We now see why a fleet must be composed of various types of vessels. At the present moment, the battleship is the primary, or paramount type, the others secondary, because the battleship is the type that can exert the most force, stand the hardest punishment, steam the farthest in all kinds of weather, and in general, serve her country the best.
Of course, “battleship” is merely a name, and some think not a very good name, to indicate a ship that can take the part in battle that used to be taken by the “ship of the line.” The reason for its primacy is fundamental: its displacement or total weight—the same reason that assured the primacy of the ship of the line. For displacement rules the waves; if “Britannia rules the waves,” it is simply because Britannia has more displacement than any other Power.
The fleet needs to have a means of knowing where the enemy is, how many ships he has, what is their character, the direction in which they are steaming, and their speed. To accomplish this purpose, “scouts” are needed—fast ships, that can steam far in all kinds of weather and send wireless messages across great distances. So far as their scout duties go, such vessels need no guns whatever, and no torpedoes; but because the enemy will see the scout as soon as the scout sees the enemy, and because the enemy will try to drive away the scout by gun and torpedo fire, the scouts must be armed. And this necessity is reinforced by the necessity of driving off an enemy’s scouts.
In foreign navies the need for getting information in defiance of an enemy’s attempts to prevent it, and to drive off the armed scouts of an enemy, has been one of the prime reasons for developing “battle cruisers,” that combine the speed of the destroyer with the long steaming radius of the battleship, a battery almost as strong, and a very considerable protection by armor.
The aeroplane and the air-ship are recent accessions to the list of fighting craft. Their role in naval warfare cannot yet be defined, because the machines themselves have not yet reached an advanced stage of development, and their probable performance cannot be forecast. There is no doubt, however, in the minds of naval men that the role of aircraft is to be important and distinguished.
Mahan proved that sea power has exercised a determining influence on history. He proved that sea power has been necessary for commercial success in peace and military success in war. He proved that, while many wars have culminated with the victory of some army, the victory of some navy had been the previous essential. He proved that the immediate cause of success had often resulted inevitably from another cause, less apparent because more profound; that the operations of the navy had previously brought affairs up to the “mate in four moves,” and that the final victory of the army was the resulting “checkmate.”