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A few thoughts on "Capital Warships"


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#1 Captain Seafort

Captain Seafort

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Posted 18 December 2016 - 05:36 PM

Here I intend to tackle any differences I have in two posts – initially, here, with the introductory overview, and later with anything that relates specifically to individual ships/universes once Brian releases part three of the series. Although the series is named “Capital Warships”, the introductory video makes clear that this is a misnomer and it’s actually talking about all aspects of naval warfare, as made clear by the description of the primary role of a starship as a transport and the inclusion of the Liberty ship, with a focus on ship to ship combat.  I disagree with this generalisation, as while the fundamental role of the combined navies of a nation (merchant and combat) is indeed the transport of resources (in its widest sense), no ship can or should be a jack of all trades.  Indeed, I disagree with Brian’s prioritisation of naval operations, and specifically ship-to-ship combat, so lowly in his list of priorities – my view is that the top three categories should be as follows:

  1. Industrial capacity – the ability to generate and sustain sufficient forces to match or overmatch one’s opponent.  This includes warships, armoured vehicles, aircraft, personnel, and sufficient sealift (starlift?) capacity to transport them to the theatre of operations.
  2. Strategic mobility – the ability to concentrate sufficient forces at the decisive point (in both time and space) to match or overmatch one’s opponent.
  3. Ship-to-ship combat – the ability to seize and maintain control of space lines of communication.  This is not limited to combat between capital ships, but also the defeat of commerce raiders, be they analogous to armed merchant cruisers, submarines, or aircraft.

The first two factors are effectively Brian’s “logistics” category, separated for clarity.  The third, in a way, is also a logistics consideration, as there is no point in having lots of troops and fast transports if you can’t stop the enemy destroying it short of the objective.  In 1588, 1805 and 1940, England, and Britain, were faced with armies that, had they been able to march across the English Channel, would have almost certainly defeated the ground forces opposing them and occupied the country.  On the first two occasions, said armies had sea transport with the capacity and speed to land sufficiently large forces within a sufficiently short space of time to do so.  On none of these occasions was an invasion successful, because of the superiority of the Royal Navy in ship-to-ship combat.  As Mahan put it, "those far distant, storm-beaten ships upon which the Grand Army never looked, stood between it and the dominion of the world."

 

In discussing the importance of the presence of a given vessel over its tactical qualities, Brian veers into the issue of strategic mobility.  While I entirely agree that this category is more important than ship-to-ship combat, it’s something that I feel should be dealt with in its own category, and leave this one to deal with how effectively a given ship or force can do its job once it gets to its objective.  This leads on to Brian’s view that a Fabian strategy of avoiding the enemy main force and striking at his weakness is superior to one of direct confrontation.  In this I feel he’s making a grave error, confusing the ultimate objective of a total war – to either take and hold resources or deny the same to the enemy – with the manner by which this is achieved.  His analogy with a chained dog is flawed, best replaced by a slow one or one with a pair of broken hind legs, as even a force with limited mobility relative to one’s own is not pinned to a certain volume of space.

 

At the outset of a campaign, the primary objective of any commander must be the destruction of the enemy main force, because as long as that force exists it will pose a threat to the commander’s operations.  Once it has been destroyed, then the territory will fall as a matter of course.  While the manner in which this is accomplished might change, with the ideal indeed being to do so without fighting, as Sun Tzu says, and as happened at Ulm, this does not mean that it can be dismissed as irrelevant.  To answer Brian’s question of how to deal with an enemy with inferior strategic mobility, I would use that mobility to defeat the enemy in detail, bringing the full strength of my own fleet to bear against single enemy ships or small squadrons, in order to remove the threat before my own forces are spread so thinly that they are unable to defend all my conquests.

 

In his description of the concentric pattern of fleet deployment, Brian is clearly being influenced by modern naval combat which is heavily influenced by the existence of small, highly manoeuvrable or concealable vehicles such as aircraft, torpedo boats and submarines, capable of carrying weapons heavy enough to cripple or destroy capital ships.  In this he fails to address the alternative, that in one or more universes a ship’s ability to inflict and absorb damage is proportional to its size, as was the case for most of naval history.  In such circumstances it makes more sense to put one’s heaviest ships – the ones capable of resisting the most punishment – right at the front of the formation, and use them both to shield the smaller and weaker ships, and as a battering ram to smash through the enemy formation.  In such a scenario the role of smaller, faster, ships ceases to be a close screen for the capital ships, but as scouts for them, with mid-sized vessels operating independently to provide a naval presence in areas to important to be left undefended, but not important enough to warrant a battle fleet.






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