Military fleets: the path of growth
The idea of this article came to the author in the course of observing the discussion that unfolded on the pages of the "Military Review" about the need for Russian fleet in aircraft carriers. While I fully share the position of one of the parties in this discussion, I would nevertheless note that among the arguments on “both sides of the barrier” a similar thought was voiced. Our public, as a rule, is poorly aware of the historical path that the navies have traveled in their development. This is not surprising for a country whose military victories have been won over the past two and a half centuries, almost exclusively on land (the Sinop battle seems to be an exception in this series).
Therefore, an attempt to describe that path (of course, extremely briefly and popularly), the path that the Russian fleet traveled before it ended up in its current state, should help introduce a conversation about future aircraft carriers (even hypothetical), into historical the context of how in reality the confrontation at sea with the participation of Russia took place, starting with the period of the Industrial Revolution. Of course, the format of this publication allows us to outline only the most general outlines of this process - no more. Nevertheless, it is possible that some of the readers will find such a review interesting and will make it possible to better understand the path that naval development has taken to our time.
So, let's begin.
As you know, the military fleets of the modern era appeared in the XNUMXth century. This emergence was facilitated by two prerequisites. The first was the creation of world trade sea routes connecting continents as a result of the Great Geographical Discoveries. Cargoes of great value began to move along these routes. Accordingly, a desire arose to intercept them or, on the contrary, to protect them. These tasks were called upon to solve the newly formed fleets. The second prerequisite is the significantly increased financial capabilities of centralized states, which allowed them to afford such expensive "toys".
In the middle of the XNUMXth century, the sailing fleets that had existed for two centuries were replaced by mechanical ones, which, albeit completely changed, still exist today. Here we will talk about them. Moreover, we are not talking about coastal fleets, whose task is to protect their own coast from enemy invasion, but about the so-called "big fleet", designed to solve the tasks assigned to it far from their own shores. This is a fundamental feature of such a fleet, which is often simply not realized. For example, when they try to justify its necessity for Russia, referring to the huge length of its coastline. But the "big fleet" is not for this.
I would like to draw attention to this circumstance, since even today one can hear how the justification of the need to build, for example, an aircraft carrier, an indication that otherwise there is a threat of losing Kamchatka. Of course, this is simply an absurd judgment, calculated precisely for the lack of understanding that the "large fleet" is intended to operate in sea areas remote from its territory.
And the task, the fulfillment of which was possible only on foreign shores, was available to the Russian Imperial Navy. It is designated in one word - Bosphorus! The mastery of this Black Sea strait, "closest" to our country (and after that, possibly the second, the Dardanelles) was the country's main foreign policy goal. However, despite several attempts, they all failed.
The formation of steam armored fleets was a continuous process that took about half a century, which was marked by the continuous improvement of literally all ship elements. She developed so rapidly that often the newest ship became obsolete, not even having time to enter service. In many ways, it was the military fleet that occupied the image of the industrial power of the state in the public consciousness and outstripped the army as a symbol of military power. After all, the armies of that period, despite also being improved weapon, in their structure were the same as in the previous era. They were distinguished by foot movement, horses as the main draft force, division into infantry, cavalry and artillery.
Against this background, the fleet appeared in the form of a real “guest from the future”. The ships were literally packed with the latest advances in mechanics, hydraulics, metallurgy, optics, electrical engineering and instrument making. Self-propelled sea mine - torpedo, became the first self-driving vehicle in the history of mankind. In terms of technical complexity, it was surpassed only by long-range missiles that appeared in Germany at the end of World War II. Sea guns were the most destructive weapons of that time, and for their precise aiming at the target at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, the prototypes of the first electromechanical computers appeared!
The needs of these new fleets changed world politics. In particular, the leading maritime powers during this period were distinguished by the desire to increase their territory at the expense of some islands in the ocean, which a few decades ago were of no value in the eyes of politicians. Now, thanks to the possibility of setting up coal stations there and at least the most elementary repair bases (which sailing ships did not need), their attractiveness as national territories has increased dramatically.
This was followed by a theory (as well as the associated ideology), which proclaimed the development of the navies as the main goal of the industrial development of the state. Ideology was called "marineism", and the theory associated with it - the theory of sea power. Its creators were the American naval officer A. Mahan and the British F. Colomb. According to their views, which quickly spread both in the naval and in the political environment, the outcome of the confrontation between states will be decided in the battle of the fleets. After that, the victorious side will become the owner of dominance at sea, which will allow it to freely carry out its own maritime transportation and prevent such from the enemy.
In turn, this will entail economic collapse for those who cannot reap the benefits of the maritime trade. At the turn of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, the theory of naval power turned into a true "bible" for those who fought for naval development as a condition for the all-round development of the state. Moreover, the war, which, it would seem, fully proved the validity of this theory, did not take long. And Russia became one of its two participants. But more on that later.
Russian naval wars before the beginning of the twentieth century
In the meantime, consider the role of the fleet in the wars that our country waged in the industrial era before the collision with Japan. Both began against Russia's traditional adversary, Turkey. However, in 1854, due to the gross foreign policy mistakes of Nicholas I, two of the most powerful European states at that time joined it: France and England. After that, the achievement of the above-mentioned main goal that Russia pursued in the Black Sea - the Bosphorus - was out of the question. In fact, the actions of the Russian sailors were reduced to the defense of Sevastopol (which eventually had to be abandoned), and to the defense against attacks by the allied fleet in other seas.
Without touching upon the events of the Crimean War themselves, we will only touch upon the issue of the lessons that were learned from its experience and were entrenched, both among professional sailors and in society as a whole. Unfortunately, for various reasons, these lessons turned out to be erroneous and subsequently turned into great damage, which has not been completely eliminated to this day.
What exactly is it about?
To begin with, although there were several naval theaters in this war, as indicated above, nevertheless, it was the Black Sea theater that became a subject of special post-war pride. To be more precise, the war in Crimea, or more precisely, the defense of Sevastopol. The paradox of this situation was that it was there that the actions of the fleet were the least successful, passive and not distinguished by the desire to inflict the greatest damage on the enemy.
At that time in the Baltic and the Far East in 1854-1855. Russian sailors demonstrated examples of competent, skillful defense capable of destroying the enemy's plans. Yes, even on the Black Sea, the defense of Nikolaev can serve as a similar example. But from ideological considerations, from the desire to heroize the figure of Admiral Nakhimov as much as possible, to declare all his decisions to be the only correct ones, the actions of the fleet in self-flooding without the intention of resisting the enemy were extolled in every possible way. Half a century later, this led to the defeat of Port Arthur.
No less, and perhaps even more instructive and paradoxical, are the lessons learned from the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, both in the Navy and in the country as a whole.
Perhaps it is she who owns the dubious "honor" of becoming the most falsified in public memory and being deposited in the memory of descendants in a completely different way than it was perceived by contemporaries. The decision to start it was given by the highest Russian authorities extremely difficult. On the one hand, an extraordinary social upsurge and a sense of unity with the Slavs of the Balkan Peninsula, who were terrorized by the Ottoman Porte, pushed the government to take action. And the alarming precedent with the entry into the Black Sea of the Anglo-French squadron in 1854, which turned into a landing in the Crimea and the siege of Sevastopol, which ended with the surrender of the fortress, could be repeated again.
In this situation, the old idea of "planting a cross on Hagia Sophia" acquired a new, relevant meaning: the ability to establish itself on at least one coast of the Bosphorus meant for the Romanov empire the possibility of preventing the entry of the fleet of third countries into the Black Sea. But, on the other hand, the financial situation in the country, which was carrying out large-scale reforms affecting the very foundations of public life, was extremely unstable, and from this point of view, the war was seen as undesirable. The only result that could justify it was the achievement of Constantinople. This was the purpose of the war plan developed by General N.N. Obruchev. But, as you know, it was not executed.
And the reason for this is not at all the opposition of the European powers, as is often thought. It is rooted in the indiscretion of the Russian command and in the system that reserved vacancies in the top military leadership for representatives of the ruling family during the war, but at the same time exempted them from any responsibility for mistakes and blunders made in these posts. After all, both fronts in that war were commanded by the grand dukes - the brothers and sisters of Emperor Alexander II. His eldest son, the heir to the throne, was also in the active army and participated in the decision-making process.
Therefore, there should have been no shadow of doubts about the correctness and lack of alternative of these decisions, and the responsibility for the fact that the goals of the war were not achieved, official propaganda blamed on the insidiousness of the participants in the Berlin Congress, who deprived Russia of the fruits of its victory. However, the then citizens of the country were not inclined to relieve the top leadership of responsibility for the fact that the expected goal of the war - the capture of Constantinople - was not achieved. Proof of this is the political crisis that broke out in the country (or, to use the expression of V. Lenin, “revolutionary situation”), which eventually turned into the assassination of the emperor on March 1, 1881.
Concerning the question of the role of the fleet in these events, we, again, are faced with a situation of a certain ambiguity. On the one hand, we have always paid great attention to the actions of mine boats (a new type of small warships that arose during the American Civil War). This is especially true of the boats that were part of the crew of the steamer "Grand Duke Konstantin" under the command of S.O. Makarov. On the other hand, many issues of actions (as well as inaction) of the fleet in this war are covered, so to speak, with a veil of reticence. These include the following.
Why, despite the denunciation by Russia six years before the war of the provisions of the Parisian treatise of 1856, requiring the demilitarization of the Black Sea, she did not manage to acquire ships with high combat value in this theater (with the exception of two coastal defense battleships - "popovoks", legendary thanks to its curiosity)? Or why was Russia unable to launch a cruising war against Turkey in the Mediterranean, for which it had been preparing for two decades (meaning to turn it against British trade)?
Beginning with the descriptions of this war, another regrettable tendency characteristic of Russian literature originates. We are talking about attempts to conceal the foreign origin of those samples of naval mine weapons, which, in the absence of large ships in Russia, have perfectly proven themselves in this war.
In the case of the Whitehead torpedo, with the help of which an enemy ship was sunk for the first time in the world on January 26, 1878 in the Batumi roadstead, in the domestic literature one could often find a statement about the existence of its more effective domestic analogue - the Aleksandrovsky torpedo.
But in another case, the foreign origin of weapons that were used against the Turkish fleet, until the 1990s. stubbornly hiding. We are talking about the most advanced galvanic mine barrage at that time, developed in Germany by Dr. Albert Hertz, the most advanced in the world at that time. The Russian naval department on the eve of the war and during it purchased large quantities of these mines. However, apparently, some conditions of the contract were violated, since Turkey, having learned about the use of these mines against its ships, protested.
After that, the name "Hertz's mine" in Russian literature was classified, and for many years they began to be designated as "sphero-conical". It was the use of these mines that made it possible to solve the most important strategic task facing the Russian army in the initial period of the war: to cover the Danube crossings from Turkish ships seeking to disrupt them. Also, Hertz's mines were used in the defense of Russian ports from a possible attack by the Turkish fleet.
Soon after the accession to the throne of Emperor Alexander III, a 20-year fleet-building program was adopted, according to which the first armored ships were laid down on the Black Sea. The main strategic task assigned to him was still the capture of the Bosphorus. For it, he continued to prepare for the next more than a third of a century.
However, the next time the Russian fleet had to join the battle many thousands of kilometers away, in the Far East. The Russo-Japanese War became a real test of the theory of naval domination (or ownership of the sea), and that is why the attention of sailors and politicians around the world was riveted to it. It was in its purest form a naval war, since all the Japanese forces and supplies that arrived at the theater of operations were delivered by sea, and if the Russian fleet was able to prevent this delivery, the army of the Land of the Rising Sun would not have been able to achieve any success in the confrontation with the Russian.
But, unfortunately, as in the Crimean War, our fleet practically abandoned active operations (with the exception of the Vladivostok cruising detachment) and again, as then, focused on the defense of its own base. An attempt to abandon this, unambiguously pernicious strategy, was undertaken by S.O. Makarov, but, as you know, his command of the Pacific squadron did not last long.
But the defeat of the Russian fleet in both squadron battles of this war was largely the result of the so-called "qualification" system, which was established in the Russian fleet in the previous twenty years. She made the advancement of officers dependent on the duration of their voyage, but did not take into account the possession of weapons and tactical training. Therefore, the very fact of the almost round-the-world passage of the 2nd Pacific Squadron from Kronstadt to the Tsushima Strait cannot but arouse admiration, but at the same time, the Russian commanders did not make any attempts to impose their will on the enemy in both battles.
The results of the Russian-Japanese confrontation, as it seemed to contemporaries, fully confirmed Mahan's point of view that the outcome of a modern war is decided at sea. This greatly strengthened the position of the "marineists" and led to a real revolution in the development of naval weapons. It is often called "dreadnought", referring to a new type of battleship, which was the main striking force of the fleet, the first representative of which was the British "Dreadnought". Its main difference from the ships of the previous generation was the adoption of a single main artillery caliber designed to defeat "classmates" in a naval battle.
In turn, this design feature stemmed from the new revolutionary method of firing ship guns. If before that, for several centuries, the gunners used direct fire, that is, they aimed guns at the hull or gear of an enemy ship, now the fire was conducted by the method of correcting for bursts from falling shells. Precisely in order not to confuse the bursts from shells of different calibers, all the heavy guns of the Dreadnought and the ships of this class that followed it had the same caliber.
As for other combat missions that were previously assigned to battleships (which is why they became the focus of a variety of weapons and combat assets, often posing a threat to themselves and not to the enemy), more and more escort ships took over them. First of all, the destroyers.
The revolutionary changes were not limited only to battleships, they covered the entire "line" of combat ships, almost all of their elements (hulls, weapons, power plants, etc.). As well as tactics, methods of building squadrons and combat use - that is, they have become comprehensive in the full sense of the word.
The Romanov empire also joined the process of building new military fleets, built taking into account the "Tsushima" experience, with all the fervor. The shipbuilding programs adopted in it provided for the laying of all classes of ships: from submarines and minesweepers to superdreadnoughts (this was the unofficial name for battleships, which by their displacement and main artillery caliber were much superior to the "ancestor of the genre", "Dreadnought"). The latter included four Ismail-class battlecruisers laid down in St. Petersburg in December 1912.
At the same time, they were not intended for operations in the Baltic. After the completion of construction, these mastodons had to leave it unarmed (for in full load they simply could not pass the Danish straits), and go to the Tunisian port of Bizerte rented from France. There they were to take on board standard weapons and subsequently participate in the operation to seize the straits already from the Dardanelles.
In the Baltic, the primary task of the fleet was still to protect the capital of the empire, Petersburg from the sea. And the first Russian dreadnoughts of the "Sevastopol" type were designed specifically for its implementation. In general, the cost of the fleet before the First World War in Russia assumed enormous proportions and, according to some estimates, reached a quarter of the state budget!
Considering that this war ended extremely unsuccessfully for Russia, and the fleet itself played a rather negative role in it (this will be discussed in more detail in the second part of the article), this could not but give rise to reflections: was it right to give it so much a lot of attention during that period? Could it be possible to find other areas, investments in which were required in the first place, even at the expense of naval construction?
Domestic alternative to the navy?
In our opinion, this question can be answered in the affirmative. We are talking about an industry that, as historical experience shows, is of priority importance for our country, given its geographical features, - railways.
Their military significance manifested itself at the very dawn of their appearance. This happened in the same era of the industrial revolution, to which the beginning of the formation of steam fleets belongs. It soon became clear that the new type of transport could have not only economic, but also military applications.
Although there is a persistent myth about one of the aspects of this application in Russia, which has nothing to do with reality. I mean the often repeated story that the track gauge on the Petersburg-Moscow railway, at the request of Nicholas I, was adopted different from the European one, in order to make it difficult for the aggressors to move through the country by train. The reality was exactly the opposite. It was along the railway linking the Russian Empire with Europe, Warsaw-Vienna, that in the spring of 1849, for the first time in history, a Russian division was transferred, heading to suppress the Hungarian uprising.
So, as we can see, the possibility of the military use of railways began to be realized from the very beginning. And this role of theirs has increased significantly with the introduction of universal military service. For the critical process of mobilization at the moment of the transition of the conscript army to war began to depend on them.
In the absence of other land transport with comparable capabilities, the speed and completeness of mobilization were now determined by the distance that the recruits had to cover to the nearest railway station, from which trains specially allocated by the government were to deliver them to the arsenals, where they could receive weapons and equipment, turning into soldiers. ... For Russia, with its vast expanses and an absolutely predominant rural population, the issue of the density of the railway network in these conditions was of key importance.
All this forced the government to pay great attention to its development, to plan the topology in such a way that it would provide transport accessibility for the masses of conscripts and include strategic lines along which the mobilized army could be deployed in future theaters of military operations.
The device of the rolling stock also took into account military needs. So, the most numerous type of freight cars in Russia is covered, which was also used for military transportation.
Therefore, starting from the last quarter of the XNUMXth century, they were called "normal freight cars" (NTV). It meant that their internal dimensions were standardized for all roads ("normalized") for the quick installation of the so-called "detachable military equipment", the stock of which was available at every major station, which made it possible to adapt the carriage for transporting soldiers and horses. On the roads, there were also the required number of unified locomotives of the "government reserve", which made it possible to standardize the weight of military echelons.
The constant concern of the state about the technical condition of the railways, in order to ensure the maximum throughput and carrying capacity during the period of the most intensive military traffic (it began to be called "special"), was not limited only to issues of unification of rolling stock. And here we come to consider the dramatic fate of one of the key railway technologies, which has historically been closely intertwined with the fate of the Russian military fleet.
The name of this technology is automatic brakes. The fact is that, while talking about the power of steam locomotives, which determines the weight of the trains they are capable of driving, they often forget that the train must not only be moved and accelerated, but also stopped. Moreover, given its great length and weight, this task becomes by no means trivial. The braking efforts of one steam locomotive are completely insufficient for its implementation.
Unfortunately, this is almost always "forgotten" by the creators of historical films. And when we watch a "railway" episode on the screen in any of the many domestic "westerns" dedicated, for example, to the Civil War, we see that only a steam locomotive brigade (officially called then a "servant") is involved in running the train.
The reality was completely different. On the moving train there was another brigade, the number of which far exceeded the locomotive one. And it mainly consisted of people whose duty was to activate the car brakes. In Russia, at first they were called “brakes”, and then they were renamed in the French manner in “brake conductors”. In addition to them, the train crew also included the chief conductor, the senior conductor (their places were on the first and last carriages, respectively), as well as the lubricator responsible for servicing the car axle boxes.
It must be said that the hand brakes, that is, those operated by the hands of the brakes placed on the carriages, had a number of disadvantages. In addition to the fact that this led to an increase in the number of train crews, there was also low traffic safety (they often did not hear the driver's signals about the need to start or stop braking), the speed of trains was limited by the need to start reducing it in advance.
The solution to the problem was continuous pneumatic brakes, numerous systems of which have appeared since the second half of the 1880th century. They allowed the driver on the steam locomotive to apply the brakes of all cars at once, thanks to the presence of a pneumatic network that runs through the entire train. Passenger trains in Russia have been equipped with it since the XNUMXs. Freight vehicles, due to the large volume and variability of the car fleet, continued to operate with hand brakes.
However, in 1898, the Council of State decided that freight cars should also be transferred to automatic pneumatic brakes (the term "automatic" in their name indicated an important property: they worked independently when the train broke and stopped both of its parts, including the tail, which turned out to be without any control).
This was preceded by a tragedy that shook the entire country. A troop train heading for the exercise crashed in a severe thunderstorm. The noise of the elements led to the fact that the brakes did not hear the signals of the driver to brake, and the accelerated train fell off a high embankment when a heavy downpour blurred the path. The carriages toppled into the swamp and many soldiers died.
After the aforementioned resolution of the State Council in St. Petersburg, on Prilukskaya Street, the plant of JSC Vestigauz was built: it was this design that was chosen as the standard for all railway brakes in the country. And since 1905, all new steam locomotives left the factories with a locomotive set of auto-brake equipment, including a steam-air pump, air tanks and a special driver's crane for controlling the brakes.
But with the cars it turned out more difficult. The entire huge, more than half a million fleet of them had to be equipped with very complex equipment, including flight tubes, working tanks, brake cylinders with rods.
The most high-tech were connecting sleeves made of rubber, which was extremely scarce at that time. Perhaps the planned grandiose program could have been fulfilled, but it was in 1905, as you know, that Tsushima happened. After which Nicholas II demanded at all costs to restore the fleet lost in the Far East. And then the echoes of the "dreadnought revolution" reached Russia - and much more grandiose ones came to replace the modestly called "small shipbuilding program". The fleet began to consume even more resources - and the planned transfer of the car fleet to automatic brakes was postponed. The Russian railways entered the world war that broke out in the summer of 1914 with the same hand brakes.
How justified was the chosen priority in favor of marine construction, how the country succeeded in this construction, and what the practical "return" from it turned out to be, we will talk in the second part of the article. And also, in parallel, we will trace the fate of the historical antagonist of the fleet in our country - the railway transport, which was the "backbone" for the land war.
So whose role was more significant?