This paper has been transcribed from the 1914 edition of The Naval Review, produced by "The Naval Society" for the education of Royal Navy officers. In keeping with its original mandate, all authors were anonymous. However, the author has been identified as Commander Thomas H. M. Maurice, RN, thanks to the list published by James Goldrick in Mahan is Not Enough- the Proceedings of a Conference on the Works of Sir Julian Corbett and Admiral Sir Hubert Richmond (edited by James Goldrick and John B. Hattendorf, Naval War College Press, 1993).
It is important to remember that this article does not described official RN tactical doctrine, but is purely the opinion of one of its officers.
Until lately it was a generally accepted maxim that the torpedo could not play any part in a fleet action until one side had established a definite superiority in gun-fire, and that then its function was merely to complete, in the shortest possible time, the work begun by the guns.
The introduction of the long range torpedo has changed these conditions entirely and rather suddenly. Its range approaches equality, and its effective range may in circumstances prove superior to that of the gun; it is quite conceivable that some future fleet actions may commence with torpedo fire.
This change in conditions does not appear to be fully recognised yet, and, even among those who realise it, there is considerable divergence of view as to how best to deal with the new state of affairs.
The following ideas are put forward not with any claim that they provide a solution of the problem, but with a view to starting a discussion which may lead to a crystallisation of opinion and assist the Service generally to a right appreciation of the possibilities of torpedo fire in action.
Now that the ranges of guns and torpedoes are comparable, a comparison between the two weapons in other respects may be of assistance when considering the use of the latter.
The torpedo may be regarded as a slow moving projectile with a flat trajectory; the gun fires a projectile the time of flight of which is comparatively very small and the trajectory not flat.
Consequently, the characteristic error of the gun is a range error, while that of the torpedo is a lateral or deflection error.
Hence, at long ranges, if the gun projectile is to hit, the range must be known within narrow llimits, and, in most circumstances it will either hit the ship aimed at or miss altogether, - it is unlikely that it will hit any other ship in the same line.
As regards the torpedo, however, the lateral error, which causes it to miss the ship aimed at, may very possibly cause it to hit another ship in the same line.
At long ranges this lateral error is a very important item. It results not so much from any fault in the actual running of the torpedo, as from the difficulty of estimating the enemy's course and speed correctly. Therefore it is mainly the result of the personal error of man rather than that [written "than" in the original] of the mechanical defect of the torpedo. A number of torpedoes may be expected to do much the same thing when fired under the same conditions, but no two persons are likely to do anything in exactly the same way, and when attempting to solve a problem depending largely on visual observations made under somewhat difficult conditions, a number of persons are certain to differ widely in their results. Further, it is probable that they will arrive at conclusions not only nearer to, and further from, but also erring almost equally on each side of the correct solution. consequently one may expect that if a number of torpedoes are fired by a number of different persons under more or less similar conditions, and if all are fired at the same mark, then, owing to the personal errors referred to above, they will run at various angles to their correct lines, and pass at various distances from the point of aim; also, that about an equal number of torpedoes will pass on either side of the point of aim, and that the mean errors on both sides will be about equal.
Although human fallibility at the director is the main source of error, failures of torpedoes from what may be broadly classed as mechanical faults also come in to a certain extent. The most common effect of such faults is to decrease the speed, and in no circumstances is a torpedo likely to run much above the correct speed over a long range. Therefore the effect of mechanical faults will generally tend to put the centre of spread of the torpedoes somewhat abaft the point of aim; this effect, however, is small compared with that of personal errors.
It follows that, if a number of torpedoes are fired from different ships in action, all aimed at one ship, they will spread out like a fan, the centre of spread approximating to, but probably not quite coinciding with, the point of aim.
Since the errors made result in angular divergences from the correct line of flight, the linear spread increases with the range, and this effect is augmented by the fact that the difficulty of making correct estimations of course and speed of enemy also increases with the range. There are really three effects:-
(a) The angular spread resulting from personal errors, which is likely to become greater as the range at which observations are made increases.
(b) The angular spread resulting from failures of torpedoes.
(c) The linear spread resulting from any angular spread, which must increase with the distance run by the torpedoes.
This matter has been dealt with at some length, because, until a torpedo having a speed approximating to that of the gun projectile is evolved, the effect of errors in estimating enemy's course and speed must be great, and consequently spread must be considerable. A simple calculation will show that in order to make certain that a torpedo of average speed shall hit a single ship at a range of over 3,000 yards, it would be necessary to ascertain the ship's course and speed almost exactly, - certainly more accurately than would be practicable at such ranges in action even with the best appliances yet produced.
It is therefore necessary, at long ranges, to take the whole of an enemy's line as the target, and, since the centre of spread should be near the point of aim, it is desirable to fire at the centre of the line. The spread of the torpedoes if a number are fired, may then be expected to cover a considerable area, and, provided the enemy are within range and maintain the same course and speed during the time of flight, not only the centre ship, but a part of the line on either side of the centre will be in danger, the length of line endangered depending on the actual spread of the torpedoes. Moreover, even if the enemy alters course after they are fired, he will probably not be able to keep entirely clear of the dangerous area unless he turns at least eight points, or, if at a range near to the extreme running range of the torpedoes, turns to such less extent as will admit of his ships outranging them. Nothing less than an eight point turn is likely to keep the whole line clear of their angular spread, but a smaller turn may suffice to take the line outside their range before the torpedoes can reach it.
This fact appears to afford a strong argument in favour of future development being towards increasing the range rather than the speed, though there are practical limits to any possible decrease of speed for the sake of range.
If, for example, the speed were reduced to equality with that of the ship fired at, it is obvious that the ship could always outrange the torpedo. So it follows that it must always have some superiority of speed, the actual lowest practical ratio to speed of ship being a matter for consideration and decision. Given this essential superiority, any further increase, though desirable, is nothing like so important as an increase in range, and the fact that at the longer ranges the time of flight may be great compared with anything we are used to does not really affect the argument. To make this point perfectly clear it would be necessary to use figures and diagrams, which it is preferred to omit in this article; but if it be borne in mind that the linear spread must increase with the running range, it will be manifest that an enemy altering course outwards at the moment a "volley" of torpedoes of fired, will find an ever increasing dangerous area as he gets away, and were the range of the torpedoes unlimited, could hardly escape them all without turning eight points or more from his original course. This question is, however, intricate and controversial, and need not be further debated here.
There remain two other points which it will be as well to take into consideration before attempting to arrive at a decision as to the best methods of employing torpedoes in action.
First, there is the fact that the effect of a hit by a torpedo is the same at all ranges, and since it must hit on or below the water-line, the amount of damage resulting, though dependent to some extent on the position at which the torpedo explodes, must always be very serious. This suggests the desirability of risking the waste of a few torpedoes at extreme ranges if there is a reasonable chance of making even one or two hits in the early stages of an action. It must not be forgotten however, that the number carried in a ship is very limited, and that those fired at extreme ranges are always liable to be outranged if the enemy make a slight alteration of course outwards; so undoubtedly the majority of a ship's torpedoes should be reserved for use at shorter ranges in order to make certain that a considerable percentage shall hit.
Again, when visibility is low, opposing fleets may sight one another within torpedo range. In these circumstances it may prove impossible at first to open fire effectively with guns, on account of the difficulty of obtaining sufficiently accurate ranges or spotting corrections; but it would almost always be possible to make such a rough estimation of the enemy's course and speed as would give a reasonable chance of successively "browning" his line with torpedoes.
From the above general considerations it is safe to assume that torpedo fire will not be a negligible item in future fleet actions, and its effect on fleet tactics may now be considered.
There are two forms of torpedo fire to be taken into account:-
(a) That from capital ships, - ships in the line.
(b) That from light cruisers and torpedo craft in company with the battle fleet.1 [1 Possibly in the near future submarines also will have to be taken into account during fleet actions, but the writer assumes that it is impracticable at present for these vessels to accompany a battle fleet.]
In discussing torpedo fire from ships, the question of the ranges at which actions are likely to be fought must be taken into consideration. It may be assumed that in clear weather gun-fire could, and probably would be opened while fleets were still outside torpedo range, but that the results of gun-fire are not likely to be decisive at such ranges. Therefore, if both fleets desired to engage, and if gun fire only had to be considered, they would probably not remain for long outside the range of modern torpedoes.
Presumably, also, each fleet will be formed in one or more lines; the lines may conceivably be many and short, but there must be some kind of formation, and it is inconceivable that one fleet can approach another for the purpose of engaging without some of the ships comprising the fleet forming a more or less straight line in some direction. So it is fair to assume that fleets will tend to close within torpedo range, and that a fleet can hardly avoid some sort of line formation.
These assumptions being made, some hard facts of a technical nature though matters of common knowledge, may next be considered.
Since a torpedo has a long time of flight, it must, if fired to hit a ship under way, be aimed ahead of that ship, so that ship and torpedo may meet at a given spot. Hence, if fired from a position abeam, or abaft the beam of its target, it will have to run a distance greater than the actual range of the target at the moment of firing.
If, however, it is fired from a position well before the beam of its target, it will meet the target after running a distance less than the range at the moment of firing.
Therefore, if on a bearing before the beam of the enemy, it is possible that a ship may be able to reach the enemy with her torpedoes while the gun range remains in excess of the extreme running range of the torpedo.
On the other hand, if on an after bearing from the enemy, it may be impossible to rech the enemy with torpedoes, although the gun range may be less than their running range.
Putting these two facts together, it follows that ships on a forward bearing from an enemy's fleet, and steering such a course that the enemy bear abaft their beam, have a very great advantage in that:-
(i.) They can open fire with torpedoes at ranges outside their running range; and
(ii.) They can close the enemy with safety to a distance actually inside the running range of his torpedoes. In this case the enemy is exposed to serious risk from torpedo fire.
So, from the point of view of torpedo fire, it is extremely important, when closing an enemy's fleet, to obtain a position before his beam and to keep him on an after bearing. such a position is described as a "position of torpedo advantage."
It will be evident that if the speeds of the two fleets are nearly equal, either fleet will generally be able to prevent the other obtaining such a position; under which circumstances it would be bad policy to waste time manúuvring for an unobtainable object; but a fleet which does succeed in gaining a position of torpedo advantage will certainly be fighting under specially favourable circumstances, so, even if unable to obtain this position for one's own fleet, every endeavour must be made to avoid giving the enemy such an advantage. Probably both sides will work to these principles, with the result that the leaders of the two opposing lines will keep nearly abeam of one another.
If a fleet A is in a position of torpedo advantage, and the enemy B then turns to bring A abaft his beam, then A's torpedo advantage (as regards firing at B) disappears, but B does not gain any advantage as regards firing his own torpedoes so long as A maintains his original course, since B is still abaft the beam of his target.
Hence the two fleets are now on an equality as regards torpedo fire.
Turning away from torpedo fire may, and if the turn be large probably will, place B at a disadvantage as regards gun-fire, but A will not be able to make full use of his consequent gunnery advantage if he maintains his original course, since, obviously, if the enemy turns away and the other fleet maintains its course, the two fleets will be on opening courses, and the action must be indecisive until they get on to closing courses again. But if A alters course to follow B who has turned away, he is liable to find himself in serious danger from torpedoes when he gets on to the new course.
The danger of an alteration of course in succession while exposed to an enemy's torpedo fire must be noted. During such an alteration each ship turns at a fixed point, and it is feasible for enemy's ships to put all director adjustments at zero and fire all torpedoes at this point, hitting one ship after another as they arrive on the spot and start to turn. This argument does not apply to a short line at long range, when all ships may succeed in passing the turning point before the torpedoes reach it, but in the case of a long line they may be used very effectively in the manner described. So turns in succession are to be avoided by a long line when thus exposed.
The turn together may also prove disastrous unless made with discretion, since it may result in a formation specially vulnerable to torpedo fire. Take the extreme case of a fleet turning eight points together from line ahead to line abreast, bringing the enemy on the flank of the line abreast; the fleet in line abreast provides a practically solid target for all torpedoes which run ahead of the flank ship. This point will be clear if the path of a torpedo which just misses ahead of the nearest ship is followed. It has missed the first ship, but, as it runs on the farther ships advance to meet it, and provided that the enemy's line is reasonably long, and that the whole of it is within range, it will be extremely difficult for the torpedo to miss all ships. If the flank ship is aimed at, any torpedoes missing astern of her will be lost shots, but if it is feasible to aim at the centre ship, or even if the point of aim be taken as a ships length or so ahead of the flank ship, practically every torpedo should find a ship. This is an extreme case, but any turn together from line ahead if it brings an enemy on the flank, is liable to have the same kind of effect, though to a less extent.
It will be seen, then, that alterations of course towards an enemy who has turned away from a position of torpedo disadvantage may entail serious danger, and that it will generally be safer to open to a distance outside extreme torpedo range before turning.
It is possible, however, that the fleet which turns away from the position of torpedo disadvantage may, as a result of the alteration of course, assume such a formation that most of their torpedo tubes are masked. It might ten be worth while for the other fleet to alter course after them immediately, accepting the risk of a few torpedoes from the nearest enemy's ships.
With reference to the position of torpedo advantage, speed of ship appears to assume great importance as enabling a fleet to keep outside torpedo range while in a position of torpedo disadvantage, and as facilitating manúuvres to obtain a position of torpedo advantage.
This is an old problem in a slightly novel form, and an old argument is revived thereby. Thus it can be urged that no matter what superiority of speed one fleet may have, the slower fleet can always turn away at the critical moment and so avoid the disadvantageous position as regards torpedo fire. This line of argument leads to some thing approaching a reductio ad absurdum, since the slower fleet becomes practically the pivot of the action, turning always on an inner circle and always forcing their opponents to keep outside torpedo range; but if the problem is examined carefully it will be seen, that if the slower fleet once gets into a position of torpedo disadvantage, within torpedo range, a turn in succession may be too dangerous to be undertaken, and a turn together is liable to mask many guns and tubes. In the latter case the outside fleet may well accept a slight risk to gain a large gunnery advantage.
The possibility of obtaining a gunnery advantage as a result of being in a position of torpedo advantage is an important consideration. Without going into details of a number of possible cases, it may be said that one fleet's position of torpedo advantage may frequently force the other fleet into a position of gunnery disadvantage, and obviously superiority in speed will be of great service to a fleet manúuvring for such a position as will either give it a position of torpedo advantage or force the enemy to turn away.
Reduced to elementary principles the argument amounts to this:- a slower fleet cannot prevent the faster fleet from getting into a position before the beam (position of torpedo advantage) except by turning; a forced turn is probably disadvantageous from a gunnery point of view, therefore superior speed properly used, is bound to be of great assistance to the fleet possessing it.
If the reasoning employed so far is accepted, it follows that the potential danger of torpedo fire may have considerable effect even when no torpedoes are fired. Taking the case of a slow fleet continually avoiding danger from torpedoes, it is conceivable that neither side might even be in a position to fire torpedoes effectively, but the side which can force the other to turn from the torpedo danger may reap great advantage in other ways.
So far several considerations have been discussed more or less at random. An attempt to summarise the conclusions already arrived at, and such others as can be logically deduced is made in the following paragraphs:-
1. The position of torpedo advantage is of the greatest importance as:-
(a) Allowing a fleet to use torpedoes while immune from enemy's torpedo fire.
(b) Enabling a fleet to force an enemy to turn away, thus probably putting him at a disadvantage as regards gunnery.
It is therefore desirable on going into action to obtain a position of torpedo advantage, and this is specially the case when visibility is low, and the action is likely to commence at ranges within or approximating to torpedo range.
2. A new risk attaches to concentration on an enemy's rear, since such concentration almost certainly entails giving the enemy the position of torpedo advantage.
3. The effect of concentration on the enemy's van is greatly enhanced, since, in addition to the gunnery advantage so obtained, the concentrating fleet probably holds the additional advantage described in 1. The application of this reasoning to the use of a fast division is evident.
NOTE.- Even when in a position before the beam of the enemy, care must be taken not to close recklessly, or enemy's torpedoes may come into play.
4. A fleet having established a definite superiority in gun-fire, must use great discretion when closing the enemy for the purpose of finishing off the action. If the fleet can close while keeping the enemy abaft the beam, it is in a position to complete his discomfiture effectually; but if, while closing, the fleet brings the enemy before the beam, the latter may, by means of a few lucky shots with torpedoes, equalise matters again.
5. Similarly, it surely might be worth while for a fleet relatively weak in gun-fire to take great risks in an endeavour to close to effective torpedo range in the hope of redressing the balance. Presumably this could be effected only by a fleet having superior speed, and even then might be very difficult; still there are circumstances, especially when visibility is low, in which it is quite conceivable that the best thing for one fleet to do would be to manúuvre to obtain at all costs a position from which they could open fire with torpedoes.
6. In future it is possible that when visibility is low an action may commence with torpedo fire.
7. Perhaps one general effect of the long range torpedo will be a tendency to fight actions at very long ranges (when weather is clear), the side which has an advantage in range of torpedoes endeavouring to close at the earliest moment to that range, but not inside it.
It must not be assumed, however, that this is a policy to be recommended. The object of a fleet going into action is to knock out the enemy as quickly as possible with all the weapons it can bring into play, and this can be best accomplished by closing to decisive ranges as soon as possible.
In this connection, it may be as well to make it clear that where in previous pages the danger of torpedo fire in certain circumstances is pointed out, and methods of avoiding it suggested, it is not intended to advocate a policy of playing for safety. The subject under consideration is torpedo fire, and it is desirable that its risks and the ways of avoiding these risks be recognised, but the torpedo is only one branch of the armament, and keeping in view the main object the annihilation of the enemy's fleet, it may often be necessary to accept a torpedo risk in order to press an attack home, rather than sacrifice some advantage in other respects in order to avoid this particular risk. For example, a fleet making a large turn away from torpedo fire is liable to lose enormously in effective gun-fire, and thus, in avoiding the torpedo danger, may lose an opportunity for the destruction of the enemy by gun-fire, an opportunity which may not recur, and which, if taken, may give the desired result in a few minutes. Emphatically, then, it is not suggested that risks should not be taken; but that they should be recognised and not incurred needlessly; and that the position of torpedo advantage, entailing an additional risk to the enemy, should be obtained and maintained if possible.
It must be noted also, that all the above conclusions depend on the assumption that fleets will use a line formation. As has been explained earlier in the article, it is difficult to conceive a fleet going into action without being in some sort of line, but if line formations can be avoided without sacrificing anything essential to success, then the fleet which abandons the line will have great advantages. Perhaps, now that the need has arisen, some scheme will be evolved to avoid the dangers of the line formation, or perhaps it will simply be modified by decreasing the length of each individual line, i.e., splitting the fleet up into a number of small divisions each comprising one short line, or by increase the intervals between ships, or possibly both. At first sight, however, it appears extremely difficult to employ a number of isolated divisions effectively in action, and extremely probable that the divisions would interfere with one another; also there would probably be a tendency in the natural course of events for the various divisions to gradually and unconsciously reform into one line. Again, though increasing the intervals between ships will cause more torpedoes to miss through water spaces, it will also increase the total length of any line, and perhaps shots which might have missed ahead or astern of a shorter line will become effective on the longer one. The writer is not prepared to express any opinion as to what can be done in either direction, but the possibility of greatly reducing the torpedo danger by avoiding the long single line is a matter for careful thought.
Although light cruisers and destroyers have different functions, it will be more convenient to discuss them together since each is affected by the other. As regards the duties of light cruisers in action, much will depend on whether the enemy have destroyers with them or not, and this raises a question of strategy. Assuming for the moment that destroyers attached to a battle fleet can be used effectively against enemy capital ships in a day action, it is evident that the side having superiority in capital ships has least to gain by using destroyers for offensive purposes in this way, and most to lose in case enemy destroyers bring off a successful attack. therefore, assuming this country to be fighting a single power, and to have a preponderance in capital ships, it would appear more important from the British point of view to prevent the enemy bringing destroyers into a general action, than ourselves to employ destroyers in this way. If fighting a group of powers, and relatively inferior in battleship strength, the use of destroyers with the battle fleet would be to the advantage of this country.
Taking the first case, there are two obvious though not necessarily practicable methods by which an enemy might be prevented from bringing his destroyers into a battleship action, viz.:-
(a) By exterminating all enemy torpedo craft by means of our own destroyers and cruisers before risking our capital ships in a general action.
(b) By ensuring that the general action shall be fought at some point outside the steaming radius of enemy destroyers from their bases.
Both these means of preventing the enemy using destroyers might also prevent our using them. All our destroyers might be expended in the annihilation of the enemy's torpedo craft, or the position in which the action is fought may be equally outside the cruising radius of destroyers on either side. In either case the advantages of preventing the enemy using destroyers are considered to outweigh the disadvantage of having to fight without them ourselves. But either policy might conceivably be expanded to the extent of preventing the use of destroyers by the enemy, while retaining the power to use them ourselves. If all enemy torpedo craft were removed, while a proportion of our destroyers survived, or if the action were fought outside the radius of enemy destroyers but within reach of our own destroyer bases, then we might have this great advantage. But this theoretically sound policy is probably not a practicable one; the locality in which an action is to be fought will not depend on one side only; it is doubtful enough whether other strategical considerations would permit of our fleets remaining quiescent long enough for all enemy torpedo craft to be hunted down and destroyed, and ti is more than doubtful that pure strategy will be able to stand against the pressure of other considerations. so, it cannot be assumed that the enemy can be prevented from using their destroyers in a day action, and the best means of defence and counter attack must be considered.
In dealing with torpedo fire from light craft new considerations have to be taken into account. There is the extra speed of light craft, the possibility that nay movement of torpedo craft may not be detected immediately, the small target they present, and finally the fact that from the point of view of the admiral commanding a fleet, the range of torpedoes as measured from the battle fleet, is, in this case, not merely the running range of the torpedo itself, but a range equivalent to the running range plus the distance the light craft can run in before firing their torpedoes.
Thus, if tow battle fleets are engaged at a distance of 2,000 yards outside torpedo range, destroyers might well be able to run in to effective range without being stopped. The position of torpedo advantage does not come into quite the same extent as in the case of capital ships, since torpedo craft do not have to consider torpedoes from enemy ships; but the position before the beam still remains the best for the attackers, since from this position the torpedo will have to run a less distance to hit; and since the approach to the attack will be much more rapid if the attacking vessels and enemy's fleet are on more or less opposite courses, it appears desirable that the initial position of destroyers with a battle fleet should be ahead rather than astern of the capital ships, i.e., if the two battle fleets are on approximately parallel courses. This position cannot, however, be assumed to be the best under all circumstances, and it may sometimes prove better policy to divide the destroyers, placing half on the outer bow and half outside the rear of the battle line.
The difficulty of stopping a determined attack by torpedo craft approaching from a position on the off bow of their own fleet after gun-fire has commenced, would appear to be enormous. The battleship's guns are already fully employed, movements of small craft not directly in the line of fire are likely to be overlooked, and even if they are seen, diversion of gun-fire is not likely to be effective at once.
If both fleets have destroyers, and on an attack developing, the defending flotilla moves out to repel the attack, it is almost impossible that ti should get within effective range of the attacking destroyers in time to stop them firing their torpedoes. The scheme of defence having the best chance of success would appear to be the stationing of light cruisers well ahead of the line ready to move in at the first sign of the enemy's flotilla attacking. But it is difficult to select a position in which the light cruisers would be fairly safe from gun-fire and yet able to reach the enemy's flotilla before it could get within range for firing torpedoes. Again, a position ahead of the line will not be suitable for repelling an attack from the rear of the enemy's line; so perhaps the light cruisers should be disposed in two divisions, one ahead of the battle fleet, and one on th outer beam of the rear of the line, ready to deal with an attack from the enemy's rear.
Obviously, their ultimate disposition must depend to some extent on the disposition of the enemy destroyers, the guiding principle being to keep the light cruisers on a forward bearing from the position from which an attack is possible, so that they will be able to meet it rapidly, and not have to chase from an after bearing. But when all is said and done, the fact remains that ti appears, on paper, to be extraordinarily difficult to stop a well delivered attack by destroyers, and the more one uses one's imagination in an attempt to visualise the conditions in action, the more apparent does this difficulty become. The logical conclusion is that the advantage will rest with the fleet which uses its destroyers first. The attack even if not fully successful, will have its effect on morale in the enemy's ships, and thus may give our light cruisers a better chance of closing in to deal with their destroyers; if completely successful, such an attack will go far towards deciding the result of the action.
As regards the best method of attack for destroyers, the writer is strongly of opinion that to approach from a forward bearing, and pass down between the two fleets will give destroyers much the best chance of bringing off a successful attack and getting clear again. The rate of change of bearing will be a maximum, the attacker will at least to some extent, be hidden by smoke and spray, and the time between commencing the attack and getting clear again will be a minimum. If the attack is delivered as suggested, while fleets are still far apart, there need be little risk of short shots from either fleet hitting destroyers. Any attempt to turn back to regain their old positions must render destroyers an easier target and keep them longer under fire.
Whatever the method of attack preferred, it is important that it should be clearly understood and practised beforehand, and that the officer in charge of the destroyer flotilla having received his general instructions previously, be left to carry out the actual attack on his own initiative. The flag officer in command of the fleet has other matters to occupy his attention, and the policy of waiting vaguely for a favourable opportunity to use destroyers must prove futile. The most favourable opportunity is the earliest opportunity, and the man to see and seize the occasion is the officer in command of destroyers, who has little else to think about. So, it is most strongly urged that this officer should receive clear general instructions beforehand and be left an absolutely free hand in action.
The same principle should be applied in the employment of light cruisers against enemy destroyers in a fleet action, the officer in charge receiving his general instructions previously, and being left a free hand so far as is practicable to deal with hostile torpedo craft during the action. It may perhaps be as well to point out here that while the principal duty of light cruisers when used in this way is to deal with enemy destroyers, the service will probably give them a chance of using their torpedoes, since, as they move in to repel an attack by destroyers, they will probably arrive at a favourable position for browning the enemy's capital ships.
Some possibilities of the long range torpedo in a fleet action, as conceived by one individual, having been considered, it remains to throw out a suggestion for increasing our own opportunities of making use of this weapon. If, as the writer believes, the long range torpedo is to play a great part in future naval wars, it is worth great exertions and great expense to put ourselves ahead of other nations in this respect. We have a considerable preponderance in pre-"Dreadnought" ships, but a far smaller superiority in later ships. Broadly speaking, the long range torpedo and the "Dreadnought" came in almost simultaneously, only later ships being armed with these weapons; our superiority in long range torpedoes is therefore also comparatively small. We cannot convert pre-"Dreadnoughts" into "Dreadnoughts," but it is not impossible to re-arm pre-"Dreadnoughts" with modern torpedoes, thus putting them almost on an equality with the newest ships as regards a very important part of their armament. It would be difficult to exaggerate the effect of such a policy. Imagine a squadron of pre-"Dreadnoughts" meeting a squadron of hostile "Dreadnoughts" and endeavouring to fall back on a supporting force, or even accepting a most unequal action. Under present conditions they could do scarcely anything; with long range torpedoes they might conceivably inflict enormous damage on the enemy's fleet, while the fact of their having them must at least tend to prolong the action by preventing the enemy closing in. Or imagine an old cruiser, on a misty day, falling in with an enemy fleet and without the speed to escape. At present she can do nothing, with long range torpedoes she might fairly hope to take one or more battleships with her as she sank. Instances might be multiplied, and while admittedly the policy of putting new wine into old bottles is to be deprecated, more especially when dealing with navies, surely here is an exception. The new wine in this case gives new life to the old bottles, and it can be taken out when the old bottles are finally condemned and can then be employed in less ancient vessels.
Such a policy means a great increase in works, ranges, etc.; it would be difficult to carry out sufficiently rapidly to be of use, and it would be expensive, but none of the money so spent need be wasted since works and torpedoes would be available for many years to come. The difficulties are formidable but not insurmountable, and would it not be worth while?
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