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We are now at the commencement of a new era in naval warfare, in consequence of the introduction of steam as a propelling power for ships, and its application, by all the maritime powers of Europe, to vessels of war, from those of the lowest class to line-of-battle ships of the greatest magnitude. This new power will necessarily modify, and, to a great extent, overturn, the present tactics of war on the ocean.
Hitherto the execution of naval evolutions has depended on atmospherical conditions, and often the best concerted plans for attack or defence at sea have been frustrated, when at the point of being successfully carried out, by sudden calms, or by unforeseen changes in the direction of the wind; while now, an elaborate system of appropriate machinery, put in motion by the expansive force of steam, by enabling a vessel to be moved at pleasure, with more or less rapidity, or to be brought to a state of rest, or again, to have the direction of its motion changed through the guiding power of the helm, will enable the commander of a ship or fleet to put in practice, without risk of failure, whatever manoeuvre he may have determined on, whether for coming to action, or for counteracting the measures taken by his opponent, previously to, or during, all the battle movements of the fleet.
It is generally supposed that the present naval supremacy of Great Britain is mainly due to circumstances arising out of the particular nature of the moving power by which the evolutions of vessels, singly or in fleets, have been performed. That moving power is the wind acting on the sails of the ships—a power in its nature very variable; and it is evident that the introduction of steam, as a propelling power, whose action is entirely under the control of the engineer, will bring about great changes in the relative conditions of British and foreign navies, affecting, in consequence, the maritime importance of the several European nations.
This subject has already attracted the notice of scientific men in foreign countries; and an opinion prevails abroad, that the employment of steam as a moving power for ships of war will be attended with results beneficial to the nations of the Continent, while it will operate to the disadvantage of Great Britain."
It is supposed that to superior tactical skill in our commanders, in anticipating the effects likely to arise from variations in the force and direction of the wind, and to the superior practical experience and expertness of our operative seamen in executing the orders of the officers, with respect to the manipulation of the rigging and sails, the British navy is in a great measure indebted for the success which has hitherto attended it in the hostile collisions of its ships with those of other nations; and it is observed that when the complicated manoeuvres 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.
■ " Des machines puissantes du genre d'un moteur obelssant rendra inutiles et la marine et les marins a voile dont la Grande Bretagne est un ruche si feconde."—Des Propulsions Sous-Marins, par M. Labrouse, l843.
"Ce changement rendra l'experienoe et les habitudes navales moins utiles, et tournera a l'avantage de la France bien plus que de PAngleterre."—Paixhans, Sur une Arme NouveUe Maritime, p. 28.
"La vapeur menacait l'Angleterre de mettre la marine a la porte'e de tout
grand peuple qui aurait des soldats aguerris et des finances prospered
La vapeur, pe'ne'trons-nous bien de cette vente", place la question de supre'matie maritime sur un terrain plus abordable pour nous."—De la Qraviere, Guerres Maritimes, vol. ii. pp. 256, 264.
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 suggest for the augmentation of their professional attainments.
This circumstance alone, cceteris 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