The Reuterdahl Attack on our Navy

1908 Scientific American  
The Editor is alWays glad to receive for examination illustrated articles on subjects of timely interest. If the photographs are sharp, the articles short., and the facts authentic, the contributions will receive special at· tention. Accepted articles will be paid for at regnlar space rates. THE REUTERDAHL ATTACK ON OUR NAVY. I.-WHO DESIGNED OUR NAVY? WAS THE SEA-GOING OFFICER IGNORED? The present repJ.y to the recent attack on the ships of our navy and the m. en who design them is, it is
more » ... ss to say, in no sense inspired. It is written purely in the interests of truth, being based upon facts with which we have long been familiar, and most of which have appeared in earlier issues of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN; and it is devoid, of course, of any personal feeling. When Mr. Reuterdahl states that he is highly appreciative of the American navy, we believe him-and this in spite of the fact that, if all he alleges be true, the ships of that navy, under certain battle conditions, would be unable to fire their guns, and must promptly be sent to the bottom. More over, we are prepared to admit that some of the points in this article, and particularly .those dealing with the bureau system and the scant encouragement shown to the American inventor, are well taken. But having made this reservation, we do not hesitate to say that, from first to last, the article is so full of technical errors regarding the ships themselves-er rors which range from slight variations from the facts up to absolute misstatements-that, for any one who has an intimate knowledge of the material and meth ods of the navy, it carries its own direct refutation. But, unfortunately, of the thousands of American citizens who may have read this article, not one in ten thousand, probably, has any such knowledge of the facts; and hence it follows that no end of people, who have always taken a patriotic and very proper pride in our navy, must necessarily find their faith rudely shaken. Unfortunately, there have not been wanting certain officers of the line who have lent themselves freely to the questioning of the newspaper reporter, and have so far indorsed the general trend of the article, as to convey the impression that the whole of it is true; and this, in spite of the fact that they must know perfectly well that much of it is a g r OSS exaggeration. In tlie first place, then, let it be clearly understood that the present controversy is as old as the' navy itself, 'and that many of the criticisms now made pub lic have been urged over and over again; carefully debated; and action taken upon them in the secret, and very properly secret, deliberations of the Navy Department. It is the bold publication of the whole matter in an article whose inspiration seems to bear strong internal evidence of being semi-official, that has brought the subject so prominently and suddenly to the wide attention of the public. It is not our inten tion to enter, in the present issue, into any detailed. refutation of the many misstatements made by Mr. Reuterdahl regarding the material, i.e., ships, guns, armor, etc., of our navy. This matter we shall take up in a succeeding article. What we wish to do here i8 to clear the ground, and put our readers in a posi tion for judging the question more intelligently, by showing how it has become possible that there should be such an apparently wide divergence of opinion be tween the men who design our ships and the men who command and fight them. And let it be noted here, very carefully, that we speak of ,an apparent diverg ence of opinion; for we shall show that, so far from the sea-going officers having nothing whatever to say abo1:lt what kind of vessels shail be built, they have been in the actual majority on the many boards that have determined the characteristics of our ships, and on some questions have outvoted the constructors at Scientific American the ratio of ten to one. The Navy Department has been scrupulously careful to give them every oppor tunity to express their views, and, indeed, has been in the habit of sending out official letters inviting the most frank discussion and the freest offering of sug gestions. The designing of battleships and cruisers is without doubt one of the most complicated and difficult tasks in thtl world-so rapidly do new ideas become old, so swiftly do novel and revolutionary methods become popular. And the naval constructor would be more than human if, in the midst of these ever-changing standards and ideals, he should always succeed in building a ship that embodies only those elements which are bound to remain permanent in the years to come. At .his best he is but human. He is no seer or prophet. At times he is bound tv make mistakes; a fact which, as the official records show, he is perfectly willing to admit. One serious fault and crying injustice in the whole of this discussion is the fact that the impression has been conveyed, and purposely conveyed, that the work of determining the characteristics of our warships is exclusively confined to the Bureau of Construction and Repair; that this bureau is a kind of "close corpora tion," extremely jealous of its prerogatives, and slow to accept any suggestions from the outside; and that it· is peculiarly marked by that narrow range of out look whiCh is supposed to distinguish the purely tech nical, the "office" .. man, from the "practical" outside man. Now the merits of this questiOil are necessarily of a nature which can be determined only by refer ence to the official records of the Navy Department; in which, fortunately, for this discussion, is to be found a full history of the deliberations which pre ceded the final. choice of plans for the ,ships of our modern navy. ' Who is it, then, that is responsible for the design of our warships, and �hat share, if any, had the sea going officers in determining the characteristics of. the ships which a certain clique among them now so freely condemn? There is a provision of the navy regula tions by which the "general supervision over the designing, constructing, and equipping of new vessels for the navy" is delegated to what is known as the Board on Construction, which is composed of the chiefs of the four Bureaus of Equipment, Ordnance, Construction and Repair, and Steam :&ngineering, with an additional officer of the sea-going branch. The chiefs of the first two named bureaus are sea-going officers, and these two, with the additional officer above named, serve to place the sea-going element, as com pared with the Construction Corps, in the proportion on this board of three to one. That does not look as though the constructive branch had any arbitrary control over the design of ships, or that sea-going officers were without adequate representation. More ovet, on the 1st of July, 1907, there were thirty-four sea-going officers serving as assistants in t�e Burcau3 of Ordnance and Equipment, and on duty under the Bureau of Ordnance at the Washington navy yard. These thirty-four officers 'are thoroughly representa tive of the sea-going branch of the naval service, and are in close and constant touch with the chiefs of their respective bureaus; and advantage is taken of their wide practical knowledge in' matters affecting the preparation of new designs. By this arrangement, the Board on Construction has the advantage of sug gestions born of the practical knowledge of the sea going officers, upon such features as magazine arrange ments, ammunition stowage, coaling arrangements, and the location and method of installation of all mechanisms coming under the cognizance of the bu reaus concerned. Clear proof of the important part played by the sea going officer in determining the military features of our ships will now be given in connection with the battleships which have been designed since the Span ish war; and just here, it will be well to draw atten tion to the fact that at the close of the war, and at the rE!quest of the Bureau of Construction and Repair, a special order was issued by the Secretary of the Navy to commanding officers' of vessels, requesting that those who served during the war make reports as to the operation of their ships, speci�ying both the good points and the bad points, apd suggesting any improvements which might be desirable. An analysis of the rrumerous reports submitted indicates that in the opinion of the sea-going officers of that period, such defects as existed were not of a serious charac ter. The criticism was the result of the experience, under war conditions, of seventy-five officers; and they were so favorable as to lead the chief .of the Bureau of Construction' to state in his next annual rejlort that with regard to the strength, stability, seaworthiness, and maneuvering powers of the vessels of the various classes, the war experience tenaed to confirm the favorable opinions previously arrived at, and to dem onstrate the general success of the designs. At the close of the war the three battleships of the "Illinois" class were in course of construction; and encouraged by the results of the war as indorsing the JANUARY 18, 1908. general' system of construction, the plans of the neWi "Maine" class provided for vessels of the same general character as the "Illinois," but with more speed and greater displacement. Thus it will be seen that as far as the military features of the six battleships of the "Illinois" and "Maine" classes are concerned, they were substantially indorsed by the specific reports of seventy-five officers who saw active service during the war, and that they were worked out by a board, the majority of whose members were sea-going Officers. The SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN holds no brief for the Board on Construction; and we bring these facts be fore the public simply to correct the absolutely false impression that the determination of the leading fea tures of our warships is restricted to a single bureau, and that it does not embody the rich and valuable experience of the sea-going officers of the line. Following the "Maine" came the fiv:e ships of the "Virginia" class, whose otherwise admirable qualities are marred by the fact that they carry the double-deck turret-one of the most unfortunate mistakes ever committed in any navy. The double-deck turret was nothing new in our service. It was the design of a young ordnance officer which was enthusiastically taken up by the sea-going officers of the line, and, because of its theoretical advantages, became ex tremely popular. It is on record in the files of the Navy Department that the naval constructors, to a man, bitterly opposed the introduction of this type of mounting, and it was installed upon the "Kentucky" and "Kearsarge" against their strong protest. They opposed the turret on several grounds, among which .were the following: That there was a lack of inde pendent action of the 8-inch guns; that four guns of two different calibers on one single mounting would deliver a less volume and a less accurate fire than if the two types were separately mounted; that the great concentration of weight at the ends of the vessel and the enormous' weight on the roller path were objec tionable; that the efficiency of four important guns was dependent upon one controlling apparatus; and that the error of one gun pointer enters into four guns. Unfortunately, after a bitter fight to keep it out of these five splendid ships; the influence of the sea going officers was successful in incorporating the dou ble turret. In t�e first plan for the "Virginia" clai!! s, the majority of the Board on Construction proposed an armament of four 12-inch guns in two turrets and eight 8-inch guns in four turrets, mounted amidships; but one sea-going member of the board dissented from the majority report, and recommended that four of the 8-inch guns be superposed upon the 12-inch tur rets. This opened up the old controversy of the "Kearsarge" period, and in order to have the subject _ well thrashed out, the Navy Department made an addition to the original Board on Construction of eight additional sea-going line officers, thus forming a special board for the purpose. This board approved by a majority report the use of the superposed turret. Later, another special board was convened, consisting of the Board on Construction with the a' ddition of two rear admirals and five captains; and, as a final result, ten out of the twelve members signed a majority report in favor of installing the superposed turret in the "Virginia" class. One rear admiral and the naval constructor signed a minority report. In these two boards the ratio of sea-going Officers to naval con structors was respectively ten to one and eleven to one, so that the superposed turret must ever be looked upon as the special protege of the sea-going officer. The superposed turret, moreover, came very near being emplaced upon the "Connecticut" and the "Louisiana"; a minority report of the board which de cided on their plans advocating an armament of four 8-inch guns superposed on the 12-inch turrets, and four 8-inch guns in broadside turrets. The final de signs for these ships, from which the superposed tur ret was excluded, were adopted only after an extended discussion, in which the question of the battery ar rangement alone was made the subject of report or suggestion by upward of eighty naval officers. The designs for the following three ships, "Ver mont," "Kansas," and "Minnesota," are practically identical with those of the "Connecticut," some slight changes being made in the distribution of the armor. The faults of the two battleships "Idaho" and "Mis sissippi" are directly chargeable to the mischievous custom of Congress, by which it specifies the limits of displacement of th. e ships which it authorizes. This was put at the ridiculously low figure for a modern battl eship of 13,000 tons,�and on this limited displace, ment the .board was requested to design, forsooth, "two first-class battleships carrying the heaviest armor and the most powerful ordnance of vessels of their class." Under the circumstances something had to be sacri ficed. Four of the five members of the Board on Con· struction, including two of the three sea-going mem bers, recommended a vessel with battery arrangement similar to that of the "Connecticut," but carrying four less 7-inch guns; with a lower freeboard aft; and having one knot less speed; submerged torpedo tubes
doi:10.1038/scientificamerican01181908-38 fatcat:5xz2icpy2fb6zkvlzph67ysapa