Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 1, 1879
to Mr. Evarts.
London , June 10, 1879. (Received June 20.)
Sir: I inclose a slip from the Times of June 7, containing a letter from Mr. Thomas Brassey, one of the first unprofessional authorities in this country upon matters connected with naval architecture.
The letter has some remarks upon the United States ship of war Trenton, which may be of interest to the Navy Department.
I have, &c.,
[From the Times, Saturday, June 7, 1879.]
A naval reserve of ships.
To the Editor of the Times:
Sir: Having lately been permitted to offer some suggestions in your columns on another subject of naval policy, it is with hesitation that I ask you to give me the privilege of addressing the public on the organization of a reserve of cruisers in our mercantile marine. I have called attention to this question in a recent speech, delivered on the banks of the Mersey, at the headquarters of the great shipping interest, and I desire to take advantage of a momentary lull in Parliamentary business for the purpose of creating a more general interest in the same important topic.
The whole mercantile marine of Great Britain should be regarded as part of our navy. Every ship which is convertible into a vessel of war and every British seaman should be looked upon as part and parcel of our naval reserve. We have already created a reserve of men; it is necessary to complete the work by forming a reserve of ships. It should be one of the leading principles of our ship-building policy to limit the ship-building for the navy, as far as possible, to types which do not exist in the mercantile marine.
We must build a sufficient number of cruisers to furnish the necessary reliefs for our squadrons on foreign stations; but the fleet of cruisers which we maintain in peace could be expanded into a fighting fleet from our reserve of ships in the merchant service.
An attempt has already been made to create such a reserve. The government has signified its willingness to enter all vessels fulfilling certain structural conditions in an official list. This is a step in the right direction. But no pecuniary consideration is offered to shipowners who respond to this appeal; and unless some substantial encouragement is given, it is not reasonable to suppose that any considerable number of vessels will be built with such modifications as would be required to make them easily convertible into fighting ships.
Mr. Burns has pointed out the inadequacy of the present proposal. The necessary adaptations of structure should be introduced in the original design. Alterations are always costly and often unsatisfactory. Shipowners should be invited to communicate with the admiralty when they contemplate building new vessels of a certain tonnage and speed. The designs should be examined, and if they were found to be easily adaptable to war purposes, owners would probably consent to arrange bulkheads, water-tight compartments, and bunkers, in accordance with the requirements, and, of course, at the expense of the government.
The ships, having been fitted for the emergency of war service, would be entered in the list of cruisers in reserve, and would be held at the disposal of the admiralty in consideration of a fair annual payment. Should a vessel be required for active service as a cruiser, the additional sum to be paid for the purchase or charter should be previously agreed upon. It may be objected that the modifications which the admiralty would probably require would interfere with the accommodation for passengers or the stowage of cargo. I do not think the difficulty would be serious. Bunkers could be so placed as to afford complete protection to the boilers against all but the heaviest projectiles, without in the slightest degree interfering with the facilities for stoking. The multiplication of bulkheads might cause considerable inconvenience in a merchant steamer, but frames could be constructed at certain intervals apart to receive additional bulkheads, which could be easily fitted if the ship were required for war service. In certain cases a shelf-piece might be fitted to receive a moderate thickness of armor-plating, which might be kept in store in readiness to be fixed.
I am well aware of the difficulty of securing attention to new suggestions. Naval officers are unwilling to see any portion of the money voted for the navy expended on ships which may never carry the pendant. Their aim is to make the royal navy sufficient by itself to meet all the naval requirements of the country. It is a natural, but an impracticable ambition. Public attention is with difficulty attracted to any subject not directly connected with the passing events of the day. Without the recurrence of disastrous shipwrecks, Mr. Plimsoll would have failed to catch the ear of the public, and until our commerce is cut up by some future Alabama, it is possible that no effectual effort will be made to provide those additions to the cruising strength of the navy which would certainly be demanded on the outbreak of a war, and in the absence of which our shipowners would probably be compelled to transfer their vessels wholesale to the Hag of the United States.
I cannot close this letter without a passing allusion to certain foreign ships of war which I have lately had an opportunity of visiting. As an example of an almost perfect cruiser, I may quote the Trenton, of the United States Navy, with which I have been in company at Villafranca. The Trenton is a spar-decked frigate of 3,800 tons, [Page 431] armed with 11 powerful guns, capable of steaming 14 knots, maintaining a high, average speed with reduced boiler-power, and carrying sufficient coal to make a passage across the Atlantic under steam. This vessel is fully rigged, and quite successful under canvas, and is described by her officers as possessing admirable sea-going qualities. When compared with our own largest unarmored frigates, such as the Inconstant, the Raleigh, or the Shah, the Trenton seems to combine every point of naval efficiency which they possess, whether for the protection or destruction of commerce, while the tonnage of the American ship is less than half the tonnage of our own vessels. As a cruiser of the first class in war and a training-ship in peace, I commend the Trenton to the attentive study of the admiralty. As the ship will shortly visit the Thames, the officers of the controller’s department will doubtless avail themselves of the opportunity of inspecting her.
Among the many ships now assembled at Toulon, the Tourville is one of the most interesting. In this and the sister ship, the Duquesne, the French contractors have sought to rival, and even to surpass, the English ships of the same type. The displacement is 5,440 tons, the nominal horse-power 1,800. A speed is claimed exceeding that attained in our own ships prior to the trial of the Iris, and certainly, in beauty and symmetry, the French designs cannot be excelled. As a man-of-war, however, the Tourville, in common with the ships of the same type which we have ourselves constructed, possesses only one conspicuous quality—namely, that of speed—and I remain unconvinced, even by the common action of the French and English constructors, that the policy is sound of building ships so costly with so little fighting power. Ocean steamers could always be obtained for the exigency of war with scarcely inferior speed and greatly superior coal-endurance. The advantages of the Tourville, the Shah, and even the Iris over the ocean steamers which navigate the Atlantic with such remarkable success in all weathers, lie mainly in the arrangement of their coal-bunkers and the multiplication of bulkheads. These are modifications which could easily be introduced in a large number of ships in the mercantile marine. A valuable addition might thus be made to the strength of the navy in reserve, while the cost would be small in comparison with the results which would be gained.
I am, &c.,