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Day of dreadnought is past, predicts H G Wells (1915)

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The dreadnought was the most common type of battleship found in the world’s navies at the beginning of the 20th century. The term comes from the Royal Navy’s HMS Dreadnought, which had such an influence on warship design after it was launched in 1906, the entire type of warship across all countries was named for her.

Despite their fearsome weaponry and advanced (for the time) design, only one battle ever took place between a large dreadnought fleet — the Battle of Jutland, which took place in the North Sea in the spring of 1916. There was no decisive outcome.

After World War I, most dreadnoughts ended up being scrapped under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty, and with the demise of the ships, the term fell out of favor as well. – AJW

HMS Dreadnought

Day of dreadnought is past, predicts H G Wells

Famous English author says England’s confidence in big battleships is unreasonable and naval war of future will be battle of submarines, destroyers and hydroplanes

In an essay on common sense in warfare by H G Wells in his book “Social Forces in England and America,” recently published by Harpers, he says:

In the popular imagination the dreadnought is still the one instrument of naval war. We count our strength in dreadnoughts, and so long as we are spending our national resources upon them faster than any other country, if we sink at least £160 for every £100 sunk in these obsolescent monsters by Germany, we have a reassuring sense of keeping ahead and being thoroughly safe. This confidence in big, very expensive battleships is, I believe and hope, shared by the German government and by Europe generally, but it is nevertheless a very unreasonable confidence and it may easily lead us into the most tragic of national disillusionments.

We of the general public are led to suppose that the next naval war — if ever we engage in another naval war — will begin with a decisive fleet action. The plan of action is presented with an alluring simplicity. Our adversary will come out to us in a ratio of 10 to 16, or in some ratio still more advantageous to us, according as our adversary happens to be this Power or that Power, there will be some tremendous business with guns and torpedoes and our Admirals will return victorious to discuss the discipline and details of the battle and each other’s little weaknesses in the monthly magazines. This is a desirable but improbable anticipation. No hostile power is in the least likely to send out any battleships at all against our invincible dreadnoughts. They will promenade the seas, always in the ratio of sixteen or more to ten, looking for fleets securely tucked away out of reach. They will not, of course, go too near the enemy’s coast on account of mines and meanwhile our cruisers will hunt the enemy’s commerce into port.

The other things will happen.

The enemy we shall discover using unsportsmanlike devices against our capital ships. Unless he is a lunatic he will prove to be much stronger in reality than he is on paper in the matter of submarines, torpedo boats, waterplanes and aeroplanes. These are things cheap to make and easy to conceal. He will be richly stocked with ingenious devices for getting explosives up to these two million pound triumphs of our naval engineering. On the cloudy and foggy nights so frequent about these islands, he will have extraordinary chances and sooner or later, unless we beat him thoroughly in the air above and in the waters beneath, for neither of which proceedings we are prepared, some of these chances will come off and we shall lose a dreadnought.

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It will be a poor consolation if an ill advised and stranded Zeppelin or so enlivens the quiet of the English countryside by coming down and capitulating. It will be a trifling counter shock to wing an aeroplane or so or blow a torpedo boat out of the water. Our dreadnoughts will cease to be a source of unmitigated confidence. A second battleship disaster will excite the press extremely. A third will probably lead to a retirement of the battle fleet to some east coast harbor, a refuge liable to aeroplanes, or to the west coast of Ireland — and the real naval war, which as I have argued in an earlier chapter, will be a war of destroyers, submarines and hydroplanes, will begin. Incidentally a commerce destroyer may take advantage of the retirement of our fleet to raid our trade routes.

We shall then realize that the actual naval weapons are these smaller weapons, and especially the destroyer, the submarine, and the waterplane – the waterplane most of all, because of its possibilities of a comparative bigness — in the hands of competent and daring men. And I find myself, as a patriotic Englishman, more and more troubled by doubts whether we are as certainly superior to any possible adversary in these essential things as we are in the matter of dreadnoughts. I find myself awake at nights, after a day much agitated by a belligerent press, wondering whether the real empire of the sea may not even now have slipped out of our hands while our attention has been fixed on our stately procession of giant warships, while our country has been in a dream, hypnotized by the dreadnought idea.

For some years, there seems to have been a complete arrest of the British imagination in naval and military matters. That declining faculty, never a very active or well exercised one, staggered up to the conception of a dreadnought, and seems now to have sat down for good. Its reply to every demand upon it has been “more dreadnoughts.” The future, as we British seem to see it, is an avenue of dreadnoughts, and superdreadnoughts and super-superdreadnoughts, getting bigger in a kind of inverted perspective. But the ascendency of fleets of great battleships in naval warfare, like the phase of huge conscript armies upon land, draws to its close. The progress of invention makes both the big ship and the army crowd more and more vulnerable and less and less effective. A new phase of warfare opens beyond the vista of our current programs. Smaller, more numerous and various and mobile weapons and craft and contrivances, manned by daring and highly skilled men, must ultimately take the place of those massiveness. We are entering upon a period in which the invention of methods and material for war is likely to be more rapid and diversified than it has ever been before, and the question of what we have been doing behind the splendid line of our dreadnoughts to meet the demands of this new phase is one of supreme importance. Knowing, as I do, the imaginative indolence of my countrymen, it is a question I face with something very near to dismay.

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But it is one that has to be faced. The question that should occupy our directing minds now is no longer “How can we get more dreadnoughts?” but “What have we to follow the dreadnought?”

To the Power that has most nearly guessed the answer to that riddle belongs the future empire of the seas. It is interesting to guess for oneself and to speculate upon the possibility of a kind of armored mother ship for waterplanes and submarines and torpedo craft, but necessarily that would be a mere journalistic and amateurish guessing. I am not guessing, but asking urgent questions. What force, what council, how many imaginative and inventive men has the country got at the present time employed not casually but professionally in anticipating the new strategy, the new tactics, the new material, the new training that invention is so rapidly rendering necessary. I have the gravest doubts whether we are doing anything systematic at all in this way.

Now, it is the tremendous seriousness of this deficiency to which I want to call attention. Great Britain has in her armor a gap more dangerous and vital than any mere numerical insufficiency of men or ships. She is short of minds. Behind its strength of current armaments today, a strength that begins to evaporate and grow obsolete from the very moment it comes into being, a country needs more and more this profounder strength of intellectual and creative activity.

This country most of all, which was left so far behind in the production of submarines, airships and aeroplanes, must be made to realize the folly of its trust in established things. Each new thing we take up more belatedly and reluctantly than its predecessor. The time is not far distant when we shall be “caught” lagging unless we change all this.

We need a new arm to our service; we need it urgently, and we shall need it more and more, and that arm is research. We need to place inquiry and experiment upon a new footing altogether, to enlist for them and organize them, to secure the pick of our young chemists and physicists and engineers, and get them to work systematically upon the anticipation and preparation of our future war equipment. We need a service of invention to recover our lost lead in these matters.

And it is because I feel so keenly the want of such a service and the want of great sums of money for it that I deplore the disposition to waste millions upon the hasty creation of a universal service army and upon excessive dreadnoughting. I am convinced that we are spending upon the things of yesterday the money that is sorely needed for the things of tomorrow.

With our eyes averted obstinately from the future, we are backing toward disaster.

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