Imatges de pÓgina
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expenditure had exceeded the provision by about half a million. In these circumstances it is reasonable to anticipate that a determined effort is being made to overtake arrears of repairs, and that the lesson taught by recent events will prevent any tendency to starve future expenditure on repairs and maintenance which are essential to the full efficiency of the Fleet. Whatever standard of relative naval force may be accepted or attained, so far as numbers of ships on the Effective Lists are concerned, that form of comparison can only be of value when ships included in those lists are kept fully efficient and ready for action. Mere enumerations of ships without consideration of their condition must be misleading, and will probably be dangerous. Yet that is the method which has been very commonly followed.

THE SHIPBUILDING PROGRAMME

The provision for new construction in 1908-9 exclusive of armaments amounts to 7,545,0001., and is less than the corresponding provision made during any year in this century. In 1907–8 it was 8,100,0001. ; in 1904–5 it exceeded 113 millions, largely in consequence of the purchase of two Chilian battleships; the previous range since 1901-2 has been between these two years. This drop in new con. struction-coming immediately after the revision of the German naval programme with its largely increased expenditure-naturally gave rise to considerable discussion. Mr. Robertson stated in the debate that our expenditure on shipbuilding repairs and armaments in the coming financial year would be 11,221,5341. as against 9,479,4511. for Germany. The Parliamentary Return obtained by Mr. Thomasson in August 1906 (No. 310) gives details of expenditure on new construction and armaments from 1896 to 1905 for the principal European navies and the United States Navy; it may be consulted by readers who are interested in the subject and desire to study relative as well as actual expenditure. All that can be said here is that, although German naval expenditure more closely approaches that of Great Britain than it has done previously, and unprecedented efforts are being made to increase the power and efficiency of the German fleet, it is universally agreed that our present position is satisfactory as against any possible combination of foreign navies; and that it will remain so up to the end of the year 1910—notwithstanding the modest programme of further new construction proposed for the coming year -even if there should be full realisation of the new German programme, which provides for laying down in 1908 three battleships and an armoured cruiser-all of very large dimensions. The surpassing warship-building capability of this country and its unrivalled resources in the manufacture of armour, guns, and gun-mountings, developed by the continuous demands made by Admiralty programmes since the Naval Defence Act of 1889, make it certain that we can maintain our lead, provided the necessary funds are voted by Par. liament. Mr. Asquith's declaration of the policy of the Government (in the debate of the 10th of March), confirmed by Lord Tweedmouth in the House of Lords in the following week, has satisfied Parliament and has reassured the country. Whatever Germany may do or attempt it is in our power to exceed, and the nation will endorse the principle enumerated by Mr. Asquith when he said it is the duty [of the Government] to provide, and it would provide not only a sufficient number of ships but for such a date of laying down of such ships that ... the superiority of Germany [in the Dreadnought and large armoured cruiser classes of most recent design] would not become an actual fact.' It must be recognised also that the Royal Navy possesses an enormous superiority in completed ships of earlier date than the classes particularly dealt with in the naval debate. Lord Cawdor's Return of July 1907 (No. 111) indicates this clearly. It shows that (excluding the Dreadnought, Lord Nelson, and Agamemnon) on the 1st of June, 1907, Great Britain had thirty-eight completed battleships less than twenty-five years old, which were ranked by the Admiralty as fully effective for war; at the same date the United States had eighteen, France thirteen, and Germany eleven. In the same Return the Admiralty classed as obsolescent'eighteen British battleships, many of which are still of great value and less than twenty years old, four United States battleships, six French, and nine German. All the German ships thus classed by the Admiralty as obsolescent' had been launched since 1890: five of them were launched between 1896 and 1900. For armoured cruisers the corresponding numbers of ships classed by the Admiralty as nonobsolescent were—for Great Britain thirty-two, United States twelve, France eighteen, Germany six. It is not unlikely that the action subsequently taken by Germany in fixing a shorter term for the “ life' of a warship and hastening the construction of so-called 'substitute' ships to replace existing vessels when they reached the age-limit may have had some relation to the expression of British official opinion, and that great effects will follow from the publication of a small Parliamentary Paper which costs only one penny. It has been the practice hitherto in Returns for war fleets associated with the name of Sir Charles Dilke to include only statements of fact, and to avoid expressions of opinion as to vessels of other navies being obsolescent or obsolete. That practice may well be reverted to in future documents of the kind. Each naval authority necessarily has to decide on the classification and term of service of its own ships, and is free to form its opinion respecting foreign ships ; but it is preferable not to publish that opinion in officially authorised papers.

One notable feature in recent debates on the shipbuilding programme is the frank recognition by many speakers of the error committed in laying down the Dreadnought in 1905 and forcing on her

construction in such a way as to attract universal attention, and to provoke rival foreign building programmes. Amongst the most outspoken utterances were those of the First Lord of the Admiralty and Mr. Asquith. The latter declared his adhesion to the policy which was long followed by the Admiralty, but unfortunately departed from in the case of the Dreadnought and Invincible class. He said :

Our shipbuilding policy and the whole of our naval policy is a purely defensive one. We not only do not wish to take the lead, but we want to do everything in our power to prevent a new spurt in competitive shipbuilding between the great Naval Powers. We do not, as the Estimates sufficiently show, build against programmes which are merely on paper.

This statesmanlike utterance was warmly approved by the House of Commons, but it cannot undo mischief already wrought. There never was a greater incentive to a new spurt in competitive shipbuilding 'than that given by our naval authorities three years ago. Lord Tweedmouth remarked :

I do not at all encourage the repetition of the construction of the Dreadnought, It was built in thirteen months, and, of course, we were very proud of it. Bat I do not think it is an experiment we ought to repeat, because the three Téméraires are infinitely better than the Dreadnought, and the three St. Vincents will again be a great advance. . . . It is really wise and good policy not to enter into too big a programme.

One wonders how such a statement as this will be received by those who were responsible for the Dreadnought. Her design was stated to be the outcome of a careful study of the lessons derived from the Russo-Japanese war and of the ripe experience of the naval authorities at the Admiralty, fortified by the advice of a special committee. The Dreadnought was laid down in October 1905, launched in February 1906, and commissioned little more than a year after her keel was laid. Experience with the Dreadnought was practically non-existent when the design for the Téméraires was completed. These ships were officially laid down in December 1906 and January 1907 ; but nearly 320,0001. was spent on each of the dockyard-built ships before the 31st of March 1907. It is obvious, therefore, that the designs must have been completed some months before the vessels were laid down, and that much preparatory work was done previously. Yet Lord Tweedmouth declares the ' Téméraires to be infinitely better 'than the Dreadnought, from which statement it is fair to conclude that changes of importance, increasing offensive or defensive powers, were made in their design. From official publications it is known that the Téméraires draw six inches more water and are of 700 tons greater displacement than the Dreadnought; but no statement has been made as to the nature of the improvements introduced. From the above-stated facts, however, it is clear that changes made must have been the result simply of further consideration of the problems involved, possibly supplemented by study of the later stages of the RussoJapanese war; they could not have been based upon actual experience with the Dreadnought. Furthermore, in the St. Vincent class-two of which were laid down at the end of December and the beginning of February last-one finds an increase made in displacement of 650 tons and in length of 10 feet as compared with the Téméraire. Here again experience with the Téméraires is non-existent as they are incomplete ; and the changes made—the character of which is unknown as yet-must have been the result of further consideration of the cruises and trials of the Dreadnought or change in the opinion of the naval members of the Board of Admiralty. If this is a correct view of the case it is a matter for regret that the commencement of the Téméraires was made at so early a date, because delay would have enabled them to have been sister-ships of the St. Vincent described by Lord Tweedmouth as ' again a great advance.' No case has been established for starting on the Dreadnought herself until Germany had shown its hand and laid down the new vessels now in progress, the first of which was launched a few weeks ago. The German programme fixed three years as the period of construction, and the German financial arrangements are based on that term of years. It is possible for us to build first-class battleships and cruisers in two years if that is thought desirable ; at a pinch the period of construction can be abridged. At the time the Dreadnought was laid down our position was one of assured supremacy in vessels of existing types. All that was said in praise of her alleged superiority in fighting power by those responsible for her construction, if it had been truewhich is not admitted-only tended to discredit and depreciate our existing ships, and to incite other navies to press forward vessels similar or superior to the Dreadnought. For a long time the true facts of the case were obscured, and those who raised a voice in opposition were called ugly names and their criticisms were drowned in a chorus of praise. Now a saner view is beginning to prevail, as is manifest from the recent debates. No good purpose would be served by dwelling on past controversies, but it is of national importance to have the facts understood generally, both as a lesson and a warning against hasty departures from a policy that has been proved by long experience to be satisfactory and suited to our conditions.

The effect upon naval finance of the great increase in size and cost of vessels of the Dreadnought and Invincible classes will be felt for years to come. In round figures the capital invested in one of these vessels, when completely equipped for service, approaches 2 millions sterling. If such a vessel is built in two years, this great outlay must be incurred within that period, although it may be distributed over three financial years. For example, in the case of the Bellerophon, officially laid down on New Year's Day 1907, nearly 320,0001. was spent in the financial year 1906-7, about 897,0001. in 1907-8, and about 412,0001.

will be spent in 1908–9, on hull, armour, gun-mountings, propelling and auxiliary machinery and equipment- exclusive of the sums required for guns, ammunition, stores, &c. These figures indicate the heavy expenditure that must be met if the construction within two years of a number of such vessels is undertaken. In 1908-9 about 4,150,0001. will be expended on the six vessels of the Téméraire and St. Vincent classes now building ; that is to say, fully 55 per cent. of the total expenditure on new construction for that year will be concentrated on these six ships. If the period of construction were made three years instead of two, the average annual charge would be correspondingly reduced. It is true, no doubt, that until a vessel is finished and ready for service, the expenditure upon her is nonproductive, because she cannot form a unit in the Effective Fleet. On the other hand, there are limits to the financial burdens which a nation can bear, and the question of the naval force of maritime countries is distinctly relative in its nature. If Germany assigns three years, and France four years, as the period of construction, two years cannot be regarded as an unalterable period for the construction of British battleships and large armoured cruisers. The essential condition is that our ships shall be ready for service at least as soon as, and by preference rather sooner than, foreign vessels which they have been constructed to surpass. This remark seems necessary, because in recent debates many speakers, including an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, took the line that when works had been entered upon, the sooner they were completed the better.' This remark was made, it is true, in regard to the new naval station at Rosyth, and not in relation to shipbuilding. But the same principle applies to all kinds of competitive naval undertakings. Rosyth, as an answer to the great engineering works contemplated in the enlargement of the North Sea Canal and improvements in German naval ports, should be completed before the German works are available for use by vessels of the most recent types now building. If there were unlimited funds available, the earliest possible completion of Rosyth would be desirable, no doubt, and every possible means should be taken to advance construction. In existing conditions, however, and in view of other demands on the national purse, it is wise to consider what is a reasonable and sufficient rate of construction consistently with the fulfilment of the fundamental condition that Great Britain's command of the sea is maintained.

In 1908–9, but late in the year, it is proposed to lay down another battleship of the St. Vincent class ; à fourth cruiser—which Lord Tweedmouth described as “another Invincible with improvements”; six cruisers-five of which are to be from 4000 to 5000 tons, having * 23 to 24 knots speed, and able to keep the sea for a considerable time. In addition there are to be laid down a number of destroyers and submarines. On these new vessels little progress will be made

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