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Naval History in the years 1890-1920
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Joined: 11 Dec 2007
Posts: 75
Location: Richmond, Virginia

PostPosted: Fri Jan 04, 2008 1:49 pm    Post subject: a few feet matter??? Reply with quote

I refer here to this question of dreadnought beam, and the fact that,
at least in the time frame of this site, 1890-1920, British docking
facilities allowed for a beam up to about 90ft., whereas the Germans
could build out to just over 100ft. So the "Queen Elizabeth's," for
instance, took this limit as far as it could go while the Germans were
already working in the 90-100ft. range.

Does it matter, five or ten feet of beam? Should British governments
of the era have spent the money to widen the docks?

I once ventured the opinion that a beamier vessel would provide a
steadier gun platform, only to be told this was not a major issue,
and I've read this elsewhere as well (but not unanimous). How about
greater protection?

Interestingly, it seems that most other-country dreadnoughts of the
era were closer to the British beam. I'll bet some of you may have
views on this.

P.S. -re. "feet" I remain firmly in the English system. Always annoying
that, when viewing stats. of warships other than British or
American they always go metric! Have to get out a calculator
and conversion chart.
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Joined: 23 Oct 2005
Posts: 131
Location: Great Britain

PostPosted: Sat Jan 05, 2008 1:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A number of British docks were being built which could accommodate "Dreadnought" sized battleships - though if memory serves it was an independent development i.e. it wasn't because of dreadnought that they were lengthened or widened. With the upgrade to super-dreadnoughts much greater use was made of floating docks which were the only free space available to look after such big ships.

One of the reasons Fisher became First Sea Lord was to cut costs, and he did this in part by making BIG cuts in the dockyard establishments - to lengthen and widen the various slips and docks would have required a large capital investment which the ship-building and manpower increases would not allow.

When the new battle cruisers were being discussed in great detail after WWI the DNC Tennyson D'Eyencourt if memory serves was still being constrained by dockyard sizes, hence the transom stern.

As far as beam goes, the layman in me thinks it was only good for increased internal sub-divison and armouring. To make a better gun platform depends more on the metacentric height of the ship (i.e. the centre of gravity) which doesn't necessarily depend on beam so much.

Alas, I am a poor un-mechanical peasant and all my naval history books are 200 miles away. These are just my probably incorrect musings.

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Site Admin

Joined: 29 Oct 2004
Posts: 478
Location: Boston

PostPosted: Sat Jan 05, 2008 6:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If God had intended us to use meters, He'd have given us a pair right below our knees!

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Joined: 11 Dec 2007
Posts: 75
Location: Richmond, Virginia

PostPosted: Sat Jan 05, 2008 8:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tone, re. "feet" amen to that! Aside from the familiarity of English meas-
urements, they have a charm in the simplicity and practicality of their
origins. Reminds me of the filmstrips I saw in elementary school about
how we got yards, feet, miles, etc..

Simon you speak of Fisher and cost-cutting; indeed Fisher had that remit
from Lord Selborne, who recognized that this job required someone
who wouldn't worry about whose toes were trod upon, or whose sacred
cow was gored, or be sentimental. Fisher was the man for that. And,
Fisher, when he launched into anything, as he said, went in "totus

I think he enjoyed the mantle of radical; it set him apart. However,
as in other areas with Fisher, I think he was wont to go too far.
He wants to build these cutting-edge warships and also please his political masters by shrinking the budget. "Dreadnought" and "Invincible" he
was "going" to have; if other argueably-necessary expenditures must
be sacrificed to simultaneously cut costs, so be it.

For me fitting into this pattern was Fisher's agreement to the cancelling
of four dreadnoughts in the years 1906-1908, certainly under heavy
pressure from the Liberal government. In my early reading I found
this disappointingly out-of-character for Fisher, but upon further inquiry
over time completely "in" character. He was going to please the
politicians. I think he convinced himself, after successfully launching
the "Dreadnought" revolution, that Germany's building program
would be halted for years as they re-designed, so that Britain could
afford to lay back a little. Save "more" money, and he could be
credited for that!

Tirpitz and co. were halted for a short time, but they recovered quick-
ly. By the time of the dreadnought "scare" Fisher had to change his
tune and the government inquiry followed. Now I don't care about
Beresford, but the media and the public blamed Fisher for starving
the navy. He acquiesced to the politicians (as he nearly always did)
but "he" took the heat when things went awry. I think his greatness
is somewhat undermined by his unwillingness to make noise when
it counted.

But maybe none of them do.
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Joined: 18 Sep 2005
Posts: 4
Location: Manchester England UK

PostPosted: Sun Jan 06, 2008 6:17 am    Post subject: Beam measurements Reply with quote

German first generation dreadnoughts such as the Nassau's were approx 10 feet wider in the beam which of course allowed the wing turrests to be placed further in board and give greater protection to magazines.
However Fisher knew that on completion of HMS Dreadnought the Germans would need to widen the 61 miles of Keil Canal (built in 1886) if they were to 'stay in the race' . The Keil Canal had been constructed at a time when German warships were under 12,000 tons, and German dockyards could only accommodate ships with a maximum displacement of up to 13,200 tons.
In the committee on designs in Feb 1905 Fisher is quoted in his memoirs as stating as " A new Kiel Canal at the cost of many many millions had been rendered necessary by the advent of Dreadnought..worse still..they will need to spent vast millions in deepening not only th approaches to the German harbours, but the harbours themselves to allow the German Dreadnoughts...when be able to float".
Of course neither Tirpitz nor the Kaiser could not lose face and had to bite the bullet and do just this at vast expense. So is beam important? - you bet! German dreadnoughts were supposedly more 'sturdy' in the North sea due to this wider beam, whether this is advantageous as a gun platform - I don't know; but would suspect that it cannot have been anything but a slight advantage. How such vessels would have faired in the big Atlantic swells.....well, perhaps one could research the crossing of the Ostfriesland to the USA to be later destroyed by 'Billy' Mitchell's bombs at the end of the war?
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Joined: 11 Dec 2007
Posts: 75
Location: Richmond, Virginia

PostPosted: Sun Jan 06, 2008 11:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Patia I hadn't thought about the placement of the wing turrets related to
greater beam. Good point. And the theme of greater protection as a
rationale for this seems to be prevailing in this thread. Simon mentions
it also.

And this fits, doesn't it? After all, the High Seas Fleet, even before the
advent of "Dreadnought," was initiated with a strategic concept in
mind, the "risk" fleet, and designs fitted to this concept. The aim was
not to have the numerically-superior fleet (although there was a
period, that "scare" window, where Whitehall believed the Germans
"were" aiming at superiority, triggering an amazing display of
determination from the British government (and its dominions) which
put that out of reach).

The Tirpitz idea required survivable warships, because Germany
could ill-afford to lose even one or two for the plan to work. So
greater compartmentalization, torpedo protection, etc. That extra
beam allows for a bit more of this.

Now re. the spending of the money for wider docks. As Simon
says, as far as government yards were concerned this wasn't
going to happen, although he also mentions solutions such as
floating docks. However, you also have private armaments
firms like Krupp, getting into the shipbuilding business and
spending their own money. In Britain there were Vickers
(a firm of enormous resource and determination), Armstrongs,
John Brown. A fair portion of the wartime Grand Fleet were
built in these yards. Maybe the English designers, public and
private, simply didn't believe beam was an issue?
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Joined: 11 Dec 2007
Posts: 75
Location: Richmond, Virginia

PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2008 9:42 am    Post subject: Fisher and the Kiel Canal... Reply with quote

Re. Fisher and the pride he took in having, via "Dreadnought," forced
the Germans to spend all of that extra money, both for upgarding their
battleships and widening the Kiel Canal to make their transit between
seas possible.

Some say that this was one of Fisher's true talents, continually wrong-
footing the enemy, forcing him to exhaust his resources, or concentrate
forces in places he didn't actually intend to send the fleet. His claim
about the canal fits this pattern (although I wonder whether that motivated
him beforehand). By the same token his many extravagant invasion
schemes during the War would be deliberate disinformation to force
the enemy to focus resources in the wrong places.

Fisher certainly used disinformation successfully in regard to the size
of the main armament on the first battle-cruisers. However, I'm skeptical
about "how' subtle he was, although the alternative, at times, is to
consider him an occasional maniac. Just musings for anyone who
may have a view.
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Adrian Dobb

Joined: 13 Nov 2005
Posts: 41
Location: Devon, UK

PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2008 2:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fisher certainly used deception a fair amount in his career, but I think its best to be cautious about attributing his moves to a grand vision designed to wrongfoot his overseas enemies. More often it was along the lines of simple short term expediency, designed to overcome internal and domestic opposition to his plans and ideas.

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Joined: 11 Dec 2007
Posts: 75
Location: Richmond, Virginia

PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2008 6:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The kaiser and Tirpitz might have made a similar claim to that of Fisher,
namely "look how much money we made 'you' spend by initiating the
fleet building program in the first place." And this naval arms race had
repercussions in Britain far beyond the money, although these I'm sure
the Germans didn't intend.

Look at that 1908-1909 period, the time of the Dreadnought Scare, when
the Liberal government had to budget for eight dreadnoughts in one year.
In Britain, unlike in Germany, there was never really any question that
the money would be spent to stay, not just ahead of Germany in these
vessels, but way ahead. Now Lloyd George was on the losing side when
the government reached that 4+4 solution, along with Churchill who
was still among the doves at that time. They felt that four would suffice
(some called them Germanophiles).

However, Lloyd George is the Chancellor, and he's going to write the
budget to pay for these eight, along with all of the domestic program
commitments the government has made; the result, of course, was
the People's Budget, including all of the increased taxation of the
aristocrats and plutocrats from which I'm sure Lloyd George derived
some pleasure. As a radical, Lloyd George turned this personal loss
in the cabinet into a policy victory. The chain of events from there
led to the Parliament Act, a basic change in the British constitution.

Political and social upheaval partly caused by dreadnoughts. And
by contrast, it was partly to avoid these that it was the Germans
who had to fall back in the spending race. The socialists were
coming on strong and here the growing of the navy was not worth
risking a change in the social order. Also, as important as the
navy was to many in Germany it could never have the same
importance as in England; the German Empire, at its heart, was
Prussia; a military state, and the army's needs were always going
to trump those of the navy.

You never know where a thread may take you.
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Joined: 23 Oct 2005
Posts: 131
Location: Great Britain

PostPosted: Sat Jan 12, 2008 7:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The so-called People's Budget was one of the more interesting chapter's in our island's illustrious history. Lloyd George really was a swine over this. The Budget guaranteed the continued expansion of the naval building programme, which overshadowed any social measures being put forward. Then he proposes to raise this by his accursed Land Tax, which was unconstitutional then as it would be (I hope) nowadays. His increases in the death duties and introduction of the super tax, while not hurtful to the poor and middle classes, combined with the Land Tax would have been absolutely crippling for the aristocracy (the landed gentry survived the First War, but got absolutely caned when Labour came in in '45)
Then of course we had the House of Lords voting against the Bill which contained the Land Tax. Not unreasonable, when they had so much to lose. And it shows how desperate they were when they knew that to vote against a money Bill would provoke a constitutional crisis. They were somewhat buoyed by their belief that the country agreed with them, which to a very large part it did - in 1910 there were TWO General Elections in Britain, and the Conservative Party, which represented most of the Lords, made the principle of an appointed legislative upper chamber the ISSUE of their campaigns, and in an election where nearly as many people voted as in the whole of the USA in 1912, the Conservatives gained massive ground and drew even with the reigning Liberal government.
Normally, this would have brought an end to the threat to the power of the House of Lords.
However, in a move which can only be called "moronic" and "opportunistic", Asquith and Lloyd George decided to make a pact with the Irish Nationalist MPs, 80 in number and thus be in a position to cling to power. Of course, the House of Lords had for years blocked every chance at Home Rule for Ireland it had, so the Irish made their joining the Liberals prerequisite upon the House of Lords being stripped of its legislative powers. Which happened.
So, indirectly thanks to the naval arms race, and directly because of the Liberals' Faustian Pact, the House of Lords was stripped of real power, the Irish were given an unspoken promise of Home Rule, the Tory party took revenge by entrenching in Ulster, and the Liberal party went on to self-destruct in a spectacular way over the next decade, the Irish Civil War being one of its enduring legacies.

Just a brief overview of how it affected Britain at any rate :)
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Joined: 11 Dec 2007
Posts: 75
Location: Richmond, Virginia

PostPosted: Sat Jan 12, 2008 2:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Simon you point out a lin kin that chain of events I missed; Irish Home
Rule. A Faustian bargain indeed, although one which I think was
uncomfortable (tail wagging the dog) but acceptable to most of the
government, those who were old Gladstonians.

After that first 1910 election Redmond had a golden opportunity. The
government "might" have said "not at that price," but politicians
always want to stay in, and the price asked was not anathema to
most of them. Home Rule was a traditional party goal, although in
other circumstances I think Asquith and co. would have pushed it
down the road.

Fascinating too: barring the minority government with Irish support,
how could the country be governed? The Conservatives had common
ground with no other party, and they rejected the coalition idea
which George V hoped would get him out of his bind.

And this started with a few feet of beam. Dreadnoughts have con-
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