Naval Warfare, 1815-1914

By Lawrence Sondhaus | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE

The 1870s

With the advent of armor, a country's industrial base became even more important to its naval power, and the sheer cost of larger armored warships meant that only those aspiring to great power status would attempt to build them. When the Ottoman empire and Spain failed to sustain their ironclad programs of the 1860s, by the early 1870s the list of naval powers for the first time ever was identical to the overall list of the great powers of Europe: Britain, France, and Russia, joined by Italy, newly united Germany, and Austria-Hungary. The other maritime countries of Europe, the United States, and other naval states beyond Europe fell into a clearly inferior category of sea power. Even among the great powers, those whose fate in war would be determined on land tended to restrain their naval spending. The 1870s also witnessed a clear division of fleets into armored and unarmored components, with the terms “battleship” and “cruiser” coming into use to describe the two groups of vessels. For the European powers the ironclad battle fleet remained in home waters for the event of a war against another great power, while the unarmored fleet showed the flag worldwide in defense of colonial and trading interests.


Naval warfare from the perspective of the 1870s

The battleships of the 1870s were larger than those of the previous decade but also more vulnerable, both to stronger artillery and the new self-propelled torpedo; finally, it became impossible to plate a ship with enough wrought iron armor in sufficient thickness without reducing its speed and seaworthiness to unacceptable levels. The central battery or casemate ship design popular in the 1870s provided for heavy armor on the waterline and around a central casemate, which housed the guns as well as the ship's engines, and left the rest of the ship unarmored. At the end of the decade, after a brief experiment with “sandwich” (iron-and-wood) armor, “compound” (iron-and-steel) armor was developed which proved to be stronger than wrought iron plates of greater thickness. The armored battleship was saved, but the crisis left navies looking for alternative warship designs. In the meantime, improvements in armor and ordnance doomed many of the battleships of the 1860s to an early obsolesence, and some

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Naval Warfare, 1815-1914
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Plates vi
  • Preface vii
  • Chapter One - The Twilight of Sail, 1815-30 1
  • Notes 24
  • Chapter Two - Continuity and Change, 1830-50 27
  • Chapter Three - The 1850s 55
  • Chapter Four - The Ironclad Revolution 73
  • Notes 104
  • Chapter Five - The 1870s 108
  • Chapter Six - The Jeune école 139
  • Chapter Seven - The Rebirth of the Battleship 160
  • Chapter Eight - The Dreadnought and the Origins of the First World War 197
  • Chapter Nine - Reflections on Deterrence 225
  • Bibliography 230
  • Index 237
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