6 OCTOBER 1860, Page 15


Tux second question -which disturbs the public mind is this— can you make an invulnerable ship ? This must be a question of fact. It must be much more easy to decide it than the question affecting the fortification of London. But because it is a question of fact, as yet undecided, it surely behoves public writers to write what they have to say in a less dictatorial tone. Can you make an invulnerable ship ? The French Government seem to have decided in the affirmative, and French writers boast that they have such a ship in the mail-coated steamer, La Gloire. The English Government have made many experiments more or less satisfactory, and, although they are buildinmt' a few of these iron warriors, they do not seem to have made tip their minds that it is necessary to follow the more decisive-example of the French. This is attributed to the contradictory results of two sets of ex- periments, while the stated results themselves have given rise to serious disputes. Captain Halsted, commanding the Steam Re- serve in the Medway, has publicly stated that Sir William Arm- strong failed to break into the iron-clad side of the Trusty, ex- cept once in fourteen shots. He has also given this account of Mr. Whitworth's experiments on the same ship's side- " At the trial made in Tune last with Mr. Whitworth's rifled 80-pounder I was not present, but have since carefully examined the effects then pro- duced, and found that of the three shots which took effect on the side one only entered the ship. It received no assistance from the effects of any pre- vious shot, but where it struck outside the plate was unsound, and where it entered inside the timber was rotten ; and, though a greater power of pene- tration was here exhibited than in the case of the Armstrong shot, yet, like it, it entered the ship in a spent state, and reached no more than half way across the dock. Twelve and thirteen pound charges were used on this occa- sion, the shot being of carefully-prepared steel ; but, ns in the previous trials, no shells were fired, it having been judged useless to do so where solid steel had been so completely foiled."

In answer to this Mr. Whitworth, supported by a statement made in the Times on the day following the experiments at the Nore, says- " Only five shots in all were fired from my gun on the occasion referred to ; of these one shot, owing to the rolling of the gunboat, went over the Trusty; four hit her sides, and every one of them went through her plates. Two, which struck directly ' end on,' entered into the ship; two, which struck obliquely, after penetrating through the armour-plate, buried them- selves in the ship's side. I will not here dwell on what would have been the effect had the rear ends of these projectiles been made as shells, which I certainly believe may be done without destroying their penetrating power."

Now, if Captain Halsted is right, a case is made out for iron- clad ships ; but not if Mr. Whitworth is right. While the actual results of experiments are thus matter of contradictory statement, how can the public mind arrive at any satisfactory conclusion ? Then it appears that a counter set of experiments have been made at Portsmouth, where it is said iron plates have been smashed to fragments and an old frigate, the Undaunted, set on fire by shells. How is this ? Captain Halsted offers one explanation ; it is this— "The side of the Trusty, as before stated, was built but five years since for the express purpose of sustaining the shock it has shown itself so well able to bear. The sides of the Alfred, the Undaunted, and Sirius, experi- mented upon at Portsmouth, were built nearer fifty years ago, with a strength of scantling and with fastenings totally unfitted even then to undergo that hammer-and-anvil process of hanging heavy plates upon them to be attacked with the heaviest guns, and under which plates and timber- ing have both inevitably succumbed when the operation has been performed, after ' old age' bad of itself already brought these ships to the verge of the breaking-up dock."

If this be a oorrect account of the Portsmouth experiments, and we have no ground for calling it in question, all we have to say is, that the said experiments do not tell one way or the other, since the conditions of a fair experiment were not complied with.

One view of the subject is that the heavy ordnance on board a first class modern frigate, the Mersey for instance, would smash up into the most destructive missiles the iron plates of any ship yet launched, so that taking this view, the ships in armour would be mere slaughterhouses ; the more iron there is about them, the more terrible would they be to their own crews. Whioh set of dis- putants is in the right? Captain Sherrard Osborn settles the question off-hand in favour of iron. He says— "Hearing what I did of the ship attack on Sebastopol in 184 and seeing what I did of the trifling effect of the Russian guns on the iron floating bat- teries in 1855, I felt convinced that the French Emperor had hit the right nail on the head in producing ships coated with iron, as the only means of laying land batteries sufficiently close on board to be breached, of breaking a line-of-battle in a sea-fight, and of scouring out such roadsteads as the Sound, Portland, Spithead, and the Downs, unless you are able to meet such invulnerable vessels with others of exactly a similar character."

And further he adds these sweeping statements-

" I do not take all for Gospel that we hear about the Gloire, but there Is no doubt upon the minds of all those who have seen anything of modern warfare, and who are unprejudiced enough to accept innovations, even though they conic from a Frenchman, that the days of wooden ships of the lino are num- bered, and that in a close, fair fight, iron frigate against wooden two-decker, the latter would be knocked into limiter matches, or, if they were both armed with rifled guns, probably blow up after a round two."

We may repeat what we have said. Here are questions of faot to be susceptible of undoubted tests. Can you make an invul- nerable ship, or can you produce a bolt or round shot, and agun to project it, which will smash up the thickest coat of mail, a ship can wear in safety ? In point of fact, this is another form of the ever recurring military question, can you make defence superior to attack. Mr. Whitworth says that " the plan of warding off shot by protecting armour has been often resorted to, but the means of attack have continually proved the vulnerability of the armour and driven it out of use." Captain Osborn asserts that the days of wooden ships of the line are numbered. Taking this in con- nexion with Mr. Whitworth's reminder of the fate of armour in warfare, we may ask whether smaller and swifter and more heavily armed ships -would not be a match for their brethren in mail. But the question of fact ought not to remain any longer matter of doubt. It can be proved, and it should be proved, whether British iron plates can resist British rifled guns. If they can, then we may be almost certain that British iron plates can resist the rifled guns of any other nation. In deciding so vital a point, the Government has no right to hesitate, for it involves our naval supremacy, and perils our national safety.