee fleet sails the fastest, it may forereach upon the other, and, then tacking, stand towards it. A windward fleet, close-hauled, can only be approached by a lee fleet fetching up,, on the contrary tack, in line ahead; or, when having sufficiently forereached on the other, by making the ships taek simultaneously into line of bearing, parallel to the enemy, each ship stemming obliquely towards the enemy, and threatening to pass through the opposite interval. But in these cases the intervals in the enemy's line will be continually varying in their bearing and in their extent, by the relative celerities with which the ships are moving in contrary directions. Hence, in the attempt to break a line from the leeward, it must be uncertain which interval can be gained; and the extent of the interval is, practically speaking, diminished, from the obliquity of the line of penetration, while the leading ship or ships will be exposed to the broadside batteries of all the ships in the windward line, which are ahead of that part which it is intended to attack, as those ships pass in succession athwart the bows of the ships fetching up.
89. To penetrate an enemy's line from the leeward by the cross attack, as it is called (Art. 149), is impracticable, if the prescribed distances between the ships are accurately kept; and the manner of keeping the proper distance between two ships is here described for the information of the general reader. The mizen, or maintopsail (and topgallantsail, if set, or both occasionally), is kept shaking or backed, or more or less filled, if going upon a wind; or hraced-by if going large, so as either to check or increase the ship's speed. The interval from ship to ship, at the distance directed by signal, is regulated, by observing the angle subtended by the height of the mast-head above the water-line, of each nearest ship. The angles calculated for the different distances that may be signalled are entered in a table; whence, by setting the index of a sextant to the angle corresponding to the distance ordered, it may be ascertained whether the ship is drawing ahead or dropping astern.
The issue of the battle of May 20, 1756, turned entirely upon an error in the order of sailing, by which the' Intrepid,' with the loss of her foremast, drove on the ship next to that of the'Admiral, and obliged the ships astern to throw all aback; this caused so much delay that, night coming on, the French fleet bore off, and the action terminated, to the mortification of the country and the ruin of the admiral (Byng), in a drawn battle.
Instances in which attempts to break an enemy's line have ended in failure may be found in the accounts of the actions under Admiral Keppel in 1778, Lord Howe in 1794,a Lord St. Vincent in 1797," and Sir Eobert Calder in 1805.
90. Steam propulsion entirely annuls all the limitations and disabilities imposed by the wind on the evolutions of fleets, and opens the whole surface of the ocean as a battle-field for the contests of steam fleets. With this new power it may be presumed that success will more than ever depend upon the tactical skill and the quick perception of the chief, together with prompt and resolute execution on the part of those under his command.
91. A fleet of steamers would experience, in breaking an enemy's fleet in line ahead, none of the difficulties to which sailing ships are subject from their dependence on the direction of the wind; but, with steam as a moving power, this manoeuvre would not necessarily throw a fleet, commanded by a skilful tactician, into that inextricable disorder, nor reduce it to that state of utter helplessness, which in a sailing fleet has proved decisive of the fate of an action, as was the case on the 12th April, 1782. With a fleet whose facility of manoeuvring quickly and precisely is great, as is that of a steam fleet, the penetration of the line by the enemy, if not entirely prevented, may be speedily reciprocated by tactical skill; for as a commander, by breaking the line of his opponent, divides his own line likewise, so, by a prompt movement, that part of the opponent's fleet which is not doubled upon, reversing simultaneously from its rear, may double upon that division of the fleet which had broken through the line attacked.
• Lord Howe bore down with his whole fleet in line abreast, intending that every ship should pass through the enemy's line, and engage his ships to leeward, but the advance soon became disordered, and the Admiral was obliged to signal some ships to make more, and others less sail. The 'Queen Charlotte,' followed by the 'Bellerophon' and 'Leviathan,' passed unsupported through the French line astern of 'L'Eole,' and were with difficulty rescued from their perilous position; the remainder hauled their wind and opened fire, some at short, and others at long and scarcely effectual, distances. The 'Brunswick,' second ship to that of the Admiral, tried to cut through the line astern of the ' Jacobin,' the second to the French Admiral; but the ' Jacobin' ranged ahead, closely followed by the 'Achille,' so as not to leave sufficient space to pass through. The 'Brunswick,' thereupon, pushed for another opening between the ' Achille' and the 'Vengeur,' but the latter frustrated that design by shooting ahead and closing the interval. The 'Brunswick' persisting, ran foul of the 'Vengeur,' and the desperate battle which ensued between these two vessels, linked together by the 'Brunswick's' anchor getting hooked to the shrouds of the 'Vengeur'—a grasp which Captain Harvey would not release—forms a glorious episode in the history of the battle of the 1st June, 1794.
b In the battle of the 14th February, 1797, the three-decked ship ' Le Prince des Asturies,' leading the squadron of eight Spanish ships which had been separated from the principal division by the British fleet, endeavoured to pass through the British line, ahead of the 'Victory,' to reunite with the body of the fleet; but, finding the English line so compact as to make this impracticable, she was obliged to abandon the attempt.
In the actions of sailing ships, great numbers of seamen are unavoidably withdrawn from the service of the guns, to attend to the sails, in order to preserve the proper distances between the ships in line ahead, for which it is necessary to keep the braces and bow-hnes constantly manned; and the most expert sailors are told off in squads denominated sail-trimmers, knotters, and splicers, for the performance of their several duties: the manoeuvres of the sails, for the purpose of re-establishing order in changes of the wind, are, moreover, numerous and complicated, and Paul Hoste devotes a large portion of his work (pp. 68 to 79), and many diagrams, to an explanation of the manner of rectifying disorders which steam propulsion will entirely obviate. Steam-ships, having all their sails furled, permit the energies of the fighting crew to be wholly concentrated on the guns; the preservation of the distances and the movements of the ships being accomplished by the agency of the enginemen alone.
92. The importance of the windward position in the tactics of sailing ships, consists in the superior speed with which the ships, by sailing free, and therefore fast, may run rapidly down upon an enemy to leeward, and force him to fight, or abandon the field; but that advantage which the wind gives to a weather fleet, for this particular purpose, may be obtained, for every purpose, by a steam-fleet whose ships can put forth a greater degree of speed than those of the enemy .a
The amount of steam power for the propulsion of
* It may be said of well-commanded steam fleets, mntato nomine, as was said by an eminent tactician respecting manoeuvring armies directed by generals of talent, that— " Kntre deux annees pareilles ce sera enfin a qui l'emportera de genie et de celerite dans les manoeuvres."—(Guibert, vol. ii. p. l87.)