UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


The Royal Navy from Sail to Steam

In the year 1836 the total number of ships of war, including every description, amounted to about 560 sail ; of which 95 were ships of the line in a state of efficiency for any service, or capable of being speedily put into a fit state for sea ; and many of them were of a very superior class to any employed in the war. In 1846 there were 671 ships, including every description; and in 1857 there were on the list of the royal navy 7S5 ships, exclusive of those appropriated to harbour service, and of the coastguard cruisers, making a grand total of 888 ships and vessels of all classes.

Soon after the commencement of Queen Victoria's reign steam began to assert Its superiority over sail-power for the propulsion of ships of war. It has now to a great extent usurped the place of manual labor also in ships, and it has been the main cause of the revolntion which has been effected in their type.

The paddle-wheel was first adopted as the means of utilizing the power of steam for propulsion. The first ship of war of any importance fitted with the paddle was the 46-gun frigate "Penelope." In 1843 she was out in two, lengthened, and furnished with engines of 660 horse-power. A number of ships were also built expressly for the paddle, of which clam the "Terrible," a powerful, frigate-built ship of 21 guns and 800 horse-power, may be taken as a type. The "Valorous" was almost the only remaining example of it in 1883, and she had been relegated to dockyard service.

The success of the screw, however, as a means of propulsion soon made it evident that this must be the system of the future for warships. By its use the whole motive power could be protected by being placed below the water-line. It interfered mach less than the paddle with the efficiency and handiness of the vessel under sail alone, and it enabled ships to be kept generally under sail Great importance was attached to this, as the handling of a ship under sail was justly thought an invaluable miaña of training both officers and men ? ready resource, prompt action, and self-reliance. For this reason masts and sails have been retained long after they were admitted to be detrimental to the fighting qualities of battle ships.

In the widest acceptation of the term there is no class of men so essentially conservative as the seaman. In 1841 the Admiralty set their faces like a flint against steam vessels, which they felt convinced were useless as fighting machines ; and even when they made some slight concessions and introduced a few ships which utilized the new method of propulsion, they were savagely attacked by no less important a person than our old friend Punch, who condemned their idiotic folly in no measured terms. They were told that anything which came out of a "foundry" was predestined to "founder," and that this was all that was likely to happen to their newfangled " war steamers." Punch however was preaching to the already converted, and thirteen years later, when the Crimean War broke out, Britain's Fleet was, to all intents and purposes, still mainly composed of sailing ships.

The screw was eagerly adopted, and rapid progress was made in the conversion of ships into screw steamers, some being cut in two and lengthened, others being razeed or having decks removed, while new ships were building. The Russian war, which broke out in 1854, found Great Britain in possession of a steam fleet. Of this fleet the three-decker "Duke of Wellington," of 700 horse-power (nominal) nnd 131 guns, the two-decker "Agamemnon," of 600 horse-power (nominal) and 91 guns, and the frigate "Shannon," of 600 hone-power (nominal) and 61 guns, may be taken as the finest examples ; a powerful flotilla of steam gunboats was built for the occasion. Henceforth ships propelled only by sail were obsolete for war purposes. In this war mechanical mines or torpedoes were used by the Russians for the defence of their harbors, but with not much effect.

The advance of gunnery, and the disastrous effect of explosive shells, which were new weapons since the great naval wars of forty years before, operated to the disadvantage of ships with wooden walls. The fleets were unable to do much more than blockade, and it became necessary to furnish means by which they might also attack. The French were the first to apply in a practical shape the idea (which appears to have originated in the United States) of reviving the use of armor, and placing it on the sides of ships. They constructed five floating batteries clad with 4f inches of iron, on au oak "backing 8 inches thick. Of these the first waa the "Tonnante," mounting 16 guns. She was launched at Brest in March 1866, and was quickly followed by the others Three of them took part in the bombardment of Eon burn in the Black Sea on tbe 17th October following.

The British Admiralty at once put in hand similar vessels, and with such diligence that the "Erebus" and "Terror" arrived at Kinburn on the 24th October. They were hastily constructed for work in shallow water, and were difficult to manage ; but the results wen sufficiently satisfactory to induce the French to convert a wooden line-of-battle ship on the stocks into a frigate armoured all over with 41 inches of iron. She was launched at Toulon under the name of "La Gloire " in November 1859, and was of 8600 tons displacement and 800 horse-power (nominal).

In December 1858 a committee was appointed under the administration of Lord Derby, because the attention of the cabinet had been drawn to the very serious increase which had taken placo of late yean in the navy estimates, while, at the same time, it was represented that the naval force of the country waa far inferior to what it ought to be with reference to that of other powers, and especially of Franco, and that increased efforts aad increased expenditure were imperatively called for to place it on a proper footing. One of the main causes assigned for a prospectivo increase was the comparative state of preparation of France, in respect of powerful screw steamers, and the expenditure which had taken place and was still going on in her dockyards.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:08:38 ZULU