Imatges de pÓgina

heaviest possible guns to bear upon your works. I will take, for example, if you will permit me, the port of Falmouth. In the event of any war occurring with this country the probability is, being the most western port, it would become the refuge of our merchantmen running into the channel to avoid privateers and steamships. If that port were left in its present state it is clear that ten powerful steamers might destroy everything in it, without any material injury to the assailants.”

In answer to the question whether, in his opinion, the merchant steamers would be as available for the defence of the coasts as war steamers, he said : "Certainly not; I think this country (England) would derive an immense power from her merchant marine ; but I look upon it to propose to contend with merchant steamers against the powerful vessels which are in existence in France would be a very unwise thing."

In April, 1850, the Hon. Colonel Anson, in explaining the ordnance estimate to the House of Commons, said, in reference to the estimates for “works, buildings, and repairs: ” “ The whole of this vote had been most carefully considered by the master general of the ordnance and her Majesty's government; and though large in amount, the House would see how small a sum was asked for new works, such as fortifications, &c., either at home or abroad. That reduction was, however, attributable to the large amount that had been spent on those works in previous years. It was needless for him now to point out to how low a state-he might say, indeed, to what a state of degradation our works of defence had fallen till within the last few years, and in what condition the means we possessed of protecting our shores from aggression and insult were in 1835. It was enough to say they were totally inadequate for the purpose. They remained nearly in the same state till 1845, and were in the very lowest possible condition in that year. But, in the meantime, the state of things had not escaped the observation of those who turned their attention to our relations with foreign powers, and many honorable gentlemen found fault with the government for not providing more effectually for the defence of the country. In 1845 the aspect of affairs became threatening; the few fortifications we had to rely upon dismantled, dilapidated, and decayed. If a squadron of steamers had chosen to make their way to any of our principal naval stations, either Portsmouth, Plymouth, or Pembroke, or up the Thames, they were completely open to attack, and an enemy might have committed any act of aggression he pleased. There was nothing to prevent his vessel coming up the Thames and insulting her Majesty in the very heart of her dominions. These considerations pressed themselves so seriously at the time that the attention of the right honorable member for Tamworth and the existing government were called to it, and they at once set to work to remedy the neglect. They proposed that a sum of money should be set apart to improve our defences, and their example had been followed by the present government to a very considerable extent. The result was, that very much had been accomplished during those four years, and he was happy to say the country might be proud of it. At Portsmouth the sea defences had been completed and made very powerful; at Plymouth they were equally complete, and he believed great improvements had taken place at Sheerness, and in the defences on the Thames. They had commenced similar works at Pembroke, which was one of the finest dock yards and harbors in the world, and he was sure the house would be prepared to meet any reasonable demand upon them for its defence. It was impossible to say what might come to pass in a few years, and though the expense might appear to be large now, when the House considered the ultimate advantage to the country from the state and the feeling of security against aggression, they would, he was certain, agree with him that it far outbalanced any temporary inconvenience from the grant of so much money."

An English officer of rank and distinction discussing, in 1849, the system of defence necessary to Great Britain, after recommending large inland fortifications to be erected against the possible march of an enemy's army upon London, estimates that it will require £1,500,000 ($6,600,000) to complete existing fortifications upon the coast, including new batteries to be constructed there, and to supply them with artillery and stores; that is to say, in his opinion, the sum of $6,600,000, in addition to what had within these few years been expended, was necessary to be applied to the coast defences of that country, in consequence of the changes lately introduced into the means of carrying on war from the ocean.

When I had advanced thus far in this report, and was still seeking facts in illustration of the course pursued by Great Britain, I met the following summary of remarks made in relation to fortifications by Mr. Pitt, sixty-five years ago, (1786.) The principles for which he then contended are now and ever must be as sound and as applicable as when he pressed them on the consideration of Parliament with so much earnestness. The only change is one of degree. And we have just seen that the statesmen and military men of that country, at the present day, take the same view and press the same policy. During the wars of the French revolution the vast naval superiority of England enabled her to hold the closest blockade of all the ports of her adversary. This crippled French naval enterprise in a twofold manner—by shutting up the commerce which alone could supply seamen, and by shutting up the few war vessels that they were able to man. But even then, with such little apparent cause to fear anything from that navy, large sums were expended by England upon new seacoast ports, towers, and batteries. Now, when France can suddenly send out large squadrons of steam war vessels in spite of the strictest blockade, Great Britain feels the need of still greater strength at home. But it is, we see, always on fortifications that England relies for the safety of her ports ; in no case do we see her resorting to a parade of war vessels within or at the entrance to her ports. Where her largest assemblages of men-of-war of all sorts take place, and where there must at all times be a considerable number, there she places, not small batteries and insignificant forts and towers, but her strongest and heaviest fortifications. Her history demonstrates that she knows how to employ her fleets better than keeping them moored within her harbors and roadsteads.

In urging upon the House of Commons, in 1786, certain propositions in relation to fortifications, Mr. Pitt,“ to prove the utility of fortifications, appealed to the unfortunate and calamitous situation in which we were placed in the late war. A considerable part of our fleet was confined to our ports in order to protect our dock yards, and thus we were obliged to do what Great Britain had never done before-to carry on a defensive war, a war in which we were under the necessity of wasting our resources and impairing our strength, without any prospect of any possible benefit by which to mitigate our distress. Mr. Pitt felt the question to be a portion of that momentous system which challenged, from its nature, the vigilance and support of every administration.”

“Was the House ready to stand responsible to posterity for a repetition of similar misfortunes and disgrace! Were they willing to take upon themselves the hazard of transmitting the dangers and calamities which they themselves so bitterly experienced ?

“Mr. Pitt observed that there was a consideration which ought to have more weight than others, and this was, that fortifications, being calculated to afford complete security to dock yards, would enable our fleets to go on remote services and carry on the operations of war at a distance, without exposing the materials and seed of future navies to destruction by the invasion of an enemy.” “But it was not only by foreign expeditions that we might lose the aid of our fleet; in case of invasions it might so happen that the ships, though in the

very channel, might be prevented by contrary winds, tides, and other contingencies, from arriving to the assistance and relief of the dock yards.":

"Were it to be asked why the sum to be required by these fortifications had not been demanded for strengthening the navy, he would fairly answer that the money which would prove sufficient to accomplish these works would not build so many ships as would serve for the defence of our most valuable harbors. There was, besides, a certain degree beyond which we could neither build nor man any more. The true limit he could not, nor would it be prudent for him to assign, yet in the nature of things such a limit must exist; but there could never be any line drawn to restrain the security which we ought to provide for our dock vards."

** Mr. Pitt called upon the House to beware how they suffered themselves lightly to be drawn into a line of conduct which might involve their posterity in accumulated evils; and he suggested to their recollection the remorse which they must feel if they should hereafter find that they had, by an ill-timed pertinacity upon the present occasion, brought upon the country calamity and ruin,"

I regret that I have not time to find and adduce a few pertinent facts from the practice of the French nation in this respect, and especially within the last few years. We know well, however, the general result, namely, that France has always kept herself well guarded by sea-coast fortifications; and, as before said, that she owes her exemption from many heavy calamities to a steady adherence to that policy

Believing that the statements just presented must conclusively show that nations having experience in war have made fortifications their main reliance for the defence of their ports, reserving their navies for offensive purposes, and that the greater energy and activity imparted to the latter by modern improvements hare compelled a still more powerful preparation of such defences, I turn again to the particular point of our present inquiry, namely, the use and influence of steamers in coast defences. I have to add, that steamers as substitutes for fortifications would be inferior to other armed vessels, because the efficiency of the defence must depend, other things equal, on the number of guns; that is, as a large number will be brought to the attack, a large number must be employed in defence, and steamers carry very few in comparison. The power of rapid locomotion characteristic of steamers, is for this purpose nothing in itself, nor the power of transporting quickly bodies of armed men; there must be the power of heavy and numerous guns, whether moving or anchored. Though very useful in reconnoitring an advancing enemy, in carrying orders, in conveying relief to batteries, in transporting quickly large bodies of men, and in such like duties, steamers could not constitute a good defensive array except against steamers only: and, accordingly, against such an array the enemy's fleet of steamers would bring in tow a few line-of-battle ships or frigates.

Even, therefore, should there be time after a war shall have been opened to prepare in each of the great harbors a hurried display of this kind out of the light river and bay steamers, it would be no match for sea-going steamers and heavy armed vessels brought into the attack; indeed, it would not be easy

what excess of numbers, in favor of the defence, could establish an equilibrium. As just said above, there could be no resistance of moment made, except by many heavy guns; and to supply these a great multitude of steamers or of merchant ships would have to be converted into floating batteries. What the result of such a resort would be may be learned from the battle of Copenhagen.

This was in no sense a contest between ships and fortifications, as is generally supposed; it was the attack of a fleet of sailing ships upon a line of floating batteries of one kind or another. The Danes had anchored on the edge of a shoal a line of these batteries, parallel nearly with the wall of the city, and at the distance of at least three-fourths of a mile. This line could be attacked

to say

only on the outside, and, when attacked, was interposed between the enemy and the walls, and consequently for the time entirely extinguished the fire from the fortifications.

The line consisted of block-ships and praams—by which are understood to be meant vessels converted into mere floating batteries and more or less strengthened for the purpose; and rafts, supposed to be floats of timber with a timber parapet towards the enemy—in all, eighteen batteries. A squadron of four sails of the line, one frigate and two sloops-of-war, were anchored higher up the harbor-where there was also the “three-crown” battery. Lord Nelson carried to the attack twelve line-of-battle ships, twelve frigates, and a number of smaller armed vessels. All this force he concentrated upon the line of floating batteries; every vessel of which was taken or destroyed, except one or two smaller vessels, which cut their moorings and ran in under shelter of the fortification. This concentration excluded the Danish squadron above mentioned, and also the “three-crown” battery, from any material participation in the action. Some English frigates within reach of the latter were greatly injured and obliged to retreat.

This faculty of concentration (applied with success on several memorable occasions by that great naval commander) is an inherent one in an attacking squadron, and is not to be evaded by a line at anchor-especially not by a line of floating batteries.

If, however, we should allow batteries of this sort, whether aided by steam or not-to be equal, gun for gun, to the attacking squadron, and that they can be got ready in time, we nevertheless should thereby throw an enormous expenditure of money upon the country at a moment of great fiscal difficulty. Let us make a rough estimate of that expenditure.

Lord Nelson's fleet, just mentioned, was rated at 1,158 guns, and it is only reasonable to assume that we should be liable to a visit from a force as great. Assuming that the merchant vessels taken for conversion into floating batteries, would, on the average, carry ten guns on a broadside, which will be assuming that they are as large as sloops-of-war, we should need fifty-eight such vessels; and estimating these at fifty thousand dollars each, which, including purchase, armament, alteration, &c., is a moderate allowance, we shall have a total first cost of two million nine hundred thousand dollars for one port, and for the six ports before mentioned, a grand total of seventeen million four hundred thousand dollars—a sum much greater than has been expended in preparing for more than four thousand of the heaviest guns in permanent fortifications upon the great points of the coast.

If we attempt to supply the requisite force in guns by the use of river and bay steamers, instead of sailing vessels, we cannot allow more than five guns, in the average, to a broadside; so that we shall require one hundred and sixteen steamers, which, at thirty thousand dollars for purchase, armament and alteration, will give three million four hundred and eighty thousand dollars for the first cost in a single harbor, and for the six ports, twenty million eight hundred and eighty thousand dollars.

I do not give these estimates as exact, though I believe them to be below the cost that would have to be incurred, but as affording hints of the costliness of provisions of that nature. An expenditure for this purpose, equally great, would have to be repeated, moreover, at the commencement of every war, or still greater outlays would be incurred in keeping up this perishable armament during peace.

What conclusions follow from the preceding considerations ? Why, that in adopting this expedient, we should involve ourselves, at the opening of every war, in a vast outlay for the defence of these ports; that there would be great probability that the preparations, although involving that enormous expense, could not be made in time; that, even if prepared in time, everything would be

the enemy.

put at the hazard of a single battle, with most important advantages on the side of the enemy, and consequently few probabilities of successful resistance; or if, by more extended preparations, we should endeavor to turn these probabilities the other way, it would be at the greater risk of not being ready, and with the certainty of greatly enhanced cost.

It has been deemed necessary above all things, considering impressions that have been made on the public mind as to the influence of steam vessels upon sea-coast defence, to show at large that while the introduction of the vessels into naval equipment has greatly facilitated attacks, either by steamers alone or in conjunction with sailing vessels, it has done more to avert or repel them, leaving fortifications, which these vessels can in no case replace but at great disadvantage, more indispensable than ever.

In my desire to convey my own strong convictions, I am conscious that I have tediously prolonged this part of the report.

Although what has been said above is undoubtedly true in reference to steamers or other floating defences as substitutes for fortifications, there remain important functions in defence which must be committed to floating defences of some kind, as has before been fully set forth; and in some of these cases it is quite certain that steam batteries may, of all floating defences, be the most suitable.

It must not be forgotten, however, that the very qualities which recommend this particular kind of force will equally characterize the steam vessel of the enemy, and that whether steam vessels or sailing vessels, or both, are relied on, unless there are well-secured points on the shore under which they can take refuge, they will themselves constitute an inviting object to a superior force of

If, for example, we were to deem one of our open waters of such importance as to assign eight or ten steam batteries for its protection, we should thereby place within the reach of the enemy an object worthy of the efforts of a squadron of twelve or fifteen vessels of the same description. Even, therefore, instances where these naval means must be resorted to for defence upon the water, there must be works at hand upon the shore, to the shelter of which, if likely to be overpowered, they can retire.

A branch of the second question, namely, that portion which inquires, "In what manner recent improvements in artillery and other military inventions and discoveries affect this question,” require some separate remarks.

The only invention and discovery, so far as I am aware, that can affect this question, one way or the other, is that which has introduced the practice of firing shells from guns; and which has involved the use of guns of comparatively large calibre, so that guns which discharge missiles of eight-inch and ten-inch diameter, are rather extensively used, especially eight-inch guns. Even guns of twelve-inch bore have been made in this country, and I believe also in other countries.

It is, of course, understood that even larger shells than these were long ago thrown in the attack and defence of fortified places, from the mortars of land batteries and bomb ketches. The shells now spoken about, instead of being projected under a high angle, as from mortars, are discharged from guns at low angles, or nearly horizontally, like solid shot; these guns of large calibre being often called Paixhan guns, after the French officer who first succeeded in securing the favor of the military authorities for the idea—the idea having been suggested long before, and even successfully tried.

These shell-guns are now introduced by maritime nations in all vessels-of-war, whether sailing vessels or steamers. Those latter vessels, which carry but few guns in number, are much augmented in power by their introduction, but not more so than sailing vessels, to which these guns are equally appropriate; and I have no doubt that their numbers will be every day increased, until perhaps there will be few or no armed sailing or steaming ships of which the guns will

H. Rep. Com. 86 — 24

« AnteriorContinua »