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stayed within the prohibited limits, producing the most ignominious failures, and the more marked her failures the more persistent were her efforts to attain speed without constructing a vessel either large enough or small enough to accomplish that purpose. None of the catchers ever proved capable of catching a torpedo boat. The fastest one only made twenty knots under the most favorable circumstances, two knots less than the speed made by one of the first twelve torpedo boats England built. In addition to lacking speed, the catchers were too large to be handled as quickly or easily as the torpedo boats. They were structurally weak and their seaworthiness was often questioned.
It now looked as though England would never solve the problem of protection against torpedo boats. All the valuable time and the immense amount of money she had expended on the catchers had been wasted. Her failures had attracted the attention of the world and it was apparent she would only render herself ridiculous by pursuing further the theory of construction on which these boats had been built. So in 1893, much chagrined and discouraged by her failures, she commenced the construction of vessel
upon an entirely different plan. This time she fell below the prescribed limits which had stood in the
of former success, duced a
large-sized torpedo boat capable of carrying a light battery. This craft was a marked success and exceeded in both speed and seaworthiness the most sanguine expectations. It was the first of the class of vessels now known as torpedo boat destroyers, which have entirely superseded the catchers and have been adopted by the foremost maritime nations. Vessels of this character can be built of great strength and with a seaworthiness that admits of their going anywhere, in any weather, and they have attained a speed of 30 knots and even more.
If no wars await us in the near future, and torpedo boat building is continued as a permanent feature of our navy, we will have gained rather than lost by our delay, for we can take advantage of the experience acquired abroad and avoid the difficulties that have been met and overcome there. Greater delay, though, would be dangerous, for there is always the possibility of war, and at present nothing would justify assuming that we are to have
perpetual peace. Furthermore, there is now nothing to gain and everything to lose by delay, for the torpedo boat has passed the experimental stage and radical changes in its development are no longer probable.
With the thirteen torpedo boats recently ordered in this country, every precaution has been taken to secure the latest improvements, the contractors not being confined in any instance to the Department's plans, bat being allowed to bid also on plans of their own.
In fact, the proposals of the Department have been general in their nature so as to induce shipbuilders to include in their own plans every modern improvement that competition could suggest. In this way the government has been able to avail itself not only of the knowledge of its own constructors, but also of that of the shipbuilders. This it has not hesitated to do, as is shown by the awards; for in all but the case of one of these boats contracts have been awarded on contractors' plans.
For the ten of the thirteen boats contracted for in October last, the awards were for three different classes of boats, four being for 20-knot, three 224-knot and three for 30-knot boats. This classification resulted from adjusting the available appropriation to the greatest number of suitable boats procurable, careful consideration, of course, being given to what was needed in view of the almost total lack of torpedo boats of any description and the character of work that would most likely be required of them.
It was very clear from the plans submitted that the shipbuilders had examined carefully the latest boats abroad. The Union Iron Works was awarded the contract for a vessel of the torpedo-boat destroyer type. This vessel, which has been named the “ Farragut," when completed, will be similar to the “Desperate,” the latest torpedo-boat destroyer built by England, and it is safe to say that the departures by the Union Iron Works from the plans of the “Desperate” are in favor of a more formidable and effective boat. The Bath Iron Works, the successful bidders for the other two 30-knot boats, consulted in the preparation of their plans Professor Byles, of the University of Glasgow, the designer of the swift oceam steamers “ Paris ” and “ New York.” This company was so confident of what it could accomplish that it exceeded the requirements of
the law and guaranteed a speed of 304 knots. The three boats for which contracts have just been awarded in August are all required to make 30 knots.
There is every reason to believe that all these torpedo boats will fulfill expectations. From the days of the old sailing vessels, we have built the best war ships of their respective types in the world, and as our shipbuilders have spared no pains to acquaint themselves with this new type of vessel, it is not probable they will fall below their former record in any particular. We are the superiors of almost all countries in the quality of the engines we build, and the engines are a great consideration in attaining such high speed.
There have been no great wars since the introduction of the torpedo boat, but the performances of this new craft in the wars that have taken place leaves no doubt as to its merits. In the Russo-Turkish war, a Turkish ironclad was sunk in an encounter with a torpedo boat. In the Chilian revolution two torpedo boats attacked and sank in the harbor of Caldera an ironclad ship, the “ Blanco Encalada.” The strength of the Brazilian revolution lay almost entirely in the “Aquidaban," a second-class battleship, which came in and out of the harbor of Rio at will without regard to the guns from the forts. In fact, these guns were so powerless against her that it seemed at one time that she might render the rebellion successful, although the army ashore was on the side of the government. On the 16th of April, 1893, the torpedo boat “ Gustavo Sampaio " attacked and destroyed the “ Aquidaban," and this practically ended the war. The torpedo boat was struck during this attack three times in the hull and thirty-five times in the upper works, but sustained no serious damage, and the only person hurt aboard was a cadet, who lost his finger. During the Chinese-Japanese war, Japan enjoyed a great advantage through its torpedo boats. At Wei-Hai-Wei the Japanese with eight torpedo boats attacked the Chinese fleet, so disabling the iron-clad “ Ting Yuen” that she had to be beached and abandoned. This was not accomplished, however, without the loss of two torpedo boats. The Japanese made a second attack with five boats and destroyed the Chinese schoolship and a tender without losing any of their vessels.
Because of their destructive character nothing is more de
moralizing to an enemy than torpedoes, and the moral effect of being equipped for this kind of warfare is not to be despised, especially where the object of a navy is, as it should be, to keep peace. Fear of torpedoes was all that prevented the French from entering the Prussian harbors during the Franco-Prussian war, and the Japanese from going up the river at Yalu. There was, perhaps, no cooler act of courage during our late war than at Mobile, where Farragut, only a moment after the “ Tecumseh” had struck a torpedo and gone down before his eyes, shot forward with his flagship directly over the course where he knew the torpedoes had been planted for the destruction of his fleet, signalling, as he went, to the warning from the “ Brooklyn” of “Torpedoes ahead,” “Damn the torpedoes.” Captain Mahan in his life of Farragut, writing of this passage of the “Hartford” over these torpedoes, says "the cases of the torpedoes were heard by many on board knocking against the copper of the bottom, and many of the primers snapped audibly, but no torpedo exploded." Farragut's prompt action restored confidence to the wavering line, but had any one of the torpedoes exploded all would have been over.
Since then, such obstacles as Farragut braved have become only temporary, for devices have been introduced for cutting the exploding cable and hauling up torpedoes, which in a few hours could remove such defenses as protected Mobile harbor. This is but another reason why we need torpedo boats, which are now the only reliable appliances for carrying on torpedo warfare. Another and a more potent reason is that even vessels of this class cannot be built in a day, and when built should not be placed in the hands of raw and inexperienced crews. These boats can carry only a small number of men, the accommodations being necessarily cramped. The service is much harder than ordinary sea service, the periods of rest shorter and more irregular, and the nervous strain almost inconceivable. The mere vibration from a torpedo boat driven through the water at thirty knots an hour is known to have produced sea-sickness among some of the oldest tars. This character of warfare is now conducted on the most scientific principles, and a confidence born of familiarity with handling these crafts and a knowledge of precisely what they can do counts for more than physical courage. This familiarity must come from practice and experience.
Considering the quality and number of other war vessels we now have, the character and extent of our coast and the unprotected condition of our harbors, the efficiency of our uavy can be increased more quickly by building torpedo boats than in any other way. The building of other classes of vessels should not stop in order that torpedo boat building should go on, but we cannot afford to neglect any longer this important element of naval strength. Taking recent bids as a basis of estimate, some twenty-five 30-knot torpedo boats or twenty or more torpedo boat destroyers can be built, including their armor and armament, for the cost of a single battle-ship complete.