By W. V. EMANUEL rpHE gun foundries of the world are working at top pressure ; they have not been so busy since 1918. The largest of them are at work on naval orders. At the moment no fewer than 12 capital ships are under construction, apart from the two each which Great Britain, U.S.A. and Japan will be laying down this year, now that the "naval holiday" imposed by the Limitation Treaties of 1922 and 1930 is at an end. All these big ships need big guns. The question is, how big ? Our own two battleships, the 'King George V' and the 'Prince of Wales,' laid down on New Year's Day, are to have 14-inch guns only. Al the London Naval Conference in March the representatives of Great Britain, France and the U.S.A.—Italy only signified her assent last month—agreed that the gun calibre of capital ships should not be greater than 14-inch, provided that Japan, which withdrew front the Conference, also adhered 10 this agreement before April rst, 1937.
But if she refuses—and there are ugly rumours that she is contemplating giant capital ships mounting r8-inch guns—America will be forced to build above the Treaty limit, and the old story of an armaments race, with all its ruinous implications, will begin all over again. As long ago as September Admiral Standley, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, was reported to have said that "the sky will be our limit, if Japan does not agree to 14-inch guns." If Japan does decide on larger guns—and the secrecy which enwraps all Japanese naval matters makes it impossible to prophesy what she will do—the reason will be that she wishes to force her potential enemy into building ships so large that they cannot pass through their own strategic canal—in this case the Panama Omni This was Lord Fisher's battleship policy before the War, which forced the Germans in reply to enlarge the Kid Canal for their latest dreadnoughts.
This matter of inches is indeed crucial. Any calibre larger than 14 inches means, so the experts say, such a weight of turrets, armour, ammunition and machinery that it is too big for a ship displacing 35/t00 tons, the limit laid down in last year's London Treaty. Thus, if the larger gun is chosen, there is a danger that the Powers concerned will restart the process towards monstrously large ships; which was checked by the Washington Treaty of 1922.
Our delegation, although agreeing to the 14-inch and 35,000-ton limit, would have preferred still lower figures. As far back as 5927 the Admiralty proclaimed at Geneva that a displacement of 25,000 tons and an armament of 12-inch guns represented the adequate limit for the capital ship. Such a vessel would be sufficiently large and powerful tt fulfil a battleship's functions in any part of the world. The business of a battleship is to fight and destroy enemy ships ; for this she must be capable of bringing the necessary gun-power into place. She must, in other words, be large enough to bear a heavy weight of armour protection and provide a stable gun-platform. Speed and cruising radius, though features of the first importance to every type of warship, are not of such essential value to the capital ship as they are to the cruiser. In the capital ship the ultimate factor, which decides dimension and power, is the strength of the enemy, and hence, more directly, the weight of arma- ment required to smash that enemy. This factor has increased greatly. Thus in 1900 the Navy had the 12-inch gun, weighing 5o tons unmounted, and the r5,000-ton battleship to carry it. A quarter of a century later we had the t6-inch gun, weighing 104 tons unmounted, and a 35,000-ton ship to carry it.
Now, on paper, a 22,000-ton ship carrying 11-inch guns is inferior to a 26,500-ton ship carrying 12-inch guns, but this is not necessarily so in fact. At Jutland it was certainly not so. At Lissa, the Yalu and Tsushima, the three chief actions fought between ironclads before the Great War, the victory was won by the materially weaker fleet. Even at Jutland, where the morale and skill of the two fleets were about equal, the smaller ships and lighter guns of the enemy, on a smaller number of hits, inflicted considerably more damage than they therncelves received. These examples seem to show that while superiority in weapons is desirable, it is by no means essential. Victory is not always to the "big 'battalions." Training and leadership can, within limits, transform material inferiority into fighting superiority.
Again, in the more particular application of this principle, superior gun-calibre is not necessarily an indication of superior effectiveness. Other factors, such as range and velocity, must be taken into consideration. The Germans, for example, have always pinned their faith to small calibre guns with very high .velocities, and early in the War we found that their 4.1-inch gun considerably outranged our 4.7-inch, and was a very good match for all but the latest marks of the 6-inch gun. Thus, in the duel between' H.M.S. Highflyer ' and the Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse,' our cruiser was never able to fire her 6-inch guns without coming within reach of the armed liner's 4-inch pieces. Again, the famous cannon which bombarded Paris from a range of more than 70 miles was only - 8-inch in bore. However, its long muzzle soon dropped" like a lily" and rendered it ineffective.
Another disadvantage of the i6-inch gun as compared with those of smaller calibre is that the shells take- up more storage. space and need more protection. The increase in gun-calibre means disproportionate increase in used-up space, and in so closely-packed a container as a ship's hull this waste is serious.
Some interesting tables in Brassey's Naval Annual show clearly that if you increase a gun's calibre from 13.5 to i6-inch, you may be able to fire a still heavier projectile, but the power of penetration shows no great increase, the rate of fire becomes slower, and the weight of the gun- mounting is more than doubled. The experience gained in the War, as with the i8-inch mounted in the 'Furious,' goes to prove that there is a limit to the value of increasingly big guns.
Since the War one gunnery factor has altered beyond all recognition. The effective range of a battleship's guns has increased from io,000 to about 17,000 yards, or, with aircraft spotting, to about 23,000 yards. (These figures are, of course, approximate, and depend on a number of variables such as visibility, protection, &c. The average visibility in the Mediterranean is much higher than in the North Sea.) It is sometimes alleged that air spotting has revolutionised fleet firing : it has, but only when ships are bombarding stationary shore positions far beyond the visible h3rizon. In the high-speed conditions of a modern fleet action the delays in communication and the " jamming " by the enemy's wireless would almost certainly render fleet spotting by aircraft a waste of time.
In effect the range at sea, no matter what size of armament is used, can never be extended effectively beyond the maximum limits of visibility. Now that this has been achieved, the desideratum has changed from increased range to increased rate of fire. In our capital ships the increase in the rate of fire will outweigh the disadvantage of the slightly lighter metal which makes them seem inferior to their latest predecessors, the r6-inch 'Nelson ' and 'Rodney.' The i6-inch gun throws a shell of 20,000 lb., the 14-inch only 15,600 lb., but the 14-inch can be fired so much more rapidly that in two minutes the weight of shell fired by the smaller gun is only 120 lb. less than that of the larger. In destructive power also it is believed that the new 14-inch gun is equal at least to the r5-inch of the 'Queen Elizabeth' class.
Thus a calibre virtually new to the Navy is seen to have many technical advantages oVer those of larger size. The diplomatic advantages are obvious. If we keep to the lower calibre, there is much more likelihood of Japan and U.S.A. following suit. Increases beyond this figure seem to be mere extravagance. If other nations care to build mastodons with guns which can fire twice as far as their crews can see, let them waste their money and ammunition. For us a homogeneous squadron of capital ships, delivering smashing blows up to the full range of visibility, is perfectly adequate.