Percy Scott.

The future of navies. Great ships or -----? Leading articles reprinted from the Times, with letters from Admiral Sir Percy Scott and others online

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Leading Articles reprinted from

with Letters from
and others.






Leading Articles reprinted from

with Letters from

and others.


The Navj-: A Qi....— ...-.

Our Future Naval Policy 6

Naval Construction Policy ... ... ... 13

The Navy: an Ill-conducted Inquiry 19

The Imperial Defence Sub-Committee ... 41

Great Ships or ? 65


Admiralty Point of View

A Heretic on tlie Navy

Air Power

Aircraft and Torpedoes

A Last Word

Anti-Submarine Defence •...

A Reminder

A Reply: the House that Jack Built ...

Backbone of the Fleet, The

Balance of the Fighting Fleet

Battleships for Sale

Battleships, Impotent ...

Battlesliips, Use of

Battleships, Uses of

Battleships v. Aeroplanes

Bi^' Ships not Obsolete ...

Blunder That Won the War

Cajjital Ships

Capital Ships and Policy

Capital Ships, Reconstruction of

Capital Ships and Submarines ...

Commerce, Protection of

Committee, An Inadequate

Danger in the Air, The ...

Defence, The Economics of ...

Empire Problem, The Greatest

Festina Lente

Fighting-Mass, The

Fleet as an Organism, The

Fleet "in Being," A

•^ Great Ship, The Cult of the

Guns and Torpedoes

Guns V. Torpedoes

Imperial Defence Sub-Committee, The

" Insane" Naval Competition

In Serious Vein

.Jutland and After

Material v. Strateg:ic Schools

Moral of the Discussion

Naval Construction Policy

Navy to Keep the Seas, A . . .

Our Obsolescent Navy ...

Overseas Standpoint, The

Relative Fighting Values

Reply to "Flag Officer"

Reply to Lord Sydenham

Reply to Sir Percy Scott

Reply to Admiral Waymouth

Reply to Admiral Hall

Reply to Admiral Henderson

Replies to Critics

Sir Percy Scott's Flippancy ...

Sir Percy Scott and the Sub-Committee

Staff, A "High-Browed"

Stalemate at Sea

Steam and Submarines

Submarine after .Jutland, The ...

Submarine, New Possibilities of the . . .

Submarine, The Elusive

Submarines, Antidote for



11, 13, 16, 17

... 34





... 21




... 27

30, 44


.. 60

35, 36

.. 24


.. 15

.. 25


.. 58

.. -54

.. 48

.. 59

.. 36

... 30

,.. 52

.. 51

.. 56

.. 51

... 39

... 39

.. 41

... 50

.. 44

... 55

.. 28

61, 63


.. 39


.. 29

.. 54



... 12

... 20

21, 61


.. 32

.. 28

.. 38

.. 42

.. 46



.. 58

.. 27

.. 23


S ("ontinued) : —

Submarines and Air'raft

Submarines: A Repiy ...

Submarines and Stai'vation

Submarines, Disabilities of

Submarines, Limitations of

Submarines, Questions about ...

Surface Ships, Cavalry and ...

Surface Ships, Convoys and ...

Surface Ships and Others

Surface Ships Essential...

Surface Ships, Submarines, and Aircraft

Torpedo, The Inefficient

Torpedoes from the Air...

Unserviceable Big Ships

War Analogies

What is a Capital Ship ?

What is the Use of Battleships

Why build Battleships ?


Professor T. B. AbeU

Admiral R. H. Anstruther
Mr. R. Appleyard ...

"Another Flag Officer"
"An Officer"

"An Old Soldier"

Admiral Sir R. H. Bacon ... 21,30,
Commander F. Boothby
General Sir W. Brancker
Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge ...

" Captain, R.N."

Lieut. A. Coleman
Admiral Sir Reginald Custance
Captain A. C. Dewar ...
Admiral Sir S. Eardley-Wilmot
" Escort "

Flag Officer

Admiral Sir E. R. Fremantle

Sir George Gibb ...
Admiral Sir Lowther Grant ...
Admiral Sir Herbert King Hall
Admiral S. S. HaU 5, II, 13, 16, 17.


. 60
. 37
. 30
. 34
. 43
. 46
,. 47
. 47
. 22
. 21
. 31
.. 57
. 21
.. 57
.. 40
.. 22

Admiral W. H. Henderson ... 15,20,

Commander J. Honner ...

Captain B. L. Hughes ...

Sir W. Joynson-Hicks ... ...

/Admiral Mark Kerr

Mr. S. L. G. Knox

Commander W. P. Koe
Mr. John Leyland
Mr. H. Murray ...

"Naval Staff Officer"

" Onlooker "

Commander F. G. S. Peile



Captain W. H. Sayers ...

Admiral Sir Percy Scott 8,15,21,24,

Flight-Commander Struthers ...
Lord Sydenham ...
"Sea Service" ...


Mr. G. Holt Thomas

Sir James Thursfield

Admiral A. W. Waymouth ... 5,14

Lieut. H. Grenvillo Wells

Lieut.-Col. W. S. Whetherly

29, 36
... 29

54, 61
... 22
... 42
... 52

37, 43, 60
... 23
... 34

9, 50

... 50

... 58

... 31

... 26

... 35

... 52


... 39

... 44

... 34

9, 43

36, 46, 59

39,51, 58

25, 41

... 44


... 66

... 26

20, 28, 42


... 21

4, 21

... 47

... 57

... 30


... 21

27, 30. 32,

38, 44, 64
... 37

8, 12

56, 60

... 40

... 48


22, 28, 49

... 55

... 46








Great Ships or ?

At the beginning of December, 1920, a correspondence was opened in tlie columns
of " The Tim^s " on the subject of capital ships and the extent of their usefulness in modern
naval warfare. The discussion, which qiiicUy ripened into a controversy between those
who believe in big ships and guns, on the one side, or in submarines, aircraft, and torpedoes,
on the other, arose out of a leading article published on November 29, under the tiUe of " The
Navy : A Question for the Nation:' In this it was pointed out that, in consequence of
the building programmes announced by the United States and Japan, the British Fleet
in a very few years would be relegated from the first to the third place, reckoned by capital
ships, among the fleets of the world. Capital ships, it was recognized, may no longer be the
measure of naval power, but the country had no means of judging whetlier this was or was
not the view held by the Admiralty. All that it knew for certain was tliat it costs about
£9,000,000 and takes about three years to build a capital ship, and that since the Armistice
none had been laid down.

In view of the interest excited by the discussion, it has been decided to republish the
correspondence and articles in connected form, togetlier with brief notes on the various steps
taken by the Government in dealing v^ith this great and difficult problem, on the proper
solution of which, more, perhaps, than any other decision which they are called upon to
make, depends the whole future security of the Nation and the Empire.


Leading Article, " The Times "
(November 29, 1920).

Since the Armistice, Navy policy has been in
abeyance. The minor economies for which the
First Lord, Mr. Walter Long, from time to
time ingenuously takes credit to himself and to
the Board of Admiralty, have engrossed atten-
tion, and the construction of new capital ships
has been wholly suspended. We are not in-
different to the economies that the Admiralty
have effected. It is something in these days that
one of the great spending Departments should
have been able to reduce its personnel to con-
siderably less than before the war; and if the
Vote for that reduced personnel is still nearly
twenty millions above the total of 1914-1915,




there are evident reasons for the excess, at which
none will cavil, in increased pay and allow-
ances. But complacency at the Board of
Admiralty is apt to be an ominous thing ; and
self-praise by the First Lord on its behalf in-
spires uneasiness. Last week, Sir Percy Scctt
put into words one of the reasons for this un-
easiness. What is to be the construction policy
of the Board ? The United States and Japan
are carrying out far-reaching programmes of
capital ship construction. If the British
Admiralty hold to their present policy of in-
action in construction, Great Britain will, in
some three years' time, be the third naval Power
in tonnage of capital ships. This country has
no battleship which wholly embodies the lessons
of the Jutland battle, though modifications in
the design of the ' Hood were made after the
battle. The Fleet is a pre-Jutland Fleet ;



whereas both in the United States and Japan
there are building capital ships as superior to
the pre-Jutland ships of the British Navy as
the Dreadnought was superior to any warship
afloat in her day.

These facts reduce to their true proportions
the recent utterances of the spokesmen of the
Board of Admiralty upon economies. They are
insignificant to the point of pettiness unless the
Admiralty have a definite policy as regards con-
struction. In the arcana of the Admiralty,
plans may alreadj' exist for another revolution
in naval shipbuilding as important as that
effected by the production of the first Dread-
nought. But we doubt it ; and even if it were
true, we should still regard it as a matter requir-
ing the gravest consideration. This country will
not lightly return to that stealthy rivalry in
naval armaments which it supported with diffi-
culty before the war. Rivalry in actual building
there may still have to be, and a measure of
secrecy about plans and designs is a dictate of
commonsense. But rivalry in the pre-war sense
of hostile intention masked by every device of
political protestation and espionage — for this
there should be no place as between ttie United
States, Great Britain, and Japan. Before
the war the fleet of the United States
was never reckoned by the British Ad-
miralty as among the possibly hostile naval
elements upon which the two- Power standard
was based. The common achievements of the
two fleets during the war — of which Admiral
Sims has just reminded both countries in his
book — have certainly not weakened this tradi-
tion. So with Japan. She has long been our
Ally; her great ships swept the oceans in close
cooperation with ours throughout the war ; she
shares the national pride of our island people in
a great and formidable fleet. Yet we have to
realize that, as matters now stand, events will
relegate the British Fleet, in a very few years, to
the third place, reckoned by capital ships,
among the fleets of the world. Nothing, in a
matter of this kind, can be more mischievous
than over-reticence.

Defence by sea is still the very condi-
tion of the existence of the British Empire ;
and the debt of the world to the pacific
influence of the British Navy is wholly
beyond calculation. Whether the continuance of
these two great functions of the British Navy —
the indispensable function of defence and the
iiicidental, but indisputably valuable, function
of policing the seas — can still be ensured

without the retention of the old primacy in
capital ships cannot yet be determined. But
the moment is at hand when it will have to be
determined, for it is certain that the peoples of
the whole Empire will sanction no Navy policy
that should jeopardize their absolute security by
sea. If security still depends upon a sufficiency
of capital ships, then the peoples of the Empire
Mall provide them, as their forefathers did, at
whatever financial sacrifice. The duty of
primary decision lies upon the Admiralty ; and
it must be quick decision, for the Empire Peace
Cabinet, when it meets in June, will expect to
have adequate plans for Empire security by sea
ready to its hand. Capital ships, too, cannot be
built ii- a day, and if the British Navy is still
to compete in their construction with other
Powers, there is little time to lose. The cost in
that event will be such as none can contemplate
without reluctance, though determination will
not waver before the cost if its necessity should
be clear. Capital ships, however, may no longer
be the decisive measure of naval power. If the
views which Sir Percy Scott expounded once
again last week are correct, they are not. To
draw from the inaction of the Admiralty in con-
struction since the Armistice the conclusion that
they share those views would be hazardous. But
what is the policy of the Admiralty ? They
should declare it at once, and with frankness
about the principles upon which it is basea.
Bold candour now is indispensable if the British
peoples are to judge aright as to Navy policy ;
and the ultimate duty of judgment lies with
them. In its international effects, too, candour
by the British Admiralty at this juncture can-
not fail to be of lasting service to the tranquillity
of the world.

From " Flag Officer " (December 1).

Sir, — The naval officers who have written on
the subject of the Battle of Jutland have put the
personal aspect of the controversy with great
force and lucidity. But it may be doubted
whether this is a matter of any great interest
to the general public. What the public desire
to know is whether any lesson can be learnt
from the experience gained in the late war which
will prove a guide to those who are responsible
for framing the naval policy of the future, espe-
cially in view of the financial position of this

In any consideration of those occasions when
capital ships were engaged, the following points
stand out. On all these occasions the British


admirals went to sea with one idea only in their
minds — viz., " to come up with the enemy
wherever he could be found " and to destroy
him. Taking the actions in chronological order,
what do we find ?

In January, 1915, the British battle cruiser
force was in pursuit of an enemy battle cruiser
force ; every yard by which they could decrease
the distance between the enemy and themselves
was of vital importance, but they were forced
by submarine menace to turn away, and so lose
any real chance of accomplishing the destruction
of the enemy. The British admiral had to be
content with one ship — the Blucher. The tor-
pedo menace had foiled the attack of the capital

In Cradock's action off Coronel of Novem-
ber 15, as also in Sturdee's brilliant victory
a month later, no torpedo craft were present, and
gun action at long range was not interfered with
by torpedo menace from either side.

At Jutland, the Commander-in-Chief, Grand
Fleet, with considerable superiority in strength
and tactical position, was forced to turn
away by threat of attack by torpedo, and so lost
touch with his enemy, which he did not after-
wards regain. Thus for the second time attack
by the capital ships by the superior force was
foiled by torpedo attack by the weaker force ;
one British battleship was hit with torpedo on
this occasion.

Again, on August 19, 1916, Commander-in-
Chief, Grand Fleet, with superior forces, was for
the second time in contact with the enemy, and
made the well-remembered signal, " I expect to
be in action in a few moments, and have every
■confidence as to the result." Immediately after-
wards he was attacked by torpedo ; two light
cruisers were sunk ; no battleships came into
action, and within half an hour of the signal
being made the Battle Fleet was steering for its

On each of these three occasions the torpedo
proved a sure parry for the gun attack of the
capital ship. The tactics employed by the
British admirals on each occasion received the
written approval of the Board of Admiralty, and
must be assumed to be correct. The facts are
incontrovertible, and the lesson to be learnt
appears to be that the present type of capital
ship is useless in the presence of hostile torpedo
craft. This conclusion is of urgent and imme-
diate importance, for two reasons.

There are now in commission some 20 of these
useless vessels. Sir Percy Scott puts the
annual cost of the upkeep of each at £120,000 ;
he has probably under-estimated it. There are
six of them in the Mediterranean. What are
these ships for ? What useful purpose do they
serve ? Who would they fight if they could, and
who could they fight if they would ? There are
also 12 capital ships in full commission in home
waters, about which the same question may be

Secondly, there are not wanting signs that we

may shortly see a Press campaign to support a
policy of further battleship construction. The
public should beware lest they are stampeded on
this question. The designs of all fighting ships
must be fundamentally reconsidered in the light
of war experience, and not one shilling of public
money should be voted until the obsolete battle-
ships now in commission are withdrawn.

Yours truly,


From " R.N.*' (December 3).

Sir, — The question of the battleship is one
which calls, as you very truly observe, for close
scrutiny and inquiry, not hasty action : but
it is not to be solved by reasoning of the kind
put forward by " Flag Officer."

" Flag Officer " states what he claims to be
" incontrovertible facts." But the accuracy of
his statements is open to question ; and even
if what he avers to be facts should prove to
be so, it is most decidedly doubtful whether
they embrace a wide enough range to permit
us to draw the sweeping conclusion that battle-
ships are " useless." It is impossible to decide
upon a question of this nature from three
tactical examples.

I should like your permission to examine
" Flag Officer's " examples and reasoning.
He tells us that at the Dogger Bank the sub-
marine menace foiled the attack of the battle
cruisers by forcing them to turn away. Sir
David Beatty's dispatch reads that a turn to
port was made in consequence of submarines
being reported, and a periscope seen, on the
starboard bow. But this was not the reason
for breaking off chase, for the chase continued ;
the attack was not foiled by this menace.
What the reasons were for abandoning chase,
after the Lion was disabled, have not been given,
but until we know whether it was due to the
falling astern of two of the other battle cruisers,
to the neighbourhood of minefields, to destroyers
or submarines, no one is entitled to assume that
the torpedo proved a " sure parry " for the gun.

" Flag Officer " says that the tactics on this
and on the other occasions to which he refer.s
received the written approval of the Board of
Admiralty and must be assumed to be correct.
I presume he speaks with certain knowledge as
to the approval. The outer signs, however,
would lead me to draw a different conclusion,
unless it was a pure matter of coincidence that
the flag officer who took charge after the Lion's
disablement was transferred to another com-
mand, remote from the main theatre of

Even, however, if the Admiralty did approve
the tactics, this does not furnish ground for the
assumption that they were correct, unless we
should make the further assumption that the




Admiralty was infallible. But this we know
it was not. The Admiralty approved the
dispositions that led to the loss of the Cressy ;
It approved the Dardanelles. It approved the
doctrine that destroyers with a fleet had the
primary function of defending the fleet, and
it approved the exact contrary — that their
function was oSensive. It approved with-
drawing tactics, but it also approved the
tactics of turning towards the enemy. How
then is it possible to assume, when such errors
were made, and such contrary doctrines
approved, that their judgments can always
be accepted as correct ?

" Flag Officer " next uses Jutland to prove
the superiority of the torpedo. He says the
British Fleet was forced to turn away. That
it did turn away we are aware : but it has yet
to be proved that it was necessary for it to do
so. On this matter judgment is suspended until
we know more of the action. But we do know
that at a later date turning away was not con-
sidered necessary and that it was laid do%^Ti that
a torpedo attack would be met, if necessary,
by turning towards the enemy. In the light
of this later decision it is impossible to say that
" Flag Officer's " contention can be upheld.

The third example given is that of August 19,
1916. We are told that the Fleet was attacked
with torpedoes just as the Commander-in-Chief
was expecting to come into action ; and we
are left to infer, not only that the fleets were in
contact, but that this torpedo attack was the
cause of the Fleet returning to its base. This
is grossly misleading. The fleets were not in
contact ; and although a temporary turn was
made, the reason was not to withdraw from a
submarine attack, but to avoid mines. Lord
Jellicoe is perfectly clear on this point : —

The first report indicated that she [tlie Notting-
ham, some 30 miles ahead of the Battle Fleet] had
been hit by mines or torpedoes, and until it was
clear that a minefield did not exist it was prudeiit
for the Fleet to avoid this locality, and course was
accordingly reversed until it was ascertained that
the damage was due to torpedoes ; when this
became clear the southern course of tlie Fleet was
shaped to pass to the eastward of the submarine.

The Fleet continued on a southerly course
to a position at which it was hoped the High Sea
Fleet would be met. It returned to its harbour
when it became evident that the High Sea Fleet
had turned back. It was not the submarines
that turned the Grand Fleet back, though they
deflected it from its course. The Fleet turned
for home when it had no prpspects of inter-
cepting or overhauling the enemy fleet.

" Flag Officer " expresses the laudable desire
that the public shall not be stampeded into a
policy from which he differs ; and he attempts
to stampede it in another direction on such
flimsy evidence as this. To prove his ideas
correct he selects three incidents, and these he
misrepresents. Even if his representation and
his deductions were correct, this would furnish
but a small part of the lessons of a particular

theatre in a particular war. It is not upon such
a limited view that large questions of policy
can be decided.

"Flag Officer" derides the Battle Fleet.
He ignores its influence. Let me suggest
that if the enemy had possessed battleships
and we had had none of these " useless " vessels,
the East Coast and Scandinavian trades must
have ceased, the flotilla on the Belgian coast,
which was instrumental in checking the ad-
vance of the German Army and hampering
the submarine war, would have been de-
stroyed ; that there would have been nothing
to prevent battleships and battle-cruisers
from proceeding into the Atlantic (for their
coal supply would have been enough if they
were not threatened by the danger of superior
force) and there stopping two operations of
vital importance — the supply of food and
other necessaries to this country, and the
transport of troops in the Atlantic. Sub-
marines in open waters would no more have
been able to prevent this than they were able
to prevent the Tenth Cruiser Squadron from
remaining continuously at sea in a belt nearer
the German ports than the Atlantic lines of

" Flag Officer " asks what use the Mediter-
ranean Squadron serves. Such a question is
natural from an officer who imagines that he can
measure the importance of the battleship by
some unverified references to three tactical

I would suggest that if he is confident in his
opinions he would serve the State better by
setting out his views in a reasoned manner, and
communicating them to the Admiralty, who, I
make no doubt, would be only too glad to hear
reasoning on all sides in this supremely im-
portant matter. Nothing, we may be sure,
would please them more than to be convinced
that other nations are M^asting their money and
that it is possible for us to maintain our mari-
time superiority at a comparitively small cost.
But he will not achieve his end by shrill cries to
the public not to vote money until his own views
are accepted.

I am, Sir, vours. &c.,


From " Naval Staff Officer "
(December 3).

Sir, — The arguments put forward by your
correspondent " Flag Officer " in your issue of
December 1 are so fallacious that they should
not be permitted to pass without refutation. He
based his contentions that the torpedo and sub-
marines have killed the capital ship on three
main occurrences : —

1. The Dogger Bank action in January, 1915 ; in
which ho states that our battle cruisers were forced
to give up the pursuit of Hipper's squadron owing
to the menace of submarines.

a- Jutland.


3. The incident of August 19, 1916, in which he

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Online LibraryPercy ScottThe future of navies. Great ships or -----? Leading articles reprinted from the Times, with letters from Admiral Sir Percy Scott and others → online text (page 1 of 15)