§ THE DUKE OF SOMERSET
, in asking the Question of which he had given notice, as to the proposed armament of the new Turret-Ships, said, that the point was one of some importance, for the size of the gun to be put in these ships decided the size of the ships them- 341 selves. A common broad-side ship might be altered so as to carry a heavier armament, but this course was impossible in the case of a turret-ship. Within the last few years very remarkable changes had been made in guns for the navy. In 1859 the heaviest gun was one of 95 cwt; but after a few years the weight was increased to 6½ tons, next to 7 tons, afterwards to 9 tons, and then we advanced to a 12-ton gun, though at each of these steps inconveniences were stated to be involved in the use of such large guns. Now, however, it was proposed, he believed, to advance from the 12-ton to a 25-ton gun, and ships were to be built to carry them. The Secretary for War had been reported, however, to state in "another place" that the War Department did not at present intend to make a larger gun than the 12-ton one; so that if the Admiralty were preparing ships for a 25-ton gun there seemed to be some discrepancy between the views of the two Departments. Many different systems of construction had been tried during the last few years. We began with breech-loaders, and this was still retained in France, but we had entirely abandoned this system for heavy ordnance. There had been much difference of opinion as to the manufacture and the mode of rifling, and he should be glad to know whether any mode of rifling had been finally adopted? At the time he left the Admiralty practically the largest gun for the use of the navy was the 12-ton gun, and what changes or improvements had since been made he did not know. As to the turret-ships he had never objected to such vessels for coasting or Channel service, nor had he ever doubted that they could be sent across the Atlantic or to any part of the world; but when at the Admiralty he was unable to satisfy himself that it was easy to make a good sea-going turret-ship. Two, however, were ordered as experiments—the Monarch and the Captain—and he understood that they were now in a very advanced state; but it appeared that the Admiralty already regarded them as obsolete, or at least they were no guide as to what was now required, and the Admiralty were now going to build ships on a new plan. Why he wished for some explanation on the subject was that he had been placed somewhat in a difficulty. When at the Admiralty he stated—not of course on 342 his own authority but on that of the Controller and Chief Constructor—that it would not be possible to make a seagoing ship with a very low freeboard, and that unless it were 10 feet or even 12 feet above the water—or 8 feet at the least—a vessel would not be fit to carry the officers and crew comfortably. That opinion having apparently been abandoned, he wished to know the grounds which had led the officers of the Department to take a different view. He had not the least complaint to make against them, for he believed the Controller to be a very able and energetic man, who gave up his whole time to the interests of the service; while the Chief Constructor was originally appointed by himself, and his great ability and skill had been acknowledged both by the late and the present Government; but he was anxious to learn what had occurred to make them regard as a safe sea-going ship one which a few years ago they declared to be unsafe, or at least so uncomfortable that sailors could not be put into it. This turret-ship was, in fact, a floating gun-carriage, and their Lordships could easily imagine what an uncomfortable abode for sailors a ship only 4 feet above the water must be. Now, for many years we had been trying to lodge our sailors comfortably, and the result had been that instead of desertions occurring it was now a punishment to a man to be sent away from the navy. The crews were in a much better condition, and the result had been most successful. He was rather afraid, therefore, of a hazardous experiment which would make life on board ship very uncomfortable, and he feared that this must be the inevitable result of building ships in this manner. The Miantonomah, which he inspected on its coming over from America in 1866, had only 2 feet freeboard; but on his asking a naval officer who had crossed over in the vessel what sort of life it was on board, the reply was that it was exceedingly disagreeable, that the crew only lived on air which was pumped in, and that if anything had happened to the engine—an accident did, in fact, once occur—they would all have been stifled. He was asked, on that occasion, whether he would like to see one of the heavy guns fired, and he replied in the affirmative. One was accordingly fired; but an English officer whom he sent 343 down to see the operation informed him that the gun-carriage was disabled. An offer was next made to fire the other gun, and the result again was that the gun-carriage was disabled. The Miantonomah could not, therefore, be deemed as yet a completely successful experiment. As to the mode of constructing our vessels, he differed from an opinion which had been expressed else- where against two screws, his belief being that it was very advisable to have two screws; for where there were no masts and no sails there would be a chance, even if one screw was disabled, of getting into port somewhere, instead of being left helpless in the middle of the Atlantic. Two screws also would be a protection as a mode of avoiding the enemy. On his asking a young officer what he would do supposing he was in the Northumberland, or some such vessel, and saw an ugly-looking ship like the Miantonomah coming towards him as an enemy, the reply was—"I would take my chance, and run right over it, and see what would happen." Now, it was difficult to say what would happen; but he had no doubt the officer would in such a case have been as good as his word. A vessel with two screws would, therefore, have an advantage by being able to turn, and at least avoid a fate which might always befall a very low vessel from a higher one. If our future fleet were to consist of vessels of the turret description—without masts, without yards, without sails—it was quite clear that the profession of a sailor would be gone—so far as the navy was concerned—for all that would be wanted would be a man to attend to the fire, and other men to point the guns. Now, if the Admiralty were so confident that these would be the ships of the future, why should they send out a flying squadron, in order that men might be trained to make and change the sails, and go through all the evolutions of a wooden fleet? We were sending a wooden fleet about the world in order to train our sailors, and yet it was agreed on all hands that those wooden ships were never to fight. What was the good of exercising men for a service they would never have to perform? When they came back after three years' service at sea, we should, if these vessels were successful, be going on with the building of turret-ships without masts 344 or yards, which would supersede all the other vessels of the navy. Now, this was a question deserving consideration. He wished also to know what guns the Admiralty had in readiness to put into the vessels which were just about going to sea—for experiments might advantageously be made with those vessels? He would mention an experiment which he was told was one of the most trying—the firing ahead from the aft turret so that the shot passed near the port-hole of the fore turret. The sensation to persons in the fore turret was very disagreeable, and was, in fact, quite stunning; such, at least, had been the information which he formerly received. These things should be tried, for if we got into an engagement without having made experiments, we should fail as the Americans did with the gun-carriages in the Miantonomah. He was sorry to see that the Admiralty had reduced the Vote for experiments. When he was at the Admiralty there were no doubt a great many experiments, the reason being that there were a great many new types of ships; and he believed that as regarded iron plates the experiments had proved most useful. When first at the Admiralty he had to wait six or eight months for an iron plate, hammering being the only way of making them; but in the course of a few years, the manufacture becoming better understood, a much better plate could be made in a few weeks. This was an instance of the progress effected, and experiments of various kinds had assisted this progress. There ought to be experiments with these 25-ton guns before ships were fitted with them. The charge of such a gun was enormous. At Shoeburyness, on one occasion, a man was carrying what appeared to be a hammock; but, on inquiry, he found that it was the powder which was going into the gun, it being so long that it looked like a hammock. This would give anybody an idea of the immense scale on which these things were done, and hence the importance of experiments. He hoped the noble Earl who took charge in this House of questions connected with the Admiralty (the Earl of Camperdown) would be able to give their Lordships some information on the subject. For his own part he did not at all object to the construction of a ship of this kind, for he believed it would, at 345 any rate, be very valuable for Channel purposes; but he certainly doubted whether it would prove a good sea-going vessel, for he did not think we should be able to send a vessel to sea for three years in which the men would be so very uncomfortable. They would be living in a kind of dungeon—for it was, in fact, a dark dungeon under water which we were contriving. He had read, indeed, that morning in the leading journal that the monitors during the attack on Fort Sumter were as buoyant as ducks; but the Monitor at last proved to be a diver, and went to the bottom with her crew. His belief was, that these vessels went through the sea, the sea went over them; and he was afraid a vessel with four feet of freeboard would be more under water than on the top of it, which would be very uncomfortable for the men. The American sailors, as he had understood, preferred going in any other ship to going in the monitors, and nobody who had seen this class of vessels could wonder at it. With regard to the Marine force, he observed that there was to be a considerable reduction. Now, he had always regarded that force as a very valuable one; but of course if the navy and the men at sea were reduced, the Marines must in some proportion be reduced likewise. The office of Inspector-General of the Marines was, it seemed, to be abolished. When he first went to the Admiralty there was no such officer; and the Lords of the Admiralty nominally inspected the Marines when they went their rounds: but this inspection was of very little advantage, for even; the officers with him who knew about the Marines had not time to inspect them properly. He consequently appointed a, Marine officer of high standing, who went down to the different divisions and reported on their efficiency; and he thought that to keep up a force of any kind without frequent inspection was very bad policy. The Admiralty, however, might have devised some other mode of inspection, and he pronounced no opinion on the abolition of the office until he had heard his noble Friend's explanation.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
said, he must crave the indulgence of their Lordships in the event of his being unable to give an immediate explanation on all the points raised by the noble 346 Duke—the terms of his Notice, "to ask a Question as to the proposed armament of the new Turret Ships" having scarcely foreshadowed all the subjects into which he had entered. With regard to the office of Inspector General of Marines, it was created in 1862, being held by General Sir Anthony Stransham until 1867, when he was succeeded by General Travers. For reasons which it was unnecessary to enter into, General Travers resigned towards the close of 1868; and the then Board of Admiralty did not think it necessary, in the interests of the service, to appoint a successor. Mr. Childers shortly afterwards came into Office; and hitherto he had seen no reason for departing from the policy of his predecessor, though he had not definitely abolished the office. Two of the chief reasons given for creating the office was that there was an Inspector General of Infantry in the army, and that the Marines had increased from 9,000 to 18,000. Now. they had since been reduced by upwards of 4,000, and in 1865 the office of Inspector General of Infantry was abolished—so that those reasons had ceased to be of weight. He believed that the inspection of Marines was previously conducted by a general officer commanding the district, and the future arrangements were still under the consideration of the First Lord. The noble Duke had asked how the Admiralty were going to put 25-ton guns into ships when the War Office were not making guns of more than 12 tons: but the explanation was very simple—the 25-ton guns were already made. The Admiralty had in their possession eight or nine 25-ton guns from the land service which were intended for the Monarch and Captain, and the War Office could furnish twenty more if requisite during the present year. But the Admiralty would only require this year one 25-ton gun for the Glatton, and an 18-ton gun for the Sultan, and another of the latter size for the Hotspur. With regard to the two new turret-ships and the Hotspur ram, there was no probability that their guns would be required for a considerable period, the Estimates of the present year providing for the building of only 1,332 tons of the vessels, whereas the total tonnage was 12,000. The progress of gunnery, as the noble Duke had remarked, was very rapid, and possibly we should be 347 called upon in the next two or three years to introduce 50-ton instead of 25-ton guns into these ships. If, however, such should he the case, the turrets were so constructed that, instead of carrying two 25-ton guns, they could, by a slight alteration, be made to carry one 44 or 50-ton gun. The noble Duke had complained that the Monarch was no guide for the future; but the reason was that it differed in almost every particular from the type of vessels now about to be built. The Monarch had large masts and yards, while these vessels had none; it carried a much larger crew, and had a high freeboard, while these vessels had a very low one. It would have been useless, therefore, to wait for experiments with the Monarch and Captain, for no experiments with them would prove the merits or demerits of high as compared with low freeboards, both of them being vessels of high freeboard. The Monarch had 14 feet, and the Captain 8 feet of freeboard, whereas the new vessels had only 4 feet 6 inches of freeboard nominally, and the Miantonomah and Monadnock, which most closely corresponded to the new class of vessels, had only 2 feet 7 inches, and 3 feet 2 inches. He was hardly in a position to state why the Controller and Chief Constructor were now in favour of a low freeboard, but he presumed the reason to be that the Monarch and Captain were intended to be sea-going ships and for sea-going purposes almost entirely, whereas the two new vessels were for the general purposes of warfare, and would be used for whatever emergency might arise. It might be very disagreeable to live on this class of vessels, but as long as other nations built them, and as long as they proved the most powerful in the world, England would find it necessary to imitate her neighbours. As to running over these vessels, and taking the chance of what might happen, it was just possible that just as a ship was approaching a turret-ship for that purpose, one of these 25-ton guns might suddenly arrest its progress. Noble Lords whose ancestors had gained considerable renown at sea would probably be not only surprised, but terrified at seeing one of these extraordinary vessels, and he feared stokers would in future be of more account than seamen. This, however, was one of the conditions of warfare for which the Ad- 348 miralty could not be held responsible. As to what guns were being got ready for the flying squadron, he could not answer the question at once, but would take another opportunity of doing so. The noble Duke had complained that vessels of this class had what is known as their freeboard habitually under the sea; but this was not necessarily an inconvenience, for it had been found in action that the water passing over the freeboard was an additional defence, by causing the shot to deflect. When the noble Duke said that the freeboard was only 4 feet 6 inches, he was no doubt verbally correct—nominally the freeboard of these two vessels was only 4 feet 6 inches; but the Admiralty proposed to apply to them the system of armour-plated breastwork which had been adopted in the case of the Cerberus, the Magdala, and the Abyssinia. This would raise the freeboard from 4 feet 6 inches to nearly 12 feet. The armour-plated breastwork might be described as an additional bulwark nearly 7 feet 6 inches in height, and was practically the same as the side of the ship. It was covered with armour-plates 12 inches thick, and decked in at the top, the deck being covered with armour-plates 2½ inches thick. This deck was perforated with creeping-holes which afforded an entrance into the ship. He was not clear whether the noble Duke thought a high freeboard was preferable to a low one. He himself was of opinion that, for the reasons he had mentioned, and considering also the saving of expense that would be effected in the matter of armour-plates, a low freeboard was greatly preferable to a high one. He would briefly call their Lordships' attention to the opinions expressed by several eminent men on this subject. But first of all he would remind the noble Duke that he must not compare the two vessels now proposed to be built with the Monarch and the Captain, which differed from them in almost every particular. The vessels which most resembled those about to be laid down were the Miantonomah and the Monadnock. The First Lord of the Admiralty, he might remark, did not make up his mind on this question without taking into consideration every possible position of affairs, and consulting the most eminent men. On the 24th of March he called before a full Board at the Admiralty 349 the following gentlemen:—The Earl of Lauderdale, Admiral Young, Captain Cowper Coles, Dr. Woolley, Mr. Fairbairn, and Admiral Key. The designs of the two ships were brought under the notice of the meeting by the Constructor of the Navy and the Controller, who gave a full explanation of them. Subsequently the First Lord invited all the gentlemen present to express their free and uncontrolled opinions on four points—1st, as to the low freeboard; 2nd, as to the absence of masts; 3rd, as to the employment of twin screws in respect of the draught of water; 4th, as to the armament. He (the Earl of Camperdown) might say that there was great concurrence of opinion that a low freeboard was the most desirable. They were also agreed that it was very desirable that there should be no masts, and, like the noble Duke, they perceived the advantage of twin screws. Then as to the armament they were very nearly agreed. The 50-ton gun was not then invented, and the 25-ton gun was sufficient to perforate any armour-plate hitherto made. Under the circumstances, therefore, it was thought desirable to adhere to the 25-ton gun; but he might mention that either turret might by means of slight alterations be rendered capable of carrying one 50-ton gun in- stead of two 25-ton guns. He would read to their Lordships an extract from a letter, addressed on the 6th instant to the Secretary of the Admiralty by Admiral Hope, who was in command at Portsmouth. It ran as follows:—Sir,—In reply to your letter of the 3rd instant, you will be pleased to acquaint the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that, after a careful perusal of the papers describing the new designs for armour-clad ships, I entirely concur in the principles upon which these designs are based, as stated in italics in Paper 'A'; and that I look forward to these vessels, or others of even a more formidable description, should it be found practicable and expedient to increase the calibre of the guns, becoming the line-of-battle ships of the future.That, in his judgment fully justified the First Lord of the Admiralty in taking the course he did. He had endeavoured to answer as far as he could the Questions of the noble Duke, and had stated the reasons for which, as he believed, these changes were made. If, on further inquiry, he should find that he had been inaccurate in any particular, he I would take the earliest opportunity of 350 placing a true account of the matter before their Lordships.
§ THE EARL OF HARDWICKE
said, he would not enter into the discussion concerning the details of these two ships, because he knew nothing about them. But there was one point which struck him as being a distinct one. It appeared to him that, as far as general purposes were concerned, it was contrary to common seamanlike practice and understand-standing to construct vessels with a low freeboard and without masts. A low freeboard meant a wet ship, which could not fight her guns in a heavy sea. For general purposes it would be better to have masts, though their absence might be advantageous if the vessels were intended exclusively for purposes of war. Then, if these vessels were to draw twenty-six feet of water, they would be unfitted for the purposes for which they were designed. This discussion would impress more strongly on their Lordships' minds the fact that we were continually trying experiments at an immense cost. Whether such experiments were absolutely necessary or not he would not say; but at all events they did not seem to rest anywhere, and we had wasted a prodigious sum of money to no purpose. Only a very short time, comparatively speaking, had elapsed since the method of armour-plating was invented; but during that period a constant struggle had been maintained with regard to armour-plates. He believed, however, that if you were to place two armour-plated vessels alongside each other, whatever might be the thickness of the plates, a fight between them would end like a contest under similar circumstances between two of the old wooden ships. Both would be penetrated, although the amount of destruction would be far greater in armour-plated than in wooden ships. After all our experiments we had not succeeded in producing a ship which could prevent the entrance of a shot. In his opinion the first requisite for a ship was that she should be tolerably safe when afloat on the ocean, but this was a condition which was now very much disregarded. The last report of the Admiral commanding the Channel Fleet stated that he had not been able to test the seaworthiness of the vessels except in one instance, when a ship—the name of which he (the Earl of Hardwicke) could not call to mind— 351 in very moderate weather, was ordered to fire from her bow port, but she shipped such an enormous quantity of water through the port that she could not fire the gun. In the former Report to the Admiralty it was stated that they had rough weather—the very thing they wanted—and the ships rolled so heavily in a very moderate sea that they could not fire the guns. Besides, the ships were so flooded with water that he heard it said that the Admiral had to swim for his life inside his own vessel. The story of the British fleet was lamentable. Why, then, were they going on with experiment after experiment? The noble Earl (the Earl of Camperdown) had stated that two new ships were to be taken in hand before the two on the stocks had been tried, and these new vessels were to be without masts or yards. He (the Earl of Hardwicke) did not think that at all a wise course of proceeding. If we were to have guns of such vast size as twenty-five tons, no doubt they must be carried, not on the broadside, but on a turntable; but the result of all that was being done was an enormous expenditure. And then there was no classification. They had engines of different sizes, but none of the same class. But after all this enormous expenditure, what was looming in the distance? Had any noble Lord read what had occurred in the last American civil war? They fought battles by sea, but the public did not know the number of vessels that had foundered owing to the employment of the torpedo, which had acted with the greatest possible effect. It seemed to him that all our expenditure and all our experiments would lead up to the perfecting of those machines—the torpedoes—and the result would be to make useless and obsolete all the improvements they had made. Would it not, therefore, be wise under these circumstances to suspend operations, and rest a little while to perfect what had been already done?
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
said, the noble Earl who had just sat down (the Earl of Hardwicke) had complained that those two new ships which the Admiralty proposed to build would have a very low freeboard. But did the noble Earl suppose that if they were to have as high a freeboard as could be given to them—if they were to have a freeboard 14 feet high—that would make them more dry and comfortable? Then the noble Earl 352 said that they would be a source of great expense, and that we ought to wait until the Captain and Monarch had been tried. The Captain and Monarch were vessels of an entirely different class, and no doubt the vessels would be expensive; but it remained to be proved whether sails would have any effect whatever on a turret-ship. Suppose we did not go to this expenditure, and that we were to remain content with the state of things that existed four or five years ago, if we should get into a war with the United States, and they were to destroy our navy, did not the noble Earl think that great fault would be found with the present Board of Admiralty and with other past Boards because they had neglected to increase our naval strength in the meantime? The noble Earl had alluded to the Bellerophon and said that it had been impossible to fire her guns in a moderate sea. That, he believed, was perfectly true; but then it was only fair to state that the Bellerophon was going at the time with full steam. As for waiting until the Monarch and Captain were tried, that would hardly be advisable, because the new vessels were to be of an entirely different class and had nothing in common with the others, and if we were to wait it would throw our naval operations entirely into arrear.
§ THE DUKE OF SOMERSET
inquired whether the Admiralty would lay on the table certain Papers in connection with the subject? There was no necessity for secresy about any of the vessels we were building. The French had observed no secresy with regard to their ships, but had given us all the information which we had asked for. He wished also to ask whether any of the 25-ton guns had been tried with a full charge, for that was a very important consideration before they were to be put on board the turret-ships?
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
said, he did not exactly know whether it would be in his power to make public the Papers to which the noble Duke had referred, but if he could do so he would lay them on the table. As to whether any of the 25-ton guns had been fired with a full charge, he thought that could hardly have been the case, because the turrets had not been made.
§ THE DUKE OF SOMERSET
said, the guns would, of course, be tried before they were put into the turrets.