REFERENCE DOCUMENTS & RESOURCES - OFFICIAL ADMIRALTY DOCUMENTS
ADM 1/8586/70: FINAL REPORT OF THE POST-WAR QUESTIONS COMMITTEE (1920)
Updated 18-Oct-2007

This document is a modern transcription of Admiralty record ADM 1/8586/70. It concerning naval lessons learned from the First World War. It was transcribed by David Chessum on behalf of the the Royal Navy Flag Officers 1904-1945 website. The original file is held at the The National Archives at Kew, London. This Crown Copyrighted material is reproduced here by kind permission of The National Archives.

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SECRET

C.B. 01557

FINAL REPORT
 OF THE

Post-War Questions
Committee

DATED

27th MARCH 1920

M. Branch (M.01062

April 1920

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FINAL REPORT
OF THE
POST-WAR QUESTIONS COMMITTEE

CONTENTS

M. BRANCH PAPER
PAGES

Letter submitting Report

Terms of Reference

Preface to Report. (The Survival of the Capital Ship)

Report on Paragraph 1. Terms of Reference

Report on Paragraph 2. Terms of Reference

Report on Paragraph 3. Terms of Reference

The Battleship

The Battle Cruiser

The Light Cruiser and Convoy Cruiser

The Fleet Aircraft Carrier

The Destroyer and Flotilla Leaders

81, 86

The Submarine

91

P. and P.C. Boats, C.M.B.’s, D.C.B.’s

94

General Remarks on

 

Armament

97

Machinery

104

Fuel

104

Report on Paragraph 4. Terms of Reference

107

Report on Paragraph 5. Terms of Reference

118

Appendix I. – List of Papers studied by Post-War Questions Committee

119

Appendix II. – List of Officers who have given evidence before the Post-War Questions Committee or who have sent the Committee their opinions

128

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ADMIRALTY
No. 4a, Cockspur Street,
LONDON, S.W.1.

(M.01062).

No. 12/1.

27th March, 1920.

SIR,

In accordance with Admiralty Letter M.02483 of 16th June, 1919, we have the honour to submit for the consideration of Their Lordships this our Report of the Post-War Questions Committee.

2. With the exception of the Preface, entitled “The Survival of the Capital Ship,” the sections of our Report are grouped in the sequence of the Terms of Reference, a section to each paragraph.

(Signed)

RICHARD F. PHILLIMORE VICE-ADMIRAL (President).
H.M. DOUGHTY REAR-ADMIRAL
ROGER BACKHOUSE CAPTAIN
R. C. HAMILTON CAPTAIN
CECIL BERMINGHAM ENGINEER CAPTAIN
F. BURGES WATSON COMMANDER
E.W. ISAACSON COMMANDER
LIONEL V. WELLS COMMANDER
C.H.B. GOWAN COMMANDER
PAUL HEATHER

PAYMASTER LIEUT.COMMANDER (Secretary).

The Secretary
Of the Admiralty.

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SECRET.

POST-WAR QUESTIONS COMMITTEE

TERMS OF REFERENCE

1. To consider in the light of the experience of the war the military uses and values of the different types of war vessels.

2. To report which types of vessels (including aircraft) should compose the Principal Fleet on mobilisation for war and in what proportions they should be provided, with the reasons for the necessity of each type. Regards should be had to the fact the considerations of construction and maintenance demand that the number of different types should be kept as small as possible, and the possibility of fitting ships for alternative purposes should be considered.

3. To consider and advise as to the main naval requirements of each type, e.g. speed, endurance,* armament, protection, displacement, special fittings, and equipment, etc., giving reasons for each requirement. In so doing, to investigate thoroughly and report upon the naval and tactical considerations arising out of:-

(a) The increased efficiency of projectiles over armour;
(b)
The increased efficiency of hull protection against the effects of torpedoes;
(c) The part likely to be taken in future by aircraft, both in attack and defence;
(in connection with (a) and (b), certain secret papers will be referred to the committee).

4. To report similarly as to the vessels which will be required by the Principal Fleet for subsidiary purposes (e.g., repair vessels, minelayers, boarding steamers, etc.), indicating also which of them should form part of the Fleet ready for mobilisation and which might subsequently be taken up form the Mercantile Fleet and fitted out.

5. To report what is the most suitable Air Organisation to adopt in the sea-going Fleet, the following conditions being regarded as provisionally settled:-

(a) That the Air Ministry will remain responsible for the provision of materiel and the air training of personnel;
(b) That the air personnel in ships and aircraft carriers will be composed of Naval Officers and ratings who have previously been lent to eh Air Force for training and flying experience, but will be borne in these ships for air duties in the same manner as the Officers and men of other specialist branches;
(c) That the air personnel elsewhere will continue to be composed of Air Force Officers and ratings.

* Admiralty Letter M.03895 of 26th July, 1919.

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5

INDEX TO PREFACE TO REPORT

THE SURVIVAL OF THE CAPITAL SHIP

 

Para

Preliminary remarks

   

I. A SHORT HISTORY OF THE CAPITAL SHIP

   

II. THE DANGERS TO WHICH THE CAPITAL SHIP WILL BE EXPOSED THROUGH HER SURFACE CHARACTER

 

SUBMARINE

 

Actual results of torpedo menace small

Future development of the Submarine and Anti-Submarine devices

Conclusion

GUNFIRE

 

Gun v. Armour

Conclusion

AIRCRAFT

 

Air attack on ships during the War

Heavier-than-Air Craft

Lighter-than-Air Craft

Aircraft Conclusion

DISTANT-CONTROL BOAT

 

Control

Disadvantages

Development

Conclusion

WIRELESS CONTROLLED AIRCRAFT

MINE

Conclusion

COASTAL MOTOR BOAT

 

Advantages

Disadvantages

Conclusion

GAS

Conclusion

THE CAPITAL SHIP THE DECISIVE FACTOR IN THE LATE WAR

 

 

III. COMPARISON OF SURFACE AND SUBMERSIBLE CAPITAL SHIPS CARRYING THE SAME ARMAMENTS

 

SUBMARINE CAPITAL SHIP

 

Advantages

Disadvantages

Points of equality

Conclusion

PARTIALLY SUBMERSIBLE CAPITAL SHIP

 

Advantages

Disadvantages

Points of equality

Conclusion

   

IV. FINAL CONCLUSION

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6

PREFACE TO REPORT.

THE SURVIVAL OF THE SURFACE CAPITAL SHIP

Before commencing an examination into the actual military uses and values of the different types of war vessels, it is necessary to arrive at a clear understanding as to whether the Capital Ship will survive as a surface vessel.

2. Owing to the recent great advance in submarine and air efficiency and the certainty of a still greater advance in the latter, opinion has been freely advanced especially in the Press, tat the means of defence possessed by the large surface vessel cannot progress to a corresponding extent, and that, therefore, the purely surface war vessel is doomed to extinction.

A warning to think deliberately lies in the mistake of the French at the end of last century of economising in battleships in favour of the then newly introduced fast Torpedo Boat, a mistake from which their Navy has never recovered.

3. This chapter, therefore, is devoted to:-

I. A short history of the Capital Ship.
II. The dangers to which the Capital Ship will be exposed through her surface character.
III. A comparison of surface and submersible capital ships carrying the same main armament.

4. For the purpose of this survey, the Fleet may be divided into two main classes:-

The large war vessel working on the surface only;

The small fighting craft working under, above, or upon the surface.


I. A SHORT HISTORY OF THE CAPITAL SHIP

5. Historically, the Capital Ship of the period has always been the highest form of sea-going, self-contained war vessel reasonably capable of destroying any other forms of craft venturing within range, whilst herself remaining, to all intents and purposes, invulnerable to their attacks, according to the weapons and tactics of the day.

6. In all times endeavours have been made by small craft – from fireships, spar torpedo boats, etc., onward – to destroy or minimise the importance of the contemporary battleship, and these endeavours have constantly become more scientific and dangerous.

The battleship has as constantly improved and maintained her old predominant position.

7. In the late war, new and improved weapons have been brought against the Capital hip, and although these weapons, notably the mine and torpedo, succeeded against the old obsolescent types and methods, they have not succeeded against modern types and methods.

An occasional success is always possible, must be reckoned with, and is certain to occur. It should not affect the conclusion to be drawn from events in the late war.

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8. It is very much to the point to remember that the large ship has survived the great changes of oars to sail, sail to steam, wood to iron, and the introduction of mines and torpedoes. This should make us chary of leaping to the conclusion, without complete evidence, that the modern large surface ship is doomed because of the introduction of two new opponents – submarines and aircraft.

9. Every offensive move has its antidote, if only it can be found, and it is more likely than not that the element of surprise will be eliminated from submarines, and that efficient protective measures will be developed against aircraft.

10. For example, the paravane has robbed the mine of much of its deadliness, and the aeroplane has temporarily, at least, got the better of the airship.


II. THE DANGERS TO WHICH THE CAPITAL SHIP WILL BE EXPOSED THROUGH HER SURFACE CHARACTER.

SUBMARINE

11. Although the torpedo menace had far-reaching effects, the actual results obtained against the modern surface Capital Ship were small during the war.

This may have been due to the anti-merchant campaign monopolising German energies, and latterly to the lack of training of the crews; but whatever reason is put forward, the facts remain that many attacks were made and that only a few succeeded, notwithstanding that the submarine in 1914 was a new weapon in a reasonable state of efficiency, that no defence beyond the ram and a towed charge had been devised against her, and that a screen was not always available to protect the Capital Ships.

12. The submarine is likely to improve in speed, in strength of hull and in machinery; her weapon – the torpedo – in invisibility and in precision. With improvement in sonic and supersonic detection it may become unnecessary for the submarine to show any part of herself above water during her approach, attack, or retirement.

Detection devices have slightly improved on those in use during the late war, and experimentally work on them is being continued. It is impossible to foresee to what range and degree of accuracy they will attain in the next few years, but it is reasonable to expect that the presence of a submarine in the vicinity will generally be detected and that her actual position may be known to surface vessels. The importance of this cannot be exaggerated.

13. In spite of her increased speed, the small submarine should have less chance of torpedo success against Capital Ships in the future, Big ships should be able to evade her, their accompanying light craft to damage her or deter her from attacking, and fast hunting flotillas to destroy her whenever she is located.

14. A submarine that could deal safely on the surface with light craft must be large and therefore not so suited for torpedo work through a screen against Capital Ships as the small submarine.

15. Conclusion. – We do not consider that the submarine will become a greater danger to the surface Capital Ship in the future than she has been in the past, provided that counter measures against her are constantly studied and experimented with, and that ships are designed to retain their stability after sustaining considerable under-water damage.

GUNFIRE

16. Capital Ships were engaged by Capital Ships on few occasions during the war. No Battleship was sunk, though four Battle Cruisers were sunk and three put out of action.

17. The duel between the gun and armour or other protection will doubtless continue. The tremendous blow at varying angles of descent delivered by a projectile appears to have firmly established the lead of the gun over the present distribution of armour. A percentage increase of weight of armour can hardly be permitted in the future, and it is more likely that protection will be sought in other directions.

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8

18. Whatever form of weapon Capital Ships may eventually be armed with, for many years to come they will be designed primarily to carry heavy guns, and we are of the opinion that Capital Ships will continue to stand up to each other’s gunfire.

19. Conclusion. – We do not consider that there is any probability of the gun rendering the surface Capital Ship obsolete at sea.

AIRCRAFT

20. Air attack at sea was developed to so small an extent that the cases of loss or damage to surface war vessels directly caused by aircraft during the war were practically negligible. The value of aircraft for sea warfare lay more in their reconnoitring powers.

21. In order to drop bombs, a position above their target must be attained by aircraft, and to obtain hits with either bombs or torpedo a relatively short range must be reached. Spotting on to the target will be impracticable, and therefore the attack should be made by large numbers.

A good illustration is that while the “Goeben” was ashore on Nagara Point, of over 20 bombs dropped, two small ones only were hits and neither caused any material damage.

22. Heavier-than-Air craft. – Owing to the small endurance of machines, especially when loaded with bombs or torpedo, the attack of Capital Ships at sea will depend on the existence of a suitable base or carrier from which to launch the attack. If the distance is short, machines may return to the base or carrier to re-arm and repeat their attack.

Machines may carry a few heavy or a large number of light bombs depending on the operation, but if bombs and torpedoes are largely increased in weight they will necessitate large wing span in the machines, and it is not anticipated that sea-going carriers will be able to accommodate such machines in sufficient numbers.

23. An aircraft carrier owing to her characteristics is bound to be vulnerable, and if only damaged may be useless for replenishing machines.

Therefore aircraft attack must be independent of a carrier if it is to have such a far-reaching effect as to render the Capital Ship obsolete or to alter entirely her characteristics. This may be attained by the development of flying boats.

24. Lighter-than-Air Craft. – Great improvement in the Weatherly qualities of airships and the production of non-inflammable gas in large quantities would overcome many present disabilities, but from the evidence we have heard, we are of opinion that the airship will not become capable of decisive action against Capital Ships for many years to come.

25. Aircraft Conclusion. – From the above briefly indicated considerations and our more certain knowledge of the powers of defence which the Capital Ship can possess, we do not consider that aircraft using any known form of weapon will render the Capital Ship obsolete until the capabilities of aircraft increase beyond anything that appears probable in the near future.

DISTANT CONTROL BOAT.

26. This weapon is in a different category from all others in that it is capable of control up to the moment of hitting, and this fact alone justifies close attention to development.

Although still in their infancy, we have had it in evidence that these weapons are already capable of being handled in numbers: two of them can be controlled by one aircraft, three of them have been manoeuvred close to one another simultaneously without mutual interference, and probably as many as eight can be handled in a group if the groups are not within about four miles of one another.

We have been informed further that it is difficult, if not impossible, for an enemy to interfere with the control by wireless jambing, since each boat works on a different wave length and the discovery of the wave length is a delicate operation. When the elements of surprise and attack in numbers are added, the difficulty of defence by this means is increased.

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9

27. Present disadvantages are that it is a daylight weapon only; that it is interfered with by a heavy sea, although the boat can be completely closed in ;that it strikes on the water line, although with a heavier charge than any hitherto used; that it must be transported to the scene of action and slipped by a vessel of considerable size; that an aeroplane must be flown off to control each pair of boats.

28. The most likely solution appears to lie in its development into a shallow or surface-running torpedo of great size, which could be made to dive to a given depth oat the end of its attack.

29. Conclusion. – The Distant Control Boat, in view of its possibilities, merits uninterrupted research both in the perfection of the weapon itself and in the preparation of counter measures.

In its present state of development, however, we are of opinion that it is not a great menace to the Capital Ship.

WIRELESS CONTROLLED AIRCRAFT.

30. We have heard evidence that aircraft carrying high explosive charges are capable of being controlled by wireless as are the Distant Control Boats, but we do not consider that they will be a real menace to Capital Ships.

MINE

31. During the late war a mass of information and experience was gained, which will result in increased mine-efficiency in future wars wherever the depth of water is not prohibitive.

Anti-mine devices have also been invented or elaborated which, with further experiment, should be able to deal as effectively with the mine in the future as in the past.

32. The mine can never be more than a passive weapon depending for results on the unexpectedness of its presence, the suitability of the mined waters and the numbers in which it is laid.

A single mine, owing to its necessarily restricted size is not likely to cause the total loss of a Capital Ship if attention is paid to under-water construction.

33. Although occasional damage or loss is to be expected, the effect of mining will be more to impose on us limitation of movement and expenditure of military energy in minesweeping than actually to destroy our ships.

34. Conclusion. – We do not consider that the mine will render the Capital Ship obsolete.

COASTAL MOTOR BOAT

35. Regarded from the sole point of view of attack on Capital Ships at sea, Coastal Motor Boats possess the following advantages.

The present a small target and the speed and suddenness of their attack make it difficult to stop them by gunfire, especially if they attack in numbers or in low visibility; their torpedo control problem is simple and they have a better chance than any other surface craft of passing unobserved through a patrol line or screen at night.

36. The disadvantages are that small endurance necessitates them being carried or towed to within about 40 miles of their objective; they can only work in moderate seas and they can be stopped by machine-gun fire from aircraft.

37. Conclusion. – We do not consider that the Coastal Motor Boat will render the Capital Ship obsolete.

GAS

38. Although little is known at present as to the best form of its employment at sea, gas may develop into a dangerous form of attack, and offensive and defensive measures must be fully experimented with.

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It appears possible that gas will be introduced into a ship by cloud, shell, bomb, torpedo or mine, the more likely forms being light gas (Phosgene) with or without a smoke cloud and liquid gas (Vesecants) in projectiles.

39. Conclusion. – We consider that there should be no great difficulty in dealing with a gas attack in a Capital Ship if sufficient experimental work, training or personnel, organisation, and proper equipment are undertaken in peace time.

THE CAPITAL SHIP THE DECISIVE FACTOR IN THE LATE WAR.

40. From this review the conclusion is arrived at that small craft whether operating under, above or upon the surface, cannot at present defeat a well-handled and properly-equipped Fleet or ship at sea, and that only a better-handled or better equipped Fleet or ship will be able to do so.

41. It was the presence of the Grand Fleet Capital Ships in the North Sea that brought about the German Naval collapse.

III. COMPARISON OF SURFACE AND SUBMERSIBLE CAPITAL SHIPS CARRYING THE SAME MAIN ARMAMENT.

The general characteristics and possibilities of the surface Capital Ship being known, it is sufficient to compare her with

A submarine Capital Ship;
A partially submersible Capital Ship.

SUBMARINE CAPITAL SHIP.

42. Advantages. – She could probably submerge herself in a depth of over 14 fathoms and so escape detection or bombing from aircraft.

She would be in a position of great advantage in the event of gas becoming a dangerous weapon in naval warfare.

She would present a comparatively small target to horizontal gunfire, and possible to aircraft bombs when on the surface.

43. Disadvantages. – She would run great risks manoeuvring in company and , to obtain the same surface characteristics, would have to be of considerably greater displacement than the surface ship, thus greatly increasing her cost. Due to her size she would be unhandy and would require deep water in which to manoeuvre submerged.

Any damage to her hull would seriously compromise her diving powers, and this damage might be done by small craft wholly incapable of damaging a surface ship.

She would be inferior in habitability.

44. Points of Equality. – She would have to be escorted by light surface craft in precisely the same way as the surface Capital Ship.

Future improvements in detection will probably negative the submarine’s present advantage of invisibility.

45. Conclusion. – Although it is feasible to build a submarine Capital Ship, we consider that she would be greatly inferior to a surface Capital Ship in fighting ability.

PARTIALLY SUBMERISBLE CAPITAL SHIP.

46. Advantages. – She would dispense with side armour and in consequence could carry heavy horizontal protection.

47. Disadvantages. – She would lose speed and become awkward to manoeuvre at the time when speed and handiness are usually most wanted.

48. Points of Equality. – Modern long-range artillery has reduced the importance of vertical as compared with horizontal armour.

She would not gain in protection against any form of attack except horizontal gunfire.

49. Conclusion. – We consider that she would be far inferior to a surface Capital Ship.

IV. – FINAL CONCLUSION

50. Your Committee considers that the Capital Ship is and will remain a necessity for naval warfare, and we are of opinion that she should retain her surface character.

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