HC Deb 08 July 1875 vol 225 cc1173-98

The Motion I have placed on the Paper embraces both armoured and unarmoured ships. While the principles I seek to enforce apply equally to either class, for the sake of brevity my observations shall be confined to iron-clad ships. I may at once explain that, in recommending that an effort should be made to combine the most essential qualities of a man-of-war with reduced dimensions, I do not desire to criticize, in an unfavourable sense, the shipbuilding policy of the past. The ships designed by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) and his successors are admitted by the most competent authorities abroad to be superior to any yet built in their own naval yards. We have been going with the times, and keeping well a-head of, other nations. On the other hand, it will be admitted that much disappointment has been felt that the number of fighting ships we have been able to turn out has been year by year diminishing. During the last 10 years we have launched on the average two iron-clads annually. The former average was insufficient; and there had been a marked falling-off in the last three years. In 1870, six ships were launched, including three of the Audacious type, and the Hercules and Sultan, which still remain the most powerful masted iron-clads we possess. In 1871, we launched seven ships; but four of these were of the Cyclops class, comparatively small, and intended only for coast defence. In 1872 we launched three ships; the Devastation, Thunderer, and Rupert. The two succeeding years are blank, as regards the history of our iron-clad shipbuilding; and when the Alexandra was recently launched at Chatham, an interval of nearly three years had elapsed since an armoured ship had been added to the Navy. The cause of this stagnation is not so much the insufficiency of the Estimates as the extravagant cost of the individual ships. Previous to the iron-clad epoch, a ship of war could be built for £1,000 a-gun. The cost has now increased to £125,000 a-gun; and these figures, large as they are, may be considerably augmented before the Inflexible and the Dreadnought are completed. Such an outlay is the less satisfactory at a time when questions are being raised as to the policy of building these enormous ships under the altered conditions of naval warfare. I do not insist on smaller ships with a view to reduction of expenditure. Previous to the Franco-Prussian War, it might have been possible to bring down the Naval Estimates to a sum not exceeding £10,000,000. The increased armaments of the Continental Powers have altered the situation. The particular amount required must be determined by the responsible Ministers of the Crown; and they need never shrink from asking for what is necessary to maintain an efficient Navy. The Naval Estimates have been often criticized, but the criticisms have been directed, not so much to the aggregate amount, as to the injudicious application of the money voted to the Naval Service. The most rigid economists in the House of Commons have no desire to starve the Navy, though they are anxious, and rightly so, that our effective strength shall be proportionate to the outlay incurred. Now, in order to attain this object, it is essential to avoid all sudden fluctuations, whether of increase or reduction in the naval expenditure. It is equally essential that we should take care not to fall behind the age in the designs we adopt for our vessels of war. When we review the past history of the Navy, we find many instances where we have been too slow in admitting the necessity for a change in the system of naval construction. "We have clung to the accepted types, because a reversal of policy would have been tantamount to an admission that the fleet which we had created at great pains and cost had become obsolete, or at best, of little value. It is my object to present a similar error in our own times; and I venture to think the present occasion is not altogether inopportune. The Estimates before us include two armourclads, on each of which it is proposed that only two workmen shall be employed. A force so insignificant can have made no appreciable progress in the herculean task in contemplation, and modification in the designs at the present stage would not involve a serious loss. It is undoubtedly most difficult to form a distinct conception of the future requirements for the matériel of the Navy. But the problem must be faced. The other maritime Powers are not dependent, like ourselves, for their very existence on the command of the seas. They can afford to await the result of our costly experiments. We are in a different position. The question we have to decide is not whether we shall or shall not for a time suspend our shipbuilding operations, but rather what type or types it is most advantageous to adopt, having regard to the actual and prospective conditions of naval warfare. We must therefore make up our minds on a number of questions, which it is more easy to suggest than to answer. Are we right in building ships of monster size, solely for the purpose of carrying armour, ponderous in weight, but no longer impenetrable? In the middle ages armour for personal defence was gradually increased in weight, until it became an insupportable incumbrance. The use of armour for the protection of ships seems likely to lead to a similar result. It is practically impossible to construct vessels to carry armour sufficiently heavy to resist the guns already introduced, still loss to resist those in process of manufacture. This is proved by the table published by the War Office, showing the penetrating power of the guns in use in 1873. The Committee on Naval Designs, in their Report made in 1871, pointed out that we were approaching a period when the guns would assert a final and decided superiority over armour. Admirals Elliott and Ryder, in their separate Report, expressed an opinion that the continued use of side armour was of doubtful expediency. They objected to the use of any vertical side armour of less than 20 inches in thickness as a protection to the vitals of a ship. They believed that, if war broke out, and our Fleet were protected by this armour, the other maritime nations would resort to the use of guns, against which the armour we now employ would afford no protection. At the present moment the Elswick Company are making 12 100-ton guns for the Italians; and the French have a 38-ton breech-loading gun, which, next to our own, is the most powerful gun in any Navy. M. Dislere, the author of a most suggestive essay, recently published, La Marine Cuirassée, condemns as inadequate any armour of less than 16 inches in thickness; and it has been laid down, no doubt correctly, by the right hon. and gallant Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay), that a ship defended by 16-inch armour must have a displacement of 16,000 tons. In the opinion of M. Dislere, armour which is not impenetrable is worse than useless; for if there be reason to hope that large shells may penetrate the thin sides of unarmoured ships without bursting, it is certain that they will burst against the weakest armour. While, however, the value of armour as a protection against guns is daily becoming more and more doubtful, it seems probable that engagements will hereafter be fought, not with the gun, but with the ram and the torpedo. In support of this statement I might multiply quotations from Commander Noel's able essay, The Gun, the Ram, and the Torpedo, from Captains Colomb and Pellew, from Admirals Touchard and Jurien de la Gravière, from M. Dislere, and many other sources. In dissenting from the Report of the Committee on Naval Designs, Admirals Elliott and Ryder express their firm conviction that the most destructive means of attack will be found in the ram and the torpedo, that the most efficient ram will prove the most efficient fighting ship, and that the leading features of unsinkableness and handiness which constitute the best ram, will also facilitate the avoidance of the enemy's torpedoes. Looking to the growing importance of ram and torpedo warfare, it appeared to them most desirable to avoid building ships of such large dimensions as the modified Fury, with a displacement exceeding 10,000 tons. In the United States, special attention has been devoted to torpedoes. Admiral Porter, in an official Report, has predicted that in the next great naval fight, the torpedo will decide the result. At Berlin it has been determined to build no more large iron-clads at present. General von Storch, the head of the German Admiralty, stated in the Reichsrath last December that the improvement in torpedoes rendered it undesirable to build the flotilla of monitors included in his former programme of vessels to be built for coast defence. In France it is believed that the torpedo is destined to produce in naval tactics a revolution not less complete than those which have been already brought about by steam, rifled guns, armour plating, and the ram. The torpedo will now, M. Dislere anticipates, be fired from the broadside of ships in action. It may, in short, be regarded as a submarine gun. During the Franco-Prussian War, the French Fleet in the Baltic was reduced to complete inaction by the dread of torpedoes. Turning from foreign opinions, what do we learn from the most eminent men in our own country? Sir Spencer Robinson told the Committee on Designs that he believed a total change in naval warfare was impending; that what we wanted most were neither Devastations nor Sultans, but a class of immensely-powerful torpedo ships. Torpedoes were destined to a great position in naval warfare. Here it may be asked whether the attention of the Constructor's Department has been sufficiently directed to torpedo vessels. We have completed one small vessel, the Vesuvius; but a first experiment must inevitably suggest many improvements, which could be advantageously introduced in subsequent designs. Mr. Barnaby has frankly admitted that it is a question how far we dare go in putting large sums of money into single ships, remembering that every ship in existence can be penetrated by torpedoes, the large ships as easily as the small ships. Where such differences of opinion prevail, it is difficult to arrive at a conclusion as to the most judicious practical application of the Shipbuilding Vote. There is, however, a general concurrence of opinion in favour of certain types. Rams are admitted to be necessary, and the smaller the dimensions, having due regard to other conditions, the more formidable such a vessel must be. The power of a ram depends on speed and facility in turning. Mobilitate viget, irresque acquirit eundo. The steam ram should be protected by armour in vital points, and it is impossible to give armour protection to a small vessel without some sacrifice of other qualities. In vessels specially designed to act as rams, it would be advisable to give up guns, and it would be unnecessary to insist on a large supply of fuel. The use of rams for harbour defence has been ably discussed by M. Dislere. The ram for coast defence must not, in his opinion, be diverted from its proper use. As Admiral Goldsborough has put it—" The vessel must be the projectile, the steam power the gunpowder." The combined effect of the weight of the vessel and her speed cannot but be irresistible, and the ram, reduced to its one weapon, the spur, relieved from the weight of the artillery and the armour-plating to protect it, rendered in consequence small, handy, and swift, cannot but be a formidable adversary to a bombarding and blockading squadron, composed probably of ships greatly inferior in manœuvring qualities. I trust that the Admiralty may feel justified in ordering at least one ram to be built, free from the incumbrance of artillery. Three or four such vessels could be constructed for the cost of one Rupert. Turning to sea-going types, the Committee on Naval Designs were unwilling to give up armour protection, even though the armour might be penetrable by the heaviest guns. They say— After making every allowance for the disadvantages that attend the use of an enormous dead weight of very costly armour, we cannot lose sight of the indisputable fact that, in an action between an armour-clad and an unarmoured ship, (assuming that they carry guns of equal power), the former has, and must have, an immense advantage in being able to penetrate the sides of her adversary, at a distance at which she is herself impenetrable, and further, in being able to use with effect those most destructive projectiles, common shells, which fall harmless from her own armoured sides. While it may be admitted that this argument, so conclusive in favour of the retention of armour for first-class vessels of war, all these advantages of the armoured over the unarmoured ship, on which the Committee chiefly insisted, are secured in the Audacious class. The armour of these ships, which is 8 inches thick at the most important points, will resist the projectiles of the 9-inch gun at 200 yards, and must therefore continue to be of service until foreign vessels of war receive a more powerful armament than they usually carry at the present time. As cruising iron-clads for general service, the Audacious class—in which, for the purposes of comparison with other classes, the Swiftsure should be included—presents the best result yet attained for an equal expenditure of money. The cost of each of these vessels may be put in round figures at £250,000; and it is stated by the Constructors of the Admiralty, in their special Report, that they have guns capable of penetrating all but the exceptional armour of foreign Powers, and that they carry armour impenetrable to all but the exceptional guns of such Powers. They carry their guns into action at a speed closely approaching to 14 knots, and they can cruise without the use of steam. Moreover—and this, perhaps, is the most important consideration of all—this result is attained in ships of a moderate size, and the first cost of the ships and of the men required to man them is thus kept down to the lowest point. All these advantages have been still more fully realized in the Shannon, now building at Pembroke. When, therefore, we take into consideration that three Shannons can be built for the cost of one Inflexible, or at least that five Shannons can be built for the cost of two Inflexibles, it would appear wise to divide our expenditure more equally between the two classes. Instead of having only one Shannon in progress, and two Inflexibles, it would be more advantageous to the Navy that we should now be constructing four Shannons and only one Inflexible. The policy of building any vessels of the Inflexible class is open to some doubt. None are being built in the United States, and only one—the Redoubtable—very slowly in Prance. In Russia the Peter the Great is gradually approaching completion, having been commenced some four or five years ago. Yet in the present undecided state of naval opinion, and while other Powers continue to build such vessels, being in this unwilling imitators of England in a policy which their own constructors disapprove, the public might feel some uneasiness if we were to abandon altogether the construction of first-class iron-clads. Sir Spencer Robinson's evidence before the Committee on Designs is an accurate reflection of the naval mind on this question. He wanted more Devastations, although he fully recognized their defects. He wanted more Sultans, for services in which the ships would be required to remain at sea for a lengthened period. At the same time, he admitted that we were on the eve of a complete change in naval warfare, and that, when the torpedo system had become more perfect, large iron-clads would be less necessary. If only the Admiralty will be firm in insisting on moderate tonnage, as a sine qua non, we may rest confident that it will be found possible to produce most formidable vessels at a greatly reduced cost. The triumphs of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) were won by combining greater fighting power with smaller dimensions than those adopted in the earlier iron-clads. The Hercules surpasses the Minotaur even more in the superior facility with which she can be manœuvred than in the weight of her armour and the power of her guns. The ingenuity of our naval architects would be turned to good account in designing the most powerful ships that could be built for a sum not exceeding £100,000. The true policy of naval construction has been well described by M. Gervaise, an eminent constructor of the French Navy. He says— Our aim should be, not simply to produce ships more powerful and of greater speed than any others of known form and dimensions. That object may generally be attained without difficulty, simply by building a larger ship than the type you wish to surpass. The really difficult problem is to produce a ship which shall combine the required power and speed with the smallest dimensions. In other words, the merit of naval architecture consists in producing the greatest possible amount of naval force for a given sum of money. These are principles which cannot be too strongly insisted upon, and which the British Admiralty have so often forgotten in the sacrifices they have made to the idol of popularity. In justice to our own constructors, we must add that they have often expressed the same opinions. In their Report on the Audacious class to the Committee on Designs, they say— In view of the dangers to which ships, how. ever heavily armoured and armed, and however large, are exposed from torpedoes, rams, and other submarine attacks, we consider the best ships are those of the smallest dimensions, which can engage the armour-clad frigates of other nations with a good prospect of success. The advice thus tendered to the Admiralty should be appreciated by Parliament. The Constructors show an evident reluctance to expend the ample resources at their disposal in building sensational ships. These things are done to please the public; and public opinion on such a question rests on imperfect knowledge. The judgment of the Department itself is the judgment of men of special knowledge; whose claims to our confidence rests on close and constant study of this complicated question in all its bearings. In conclusion, I would suggest one other argument against building ships of exaggerated size. Will not a captain be burdened with an almost intolerable anxiety, when he knows that his ship is one of a very limited number, and that the loss of such a ship may be a most serious blow to the Navy? In the numerous fleets of the olden times, the fate of an individual ship was a less momentous question. But if you concentrate the whole powers of the Navy in a few ships, such as we have lately built, you throw upon the officers in command a weight of responsibility which may check that gallant and almost reckless ardour, with which the great battles of the past were fought and won.


observed, that if a Question of Privilege or one relating to a personal squabble were to be brought before the House the benches would be full, and not, as they now were, all but empty. He thought the House was greatly indebted to the hon. Member for Hastings for the very able way in which he had brought forward this subject, which involved the question of the condition of our Navy, and that was the point which the House had to consider. When we looked at the present condition of affairs on the Continent we ought to remember that we were dealing with circumstances very different from those with which we had had to deal before. There never was a time in the history of Europe when the situation of affairs was more hostile to this country than it was at present. There was a state of things on the Continent of Europe unknown in the history of the world. The whole position was changed. Formerly a notion prevailed that the Channel was a barrier against aggression, but it was not now the barrier that it was 50 years ago. Again, many discussions had taken place with respect to our military resources, and the result of the debates was that the state of our Army was anything but what it ought to be, for not only had we not sufficient troops for the requirements of our Colonies, but we had not sufficient to defend our own shores in the event of an attempted invasion. A more important question could not be raised than that of the condition of our Navy. The Army had been so much reduced and frittered away that, practically speaking, the Navy was our only remaining line of defence against foreign invasion. Only last year the First Lord of the Admiralty had said that he did not like phantom ships. [Mr. HUNT: No, no!] Well, he was sorry if his right hon. Friend did not say so; but, at all events, it could not be denied that he had spoken in terms of strong disparagement with respect to the condition of the Navy. [Mr. HUNT: Hear, hear!] He fully expected that frank and candid admission. But what he felt was that the right hon. Gentleman, having commenced his career with that admission, ought at least to have made some attempt, colloquially speaking, to put things right. There was only one remedy for inefficiency—money; but, unfortunately, his right hon. Friend had not the political courage to ask the House to furnish him with the means required to amend the defects which he himself had published to the world. If the First Lord had done so, his conviction was that both the House and the country would have responded cordially to the appeal, and the First Lord would have been at once placed in a position to remedy the deficiencies of which he so justly complained. He (Mr. Bentinck) contended that the present condition of the Navy was not what it ought to be, either in point of the number or of the efficiency of our ships. Modes of aggression were now so numerous, the masses of troops which might be poured upon our shores were so enormous, that it was rash to assert that our Navy was at present sufficient even for purposes of home defence. When England used to claim the sovereignty of the Seas, it was on the ground that we were prepared to contest it against the world united. But was the British Navy ready to contend now even against two of the great naval Powers united? We had no ships which could be handled under canvas alone without assistance from their engines; and a vessel which could not keep the sea when her coals were out could not be called a sea-going or efficient vessel. True we had a fleet such as it was—no two alike, various monsters of all shapes and sizes, some going faster than the rest, while some would and some would not answer their helms, and nobody knew which was the best or the worst. But there was another point to be borne in mind, and that was our want of experience as to the result of a naval engagement between iron-clads. It had been asserted that within a couple of hours after the commencement of such a battle all that would be left would be a few hats floating about on the water. Well, if that were likely to be so it became a very serious matter indeed for us to consider the question of having a reserve of ships. In olden days we had a larger number of ships in reserve than were actually engaged; but if our Channel squadron went into action and four or five heavy ships were disabled, where was the British Navy? He would appeal to his right hon. and gallant Friend (Sir John Hay) whether the whole thing was not an experiment, and whether we were not trusting not only the honour, but the safety of the country to a number of untried ships. But there was another important point. In the event of a war, where were the ships with which we were to protect our commercial operations? Had hon. Gentlemen on both sides who were largely embarked in commercial affairs ever considered what would be the position of the commerce of this country in the event of the outbreak of a general war? Was his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty prepared to say that he had such a fleet in reserve as could protect it? For he need not tell his right hon. Friend that we should want not only a vast number of ships for that purpose, but they should be ships of a particular class—not armour-clad, but vessels carrying, perhaps, one heavy gun, and of great speed, so that they could choose their own mode of fighting, and not only protect our commerce, but harass that of the enemy. Well, where were those ships, and where were the funds by which they were to be constructed? Was his right hon. Friend prepared to tell the House either that he had those ships or was preparing to build them? [Mr. HUNT: Hear, hear!] But they could not be built in days, or weeks, or months, and yet the necessity for them might come at any moment. He contended that it was downright insanity on the part of this country, having an enormous mass of wealth embarked in commercial operations, not to take steps while we had time and means to protect it. And yet here they were, about 60 Members of the House of Commons listening to his remarks, and the other 600 at their dinner—the House and the country appearing to be perfectly indifferent on the matter. Hon. Members would remember, too, that this country greatly, if not mainly, depended for supplies of food on other nations. Not two months ago there was what in the commercial world was called "a panic," in the social world "a scare." The Great Powers were seeing how they could raise 1,000,000 or 1,200,000 men and arm them most effectively. We might rely upon it that those panics or scares were not without a foundation; and what, he might ask, would be the position of this country in the event of a sudden outbreak of a European war? There was a fond idea that privateering was abolished by the Declaration of Paris. But we all know that declaration, whether ratified by treaty or no, was not worth the paper on which it was written. The very moment war broke out, those countries which would benefit by privateering would resort to it. We probably should be the last to do so, until we should be half ruined by our own folly, for we should have some scruples about the Declaration of Paris, but others would not be so scrupulous, What would be our position if other nations were to take to privateering, and not only destroy our commerce, but deprive us of supplies of food which were indispensable to our existence. Our first duty was then, without a moment's delay, to supply ourselves with a large number of ships of a character best adapted to protect our own commerce and destroy that of the enemy. The torpedo was about to become the great implement of maritime war. If his right hon. Friend (Mr. Hunt) would make up his mind as to what he wanted for torpedoes and vessels to ensure the safety and honour of England, neither the House of Commons nor the country would begrudge the money that was necessary. His right hon. Friend could not better employ his energies than by devoting them to this entire question.


who had upon the Paper a Notice— To call attention to the principles which had been and are being adopted in the construction of Her Majesty's ships of war, said, he thought he should best consult the convenience of the House by making what observations he had to offer a continuance of the present discussion rather than the beginning of a new one. He was reminded by the course which the debate had taken of an incident that occurred at the last anniversary of the Royal Academy dinner, when the First Lord of the Admiralty complimented the artist who had painted the Devastation for having enveloped the greater part of the vessel in smoke, while he decorated the remainder with a great variety of colours. He feared that some of the artists who undertook to describe our iron-clads pursued very much the same course, enveloping the greater part of the subject in smoke and describing the remainder in such a way that he entirely failed to recognize it. His hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Brassey) had not diverged into any random criticism of Her Majesty's Navy, but rather drew attention to certain general principles which ought to be followed. He ventured to think that a most commendable course. The hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) had spoken on two points of the greatest importance, and on both he had conveyed an unfair impression to the House. The hon. Member for West Norfolk said we had in our Navy no two ships alike. Now, there could be no greater mistake. We had several groups of ships quite alike, and other groups which differed very little from each other. The present Government, when last in office, laid down six ships which were in many respects alike—namely, the Swiftsure and Audacious class; before then the Warrior and Black Prince were alike; so were the Defence and Resistance, the Hector and Valiant, and many others. Then, the late Government laid down four ships of a like class. He might go on and show that where ships differed materially they did not so differ as to make them incapable of being together in an action. One of the distinguishing merits of our Navy, which was recognized throughout the world, was that we did introduce continual differences in our ships, because we made that very desirable thing, continual progress. The French pursued a totally different course. Last year they heard speeches describing the inefficient condition of the French Navy, and the cause of that inefficiency was that they laid down the proposition that they would make all their ships alike. The consequence was, they for a long time made no progress. In a general action nothing could be more embarrassing to an enemy than the uncertainty he must feel as to the capabilities of ships of different kinds, particularly if he knew that the diversity arose from improvements. The hon. Member for West Norfolk had altogether depreciated the sailing qualities of our iron-clad fleet; and that error, although much better founded than the other, was, nevertheless, of an equally grave character. He (Mr. Reed) did not wish to maintain that armoured ships were as efficient in sailing as unarmoured. They had not the same size of masts, or spars, or spread of canvas. In the Duke of Wellington, and similar ships of the unarmoured type, they had reached the largest size in which they could send men aloft to handle the sails, and as iron-clads were larger in bulk amidships and elsewhere, and had a far less spread of canvas, they wore, of course, inferior in sailing qualities. An attempt had been made to remedy that by increasing the number of masts; but after a trial that was abandoned by general consent. But equal sailing qualities were unneces- sary, as they had larger steam power and great advantages in other respects. They were, however, far better sailers than the hon. Member for "West Norfolk imagined. This was easy of proof from the official Reports, from which he should like to give an extract or two. Admiral Yelverton said of the Research that she sailed well at all times. She took the first place and was twice second. Of the Pallas he said on all occasions on trial at sea she proved herself far superior to the rest of the squadron. Her power of going to windward was very extraordinary. Of the Bellerophon, her captain said, speaking of her voyage to Maderia, the passage from Plymouth was made in eight days, almost entirely under sail, with a heavy sea running. She proved the best and easiest ship at sea he had ever served in. Of the Hercules, the late lamented Admiral Sherard Osborn said, as a sailing ship, she struck him as a most efficient cruiser. Of the Invincible, Admiral Yelverton said, in 1872, she behaved remarkably well under canvas. Captain Commerell reported favourably upon the Monarch as buoyant and a very fair cruiser. The Favourite came from Halifax to Spithead in 17 days, and went as much as nine knots an hour, with a force of wind from five to seven against her. He had many other extracts from Reports, but would not weary the House by quoting them. We were accustomed outside the House and sometimes in the House to very confident criticisms upon our ships from persons who had no experience of them; and adverse opinions from officers of experience were often very materially qualified. Prom a distinguished officer who had had more experience of our iron-clad ships than any other, Admiral Sir Hastings Yelverton, he had received a letter in which the writer said— If I begin by the little Enterprise, whose performances both under steam and canvas astonished us all so much in the Mediterranean in 1864, it is only to fix a starting point in the long experience I have had of your ships. When in command of the Channel Squadron in 1867 I had good reason to know and appreciate the fine sea-going qualities of your Bellerophon, both under steam and steam and sail, in a month's cruise off Capo Clear; and when in 1870 I commanded the same squadron I became acquainted with your Hercules, combining, as she does to the present hour, all the advantages of the finest frigate afloat, crowned with those indispensable fighting qualities so peculiar to the iron-clad of her class. When cruising in the Atlantic in 1872, I had several of your ships under my command, and had great reason to be pleased with their handy performance in fleet evolutions, their stability under sail, but above all their great warlike qualities. I have tried your Invincible and Swiftsure against the wooden frigates Aurora and Endymion, much to the advantage of the first two in stability as gun platforms and great power as engines of war. These and other instances I could mention in support of the efficiency and superiority of your ships at sea, and, as I speak from experience and not hearsay, you are at liberty to quote me to any one you please. I make no mention of the Sultan, and others of your ships I have not seen at sea; but, if in their increased proportions they are equal to your numerous vessels I have had under trial, they will add to the credit you already deserve for having made our iron-clads the pride of the country and the envy of foreign nations. He hoped that statement would carry more weight than irresponsible statements made by gentlemen without experience, and many of which were as true as that made the other day about the Devastation being a Black Hole of Calcutta, which was promptly corrected by the official declaration that her ventilation was superior to that of any vessel in the Mediterranean. He felt the greatest possible sympathy with the object of the hon. Member who moved this Motion, and who had done great service by the speech which he had delivered. There could be no doubt that in seeking to obtain our unapproachable power we had not hesitated to build ships of very large dimensions; but we should not lose sight of this—that the largest ships now building was not bigger than several others, like the Minotaur, the Agincourt, and the Northumberland, that we began to build 10 or 12 years ago. He had no wish to praise ships with the construction of which he had been connected; and he would remark that no one ship was the production of a single mind. The Board of Admiralty, the Controller of the Navy, and the Chief Constructor of the Navy, all contributed to the production of each ship, and much of the excellence of these vessels was due to the experience and advice of naval officers who were members of the Board, and also to the naval officer who was Controller of the Navy. He did not wish to vindicate himself, for he did not feel the necessity for that vindication; but whilst he sympathized with the hon. Member who moved the Resolution, he was obliged to differ very much as to some of the grounds upon which he had based his Motion. It had been said that it was impossible by armour to resist submarine attacks or the fire of heavy guns. With regard to the guns, that was precisely the proposition which he had heard ever since we ventured to build armour-plated vessels. We had always been told that it was impossible for armour to resist guns, and yet we had during all this time been in the possession of many ships that were impregnable to every gun afloat in the service of any other country. This was also the position in which we stood at this moment. We had at Malta, Portsmouth, and Pembroke ships absolutely impregnable to every gun afloat in the service of any other country. If it was said the power of the gun was increasing enormously and rapidly, he answered so was the armour-plating; and when the Inflexible was completed, if she was the kind of ship we had been led to believe, her armour-plating would be impervious to any gun afloat in any ships except our own. It had been said that no fewer than 10 100-ton guns were now being made for foreign Powers by one private firm; but even supposing this to be true, and the guns would penetrate—which he did not for a moment believe—the Inflexible, still, it did not matter to this country until those guns were afloat. When it was said that other nations were reluctantly following us, it was not seen that we had the advantage in being able to do what others were reluctant to do, and that this fact assured us our pre-eminence. It would be unfortunate if it were the other way, and if we had to follow and imitate other nations. We were stronger now because other nations had to begin to build their own ships, and could only build them slowly. Russia, for instance, had been building the Peter the Great for five or six years, and the vessel was not finished yet. We were stronger, again, because these larger vessels were more powerful than the vessels we began with. It was said that the torpedo was to supersede all these vessels, and that the proper thing to do was to set them aside, and to develop the torpedo, and he was surprised at the reference made to Admiral Porter, whose Report he happened to be reading at the time. Admiral Porter said that we should run into error if we supposed that ships of war would be driven from the ocean by the torpedo alone.

The torpedo, he said, was but an adjunct, and there were certain times and circumstances, and only then, when it had the advantage over big guns. Admiral Porter had also reported on the Alarm and Intrepid, and he was perfectly aware that whatever power the torpedo might possess, every one of our iron-clad vessels had been furnished for some years past with the ram, and he had never heard that a torpedo would make a much bigger hole in the sides of a vessel than the ram. The ram, indeed, in Admiral Porter's opinion, ranked higher than the torpedo in naval warfare, and he relegated both the Alarm and the Intrepid to the purposes of coast defence. This, at all events, might be said of the torpedo, that, whatever its capabilities might be in the future, its powers were at present undeveloped. It was said it might be discharged from the broadside of a vessel under water; but one of the most successful improvements in naval warfare had been in the increase of range in our guns. No ex-ample of a successful use of the torpedo in naval warfare could be quoted, nor had it been proved to be a handy or manageable weapon. If it realized all that could be expected of it every vessel might be furnished with a torpedo, for he was at a loss to know what there was in a torpedo ship that could not be applied to the great bulk of existing ships of war. It had not been proved, moreover, that the torpedo was efficient against armour when it struck armour. The armour of our iron-clads went a good way down into the water, and it could go lower if necessary, and by a modification of the form of a vessel it was possible to present armour everywhere to the attacks of the torpedo. A circular iron-clad belonging to Russia had recently been cruising in the Black Sea, the armour-plating of which went down to the bottom of the ship. There was, therefore, no reason for calling upon the Government to abandon armour on account of the torpedo. It was strange how any person who had thought the matter over could lend himself for one moment to an argument so utterly worthless and without foundation, that because armour had been abandoned for the defence of the person of the soldier, that it was to be abandoned for the engines, boilers, and machinery of a ship. A moment's reflection must show that the power of carrying personal armour was limited, but not so with a ship. We began with 4½inch armour, which was thought to be wonderful, but we had now got to 24-inch armour; and the Inflexible which would carry it, would be as fast, as handy, and as mobile as any vessel that had preceded her. There was nothing in the universe to surpass the mobility of these iron-clads, for the motion of a body weighing 10,000 tons could be reversed in a minute. There was no practical limit to the thickness of armour as occasions might arise; but the Admiralty had now included in their programme two vessels singularly fast, to be built of steel. They did not calculate upon deriving any great advantage from the saving of weight, but the time had arrived when that long standing dream of naval men—very fast vessels of small dimensions—seemed about to be realized, from the introduction of improved material. References had been made to the opinions of foreign gentlemen, but foreign Navies supplied many instances of inexperience. There were two vessels being built for the Italian Navy—one which he saw at Spezzia, and the other more advanced at Castellamare, which supplied an illustration of the great value of our going ahead. "When they were designed it was thought they would take a pre-eminent place in Europe, but almost before they were commenced the British Admiralty, animated by a progressive spirit, developed the Inflexible. And what had been the consequence? "Why when the British Government commenced to build the Inflexible the Italian Government felt that their new ships would be behind the time, and they immediately introduced such alterations in them as would enable them to carry heavier armour, with the result, as he was afraid, that their ships would not be so efficient as they were originally intended to be. He maintained that it was a great advantage to this country to be able to put foreign Powers in such a position. We spent from £10,000,000 to £12,000,000 a-year upon our Navy for the purpose of securing naval pre-eminence; and he maintained that our naval position was pre-eminent, although we had not so many ships afloat as he should like to see; and of those £10,000,000 or £12,000,000 none were spent to better purpose than the £1,000,000 which was expended on the construction of our ships. He knew that the hon. Member who had introduced this question was no advocate for cheese-paring, and had brought forward the subject in the interest of the Navy, which he believed would be rendered more efficient by the building of smaller vessels. All those who had held high office in the Admiralty knew that there was a great demand in that Department for an increased number of these smaller ships; and his opinion was that we ought to turn our attention to the construction of such vessels for some time to come. We knew that ships of the Audacious class carried our flag into distant seas where nothing floated that would compare with them. We knew that the smaller Powers, such as the Southern States of America, the Chinese, and the Japanese, were building iron-clads of a minor class, and that we must have vessels of a similar character which would bear our flag into their seas, and the proposition of the hon. Member would have had a valuable result if it stimulated our Government to construct them. The Government had been strongly urged to abandon armour on our ships altogether; but he trusted that the observations he had made would make the right hon. Gentlemen opposite reflect before they adopted that advice. It would be greatly to be deplored if England, with all her wealth and her light taxation—because it was difficult to find out in what the pressure of taxation that was said to be so heavy upon working men consisted—should take the alarming course of abandoning armour-plated ships. Should we do so we should be no better off than other people were. The smaller class of unarmoured vessels possessed of great speed might do much good service; but he hoped that we should not abandon the construction of the larger class because when a small vessel was in a heavy sea, almost all the speed that she developed in smooth water disappeared, whereas that of the larger class remained. He should deplore the fact that the bulk of English vessels should carry only such light guns as could be put on board the Cunard and other mercantile vessels. The Inconstant with her enormous speed and her overwhelming battery, although she was costly, was well adapted to represent the power of England all over the world. It would be a deplorable policy if for the sake of a pitiful economy we were to deprive ourselves of the superior class of ships; and he trusted that we should not adopt it, although he hoped the Government would see their way to follow the course that had been pointed out to them by the hon. Member.


said, that no one would deny the importance and value of the Motion brought forward by his hon. Friend. He trusted that the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) would not think that he was saying disrespectful to him when he expressed his regret that he had introduced into this debate, which had reference to the size and dimensions of our ships, the larger question on which the hon. Member so much delighted to enlarge—namely, the alleged deficiency of the British Navy. The hon. Gentleman had complained that so few hon. Members had been present when he had made his remarks—a circumstance which he attributed to the degeneration of the House of Commons and its want of interest in the Navy. The hon. Member, however, must recollect that he had given no intimation of the course he intended to adopt of making most reckless and sensational statements respecting the British Navy, otherwise the attendance would probably have been larger. He regretted that he must turn for the moment from the important question which had been brought forward by the hon. Member for Hastings to deal with the assertions of the hon. Member for West Norfolk; but unfortunately the statements of the latter would be published in the newspapers, and would be read in foreign countries, and would, doubtless, if uncontradicted, carry great weight with them, and he was anxious, as far as he could, to meet and repel those assertions. The hon. Member said that he had not heard of any ships that were built, or that were being built, that were fitted to protect the commerce of the country. But the hon. Member never heard anything, and it appeared to him never understood anything, otherwise he would have remembered the statement the First Lord of the Admiralty had made respecting the number of such ships that we possessed. The hon. Member urged upon the right hon. Gentleman the necessity of building more ships, and yet, in the same breath, he declared that the ships that were built were useless, and would be blown into the air by torpedoes. The hon. Gentleman had never said what type of vessels he would wish to see built. He (Mr. Goschen) was quite sure that the House would be ready to vote such sums as the First Lord of the Admiralty, on his responsibility, considered to be necessary to secure the protection and promote the honour of this country. The hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Brassey) was no doubt right in saying that we ought to have ships as numerous and as effective as possible; but he was in error when he stated that large ships were built in deference to public opinion rather than with a view to efficiency. Generally speaking, the scientific officers of the Admiralty aimed at having the best ship possible, which was in many cases—perhaps in most cases—the largest, and they shrank from building ships which might be unable to cope with an enemy. The result was, as the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) had said, that we were now in a position to cope with any ship or any combination of ships that could be brought against us. The hon. Member for West Norfolk doubted whether anybody would get up in that House and assert that our Navy could cope with that of any two foreign Powers; but the fact was that the Secretary to the Admiralty last year made a much stronger statement—namely, that our Navy could fight the combined Navies of, at least, three other Powers. [Mr. A. EGERTON: I said they would be ready to fight them, which is a very different thing.] Well, he believed we should be ready to fight many more than three, and, what was more, that we should be successful in the attempt, and he had no doubt that any suggestion to the contrary would be repudiated by every naval officer in the Service. He had listened with special pleasure to the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed), because not long since that hon. Gentleman had considerably perplexed the public by his reference to one or two large ships, especially the Peter the Great, belonging to foreign countries; but now we enjoyed the assurance of the hon. Gentleman that our superiority was every day becoming greater. Great strides had been made in the building of our large ships of recent years. While the late Government were in office an advance was made from 14 inches to 24 inches of armour, and from guns of 38 to guns of 80 tons; and when hon. Members deplored the small number of existing iron-clads, it was to be borne in mind that had the late Government built ships at the rate they were urged to do, a large portion of our Navy would now have been obsolete. But, although he advocated the building of large ships, he was perfectly alive to the desirability of having small ones; for it would obviously be a great waste of power to send large ships on service for which small ones were equally suitable. The French possessed one class of ships which always struck him as deserving of consideration. He referred to the Alma class, of which they had 10—namely, small, useful, swift iron-clads, capable of dealing a heavy blow in distant parts. In view of what those vessels could do, he thought the Admiralty would be well-advised in urging their constructors to produce vessels of a similar type, and to multiply them consistently with the wants of the service. He quite agreed with the hon. Member for Pembroke in his concluding remarks. We knew as yet so little of torpedoes that the Government of this country would incur a very great responsibility if, from any fear of that form of weapon, they abandoned the construction of ships of first-rate power. However, there was too much ability among the officials of the Admiralty for our position to be unsafe, and he was quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Department would find no difficulty in solving the problem of naval construction.


said, the discussion had been of a twofold character, consisting partly of advice and partly of remonstrance; but the singularity of it was that the advice had come from hon. Gentlemen opposite, and the remonstrance from Gentlemen on his own side of the House. The hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) had quoted the description he gave of the Navy last year, and said nothing had been done to remedy it; but he dealt with the subject when he introduced the Navy Estimates, and he was unwilling to repeat himself now. However, he pointed out that the condition of things he deplored had resulted from undue reduction of Estimates that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen) who immediately preceded him in office had taken considerable steps in applying. He pointed out how the dockyards had been reduced, and he made demands accordingly—demands which were cheerfully complied with by the House. The hon. Member (Mr. Bentinck) asked what he had done to protect our commerce? His answer was that his very first act had been to propose to lay down two armoured cruising ships for the purpose of protecting our commerce, of an improved Shannon type, and they were now in the hands of the contractors. They were specially designed for this purpose, would have a speed of one knot more than the Shannon, considerable addition to the hold stowage, and more deflection in the after-part of the ship. How, then, could it be said he had done nothing? [Mr. BENTINCK: I said very little had been done.] He accepted the amendment; but the real question was, at what pace we were to build these ships? The hon. Member (Mr. Bentinck), when he was addressing the House, complained of the emptiness of the benches, and inferred from that circumstance an indifference with regard to this question. He differed from the hon. Member's view, for he thought it showed great confidence in the administration of the present Government, and that hon. Members were quite satisfied that the Admiralty were doing all that was necessary in the matter. This year he proposed to lay down and proceed with two fast armed despatch vessels. He alluded to them when introducing the Estimates, though the designs were not settled then. They would, he believed, be the fastest ships of war afloat, supposing they realized the expectations of their designers. Their speed would be between 17 and 18 knots; they would not carry more armour than was sufficient for the purpose of annoying an enemy's commerce at sea. He hoped, therefore, the hon. Member was satisfied that the Admiralty were making increased efforts to put the Navy in the position in which it ought to be as regarded the protection of our commerce and annoyance to the enemy's. He would not at that late hour travel over the same ground as the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed), who had discoursed so ably on so many points; he would rather say how far the Government proposed to go with the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Brassey) in the recommendation he had made. The question of building ironclads of a less size had been mooted at the Admiralty, and the prevailing view accorded to a great extent with that of the hon. Member. It was proposed to lay down two ships of the Inflexible type, modelled to a certain extent upon that ship, but of considerably less dimensions; that they should be turret ships, and each have an armoured central citadel. Each would be subdivided into a large number of separate water-tight compartments; their speed would be 13 knots an hour; as compared with the Inflexible the displacement of tonnage would be something over 8,000 as against 11,163; and the cost was £400,000 as against £521,000 for the Inflexible. To that extent they were following the recommendation of the hon. Member. Of course, as had been remarked by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goschen), whatever design of ship you build it must be more or less of a compromise; but it would be utterly impossible, except in ships of a certain magnitude, to have the essentials of thickness of armour, weight of armament, and speed. These conditions were satisfied in the ships which we proposed to build. Considering the various requirements of the present day, our ships must be of different types, different rates of speed, different dimensions, and carrying different armaments; and it would be impossible to go on building the same class of ship without variation. Those which were laid down last year were designed at the Admiralty to be fast, armoured, ocean cruisers. Of course they would be powerful ships of battle, like some which had preceded them; but they would be useful for aggressive purposes, and they would be more powerful than many foreign ships of battle. At the same time, their general cruising qualities would make them useful ships in all parts of the globe. The two ships of the Inflexible class which it was now proposed to build would be essentially ships of battle, and their cruising qualities would not be as great as those of the ships laid down last year. He believed they would be powerful, and their cost would not be anything like that of the Inflexible, so that for the same amount of money more would be built. As to the argument that the invention and development of torpedoes would do away with the necessity for building armour-clad ships, whatever might be the issue of that development, he agreed with the hon. Member for Pembroke that, the time had not yet come for us to give up our armour-clad ships. No doubt, torpedoes would play a large part in future wars—how great it was impossible for anyone to say; but we could not yet, on account either of guns or torpedoes, give up building armour-clad vessels. His information did not lead him to believe that any foreign Government had given up building armour-clad vessels. He hoped the information he had given would be satisfactory, and that they might be allowed to go into Committee of Supply.