Imágenes de páginas

formidable weapon has just been adopted for the naval service. The 6-inch quick-firer made by Messrs. Vickers weighs about 71 tons, and fire3 100-pound projectiles with nearly 2,800 feet per second muzzle velocity, giving a penetrative power equal to 22 inches of wrought iron. With this greater rapidity of fire has come the need for larger quantities of ammunition, improved arrangements for ammunition-supply, improved mountings and increased protection to guns and gun-crews. In short, war-ship design has been affected greatly in many of its features by the change of system.

The disposition of armaments has also been reconsidered in consequence of changes in guns and explosives. One governing condition, steadily kept in view in ships of the Royal Navy, is the distribution of the guns in such a manner as to prevent or minimise the interference of gun with gun. Some arrangements of armament, advantageous in other respects, fail in this, and involve serious risks of injury to certain guns and their crews from the fire of adjacent guns. It is satisfactory to note a closer approach in recent foreign ships to the system which has been steadfastly adhered to in the Royal Navy for many years.

Improvements in gun-construction have not been limited to quickfiring guns. Remarkable advances have been made in heavy guns forming the principal armaments of battle-ships. There has been a diminution in the calibre and weight of these guns, associated with increased velocities, range, accuracy, and rapidity. In 1885 the last of the 161-inch guns, weighing 110 tons, were mounted in the Victoria and Sanspareil. With 1,800-lb. projectiles, 960-lb. powder charges, and about 2,100 feet per second muzzle velocity, the 'energy' was about 54,000-foot tons, and the estimated penetration of wrought iron 37 inches. In 1889 it was decided, as no good design of 12-inch gun was available, to arm the Royal Sovereign class with 13-inch guns weighing 67 tons. With 1,250-lb. projectile, and 630 lbs. of powder, a muzzle velocity of rather more than 2,000 feet per second was obtained, with an “energy' of 35,000-foot tons. The estimated penetration of wrought iron was about 34 inches. In 1894 the Majestic class were designed to carry 12-inch 46-ton 'wire'guns. With 850-lb. projectiles, and 168-1b. cordite charges, the muzzle velocity is about 2,370 feet per second, the energy 33,000-foot tons, and the estimated penetration of wrought iron 36 inches. For the Formidable class of 1897, the 12-inch guns are to have a muzzle velocity of 2,600 feet per second, with a proportionate increase of energy and penetration.

Corresponding improvements have been made in the breechmechanisms, mountings, and mechanical appliances for working heavy guns. Much greater rapidity of fire has thus been attained. Formerly the minimum interval between successive rounds of heavy guns (12 to 13}-inch) was 24 to 3 minutes in the Royal Navy, and this was much less than the corresponding interval in foreign ships. In the Majestic this interval was reduced to l} minute, and in the recent trials of the Illustrious it was brought down to less than 1 minute. These and other achievements of the mechanical engineer have greatly assisted progress in recent war-ship construction.

The work of the chemist has not been limited to the production of smokeless powders. He has devised high-explosives' of tremendous power for use in shells; and, in association with the metallurgist, has produced alloys of steel admirably adapted for the manufacture of armour-piercing projectiles.

While the attack has thus been developed by changes in guns, explosives, and projectiles, the armour-plate manufacturer has not been idle. On the contrary, his advances during the last eleven years have been certainly as great as, if not greater than, those of his rivals. Here, also, a brief illustration can be given of what has been done. In 1888 the best qualities of armour-plates which were available, when 10} inches thick, were just equal to the attack of chrome-steel projectiles fired from a 6-inch gun with a striking velocity of 1,960 feet per second. Now the same standard firing test is enforced for and fulfilled by armour 6 inches in thickness. This represents a gain in defence for a given weight of over 40 per cent., and makes the 6-inch citadel armour of Canopus class quite equal to what it would have been if 104 inches thick and of the quality put upon the Royal Sovereign class.

In August last a plate 11.8 inches thick, 10 feet long, and 7 feet wide, withstood three 714 lb. projectiles fired from a 12-inch gun with a striking velocity of 1,860 feet per second. This attack is equal to the perforation of 22} inches of wrought iron.

Improvements such as these are far-reaching in their effects on war-ship design, including both battle-ships and cruisers. The introduction of quick-firing guns has necessitated a great extension of armoured areas in order to protect buoyancy, stability, and secondary armaments. Helped by the armour-plate manufacturer, the naval architect can fulfil this condition, and protect larger areas efficiently within reasonable limits of weight.

New dispositions of the protective material have been made in Her Majesty's ships during the last eleven years in order to meet new forms of attack. These changes necessarily rest upon experimental results and not upon the experience of actual naval engagements. It cannot be doubted, however, that as compared with their predecessors recent ships are far more capable, as they should be, of resisting the attack of quick-firing guns or high explosive shells. The power and protection of their own secondary armaments, by increasing their offensive powers, add to this defence.

Little need be said in regard to the torpedo armaments of recent ships. The principal changes made have been the great extension of submerged discharges, and the introduction of the 18-inch torpedo; while quite recently Whitehead has shown the way to secure greater accuracy in direction. There can be no question that the Royal Navy has a long lead in the matter of submerged discharge, thanks to the continuous efforts and experiments of the last twenty years. The quick-firing gun has made practically impossible the continued use of unprotected above-water discharges, except in the smaller classes of cruisers and torpedo craft.

This hasty and necessarily imperfect review of the work of the last eleven years, will suffice to show that it may be fairly described as a 'reconstruction' of the Navy. It has been rapidly effected, the rate of construction having been greatly accelerated both in the Royal Dockyards and in private shipyards. These results are very largely due to the magnificent and unrivalled shipbuilding and engineering resources of the country. They would have been impossible elsewhere. A mere enumeration of the ships built in the dockyards and those built by contract, is no guide to the actual distribution of the work. Private firms have to supply to the dockyards practically all the materials, the armour, gunmountings, auxiliary machinery, and nearly all the propelling apparatus. The greater part of the true dockyard expenditure is on labour. To illustrate this statement reference may be made to the Naval Defence fleet of 70 ships : 38 were built in dockyards and 32 by contract. Excluding armaments, these ships cost over 18,000,0001. The dockyard section represented over 9,800,0001.; but the cost of dockyard labour was under 3,500,0001. Contract work of all kinds, therefore, represented more than 80 per cent. of the total outlay.

The immense productive power of our private firms is one great source of naval strength, provided it can be, and is, utilised at the proper time. Hitherto private enterprise has never failed to develop production in accordance with demands-whether it be in guns, armour, ships, or machinery. There have been temporary difficulties, some of a serious nature, but they have soon been surmounted. Gun manufacture is a case in point : there was a need, it has been met. At the present moment we are suffering from the check imposed by recent labour difficulties. In 1897–98 it was proposed to spend about 7,250,0001. on new construction, and we have spent hardly 5,000,0001., the falling-off being nearly all on contract work. For the moment the supply of armour is restricted, owing partly to the disarrangement of work consequent on the recent dispute, and partly to the reconstruction of plant necessary with the new quality of armour. This difficulty is of a temporary character, and is even now disappearing. So far as the reconstruction of plant is concerned, other countries are in a similar position, and must suffer the sametemporary restriction. But even as matters stand, our resources in armour-plate manufacture are far superior to those to be found elsewhere.

In other countries, the limit of what can be done in naval construction is fixed by manufacturing resources.

In this country establishments created and maintained primarily for our magnificent mercantile marine are available for the war fleet, and the limit of their capabilities has not yet been approached.



It is a curious anomaly that while the British Government is doing, its best to outstrip foreign Powers in the great race for naval supremacy, the private shipbuilding yards of this country are actively engaged to-day in producing war-ships for the service of possible enemies of to-morrow. British firms are the navy builders of almost the whole world, and as they are also the most skilful builders, it follows that the war-vessels of the states whom they reckon among their customers are as well constructed as any fighting engines afloat. Great Britain occupies a position of 'splendid isolation ;' she has no allied friends and is beset by covert foes, jealous of her colonies and her commerce. The war-ships that are built in this country are not, therefore, for friends. On the other hand France, in the assistance she gives to Russia in adding to the naval power of the Czar, is helping a close ally. The bald fact is that hundreds of employers in England and Scotland, shipbuilders, gunmakers, and others, and thousands of workmen, live by assisting Powers, potential enemies, to buckle on their armour for the Armageddon that may be the event of to-morrow's newspapers. If commerce have any ethical laws, they have at least been no barrier to this bartering of ironclads, cruisers and torpedo boats. The trade has been carried on for years without any qualms of conscience, and we as a nation are richer by over twenty-five millions sterling. In exchange for this sum our fellow-countrymen have built and fitted out for sea war-ships that may be found to-day in the navies of all the Powers, great and small, excepting only France and the United States and a few unconsidered trifles in the game of the world's politics, such as Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bulgaria. In not a few cases the ships which have been constructed by private firms have been superior, tonnage for tonnage, to the contemporary vessels intended for the British service. In excuse for this anomaly, it is urged that the conditions required of British ships are entirely different from those of any other country. It is claimed that in British vessels there must be a large coal capacity, giving a wide radius of action independent of coaling stations. This plea may, however, be met by the rejoinder that no country rossesses so many coaling stations, so widely distributed

« AnteriorContinuar »