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Chapter 3

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of the Modern Navy

by
Gordon Carpenter O'Gara

published by
Princeton University Press 1943

The text is in the public domain.

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Chapter 5
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p40  Chapter IV

Naval Construction

Vital as was the general administration of the Navy to the efficiency of the battle fleet, equally important was the construction of the ships and of their armor and armament. Certain writers and speakers adopted the smug attitude that American naval construction was the best in the world and that ". . . American constructors get more power of offense and defense per ton than has been the rule [abroad] . . ."1 But the weight of opinion did not reflect this optimistic view. There was a constant chorus of protest, rising and falling in volume as new objects of criticism were found and older ones laid aside as satisfactorily answered.

The most seasonal attack on the Navy was in the magazine article by Henry Reuterdahl, "The Needs of Our Navy," which appeared early in 1908. It has been quoted above in criticism of the naval administration. Although the Navy Department officially denied these charges, Reuterdahl said to a Hearst reporter: "I will give complete proof of all my charges, and I am ready to demonstrate that two‑thirds of all the active Line officers uphold my assertions regarding our ships of war."2

The charges and claims of Mr. Reuterdahl had already been made, though less widely publicized, by The Navy in 1907 and were partially admitted by Rear-Admiral Brownson, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation.3 Young Commander Sims largely provided the inspiration for  p41 Reuterdahl's attack. While on the China station in 1895, Sims began his career as a critic, selecting two ships in particular for his abuse, the battleship Kentucky, authorized only in that same year and not completed until 1900, and the new armored cruiser Brooklyn. He wrote: "The Kentucky is not a battleship at all. She is the worst crime in naval construction ever perpetrated by the white race."4

Because of the similarity between Reuterdahl's charges and Sims's well-known opinions, the Navy Department in a letter dated February 15, 1908, categorically demanded that Sims admit any part he might have had in the publication of the article that appeared in McClure's and which, if any, of the charges he considered justified.5 He was at that time naval aide to the President, whose support he enlisted against these efforts to have him court-martialed. Roosevelt sent for Secretary Metcalf immediately and ordered him to drop the entire matter until after the Senate investigation then pending.6

Official attempts to refute the charges against the construction of our Navy claimed that criticism was based upon a comparison of older ships with the most modern designs.7 But Sims objected to the Kentucky five years before she was commissioned, and later critics agreed with him completely. This would seem to show that his opinions were not the product of such an unfair comparison.

 p42  Besides Sims, Commanders Bradley A. Fiske and Albert L. Key were the outstanding critics of the Navy from within its body of officers. These men frequently ran into trouble with the Navy bureaucracy because of their outspoken criticism. Key objected emphatically to the plans for our first dreadnoughts, pointing out many shortcomings in their design.8 Fiske likewise voiced his disapproval, especially in regard to the methods of sighting, fire-control and communication.9 Many of the details found objectionable were due largely, if not entirely, to the limitations imposed upon the size of the ships by Congress.

In 1898 Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Navy had said: "Every warship, big or small, is of course nothing but a compromise. Speed, safety, gun power, protection, and coal endurance being each and everyone sacrificed to a greater or less extent, in order that any of the others may be developed at all."10

One of the foremost American naval architects of the time, Lewis Nixon, said: "The American people are to blame. . . . First, they howl at the size of every proposed naval appropriation, and have it cut down, and later they howl because the new ships, built under severe limitations, are not what might have been constructed if the people, through Congress, had not tied the hands of the Department."11

While this argument was partially true, it was far from  p43 being the whole story. The important Congressmen involved were not under the influence of their constituents as much as they were under that of certain reactionary elements in the Navy itself. Many of the more progressive naval officers were the first ones to admit this. For example, Rear-Admiral Stephen B. Luce said that all the charges in McClure's were true and that they had been known to the bureaus for years, but the latter had refused to take any action.12

The promised investigation finally took place before the Senate Naval Affairs Committee. Rear-Admiral Converse, President of the Board on Construction, and Rear-Admiral Washington Lee Capps, Chief Constructor and Chief of the Bureau of Construction, were given full hearings to refute the charges. Then Chairman Hale, working with them, refused to accept the testimony of most of the Navy's critics. Neither Sims nor Key were allowed to testify on many points. In addition to that, Capps was allowed to cross-examine all the witnesses, and official reports from the General Board and from Rear-Admiral Evans refuting Capps and Converse were withheld by the Committee.13 The investigation was eventually dropped and no report was ever issued.

As to the actual determination of the designs, Capps claimed that full responsibility had to be placed upon the Line officers, who formed a majority on the Board on Construction.14 In addition nearly all of the bureau chiefs were seagoing officers not usually technically qualified for  p44 their jobs. Under the system of administration then in existence "seven independent bureaus had a part and a claim in every ship that was planned."15 The fact that most of them were headed by men usually ignorant of construction problems made the situation worse.

Fiske had seen the absurdity of such an arrangement and had long urged the creation of an experimental department in the Navy to keep it abreast of technological advances.16 Naval Constructor Holden Evans said that the United States could not expect any better designs, ". . . as long as we do not develop experienced naval engineer designers; as long as the Chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering is a line officer; as long as the Navy practice continues of shifting officers from one job to another every three years — in brief, as long as the Sea Lords dominate the technical bureaus and keep the rewards and honors out of the reach of the men who design and build our ships."17

This condition was often compared unfavorably with the British system under which naval constructors were adequately rewarded and given more authority in designing the ships whose tactical qualities were closely specified by the seagoing branch.18

During the investigation Capps explained that efforts to correct the faults, whose existence he did not admit, had been started by General Order Number 49 of June 20, 1907.19 Under the terms of this, all officers were asked to submit criticisms and suggestions on ship design. The  p45 Board on Construction was to sift these and choose the best.20 However, most of them were judged to be of little value, ". . . having been obviously not well considered, or else relating to subjects with which the officers submitting the criticism were not entirely conversant."21

This might well have been true, but again it might have been official camouflage to hide the truth of the matter. Holden Evans's estimate of Capps gives some evidence that the latter was probably sincere. "Naval Constructor Capps was an able and conscientious officer, but as Chief Constructor he had a fault — too much kindness of heart. This made him sometimes retain in important positions subordinates who should have been replaced. Often Admiral Capps had to take blame that belonged to others."22 Since Evans never spared anyone, this picture can probably be taken as true. If it was, Capps was a perfect foil for the bureaucracy and the politicians.

Although the Senate investigation never accomplished anything toward the improvement of naval design, the Newport Conference called that same year by President Roosevelt did recommend a "permanent special board of officers to determine the military characteristics of all future naval vessels."23 Sims had urged this two years earlier when he complained that opinions of officers isolated at their stations were of little value. In 1903 a large number of officers approved the plans for the Idaho, only to reverse their opinions on later discussing the plans with one another when it was too late to change their "official" decision.24

 p46  Problems of Naval Construction

Theodore Roosevelt was not an engineer, but one of the most important problems during his administration arose from the development of naval technology. He was intensely interested in this phase of the Navy and was the driving force behind much of its growth. If his name does not appear frequently in this section, it is not because he was unimportant, but rather because he was forced to participate indirectly, largely in the persons of Sims, Key and Fiske. He possessed neither the necessary technical traininga1 nor the time to consider each detailed problem. There were many of these, and those that caused the least difficulty and were most easily solved will be considered first.

One of the minor criticisms was the unreasonable length of time required to build a ship. In England the construction of the hull itself required only one year, but nearly double that was necessary in the United States. "In England, Germany and Japan, battleships and armored cruisers [were] completed in two to three years; in the United States from three to four years; and in France, Italy and Russia not less than four years [were] required."25

As a result of such criticism, American shipbuilders increased the speed of their work considerably, so that the Delaware and the North Dakota, our first dreadnoughts, were delivered in 1910 almost exactly two and a half years after their contracts were signed.26 In 1907 Rear-Admiral Brownson informed Roosevelt that it would be possible in  p47 event of war to construct battleships in two instead of three years at an increase of fifty per cent in cost. He also found it would be possible to build twelve of them at once in the United States with the existing facilities but that there might be a scarcity of skilled labor.27

The use of oil as fuel for the Navy was tested with favorable results, and in 1902 the Bureau of Steam Engineersº recommended its immediate use in at least one‑third of the torpedo boats and destroyers.28 This advice was not followed but further experiments were made. Two years later the Secretary of the Navy agreed that oil was in all ways superior to coal. Fewer men were required in the fireroom; the ships were given a greater steaming radius; the boilers could be forced to obtain maximum speed more quickly; there was less smoke, more economy of space and less time required to fill the tanks.29

The development of the steam turbine ranks along with the adoption of liquid fuel as one of the most revolutionary advances of those years in marine machinery. Steam pressure was used to turn horizontally placed turbines which were connected directly or through gears to the propeller shaft. This was much simpler and more efficient than the older piston arrangement. It was originally developed in Great Britain, where the Turbinia surprised everyone in 1894 by making 32.76 knots on her trial run. The destroyer Viper which was completed in 1899, made more than 37 knots. The famous Dreadnought of 1906 was the first battleship to use turbine engines.30

 p48  The big advantages of the turbine were that, being so simple, it was less likely to break down, it was cheaper, easier to build, had no vibration and was more economical to operate. Especially important from a military point of view was the fact that its weight was placed very low, thus allowing the guns to be mounted higher without unbalancing the ship.31

The yacht Revolution, completed in 1902, had the first American-made Curtis turbines. She was extremely fast and maneuverable and was used to patrol New York harbor.32 The next year the development of the turbine was recommended by the Navy Department,33 and in 1904 the scout cruisers Chester and Salem were authorized to be built with turbine engines. The former had Parsons turbines, which were the type used in England, while the latter had Curtis turbines. At the same time a sister ship, the Birmingham, was built with regular reciprocating engines. The tests of these ships in 1908 showed the turbine to be vastly superior.34 The North Dakota, commissioned in 1910, was the first American battleship to be equipped with turbine engines. Although she used the Curtis type, later dreadnoughts carried Parsons turbines.35

The multiplication of the number of water-tight compartments in the ships raised the problem of how to control  p49 the doors and hatches between them. American ships generally had a central control for this.36 Admiral Fiske obtained the installation of a safety warning whistle to be sounded before the compartments were closed.37

The development of the wireless was responsible for revolutionary changes in means of inter-ship and ship-to‑shore communications. An improved semaphore system was likewise adopted.38 In 1903 the first wireless sets were purchased and twenty were installed on ships and at shore stations.39 The entire battleship fleet was equipped with them by the time the World Cruise began. At that time 75 ships of the navy had wireless sets. This number rose to 93 by 1909.40

All these technical questions were eventually ironed out without much difficulty. The points which received most of the criticism and caused most of the discussion were the distribution of the waterline armor belt, the height of freeboard, the height of the gun axes, and the installation of the guns.

In 1902 the United States Navy first obtained armor-piercing shells that carried large bursting charges.41 The simultaneous development of such powerful ordnance by the other navies of the world immediately increased the importance of a ship's armor, especially the waterline belt that protected the vital parts of the ship. At that time the  p50 American steel industry was not very expert at making armor plate and there was some suspicion that the few companies that could produce it — Carnegie, Bethlehem and Midvale — were combining to overcharge the government.42 In spite of this they were still able to produce it more cheaply than it was being produced in any other country. In 1906 Krupp armor plate cost in the United States $346 per ton, as compared to $400 in Japan, $450 in Germany, $572 in France and $681 in England.43 There was some talk of the Navy building a plant of its own, but nothing came of this although it was believed that Krupp armor could be produced, including capital charges, overhead, etc., for $244 per ton, or less than two‑thirds what the government was then paying.44

Whatever the cost or supply of armor might be, there was one thing in particular that captured public interest at that time. In his famous article Reuterdahl brought to general attention the charge — not a new one to be sure — that the waterline armor belts on our ships were all too low. He claimed that of twenty-five American battleships worth $145,000,000 not one had its armor belt more than six inches above the water, while all French ships had five to eight feet above and the Dreadnought had five feet above and eight below. Furthermore, he stated that these American ships had seven and one‑half to nine feet of armor belt, of which twelve to thirty inches were originally supposed to be above water.45

Such attacks as these were immediately followed by  p51 denials on the part of the officials of the Navy Department. Rear-Admiral Capps led the forces attempting to disprove the charges. He did admit certain of Reuterdahl's claims that the armor belts in some of our ships did not give sufficient protection aft, especially in the Alabama, Maine and Kentucky classes; but he blamed this on the tonnage limitations imposed by Congress.46 As to the height of the belt, he used testimony of Sir William White, one of the foremost British naval architects, to refute Reuterdahl. In an article in the Scientific American in May 1908, White claimed that American ships were better than those abroad in this respect, even than the new Dreadnought.47 His testimony was not entirely reliable because he failed to take into consideration the various standards for determining the waterline. He was not alone in this error, for much of the argument resulted from the fact that people were basing their cases upon different standards of displacement.

There was first of all the "light load displacement" of a ship when it was completely equipped, but had no fuel, stores, ammunition or personnel aboard. The "designed load displacement" was the one usually taken as a standard. This included besides the ship a certain proportion of the stores and fuel, the figure varying from one country to another. In the United States it was two‑thirds of the capacity, which was a larger proportion than in most navies. The Dreadnought, for example, carried only nine hundred tons of coal at its designed load displacement, although it had a capacity of 2,700 tons. When the ship had  p52 full supplies aboard, often lower in the water by more than two feet, it reached "deep load displacement."48

This confusion of terms was not the only error found in most arguments since the testimony of naval officials was frequently based upon theoretical figures before construction. In nearly all cases American naval ships drew more water when finished than originally planned.49 Thus little importance could be paid to Capps's contention that of seven battleships then building, three, the Mississippi, the Idaho and the New Hampshire, had their belts four feet three inches above the waterline at their designed load displacement and four dreadnoughts had theirs ten feet above the water.50 He also claimed that official records showed that the ships of the Connecticut class when fully laden and ready to leave on the World Cruise still had a foot of their armor belt above water.51

The lessons learned during the World Cruise were very valuable for future naval designs. For example, Admiral Evans found that on reaching Rio de Janeiro the armor belts were nearly all out of water because the coal was practically gone.52 Furthermore, in calm weather it was found that the bottoms of the belts were exposed even when the ships were heavily laden.53 Merely travelling at the high speed exposed three to four feet, so that the designed depth of five feet below the water was certainly not too much.54 It was naturally more important to protect  p53 the part of the hull below the waterline, for a shell there would not only flood some of lower compartments but might well explode in the engine rooms or magazines. On the other hand, a shell penetrating above the armor belt would meet the resistance of the protective decks, and the hole it caused could perhaps be repaired enough to keep the water out.

The solution that was finally reached was a result of Roosevelt's Newport Conference of 1908. The officers assembled for that conference recommended that the top of the belt be raised six inches, and also that it should extend six feet below the waterline instead of five.55 The real answer was thus found in an absolute increase in the amount of armor belt rather than simply in its redistribution. Such a solution had not been possible before the advent of the Dreadnought, but greatly increased tonnage of that class permitted a greater weight of armor.56

Reuterdahl's article charged official neglect with what he claimed was the gross inadequacy of the freeboard on most American ships. He claimed that our Navy was inferior to all others in this regard. Actually our battleships had about as much freeboard as the British and Japanese ships, although the French designers provided for higher decks at the sacrifice of some degree of stability. The Virginia with all her ports closed, said Reuterdahl, shipped 120 tons of water into her forward turret during a trip to Cuba in 1907.57 This turret was about twenty-five feet above water according to the official specifications, and the  p54 broadside guns fifteen feet above water.58 As these were probably theoretical pre-construction figures, Reuterdahl's claim that the secondary batteries on the Georgia, Idaho and Connecticut classes were only eleven feet above water was doubtless justified.59

Capps's attempts to refute Reuterdahl's charges as to the inadequate height of freeboard met with even less success than his defense of location of the armor belt. Admitting that the Indiana, Oregon and Massachusetts, all designed before the Spanish-American War, as well as the Kentucky and Kearsarge to a less extent, were too low, having eight to ten feet less freeboard than our other ships,60 he attempted to justify the later ships by quoting the testimony of the Walker Board of 1896: "[Battleships] should have high freeboard forward and low freeboard aft, substantially the same as the Iowa."61 But it so happened that the Iowa was one of our oldest, poorest and most-criticized ships.

In an appeal to an even more ancient authority to justify modern battleship designs, Capps said:

"Since 'height of freeboard,' height of 'gun axes,' and 'location of water-line belt armor' are necessarily governed by the probable behavior of the vessel in a seaway, and inasmuch as the behavior of the sea has in no way changed during the past nineteen years, designs whose seagoing qualities fully satisfied the most representative officers in the British Navy in 1889 should be entirely satisfactory today. . . ."62

 p55  To follow this amazing statement out to its logical conclusion, we might as well model the "seagoing qualities" of our ships after the Santa Maria of 1492 as after H. M. S. Royal Sovereign of 1889 for the "behavior of the sea" had certainly not changed. However, as though to refute his own argument Capps stated shortly after this before the same Senate Committee that:

"There is an unfortunate . . . tendency to ignore the self-evident fact that opinions with respect to matters of design which hold good today may not be at all representative of opinions which were held a few years ago, or even one year ago. . . ."63

A more worthy argument raised against a high freeboard was that this offered a greater target to the enemy. The fact that the low Japanese ships had defeated the high Russian ones at Tsushima was important evidence, although it was by no means proved that this was the cause of the Russian defeat. At any rate the Japanese did remodel the battleships they captured so as to give them lower freeboard.64

Capps claimed that all our new ships except the Kentucky and the Kearsarge had enough freeboard to fire in any weather likely to be found during a naval engagement.65 But the Newport Conference quickly brushed that assertion aside when all the Line officers admitted that the broadside guns in every class of battleship were too low to use in "ordinary trade wind weather."66

The launching of the Dreadnought made the inadequacy of the freeboard even more apparent. Her forward  p56 gun turret was thirty-five feet above the water. Our newest class of ships then building (1907), the South Carolina and the Michigan, had their forward turrets only twenty-four feet above the water.67 This development of the all-big‑gun type of battleship finally put an end to discussion of the height of freeboard, for the increased tonnage allowed more weight for this purpose, and the greater amount of more powerful armament made higher decks necessary. Our first dreadnought, the Delaware, had its No. 1 and No. 2 forward turrets thirty‑one and thirty-nine feet above the water, respectively.68

This period also saw a great increase in the effectiveness of gunfire and a consequent increase in the importance of the installation and protection of guns and of their supply of ammunition. The longer range of torpedo attacks made obsolete many of the smaller guns in use. In 1908 Rear-Admiral Converse, former Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, admitted that 5‑inch guns were the minimum for effective action,69 while our battleships still had nearly six hundred guns so small as to be absolutely worthless.70 Furthermore, the medium guns, by then the ones vital for repelling torpedo attacks, were so placed that on most ships only one or two at most could be fired directly ahead or astern. This, coupled with the lack of sufficient armor on the bow or stern, constituted a very grave danger. Furthermore, the large 12‑inch guns of several of the battleships  p57 could not be fired directly ahead or astern because of weak forecastle decks.71 The Missouri's forecastle deck gave way at a single shot from a 12‑inch gun pointed 22½ degrees off the bow. Repeated firing would have driven the deck down so as to admit water even in a moderate sea. The only solution offered by the Board on Construction was to restrict the arc of fire from 270 to 140 degrees, thus leaving "blind" spots in the bow and stern of above one hundred degrees each. The Bureau of Navigation, however, asked to have the deck strengthened instead.72

Many efforts were made at this time to improve the fire-control system. They will be described more fully in another chapter. Suffice it to say here that this apparatus was more thoroughly encased in armor than before and the use of periscopes was introduced so that the officers could safely observe events from armored conning towers rather than from the old‑fashioned exposed bridges.73

There were numerous faults in the methods of protecting the guns and their crews as well as the commanding officers. The Kentucky and the Kearsarge were particularly bad in this respect.a2 To a greater extent than in most American ships they had huge gunports leaving the guns and their crews completely exposed. At this same time the British Navy had protective armor shields for their guns, which were mounted in turrets by pairs or singly in casemates.74 The five ships of the Connecticut class were the first American ships similarly built. Previously a single shot  p58 could have swept a gun deck clean, wiping out an entire secondary battery.75 The Kearsarge, for example, had fourteen guns in one compartment that had large ports and armor good only against 6‑inch shells fired at long ranges.76

In some of our ships the main turret batteries were found to be almost as inadequately protected as were the secondary guns. Often the gun ports in the turrets were much larger than they should have been to afford sufficient protection. The Kentucky, completed in 1900, had vertical faces on all its turrets, necessitating very large openings. Turrets on British ships, on the other hand, had had sloping faces since 1892.77 The Kentucky class further lacked armored shields on the guns to protect the crews. This defect was keenly felt by the officers. In 1904 in order to maintain American naval prestige when the Kearsarge visited Kiel and Portsmouth, ". . . they concealed the exposure of her turret gear by fitting 'dummy' shields of wood and canvas inside the large 13‑inch gun ports, and painted them to represent steel."78

This major defect was remedied in the Alabama class, completed in 1900 and 1901, although many improvements were yet to come. Among other things, the introduction of Krupp armor in the three ships of the Maine class, authorized in 1898 and completed in 1902 to 1904, afforded much greater protection. Because of this new armor's increased strength, 12‑inch plate on the turrets was safer than 14‑inch had been in the Alabama.79 Until the construction of the  p59 Delaware the mounting and protection of the turret guns on all battleships were variations of the arrangement found in the Maine.

The superposed turrets of the Kentucky and Georgia classes provided a brief target for criticism until this plan was quietly and permanently laid to rest. The 8‑inch guns of the Kearsarge were mounted in a smaller turret placed on top of the 13‑inch gun turret. The two sets of guns could not be turned separately, for they were all mounted on one roller path and operated by one electrical controlling device.80 Thus one shell could knock out all four guns. Furthermore, since there was no way to operate the turrets by hand, just the shock of a shell might be sufficient to disable the electrical apparatus and make it impossible to point the guns. The problem of spotting was also complicated.81

This mistake of using superposed turrets was due largely to the influence of the Line officers. In 1897 they insisted on installing them on the Kearsarge even though all the naval constructors were opposed.82 Likewise, the two Boards that recommended their use on the ships of the Georgia class were made up respectively of ten and eleven Line officers to one naval constructor. They compromised a little with the architects to the extent of putting double turrets on only three of the five vessels of this class, although later on the seagoing branch joined wholeheartedly in condemning such an arrangement.83

Of all the complaints lodged against our guns and turrets, however, one of the most serious was the charge that  p61 the ammunition hoists made the turrets little better than death traps. Reuterdahl included this in his article, saying that a shell could enter a gunport and ignite the powder being loaded, which could then drop directly to the handling room and the magazines.84 This danger must have been apparent to the Navy Department, for Sims, many years later, said:

"On May 19, 1901, in a report which later mysteriously disappeared from the files of the Department, I used the following language:

" 'A baseball tossed into one of the ports of the Kentucky class would fall directly into 13‑inch handling room opening into which are the 13‑inch and below which are some of the 8‑inch magazines.' "85

Before anything was done about this serious situation, several fatal accidents took place. The first of these was on the Missouri on April 13, 1904. Five officers and twenty-five menb were killed when flaming gases from the breech of a gun flared back and ignited the charge ready to be loaded. The burning powder from this fell down the hoist to the handling room, spreading the fire further.86 The Department blamed this on the new rapid-fire methods, their only suggestion being to slow down the number of shots per minute. The fact that the hoists could supply only about one‑third to one‑sixth of the ammunition the crews could use made it necessary to keep an extra supply on hand in the turret, increasing the danger of explosion.87 Such flarebacks  p62 were later stopped almost completely by blowing the gun out with compressed air after each shot and before the breech was opened. This method was already coming into use at the time of the Missouri accident. Sims placed most of the blame for these disasters on carelessness.88

However, the Navy Department refused to take any action, other than to recommend slower gunnery. This Roosevelt would not permit, whatever the risk involved.89 Many reports had been made on this subject since 1901. Some of them had even received the approval of a majority of the Board, although they had been kept from the knowledge of the General Board until after the Missouri accident. There had already been a similar mishap, though not as serious, on the Massachusetts a year previously. Yet on May 18, 1904, the Board on Construction blandly stated that it found nothing on file to substantiate criticisms of the ammunition hoists.90 When this information was divulged, the General Board took immediate action. In March 1904, a month before the Missouri disaster, Admiral Dewey, President of the General Board, had actually written the following letter to the Secretary of the Navy:

"The General Board's attention has been called to a defect existing in . . . [certain] ships of the Navy, which may be a critical source of danger, and therefore seriously affects their military efficiency. It is that the passage for ammunition between the magazines and the turrets is a direct tube, so that there is nothing to prevent a shell or charge, which may slip from the carrier in the turret chamber,  p63 from falling to the magazine deck at the bottom of the ship. The danger of explosion of a shell, or even of the destruction of the whole ship, as a result of such an accident, is obvious.

"The General Board regards the matter as so important that it respectfully requests that this question be referred to the Board on Construction, for consideration in the designs of all battleships now building or built in the future."91

The Navy Department, however, attempted to show that the world's navies generally accepted direct hoists rather than the two‑stage hoists developed by the British.92 Another serious turret accident on the Kearsarge in April 1906 killed fifty men. Public and presidential opinion was too aroused over this for officials to ignore the facts any longer. Chief Constructor Capps, long an apologist for the direct hoist, finally admitted in 1908 that our major ships (twenty-five battleships and twelve armored cruisers), some of them still building, should all be fitted with new "interrupted" hoists at $10,000 a turret.93

In spite of this belated admission, in 1909, just as President Roosevelt's term of office was up, it could still be said in a prominent naval publication that:

". . . America has considered a straight-through hoist from handling room to gun sufficiently safe and rapid, whilst England for the past ten years has had broken hoists  p64 and transfer arrangements in the working chamber; English mountings have had loading arrangements which permit of the guns being loaded at any angles of training and elevation, whilst America has been content with loading at all angles of training, but at a fixed angle of elevation."94

Until the United States Navy could catch up to the British in this respect — and this was largely achieved in the designs of the American dreadnoughts — President Roosevelt's marvelous reforms in gunnery were of no avail. This improvement of the hoists, requiring little additional weight or space, could easily have been effected in the old battleships. But because of a few officials it had to wait for the coming of the all-big‑gun battleships for general acceptance.

The Rise of the Dreadnought

It has been seen above how every ship was a compromise in that limitation of size prevented the maximum development of every desirable feature. This fact often led to many unsatisfactory features that seriously handicapped the Navy. The logical result of the desire to obtain in one ship great speed and manageability, heavy offensive and defensive power, and a stable gun platform led naturally to an increase in the size of battleships, which culminated in the new type exemplified by the Dreadnought. In the United States this development took place during Roosevelt's Administration and the President helped in the process, but the needs of naval architecture and events abroad would surely have produced such an outcome even without his support, although perhaps not as soon.

 p65  In 1901 the only capital ships in the United States Navy had been designed before the Spanish-American War. Of these nine battleships, only four of which had actually been in service prior to 1899, none had a displacement of more than 11,500 tons or a speed of more than seventeen knots. The largest were the two ships of Kentucky class, authorized in 1895, and the three of the Alabama class, authorized in 1896. The two classes of ships authorized between the War and McKinley's assassination were much larger and faster than the earlier ones but still were not adequate. The three ships of the Maine class (1898) displaced 12,500 tons and made eighteen knots. The five ships of the Georgia class (1899‑1900) displaced nearly 15,000 tons and made nineteen knots.95 Thus even before Roosevelt became President the trend was clear.

In 1902, 1903, and 1904 the new President obtained authorization of the five ships of the Connecticut class, displacing 16,000 tons and making eighteen knots. Like the earlier classes they had four 12‑inch guns and a large number of smaller ones. However, in 1903 Congress also provided for the Idaho and the Mississippi of only 13,000 tons and doing only seventeen knots.96 Senator Hale was responsible for this, and it was done only over vigorous protests from Roosevelt, Dewey, the General Board and even the House Naval Affairs Committee.97 They all realized that such ships were obsolete before they were built. Public opinion even seemed to be behind the President. The New York Tribune pointed out that "at a time when in the English  p66 and Japanese navies a speed of eighteen knots an hour [sic] is the minimum that is considered for a battleship and nineteen knots is sought and attained, we are building a vessel which will have only a speed of seventeen knots."98

The events of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 and 1905 further illustrated the value of heavy battleships. The Secretary of the Navy in 1904 said that the lessons of that war were the same as those of 1898: "Weight of metal, heavy guns, and hard hitting . . . still do the most effective work."99 In that same year it was reported that the Japanese were already taking advantage of this lesson by planning two 17,000‑ton battleships with all 12‑and 10‑inch guns in the main batteries.100 The General Board recommended similar action to our Navy Department on the grounds that battles would be fought in the future at such long ranges that only heavy guns would be of any use. Also, the elimination of the intermediate batteries would greatly simplify the problem of supply.101

The result of this was the South Carolina and the Michigan, authorized in 1905. In these the United States anticipated the Dreadnought, which was completed in 1906. These two ships, although they each had eight 12‑inch guns and no intermediary batteries, were only 16,000 tons so that they could not include all the desired improvements, being 2,000 tons less than the Dreadnought.102 They were especially weak in weapons to repel torpedo attacks,  p67 for their guns were too light to be effective at the new ranges.

Roosevelt now saw that his utmost efforts were necessary to further the cause of the all-big‑gun ship. In 1906 he obtained the authorization of the Delaware, displacing 20,000 tons, making twenty‑one knots and carrying ten 12‑inch guns. However, no funds were appropriated to start work. Therefore, in January 1907 he wrote a letter to Chairman Foss of the House Naval Affairs Committee restating his position. He explained the fact that a given number of heavy guns was several times more powerful when concentrated in a few large fast ships than when spread through a greater number of smaller ones because of the greater maneuverability of the former as well as their smaller target area and their ability to concentrate their fire. Furthermore, he continued, it was much cheaper to put a large number of heavy guns, which were henceforth to be the true measure of naval strength, on a few big ships rather than on many of the old type of battleship.103

Therefore, in 1907 Congress authorized the North Dakota, a sister ship of the Delaware, and work was immediately begun on both of them. These ships each had a battery of fourteen 5‑inch guns to repel torpedo attacks. Their main battery of ten 12‑inch guns was arranged so that all of the turrets were mounted on the center line of the ship and could thus all be trained on either broadside. The Dreadnought had two of its main turrets placed on the sides so that they could not fire in both directions. The only difference between the two ships was that the North  p68 Dakota had turbine engines while the Delaware had reciprocating engines.104 These were also the first American ships built without bridges. They were to be handled completely from armored conning towers.105

In spite of the obvious advance of this latest design there were still many criticisms, especially by Commander Key. He charged in a letter to the Secretary of the Navy that the armor belt and the broadside guns were still too low. In addition he said that the 12‑inch guns were not as strong as those used abroad.106 Because of these complaints Roosevelt called a conference of naval officers at Newport in the summer of 1908 to consider the charge and to make recommendations as to the designs of the Florida and the Utah, which had been authorized that year.107 At the time he did this the President admitted there were many defects in American naval ships but quite rightly claimed that they had been sensationally exaggerated.108 The results of the Newport Conference confirmed his opinion, for although a motion was passed approving the plans of the North Dakota as a whole, Key's criticisms were largely supported by the naval officers, even though a few of the more conservative members of the Conference tried to block such action.109

On the strength of this testimony and the advice of other naval officers to build ships even bigger than the 23,000  p69 ton British ships then under construction,110 Congress early in 1909, only a few days before the end of Roosevelt's term of office, authorized the Wyoming and the Arkansas. These tremendous battleships were to be the largest ever built, each displacing 26,000 tons and having twelve 12‑inch guns.111 The future trend of battleship design was then clear to all, as it had been to a few far‑sighted people some years before. Roosevelt clearly saw it coming in a letter to the Secretary of the Navy on February 22, 1902, although as early as February 1898 he had affirmed his belief in the power of the battleship.112 After the launching of the Dreadnought similar statements had frequently appeared in the press. In 1907, for example, the Scientific American accurately prophesied a 30,000‑ton battleship with 14‑inch guns within the near future.113


The Author's Notes:

1 A. S. Hurd, "America's Bid for Naval Supremacy," Nineteenth Century, 52 (1902), p898.

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2 "Naval Turmoil," Literary Digest, 36 (1908), p355.

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3 "Defects of Our Navy," Literary Digest, 35 (1907), p107.

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4 "Admiral Sims Dies of a Heart Attack," New York Times, Sept. 29, 1936, p27.

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5 Sims, "Roosevelt and the Navy," Part II, McClure's, 54 (1922), pp61‑2.

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6 "Admiral Sims Dies of a Heart Attack," New York Times, Sept. 29, 1936, p27.

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7 G. A. Converse, "A Statement Regarding Criticisms of the Navy," Congressional Record, 42 (1908), p6149 (Appendix A of speech by George Foss). Also Navy Department, Annual Report, 1907, p35.

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8 Sims, "Theodore Roosevelt at Work," McClure's, 54 (1923), p96.

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9 Fiske, "American Naval Policy," Proceedings of the U. S. Naval Institute, 31 (1905), pp56‑60.

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10 Quoted in W. L. Capps, Report Concerning Certain Alleged Defects in Vessels of the Navy, p69 (60th Cong. 1st Sess. Sen. Doc. No. 297).

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11 Quoted in "A Grave Indictment of Our Navy," Literary Digest, 35 (1907), p972.

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12 "Battleship Fleet Fatally Defective," New York Press, Dec. 21, 1907, in Roosevelt's Scrapbooks, Events of Interest Series, Vol. 27, p95.

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13 "Fight for a New Navy," McClure's, 32 (1908), p110.

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14 Capps, op. cit., p71.

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15 Mahan, op. cit., p18 ("Naval Administration").

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16 Fiske, Autobiography, pp398‑9.

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17 H. A. Evans, op. cit., p101.

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18 ibid., p99. Also Mahan, op. cit., p69 ("Navy Department").

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19 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1907, pp35‑6.

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20 Capps, op. cit., p67.

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21 ibid., p149.

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22 H. A. Evans, op. cit., p140.

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23 Sims, "Roosevelt at Work," McClure's, 54 (1923), p101.

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24 Sims, Letter to Naval Personnel Board, Sept. 24, 1906, pp1‑3.

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25 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1907, p11.

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26 Brassey, Naval Annual, 1910, p50.

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27 Brownson to Roosevelt, July 30, 1907, in Bailey, op. cit., pp248‑9.

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28 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1902, pp27‑8.

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29 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1904, p16.

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30 Encyclopedia Americana (1941 ed.), Vol. 27, p174.

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31 loc. cit.

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32 C. G. Curtis, "Marine Applications of the Steam Turbine," Transactions of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, 13 (1905), pp241‑3.

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33 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1903, p20.

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34 Description of trials in Journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers, 20 (1908), p994.

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35 For descriptions of the turbine engines of the five battleships authorized 1907‑1909, see Journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers, 23 (1911), pp538, 949, 1146.

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36 Hurd, op. cit., p898.

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37 Fiske, Autobiography, pp340‑1.

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38 ibid., pp341‑2.

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39 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1903, p21.

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40 Bureau of Equipment, Navy Department, List of Wireless-Telegraph Stations of the World (1907), pp46‑67 (1909), pp91‑102.

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41 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1902, p29.

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42 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1906, pp21‑2.

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43 U. S. 59th Cong. 2nd Sess., Cost of Armor Plate and Armor Plant, p19 (House Doc. No. 193).

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44 ibid., p31.

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45 Reuterdahl, "Needs of Our Navy," McClure's, 30 (1908), p252.

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46 Capps, op. cit., p139.

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47 U. S. 60th Cong. 1st Sess., Alleged Structural Defects in Battleships of the U. S. Navy. Letter and Papers, p63 (Sen. Doc. No. 506). This will be cited hereafter as Papers on Alleged Defects.

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48 Capps, op. cit., pp3‑4.

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49 The Navy, 2 (1908), p6.

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50 Capps, op. cit., p28.

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51 ibid., pp133‑4.

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52 R. D. Evans, op. cit., p724.

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53 Papers on Alleged Defects, p11.

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54 Capps, op. cit., p21.

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55 "The Fight for a New Navy," McClure's, 32 (1908), p111.

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56 Capps, op. cit., p31.

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57 Reuterdahl, "Needs of Our Navy," McClure's, 30 (1908), p253.

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58 G. A. Converse, Statement in Refutation of Alleged Defects of Naval Vessels, pp6‑7 (60th Cong. 1st Sess. Sen. Doc. No. 298).

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59 Reuterdahl, "Needs of Our Navy," McClure's, 32 (1908), p255.

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60 Capps, op. cit., p149.

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61 Papers on Alleged Defects, p52.

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62 Capps, op. cit., p14.

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63 ibid., p99.

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64 ibid., p20.

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65 loc. cit.

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66 "Fight for a New Navy," McClure's, 32 (1908), p111.

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67 Roosevelt, Letter to House Naval Affairs Committee, Jan. 11, 1907, quoted in Brassey, Naval Annual, 1907, p390.

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68 Capps, op. cit., p52.

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69 Converse, Refutation of Alleged Defects, p9 (60th Cong. 1st Sess. Sen. Doc. No. 298).

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70 Reuterdahl, "Needs of Our Navy," McClure's, 30 (1908), p257.

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71 Sims, Letter to Naval Personnel Board, Sept. 24, 1906, p15.

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72 Sims, Letter to Naval Personnel Board, Oct. 24, 1906, p5.

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73 U. S. 60th Cong. 1st Sess. House Committee on Naval Affairs, Hearings and Communications, 1907‑1908, pp154‑7 (Testimony of Rear-Admiral N. E. Mason).

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74 Sims, "Roosevelt and the Navy," McClure's, 54 (1922), pp40‑1.

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75 Reuterdahl, "Needs of Our Navy," McClure's, 30 (1908), p256.

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76 Sims, Letter to Naval Personnel Board, Sept. 24, 1906, p12.

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77 Brassey, Naval Annual, 1907, Plates 1‑10, 60‑65.

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78 Sims, Letter to Naval Personnel Board, Sept. 24, 1906, p20.

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79 "Ten Years' Development of the Battleship," Scientific American, 97 (1907), p409.

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80 Hurd, op. cit., p899.

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81 Sims, Letter to Naval Personnel Board, Sept. 24, 1906, p13.

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82 H. A. Evans, op. cit., p113.

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83 Capps, op. cit., p78.

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84 Reuterdahl, "Needs of Our Navy," McClure's, 30 (1908), pp254‑5.

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85 Sims, "Roosevelt and the Navy," Part II, McClure's, 54 (1922), p56.

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86 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1904, pp576‑7 (Report of Bureau of Ordnance).

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87 Reuterdahl, "Needs of Our Navy," McClure's, 30 (1908), p256. Also Sims, Letter to Naval Personnel Board, Sept. 24, 1906, pp12‑14.

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88 Sims, "Roosevelt and the Navy," Part II, McClure's, 54 (1922), p58.

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89 Sims, "The Father of Our Modern Navy," Scientific American, 129 (1923), p312.

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90 Sims, Letter to Naval Personnel Board, Sept. 24, 1906, p19.

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91 Sims, "Roosevelt and the Navy," Part II, McClure's, 54 (1922), pp56‑7.

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92 Converse, Refutation of Alleged Defects, p21 (U. S. 60th Cong. 1st Sess. Sen. Doc. No. 298).

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93 U. S. 60th Cong. 1st Sess. House Committee on Naval Affairs, Hearings on Estimates Submitted by the Secretary of the Navy, 1908, pp373‑4.

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94 Brassey, Naval Annual, 1909, p278 (Italics mine).

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95 "Ten Years' Development of the Battleship," Scientific American, 97 (1907), pp408‑9.

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96 ibid., pp429‑30.

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97 Turner, "Our Navy on Land," McClure's, 32 (1909), p407.

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98 "A Costly Naval Experiment," Literary Digest, 31 (1905), p562.

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99 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1904, p4.

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100 Albert Gleaves, "Training Gunners in the U. S. Navy," World's Work, 8 (1904), p4903.

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101 Report of the General Board to the Secretary of the Navy, Oct. 28, 1904, quoted in Brassey, Naval Annual, 1905, pp31‑2.

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102 "Ten Years' Development of the Battleship," Scientific American, 97 (1907), pp430‑1.

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103 Quoted in U. S. 59th Cong. 2nd Sess. House Committee on Naval Affairs, Hearings on Estimates Submitted by the Secretary of the Navy, 1907, pp369‑70.

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104 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1907, p12.

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105 Papers on Alleged Defects, p12 (Report of Board on Construction, May 19, 1908).

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106 "The First of the American Dreadnoughts," Literary Digest, 37 (1908), p751.

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107 Sims, "Roosevelt at Work," McClure's, 54 (1923), pp100‑1.

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108 "Whacks Brownson," Washington Post, June 6, 1908, in Roosevelt's Scrapbooks, Events of Interest Series, Vol. 27, p115.

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109 Sims, "Roosevelt at Work," McClure's, 54 (1923), pp98‑9.

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110 U. S. 60th Cong. 2nd Sess. House Committee on naval affairs, Hearings on Estimates Submitted by the Secretary of the Navy, 1909, p368 (Testimony of Rear-Admiral J. E. Pillsbury).

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111 Navy Yearbook, 1909, p658.

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112 Navy Department, Annual Report, 1904, pp4‑5.

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113 "Ten Years' Development of the Battleship," Scientific American, 97 (1907), p406.


Thayer's Notes:

a1 a2 Neither did Roosevelt have the technical training; for his share in the blame for the poor design of the Kentucky and the Kearsarge, see H. A. Evans, One Man's Fight for a Better Navy, pp113‑115.

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b In chapter 5, O'Gara gives the total casualties as 34. Online I find figures varying up to 38.


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