Popular Science Monthly/Volume 58/November 1900/Rapid Battleship Building
|RAPID BATTLESHIP BUILDING.|
By WALDON FAWCETT.
A VARIETY of influences, aside from the occasional exigencies of actual war conditions, have, during the past few years, combined to force upon naval architects and shipbuilders a conviction of the need for more expeditious work in the construction of war vessels, and especially of battleships. As the modern fighting vessel has grown in weight and complexity of design, the interval necessitated for its construction has very naturally been lengthened. That this condition of affairs would sooner or later induce a sentiment of dissatisfaction was the more certain from the fact that throughout the world many government officers have to do with the construction and operation of naval flotilla who are inadequately informed regarding technical details.
The feeling of impatience on account of the time occupied in building a battleship has, of course, disclosed itself first of all to the shipbuilder, and the practical men of the industry have already set themselves to remedy the conditions in so far as it is possible. How much has been accomplished in a comparatively brief space of time is eloquently attested by the records for time economy in battleship construction which have been made during the past two years, particularly in British and American yards.
Although the shipbuilder has been able to accomplish much by the introduction of improved tools and machinery, with the attendant speedier methods of handling material, he is becoming more and more an advocate of the simplification of the battleship. His contentions are receiving the indorsement of many naval constructors of ability and experience, who are impressed by the advisability of reducing the cost of single ships, on the theory of the old adage against placing all the eggs in one basket. Protests have been directed particularly against the complication and multiplying diversity of function sought by mechanical contrivances, but of late there have been on the part of naval architects many expressions of opinion to the effect that the auxiliaries arc not the only features of a battleship which might be modified with profit.
As was stated above, it is the shipbuilder who has first been brought to a realization of the fact that he must keep pace with modern progress by constant reductions of the time necessary to turn out a complete armor-clad. Thus the William Cramp & Sons Ship and Engine Building Company, of Philadelphia, has recently secured a contract from the Russian government for the construction of a battleship and a cruiser, largely from the fact that they were able to guarantee delivery within thirty-three months, whereas the French builders who made tenders for the contract could not promise the completion of the vessels much under five years.
Some of the most remarkable records in the reduction of the time between the laying of a keel and the launching of a vessel have been made in British shipyards. Notable in this respect was the battleship 'Bulwark’, which was launched at the Davenport dockyard on October 18, 1899. This vessel was laid down on March 20, 1899, and had thus been under construction less than seven months. During that time
5,450 tons of material had been built into her, and there is nothing to controvert the assertions of the dockyard staff that the work created records in both the time she had been under construction and the weight attained for the period. In order to convey a better idea of the work accomplished it may be noted in passing that the 'Bulwark' is 400 feet in' length between perpendiculars, 75 feet beam, 27 feet draught and 15,000 tons displacement.
The British builders have for some time past made rapidity of construction a subject of study, and their more recent achievements have been attained as the culmination of a series of performances only slightly less creditable. Thus, but nine months and nine days intervened between the dates of laying the keel and launching the battleship 'Canopas', a vessel of 12,590 tons displacement, and even then the work was delayed by a strike. The cruiser 'Diadem', a sheathed vessel of 11,000 tons displacement and 16,500 horse-power, was built by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Limited, of Govan, Scotland, in 214 working days, and moreover, the vessel was fitted, before launching, with all her armor casements.
The battleship 'Majestic' of the British navy was launched complete and ready to go into commission, and this vessel went into the water just twenty-two months from the date of the laying of the keel. An even two years was required for the completion of the 'Magnificent,'
another battleship of the same class. A record almost equal to that of the 'Bulwark' was that of the battleship 'Prince George', the displacement of which is 14,900 tons. This vessel was built and launched in eleven months. For purposes of comparison, the fact may be cited that Laird Brothers, of Birkenhead, built the torpedo-boat destroyer 'Sparrow Hawk', a vessel which attained a speed in the neighborhood of thirty knots on trial, in the space of one hundred days.
Taking into consideration, however, all influencing conditions, the records made since the beginning of 1899 indicate a distinct advance on the part of the builders. The Thames Iron Works, Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, of Blackwall, made an excellent showing with the British battleship 'Venerable', which was christened early in November, 1899. This vessel was laid down in the first week of January, 1899, and her construction proceeded at such a rate that it was possible to place her in the water in exactly ten months from the day on which her first keel plate was laid. In this case the builders were impelled not so much by a desire to establish a record, as to provide a slip for the commencement of work on another naval contract.
It is a singular coincidence that the most favorable records established thus far in the annals of naval ship-building should have been made by three sister vessels, the trio being among the largest battleships
in the world. The performances of the 'Bulwark' and 'Venerable' have already been noted. That of the 'London' is scarcely less creditable. This vessel was built at the Portsmouth dockyard and was laid down on December 8, 1898. She was thus under construction a little more than nine months, and during that time over five thousand tons of material were built into her.
That all the energies of the builders of the United Kingdom are not exerted in behalf of their own nation is attested by the showing made by the Thames Iron Works, Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in the case of the battleship 'Shikishima', completed during the early part of 1899 for the Japanese government. The first plate of this vessel was laid down on May 1, 1897, and although the engineers' strike resulted in a delay of more than six months in the delivery of armor, armament and engines, the trials of the vessel were completed to the satisfaction of all parties concerned, and the 'Shikishima' was turned over to her owners in less than twenty-nine months from the date above given for the commencement of the work. In its way this achievement also constitutes a record which has had no parallel, and certainly the fact that despite detrimental circumstances a vessel of 15,000 tons displacement and 19 knots speed can be built, equipped, armored, engined and
tested under actual service conditions, all in little more than two years' time, speaks well for modern engineering methods.
The loss of the Russian contracts previously referred to—and other circumstances—have seemingly made some impression on French shipbuilders, and a shortening of the time consumed in some of the principal yards has already been made. For instance, it is announced that should nothing unforeseen intervene, the first-class battleship 'Suffren’ which was launched at Brest on July 25, 1899, will be completed by July, 1901. Should this promise be fulfilled the time consumed in the construction of the vessel will be little more than thirty-one months, which is considerably less than for any French battleship previously constructed. It must also be remembered that the 'Suffren' is the largest battleship yet designed for the French navy, her displacement being 12,728 tons. In some respects, the 'Suffren' outranks the British vessel, as but six months and twenty days elapsed between the laying down of the keel and the launching.
Neither Germany nor the United States can show records to compare with those of the British builders, despite the expeditious delivery of merchant vessels which has been made by firms in both countries. The United States has now several plants capable of building and launching a battleship in an interval very nearly as brief as the best of those above recorded, but American builders have been so retarded ever since bringing their plants to the present stage of efficiency by difficulty in securing prompt delivery of armor and other material that the possibility of making records has been precluded, and, indeed, it is not strange if under the circumstances there has been small ambition to make the endeavor.
The photographs herewith reproduced as illustrative of the building of a battleship represent the 'Hatsuse', which was launched during the summer of 1899 at the Elswick shipyard of Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth & Co., of Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, the builders of the cruisers 'Albany' and 'New Orleans', the only foreign-built war vessels of any considerable size in the American navy. The 'Hatsuse' is a battleship of the largest size, and represents in every respect the most modern practice. She is 400 feet in length, 76 feet beam, 27 feet draught of water and 15,000 tons displacement. Her engines are capable of developing 14,500 indicated horse-power.
The first photograph was taken about three months after the keel had been laid. It shows the framing of the extreme end of the vessel, with three tires of beams in view.
The second picture in the series, taken about six weeks later, looking aft from about amidships, shows the after barbette about half constructed, while the protective deck is practically completed. The third view represents the vessel ready for launching, and the fourth and last depicts the launch on June 27, 1899. In conclusion, it may be noted that the 'Hatsuse', the launching weight of which was fully 8,000 tons, went down the ways several minutes before the appointed time.