Bradley A. (Bradley Allen) Fiske.

The Navy as a fighting machine online

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generalship without having executive power. It is
true that strategy occupies itself mainly with planning


— but so does a general; and it is also true that strat-
egy itself does not make the soldiers march, but neither
does a general; it is the colonels and captains and
corporals who make the soldiers march. The general
plans the campaign and arranges the marches, the
halts, the bivouacs, provisions, ammunition, etc.,
through his logistical officers, and they give the execu-
tive officers general instructions as to how to carry out
the general's plans.

Strategy without executive functions would be
like a mind that could think, but was imprisoned in a
body which was paralyzed.

Of course, strategy should have executive func-
tions for the purposes of strategy only; under the
guidance of policy and to execute policy's behests.
Policy is the employer, and strategy the employee.



THE nature of naval operations necessitates the
expenditure of fuel, ammunition, and supplies;
wear and tear of machinery; fatigue of personnel;
and a gradual fouling of the bottoms of the ships. In
case actual battles mark the operations, the expendi-
ture of stored-up energy of all kinds is very great in-
deed, and includes not only damage done to personnel
and material by the various agencies of destruction,
but actual loss of vessels.

To furnish the means of supplying and replenish-
ing the stored-up energy required for naval operations
is the office of naval bases.

A naval base capable of doing this for a large fleet
must be a very great establishment. In such a naval
base, one must be able to build, dock, and repair ves-
sels of all kinds, and the mechanisms needed in those
vessels; anchor a large fleet in safety behind adequate
mihtary and naval protection; supply enough fuel,
ammunition, and suppHes for aU purposes, and accom-
modate large reserves of material and personnel. In-
asmuch as a naval base is purely a means for expend-
ing energy for military purposes, and has no other

cause for its existence, it is clear that it cannot be self-



supporting. For this reason it is highly desirable that
a naval base shall be near a great city, especially if that
city be a large commercial and manufacturing centre.

It is true that many large naval bases, such as
Malta and Gibraltar are not near great cities; and it
is true that most large naval bases have no facilities
for building ships. But it is also true that few large
naval bases fulfil all the requirements of a perfect
naval base; in fact it is true that none do.

The most obvious requirement of a naval base is
a large sheet of sheltered water, in which colliers and
oil-carriers may lie and give coal and oil to lighting
craft, and in which those fighting craft may lie tran-
quilly at anchor, and carry on the simple and yet neces-
sary repairs and adjustments to machinery that every
cruising vessel needs at intervals. Without the abil-
ity to fuel and repair, no fleet could continue long at
work, any more than a man could do so, without food
and the repairs which nature carries on in sleep. The
coming of oil fuel and the consequent ease of fuelling,
the practicability even of fuelling in moderate weather
when actually at sea, subtract partially one of the rea-
sons for naval bases; but they leave the other reasons
still existent, especially the reasons connected with
machinery repairs. The principal repair, and the one
most difficult to furnish, is that given by docking in
suitable docks. The size and expense of docks capable
of carrying dreadnaughts and battle cruisers are so
great, and their vulnerability to fire from ships and


from aircraft is so extreme, that the matter of dry-
docks is perhaps the most troublesome single matter
connected with a naval base.

The necessity of anchorage areas for submarines
is a requirement of naval bases that has only recently
been felt; and the present war shows a still newer re-
quirement in suitable grounds for aircraft. The speed
of aircraft, however, is so great that little delay or
embarrassment would result if the camp for aircraft
were not at the base itself. Instead of the camp being
on Culebra, for instance, it might well be on Porto
Rico. The extreme delicacy of aircraft, however, and
the necessity for quick attention in case of injuries, es-
pecially injuries to the engine, demand a suitable base
even more imperiously than do ships and other rugged

That the vessels anchored in the base should be
protected from the fire of ships at sea and from gims
on neighboring shores is clear. Therefore, even if a
base be hidden from the sea and far from it as is the
harbor of Santiago, it must be protected by guns, or
mines, or both; the guns being nearer to the enemy
than are the ships in the waters of the base. An island
having high bluffs, where large guns can be installed,
and approached by gradually shoaling waters in which
mines can be anchored, with deeper water outside in
which submarines can operate, is desirable from this
point of view.

Ability to store and protect large quantities of


provisions is essential, and especially in the case of
ammunition and high explosives. For storing the lat-
ter, a hilly terrain has advantages, since tunnels can
be run horizontally into hills, where explosives can lie
safe from attack, even attack from aircraft dropping
bombs above them.

Naturally, the country that has led the world in
the matter of naval bases is Great Britain; and the
world at large has hardly yet risen to a realization of
the enduring work that she has been quietly doing for
two hundred years, in establishing and fortifying com-
modious resting-places for her war-ships and merchant
ships in all the seas. While other nations have been
devoting themselves to arranging and developing the
interiors of their countries, Great Britain has searched
all the oceans, has explored all the coasts, has estab-
lished colonies and trading stations everywhere, and
formed a network of intimate commercial relations
which covers the world and radiates from London. To
protect her conmiercial stations and her merchant ships
from unfair dealings in time of peace, and from cap-
ture in time of war, and to threaten all rivals with de-
feat should they resort to war. Great Britain has built
up the greatest navy in the world. And as this navy
pervades the world, and as her merchant ships dot
every sea and display Great Britain's ensign in every
port, Great Britain has not failed to provide for their
safety and support a series of naval stations that belt
the globe.


Bases are of many kinds, and may be divided into
many classes. An evident ground for division is that
of locality in relation to the home comitry. Looked
at from this point of view, we may divide naval bases
into two classes, home bases and distant bases.

Home Bases. — A home base is, as its name implies,
a base situated in the home country. The most usual
type of the home naval base is the navy-yard, though
few navy-yards can meet all the requirements of a
naval base. The New York navy-yard, for instance,
which is our most important yard, lacks three of the
most vital attributes of a naval base, in that it has no
means for receiving and protecting a large fleet, it can-
not be approached by large ships except at high tide,
and it could not receive a seriously injured battleship
at any time, because the channel leading to it is too

Home bases that approach perfection were evi-
denced after the battle ofif the Skagerak; for the
wounded ships of both sides took refuge after the bat-
tle in protected bases, where they were repaired and
refitted, and resupplied with fighting men and fuel.
These bases seem to have been so located, so pro-
tected, and so equipped, as to do exactly what bases
are desired to do; they were "bases of operations" in
the best sense. The fleets of the opposing sides started
from those bases as nearly ready as human means and
foresight could devise, returned to them for refresh-
ment after the operations had been concluded, and,


during the operations, were based upon those bases.
If the bases of either fleet had been improperly located,
or inadequately protected or equipped, that fleet would
not have been so completely ready for battle as, in
fact, it was; and it could not have gone to its base for
shelter and repairs so quickly and so surely as, in fact,
it did. Many illustrations can be found in history of
the necessity for naval bases; but the illustration given
by this battle of May 31 is of itself so perfect and con-
vincing, that it seems hardly necessary or even desir-
able to bring forward any others.

The fact of the nearness to each other of the bases
of the two contending fleets — the nearness of Germany
and Great Britain in other words — coupled with the
nearness of the battle itself to the bases, and the fact
that both fleets retired shortly afterward to the bases,
bring out in clear relief the efficacy of bases; but never-
theless their efficacy would have been even more
strongly shown if the battle had been near to the
bases of the more powerful fleet, but far from the
bases of the other fleet — as was the case at the battle,
near Tsushima, in the Japan Sea.

Of course the weaker fleet in the North Sea bat-
tle would not have been drawn into battle under such
conditions, because it would not have had a safe refuge
to retreat to. It was the proximity of an adequate
naval base, that could be approached through protected
waters only, which justified the weaker fleet in dashing
out and taking advantage of what seemed to be an


opportunity. Similarly, if the Russian fleet in the
Japan Sea had had a base near by, from which it had
issued ready in all ways, and to which it could have
retired as soon as the battle began to go against it, the
Russian disaster might not have occurred, and full com-
mand of the sea by the Japanese might have been pre-
vented. But there being no base or harbor of refuge,
disaster succeeded disaster in a cumulative fashion, and
the Russian fleet was annihilated in deep water.

If a naval base were lacking to the more powerful
fleet, as was the case in the battle of Manila, the effect
would in many cases be but slight — as at Manila. If,
however, the more powerful fleet were badly injured,
the absence of a base would be keenly felt and might
entail disaster in the future, even though the more
powerful fleet were actuaUy victorious. The Japanese
fleet was practicaUy victorious at the battle of Au-
gust lo, near Port Arthur; but if it had not been able
to refit and repair at a naval base, it would have met
the Russian fleet later with much less probabflity of

Mahan states that the three main requirements
in a naval base are position, resources, and strength;
and of these he considers that position is the most
important; largely because resources and strength can
be artificiaUy suppUed, while position is the gift of
nature, and cannot be moved or changed.

Mahan's arguments seem to suggest that the bases
he had in mind were bases distant from home, not


home bases; since reference is continually made by
him to the distance and direction of bases from im-
portant strategic points of actual or possible enemies.

His arguments do not seem to apply with equal
force to home bases, for the reason that home bases are
intended primarily as bases from which operations
are to start; secondarily as bases to which fleets may
return, and only remotely as bases during operations;
whereas, distant bases are intended as points from
which operations may continually be carried on, dur-
ing the actual prosecution of a war. The position of
a home base, for instance, as referred to any enemy's
coasts or bases, is relatively unimportant, compared
with its abihty to fit out a fleet; while, on the other
hand, the position of distant bases, such as Hong-
Kong, Malta, or Gibraltar, relatively to the coasts of
an enemy, is vital in the extreme. It is the positions
of these three bases that make them so valuable to
their holders; placed at points of less strategic value,
the importance of those bases would be strategically

Home bases are valuable mainly by reason of
their resources. This does not mean that position is
an unimportant factor; it does not mean, for instance,
that a naval base would be valuable if situated in the
Adirondack Mountains, no matter how great resources
it might have. It does mean, however, that the "posi-
tion" that is important for a home base is the position
that the base holds relatively to large home commer-


cial centres and to the open sea. New York, for in-
stance, could be made an excellent naval base, mainly
because of the enormous resources that it has and its
nearness to the ocean. Philadelphia, likewise, could
be made valuable, though Philadelphia's position rela-
tively to deep water is far from good. "Position," as
used in this sense, is different from the "position"
meant by Mahan, who used the word in its strategic
sense. The position of Philadelphia relatively to deep
water could be changed by simply deepening the chan-
nel of the Delaware; but no human power could
change the strategic position of Malta or Gibraltar.

Yet for even home bases, position, resources, and
strength must be combined to get a satisfactory re-
sult; the "position" not being related to foreign naval
bases, however, but to large industrial establishments,
mainly in order that working men of various classes
may be secured when needed. The requirements of
work on naval craft are so discontinuous that steady
employment can be provided for comparatively few
men only; so that a sort of reservoir is needed, close
at hand, which can be drawn up when men are needed,
and into which men can be put back, whenever the
need for them has ceased. And the same commercial
and industrial conditions that assure a supply of skilled
workers, assure a supply of provisions and all kinds of
material as well.

Distant Bases. — ^Distant bases have two fields of
usefulness which are distinct, though one implies the


other; one field being merely that of supplying a fleet
and offering a refuge in distress, and the other field
being that of contributing thereby to offensive and de-
fensive operations. No matter in which light we re-
gard a distant naval base, it is clear that position, re-
sources, and strength must be the principal factors;
but as soon as we concentrate our attention on the
operations that may be based upon it, we come to real-
ize how strong a factor position, that is strategic posi-
tion, is. The base itself is an inert collection of inert
materials; these materials can be useful to the opera-
tions of a fleet that bases on it; but if the fleet is oper-
ating in the Pacific, a base in the Atlantic is not imme-
diately valuable to it, no matter what strength and
resources the base may have.

The functions of a home base are therefore those
that the name "home" implies; to start the fleet out
on its mission, to receive it on its return, and to offer
rest, refuge, and succor in times of accident and distress.

The functions of a distant base concern more
nearly the operations of a prolonged campaign. A dis-
tant base is more difficult to construct as a rule; largely
because the fact of its distance renders engineering
operations difficult and because the very exceUence
of its position as an outpost makes it vulnerable to di-
rect attack and often to a concentration of attacks
coming from different directions.

If naval operations are to be conducted at consid-
erable distances from home, say in the Caribbean Sea,


distant bases are necessary, since without them, the
fleet will operate under a serious handicap. Under
some conditions, a fleet operating in the Caribbean
without a base there, against an enemy that had estab-
lished a satisfactory base, might have its normal fight-
ing efficiency reduced 50 per cent, or even more. A
fleet is not a motionless fort, whose strength lies only
in its ability to fire guns and withstand punishment;
a fleet is a very live personality, whose ability to fight
weU — like a pugilist's — depends largely on its abihty
to move quickly and accurately, and to think quickly
and accurately. The best pugilists are not usually the
strongest men, though physical strength is an impor-
tant factor; the best pugiHsts are men who are quick
as well as strong, who see an advantage or a danger
quickly, and whose eyes, nerves, and muscles act to-
gether swiftly and harmoniously. A modem fleet,
filled with high-grade machinery of all kinds, manned
by highly trained men to operate it, and commanded
by officers fit to be intrusted with such responsibilities,
is a highly developed and sensitive organism — and, like
all highly developed and sensitive organisms, exists in
a state of what may be called "imstable equihbrium."
As pointed out in previous pages, the high skiU needed
to perform well any very difficult task can be gained
only by great practice in overcoming difficulties and
ehminating errors of many kinds; and when the diffi-
culties are manifold and great, a comparatively small
increase or decrease in the overcoming of them makes


a great difference in the results attained. An in-
teresting though possibly not very correct analogy is to
be seen in the case of a poHshed surface; for we readily
note that the more highly polished the surface is, the
more easily it is sulUed. Another analogy may be
found in the performance of a great pianist or violinist;
for a very small failure in his skill for even an instant
will produce a painful feeUng that could not be pro-
duced by a much greater failure in an ordinary per-
former. Another analogy is to be foimd in the case of
a ship that is going at the upper limit of her speed; for
a very minor failure of any part of her machinery will
produce a much greater slowing than it would if her
speed were slower.

Perhaps apologies are in order for dwelling so long
on what may seem to some an academic question, but
it does not seem to the writer to be academic at all.
Certainly, the "condition" of a pugilist, or a fleet,
about to fight, is not an academic consideration; and
if it is not, no matter which affects this condition can
rightfully be considered academic. The whole useful-
ness of bases is due to their abihty to put fleets into
good fighting condition and to maintain them in it;
and it seems a very proper and useful thing to note
that the more highly trained a fleet is, and the more
highly organized the various appUances the fleet con-
tains, the more difference results from a falling off in
the condition of its personnel and material.

This shows the advantage of having a base as close


to the place where a fight is going to happen as may be
possible. This does not mean, of course, that a fleet,
should remain for long periods within its base; because
a fleet, like any other practiser of any art, needs con-
stant practice. It merely means that the closer the
base is to the scene of the operations or the actual bat-
tle, the better "tuned up" the personnel and material
will be. It also means that this consideration is of the
highest practical importance.

Advanced Bases. — The extreme desirability of hav-
ing a base near the scene of operations, even if the base
be only temporarily held, has led to the use of what
are called "advanced bases." An excellent and mod-
ern illustration of an advanced base is the base which
the Japanese established at the Elliot Islands about
sixty miles from Port Arthur, which the Japanese were
besieging. The Russian fleet could issue from their
base at Port Arthur whenever the Russians wished,
and return to it at wiU. While inside, until the Japa-
nese had landed and attacked them from the land side,
the Russians could make their preparations in secu-
rity and leisure, and then go out. The Japanese fleet,
on the other hand, until they had estabhshed their
base, were forced to remain under way at sea, and to
accept action at the wiU of the Russians; so that,
although Port Arthur was besieged, the advantages of
the offensive, to some extent, resided with the Rus-
sians. The establishment of the base did not, of course,
change the situation wholly; but it permitted a very


considerable relaxation of vigilance and mental strain
on the part of the Japanese, and a considerable ease-
ment of the motive power of their ships. Naturally,
the Japanese made arrangements whereby their heavy
ships could remain in comparative tranquillity near
the base, while destroyers and scouts of various kinds
kept touch with Port Arthur, and notified the base by
wireless of any probable sortie by the Russian fleet.

The temporary advanced base at the Elliot Is-
lands was, as temporary advanced bases always must
be, quite incomplete in every way as compared with
the permanent bases at home. It fulfilled its mission,
however, and was in fact as good a base as really was
required. The strategic ability of the Japanese was
indicated quite early in the war by the promptness
and skill with which they estabhshed this base.

Of course, all advanced bases are distant bases,
but the words usually imply temporariness, as does in
fact the word "advance." An instance of an advanced
base that has been far from temporary is the island of
Jamaica, and another is the island of Bermuda; an-
other is Malta, and still another is Gibraltar. These
bases form stepping-stones, by which Great Britain's
navy may go by easy stages from one position to an-
other, stopping at a base when desired, or going be-
yond it without stopping, secure in the knowledge that
the base is "under her lee" in case of accident or dis-

Viewed from the standpoint of operations in an


actual war, the strategic value of a certain position for
a base is important, no matter whether the operations
are offensive or defensive; and the same factors that
make a position good for defensive operations make it
good for offensive operations also. For instance, if we
wish to send a fleet on a hostile expedition to a distant
point, it is well to have a base on a salient as far out as
practicable from the coast, in order that the fleet may
be able to start, full of fuel and supplies, from a place
near the distant point; and equally, if we are to re-
ceive an attack upon the coast, it is well to have a base
far out, in order to embarrass the transit of the enemy
toward our coast, by the threat — first against his flank,
and later against his rear and his communications.
Naval bases looked at from this point of view resem-
ble those forts that European nations place along their

It is true that any base placed at a salient has the
weakness of all sahents, in that fire can be concentrated
on it from several directions; and a naval base has the
added disadvantage of a more difficult withdrawal, if
attacked by an overwhelming force, and a longer
line of communications that has to be protected. But
this weakness all distant bases have, from the fact
that they are distant; and, naturally, the more distant
they are, the more difficult it is to support them, be-
cause the longer are their lines of communications.

Distant naval bases, therefore, are vulnerable in
a high degree; they are \nilnerable both to direct at-


tack and to an attack on their lines of communica-
tions; and the factors that help a base in one way in-
jure it in another. If a naval base is placed on a rock,
or a rugged little island that holds nothing else, and
on which a hostile army could not land, it is very safe
from land attack; whereas, if it is placed on a large
and fertile island, on which an invading army could
easily land, it is extremely vulnerable to land attack.
But, on the other hand, the naval base on the inacces-
sible island could be starved out by simply breaking
its lines of communications, while the naval base on
the large and fertile island might be able to survive
indefinitely, even though the communications were
wholly ruptured.

The establishment of any permanent distant

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