Torpedo Boat Maneuvers
Various European navies conducte yearly maneuvers, and each year questions concerning the possibilities of torpedo-boats and the best means of repelling attacks from them formed the great problem; on the part of Great Britain we always find great squadrons opposed to each other, and great numbers of torpedo vessels present. The simulated conditions generally are those of Great Britain opposing the combined forces of France and Russia. Great Britain is more powerful in battleships and cruisers, while France and Russia possess a far greater number of torpedo-boats. Naturally the purpose of many of the foreign maneuvers has been to decide to what extent the opposing superior force of torpedo-boats counterbalances the inferiority in fighting ships. Many of the French and Russian maneuvers consisted in attacks upon their coast by superior squadrons, to be opposed by inferior squadrons accompanied by great numbers of torpedo-boats. Throughout the summer of 1879 twelve Russian torpedo-boats in full commission had been constantly exercised for the purpose of studying and developing the best methods of handling torpedo-boats. The following were among the conclusions reached: "Boats must be manned by men trained to the hazardous duties expected of them." "The torpedo and the torpedo-boat should form a single weapon so that the attention of the officers in command may never be divided between the conducting of the boat and the handling of the weapon." "Every division of torpedo-boats should be trained to conduct an attack without the support or cooperation of any other naval arm." "In the Russo-Tarkish war almost every attack was successful when undertaken according to a well-matured plan by a group of boats, and no attack succeeded which was made by a single boat." "Attacks by single boats are only to be attempted as a last resource." "The attack must be made according to a carefully considered plan." "The attacks should be made at a signal from the officer in command, simultaneously from several points."
In the British naval manoeuvres of 1885, twenty-five torpedo-boats took part. That part of the report which concerns these boats states that about half of these became disabled during the passage from their home ports to the scenes of the operations; a great action was planned in which these boats were to have a prominent part in the attack; the report of the attack says that these torpedo-boats seemed to be uncontrollable ; many collisions occurred, machinery mishaps, and break-downs of disabling nature were more than frequent, and when the order for the atack was given but few of the 25 boats could take part. The judges reported their opinion of these torpedo-boats to be that in their condition and as they were handled, the torpedo-boats could not have succeeded in any attack.
In 1885, Lieutenant Leroy, of the French navy, brought a section of torpedo-boats from Brest to Toulon; in his report to the Ministry of Marine of this passage, he says : "That which is wearying on board a torpedo-boat, and is extremely trying to a sensitive nervous system, is the continual vibration and racing of the engines with a violence which almost suggests that the engine must come to pieces. The strain is moral rather than physical, but it tells upon the whole system; after a short time, however, one grows used to it. With the engines all was satisfactory; the engineers were accustomed to torpedo-boats. They were men who had training at Brest. It is absolutely necessary that the crew of a torpedo-boat should be thoroughly accustomed to this class of vessel."
In the spring of 1886, France organized some grand maneuvers for torpedo-boats, which took place in the Mediterranean. These trials gave very conclusive results. At that time the "flotilla fever" was in an acute stage, while ironclads seemed to lose favor. The torpedo-boats for which such work was proposed (thirty-three metres long and of forty-nine tons displacement) could not follow large armored vessels under all conditions. In the Mediterranean, during fine weather, such a thing might be possible; but as for doing it on the ocean, far from land, that is another thing. It was certain that torpedo-vessels have two great advantages over armored ships, - they cost comparatively little and they do not take long to build. The possibility of blowing up, at one stroke, six hundred men and twenty millions of francs by means of twelve men and two hundred thousand francs is the basis of the theory at present in fashion.
In these maneuvers off Toulon, torpedo-boats at first made themselves notorious because of the number of boats that were sunk by avoidable collisions; also the machinery mishaps were so many that no boat could be depended upon. to execute a signal. In an attack upon a hostile fleet that appeared off Ajaccio, of twenty torpedo-boats that were formed for attack but six were in condition for service. Later, at the same place, a fleet of thirteen boats, the slowest of which had made over a trial course a speed of twenty knots, sallied out to attack a hostile squadron, which, after seeing the fleet of boats start out, steamed away; the fleet of torpedo-boats was not able to catch up to this squadron. After some months of work the troubles that had early beset these boats had mostly disappeared, and the boats were found to be capable of effective service.
A very prominent illustration of the character of their service was shown by the difference between the 1885 and 1886 reports. At first t a short cruise of 27 hours so completely used up the crews of these boats that they were reported to be completely unfit for duty. Some months later these same crews were found to be able to handle tneir boats for weeks at a time, in even worse weather, without exhaustion. The lesson here portrayed has been emphasized by the history of every torpedo-boat that has ever been put into service. Exhausting though torpedo-boat work is, with a few months of training the crews can accustom themselves to the physical demands upon them without overstraining themselves.
To be of any service the boats and crews must be drilled beforehand, must be ready to face the problems and conditions that war brings. All experience showed that torpedo-boats put into service without drill can never accomplish anything. The French navy learned this lesson so well that, previous to their manoeuvres of 1888, forty torpedo-boats with crews numbering 1722 men were kept in commission for a year. The work done by torpedo-boats during these manoeuvres was not entirely satisfactory, but it was a great improvement over what had been done previously.
In the French maneuvers of 1889, the record of the torpedo-boats was marred by collisions with other boats and by machinery mishaps; it was reported that in all of such cases tKese troubles occurred to boats whose crews had had no torpedo-boat training, and that they were caused by inexperience. The great lesson learned by the French from these manoeuvres was the necessity of previous drill at torpedo-boat tactics; before this each section-commander had used his boats according to his own particular judgment, the best methods of handling a number of boats acting together had not received much study, and the necessity of tactics was but dimly appreciated ; there being no well-developed agreed-upon system of tactics ; each commander used his boats in an attack with but little knowledge of the best methods ; confusion always occurred, the attacks were rarely successful, and the boats suffered terribly.
The following is an extract from the report to the British Admiralty of the naval manoeuvres of 1888: "Torpedo-boats would be of far more use to the blockaded squadrons than to the blockaders. Torpedo-boats, if not capable of keeping the sea independently under all conditions of weather, would inevitably prove a cause of embarrassment and anxiety to an admiral commanding a blockading fleet, and would be subject to endless casualties." "The employment of torpedo-boats as an inner line of blockade is not desirable, they being calculated to cause much confusion and embarrassment to their friends; they are admirably adapted for purposes of defense; but even then without a very simple and perfect system of signals they are liable to be mistaken for enemies by their own side. This occurred once at least on each side during the 1888 manoeuvres."
In the British maneuvers of 1890 a squadron anchored at a distance of over 100 miles from where there was known to be torpedo-boats; a night attack was made by the latter and four great battleships were destroyed ; in the operations of the next year the squadron was constantly, on the move, searching for the boats, well prepared for the attack which it invited ; seventeen different attacks were made upon it, with the result of the destruction of all of the boats making the attacks, the squadron being entirely uninjured.
Torpedo-boat operations formed a part of the French manoeuvres of 1892; it was reported that the great lesson taught by them was: "The absolute inefficiency of torpedo-boats as auxiliaries to a sea-going iron-clad squadron."
The striking lesson taught by these operations is that the best defence against expected torpedo-boat attack was made by assuming the offensive against them, and until in readiness for such offensive action, to keep out of the torpedo-boat's radius of action. If the torpedo-boats are not met with, the squadron should destroy if possible the bases of the torpedo-boats ; this will effectively suppress the boats; if these bases are ports that cannot be destroyed, the squadron watching outside will be sure to catch some of the boats attempting to run the blockade, for the torpedo-boat must have frequent recourse to its base. All war manoeuvres have proved that it is almost impossible for torpedo- boats to find an enemy's ships that are somewhere at large upon the sea, and also that a squadron can surely find the hostile torpedo-boats by watching their bases; this insures the suppression of the boats though it invites attack from them.
In the British maneuvers of 1893, two powerful fleets in a narrow channel were opposed by a slightly inferior fleet, but which possessed a far greater force of torpedo-boats. The particular question laid down by the Admiralty was to ascertain to what extent this great superiority in torpedo-boats redressed the slight inferiority in fighting ships. During these operations there were fleet actions and constant torpedo-boat attack. The latter were handled by determined officers and experienced crews, ambitious to prove the decisive value of the torpedo- boat as a weapon; they properly took great chances. As a result of all of these torpedo-boat attacks, one battleship and four cruisers were sunk, but this was at a cost of five cruisers and twenty-seven torpedo-boats, in five and a half days.
The results of these operations are summed up in Brassey's Annual, 1894, by Mr. Thursfield, as follows: "Thus the continued experience of three years' manoeuvres, those of 1891, 1892, and 1893, would seem to show that the sea-going torpedo-boat is an overrated weapon of defence."
The maneuvers of 1891, 1892, 1893, and 1894, dealt mainly with strategical questions; in these years torpedo vessels were assigned most prominent parts; in some of these manoeuvres the main problem proposed concerned the proper disposition and use of torpedo-boats. During these operations the need of tactical torpedo-boat exercises became more apparent each year, and as a result the manoeuvres of 1895 were entirely tactical in nature.
One of the objects of the 1899 maneuvers was announced to be : "To obtain information relative to the workings of Destroyers and Torpedo-Boats." Twenty-eight destroyers were assigned to one of the fleets and twenty-four torpedo-boats were assigned to the opposing fleet. The results of these manoeuvres are summed up in Brassey's Annual of 1900, as follows : "The chances of a torpedo-boat finding a single ship or even a fleet in the course of a roving search have been proved over and over again in manoeuvres to be exceedingly small, and they are reduced almost to zero by the presence of a vigilant and active flotilla of destroyers within the area of search."
One of the three objects of the 1900 maneuvers was announced by the Admiralty to be to obtain information relating to: "The power which cruisers may or may not possess of hunting down and driving torpedo craft into port." The following are extracts from a criticism of these operations, to be found in Brassey's Annual, 1901 : "The destroyers proved singularly useful as scouts for certain purposes, such as the examination of the enemy's anchorages and possible shelter places, and as fast messengers. As a menace the destroyer is exceedingly formidable, indeed against torpedo-boats its menace is little short of a positive deterrent; as a messenger and for certain purposes as a scout, it is within certain limits almost invaluable."
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