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Thread: British Naval tactics at the time of Trafalgar.

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    Naval Strategy and Tactics
    at the time of Trafalgar.
    Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge G.C.B.

    Read to the Institution of Naval Architects, July 19th 1905
    The subject on which I have been invited to read a paper and which is taken as the title of the latter would require for anything like full discussion a much longer time than you can be expected to allot to it. To discuss it adequately, a volume of no diminutive size would be necessary. It may, however, be possible to indicate with the brevity appropriate to the occasion the main outlines of the subject and to suggest for your consideration certain points which, over and above their historical interest, may furnish us with valuable guidance at the present day. In taking account of the conditions of the Trafalgar epoch we have to note two distinct but, of course, closely related matters. These are the strategic plan of the enemy and the strategic plan adopted to meet it by the British. The former of these was described in the House of Commons by William Pitt at the beginning of the war in words which may be used without change at the present time. On May 16, 1803, the war, which had been interrupted by the unstable Peace of Amiens, was definitely resumed. The struggle was now to be a war, not so much between the United Kingdom and the French nation as between the United Kingdom and the great Napoleon wielding more than the resources of France alone. Speaking a week after the declaration of war, Pitt said that any expectation of success which the enemy might have must be based on the supposition that lie could break the spirit or weaken the determination of the country by harassing us with the perpetual apprehension of descents on our coasts; or else that our resources could be impaired and our credit undermined by the effects of an expensive and protracted war. More briefly stated, the hostile plan was to invade the United Kingdom, ruin our maritime trade, and expel us from our over-sea possessions, especially in the East, from which it was supposed our wealth was chiefly derived. The plan was comprehensive, but not easily concealed. What we had to do was to prevent the invasion of the United Kingdom and defend our trade and our outlying territories. As not one of the hostile objects could be attained except by making a maritime expedition of some kind, that is to say, by an expedition which had to cross restricted or extensive areas of water, it necessarily followed that our most effective method of defence was the keeping open of our sea communications. It became necessary for us to make such arrangements that the maritime paths by which a hostile expedition could approach our home-coasts, or hostile cruisers molest our sea-borne trade, or hostile squadrons move to the attack of our trans-marine dependencies - that all these paths should be so defended by our Navy that either the enemy would not venture to traverse them or, if he did, that he could be driven off. Short as it is, time at my disposal permits me to give a few details. It was fully recognised that defence of the United Kingdom against invasion could not be secured by naval means alone. As in the times of Queen Elizabeth, so in those of George III, no seaman of reputation contended that a sufficient land force could be dispensed with. Our ablest seamen always held that small hostile expeditions could be prepared in secret and might be able to slip through the most complete lines of defence that we could hope to maintain. It was not discovered or alleged till the twentieth century that the crew of a dinghy could not land in this country in the face of the Navy. Therefore an essential feature of our defensive strategy was the provision of land forces in such numbers that an invader would have no chance of succeeding except he came in strength so great that his preparations could not be concealed and his expedition could not cross the water unseen. As our Mercantile Marine was to be found in nearly every sea, though in greater accumulation in some areas than in others, its defence against the assaults of an enemy could only be ensured by the virtual ubiquity of our cruising force. This, of course, involved the necessity of employing a large number of cruisers, and of arranging the distribution of them in accordance with the relative amount and value of the traffic to be protected from molestation in different parts of the ocean. It may be mentioned here that the term cruiser," at the time with which we are dealing, was not limited to frigates and smaller classes of vessel. It included also ships of the line, it being the old belief of the British Navy, justified by the experience of the many campaigns and consecrated by the approval of our greatest admirals, that the value of a ship of war was directly proportionate to her capacity for cruising and keeping the sea. If the ocean paths used by our merchant ships - the trade routes or sea communications of the United Kingdom with friendly or neutral markets and areas of production could be kept open by our Navy, that is, made so secure that our trade could traverse them with so little risk of molestation that it could continue to be carried on, it resulted as a matter of course that no sustained attack could be made on our outlying territory. Where this was possible it was where we had failed to keep open the route or line of communications, in which case the particular trade following it was, at least temporarily, destroyed, and the territory to which the route led was either cut off or seized. Naturally, when this was perceived, efforts were made to re-open and keep open the endangered or interrupted communication line. Napoleon, notwithstanding his super-eminent genius, made some extraordinary mistakes about warfare on the sea. The explanation of this has been given by a highly distinguished French admiral. The Great Emperor, he says, was wanting in exact appreciation of the difficulties of naval operations. He never understood that the naval officer - alone of all men in the world - must be master of two distinct professions. The naval officer must be as completely a seaman as an officer in any mercantile marine; and, in addition to this, he must be as accomplished in the use of the material of war entrusted to his charge as the members of any armed force in the world. The Emperor's plan for the invasion of the United Kingdom was conceived on a grand scale. A great army, eventually 130,000 strong, was collected on the coast of North-Eastern France, with its headquarters at Boulogne. The numerical strength of this army is worth attention. By far the larger part of it was to have made the first descent on our territory; the remainder was to be a reserve to follow as quickly as possible. It has been doubted if Napoleon really meant to invade this country, the suggestion being that his collection of an army on the shores of the Straits of Dover and the English Channel was merely a "blind" to cover another intended movement. The overwhelming weight of authoritative opinion is in favour of the view that the project of invasion was real. It is highly significant that he considered so large a number of troops necessary. It could not have been governed by any estimate of the naval obstruction to be encountered during the sea passage of the expedition, but only by the amount of the land force likely to be met if the disembarkation on our shores could be effected. The numerical strength in troops which Napoleon thought necessary compelled him to make preparations on so great a scale that concealment became quite impossible. Consequently an important part of his plan was disclosed to us betimes, and the threatened locality indicated to us within comparatively narrow limits of precision. Notwithstanding his failure to appreciate all the difficulties of naval warfare, the Great Emperor had grasped one of its leading principles. Before the Peace of Amiens, indeed before his campaign in Egypt, and even his imposing triumphs in Italy, he had seen that the invasion of the United Kingdom was impracticable without first obtaining the command of the sea. His strategic plan, therefore, included arrangements to secure this. The details of the plan were changed from time to time as conditions altered; but the main object was adhered to until the final abandonment of the whole scheme under pressure of circumstances as embodied in Nelson and his victorious brothers-in-arms. The gunboats, transport boats, and other small craft, which to the number of many hundreds filled the ports of North-Eastern France and the Netherlands, were not the only naval components of the expedition. Fleets of line-of-battle ships were essential parts of it, and on their effective action the success of the scheme was largely made to depend. This feature remained unaltered in principle when, less than twelve months before Trafalgar, Spain took part in the war as Napoleon's ally, and brought him a great reinforcement of ships and important assistance in money. We should not fail to notice that, before he considered himself strong enough to undertake the invasion of the United Kingdom, Napoleon found it necessary to have at his disposal the resources of other countries besides France, notwithstanding that by herself France had a population more than 60 per cent. greater than that of England. By the alliance with Spain he had added largely to the resources on which he could draw. Moreover, his strategic position was geographically much improved. With the exception of that of Portugal, the coast of Western Continental Europe, from the Texel to Leghorn, and somewhat later to Taranto also, was united in hostility to us. This complicated the strategic problem which the British Navy had to solve, as it increased the number of points to be watched; and it facilitated the junction of Napoleon's Mediterranean naval forces with those assembled in his Atlantic ports by supplying him with allied ports of refuge and refit on Spanish territory; such as Cartagena or Cadiz; between Toulon and the Bay of Biscay. Napoleon, therefore, enforced upon us by the most convincing of all arguments the necessity of maintaining the British Navy at the "two-power standard" at least. The lesson had been taught us long before by Philip II., who did not venture on an attempt at invading this country till he was master of the resources of the whole Iberian peninsula as well as of those of the Spanish dominions in Italy, in the Burgundian heritage, and in the distant regions across the Atlantic Ocean. At several ports on the long stretch of coast of which he was now the master, Napoleon equipped fleets that were to unite and win for him the command of the sea during a period long enough to permit the unobstructed passage of his invading army across the water which separated the starting points of his expedition from the United Kingdom. Command of the sea to be won by a powerful naval combination was thus an essential element in Napoleon's strategy in the time of Trafalgar. It was not in deciding what was essential that this soldier of stupendous ability erred: it was in choosing the method of gaining the essential that he went wrong. The British strategy adopted in opposition to that of Napoleon was based on the acquisition and preservation of the command of the sea. Formulated and carried into effect by seamen, it differed in some important features from his. We may leave out of sight for the moment the special arrangements made in the English Channel to oppose the movements of Napoleon's flotillas of gunboats, transport boats, amid other small craft. The British strategy at the time of Trafalgar, as far as it was concerned with opposition to Napoleon's sea-going fleets, may be succinctly described as stationing off each of the ports in which the enemy's forces were lying a fleet or squadron of suitable strength. Though some of our admirals, notably Nelson himself, objected to the application of the term "blockade" to their plans, the hostile ships were to this extent blockaded, that if they should come out they would find outside their port a British force sufficient to drive them in again or even to defeat them thoroughly and destroy them, Beating them and thus having done with them, and not simply shutting them up in harbour, was what was desired by our admirals. This necessitated a close watch on the hostile ports; and how consistently that was maintained let the history of Cornwallis' command off Brest and of Nelson's off Toulon suffice to tell us. The junction of two or more of Napoleon's fleets would have ensured over almost any single British fleet a numerical superiority that would have rendered the defeat or retirement of the latter almost certain. To meet this condition the British strategy contemplated the falling back, if necessary, of one of our detachments on another, which might be carried further, and junction with a third detachment be effected. By this step we should preserve, if not a numerical superiority over the enemy, at least so near an equality of force as to render his defeat probable and his serious maltreatment, even if undefeated, a certainty. The strategic problem before our Navy was, however, not quite so easy as this might make it seem. The enemy's concentration might be attempted either towards Brest or towards Toulon. In the latter case, a superior force might fall upon our Mediterranean fleet before our watching ships in the Atlantic could discover the escape of the enemy's ships from the Atlantic port or could follow and come up with them. Against the probability of this was to be set the reluctance of Napoleon to carry out an eccentric operation which a concentration off Toulon would necessitate, when the essence of his scheme was to concentrate in ,a position from which lie could obtain naval control of the English Channel. After the addition of the Spanish Navy to his own, Napoleon to some extent modified his strategic arrangements. The essential feature of the scheme remained unaltered. It was to effect the junction of the different parts of his naval force and thereupon to dominate the situation, by evading the several British fleets or detachments which were watching his. Before Spain joined him in the war his intention was that his escaping fleets should go out into the Atlantic, behind the backs, as it were, of the British ships, and then make for the English Channel. When he had the aid of Spain the point of junction was to be in the West Indies. The remarkable thing about this was the evident belief that the command of the sea might be won without fighting for it; won, too, from the British Navy which was ready, and indeed wished to fight. We now see that Napoleon's naval strategy in the time of Trafalgar, whilst it aimed at gaining command of the sea, was based on what has been called evasion. The fundamental principle of the British naval strategy of that time was quite different. So far from thinking that the contest could be settled without one or more battles, the British admirals, though nominally blockading his ports, gave the enemy every facility for coining out in order that they might be able to bring him to action. Napoleon, on the contrary, declared that a battle would be useless, and distinctly ordered his officers not to fight one. Could it be that, when pitted against admirals whose accurate conception of the conditions of naval warfare had been over and over again tested during the hostilities ended by the Peace of Amiens, Napoleon still trusted to the efficacy of methods which had proved so successful when he was out-manoeuvring and intimidating the generals who opposed him in North Italy? We can only explain his attitude in the campaign of Trafalgar by attributing to him an expectation that the British sea men of his day, tried as they had been in the fire of many years of war, would succumb to his methods as readily as the military formalists of Central Europe. Napoleon had at his disposal between 70 and 80 French, Dutch, and Spanish ships of the line, of which some 67 were available at the beginning of the Trafalgar campaign. In January, 1805, besides other ships of the class in distant waters or specially employed, we - on our side - had 80 ships of the line in commission. A knowledge of this will enable us to form some idea of the chances of success that would have attended Napoleon's concentration if it had been effected. To protect the passage of his invading expedition across the English Channel he did not depend only on concentrating his more distant fleets. In the Texel there were, besides smaller vessels, 9 sail of the line. rihus the Emperor did what we may be sure any future intending invader will not fail to do, viz., he provided his expedition with a respectable naval escort. The British naval officers of the day, who knew what war was, made arrangements to deal with this escort. Lord Keith, who commanded in the Downs, had under him 6 sail of the line in addition to many frigates and sloops; and there were 5 more line-of-battle ships ready at Spithead if required. There had been a demand in the country that the defence of our shores against an invading expedition should be entrusted to gunboats, and what may be called coastal small craft and boats. This was resisted by the naval officers. Nelson had already said, " Our first defence is close to the enemy's ports," thus agreeing with a long line of eminent British seamen in their view of our strategy. Lord St. Vincent said that "Our great reliance is on the vigilance and activity of our cruisers at sea, any reduction in the number of which by applying them to guard our ports, inlets, and beaches would, in my judgment, tend to our destruction." These are memorable words, which we should do well to ponder in these days. The Government of the day insisted on having the coastal boats; but St. Vincent succeeded in postponing the preparation of them till the cruising ships had been manned. His plan of defence has been described by his biographer as "a triple line of barricade; 50-gun ships, frigates, sloops of war, and gun-vessels upon the coast of the enemy; in the Downs opposite France another squadron, but of powerful ships of the line, continually disposable, to support the former or attack any force of the enemy which, it might be imagined possible, might slip through the squadron hanging over the coast ; and a force on the beach on all the shores of the English ports, to render assurance doubly sure." This last item was the one that St. Vincent had been compelled to adopt, and he was careful that it should be, in addition to those measures of defence in the efficacy of which he and his brother seamen believed. Concerning it his biographer makes the following remark "It is to be noted that Lord St. Vincent did not contemplate repelling an invasion of gunboats by gunboats," etc. He objected to the force of sea-fencibles, or 'long-shore organisation`, because he considered it more useful to have the sea-going ships manned. Speaking of this coastal defence scheme, he said : "It would be a good bone for the officers to pick, but a very dear one for the country." The defence of our ocean trade entered largely into the strategy of the time. An important part was played by our fleets and groups of line-of-battle ships which gave usually indirect, but sometimes direct, protection to our own merchant vessels, and also to neutral vessels carrying commodities to or from British ports. The strategy of the time, the correctness of which was confirmed by long belligerent experience, rejected the employment of a restricted number of powerful cruisers, and relied upon the practical ubiquity of the defending ships, which ubiquity was rendered possible by the employment of very numerous craft of moderate size. This can be seen in the lists of successive years. In January, 1803, the number of cruising frigates in commission was 107, and of sloops and smaller vessels 139, the total being 246. In 1804 the numbers were - Frigates, 108; sloops, etc., 181; with a total of 289. In 1805 the figures had grown to 129 frigates, 416 sloops, &c., the total being 545. Most of these were employed in defending commerce. We all know how completely Napoleon's project of invading the United Kingdom was frustrated. It is less well known that the measures for defending our sea-borne trade, indicated by the figures ,just given, were triumphantly successful. Our Mercantile Marine increased during the war, a sure proof that it had been effectually defended. Consequently we may accept it as established beyond the possibility of refutation that that branch of our naval strategy at the time of Trafalgar which was concerned with the defence of our trade was rightly conceived and properly carried into effect. As has been stated already, the defence of our sea-borne trade, being in practice the keeping open of our ocean lines of communication, carried with it the protection, in part at any rate, of our transmarine territories. Napoleon held pertinaciously to the belief that British prosperity was chiefly due to our position in India. We owe it to Captain Mahan that we now know that the eminent American Fulton - a name of interest to the members of this Institution - told Pitt of the belief held abroad that "the fountains of British wealth are in India and China." In the great scheme of naval concentration, which the Emperor devised, seizure of British Colonies in the West Indies had a definite place. We kept in that quarter, and varied as necessary a force capable of dealing with a naval raid as well as guarding the neighbouring lines of communication. In 1803 we had 4 ships of the line in the West Indian area. In 1804 we had 6 of the same class; and in 1805, while the line-of-battle-ships were reduced to 4, the number of frigates was increased from 9 to 25. Whether our Government divined Napoleon's designs on India or not, it took measures to protect our interests there. In January, 1804, we had on the Cape of Good Hope and the East Indies Stations, both together, 6 sail of the line, 3 smaller two-deckers, 6 frigates, and 6 sloops, or 21 ships of war in all. This would have been sufficient to repel a raiding attack made in some strength. By the beginning of 1805 our East Indies force had been increased; and in the year 1805 itself we raised it to a strength of 41 ships in all, of which 9 were of the line and 17 were frigates. Had, therefore, any of the hostile ships managed to get to the East Indies from the Atlantic or the Mediterranean ports, in which they were being watched by our navy, their chances of succeeding in their object would have been small indeed. When we enter the domain of tactics strictly so called, that is to say, when we discuss the proceedings of naval forces whether single ships, squadrons, or fleets; in hostile contact with one another, we find the time of Trafalgar full of instructive episodes. Even with the most recent experience of naval warfare vividly present to our minds, we can still regard Nelson as the greatest of tacticians. Naval tactics may be roughly divided into two great classes or sections, viz., the tactics of groups of ships, that is to say, fleet actions; and the tactics of what the historian James calls "single ship actions," that is to say, fights between two individual ships. In the former the achievements of Nelson stand out with incomparable brilliancy. It would be impossible to describe his method fully except in a rather lengthy treatise. We may, however, say that Nelson was an innovator, and that his tactical principles and methods have been generally misunderstood down to this very day. If ever there was an admiral who was opposed to an unthinking, headlong rush at an enemy it was he. Yet this is the character that he still bears in the conception of many. He was, in truth, an industrious and patient student of tactics, having studied them in what in these days we should call a scientific spirit, at an early period, when there was but little reason to expect that he would ever be in a position to put to a practical test the knowledge that he had acquired and the ideas that he had formed. He saw that the old battle formation in single line ahead was insufficient if you wanted as he himself always did - to gain an overwhelming victory. He also saw that, though an improvement on the old formation, Lord Howe's innovation of the single line abreast was still a good deal short of tactical perfection. Therefore, he devised what he called, with pardonable elation, the "Nelson touch", the attack in successive lines so directed as to overwhelm one part of the enemy's fleet, whilst the other part was prevented from coming to the assistance of the first, and was in its turn overwhelmed or broken up. His object was to bring a larger number of his own ships against a smaller number of the enemy's. He would by this method destroy the part attacked, suffering in the process so little damage himself that with his whole force he would be able to deal effectively with the hostile remnant if it ventured to try conclusions with him. It is of the utmost importance that we should thoroughly understand Nelson's fundamental tactical principle, viz., the bringing of a larger number of ships to fight against a smaller number of the enemy's. There is not, I believe, in the whole of the records of Nelson's opinions and actions a single expression tending to show that tactical efficiency was considered by him to be due to superiority in size of individual ships of the same class or - as far as materiel was concerned - to anything but superior numbers, of course at the critical point. He did not require, and did not have, more ships in his own fleet than the whole of those in the fleet of the enemy. What he wanted was to bring to the point of impact, when the fight began, a larger number of ships than were to be found in that part of the enemy's line. I believe that I am right in saying that, from the date of Salamis downwards, history records no decisive naval victory in which the victorious fleet has not succeeded in concentrating against a relatively weak point in its enemy's formation a greater number of its own ships. I know of nothing to show that this has not been the rule throughout the ages of which detailed history furnishes us with any memorial; no matter what the class of ship, what the type of weapon, what the mode of propulsion. The rule certainly prevailed in the battle of August 10 last off Port Arthur, though it was not so overwhelmingly decisive as some others. We do not yet know enough of the recent sea fight in the Straits of Tsushima to be able to describe it in detail; but we do know that at least some of the Russian ships were defeated or destroyed by a combination of Japanese ships against them. Looking back at the tactics in the time of Trafalgar, we may see that the history of them confirms the experience of earlier wars, viz., that victory does not necessarily fall to the side which has the biggest ships. It is a well-known fact of naval history that generally the French ships were larger and the Spanish much larger than the British ships of corresponding classes. This superiority in size certainly did not carry with it victory in action. On the other hand, British ships were generally bigger than the Dutch ships with which they fought; and it is of great significance that at Camperdown the victory was due not to superiority in the size of individual ships, but, as shown by the different lists of killed and wounded, to the act of bringing a larger number against a smaller. It remains to be seen how far the occurrences in the battle of the Japan Sea will support or be opposed to this conclusion; but it may be said that there is nothing tending to upset it in the previous history of the present war in the Far East. I do not know how far I am justified in expatiating on this point; but, as it may help to bring the strategy and tactics of the Trafalgar epoch into practical relation with the stately science of which in our day this Institution is, as it were, the mother-shrine and metro political temple, you may allow me to dwell upon it a little longer. The object aimed at by those who favour great size of individual ships is not, of course, magnitude alone. It is to turn out a ship which shall be more powerful than an individual antagonist. All recent development of man-of-war construction has taken the form of producing, or at any rate trying to produce, a more powerful ship than those of earlier date, or belonging to a rival navy. I know the issues that such statements are likely to raise; and I ask you, as naval architects, to bear with me patiently when I say what I am going to say. It is this: If you devise for the ship so produced the tactical system for which she is specially adapted you must, in order to be logical, base your system on her power of defeating her particular antagonist. Consequently, you must abandon the principle of concentration of superior numbers against your enemy; and, what is more, must be prepared to maintain that such concentration on his part against yourself would be ineffectual. This will compel a reversion to tactical methods, which made a fleet action a series of duels between pairs of combatants, and - a thing to be pondered on seriously - never enabled anyone to win a decisive victory on the sea. The position will not be made more logical if you demand both superior size and also superior numbers, because if you adopt the tactical system appropriate to one of the things demanded, you will rule out the other. You cannot employ two different and opposed tactical systems. It is not necessary to the line of argument above indicated to ignore the merits of the battleship class. Like their predecessors, the ships of the line, it is really battleships which in a naval war dominate the situation. We saw that it was so at the time of Trafalgar, and we see that it has been so in the war at present in progress, at all events throughout the 1904 campaign. The experience of naval war, down to the close of that in which Trafalgar was the most impressive event, led to the virtual abandonment of ships of the line * above and below a certain class. The 64-gun ships and smaller two-deckers had greatly diminished in number, and repetitions of them grew more and more rare. It was the same with the three deckers, which, as the late Admiral Colomb pointed out, continued to be built, though in reduced numbers, not so much for their tactical efficiency as for the convenient manner in which they met the demands for the accommodation required in flag-ships. The tactical condition which the naval architects of the Trafalgar period had to meet was the employment of an increased number of two-deckers of the medium classes. A fleet of ships of the line as long as it could keep the sea, that is until it had to retreat into port before a stronger fleet, controlled a certain area of water. Within that area smaller men-of-war as well as friendly merchant ships were secure from attack. As the fleet moved about, so the area moved with it. Skilful disposition and manernivring added largely to the extent of sea within which the maritime interests that the fleet was meant to protect would be safe. It seems reasonable to expect that it will be the same with modern fleets of suitable battleships. The tactics of "single ship actions " at the time of Trafalgar were based upon pure seamanship backed up by good gunnery. The better a captain handled his ship the more likely he was to beat his antagonist. Superior speed, where it existed, was used to "gain the weather gage," not in order to get a suitable range for the faster ship's guns, but to compel her enemy to fight. Superior speed was also used to run away, capacity to do which was not then, and ought not to be now, reckoned a merit in a ship expressly constructed for fighting, not fleeing. It is sometimes claimed in these days that superior speed will enable a modern ship to keep at a distance from her opponent which will be the best range for her own guns. It has not been explained why a range which best suits her guns should not be equally favourable for the guns of her opponent; unless, indeed, the latter is assumed to be weakly armed, in which case the distance at which the faster ship might engage her would be a matter of comparative indifference. There is nothing in the tactics of the time of Trafalgar to make it appear that - when a fight had once begun - superior speed, of course within moderate limits, conferred any considerable tactical advantage in "single ship actions," and still less in general or fleet actions. Taking up a position ahead or astern of a hostile ship so as to be able to rake her was not facilitated by originally superior speed so much as by the more damaged state of the ship to be raked. Raking, as a rule, occurring rather late in an action. A remarkable result of long experience of war made itself clearly apparent in the era of Trafalgar. I have already alluded to the tendency to restrict the construction of line-of-battle ships to those of the medium classes. The same thing may be noticed in the case of the frigates.* Those of 44, 40, and 28 guns relatively or absolutely diminished in number; whilst the number of the 38-gun, 36-gun, and 32-gun frigates increased. The officers who had personal experience of many campaigns were able to impress on the naval architects of the day the necessity of recognising the sharp distinction that really exists between what we should now call the "battleship" and what we should now call the "cruiser." In the earlier time there were ships which were intermediate between the ship of the line and the frigate. These were the two deckers of 56, 54, 50, 44, and even 40 guns. They had long been regarded as not "fit to lie in a line," and they were never counted in the frigate classes. They seemed to have held a nondescript position, for no one knew exactly how to employ them in war any more than we now know exactly how to employ our armoured cruisers, as to which it is not settled whether they are fit for general actions or should be confined to commerce defending or other cruiser service. The two-deckers just mentioned were looked upon by the date of Trafalgar as forming an unnecessary class of fighting ships. Some were employed, chiefly because they existed, on special service; but they were being replaced by true battleships on one side and true frigates on the other.* In conclusion, I would venture to say that the strategical and tactical lessons taught by a long series of naval campaigns had been mastered by our Navy by the time of the Trafalgar campaign. The effect of those lessons showed itself in our ship building policy, and has been placed on permanent record in the history of maritime achievement and of the adaptation of material means to belligerent ends.


  2. #2


    A comment? Splitting into paragraphs would make it easier to read :)

    I'll cut and paste into a document, do some formatting and will try to read it later. Ta for posting.

  3. #3


    Nice post with good info.


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