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THE NAVAL REVIEW.
IT is a good saying of a modern writer, "that pleasure will not follow in any prescribed track." Who does not remember, in times past, some combination of pleasant circumstances an unpremeditated picnic at the woodman's cottage-a moonlight row over some dreamy lake, when the oars kept time to an impromptu song--a gallop over the breezy downs with some one chosen companion, or some other source of enjoyment requiring few and ready materials, but giving real and well-remembered delight? Afterwards, perhaps, an attempt has been made to repeat the circumstances and reproduce the pleasure, and the result has been dulness and disappointment. So it was with our great Naval Review. In August 1853, the Queen reviewed the fleet; the men-of-war present were comparatively few, and there was but little variety in their size and equipment. The plan of their movements was simple and obvious: the ships steamed out in single line to a moderate distance, where they formed two lines of battle, and after engaging for a few minutes in noisy but harmless strife, they returned helter-skelter to the Roads, and "anchored as convenient:" a mock attack upon a frigate by the boats of the squadron terminated the proceedings. The day was a brilliant success; the sun, according to his wont, shone brightly upon the Royal Dame as she led her ships to seaboard. Every vessel that walks the sea, from the drowsy collier to the graceful yacht; every boat that could spread a goose-wing; fishermen, watermen, land-lubbers, and all, were afloat enjoying and enhancing the brightness and bustle of the merry scene. Every neighbouring port had sent its tribute of laughing sightseers; white sails and gaudy flags all flashing and sparkling on the waves, as they raced and chased each other in the pleasant breeze. We have never met landsman or seaman who was there, who failed to speak of the day with animation and delight. ""Tis worth twenty Chobhams;" "It beats the Exhibition in
VOL. LXXIX.-NO. CCCCLXXXVIII.
Hyde Park," was the verdict of the Cockneys; and the cordial approbation of the seamen was couched in far more florid and vigorous terms. Songs and laughter echoed from a hundred belated craft plying homewards to their port; admiration and satisfaction were the order of the day. Compare this, as a spectacle, with the review which we have lately witnessed.
On the one side we see a scanty squadron and unobtrusive preparations, with a brilliant effect; on the other, a magnificent fleet, unrivalled in size, novelty, and variety of the ships which composed it, elaborate preparations, careful rehearsal, meritorious exertions on the part of the authorities, and the consequence is a cold and dismal pageant, strong in facts and figures, but in point of spirit, animation, and motion, dull, tedious, and uninteresting. It would be great injustice to attribute the comparative failure of the display to any neglect or indifference on the part of Her Majesty's Government: they indeed had every motive for desiring that the event should pass off with éclat. Now that the season for vigorous action had passed, they were naturally anxious to gain credit for their vast, if not timely, preparations. After two years had elapsed without one naval triumph to justify our boasting, they could not but be desirous to show the world that want of power, at all events, was not the cause of our inaction. Actuated by a laudable ambition, they wished history to record that under their auspices the preparations for war were in time for the termination of hostilities; that their new appliances for destruction-not forthcoming, it is true, at Sveaborg or Cronstadt Roads—were, however, punctually assembled in the more congenial waters of the Solent.
To achieve this end, no expense, no exertion was spared; the docks and arsenals rang and clattered with the stroke of the hammer and the maul: among the most vigorous efforts ever known for expediting the materials of war, were those made by Her Ma
jesty's Ministers immediately after the conclusion of peace. This was reasonable and consistent and we think that even those who were most bitterly disappointed in the show, must acquit the Government of any wilful indifference to the success of the one great naval effort of the war.
The calamity we have to deplore is, that the tact and cleverness of those in power was scarcely on a par with their zealous and meritorious exertions; and the result has been, that the chief elements of successthe numbers and completeness of the squadron-were made to contribute in great measure to the tedium and dreariness of the display. The elements were propitious to the event. At a stormy and fickle season of the year, a summer sun shed warmth and brightness over an unclouded sky, and a sea without a ripple. With men of all ranks the project took marvellously, and absorbed the attention of the country. Even the terms of the much-canvassed Peace, published unexpectedly and prematurely in a newspaper, were read without interest or debate--the review was the topic of the day. During more than fourand-twenty hours the South-western Railway sent train after train in quick succession, loaded and overloaded with eager spectators.
The two Houses of Parliament, embarked at the expense of the State, were present (as all men know) at, or at all events shortly after, the most interesting part of the spectacle; and on the part of miscellaneous visitors there was no lack of interest, of expectation, and, in due time, of disappointment. The ships were not wanting, and, to do them justice, they looked their best, and were magnificent. Some who had been familiar with them in the rough scenes of active service scarcely recognised their old friends, now resplendent in all the glories of paint and polish. But the chief irremediable error of the affair consisted in anchoring and manoeuvring the ships in two long dreary lines extending some five or six miles from the head of the Spit to the east buoy of the Brambles. Even the little gunboats, which clearly have no place in
the line of battle, and are as like each other as peas in a pod, were drawn out in endless succession, as monotonous and uninteresting as the links in their cables.
It is obvious that, when ships are in line, a cable's length apart, a spectator who is necessarily near them can see little more than halfa-dozen ships at a time; the rest are obscured by each other, and are lost in smoke and distance. Besides, to a landsman's eye, ships are so much alike, that in passing along the lines the attention is wearied by the recurrence of similar objects, and the effect of mass and power is lost, and utterly dwindled away. Homer's catalogue never proved more tedious to a schoolboy than the effort of involuntary admiration to the disappointed Cockney, as he steamed in his crowded transport down the interminable lines of noble vessels, whose beauty, variety, and size, were utterly marred in effect by this orthodox but most unimaginative arrangement. The same error pursued the ships in their so-called evolutions. As soon as Her Majesty had passed in her noble yacht through the two lines from east to west, and the gun-boats had filed by and gone to their stations, then the ships got under way in two parallel lines, steamed out to the eastward, and, passing round the London and the Rodney-moored as pivot-ships about a mile beyond the Nab Lightthey steamed back again as before, and this was the review and these were the various evolutions lauded in the official despatch. Could anything be conceived more ineffective, more utterly stupid and uninteresting?
Nor was this all. The floating batteries-one of the great novelties of the day, about which so much has been said and sung-were anchored off the mouth of the harbour, and remained fixed during the day, neither lifting an anchor nor firing a gun. The Lords, the Commons, and the greater part of the spectators in the large Southampton ships, scarcely saw them; the mortar-boats, thirty or forty in number, were anchored off Stokes Bay, and shared the same fate; the despatch gun-boats, the fastest
vessels in the fleet, were stationed at the rear of the two lines, astern of the tardy paddles, astern of the still more sluggish bomb-frigates; and during the whole day these graceful vessels had no one opportunity of displaying the speed in which their excellence is supposed to consist.
There was no mimic fight, no exercise of the crews aloft, nothing, in fact, to give life and animation to the heavy and monotonous affair. The weariness of the scene may be inferred from the fact, that the sun set before the rearmost ships of the solemn procession could get back to their stations; and it was necessary to break through the tedious regulation, and allow them to return as best they could. Then it was that the vessels, at length let loose, started like greyhounds from the slips. For a few minutes the Roads presented a scene of life and motion; and this unintentional departure from the programme constituted, perhaps, the prettiest feature of the day. It would require no great nautical or topographical knowledge to devise a better scheme of operations, though it would grievously tax our invention to contrive a worse.
One of the plans suggested was this: In the widest part of the Roads, the heavy ships, divided into two squadrons, should have formed two lines of battle at anchor, in close order; upon the arrival of Her Majesty, the light ships and gun-boats should have passed in single line round the two squadrons; Her Majesty and the privileged guests remaining within, the rest of the spectators without, the circle. The graceful positions which even steamships assume, and their characteristic attitudes when seen at different points of view, the masses of hull and the forest of masts and spars, would have told with effect; and in a circular course there would have been some little scope for skill and management in keeping the vessels in their stations. This over, when the smaller vessels had filed off, the heavy squadrons should have opened fire, and pounded at each other for a few minutes in real fighting style. This is one of numerous suggestions which were made in the course of the day; and it is but just to say that, of all
the plans that were proposed, there was not one which, taken altogether, seemed so poor and unpromising as that adopted by the authorities.
So much for the Naval Review as a great popular show. It was a brilliant spectacle spoiled by the dull prosaic arrangements of the powers that be. And now, we confess that our grumblings and our discontent are fairly exhausted. As a great national fact, the scene we have witnessed wears a far more satisfactory aspect; for we cannot but perceive that, for an aggressive war, England has armed herself with a defensive force which must go far to render her impregnable, and which could not otherwise have been raised without provoking the jealousy, and perhaps the remonstrances, of Continental powers.
It was but recently a cant phrase, that steam had thrown a bridge across the seas. The lesson we have learned from the 23d of April is, that steam has thrown round our shores a
cordon of obstacles which no invading force could possibly elude, or, without gross mismanagement on our part, could hope to overcome. A few years ago, an easterly breeze or a calm would have locked up our Queens, our Caledonias, our Albions and Rodneys, at Spithead ; the fickle breezes would bind the strong man, and the enemy might spoil his goods in peace. Now, however, we have a telegraph to tell the tale, and we have steam to give wings to our ships; and before half-a-dozen regiments could effect a landing, such a hornet's nest of line-of-battle ships, frigates, corvettes, and gun-boats would pour forth from Portsmouth and Sheerness, as nothing but a navy superior to our own could resist.
The floating batteries, ponderous, inactive, and unseaworthy, have not yet been rendered very available for aggressive war; but as blockships to guard our ports they would be invaluable; and for service in such waters they might easily be rendered still more invulnerable than they are. If our navy is kept up, as we may venture to hope it will be, the great invasion bugbear may be regarded as a horrid dream of the past, a fearful perilous monster dead and gone, like some
dread saurian reptile fossilised and extinct.
We venture to believe that such considerations as these, far from endangering our relations with our nearest and most powerful neighbour, will go far to found our friendship on the firmest and most rational footing. The giant and the dwarf, we are told, proved sorry comrades; and so long as France possessed an overpowering army, and England offered an unprotected shore, there must have existed a constant source of jealousy and mistrust. Now, however, we cannot but perceive the folly of engaging in a contest from which neither nation could gain any tangible advantage, and which would only afford sincere gratification to those who hate our policy, and are jealous of our power. The gun-boats have already shown themselves valuable auxiliaries in aggression; but it was as a defensive arm that gun-boats were originally devised, and it is in such warfare that their strength consists. A few shots from their heavy guns would play havoc in a crowded transport; and they are so small, so active, and so numerous, that it would be a hard matter to protect a disembarking force from their desultory and ubiquitous attacks.
It is sincerely to be hoped that our rulers will not treat the gun-boats after the fashion suggested by a newspaper of some authority in naval matters. The writer of the article in question recommends that, after a careful survey, the whole flotilla should be laid up in dock till their services are again required. It would be far better to keep a large proportion of them under weigh, and to connect them with a permanent coast-guard force highly trained for the arduous duties required of such a service. It is said that service in small craft destroys the discipline and corrupts the morale of the profession; but by keeping the boats in squadrons, and forming camps ashore for the crews, with regular field-days for shore exercise and other such management, this difficulty might be entirely overcome. It would be ludicrous but dismal sport to see the tricks and antics of a gun-boat flotilla
in a breeze of wind some ten years hence, with such seamen and such officers as peace and steam navigation will give us, unless the nucleus of a force is maintained and practised, not only in gunnery, but in the manoeuvring of small craft, whose efficiency and safety consist almost entirely in tact, nerve, and hardihood, the result of practice on the part of those who handle them.
It is in vain, however, to hope for any such improvements. The English are slow to improve; and when they do, it is a sort of patchwork, The crews we have got together will be broken up and sent adrift into the streets; and when their services are again required, we shall be fain to content ourselves, as we did in 1854, with a pack of "Grahamites and Grasscombers," as the seamen call them, whom no officer can rely on, and whose inefficiency will incapacitate us for striking what might be the first but finishing stroke of a naval campaign. At this moment we are dismissing the five-year men, whose pay is actually in arrear, and who are kept waiting in idleness till some official routine is gone through and the pay-list is made up. The men, utterly disgusted with the treatment they have received, amuse themselves in their leisure by cursing the Queen's Service and all who belong to it; and it is not difficult to surmise under what colours many of them will sail ere long.
The value of these veteran seamen can scarcely be overrated: they preserve the spirit and discipline of the service; they are the sole depositaries of the various and recondite traditions of seamen's lore-valuable at all times, but invaluable now among our raw crews, half-sailors, half-harvestmen, many of whom can neither pass a seizing nor splice a rope.
The change required by the exigencies of the time is the constitution of a permanent force of seamen-gunners well practised in the manœuvres of gun-boats, well trained in the use of weapons, and accustomed to act and move in concert both ashore and afloat.
It is a common fashion nowadays to describe every squadron that we
get together as a fleet, such as the world has never witnessed; and in many respects such a description would apply correctly to the force lately mustered at Spithead. The number of line-of-battle ships, however, is by no means unprecedented; there were but 24 in all, or, reckoning the heavy frigates, 27-precisely the number that Nelson took into action at Trafalgar. Such an assemblage of formidable smallcraft is, however, quite a novel feature in a British fleet. In the year 1804, we built vessels to the amount of 28,674 tons for the Royal Service -a feat in those days which excited wonder and alarm. Since last summer we have launched at least 30,000 tons of gun-boats alone, besides floating batteries, mortar-boats, and other ships into the bargain.
The great superiority of the modern fleet consists in the size and armament of the heavy ships, in the numbers and metal of the gun-boats, and in the power of rapid and independent locomotion. All these
changes seem to point plainly in one direction. A ploughman can fight with a hedge-stake, but it requires skill and cleverness to use a rifle with address. The ships of the present day, rapid in motion, and doubly formidable in destructive appliances, without any proportionate increase in their powers of resistance, evidently demand the highest possible degree of skill; in other words, quickness and aptitude on the part of the crew. By a dashing manœuvre to bring a crushing force suddenly upon a portion of the enemy's ships, will be the aim of the officer; to finish the work quickly and decisively, before the error can be repaired, must be the business of the men. This can only be done by well-drilled and thoroughly-practised gunners; and a parcel of happy-go-lucky sailors and steamboat-stokers, hastily raked together at the approach of war, are just as well qualified for such service as they are to officiate as riders at Astley's, or choristers at St Paul's.