5 APRIL 1862, Page 9

THE DEBATE ON THE MONITOR. T HE Commons' debate of Monday

on the value of Iron- sides in naval warfare was not altogether satisfagtory. The public wanted but one thing—an assurance that Govern- ment were fully alive to the lesson conveyed in the battle of James River, and that one thing they did not obtain. The fault was partly that of the independent members who introduced the subject. They pressed for a suspension of the expendi- ture sanctioned for fortifications, talked about the reconstruc- tion of the whole navy, and hinted pretty intelligibly that they thought England herself in danger from an American attack. The War Secretary, therefore, hampered by contracts already executed, by the opinions of engineers disgusted at an event which interrupts their pet plan, and by the wise official distrust of any action which seems precipitate, fell back in his perplexity upon regular routine answers. He is not, we dare say, one whit less impressed than the public with the swift fate of the Cumberland, or at all more disposed to be- lieve that the wooden steamer would have escaped the destruction which overtook the wooden sailing frigate. He has not, we may rest assured, the smallest intention of help- ing England to lag behind in the race, or of suffering our naval supremacy to be either menaced or questioned. But he talked for once just like an official, and for all he would promise, England might, six months hence, be overtaken by a war in which half her fleet would lie at the mercy of the score or so of Monitors which the Federal Government are about to build. He did not see that the action taught us anything we did not know before, and. quoted experiments which demonstrated all that the Monitor is presumed to prove. Those experiments were most valuable, but did the Govern- ment quite believe them ? If they did, what have they delayed so long for ? if they did not, what does Sir Cornewall Lewis mean by saying the Monitor teaches nothing ? The truth is, that vessel has added nothing to our existing know- ledge, but it has added immensely to our existing experience, and as English mankind always rely on experience in prefer- ence to induction it has taught us 'a very great deal. It has brushed the cobwebs out of the minds of those who believed that the plates would fracture and scatter death, that thick iron would never float, that the Ironsides were as open to attack by boarders as the old wooden steamers. Then Sir C. Lewis doubted whether artillerists would not one day invent a gun which could be mounted on forts, and which would throw shot capable of smashing-in any plate of any thickness whatever. That was an answer, quantum vakat, to his immediate assailant Sir F. Smith, who wanted to cease building forts, but it was no answer at all to the country, which is not anxious about the forts but about the fate of its navy. And, finally, he said the forts, was not a sea-going vessel, though the Monitor might go some little distance to sea. That meant that England was safe from the Monitor or vessels built like her, and was a fair answer to Sir F. Smith, who thought forts would only be buoys to show the Americans the channels, but it left the real point untouched. Suppose the Americans should after all go to war with us and invade Canada! What would be our chance inthat event of blockading their ports, oraiding Canada at sea with a fleet of wooden steamers ? A dozen Monitors would destroy them all, and our best weapon would break in our hands. Nobody is dreading that an army of New York Zouaves is about to invade Great Britain, but we have ports in all parts of the world, commerce in every river, ships upon every sea. Only imagine the fate of our Eastern trade with an iron vessel emerging from San Francisco, and &team- ing into Singapore, Madras, and Bombay. Singapore alone could afford to ransom itself with a million, and is only de- fended by a fort whose shot would affect an Ironside about as much as so many. pellets. Calcutta would be the only place in the East inaccessible to her guns, and we can see no limit to her career except the exhaustion of her supply of shot. It is the fleet the country is anxious to maintain in its full efficiency, and whether the fortifications are or are not built is a question of very minor importance. As yet the balance of evidence inclines, perhaps, slightly in favour of forts. They must be better than no forts anyhow, if only because they can stop transports which are never likely to be constructed of iron. To stop them now would be to forfeit a large part of the money voted, and with the probabilities still existing in favour of increasing the power of attack as much as we have developed that of defence, the forts may almost as well proceed. We had better waste the money on stone than on paying damages to the army of contractors and sub-contractors whose agreements have already been signed. No new contracts ought to be made, and if in the end we have to build steam batteries to protect the forts, let us congratulate ourselves that they do not cost quite so much, and pay cheerfully,—happy that inexorable science has not yet demanded that Ironsides, as Stephenson once threat- ened, should all be doubled in speed by being electro- plated. The reconstruction of the fleet is a very different matter, and one upon which the Government ought to have given a more satisfactory reply. There is no necessity whatever for precipitate action, or for accepting a single battle as abso- lutely conclusive evidence upon all the points of a most difficult problem. But it is conclusive on these two, that England, if attacked by an iron-plated fleet, is very inade- quately protected, and that for purposes of defence iron- plated frigates are worth ten times as much as the same frigates not so protected. There is one fleet, and there soon will be two, which can attack England, and the deduction seems to non-official minds to be almost be- yond discussion. Our coast ought to be adequately protected, and protected in time. Ten days of unreadi- ness may, in a narrow sea like the Channel, be just as perilous as ten years. It may very well be, as Sir J. D. Hay said, that small vessels ought to be built of wood, though one shot from the Merrimac blew a Federal gunboat to atoms, and if so, let us continue building them. It may also be that wall-sided vessels are stronger than vessels with sloping sides, though the fact, as a simple mathematical problem, ought to be settled for ever in twenty minutes, and if so, let the new" Warriors" be built with wall sides. The• cupola form may be better than the turreted form, and the cylindrical form better than both, and let us seek, as Sir C. Lewis would have us, after the most permanent models. But meanwhile, while we are hunting perfection, and rais- ing projectors to fame, and making and bursting huge guns, and going on with our fortifications, and struggling towards the light in our blundering, illogical, and success- ful English way, the great fact still remains unquestion- able. Plated frigates are stronger than unplated frigates, stronger to a degree for which arithmetic has no ex- ression, and our wooden steamers therefore ought to be plated in moderate numbers, now, before any enemy drives Government into reckless expenditure, and the dock- yards into delirium. A month ago 2,123,0001. was voted for altering, repairing, and improving wooden ships during this coming year. Less than a third of that sum will build us ten Monitors, and place our great ports and arsenals wholly beyond the reach of any sudden attack. Half that sum would probably convert twenty wooden affairs into so many Merrimaes on an improved plan, able to steam and steer, and fully sufficient for defence. The Duke of Somerset, who speaks far too seldom, but whenever he does speak invariably makes matters clear, showed in the Lords that he had the means of completing a strong- iron fleet, and doubted the enormous expense alleged. He should have, he said, five magnificent iron vessels ready by August. He had tried Captain Cole's cupola, and was about to commence a ship entirely upon that plan, which will carry twelve guns, six times the arma- ment of the Monitor, and will not stun its crew by concus- sions. He has five frames of line-of-battle ships which can be easily plated, seven frames of frigates, and eight frames of large corvettes. He could cut down twenty line-of-battle ships and plate them for service, and have still remaining a wooden fleet equal to any fleet in the world. But he has ordesed none of these things, and gives no reason why they should not be commenced at once. Experiments may still be necessary for the general reconstruction of the navy, and as invention has just now turned itself towards warfare, un- necessary haste will be only waste of means. But it is our necessity always to keep at the top, and what with the official coldness of Sir C. Lewis, and the thoughtful delibera- tion of the First Lord, we may yet find ourselves obliged to spend lavishly simply to bring up wasted time.