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their fleets, had rendered the abandonment of wooden hulls inevitable.”
Here Sir Thomas Brassey puts the case as if shell-fire had proved the unfitness of the wooden hull only; and it was natural enough to put the case so, seeing that all the ships destroyed at Sinope were of wood. But Sir Thomas immediately, and very properly, goes on to tell us that the effect of the Sinope disaster was not merely to substitute iron for wood in the construction of the hulls of war ships ; but to protect the ship, whether of wood or of iron, with armour-plates. Sir Thomas further shows that in this country, where, as he says, “grave doubts had been felt as to the utility of armour,” not only did we forthwith resort to iron as the material of the hull of the Warrior, but we were at last compelled to adopt armour itself as a means of excluding explosive shells from the interiors of our ships.
This compulsory adoption of armour, as well as of an iron hull, is a matter of the greatest possible importance and significance. The present condition and the future development of our naval power can only be properly understood by those who keep it clearly and carefully in mind. In fact, I doubt if there be any other question before the public at the present moment, in dealing with which it is so necessary to keep its recent history well in view. It will therefore be worth while to look back a little at our own experience.
And, first, let us briefly notice what happened in our own experience with shell guns and unarmoured ships in actual war. We have not-it is gratifying, in most respects, to know-had many opportunities of witnessing the results of naval engagements since the general introduction of shell-fire ; but the attack made by our fleets upon the forts at Sevastopol, in October 1854, furnished a sufficient illustration for our purpose. Of the Arethusa, Mr. Kinglake says, “ Four shells took effect on board of her; and she was set fire to both on her main and her lower decks." Of the Albion he says, “She was soon struck by numbers of shells. Of these some struck the ship near her waterline, and some of them, bursting on the orlop deck, set fire to the ship in several places. In her masts, in her rigging, and in the part of her hull near the water-line, the ship suffered havoc, and the fires which laid hold upon her having rendered it necessary to close the magazine, her broadside was by consequence silenced. Nearly half of the Albion's crew were mustered at 'fire quarters' to get down the three conflagrations which threatened the powder magazines.” The Bellerophon" was set on fire by a shell; altogether she was three times on fire.” The Rodney was set fire to both in her orlop deck and in her foremast under the foreyard.” And, again, “Both the Rodney and the Spiteful sustained a good deal of damage from shot and shell.” “ The Agamemnon was set on fire by a shell ;” and so on. “The Ville de Paris, the French admiral's
flagship, received fifty shots in her hull; and a shell bursting under the poop made such havoc in that part of the ship that nine officers of Hamelin's staff there standing near their chief were either killed or wounded."
The foregoing example will do as well as any other for the purpose of illustrating the effects of shell-fire, since it cannot matter whether the shell enter the ship from a land battery or from a ship’s battery in so far as these effects are concerned. In the case of the English ships, nearly all the mischief worked upon them appears to have resulted from a single gun in the Wasp Battery, and five guns in the Telegraph Battery. These six guns were ridiculously small and weak, as compared with the guns now carried in all descriptions of war ships, although they were well placed at an elevation. But the important point to be observed is, that this shell-fire had, when employed against unarmoured ships, most destructive effects. It must not be thought that these effects were wholly due, or due in the main, to the fact of the sides of our ships of that day being constructed of wood. No doubt such shell as lodged in the wooden sides and exploded there occasionally set fire to the hull itself; but it is obvious from the language of Mr. Kinglake, above quoted, that it was between decks where the worst ravages occurred, and where the most dangerous fires broke out.
It follows from this that, whether the hull proper be of wood or of iron, shell penetrating into the interiors of ships inflict havoc, and that he who exclaimed, “ For God's sake keep out the shells !" did so with good cause. It would be perfectly possible for iron or steel vessels, if unprotected with armour, to suffer from fire to nearly the same extent as the ships before Sevastopol, even from the same comparatively trifling attack, were they in all other respects like them. Indeed, there is very good reason for believing that, had the navy of that day consisted of unarmoured iron ships, they would have suffered a great deal more, and probably several of them would have gone down, for the reason that, in addition to the injuries already described, they would have suffered others, due to the fact that the holes and rents made by projectiles in the sides of iron or steel vessels are often both far larger (especially those on the off-side caused by projectiles that have passed through the ship) than those made in wooden ships, and far more difficult to repair. The Arethusa and Albion were sent to Constantinople to repair and refit, and, says Kinglake, “they were in such plight that the chance of their proving able to reach the Bosphorus was judged to be dependent upon weather.” Considering the very great facilities that exist on board ship for temporarily repairing injuries to wooden planks, and the few that exist there for temporarily repairing iron plates, the prohabilities are that, had their hulls consisted of iron or steel (not armour, of course), they would never have crossed the Black Sea at all.
We have, therefore, to consider the condition of our navy in view of these facts, and also in view of the terrible increase in the power of the gun and of the shell, to say nothing at this point of the torpedo or the ram. In the first place, it will be well to take note of those circumstances which tend, in the modern unarmoured warship, to diminish the disastrous effects of shell fire. It may be roundly stated that the war-ships which we now construct are all built with hulls of steel, and most of them are built with decks of steel—the steel decks, however, being for the larger part covered with deck-plank of teak or of pine. The ribs, and the beams, and all the outside plating, are of steel. Further, a great many bulkheads, also of steel, are fitted in all war-vessels, most of them extending transversely from side to side of the ship, and some of them running longitudinally. All magazines, rooms for explosive shells, torpedorooms, &c., arc situated in close compartments of thin steel. By all this excepting the wood covering of most of the decks—fireproof qualities are in a considerable degree provided. Iron decks overhead, and the iron bulkheads of cabins, however, condense moisture so rapidly, that it is neither comfortable nor safe, in a sanitary sense, to leave them uncovered. Formerly, they had all to be sheathed with wood, which is always more or less combustible, and ordinary cabin bulkhead stuff is exceedingly so. To mitigate this, great pains have been taken by the Admiralty Staff, under the direction of Mr. Barnaby, to find other much less combustible materials for this purpose, and compositions of different kinds have been employed, often with great success and advantage. Experiments with this object in view are still proceeding. All this must be fully understood and allowed for by those who would understand the characteristics of the war-ship, whether armoured or unarmoured, as she now exists. But when every such allowance has been made, it must candidly be acknowledged that in the furniture and stores of a war-ship, in the bedding and clothing of its crew, &c., large quantities of combustible matter still remain, and are readily consumable by shell fire, their burning involving the ship in the risk of destruction.
Let us next compare the nature of the shell-fire which our ships encountered at Sevastopol with the shell-fire which we have to encounter afloat now. The largest guns mentioned in Mr. Kinglake's statement of the armament of the Russian sea-fort batteries which were attacked were 32-pounders. In his evidence, given before the National Defence Commission in 1859, the late Captain Cowper Coles, R.N. (who was a flag-lieutenant at the bombardment of Serastopol), also stated that the guns fired at our ships were 32-pounders,
which he believed “were a trifle larger than ours.” On being asked if those were the largest, he replied, “ Those at Wasp Fort, I imagine, were 68-pounders.” Now let us bring into one view the particulars of these guns, and of the shell fired by them, together with those of a few modern guns, such as are now carried at sea by ships of war. I omit, from the following examples (which have chiefly been taken from Sir Thomas Brassey's lists), several improved guns which are much more powerful for their weights than many of these, because I wish to avoid all straining of statement; and for the same reason I omit likewise all such exceptional cases as the 80-ton yuns of the Inflexible, the 100-ton guns of the Italian ships, the 107-ton guns of Herr Krupp's manufacture, and the 110-ton guns of the Benbow. The guns which are recorded in this table represent armaments that are quite common in the armoured ships
own and other countries. Large Naval Guns of 1854.
Bursting Description Length Weight of Weight of
Charge of of Gun.
Projectile. 32-pounder 94 feet.
2) tons. 32 lbs. 10 lbs. (maximum) 1 lb. 68-pounder 10
51 Present Large Naval Guns (exclusive of those of 80, 100, and 110 tons). Description
Bursting Length Weight of Weight of
Charge of Projectile.
Powder in Gun.
1 15, feet.
373 30 17 24 374 204
821 121 132 158
134 16 25 22
A glance at the above figures will suffice to show that (even omitting all naval guns of 80 tons and upwards, as is there done) the guns and projectiles of to-day are out of all proportion greater than the guns of 1854 in offensive power. Neglecting for the moment the Wasp Battery (which employed but a single gun, and accomplished but little *), the damage which our ships sustained at Sevastopol was inflicted entirely by projectiles fired with 10-pound charges, and with a single pound of powder, each, as a bursting charge. And now the question which I wish to put, and to have considered, is this : If shell, charged with but one pound of powder, each bursting between the decks of ships, wrought all the injuries and losses which we sustained at Sevastopol, what are the injuries and losses to be anticipated when between our decks we have shell bursting charged each with 20 pounds, 30 pounds, and nearly 40 pounds of powder ?
* It was supposed at the time that the battery which the English named “The Wasp," worked much of the havoc upon our ships ; but later information proved that this was not the case, and that it was the Telegraph Battery that accomplished it. The Russians allege that although there were eight guns mounted upon it, there was room to work but one at a time, and that it was mainly with one gun that, from the beginning to the end of the war, it kept alive the attention of our seamen. Mr. Kinglake writes :• Perhaps, indeed, one may say of the Telegraph Battery that it alone wrought so great havoc in the ships which came under their guns," i.e., the guns of the Wasp and Telegraph Batteries.
This question has to be put and considered, let it be observed, not in relation to our unarmoured ships only—or I should have dealt with less powerful guns—but with reference to our armoured ships likewise ; for the answer given to it should, in my judgment, have a very important influence indeed upon the construction of our armoured ships, and of all classes of them. It seems to me that the effects of large modern shell bursting in the unarmoured parts of any or all of our iron-clads—for they all, or nearly all, have large unarmoured parts—may be very much more serious than has yet been realized, and I cannot help regretting that the experiments of the Admiralty have not been more directed to the settlement of this question.
Let it not be supposed for a moment that in these remarks, or in any others which I may offer in this article, I am drawing distinctions between Admiralty ships of my own design and those which have succeeded them. That phase of the subject has but little interest for me, because I have never accustomed myself to deal with this great, this vastly-important subject from any personal point of view; and in the present case, although there may be different degrecs of risk in armour-belted vessels and in others, the whole of our armour-clad ships are more or less open to the question that I am here putting and pressing. I may say this, however, in support of my argument, that I never cease to be haunted with the fear that, in the absence of satisfactory experiments, so arranged as to clear up the doubt, we may all be underrating—and very seriously and gravely underrating—the results of the bursting of explosive shells in the unprotected and more or less inflammatory portions of iron-clad ships. This is no doubt a danger which our navy shares in common with all the other iron-clad navies of the world, speaking generally. Exceptional ships, with complete armour, are to be found here and there, but in nearly all such exceptional cases-probably in quite all of them—the armour is thin, and itself pervious to such shells as we are considering.
Nor is the question of the effects of shell-fire upon the un. armoured parts of iron-clads limited to that of the mischief which may follow the setting on fire of those parts. There is the further mischief-already briefly touched upon-of the bursting through of the thin decks and sides by the blows or the explosion of shells.