The Abolition of Battleships
Naval Warfare. By Admiral Sir H. W. Richmond. (Ernest Berm. es.).
IN this very intelligently written essay, entitled Naval Warfare, one can see the genesis of some remarkable articles which Sir Herbert Richmond wrote for the Times when the Naval Conference was assembling in London. Those articles earned much attention, for they gave the sanction of one of the most deep-thinking seamen of to-day to the idea of reducing capital ships by international agreement to such a size that the battleship of to-day would disappear. We hoped that a proposal made on such unquestionable authority would be seriously brought forward at the Naval Conference, but it was not. The Government, no doubt, were guided by their technical advisers. The virtual abolition of the battleship would have reacted upon the demands of the weaker Waval Powers, for an immense number of small craft, including submarines, are said to be required for defence against the floating giants. The abolition of the modern battleship is a key to the abolition of the submarine.
The new Treaty provides for a great reduction in the number of battleships but leaves the maximum size at the level of the Washington- Treaty. The idea of abolition, howeverz remains of extreme importance—indeed, we would say of the first importance. It is ,a " safe idea. The only use of a battleship is to fight other battleships. If by agreement no battleships existed no country would be in any more danger than now. Actually every country would be in less danger, and financially it would be much better off. We want to insist upon the importance of Sir Herbert Richmond's principle, and even press it further than be does, because the Naval Conference is only adjourned and there is no reason whatever why the abolition of battleships should not yet be achieved.
We have described Sir Herbert Richmond's work as an essay, but originally it was delivered as two lectures to King's College in 1926, and these lectures were republished in 1927 in The Study of War (Longmans Sc Co.), edited by Sir George Aston. Sir Herbert has not rewritten the lectures for republication in this small book, . but in view of what the adjourned Naval Conference has still to do we may treat them as both new and opportune. He apologizes gracefully for talking about war when all thoughts are turned upon peace. To us, however, the apology is unnecessary. It is the proper business of the naval officer unceasingly to think, talk or write about his profession._ No danger will come of that, so long as it is understood that the Fighting Services are the servants of the State and must perfect their technique within the policy of the State and not try to make of it something which can dictate policy. Sir Herbert is undeniably right in saying that so long as there is a Navy it is essential to make the best technical use of it. He goes on th a learned but lucid exposition of the objects of naval war and the means of attaining them. We must not discuss this part of bin book and will pass to the end of his essay where he reaches the important subject of the size of capital ships.
As he points out, in the past the size of capital ships was in general determined by the progress of the science of construction. They were Wilt as large as the naval architects Of the day knew how• to build them, and they were designed to carry guns as heavy as could reasonably be worked on shipboard. Thus Nelson's ' Victory ' displaced a little over two thousand tons. Lord Fisher's' Dreadnought' displaced seventeen thousand nine hundred tons. The latest British battleships, ' Rodney ' and 'Nelson,' have a displacement of thirty-five thousand tons. But has there been any change in the character of the naval fighting corresponding to this striking increase in size ? None whatever. One nation builds huge battleships only because other nations build them. The destiny of the monsters is to fight one another. _ If the largest ship in any navy were a twenty-ton motor boat that motor boat would be a capital ship Of course, this is to reduce the argument to an absurdity. So long as navies exist the capital ships will have to be large enough to keep the seas and to enforce their will upon the most powerful type of merchant vessel. Sir Herbert carefully states his opinion that all classes of ships are necessary to make a perfect fleet, and he also believes that aircraft will never make navies obsolete. -With these reservations, however, we take his reasoning to prove that capital ships could be reduced to such an extent that the capital ship as we know it would be abolished. Here is a practical ideal which lovers of peace who are not fanatics should keep before the public mind. Why not make a beginning by reducing -the size of battleships to the size of the largest cruiser ? As confidence grew in an assured peace the reduction might be continued.