Padfield Peter - Battleship

Author : Padfield Peter
Title : Battleship
Year : 1972

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Introduction to the 2015 edition. My Introduction to the Revised Edition of this book - which follows - was much concerned with new light on the rejection by the pre-First World War British Admiralty of a gunnery fire control system promising to give the Royal Navy a decisive advantage over all other navies in long-range hitting. I describe the abandonment of this system, designed by the civilian Arthur Pollen, and the adoption of an inferior copy devised by a serving gunnery officer, Lieutenant (later Admiral Sir) Frederick Dreyer, as one of the most incredible and darkest chapters in Admiralty history. Since then the tale has received another, scarcely less astonishing twist. It emerges from further research by Professor Jon Tetsuro Sumida; analysis of Admiralty procurement policy, ship design and battle practice rules prior to the First World War has led Sumida to the conclusion that by 1912 the Admiralty, guided by the future commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet, Sir John Jellicoe, had devised a secret tactic of Nelsonic boldness, not simply to defeat but to annihilate the German fleet in battle at their (German) preferred medium- to close range. By this date new hydraulic elevating and training machinery for battleships’ heavy guns made it possible for gunlayers and trainers to keep their guns on target throughout the rolling, pitching and yawing motions of their ship. In order to take full advantage Jellicoe and his gunnery officer, Lieutenant Dreyer, collaborated on a fire control system employing separate range and bearing plots of the enemy – as distinct from integrating both range and bearing in a ‘true plot’ of the enemy as Arthur Pollen proposed. The ranges obtained by rangefinders were fed into a ‘Range-rate Clock’, which generated a rate of change of range (see fuller description in the chapter on fire control); if this fell out of step with the reported ranges it was ‘tuned’ to the observed range. In battle practices ships would start with one or two ranging shots or salvoes to check the reported range of the target, then go into rapid independent fire with gunsights set to the Clock-generated range. The system, known as ‘rangefinder control’, did not depend on correcting gun-range by ‘spotting’ the fall of the previous shot or salvo, and thus allowed the fastest possible rate of fire. It was believed that in action this would prove crushing. Armour-piercing shells for British 13.5-inch gun dreadnoughts then entering service were almost 60 per cent heavier than the largest German 12-inch projectiles and were believed to be capable of penetrating the thickest German armour at 10,000 yards. Early in 1913 gun calibre was increased to 15 inches for a new class of British super-dreadnoughts whose shells were double the weight of German 12-inch shells. Such huge projectiles delivered with the accuracy and rapidity supposedly possible with ‘rangefinder control’ would overcome the more lightly-gunned German ships in short time. The enemy would be effectively knocked out before his torpedoes could reach the British line, which, after the initial brief and violent cannonade, would be turned away by signal, all ships together, in time to avoid the underwater threat. ...

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