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Torpedo Boats - 1900s

At the close of 1901 the United States navy included thirty-five torpedo-boats varying in size and speed from the Gwin, of forty-six tons and twenty-one knots speed, to the Farragut, Goldsborough, and Bailey, all of which were over 250 tons displacement and about thirty knots speed.

A vessel with a ratio of length to beam of 10 to 1, having the comparatively small dimensions of a torpedo-boat or destroyer, cannot be considered of a seaworthy model, nor is. it one that can be made sufficiently strong to go to sea in bad weather. Additional material worked into the long shallow hull does not strengthen in proportion to the weight added. The result of this addition is simply a great reduction in speed for only a slight increase in strength, while the seaworthiness of the model is as poor as before.

In the steam engineering department of torpedo-boats and destroyers there were too many units of all descriptions, too many compartments ; in some cases, too many boilers and too many engines, too many cylinders to an engine, too many blowers, too much pipe, too many valves, and too many ways of doing each particular manoeuvre with the piping. The weights are pared too fine on the main engines, boilers, and blowers, while the piping, valves, fittings, manifolds, and other auxiliaries are no lighter than on any other class of ship. Pipes need not have the same allowance in thickness for wear as is given to a battleship as the vessels are shorter lived. The engineer staff allotted to torpedo-boats is far too small, as will be seen by comparing the number of men allowed with those assigned to any other naval vessel of the same horse-power. This is unfortunate, for no other type of machinery deteriorated so rapidly from neglect or requires more expert supervision.

So much time was taken by each crew in learning the special characteristics of its own boat, the highest speeds were rarely if ever attempted, nor was thete anything in the nature of approved tactical manoeuvres carried out. The mishaps were so constant and so many that each crew was at all times occupied with the interior affairs of its own boat. Real torpedo-boat service was not attempted, and it can hardly be claimed that the commissioning of these boats was of value to the naval service except by the demonstration of needed experience and much drill by those who are to handle them; the boats were so many different units which were not brought together for proper tactical work.

All ships of whatever type, when kept continually in commission had within reasonable time attained to the most commendable conditions of efficiency. The ships laid up even in reserve with skeleton crews on board, have invariably deteriorated. The torpedo-boat, which combined great powers of speed with greatest frailty, was the most susceptible of all craft to deterioration; after the Spanish war it was impossible to keep these boats in commission because of the need for all officers and men that could be had for service in Chinese and Philippine waters; and so all the torpedo-boats were hauled out of water and laid up. The effect of this upon the navy was bad; the boats when again called into service, were unfit for use until extensive repairs had been made.

The solution of the so-called torpedo-boat difficulties seemed simple enough. The features criticised in our present boats are largely the outcome of the attempt to use the boats in a service for which the type was never originally intended. They must be restricted to harbor defence, and a new type more in the nature of a despatch boat must be designed for seagoing work. These new boats must be safe at sea in any weather, and the larger ones (from 400 to 600 tons) must be able to make good speed in anything short of the worst weather. Unlike the torpedo-boat, which must be invisible above all things, these boats must have enough freeboard to make them seaworthy.

Three of these torpedo boats saw active service as late as World War I, but the others were reduced to auxiliary roles or disposed of prior to that time. There has not existed in this country, either in its legislators or in its naval officers, a well defined, well agreed upon, torpedo-boat policy, either of building, or of exercise with those already built.

In practice, the torpedo boats did not fulfill their expectations. Yet in other ways, they were important to the development of the Navy; they were the precursors of the modern destroyers. Moreover, the experiments with torpedo boats at the Torpedo Station marked further growth in the complexity of the shore establishment, for now the Navy had begun experimentation with new types of vessels using its shore facilities.



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