27 JANUARY 1939, Page 22


[To the Editor of THE SPECTATOR] Sta,—Mr. P. G. Libby is right about speed in warships. Our Navy is worshipping two false gods—Speed and Range; false because both detract from fighting strength.

Higher speed at sea has always been the attribute of the weaker side and of the weaker ship. The weakest of all war- ships, the easily-destroyable destroyer, is the fastest. The strongest, the battleship, is the slowest.

Sea fights are won by guns and not by propellers. A warship with more armament (guns and shells and armour) and less speed will beat a ship with less armament and more speed; unless the faster ship beats herself by running away and so concedes the command of the sea with its cargoes, for which alone sea fights are fought.

Fighting strength is cheap in tons. Extremities of high speed are most disproportionately expensive in tons. Rushing about at high speed is not fighting, it is a form of hysteria quite foreign to British seamen.

Even slower speed can escape by doubling, as the slower Germans escaped at Jutland. So high speed cannot even catch. With the small difference, alone possible between same- sized ships, there will seldom be daylight enough to force an unwilling enemy to fight.

Unbearable blockade pressure on his war machine and on his people is the way to force our enemy's battle fleet out for a fight to a finish. It is pressure on our enemy's mind and not on our own ships' thrust blocks that will force a decisive Trafalgar instead of an indecisive Jutland—fought two years before our rigid blockade was applied.

We now know that the way to deal with Scharnhorsts ' and Gneisenaus ' is not with fast battle cruisers specially built for it, but with convoys properly escorted by slow and well- armed warships.

The other false god, Range, is less needed by us than by any other nation because we have, what others have not, a fuelling station about every r,000 miles. Yet our cruisers and battleships are being fitted to carry fuel for 12,000 miles —England to New Zealand—to the inevitable exclusion of fighting strength for their size. What is the sense of partially disarming our ships to let them steam past eight fuelling stations, which they would never do, in war or in peace?

When people say " speed," they generally mean " oil." Speed and range have reduced our Navy to a dangerous and unnecessary subservience to foreign oil, because oil can give more speed and more range for weight than coal. At present foreigners could defeat England by immobilising our oil- driven Navy by simply leaving their oil in their wells. Because of the craze for speed, fuel is being brought, in one-way ships, to where cheaper fuel, coal, already exists.

The Navy must dethrone the false oil gods—Speed and Range—and must set up Fighting Strength, based on our own coal, to reign in their stead.—Yours faithfully,