The British Navy of to-day.

In giving a brief outline of the general features of the battleships and cruisers composing the present British navy, it must be remembered that the navy is made up of ships built during a period of fifteen or twenty years; the newest being a great advance upon the older ones, yet differing but little from those launched a few years before.

The indications at present are for fast ships of very large size, the battleships—intended to act in squadrons—possessing the maximum of offensive and defensive power; the cruisers—intended for scouting and similar purposes—possessing a high rate of speed, heavy armament, and a certain amount of protection; and, as the travelling speed of a fleet is limited to that of the slowest vessel in the group, the aim of British naval architects is to design all the battleships to go at approximately the same speed, and similarly for the cruisers. A special feature of all British warships is the large coal supply carried, in view of the fact that they may be required to operate in any part of the world. For this reason the armour in our ships is sometimes not so thick as in some foreign ships, which sacrifice coal supply and radius of action to obtain better protection. In other respects our ships are second to none.

The British battleship of to-day varies from 12,000 up to 15,000 tons in displacement, and has a maximum speed of fully 18 knots, or about twenty-one miles an hour. They are armoured from end to end, and are provided with two protective decks; the lower one, about the level of the water-line, being to protect the “vitals”; the upper one, to prevent the fragments of shells from above penetrating to the batteries below. Forward and aft are the two barbettes, each carrying a pair of long 12-inch 50-ton guns, firing 850-pound shot, capable of penetrating 28 inches of wrought iron at a range of two miles. The secondary armament of 6-inch or 7.5-inch guns is mounted in “casemates,” or armoured chambers, so disposed that two of them can also fire straight ahead, and the other two straight astern. The most recent ships have these ahead or astern guns mounted in turrets, and in the largest ships of all, some of which are of 18,000 tons, these guns are 9.2-inch 380-pounders.

After the battleships come the cruisers, corresponding to the frigates of olden days,—ships whose functions correspond to that of the cavalry of land forces, having to act as scouts, carry messages, intercept the enemy’s ships, and capture his mercantile ships, or protect their own merchant convoys. To perform these varied functions, one of the chief requirements is speed, rather than heavy armament, so that it can run, if need be, if it should happen to encounter a ship of greater power. Accordingly the best cruisers are given the high maximum speed of 23 to 25 knots.

Cruisers are divided into two classes: armoured and unarmoured. The former are really modified battleships, with thin armour and somewhat lighter armament, to enable the necessary engine power and coal supply to be provided. Armoured cruisers of this description could, at a pinch, take part in fleet actions—even against ironclads, as shown at the battle of the Yalu, between the Chinese and Japanese, when the latter, with protected cruisers and one or two armoured cruisers, defeated a fleet in which there were several ironclads much larger and better protected than themselves.

The most recent armoured cruisers are ships of 13,000 to 14,000 tons displacement, and are protected by a belt  of 6-inch armour, in addition to protective decks. They are armed with two or four 9.2-inch 380-pounder guns, mounted in barbettes of thick armour, and with a number of 6-inch 100-pounders; a number of 12-pounders and 3-pounders are also carried. Some ships of this description can spurt up to 25 knots—not so long ago considered a high speed even for a torpedo boat destroyer.

The unarmoured cruisers are intended chiefly for scouting purposes, or for capturing or protecting commerce. As they are only intended to fight with ships similar to themselves, which may attempt to make havoc among our merchantmen, their only protection is a protective deck which covers the vitals. The first-class unarmoured cruisers have an armament and speed similar to those of the armoured type, and may have casements for their broadside guns, and barbettes for the heavy ones; the second-class cruisers are armed with 6-inch and 4.7-inch guns, protected by simple shields only, and they have a speed of from 19 to 20 knots.

In a previous chapter, the torpedo boats used in the American Civil War were mentioned as being simply fast launches, and little progress was made in their construction, until the Russo-Turkish war taught that their value was much greater than had been supposed. From that time onwards, larger and faster boats began to be built, and even a certain amount of protection began to be given them, consisting of 1-inch iron plates round the boilers and engines, which was proof against small-arms, and even against the heavier Nordenfelt machine guns, except at the closest quarters. Boats of this type were from 130 to 170 feet long, and went at a speed of 22 knots. As speeds increased, there was less risk for the torpedo boat, and greater risk for her enemy, and it became plain, that some means of averting torpedo boat attack must be devised, else it would be absolutely impossible for a fleet to blockade an enemy’s coast without grave risk to itself. Torpedo boats were essentially for coast defence, as they could only venture out in calm weather. It was therefore seen that a new type of boat was required, capable of keeping the sea in all weathers. Accordingly, the “torpedo boat destroyer” was designed with this object, and which, possessing superior speed, and an armament sufficiently powerful, could run down and destroy existing torpedo boats, would safeguard the fleet, and enable it to keep comparatively near the blockaded coast. These boats were also furnished with a torpedo equipment, so that they could be used as torpedo boats in connection with a fleet.

In these “destroyers,” as they are called for short, everything must be sacrificed to save weight; the hull must be a mere shell, and the engines and boilers reduced to the very minimum of weight that can be expected to stand the strain of the power developed. When we know that the sides of a destroyer are only 0.3-inch thick, and that her engines and boilers only weigh 50 pounds for each horse-power they give out, while those of a mail steamer weigh 280 pounds, and those of a cargo steamer 440 pounds, per horse-power developed, we can hardly wonder that these boats have frequent breakdowns.

Present day destroyers are boats of 200 to 300 tons displacement, and are about 227 feet long. They attain a maximum speed of about 33 knots, or 37 miles an hour, which is produced by engines of 6,000 to 8,000 horse-power. They carry two swivel torpedo tubes on deck, and an armament of one 12-pounder gun and six 3-pounders. They are also fitted with search lights. To prevent the sea from breaking over the bows, it is raised somewhat higher than the rest of the deck, and is curved at the sides, so that waves breaking over it are diverted to the side, instead of sweeping aft over the deck. The bridge is placed at the rear of this hood, and carries the 12-pounder gun. These boats carry 80 tons of coal, and have a crew of 60 men. The accomodation for the crew, however, is very cramped, and those who work them have to put up with a good deal of discomfort.

Like the torpedo boats, destroyers are low in the water; with their short dumpy funnels, short mast, and inky hue, they have a peculiarly “wicked” appearance.

A new departure in these boats has been made by the introduction of “turbine” engines, which are much lighter and take up less room than engines of the ordinary type. These engines go at such a high rate of speed that four screw-propellers have to be provided to transmit the power efficiently. Turbine destroyers have attained a speed of 35 and a half knots, or nearly 41 miles per hour. One more type of vessel remains to be mentioned, which is receiving a good deal of attention at present. These are the “submarines,” or boats designed to navigate under water. Their use, however, is largely discounted by the fact that it is impossible to see to any distance under water—in fact, a well-known submarine expert has said that the navigation of a submarine, even under the best conditions, presents exactly the same difficulties as that of an ordinary ship sailing in a fog. Hence a submarine must frequently rise to the surface to ascertain the distance traversed, and see that the proper course has been kept, and until some satisfactory means of avoiding this has been discovered, submarines will probably remain of comparatively little value for purposes of war.

The submarines made for the Navy are, 63 feet long, by 11 and 3 quarters feet broad. When running “awash”—that is, with a small part of their upper works above water, they are driven by a gasoline engine at a speed of over 10 miles an hour. Sufficient gasoline is carried to take them over 400 miles at this speed. When submerged, the speed is naturally glower; the gasoline engines are stopped, all openings are closed, and electric storage batteries are put in operation. These drive the boat at the rate of eight miles an hour, but for a run of four hours only, after which the batteries require recharging. For this reason submarines always require to act in concert with what has been called a “mother ship.”

The most important types of vessels composing the British Navy have now been described. There are many others—sloops, gunboats, transports, despatch-boats, coal ships, hospital-ships, etcetera, which need not be more than mentioned. What warships will be like in the future it is impossible to forecast, as will be seen from what has been already said. Improvements in armour and guns, as well in machinery, are ever being made, which may alter the present type of ship altogether. Sad it is to think of the enormous expenditure of money and ingenuity in providing means of destroying our fellow-men with the greatest facility, and what a relief it would be to everybody if only the nations could agree to disarm—and keep disarmed! But as this may not be, for the present at any rate, we must be content to bear the burden of our national insurance policy, and, however much we may grudge its necessity, see that our naval power is sufficient to keep the command of the sea, on which our very existence as a nation depends. Of one thing we may rest certain, that the same spirit, the same indomitable courage and readiness to sacrifice their lives in defence of their country, exists among our officers and men in not less proportion than it did before England was engaged in that glorious struggle, with the world in arms against her, for her liberties and independence, the successful termination of which secured for her that peace which has now endured, with few interruptions, for well-nigh a century. That peace it will be our wise policy to maintain while we can do so with honour; at the same time guarding ourselves by every means in our power against the assaults of envious foes who may venture to attack us.