Academic journal article Parameters

Valuing Innovation Where You Find It

Academic journal article Parameters

Valuing Innovation Where You Find It

Article excerpt

This story, drawing on the British Navy's conversion from sail to steam, may resonate across both centuries and service lines.

In spite of its traditions of gallantry and seamanship, the nineteenth-century Royal Navy was unready for war. Responsibility for this lay at the top. Weapons and tactics in naval warfare were changing rapidly, but many senior officers preferred not to notice. They were assigned to ships, they served in them, eventually they commanded them, without ever giving a serious thought to their tactical employment in battle. Anything new was suspicious and potentially dangerous.... One problem was Nelsonian tradition.... British captains still dreamed of closing to point-blank range. No matter that Nelson throughout his career had been a practitioner of boldness and innovation....

[Admiral Sir] Percy Scott was a practical sailor, not a visionary. What he wanted was a navy trained to use the more powerful guns with which technology was providing it. He wanted British gunners trained to hit the target, and to hit it often, at ever greater ranges, in all kinds of weather and sea conditions. To him it was ludicrous and dangerous that in 1896 the crew of the modern steel battleship Resolution was still being mustered on deck for cutlass drill, training to parry and thrust, for the moment their ship would grind alongside an enemy and they would swarm over the side in boarding parties.

Alone, Percy Scott would have made no difference. …

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