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The Dreadnought Revolution: Another Look

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I found interesting article (if there is interest, i can post another similar articles):


The Dreadnought Revolution: Another Look

Archer Jones, Andrew J. Keogh, July 1985


This paper has as its main thesis that the technological and naval rivalry considerations behind the decision to build the Dreadnought made its construction a wise decision. The Dreadnought's specified speed, however, constituted a strategic mistake. But the most significant detriment to the British position resulted from the concomitant decision to build the battle cruiser, until recently a relatively neglected aspect of the Dreadnought revolution.

The construction of the Dreadnought originated in the British Admiralty's analysis of the impact of technology on warfare and the apprehension that the Germans might gain a damaging lead by anticipating the construction of the new kind of warship. But the Dreadnought revolution had anticipated consequences for the balance of naval power.


The Dreadnought design itself had its origins in the progress of naval guns and gunnery in the decades prior to its launching. During the last half of the nineteenth century, designers had made several improvements in naval guns. First, gun builders produced guns with rifled barrels. This allowed greatly improved accuracy in shooting by increasing the stability of the shell while in flight. Next, when they created an efficient breech loading mechanism which augmented the rate of fire and had improved the mounting and recoil mechanisms, these developments permitted placing the breech end of the gun in armoured turrets. Around 1890 the most important innovations in gun manufacture took place as a result of the increased ability to supply improved quality metals and a better capacity to work high quality steel into gun tubes. Guns of superior materials and design, together with greater length to take advantage of slower burning explosives, steadily produced guns of higher muzzle velocities and greater range.


Though guns with the potential for long-range fire existed in the 1890s, the British Navy made little use of them. The Navy at this time stressed "spit and polish." The condition of a ship's paint work, the shine of the brass fittings, and the ability to perform a precise fleet evolution had more importance than gunnery. Captains avoided the quarterly gunnery practices when possible, and finished them in the shortest possible time when they could not avoid such exercises. The dirt and damage done to "bright work" by gun fire led some concerned captains to chuck the ammunition allotment overboard rather than put up with the mess. They combined with this reverence for "spit and polish" the feeling that the ships would waste anything but the most rudimentary gunnery ability. They would fight naval battles the way they always had — move in close and pound the enemy into submission. In a general action of the type envisioned, the gunners would engage at such short range that they could hardly miss. The Gunnery Manual of 1898 even contained detailed instructions for boarding parties. The men on deck would have cutlasses and pistols available so that the captain could call on a division of boarders when needed. The manual offered these instructions even though British battleships carried heavy guns of large caliber, capable of ranges of 7,000 yards. But the official attitude remained that ships would fight battles at close range, regardless of the gunnery potential of the enemy or of the British Navy.

Upon taking command of the light cruiser Scylla in 1898, Captain Percy Scott began the process which would revolutionize gunnery in the British Navy. Over the next decade Captain Scott devised training equipment and procedures which improved the effectiveness of the naval gunnery by factors of 200 percent and more. Scott's approaches quickly became the model for all the world's major navies. Gunnery competitions and the attendant publicity made Scott a popular figure, and his reputation assured that Scott could force gunnery reform despite the conservative posture of the British Navy.


In 1903, Captain Scott had assumed command of the Navy's gunnery school at Whale Island. There he introduced new methods of training based on his previous experience and proceeded to institute additional improvements. Up to this time Scott had directed all of his attention to gunnery reform with the shorter range, quick firing guns. Not unaware of the need for improvement in long-range gunnery, he felt, rather, the need to learn from the simpler problems attendant on shorter ranges. Not long after arriving at Whale Island, he turned his attention to the problems of long-range gunnery.


The development of skill in long-range fire confronted the problem that the gunlayer could not see his shells hit at ranges beyond 2,000 yards. Observing hits at long ranges proved impossible because space limitations restricted the size of the sighting instruments that designers could place on each gun or at each gun position. Because space limited their size, sighting instruments had relatively low magnification power. In addition, because a shell would explode inside a ship after it had pierced the armour, it would give no visible indication of a hit to the gunlayer. It followed that the gunlayer had to observe the splashes made by his shots which missed and hit the water. This proved impossible when gunners independently loaded, trained, and fired each gun as its sights came to bear. In this situation the gunlayers could not keep track of their shots since shells fired by other guns were falling in the same area at the same time. At the start of long-range firing, gunlayers tended to aim well, but accuracy deteriorated as they became confused. The Royal Navy recognized this problem as early as the 1880s when it stationed officers high in ships with range-finding instruments. The plan envisioned the use of a communicating tube leading to the gun stations to report the range. This proved impossible since no one could hear the range officers over the noise of the guns. Scott had recognized this problem as early as 1881 when he submitted designs to the Admiralty for a rangeindicating telegraph operated by electricity. But the Admiralty shelved the proposal and ships did not use the range-indicating telegraph until almost 25 years later, when Scott succeeded in securing its adoption.


In 1903 the Royal Navy still envisioned a fighting range for battleships of only about 3,000 yards, although other navies were firing at much longer ranges. But since 1899, shooting in the Mediterranean Fleet under Admiral Fisher had shown that 6,000 yards might become the battle range of the future, and that, with proper use of the fire control system evolved by Percy Scott, ships could obtain fair accuracy at ranges up to 8.000 yards. This knowledge, in the hands of Admiral Sir John Fisher and his supporters, led directly to the development of the Dreadnought. In notes made by Fisher in May 1904 for the Committee on Designs, the influence of the long-range gunner is paramount. In the section of these notes dealing with the Type B {Dreadnought) Battleship Fisher makes the following statements:


This ship is a battleship and will have to fight other battleships. . . . This will naturally be at long range, so that gunnery skill can be used to the best advantage. . . .

Now the results of all long-range shooting has gone to prove that if we wish to make good shooting at 6,000 yards and above, the guns must be fired slowly and deliberately, and the shots marked. . . .

It is on the number of hits, not the number of shots fired that the action depends. . . .

The fast ship with the heavier guns and deliberate fire should absolutely "knock out" a vessel of equal speed with many lighter guns, the very number of which militate against accurate spotting and deliberate hitting. . . .

The speed of firing at long ranges is no longer limited by the loading of the gun, but by the limitations imposed by the accuracy of fire.


Long-range guns and long-range gunnery provided the overriding impetus in the development of the battleship in the decade leading up to the Dreadnought.

The Royal Navy's analysis of naval battles in the Russo-Japanese War convinced them of the superior accuracy of the big gun, of 10- or 12-inch bore. They also concluded that only the shell from the big gun could have a really significant effect on the enemy's armored ships. Thus they clearly saw that the guns of 7.5 or 9.2 inches had comparatively small value when mounted on battleships as a supplement to 12-inch guns. But the Royal Navy, as well as most foreign navies, then mounted such guns on their newest battleships, substituting them for the smaller, usually 6-inch, quick firer, long in use.


In addition to their comparative ineffectiveness, 9.2-inch guns, when coupled with 12-inch guns, complicated fire control. More guns further compounded the problem of observing the fall of the shots. At the ranges then contemplated, four or five miles, the answer lay in broadside or salvo firing. In a volley of four or five shells of the same caliber, the shots tended to open out due to slight variations in the individual guns. An observer spotting shots which fell short or over the target could assume that the rest were hitting. In light of this the gunnery experts could clearly see that salvo fire demanded that ships carry guns of only one caliber of long-range ordnance. Guns of more than one caliber in the main battery would cause different times of flight and different size splashes, making accurate spotting of the salvo virtually impossible. If, therefore, the Navy was to use properly knowledge gained in long-range fire, it could only do so with a one caliber armament to eliminate splash and range confusion. Admiral John Jellicoe, member of the Committee on Designs and later Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet during World War I, contended that,


. . . Lord Fisher's action in initating the Dreadnought class . . . was based upon the extreme difficulty of obtaining accurate fire control and consequently accurate shooting in a ship with a mixed armament of 12-in. and 9.2-in. or 12-in. and 10-in. guns. This difficulty entirely disappeared when the heavy gun armament comprised guns of one caliber alone.


From the need for salvo fire came another consideration that influenced the design of the Dreadnought. The requirements of long-range fire demanded enough heavy guns for a salvo, at least four or five. But to have accurate fire, controllers had to observe the splashes of each salvo. This meant that the shot from one salvo had to have hit before gunners could accurately fire the next. Although hitting improved, such observation delayed firing and made the rate of fire too slow. Having enough guns of the same caliber to allow two salvos in the air at the same time provided the answer to this problem. As the time of flight between gun and target involved only a simple calculation, the observer used a clock to keep track of the salvos in flight. Enough guns for two salvos obviated the delay to await spotting and increased the rate of fire and the fighting power of the ship. But until just before the Russo-Japanese War most navies had used an armament of no more than four 12-inch, or smaller, big guns. The representative British Battleship had mounted four 12-inch guns, their only big ones. But continuing with only four 12-inch guns faced serious objections from the developers of the new method of fire control, because, for maximum effectiveness, a salvo required at least four guns, implying ten or twelve heavy guns per ship. So, as fire control became more sophisticated, the absolute necessity for a larger number of heavy guns to maintain accurate, rapid fire remained. Because of this requirement the Dreadnought carried ten 12-inch, 45-caliber guns.


The change to a broadside of eight guns presented no difficulty because designers could mount the necessary ten 12-inch guns (for a broadside of eight and salvos of four) in lieu of the four 12-inch and ten 9.2-inch then mounted on the newest British battleships. Thus, for an increased number of big guns, the Royal Navy would not require a larger ship.


In 1904-1905, when the Admiralty was considering the Dreadnought design, they knew that other navies had reached the same conclusion about the need for all big guns and more of them. The United States already planned the building of a ship, the Michigan, with eight 12-inch guns. Germany also was giving serious consideration to a ship and had already, in its armored cruisers, made the transition to a uniform armament, first of eight and then of twelve, 21-centimeter guns.

Germany particularly concerned the Admiralty, and not only because the recent Entente with France had made them the potential enemy. Germany had so improved its capability of building and arming capital ships that they could build almost as rapidly as the British. Formerly the high speed of British naval construction had enabled the British to wait until they knew what others were doing, then lay down a ship and still commission a reply to the new design at least as soon as the potential enemy commissioned its new ship. But the high speed attained by German shipbuilders had, by 1904, precluded this traditional British conservative policy. They must lead or fall behind.


The Dreadnought type battleship had, then, as its primary rationale, the developing potential of long-range fire from heavy naval guns. Admiral Fisher noted, “the base idea that has ever been at the root of the English conception of naval warfare — that is, that the battleship is a gun-carriage."

By the first years of the twentieth century, science and technology had developed the battleship's guns to the point where they could fire at very long ranges. Thus, to take advantage of this potential for long-range gunnery, the Royal Navy introduced the Dreadnought. "It was," as Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon, a member of the Committee on Designs, clearly stated, "the advent of long-range shooting, and not the Dreadnought herself, which made all existing battleships obsolete." The increased effectiveness of the science of naval gunnery had its basis in progress in two areas: the capability of armament manufacturers to build better guns, and the development of the devices needed to control and aim the guns.


Thus the Dreadnought constituted a rational response to technological change and to the Royal Navy's perceptive analysis of the naval combat of the Russo-Japanese War. With a broadside of eight 12-inch guns, the Dreadnought not only had double the weight of big gun broadside of the standard pre-Dreadnought, but had more than twice the effectiveness because of the superior gunnery made possible by four-gun salvos at double the range of those of pre-Dreadnoughts. The Royal Navy would surely have made a mistake to have continued to build ships which a new German design would have soon devalued by at least one half.

Admiral Sir John Fisher had become First Sea Lord of the British Admiralty on Trafalgar Day, 21 October, 1904. Not only a man of driving energy and determination, he had other ideas than simply a ship which responded to the new gunnery realities. So he placed ships as the first item on his agenda for change at the Admiralty. He established a blue ribbon Committee on Designs within days of his installation as First Sea Lord and charged it with the task of setting the criteria for the building of new capital ships. In the instructions to the Committee Admiral Fisher displayed great concern with the speed of the new ships. Fisher emphasized, "There is no question whatever that the first desideratum in every type of fighting vessel is speed. It is the weather gauge of the olden days. You fight then just when it suits you best."

Fisher's influence set the design parameter for a new battleship with a speed of 21 knots. In his instructions to the Committee on Designs Fisher offered the following specifications:

I — Battleship

Speed 21 knots.

Armament 12-inch guns and anti-torpedo craft guns.

Nothing between. 12-inch guns to be as numerous as possible.

No guns on main deck, except anti-torpedo craft guns as necessary to place them there.

Armour to be adequate.

Docking facilities to be carefully observed.


This 21 knots provided an exceptionally high speed in comparison to the 18-knot speed of the existing battleships in the British fleet.

The new ship immediately had a host of vociferous critics. Inate conservatism within the Navy served to stimulate much of this criticism of the Dreadnought. This attitude is described by Fisher in a letter written in May 1904:


Now remember, an Admiral is about the most selfsatisfied type of being on the earth! "Such and such a thing did not exist when he came to sea; then why the devil should it now?" "The service has been going to the dogs ever since he's known it (the real fact, however, being that it gets better every day)." "He'll be d—d if he will be any party to those new fangled notions ! " " Fight tooth and nail against it!" — that's his motto! All his juniors, saturated with the instinct of implicit obedience which has been imbibed as it were with their mother's milk, owing to their early age of entry into the Navy, and regarding an Admiral as infallible, either follow suit or are dumb!


Large numbers of senior officers seemed to oppose the Dreadnought on the basis that it had never existed before and the Royal Navy did not need it now.

Detractors of the Dreadnought made primarily technical criticisms, and these critics came from both inside and outside the Navy. They focused on specific features of the new battleship or on the lack of features that they thought necessary. Sir William White and Captain Alfred T. Mahan led these attacks. Sir William White, Director of Naval Construction from 1885 to 1902, had responsibility for the design of all British battleships during that period. The Dreadnought, laid down before the completion of the last of his ships, offended both his pride and professional judgment. He wrote articles for both scholarly journals and popular newspapers, spoke to various groups, and entered into a large correspondence with naval officers. In each case he presented his opposition to the Dreadnought. Captain Mahan, whose book The Influence of Sea Power upon History (published in 1890) had had a tremendous impact in reminding the British and others of the supreme importance of sea power, believed that the Dreadnought ignored the lessons of naval history that he had spent a lifetime learning and expounding. In reaction to the Dreadnought he published an article in the June 1906 issue of United States Naval Institute Proceedings. The article, "Reflections, Historic and Other, Suggested by the Battle of the Japan Sea," constituted an attack on the dreadnought-type ship based on an analysis of the naval battles of the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. The technical criticisms of the Dreadnought centered on four areas.


The most dominant criticism of the Dreadnought was that the designers had insufficient reasons for doing away with the secondary armament. The critics alleged that the designers should have kept a certain portion of the 6-inch and smaller caliber guns. Captain Mahan addressed himself to this point as follows:


It has long been my own opinion that the so-called secondary battery is really entitled to the name primary, because its effect is exerted mainly on the personnel, rather than the material of a vessel. Whatever the improvement of the quickness of handling 12-inch guns, it can scarcely be that, with an equal aggregate weight of broadsides, they can rival in volume of fire the much greater number and more rapidly discharged pieces of smaller caliber; and, when within the limits of useful perforation, volume of fire, multiplicity of projectiles, is better than individual weight of projectile because it gives a greater number of hits.


Sir William White expressed much the same view with particular emphasis on the possibility of secondary armament shells piercing the unarmoured portions of the ship and thereby causing danger to the ship's stability through the intake of water. He also emphasized the point made to him by "naval officers of greater experience" that the percentage of hits scored by 6-inch guns under service conditions compared favorably to the percentages scored with guns of heavy caliber. In addition, he pointed to reports that, after their experience in the war with Russia, Japanese naval authorities had decided to continue the use of secondary armaments.


The reasons for dropping the secondary armament depended upon results of battle practice carried on by the British Fleet and on conclusions drawn from Japanese actions against the Russian fleet. The results showed that the 12-inch gun had superiority in every respect over those of lighter calibers. They had greater accuracy, scored a heavier weight of metal on the target, and had a significantly greater destructive effect. In addition, neither of the fleets in the Russo-Japanese War had any experience in the techniques of long-range fire, and, therefore, one could not compare their performance to the potential of the British Fleet which had experience in this type of shooting. But, because the Admiralty felt obliged to keep this information secret, they could not respond effectively to this criticism. Nonetheless, to Fisher and his colleagues, the results of the analysis of this battle provided additional evidence of the need for the Dreadnought-type ship.


The two critical authorities also argued the advantage of a greater number of small battleships. Captain Mahan pointing out, "the bigger and fewer the ships, the greater the proportionate loss when one is sunk or goes into port." Sir William made the same argument, disparaging the "putting of all one's naval eggs into one or two vast, costly, majestic, but vulnerable baskets."


The Dreadnought's partisans countered this argument by insisting that, if a fleet had more ships, it would have a proportionally greater chance of losing one of them. They coupled with this the proposition that the larger and more powerful the ship, the smaller the chance of losing her to a smaller and weaker opponent. Finally, the size of the battleship had steadily risen. During the tenure of Sir William White as Constructor, the battleship had expanded in size by at least a half. The ships had grown from 10,000 tons in the 1880s to over 16,000 tons in the latest, the Lord Nelson class.


Thirdly, both White and Mahan maintained that the Dreadnought had sacrificed armament to gain speed. They alleged that speed conferred little, if any, tactical advantage and that ships won battles by their fighting power — i.e., guns. "Speed," wrote White, "is a very great factor . . . but it can only be described as armour if one runs away." Mahan supported this opinion, commenting that, "Certainly, no discussion of the utility of speed at the sacrifice of gun power can be adequate."

Fisher and those responsible for the Dreadnought held the opposite view and asserted it with force and frequency in Admiralty papers. Referring to those who did not want high speed for battleships. Fisher insisted that "they are wrong, because both strategy and tactics demand speed. . . . It is absolutely impossible to exaggerate the supreme importance of speed."


White made the last technical criticism, that the Dreadnought had sacrificed protection to increase speed and gun power. He asserted that, "the distribution of the armour is of a character that adds to risk, because it leaves without protection large areas of the sides which are reckoned as water excluding, although they can be rapidly riddled and destroyed by shellfire."


The defenders responded to this by pointing out that the Dreadnought had as heavy armour as any previous British battleship, excepting the Lord Nelson class. Furthermore, the Dreadnought had an armoured bulkhead to protect against underwater explosions from a mine or torpedo. No previous British capital ship had possessed this protection.


But in disparaging the Dreadnought's speed because of the sacrifices made to attain it, the critics overlooked unintended consequences of the change. These affected other ships. Sir William White had noted that the Dreadnought "tended to make obsolete the large existing fleet of smaller battleships," and in spite of the Dreadnought's superiority in gunnery, its greater speed probably did as much or more to make the old ships obsolete. In fact, in seeking the speed to force or refuse an engagement, a valuable advantage. Fisher had dramatically changed the significance of the introduction of the Dreadnought .In moving promptly to the all big gun ship, the Admiralty had done well, but here the wisdom of its Dreadnought decision ended.


The change in speed led to other design decisions which needlessly devalued an inventory of nearly 100 armored ships. When it made the decision to increase the speed of the Dreadnought by about 15 percent over the existing battleships, the Admiralty accomplished this in part by raising power from 16,000 in the predecessor ship, the Agememnon. to 21,000 horsepower, an advance accomplished without any addition in weight because it utilized, for the first time in a large ship, the more efficient Parsons turbine.


This superior machinery also facilitated the maintenance of sustained high-speed steaming. Because of the inherent qualities of reciprocating engines, fleets could not expect to steam at full speed for very long without breaking down. Ships required two hours of repair for each hour at full speed. Admiral Bacon, in reporting Fisher's foresightedness in insisting on turbine power for the Dreadnought, offered the following description:


. . . when steaming at full speed in a man-of-war fitted with reciprocating engines, the engine-room was always a glorified snipe-marsh; water lay on the floor plates and was splashed about everywhere; the officers often were clad in oilskins to avoid being wetted to the skin. The water was necessary to keep the bearings cool. Further the noise was deafing; so much so that telephones were useless and even voice-pipes of doubtful value. In the Dreadnought, when steaming at full speed, it was only possible to tell that the engines were working, and not stopped, by looking at certain gauges. The whole engineroom was as clean and dry as if the ship was lying at anchor, and not the faintest hum could be heard.


Fisher had the genius to perceive that the adoption of turbine power would increase the efficiency of the fleet. But an increase of 5,000 horsepower alone would not have accomplished this higher speed had the designers not lengthened the ship by 65 feet compared to the Agememnon. This greater ratio of length to beam probably accounted for half of the increase in speed and accounted for all of that increase of 10 percent in displacement which had aroused some of the ire of White and Mahan.

To take advantage of the efficiency of the turbine, the Admiralty did not need to increase speed. To have provided the same power as the Agememnon would have meant lighter machinery, a weight saving which could, for example, have gone to greater armor protection or a slightly smaller ship. Nor did the use of the turbine and the increase in speed anticipate the Germans who not only continued to build slightly slower ships than the British but clung to reciprocating machinery. The first German all big gunship, the Nassau, laid down two years after the Dreadnought, barely made 20 knots and still relied on triple expansion reciprocating engines.

So whereas the use of turbines represented a signficant improvement in weight saving and the capacity to maintain sustained high speed, this, unlike the all big gun ship, did not constitute a development in which the British needed to anticipate the Germans. The use of turbines did not, however, make any British vessels obsolete in any way and did give the Royal Navy an advantage over the Germans, who lagged behind the major naval powers in the adoption of turbines for large ships. Rather than the employment ofthe turbine, the Admiralty's use of higher power and greater length and displacement to increase the Dreadnought's speed to 21 knots proved an innovation laden with significant consequences for Anglo-French as well as British naval superiority.


At 21 knots the Dreadnought was as fast as many cruisers and nearly three knots faster than most existing British, French, and German battleships. The Germans replied by building Dreadnoughts of 20 knots. This meant that the British soon had squadrons of quite different speeds. Since their slower pre-Dreadnoughts could not keep up with the German Dreadnoughts, by changing the new ships' speed the British had further devalued their pre-Dreadnoughts. This meant that they started even with the Germans in Dreadnought squadrons, because, if they wished to utilize the Dreadnoughts' higher speed, they had to take their pre-Dreadnoughts out of the combat.

But the 21-knot speed for the Dreadnoughts not only further devalued the pre-Dreadnoughts, it automatically altered the combat value of cruisers. Many cruisers in all navies made no more than 21 knots, no faster than the Dreadnoughts. Without any superiority in speed over the battlelines, they would find it impossible to fulfill their scouting functions or have the speed to stay clear of the capital ships. But the Dreadnought revolution dealt even another blow to the overwhelming Anglo-French superiority in cruisers.


In 1898 the British had laid down four huge armoured cruisers. At 12,000 tons displacement these cruisers, as large as contemporary French battleships, were significantly larger than existing French armored cruisers and German battleships as well. In 1899 the British followed these ships, the first of the six in the Cressy class, with the last two Cressys, the four enormous Drakes of 14,100 tons, and the first often smaller Monmouths of 9,800 tons.

This made the impressive beginning of a sustained building program of armored cruisers, a new type for the Royal Navy. After the Drakes came two of the large Duke of Edinburgh class and four of the Warrior, both classes of 13,550 tons, and in 1905, the year of the laying down of the Dreadnought, came the largest yet, three 14,600-ton Minotaurs. Meanwhile the British had followed the smaller Monmouths with six somewhat larger ships, the 10,850-ton Devonshires, with 7.5-inch guns substituted for some of the Monmouth class's 6-inch guns.


Thirty-five armored cruisers in eight years would have made a dramatic departure in British naval construction even had these armored cruisers not constituted an innovation for the British. This large number of ships completely overshadowed the contemporary French armored cruiser building program. At 416,600 tons, British armored cruiser tonnage laid down during the eight years before 1906 overmatched by 2 1/2 times the French tonnage during the same period. But French armored cruiser tonnage, at 159,544, actually exceeded the 139,214 tons of Italian battleship construction. The French had also built more than double Germany's 68,330 tons in armored cruisers laid down in the same period. In competing with and overshadowing the French armored cruiser construction program, the British had, as a by-product, so dwarfed the Germans that the Royal Navy's armored cruiser program had created a cruiser force nearly double in tonnage Germany's 221,270 tons of battleships laid down during the same eight-year period!


As of 1905, combined French and British armored cruisers laid down since 1898 completely overshadowed Triple Alliance programs, even if one added Italian battleships to German and Austrian armored cruisers. The Entente had a superiority of 576,144 tons to 214,944 tons. Even adding German and Austrian battleships to the comparison, Anglo-French armored cruiser strength still exceeded by over 20 percent this combined total of 471,834 of all Triple Alliance armored ships laid down in the same period."


Further, as an asset, the Anglo-French primacy in armored cruisers was not deteriorating, because they sustained their rate of building and their ships had a higher speed than those of the Triple Alliance. In 1905 the British had, for example, 17 armored cruisers of 23-knot speed built or building; the French had one, and the Germans none.

In armored cruisers the British had a far greater superiority over the Germans than they did in battleships. But the Royal Navy devalued this superiority by increasing the speed of the Dreadnought to 21 knots. As the cruiser had, as two of its functions, to scout for the battleships and pursue the enemy or cover the battleships in case of a retreat, cruisers had to have a superiority in speed of 20 to 30 percent over the battleships. When the British followed the Dreadnought with three new armored cruisers, Invincibles, they had a 25-knot speed and could, in practice, easily maintain 27 knots. They immediately made obsolete in speed the huge Anglo-French array of 23- and 21-knot armored cruisers.


The three 17,250-ton Invincibles also incorporated the all big gun armament which had the new gunnery dictated. The latest British armored cruisers displaced 14,600 tons, and an armament of four 9.2- and ten 7.5-inch guns. A change in armament comparable to that on the Dreadnought would have armed new armored cruisers with ten 9.2-inch guns just as the Dreadnought had ten of the biggest battleship guns, the 12-inch. Instead, the Invincibles had eight 12-inch guns. Whereas the Dreadnought design made the error of increasing speed to 21 knots, the Invincible design embraced the error of increasing the gun size to 12-inch. This created an enormously powerful and expensive class of ship which was neither fish nor fowl, neither cruiser nor battleship. Their 12-inch guns had the ultimate effect of tempting any commander to use, in the absence of any possible logical operational doctrine, the Invincibles in the battleline as battleships, a position which would expose their cruiser armor to the battleship's big gun armament. The dissonance between their armor and armament meant that they could not even fight each other, as the fate of British battle cruisers amply demonstrated at the Battle of Jutland.


The Invincibles, later called cruisers, had a combination of unprecedented speed and firepower which completed the drastic devaluation of the Entente dominance in armored cruisers, a superiority already diminished by the increase in the speed of battleships. With a superiority in speed of four knots over the fastest of the armored cruisers, the new battle cruisers could refuse or force action and, with eight 12-inch guns, they could pierce the six-inch belt and eight-inch turrets of their predecessors. The battle cruisers themselves, with a seven-inch belt and ten-inch turrets, had adequate protection against the 9.2- and 7.5-inch guns on their predecessors. The destruction of the German armored cruisers in the Battle of Falkland Islands in 1914 well exhibited how completely obsolete battle cruisers had rendered armored cruisers. Thus the battle cruisers seemed perfectly adapted to one mission, overtaking and defeating armored cruisers. At the battle of Jutland the dismal fate of three big British armored cruisers also dramatically exhibited how the increased speed of Dreadnoughts and the speed and power of battle cruisers had left a vast inventory with but a limited mission to perform. Too slow to serve as cruisers and too weak to lie in a line of Dreadnoughts, they were too large and expensive to man even to do efficient service in convoy work.


Sir John Fisher's changes in battleship speed and in the size of cruiser guns thus dealt a staggering blow to Anglo-French naval superiority in the category where it had unquestioned dominance. The demands of gunnery reform made none of this change necessary. Eighteen-and-a-half-knot Dreadnoughts would have enabled the remainder of the fleet to have kept up and permitted a smaller or better protected Dreadnought. More important, it would have protected the margin of superiority in speed enjoyed by 35 British and 15 French armored cruisers.


Fisher had a vision of British ships with greater speed and superior gunnery which could refuse action or, if circumstances favored it, force action at long range where superior gunners and gunnery would bring quick and certain victory. His vision of the advantages of superior speed of the Dreadnought apparently led him to overlook the fact that he thus created a class of British ships inferior in speed to the Dreadnought and to the German response to the Dreadnought. Not only did he seem to neglect the impact of his change in battleship speed on existing British battleships, but he also overlooked its effect on the ability of existing cruisers to function on a sea frequented by high speed battleships. The high speed of the Dreadnought forced him to introduce even higher speed cruisers to which he added a second mistake by choosing for the new cruisers a 12-inch gun. It had accuracy superior to that of the 9.2-inch and it well complemented the armored cruiser's speed, but it started virtually even a new and important race with the Germans.


Clearly the British did not make a mistake in the Dreadnought revolution in that they introduced the all-big-gun ship. But the British did hurt themselves by the essentially independent decision to introduce a new class of high speed battleships. This decision clearly implied, as an additional result of the decision to create the high speed battleship, the introduction of the even higher speed cruisers to accompany it. The Admiralty then compounded the error by arming the new cruisers with outsized 12-inch guns. The battle cruiser struck a far more serious blow at armored cruisers than the Dreadnought did to battleships, and it struck it at a class of ships where the Entente had far more to lose.

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phew...quite the article here. Thank you for it, very interesting as it lets us know where the roots of the ships we will be steering are. Although the english it is written in is a slight too complex for me, the last paragraph sums it up well.

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