WHEN the London Conference came to an end it was agreed that the next Conference should take place in five years. One year of that interval has already gone. What, one may ask, has been done by all of us during that year in preparation for that next Conference? Has any investigation been set afoot, in any of the countries concerned, to examine, in the true scientific spirit that problems of such magnitude demand, all the matters which must then come up for -- possibly -- a final settlement?

If this investigation has not been begun, when is it to begin? Are we again to postpone consideration until the last moment, then once more to witness the delegations assembling with neither common nor clear ideas, pursuing totally different objects -- some aiming at security, some at proportions, some at nothing at all -- and finally producing an ad hoc agreement, costly to all, and satisfactory to few, if any? Are we then to resume the construction of ships of the immense size at which they were left? And if we are not to do these things, is it not the duty of all who have any care for economy or common sense to study the problem of size instead of shirking it? For shirked it undoubtedly was at the London Conference, for what reasons I do not know. But it can neither be shirked nor burked when next the nations meet.

Another question of no less importance was left in a wholly unsatisfactory and unstable condition -- that of what is called "cruiser strength." Neither with regard to the size of the individual vessels that are called "cruisers," nor with regard to their numbers, were the decisions made in accordance with any of the principles upon which men in all other concerns in life base their practice. A man who desires to transport goods across a river by means of a rail service carried on a bridge does not inform his designer that he may employ so many tons of steel in the construction of the bridge, basing that weight upon the weight of some other bridge, thrown across a river of a different breadth, and used to carry different loads at different speeds. He informs him where the bridge is to be built, and what function the bridge is intended to perform. So the "cruiser strength" of nations requires to be based upon the functions which their several cruiser forces have to perform, and the conditions under which they have to perform them.

If at our next meeting we are to arrive at a satisfactory agreement it must be one based upon some scientifically sound conceptions. It is useless to juggle with arithmetic and accountancy, with a set of catchwords and a priori assumptions as a foundation. Such methods began to go out of practice in the days of Bacon and are out of date. "The free employment of reason in accordance with scientific method is the sole method of reaching truth." So said Huxley, and this is as true in the field of naval armaments as it is in that of biology. Thinking, Lord Haldane was fond of saying, costs nothing. Events since 1914 afford ample evidence of what colossal expenditures of life and of money, what disastrous results to the world, arise from want of competent thinking.


What, in its ultimate analysis, is the problem which these several Naval Conferences have to solve? Put in its shortest form, it is, I believe, "to arrive at some general regulation of naval armaments which shall give all the nations of the world a real sense of security at the lowest possible cost." "Security with economy" is, I venture to suggest, the true aim. But it is not the aim which has governed the conduct of the Conferences already held.

There are those, I am aware, who deny that security is to be regarded as an object, and who condemn France and such as agree with her in reiterating the need for security. This is an attitude of mind which defies facts. It is indeed arguable that armaments cannot furnish security. It is arguable also that the state of the world of today -- and of tomorrow -- is such that war is impossible. Those views may or may not be true. But the facts, obvious to all except those who deliberately close their eyes to them, are that, notwithstanding pacts, covenants, treaties, and other excellent prophylactics against war, the majority of the statesmen of the world of today are far from being convinced that their successors will not belong to that "foolish part of mankind" of whom Benjamin Franklin wrote, the part which "will make wars from time to time, not having sense enough otherwise to settle their differences."

The idea that the signature of the Pact of Paris has opened the doors of a new world and closed forever the Temple of Janus fails to take into account that a similar renunciation in 1790 was followed by a quarter of a century of war. "La nation française renonce à entreprendre aucune guerre dans la vue de faire des conquêtes, et n'emploiera jamais ses forces contre la liberté d'aucun peuple."[i] More than one anticipation of prolonged peace has been sadly falsified, and Great Exhibitions and Peace Conferences too often have proved to be only forerunners of more war. Moreover, though war is renounced as "an instrument of policy," the right of self-defense is stoutly maintained. This is, in truth, the attitude of the ostrich, for every war since (and including) Caesar's invasion of Gaul, except the barbaric invasions of Mongols and Huns, has been represented by those who initiated it as a war of self-defense: and perfectly good reasons can be produced by the special pleaders and pedants on both sides to prove that the defense of something essential to national existence was the sole cause of their taking up arms. It is only necessary to read the proclamations of the past to find witness of this. Since national existence -- under determined conditions -- is the principal aim of all policy, a war of defense is itself a war fought in pursuance of policy. War, in fact, like its civil manifestation, the strike, is an instrument of policy, and it is the merest self-deception to pretend that it is anything else; for words will not alter facts, and the naval and military budgets are unmistakable facts.

Thus I see no way of evading the fact that the peoples of the world, while welcoming and encouraging every movement which promises to reduce the danger of having to settle differences by force, have not as yet confidence enough in the prophylactics designed for their protection. They are not prepared to entrust the fortunes of themselves and their children exclusively to these safeguards. Foolish and distrustful they may be, but they have perhaps some excuse, for the machinery is as yet untested and to some it has a delicate appearance. They desire greater security.

What, then, is meant by "security"? Against what kind of injuries is security desired? From whence, and by what means, can injuries be inflicted?

The two injuries to which nations are exposed are those which enemies may inflict upon them in order to force upon them compliance with some demand: a demand, for example, to cede territories, to discontinue a policy, or to abandon any other rights which they regard as essential to the well-being of their citizens. One way in which compliance may be forced upon them is either by an invasion of their country and the subjection of the people to internal pressure by occupation, or by invading and holding those territories the cession of which is demanded. The other way is by cutting the people off from activities essential to their national life. "You take my life When you do take the means by which I live."

A navy is one of the national instruments furnished by the State with the object of completing the State's security against those two injuries. It does not stand alone in this duty. Armies, geographical conditions, commercial, productive and economic factors, all play their parts; and the strength required at sea depends in a great extent upon those conditions. Navies, for example, play but a small part in the defense against invasion of those countries which maintain, or are capable of raising, large land forces. While nations with numerous colonies -- Athens, Rome in its later days, Venice, or the United Provinces -- needed navies to connect their scattered territories and enable help to be sent to any that were threatened, nations which are without colonies or which have few of them are not in the same need. To the former the navies are to their colonies in the same relation as the Roman roads were to the defense of the land frontiers in the Empire -- they are the indispensable means of effective intercommunication between the scattered units and positions. Again, nations which lie remote from danger, and which are safe from invasion by sea unless their enemies use a great quantity of shipping tonnage to transport and supply the invading armies, are largely protected by these very factors of distance and transport needs, and can feel secure without great navies. It was doubtless these considerations which made the late President Roosevelt express the opinion in 1919 that America was in no danger from invasion even though her fleet were less than that of some other Powers.

Finally, the security of "the means by which I live" varies greatly according to very many conditions. I need not repeat what has so often been said on this subject. I must, however, point out that mere arithmetical calculations of totals of seaborne import and export trades and coastal trades do not, by any scientific processes of thought, constitute the sole criteria of the actual or proportional forces needed for defense. The nature of the trade, the conditions under which it is carried, the vulnerability of the most important strategical positions, are among the many factors forgotten by those who treat this problem as one of mere mathematics.

I think it of the highest importance, therefore, that serious scientific study should replace the a priori methods by which this subject has hitherto been discussed. I am confident that this can be done only by observance of those two rules expressed nearly three centuries ago: to divide the problem up into its several parts; and to accept as true nothing that cannot be demonstrated to be true. Both of these simple rules have been honored in the breach rather than the observance.


The subject is divisible into two main parts: one, the size of navies; and two, the size of the individual fighting ships which constitute the units of those navies.

The size of a navy is determined by the functions of navies in general, and by the strength required by particular nations for the performance of those functions.

First let us consider the general. The function of all fighting forces is defensive[ii] unless, like Rome in its period of development, the Mongol Empire of Jenghiz Khan, the Mohammedan Empire in its phase of conquest, the policy of a country is one of aggression: a policy of procuring territory, rights, or trade at the expense of other nations. There are two dangers, and two only, against which fighting forces are required: I have mentioned them earlier -- invasion and (what for short I shall call) isolation.

I am aware that there is a popular belief in some quarters that two other elements enter into the question, the defense of rights as a neutral, and "prestige," but I do not agree with those who include these as elements in the determination of naval strength.

As to the former, a nation has the choice of two methods of exercising pressure as a neutral -- the use of military force, the use of economic power. It needs but little consideration of actual facts to make it clear that if a great nation shall have furnished itself with a force adequate for its security against the dangers already referred to, namely invasion and isolation, it will ipso facto possess force ample to assert and support its rights as a neutral. It has been alleged that this cannot be done unless the nation's navy is equal to that of the largest possible belligerent, but this theory will not stand a moment's examination when tested by the one reliable test, experience. Mahan, in his book on the War of 1812, demonstrated clearly the fallacy of the view, as illustrated by that war. Again, one has only to recollect the long experience of England, and her constant need of conciliating neutral opinion.[iii] Or, proceeding from experience to speculation, the theory can easily be tested by applying it to hypothetical situations. By whichever method the tests be applied, the truth of Mahan's views receive full confirmation.

If, proceeding from military measures, we consider the influence of economics, the case becomes stronger. Taking a wider view of war than that which is confined to mere naval strategy -- that is, looking at war in its reality -- the case against the need for supreme navies to defend neutral rights becomes overwhelming. Since no nations produce within their own borders all the varied materials which war calls into use, great nations at war are always under a necessity, from which none can escape, of importing goods from without. This is nothing new. It was true of England (and France and Spain likewise) when the fuel of her fleets was the wind and when the machinery by which motion was given to the vessels consisted of hemp, canvas and spars. These materials were procurable in sufficient quantities only in the north of Europe. The Northern Powers, monopolists of these materials, were well aware of this. The "Armed Neutralities" arose, and England had to recognize their power and make concessions to their sentiments, little as they ran in accordance either with international law in the abstract or with the conduct of those Powers when they were in alliance with Britain.[iv] It was true of an England far more self-supporting in food than the Britain of today: for in her long, exhausting wars she had to finance her poverty-stricken allies with subsidies, or loans that were repaid at three shillings in the pound; and trade with neutrals was essential to enable her to do so. To her, an embargo or a non-intercourse act were serious blows.

And it was true in the late war. What, indeed, could more completely proclaim the power of a neutral who commands essential sources of supply than the words of M. Clemenceau to President Wilson before the campaign of 1918? He wrote as follows:

At the decisive moment of the war, when the year 1918 will see military operations begun on the French front, the French army must not be exposed for a single moment to a scarcity of the petrol necessary for its motor lorries, aëroplanes and the transport of its artillery. A failure in the supply of petrol would cause the immediate paralysis of our armies, and might compel us to a peace unfavorable to our Allies.

In the face of such evidence, to which very many other examples might be added if space permitted, no picture could be less true to life than that which depicts the neutral as helpless because it lacks a navy equal to that of the strongest belligerent, and therefore unable to insist upon recognition of those rights to which it is entitled by International Law. It is surely time that we heard no more of this unsupportable assertion, and of its having any bearing whatever upon the problem of armaments.

The other adduced reason, prestige, is perhaps hardly worthy of mention: and indeed I would not refer to it at all had it not so often been brought into the witness box. "A great nation is entitled to a navy as large as any other." Certainly. Every nation is "entitled" to whatever it chooses to spend its money upon. Of that there is no question. But there is no more inherent necessity for a nation because it is "great" to have a "great" navy than there is for him who drives fat oxen to be fat. I think that Burke in his speech in 1774 against enforcing taxation of the Northern colonists, which then had become largely a question of British prestige, said all that needs saying on the question of prestige:

They tell you, Sir, that your dignity is tied to it. I know not how it happens, but this dignity of yours is a terrible encumbrance to you: for it has of late been ever at war with your interest, your equity and every idea of your policy. Show the thing you contend for to be reason; show it to be common sense; show it to be the means of attaining some useful end; and then I am content to allow it what dignity you please.[v]

Let us then confine ourselves, in considering the strength of navies, to the function of "attaining some useful end," that end being defense against the two dangers of invasion and isolation, and no other. What, in broad and comprehensive terms, is the character of the problem of defense, and how does it affect the strength of navies?

Defense is a military operation, in which two sets of armed forces act against each other. Those armed forces, in the great majority of cases, are divided into two parts: a force in the field, concentrated to the utmost extent practicable, opposing a similar concentration of the enemy; and a force employed in defending the line, or lines, of national or military communication.

While the strength of the force in the field bears a direct and obvious relation to that of the opposing force, the force in the line of communications is related primarily to the importance, length, extent, and vulnerability of that line. The armies under Soult and Wellington in the Peninsula War aptly illustrate this. The forces used in concentration were of approximately the same strength -- superiority in battle was the result of strategical or tactical manœuvre. But as the French commander was under the need of protecting a long line of communications which was exposed throughout to attack by detachments either of guerilla or regular forces, the British army, supplied by sea, was under no such a need. Soult therefore needed more men in Spain than Wellington: and the interpretation of the latter's remark that 80,000 British and Spanish troops were keeping 200,000 of Napoleon's employed is that this vast extra force was necessary in consequence of the demands of the communications. Indeed, is it not plain common sense that where one combatant has much to defend, while the other has nothing, or little, the former needs the greater strength?

This elementary fact is applicable in every way to the security of communications at sea. Most unfortunately it appears to have escaped the attention of those who have devoted so much mathematical ability to producing columns of figures, for those figures bear no relation whatever to the fundamental object of navies -- security. The principles which are deducible from abstract reasoning and which will stand the most searching test of experience -- experiment -- are that the bases of measurement of quantity of force in concentration and force in detachment are different. We measure the total quantity of force to be used in concentration by the quantity to which it will be opposed on the field of battle; we measure the quantity required in the line of communications by the conditions in which those communications are conducted. In the one case the quantity of the force is relative to the quantity of the enemy's. In the other it is relative to what it has to defend. In those two needs we have the elements of the problems of what are called "battleship strength" and "cruiser strength."

The expression of principles is merely a starting point -- a means to an end. It is clearly not enough to stop at saying that the strengths of certain forces are relative or absolute. It is next our business to apply those principles, to interpret them in terms of actual quantities. How, then, are we to arrive at the determination of those quantities?

It is a commonplace of all history that those nations which have given most hostages to fortune by the creation of oversea interests, either colonial or maritime, or which are exposed to the danger of invasion by sea, are those which have always possessed the greatest force at sea. They possessed it for the simple reason that they needed it for their security. And it is no less demonstrably true that those which, being in that condition, failed to furnish themselves with adequate strength at sea, fell.[vi] No less is it an historical fact, and a logical interpretation of conditions, that the quantity of main fighting strength with which those "maritime" nations have furnished themselves has depended upon the strength of those by whom they believed themselves liable to be attacked.

The proceedings of the several Naval Conferences may be not improperly described if we say that they began their deliberations by allocating purely arbitrary quantities of force to the great Naval Powers,[vii] and then worked downwards in the scale to the lesser Powers. In so doing they reversed the normal process in which this matter has ever hitherto been treated by men of experience. Nowhere is this to be more clearly found than in the period of growth of the German Navy. The British "battleship" strength was dependent entirely upon the strength which would result from the German "Naval Laws." If the Germans had ceased building, Britain would have done likewise.[viii] So, earlier, the strength of England at sea had depended upon the combined strength of France and Russia, and earlier yet upon that of the Bourbon Powers.

But if this be the fact, we ask next, "Upon what do the 'lesser' Powers determine their own strength?" Where is the starting point? The starting point is the strength of the weakest; the strength of him who has least to defend at sea. I do not say that the strength of every Power is determined by that of those weaker, for it is common knowledge that there are those who fear attack by a stronger, and therefore furnish themselves with such strength as will not leave them at his mercy. They provide themselves with enough to preserve that which is vital to them, though this may not be enough to preserve much the loss of which would set a severe strain upon the resisting powers of their people. Nevertheless, the strength of the weakest is the true and original starting point of all; it is the criterion.

We are still, however, without our quantitative criterion: for what is to determine who this "weakest" is, or what his strength is to be? By what are his needs to be decided?

In normal circumstances this would unquestionably be a difficult question to answer; nor do I suggest that it is without difficulty today -- or will be tomorrow. Nevertheless I throw out the suggestion that it is not insoluble in the circumstances of today, which are not normal.

The measurement of quantities is, in every case in ordinary life, referred to some common standard, arbitrarily adopted: the yard, the metre, the pint or the weight of the pound sterling -- 123.27 grains of "standard" gold. Is there any such fixed standard of strength anywhere to which, as the cloth is applied to the yardstick, the quantities of force can be applied for comparison?

I suggest that there is. It may not, perhaps, be permanent, but it exists today and we can use it. It is to be found in the Naval Clauses of the Treaty of Versailles by which Germany was limited to a "battleship" force of eight ships: for though these ships were of but 10,000 tons, they are "battleships." There we have a definite, a fixed, quantity: arbitrarily fixed, doubtless, as the yard, the pint and the pound were originally arbitrarily fixed, but none the less valuable or applicable on that account. To that "yardstick" the strength of the "mass" of other navies can be applied at the start. Space will not permit me to indicate how, from such a start, the problem of quantities unfolds itself, first relating the strength of France -- as Germany's next neighbor -- to the standard, and passing onwards until we reach the Power most dependent on the sea, the British Empire.

The strength of cruiser forces -- a term which properly includes all those lesser vessels which are called upon to perform detached services, the brigs, corvettes and frigates of the past, the destroyers, sloops and the like of today -- is not determined, as I have already said, by relativity. There are those who, presumably from a lack of opportunity of studying the practice and experience of the strategy of what is called "sporadic warfare" or the guerre de course, imagine that the strength of cruisers is governed by rules of proportion. I have endeavored to show that this is incorrect and that the criterion lies in the duties which have to be performed and the conditions of performance.

This fact, fully appreciated by Lord Balfour and the statesmen of ten years ago, has not been understood by their successors, and for that reason it seems desirable to explain the matter; though in truth there is in it no mystery, concealed from all but seamen. It is a problem which for the last 150 or 200 years has been familiar to the statesmen of Britain, and, I imagine, no less familiar to those of other nations. It is a matter which can be understood by any intelligent man who has never seen the sea.

I have spoken of the forces needed for the defense of communications on land, illustrating my remarks with the examples of Soult and Wellington in Spain, and the differences of their needs owing to the differences of exposure to attack of their essential lines of communications. But what dictates the actual quantity of force, the number of units, employed upon that duty?

A line of communications on land may run, as did those of the French army in the Peninsula, the British army in South Africa, or the British and the Turkish armies in Mesopotamia, through territory in which it is exposed to attack. It passes through important railway centres where much traffic collects, over rivers spanned by bridges, through narrow cuts or tunnels. All these are points at which an attack can do the maximum physical damage or create the maximum delay. Such "focal" points are therefore held by garrisons. But supplies must move between these guarded points, and in their journey between them will be exposed to attack. They are therefore protected by armed guards -- "escorts" -- in that part of the line. The places which require guards are known, the number of trains or wagons -- convoys -- which must be moving or collecting at any given time are known. The parts in which the natural conditions are such that no escorts are necessary are likewise known. Thus the basic factor in the calculation of strength is the number of fixed and moving points in the communications which must be furnished with defense. We have in this an "absolute" factor, irrespective of the strength of the enemy. This was very clearly set out by a great and experienced seaman, Admiral Pellew, who in 1810 expressed it in the following simple terms:

The Board must be aware that a calculation of the entire force requisite to be employed in India must not be founded on the numbers of the enemy: the French have no trade to protect, and the Dutch have very little . . . whereas the immense trade of the British Colonies alone forms a most important object of protection, so scattered and divided as to require a very large force to furnish it with adequate security.

There is also a relative factor -- the "reasonably probable" strength of the attacker. This is a matter largely of judgment. Thus, at sea, the "cruiser problem" is precisely the same as the corresponding problem on land. The number of cruisers needed by a nation is governed in the first instance, and in the main, by the number of points in which forces are needed to cruise and the number of bodies of shipping -- convoys -- which simultaneously require protection by escort. Experience of commerce warfare gives an indication of the probable strength of attacking forces: it is not, as some rashly assume, a mere matter of "if one Emden occupied 20 cruisers, 10 Emdens would require 200." Yet this very crude statement has been made -- a striking example of mistaking mathematics for strategy.

It is quite obvious to anyone acquainted with the problems of policy, shipping, commerce and economics that each nation has its own problem in this respect. For some nations the most essential communications are military; and commercial communications, in any war that may come within the region of practical probability, are of minor or even negligible importance. To others, commerce may be all important. Between these extremes there are many variations. In every case the geographical conditions are different. There is, in fact, no common ground whatever, and all calculations in mere arithmetic and ratios are the purest moonshine. No one who has made even a perfunctory study of the experience of war at different ages, and has acquainted himself with the methods of defense employed, is ignorant of this elementary fact. Unless, rejecting the teachings of experience, we continue to deny that the object with which we furnish our various selves with navies is security, and, playing the Alice-in-the-Looking-Glass game of "let's pretend," persuade ourselves they have some other purpose, the strength of the so-called "cruiser" forces can be determined only by each individual nation according to its own needs. Each alone is the only possible judge of what those needs are; for it alone knows not only what it requires to defend but -- no less important -- what it is possible to defend, and the manner in which it proposes to afford defense. No one can tell another nation any of these things, and least of all the last of them.

If this elementary fact be not recognized it is safe to say that no decisions arrived at by any number of conferences can be permanent, for the simple reason that, until the time arrives when nations abandon sovereignty, no nation will permanently submit to be at the mercy of another. The only alternative is a system of alliances. On the probability of alliances being formed, of their practicability, and of their efficiency and reliability, each one can form his own opinion from his knowledge of the world of today and of the experience of the past. Britain, on her part, will find no evidence in her experience which will encourage her to entrust the fortunes of her people to the interpretation which foreign governments will place, at a time of trial, upon treaties. August 1914 was not the first occasion upon which a solemn engagement proved to be a scrap of paper.


I pass from this aspect of the problem to the second matter of the size of the individual fighting ship. Here again the fundamental element is "function." What, in its final analysis, is the function of the fighting ship? (I avoid, of set intention, the use of the word "battleship," for a battleship is merely one type of a fighting ship.) As before, I seek a criterion.

As the function of navies as a whole is to prevent invasions or isolation, so the ships of which navies are composed are the instruments by means of which the troops of an enemy, or the supplies needed by the armed forces or the nation, are prevented from moving across the sea. By what means do these troops or these supplies cross the sea? In all major operations -- operations of a decisive character -- they do so in vessels normally built for the carriage of passengers or goods, merchant vessels; for men-of-war are not adapted to the carriage of troops and their impedimenta, except in small quantities.

Let us suppose two nations at loggerheads. The one possesses a large number of land forces, but no fighting ships; the other, preferring that its towns and country shall not become fields of battle, decides to create its defense at sea, preventing the enemy from landing his army. The military Power requires, for the use of its army, various materials or weapons procurable only from outside its own territory. How large must be the fighting ship of the Power threatened with invasion? Or, put with greater accuracy, How small can she be?

The answer is plain. Provided she is strong enough to be able, with certainty, to compel surrender upon a ship carrying troops or goods, and is provided in numbers sufficient to deal with the situations that will arise (geographical, strategical, tactical), she will be large enough to make her country secure against the danger of invasion. The enemy cannot cross the sea when there is a reasonable probability that he will be encountered before reaching his destination, and a certainty that he will lose a large part of his force if he is encountered. Though the enemy may arm his merchant ships, transforming them thereby into men-of-war, these will never be other than weak war vessels; and provided the regular fighting ships are strong enough to ensure their defeat -- that is, possess a sufficient margin of superiority over the armed enemy merchant ships -- they will be large enough to perform those functions for which a fighting ship is built. Commodore Oliver Perry's brigs and schooners on Lake Erie, having won the battle of Lake Erie, were capable of exercising command on that Lake; Howe's frigates were large enough (though not numerous enough) to control the seaboard of the Northern Colonies; the small vessels blockading the Southern States in the War of Secession were large enough to make that blockade effective and produce the desired result -- isolation: the frigates, sloops and rowboats of the Channel fleet were large enough to interrupt the coastal traffic into Brest and thus prevent naval stores reaching the port. The existence of larger ships was due to no other reason than that it was possible for both belligerents to provide themselves with them.

Larger ships are not necessary for what is called "battle." Two or twoscore destroyers or corvettes, two or twoscore light cruisers or frigates, two or twoscore Rodneys or Victorys can equally fight to a finish or decision, just as two lightweights can fight as good and decisive a fight as a Dempsey and a Carpentier; and they can take as much punishment from their antagonists as the heavier ship or man from theirs.

Thus the idea that, for intrinsic reasons connected with fighting at sea, there must be some very great and powerful ships of twenty, thirty, or forty thousand tons in all navies is the purest fiction. The sole reason for their existence lies in the fact that other Powers have them. They are the result of nothing except competition. Some people appear to suppose that "battles" can only be fought by "battleships" and that battleships are battleships only if they mount certain very large guns and are furnished with armor. Yet if, following the ordinary lines of investigation, we apply the test of experience to this theory, we see at once that no confirmation of it is there to be found. The big ship stands no more blows from the big guns of her like than the small ship from those of hers.

Much confusion is caused by the use of the term "battleship," in forgetfulness of its real meaning. The word "battleship" is a mere corruption of the term "line-of-battle-ship" or "ship of the line of battle" -- the ship fit to fight in "the line." When the single line became the fighting formation of fleets, ships of all sizes, from 26 guns upwards, took their places in the line: but as ships grew in size, and their cost increased and the number mustered in battle became fewer, the vessels of the smaller sizes, which had previously been able to play a part in the line, became too weak. First the 40-gun, then the 50 and later the 60 dropped out of "the line," for only the largest types were strong enough to fight in the line against the largest of the enemy. But when "the line" was composed of small vessels, as it was in the Indian Seas where 20-gun ships were "ships of the line," or in the Lake campaigns of 1812, or at the frigate action off Lissa under Hoste, the small vessel automatically became the "ship-of-the-line" -- in that battle. If today two Baltic Powers, neither of which possessed vessels larger than "destroyers," were at war, those "destroyers" would be the "ships-of-the-line," or "battleships," in any sea fighting that might take place: as the Japanese light cruisers were in the Chino-Japanese War. They would be fully capable of doing that which was required -- wresting from their enemy the command of those waters in the Baltic in which control was needed; and they would then be able to exercise control, provided the enemy could not overcome them by means of armed merchant vessels. Of this there can be no shadow of doubt.

We cannot indeed find anything to show that a "battleship" -- so-called -- must be of any particular size. We see that decisive battles have been fought by ships of almost every size. Without going back beyond the period of iron and steel we see decisive battles at Lissa, in which the largest "ironclads" were of under 6,000 tons; at the Yalu, when they were under 7,500; at Manila and Santiago in the same war, of under 6,000 and 11,000 tons;[ix] and at Tsushima, of under 15,000 tons. Size is not a criterion of decisiveness or a demarkation of a class or ship. All of these battles were more decisive than the battle of Jutland, where the ships were of nearly twice the size and more than twice the cost of those at Tsushima. A battle is, in fact, no more than a contest between two opposing forces with the object of obtaining command of a particular sheet of water, large or small. The ship must be capable of reaching that sheet of water, and of operating in it.

For my part, after much consideration of this question during the last ten years, I can find neither strategical nor tactical reasons for any fighting ship of any Power being larger than 6,500 tons. Space will not permit me to explain why I arrive at that figure, nor to anticipate the flood of criticism from the so-called "technical experts."[x] If all other artificial limitations on numbers or on armaments are got rid of, and the sole international agreement is that no nation will build fighting ships larger than 6,500 tons, economy will walk hand in hand with security.

While I express this view as a seaman, I am not unaware of its political difficulties. I know that in politics, as in war, the choice which has often to be made is not between one or more advantageous courses, but between the least harmful of two or more disadvantageous courses. I recognize the difficulty of adopting what, in my opinion, would be most advantageous for all of the nations.[xi] The Treaty of Versailles is here a political stumbling block. By that treaty, Germany was limited to providing herself with eight battleships of 10,000 tons each. If the sacrosanctity of every clause of that treaty be a fundamental principle of international relations -- which is not a matter on which a sea-officer's opinion is called for -- then those ships must remain, unless Germany of her own will and volition should abrogate her right to their construction: and other nations must also build ships that are unnecessarily large. But they need go no further. They can stop at 10,000 tons. They need not impose the burden of unwanted 20,000, 30,000 and 35,000 ton ships.

The German vessels are extremely costly. Forced by the treaty to a rigid limit of size and numbers, the able German officers and designers have employed every means to compress the utmost fighting power within the 80,000 tons of their corps-debataille: hence they cost their taxpayers not far from twice as much per ton as ships in which "normal" methods and materials are employed.[xii] There is, however, a course which I venture to think deserves serious consideration -- financial limitation of the cost per ton. Financial limitation, like arithmetical and all other artificial forms of quantitative limitation, is inconsistent with the principle of security, as I have endeavored earlier to show. But qualitative financial limitation, limitation to the cost per ton of the unit, is not open to that strategical objection. Unlike the quantitative limitation, it affects all nations alike, or (for I know costs differ in different countries) sufficiently alike to render differences negligible. For wars are not, as some appear to suppose, won because one fleet mounts a few more or bigger guns than another -- Solebay, St. Vincent, Trafalgar, Tsushima, and Jutland are eloquent witnesses of this truth. They are won by more competent commanders. In the long run it is the human element which dominates fighting at sea, as it does on land; and to haggle over attempts to obtain a meticulous arithmetical equality is no less to waste time, to create ill-feeling, and to increase expenditure, than it is to neglect the well-established lessons of experience.

[i] Decree of May 22, 1790, art. 4, quoted in Sorel, "L'Europe et la Revolution Française," I, p. 318.

[ii] This has nothing whatever to do with the manner in which force is used in defense. The object to be attained and the course of action adopted for its attainment are, as everyone is aware, two wholly distinct matters.

[iii] The instructions to the Sea Commanders in the eighteenth century furnish ample evidence of this statement.

[iv] England's recognition of her dependence upon the neutral for these vital supplies led her to stimulate the production of timber in her northern colonies.

[v] Prestige, or the material expression of "greatness," was not without its influence on the "race of armaments." Sir E. Grey, in a speech on July 25, 1912, referred to a "possible and obvious cause" of the building of the German fleet, "which is, that a great and growing nation generates power, not necessarily for aggression and with no special design, but because it wishes to be powerful." That is, for prestige -- not for the purposes of defense alone. It cost the world very dearly, this pride of pomp.

[vi] "Since the dominion of men was asserted over the ocean, three thrones, of mark beyond all others, have been set upon its sands: the thrones of Tyre, Venice and England. . . ." The quotation is familiar -- but nevertheless true.

[vii] 15 battleships to Britain and 15 to the United States.

[viii] "The [British] naval programme, embracing several years, which is to be introduced in the House of Commons tomorrow, is based automatically upon ours. If we increase, they increase here. If we reduce, they reduce here to match." Count Metternich to the German Foreign Office, March 17, 1912.

[ix] At Santiago, one battleship -- the Texas -- was present whose tonnage was 6,300.

[x] The factor of "taking punishment" opens up some peculiarly interesting points. Before they criticize me on this point, I commend to my critics a careful examination of the experience of large ships and small in the late war, and in other recent wars.

[xi] A "battleship" of 6,500 tons would probably cost something in the neighborhood of 7½ million dollars. A battleship of today (and of the future, unless this matter is properly thrashed out) costs 35 million dollars -- or a good deal more -- certainly more if some of the costly methods of construction recently adopted and employed in smaller vessels are applied to the larger ones.

[xii] The new methods, if extended to the great ships of today, will raise the cost of those monstrosities to the region of 100 million dollars apiece.

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  • ADMIRAL SIR HERBERT W. RICHMOND, former President of the Royal Naval War College, former Commandant of the Imperial Defense College, author of a number of volumes on naval history and strategy
  • More By Admiral Herbert W. Richmond