All investigations of the sea-going qualities of torpedo boats show that while the basin experiments are highly satisfactory, those made at sea prove with equal force the unreliability of these craft when they leave the coast. At the beginning of the Milford Haven operations, the boisterous weather necessitated the postponing of operations, on account of the unfitness of the torpedo boat crews to continue work after the twelve hours of serious fatigue they had already undergone. In the French evolutions, the difficulties of the passage from Bastia to Ajaccio, although not remarkably severe, so unfitted fifteen of the twenty boats that they could take no part in the final attack. In two nights we find recorded collisions which disable boats Nos. 52, 61, 63, and 72, and required their return to port for repairs.
Of the twenty-two torpedo boats leaving Toulon a few days before, but six arrived near the enemy, although their commanders displayed admirable energy. One had run aground, and was full of water; another had been sunk by collision; another's engine was seriously injured; and as for the rest, they could not follow.
Of the boats under the command of Admiral Brown de Colstoun, but five remained for service, for the sixth received an accident to her machinery which prevented her taking part in the attack.
During the operations off the Balearic Isles, only one of six boats attacked, and none was able to follow the armorclads, all meeting with circumstances quite unexpected and embarrassing.
With the weather as it existed May 13, the armorclads had the torpedo fleet completely at their mercy, for even if they had not been destroyed by the excellent practice of the Hotchkiss gunners, they would have been of no use, as they could not with safety discharge their torpedoes. In fact, the search lights discovered distinctly that one of the boats, which burned her Coston's signal to announce victory, did not have her torpedo tube open, on account of the heavy sea.
Furthermore, their positions were frequently easily discovered by the immense volume of smoke and flame ejected while going at great speed. This applies as well by night as by day. It was also reported that after the four days' running the speed of the boats was reduced to twelve knots.
With such evidence before us, the seaworthiness of boats of the Nos. 63 and 64 type may be seriously questioned. Weyl emphasizes the facts that "practice has shown that boats of No. 61 type cannot make headway in a heavy sea, and that it is then often impossible to open their torpedo tubes. On this account they are greatly inferior to ships of moderate tonnage, which can certainly make some progress, fire their torpedoes, and use their artillery in weather when a torpedo boat will be utterly helpless. The torpedo boat abandoned to itself has a very limited field of action."
Du Pin de Saint Andre admits the success of the torpedo boat for harbor and coast work, but wisely concludes that this can prove nothing as to what they may or may not be able to do at sea.
In an article which appeared in the Revue des Deux Mondes in June last, he presented able reasons why the torpedo boats of to-day's type, being destitute of most, if not all, of the requisites of sea-going craft, cannot go to sea, take care of themselves, and remain there prepared to attack an enemy wherever he may be found. Invisibility to an enemy may facilitate attack, but it has to be dearly paid for in diminished safety. Further, the life that must be led in such vessels in time of war would very quickly unfit men for their hazardous duties.
He points out that the effect of such a life upon the bodies and minds of the officers and crew would be most disastrous. The want of exercise alone would be sufficient to unfit them for the demands that service would make upon them. He has intelligently depicted the consequences of such a life, and his reasoning has been indorsed by the reports of French officers who have had experience in the boats in question.
No weapon, no matter how ingenious, is of utility in warfare unless it can be relied upon, and no vessel that is not tenantable can be expected to render any service at sea.
From the evidence before us, we must conclude that the type of torpedo boat under discussion is capable of making sea passages, provided it can communicate frequently with its supply stations and secure the bodily rest so necessary to its crew. But even in a moderate sea it is useless for attack, and in the majority of cases will not be able even to open its impulse tubes. Should it succeed in doing this, the rolling and yawing will render its aim very uncertain.
An experiment conducted against the Richelieu in October last, at Toulon, before Admiral O'Neil, the director-general of the torpedo service, has added its testimony to the uncertainty of the Whitehead torpedo. The Richelieu had been fitted with Bullivant nets, and the trial was made to learn what protection they would afford.
The weather was fair, the sea moderate, and the conditions generally favorable to the torpedo; but the Whitehead missed its mark, although the Richelieu's speed was only three knots. Running at full speed, the torpedo boat, even in this moderate sea, deemed it prudent to keep the launching tube closed, and selected a range of 250 yards for opening it and firing. Just at the moment of discharge a little sea came on board, the boat yawed, the torpedo aim was changed more than 30 deg., and it passed astern without touching its object.
While the Milford Haven operations have taught some valuable lessons, they were conducted under but few of the conditions that are most likely to occur in actual warfare; and had the defense been carried on with an organization and command equal to that of the attack, the Navy's triumph would, perhaps, not have been so easily secured, and the results might have been very different.