HC Deb 13 July 1868 vol 193 cc1107-11

said, the great object he had in view in rising was to show the House various deficiencies and defects in several ships built by the present Controller. He would divide the subject into three heads:—First, an example of want of classification; secondly, improper and unscientific distribution of weight in certain vessels; thirdly, defects in fighting qualities, for attack and defence, of Invincible and her class. To prove clearly the causes of these deficiencies and defects he must allude to the difficulties that surrounded the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty when he took Office. Ac that time a new fleet was being created, of iron-clad ships, the designing of which was in the hands of men who, ignoring the experience of the past, had attempted to produce a new Navy on principles at variance with science and experience, and who had been conspicuous for the tenacity with which they had adhered to unsound principles of naval architecture. The Controller of the Navy, in evidence before the Turret Committee of 1865, said—"I have a very serious objection to the moveable turret system at all in a sea going ship." The Chief Constructor, before the same Committee, spoke "of the objections taken by himself to the practicability of constructing satisfactory sea-going turret-ships." Thus the Controller's Department was doubtful as to the practicability of constructing satisfactory sea-going turret-ships. But that satisfactory sea-going turret-ships might be produced was very clearly shown by models of a complete classified fleet of iron-clad sea-going turret-ships to be seen at the South Kensington Museum. To show what the country obtained from the Controller's Department, and what might be produced, he would give the comparative elements of the Inconstant, now building at Pembroke, and one of the turret-ships of Admiral Halsted's proposed system for future turret navies—the Vidette. The Inconstant was ordered on the plea that fast iron-clads of a reasonable size could not be produced. The design of the Vidette was an answer to this plea. She was armoured from end to end with a shot resistance equal to 9-inch plates, extending 3 feet above and 5 feet below the water line. The resistance of the turret was equal to 11 inches of armour. The Inconstant's sides were entirely unprotected. A single shot or shell would sink her. The Vidette's tonnage was 4,089, the Inconstant's 4,073; the complement of men for the former was 300, for the latter 600; the maximum speed for each was 15 knots; in the turret-ship there was stowage room for 1,000 tons of coal, in the broadside-vessel for 600 tons; draught of water aft—turret, 23 feet; broadside—24 feet 6 inches; length of turret-ship, 337 feet 6 inches, i of broadside, 333 feet; weight of metal thrown—turret, 1,050 lb.; broadside, 1,478 1b. The late Chief Constructor of the Navy, Mr. T. Watts, the designer; of the Achilles, writing on this subject, said— The results of the calculations on the Vidette are most satisfactory. You have in her a full-armoured turret-ship, differing but little in tonnage, length, and breadth from the Inconstant, a ship being built by the Admiralty, but not proposed to be armoured at all. And as retards speed, armament, and coal stowage, the Vidette, it can hardly be said, suffers in comparison. Under these circumstances, it can hardly be a question which ship is best suited for the Navy in the present day, and more especially for the purpose for which the Inconstant class of vessel is being built—that is, protection of our commerce. Under these circumstances, why not offer to submit the design of the Vidette to the Admiralty, with a request that they will be pleased to build a ship with it? It was proposed to put 12-ton guns in the Inconstant's broadsides, which would be useless except in smooth water, as Admiral Warden reported that it was never desirable to cast loose even 6½-ton guns in a seaway. He was at a loss to know of what use the Inconstant would be if she could not fight her heavy guns in ft seaway; and how it was that this country could not have sea-going turret-ships, when we were assured—on the authority of Mr. Watts, the late Chief Constructor and designer of the Achilles—that it could be done. He now had to notice the contradiction of his former statement by the Secretary to the Admiralty, and he would quote the following extract from the Report of Admiral Warden, which had only appeared within the past few days:— Here, again, we have the Achilles, one of the first iron-clads built, distancing, in a run of 100 miles, occupying eight hours, some of the latest constructed ships—containing generally the most recent improvements, condenser, &c—in a very remarkable manner. … It is to be borne in mind that while the engines of the Achilles develope only 5,700-horse power to drive 6,000 tons, those of the Bellerophon, Lord Warden, and Lord Clyde develope about 6,000 to drive 4,000 tons. It is a result, I think, calculated to give rise to very serious reflections. It appeared from Admiral Warden's Report that the Achilles in the eight hours' trial, did 102½ miles, and the Bellerophon 89¼, the average speed of the Achilles being a little under thirteen knots an hour, and of the Bellerophon a fraction more than eleven knots an hour. He had three charges to make against the noble Lord the Secretary of the Admiralty. The first was that the noble Lord had improperly charged him on a former occasion with having made an exaggerated statement about these ships; the second was, certain observations said by the noble Lord to have been made by a gallant Admiral with reference to the iron fleet, which the gallant Admiral had fully denied; and, thirdly, indiscretion on the part of the noble Lord in publishing in that House a private letter he had received from Admiral Ryder from the squadron. Captain Coles had publicly stated that the reasons why the turret system was not adopted was because the Controller's Department determined not to adopt anything which did not originate with themselves. Certain matters had come to his knowledge which confirmed the belief that this was the case with Mr. Kenwood's economic scheme for converting our wooden line-of-battle ships into sea-going Monitors. It could be proved that the reports of the Controller's Department on these plans were totally incorrect. This country, indeed, was in a dangerous condition as regarded its maritime defences. We were building ships, costing about £500,000, obsolete and useless for the increased and increasing size of modern artillery. The Board of Admiralty, it appeared, were guided solely by the opinions of the Controller's Department, who were committed to strong opinions against the practicability of building sea-going turret-ships. He could not help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty was in the position of Sinbad the sailor, who in doing a good-natured action got the Old Man of the Sea on his neck and shoulders who made him obey his orders. Sinbad was relieved by plucking grapes and squeezing them into calabashes, which, when fermented into wine, made the old man drunk and fall off Sinbad's shoulders; and his (Captain Mackinnon's) mission was metaphorically to supply the calabashes of wine to relieve Sinbad the sailor from the horrible incubus that was ruining our navy. In the Report of the Channel fleet for 1867, the Controller, speaking of the Minotaur, attributed her occasional heavy pitching to the weight of the armour at her bow, and to cure the heavy pitching of this ship he added more weight—namely, a forecastle weighing sixty to seventy tons, and considered that this heavy forecastle added to the extremity of the ship since she was designed was very valuable. One would have thought that adding more weight to the bow would have aggravated the evil complained of, rather than have lessened it; and he believed that a cadet passing his first examination for midshipman would be turned back by his examiners if he showed himself so ignorant of the effect produced by adding weight to the extremity of a vessel with fine lines. He would now turn to the serious defects of the Invincible class, six of which were proposed to be built. The ends of the central battery were protected only by four and five inch armour against a raking fire, and when engaged bow on they could, within an are of sixty degrees, only bring one 300-pounder gun to bear against a converging fire of four 600-pounders of the competitive design by Messrs. Laird. The main deck outside the battery was only plated with iron 5–16ths of an inch thick, so that a single shot from a turret-ship with seven degrees of depression would easily penetrate the deck and pass through her boilers and sink her. This defect was pointed out by the Controller and Chief Constructor in their evidence on Captain Coles's turret-ship in 1865. The Controller said— A shot may come in at the top of the armour on one side, and go right through and strike the armour on the opposite side; and we have every reason to believe, from experiments made, that it would drive the armour-plate off and might destroy the ship. This proved the very defective character of vessels of the Invincible class. He therefore called on the Admiralty and on the House, in the name of the sailors of England, to stop this culpable folly, this dangerous blundering. It had been well said by a high authority that in some cases a blunder was worse than a crime, and the blunders in the case in point, jeopardizing as they did the lives of our sailors, the honour of our navy, and the safety of the country, amounted to an enormity which the definition "criminal" failed to describe. If persisted in they would lead to the disgrace of the navy of England and the humiliation of this great nation.