Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

When can a fleet count on success? Villeneuve, when he went into action with thirty-three ships of the line of the allies against Nelson's twenty-seven, thought that he could count on success. He was mistaken; the human factor more than counterbalanced the material advantage which lay with the enemy at the battle of Trafalgar. Since the present war opened, engagements have been fought which show that our guns are more powerful than the German guns, our admirals not less skilled in tactics, and our gunnery at least not inferior to the German gunnery. It is impossible to conceive, in view of our great margin of strength, the possibility of conditions existing in the North Sea which would correspond with Grand-Admiral von Koester's sine qua non that the German Fleet must accept battle only when it can count on success.' In the absence of an assurance of victory, the splendid battleships under the German and AustroHungarian flags are reduced, not to impotence, but to employment as coast-defence forces in order to prevent the two armies being taken in the rear by oversea military expeditions of British or French troops.

In containing the enemy's fleet, the fleets of Great Britain and France have not, however, been condemned to inactivity. Germany possesses only ten pre-Dreadnought battleships carrying as large a weapon as the 11-inch gun, and Austria has only three vessels falling in a similar category. The other nineteen older battleships belonging to our enemies are armed only with the 9:4-inch gun, which is comparatively ineffective. On the other hand, the British Fleet includes thirty-six ships of the pre-Dreadnought era,* each carrying four 12-inch guns (10-inch in the case of the ‘Swiftsure’and the Triumph'), and France possesses fifteen heavily gunned vessels of the same period, apart in both cases from a superiority in ships built since the general adoption of the biggun principle embodied in the 'Dreadnought,' and apart from the great British predominance in large armoured cruisers, some of which are superior to Germany's older battleships. Owing to the increased speed

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

at

* There were 40; but the battleship ‘Bulwark' was blown up in the Medway, the “Formidable’ lost by submarine attack in the Channel, and the 'Irresistible' and 'Ocean'sunk by mines in the Dardanelles.

[graphic]

and gun-power of the all-big-gun ships, the older vessels of the Allied fleets are unsuited to act with the newer vessels in fleet formation ; nor is their support needed. The intervention of Turkey in the war suggested a useful purpose to which these less modern battleships could be put, since the capital of the Porte was approached by a well-defended strait. It was unlikely that, if a battle action occurred, the older battleships of the Allied fleets would be employed. On the other hand, these vessels, deficient in speed and lacking the concentrated gunfire which distinguishes the Dreadnought and her successors, carry guns which, though of older and less powerful types, are still of considerable value.

The suggestion that these older battleships should be employed in the destruction of the fortifications of the Dardanelles raised afresh a problem which it had hitherto been contended had been decided for all time, namely, the impossibility of reducing coast defences by gunfire from ships. That conclusion was based mainly on the unfortunate experience of British ships in attacking Sevastopol and other Russian fortifications. The verdict of sixty years ago had never been seriously contested; nor can it be said that the foundation upon which it rested had been examined with an open mind. As soon as it became known that the British and French Governments had decided to utilise some of their older battleships to force the passage of the Dardanelles, it became apparent that the conditions had changed since the Crimean War and had changed in favour of the naval gun. During the attack on Sevastopol the sailing ships which engaged in that operation were towed to their firing positions, and then, while in a stationary condition, opened at a range of 2000 yards. The modern naval gun can fire and, as experience has shown, with considerable accuracy, at a distance of as much as 20,000 yards. The powder chamber of the naval gun is larger and the range, other things being equal, longer than in the case of the shore gun. The naval gun is submitted to pressures far greater than those of the shore gun, for the simple reason that it can more readily be replaced. When the rifling of a naval gun wears and the firing becomes erratic, as it does after a limited number of rounds, the ship can proceed under her own steam to

[ocr errors]

a dockyard and the impaired weapon can be replaced by another one taken from the reserve; the worn gun is then speedily relined. A gun in a shore fortification cannot be easily removed for relining. Once, owing to wear, its fire has become inaccurate, its life, probably for the duration of the war, is at an end. In view of these considerations the shore guns, such as are (or were) mounted in the Dardanelles, have smaller chambers—so that they may wear less rapidly-and have a shorter range than naval guns. Nor is this the only advantage possessed by a naval force in attacking shore defences. Apart from the advantage which steam has conferred on the ship of war since the Crimean period, enabling a moving target to be presented, aeronautics have been developed to a stage which enables aircraft to assist in 'spotting’long range fire, and directing ships' gunners. In the light of these advantages resting with the modern naval gun it was decided to begin the bombardment of the Dardanelles forts. The gunners ashore, it was assumed, would not have the assistance of aircraft, would suffer under the disadvantage, becoming more and more apparent as the operations proceeded, of a shortage of ammunition, and would be inexpert in using the weapons in their charge upon ships under steam.

The task of forcing the Dardanelles was commenced on Feb. 19. Shortly afterwards the Admiralty revealed that, in addition to a number of older battleships of the Allied Fleets, they were employing the battle-cruiser • Inflexible, with modern 12-inch guns, and the battleship 'Queen Elizabeth, carrying eight of the new 15-inch guns. The forts guarding the entrance to the Straits were soon silenced and the mines which had been laid by the enemy swept up.

It then remained to demolish the redoubtable defences at the Narrows, about fourteen miles from the Ægean Sea. In this work aircraft, judging by Vice-Admiral Sackville Carden's reports, proved of the greatest assistance. Seaplanes, acting from the new mother-ship Ark Royal,' directed gunfire at long range over the high land of the Gallipoli Peninsula. By indirect fire, the forts of the Narrows, as well as the defences on the Bulair line, were attacked. Subsequently direct fire was opened. The fortifications

6

6

[ocr errors]
[graphic]
[ocr errors]

replied ineffectively, but unfortunately two British battleships—the Irresistible' and the Ocean’-and the French battleship 'Bouvet 'were sunk by floating mines, apparently carried down them by the current. At the time of writing, though unfavourable weather has interfered with the progress of the Allied Fleet, there is good prospect of the forts on either bank of the Straits being silenced, while the fire on the Bulair line has effectually cut communication between Constantinople and the Gallipoli Peninsula, The mine rather than the gun has proved effective against the attackers. It is well, however, that final deductions should not yet be drawn from these operations. The doctrine hitherto accepted as to the relation between ships and forts may require revision; but not until something more is known of the character of the Turkish forts and the efficiency of their gunners, together with the value of the aerial observations, utilised by one side only, will it be possible to tell whether the conditions existing at the time of the Crimean War have been so completely reversed as to depreciate seriously the value of shore fortifications when confronted with modern ships carrying highpowered guns.

The bombardment of the forts of the Dardanelles, however difficult the operation may prove, will serve to illustrate the long arm of sea-power and the influence which it can exercise over land warfare. When Turkey threw in her lot with Germany and AustriaHungary, she assumed that, owing to her large expenditure on fixed defences in the Dardanelles and at Smyrna, she was beyond the reach of the British and French fleets. The Germans professed complete confidence that the defences of the Straits and of the great Turkish commercial port constituted an effective barrier against naval attack. In the circumstances, therefore, there is no reason to think that they paused to consider what influence the intervention of the Allied Fleets in and about the Ægean Sea might have upon the course of the operations ashore. Events have since shown the intimate relations between sea-power and land-power. Immediately the bombardment of the Dardanelles was begun, the enemy abandoned the farcical expedition for the conquest of Egypt. Probably other changes occurred in the disposition of the enemy's military forces, to the derangement of the strategic plans which had hitherto been in process of development. It was realised that, once the Dardanelles had been forced, the whole military situation in Southern Europe would undergo a change, apart from the economic value which the safe passage from the Black Sea, with its stores of grain to the Mediterranean, would confer on Russia and her Allies.

Nothing in the naval despatches undermines the general conclusions reached in a former article in the

Quarterly Review' as to the engagement off the Falkland Islands; they have indeed been confirmed by the action in the North Sea on Jan. 24. On both occasions the results achieved were traceable to the employment of the battle-cruiser. This is a type of ship which was more severely criticised than any other introduced in the British Fleet in the past ten years. Experience has shown that the combination of the high-powered gun of the battleship with the speed of the swiftest cruiser represents a compromise of high military value. Such vessels may form the fast wing of a battle fleet, or they can be employed with dramatic effect on detached service. Off the Falkland Islands the battle-cruisers Inflexible' and Invincible’ held the two principal ships of Admiral Graf von Spee's squadron under heavy fire, to which, owing to the German guns being outranged, no effective reply could be made. The two British battle-cruisers were able to sink, with very little loss, the two big ships under the enemy's flag, while other British cruisers chased the three small vessels and succeeded in destroying two of them. One vessel only, the Dresden,' managed to escape; she owed her temporary deliverance to her efficient high-speed engines. Whether in the later stage of the engagement, after the Scharnhorst' had been sunk and the Gneisenau' seriously damaged, Vice

• Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee could, or could not, have detached one of his battle-cruisers to round up the

Dresden,' the swiftest of the German vessels, and destroy her, is a subject upon which in the absence of fuller information it is impossible to judge. Fortunately, though the 'Dresden' escaped on Dec. 8, she was caught off the island of Juan Fernandez by the British cruisers

« VorigeDoorgaan »