1905 And All That

SATURDAY 26th FEBRUARY 2005 

1905 was in many respects as significant a year in naval history as 1805.  This seminar looks at four very different happenings in that year and will consider how closely they were in fact connected.

Lectures given at the seminar were:

Battle of Tsushima - John Charles, (historian and writer)

HMS Dreadnought: A Leap in the Dark? - John Brooks, Naval historian

Summary of this lecture:

This paper commemorates the laying down, one hundred years ago, of the keel of the first turbine-powered, all-big-gun battleship, HMS Dreadnought. It begins by describing her predecessors, British and foreign, and how her design was developed from the characteristics first defined by the new First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir John Fisher. It shows how the construction of Dreadnought, and her even more radical sisters, the Invincible-class battlecruisers, was a distinct departure from previous British policy; this had been to respond rapidly to novel foreign designs with more and generally better British ships, but not for Britain to take the technological lead herself.

In deciding to build Dreadnought, the Royal Navy also took several other leaps into the unknown. Turbines had as yet been tried only in small passenger ships and in destroyers. An all-big-gun armament was most advantageous at long ranges: yet the fire control techniques and instruments needed for long range gunnery were at an early stage of development. Heavy turret guns could not yet be aimed and fired accurately with motion on the ship. Lastly, the strategic situation, though already becoming more favourable to Britain, was still changing, and the consequences of introducing the new types were uncertain. Yet, even before Dreadnought’s keel had been laid, it was clear that she would make all earlier battleships obsolescent: and that Germany was the only potentially hostile naval power that might take up the challenge that she represented.

Some of the bold leaps were justified by results; the turbine plant was a success and the fire control instruments were developed in time. But, for some two years after Dreadnought’s completion, Fisher’s critics had grounds for claiming that she ‘would not be able to fight her guns efficiently in a seaway’.  And the strategic consequence was the dreadnought race with Germany. The paper concludes that Fisher’s policy was, in too many ways, a risky and unnecessary leap in the dark.

(The exhibition marking the launch of HMS Dreadnought opened at the Museum in 2006 can be viewed in the Twentieth Century Gallery pages

Opening of Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth - Harry Dickinson, War Studies Department, King's College, London

100 years of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary - Tom Adams, co-author of the RFA Centenary History

Summary of this lecture:

“To deliver world-wide support to customers at consistently high standards including close logistics support for the Royal Navy and secure strategic lift for the Royal Marines and the Army.” This is the mission statement for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, which was established one hundred years ago.

The Service is commanded and managed by its seamen and engineers providing a first class world-wide example of Britain’s seafaring skills at its best

Today you will be given a snapshot of how this unique Service has developed from 1905, through two worlds wars, numerous small wars and the Cold War to become the pre-eminent civilian logistic corps at sea where its ships – high value force multipliers – provide a range of combat support services from fuel to mail, from ammunition to beer and includes substantial platforms for aircraft operations, forward repair facilities and primary casualty evacuation.

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