« ZurückWeiter »
and it is observed that when the complicated manquvres required to govern the motion of a ship under sail shall be superseded by the more simple management of steam machinery, naval warfare under steam will be in a great measure independent of nautical skill and good practical seamanship, and that the evolutions of a fleet will be reduced almost to the precision of military movements in the field. It is hence argued that on the employment of steam-propulsion for ships of war becoming general in Europe, that supremacy which our warlike navy has so long and so happily for us maintained, will cease to exist, and that other nations, less rich in nautical resources, but more abundant in those, both personal and material, which are required for military service on land, will become relatively more powerful than they were under the former conditions.
But does it necessarily follow that Great Britain will no longer maintain her present superiority in naval warfare ? or, if so, will her decline be wholly due to the employment of steam-propulsion in ships of war? The author ventures to think that such an opinion is unfounded, and that it can have been formed only on the presumption that our nautical science and mechanical skill are to remain stationary, while those of other nations go on improving. In this case there would, indeed, come a time when the superiority would be on the Continental side, but nothing appears, at present, to justify such a presumption. Our seamen of all ranks, are admitted to have, at this time, greater skill than those of other nations, not only in naval evolutions under sail, but also in the management of steam-machinery; and they continue to be diligently trained in all that relates to naval tactics with wind or steam: thus they are prepared to avail themselves of every improvement that science and practice can sug
gest for the augmentation of their professional attainments.
This circumstance alone, cveteris paribus, should enable British commanders to preserve their present superiority over those of the Continent; but how much greater are the advantages of our country, in respect of its seamen, over every other nation! Foreign seamen being taken, chiefly by conscription, from towns or fields, have seldom more than that training which can be given them in ships of war, on board of which they serve almost wholly within the limits of the European waters; whereas our sailors, exerting the energies of a people long habituated to maritime pursuits, are trained in our vast mercantile marine to the performance of their duties in every region of the earth, while employed in transporting merchandise between the mother country and its widely extended colonial dominions.
Our superiority holds good also with respect to their training in the employment of steam. The machinery for the propulsion of a British steamer is the best that can be executed, and the engineers who attend it are well known to have greater skill and more experience than men of the like class in other nations; Englishmen are, in fact, generally employed to work the engines on board of the mercantile steamers of foreign countries; and no reason can be given why their skill and their energies should be stationary, or not keep pace with their increasing opportunities for improvement.
It may, therefore, be safely affirmed that the advantages which Great Britain has so long enjoyed in her maritime superiority, will rather be increased than lessened under the new and as yet untried power of motion; and it may be reasonably supposed that other nations will continue to follow rather than lead us in
the, career of nautical warfare. The subject is, however, one of momentous importance to us, and it should engage us to bring every possible consideration to bear on the means by which Great Britain may, even at the outset, be enabled to maintain that superiority in steam-warfare, which has already been obtained for her by the skill and intrepidity of the officers and seamen of her glorious sailing navy.
New discoveries in the means and implements of war have at all times been necessarily attended, both in fleets and armies, by new formations in the array of battle, and by modifications, or entire changes, in their tactical evolutions. The greatest change in these respects took place at the epoch of the first employment of gunpowder in warfare; but every improvement in arms has, since that time, constantly led to counteracting measures being taken in organization and movements both naval and military, of which the history of military science affords abundant examples. It must be observed, however, that alterations in tactics have always been made by slow degrees, and have generally followed at long intervals the improvements which rendered them necessary. At the present time it may be said that no efficient change has yet been made in military tactics to meet the introduction of the improved rifle as a general arm for the infantry of the line.
The employment of steam as a motive power in the warlike navies of all maritime nations, is a vast and sudden change in the means of engaging in action on the seas, which must produce an entire revolution in naval warfare, and must render necessary the immediate adoption of new measures in tactics, and new material resources; these should be forthwith studied, and provided, with all the mental and physical energies which the talent and wealth of this country can exert; in particular, no money should be spared, considering the magnitude of the object at stake, no less than the preservation of our naval supremacy,-in procuring all that is necessary to meet the requirements of the service at this momentous epoch.
The changes which political events have produced in the maritime affairs of all the nations of Europe, and the great improvements which have been made in naval constructions and armaments, and particularly the introduction of steam as a motive power since the termination of the wars arising from the great French Revolution, are matters with which it behoves the statesmen of this country to be thoroughly acquainted. One great naval power in Europe has disappeared as such, and another has sprung up in the New World. The steam fleet of France is in a state of progressive augmentation; the government of that country having acted upon the decision of its “ Commission d' Enquête, of 1849, and has now attained a very formidable degree of strength. The division of the Russian fleet now in the Baltic, amounting to about 40 sail of the line, will speedily become a steam fleet; and the navies of the minor powers, Denmark, Sweden, and Holland, under the able administrations of those countries, are in a very efficient state. In short, the navies of Europe and of America have so increased in the number and strength of the ships, and their personnel, in all that relates to the science and practice of war, that, in a future contest, the sea will become the theatre of events, more important and decisive than have ever yet been witnessed.
a See the 'Enquête Parlementaire, sur la Situation et l'Organization des Services de la Marine Militaire, ordonnée par la Loi du 31 Octobre, 1849.' Paris, Imprimerie Nationale, 1851.
The efforts of our nearest continental neighbours have been particularly directed during the last nine years to the re-attainment of that rank and consideration which their nation formerly held among the naval powers of the world; and, admitting this to be a just and laudable policy for France to pursue, Great Britain should, at the same time, keep steadily in view the measures now being carried out in that country, conformably to the recommendation of the Commission of Inquiry just referred to, and must take corresponding measures to increase in due proportion the power, efficiency, and numerical strength of her naval forces, in order to maintain her present position. Thus, the naval arsenals of two great nations in alliance with each other, one of them impelled by a necessity of the first and highest order — that of providing effectually for its own security, are resounding with the din of warlike preparations, while both nations might be participating in the financial advantages and social benefits of a sound, substantial, and lasting peace.
It may be proper to observe here, that the Commission of Inquiry, in its sitting of the 3rd February, 1851, decided, that the number of ships of the line which, by the Ordonnance of 1846, was limited to 40, should be increased to 45, and that each ship should be provided with steam power. This was the number adopted, but it appears from the discussion which took place on the occasion, that the proposition of M. Charner, one of the members of the Commission, to increase the number to 50 ships of the line was rather postponed than rejected. It was recommended to have the greatest number possible of ships of the line finished, afloat, and ready armed whenever they might be required. The reason for