I have always been curious about hypothetical battles during the transition period between the launch of HMS Dreadnought to the dominance of the dreadnought type. By the time WW1 broke out, pre-dreads, at least in the British and German nations were obsolete, but from 1908 to about 1912, many nations were still relying on them. It makes for quite interesting balance/imbalance which was only really seen on a small scale in the Black Sea.
One thing that arose while I was checking the ship lists for the battle generators from 1908 onwards was that the creators of SAI only created designs for later Destroyers as, like the pre-dreadnoughts, Torpedo Boats were largely obsolete by WW1. But many Destroyers were only being built from 1910 onwards and so for the earlier period, I assume that Torpedo Boats would have operated with the fleets.
I am curious if anyone has thoughts/ideas about how TBs operated during this transitional period. There seem to be two classes: "coastal" small TBs of about 50-150t which were intended as anti-blockade weapons, and "high seas" TBs of up 250t which is quite a bit smaller than the Destroyers of WW1. Would they have played the same role as the latter destroyers or were they limited by endurance such that battle fleets of the period were primarily composed of scouts and battleships once they got a certain distance from port?
Below are my thoughts on the subject, obviously do not take them to the bank and it's likely that others will offer their opinions. It's probably safe to say that different countries had very different conceptions for using light forces in battle in light of the lessons learned (or not learned) in the wake of the Russo-Japanese naval war 1904-05.
First off some rough definitions for this piece only:
Torpedo Boat (TB) = Small (< ~400 tons) with no effective gun armament, I.E. ~37-57mm (3 to 6-pounders) only.
Torpedo Boat Destroyer (TBD) Medium size (< ~800 tons) One or two moderately effective guns >75mm (12-15-pounders).
In general the TBD was a transitory and evolutionary design that originated in Britain as a counter to the swarms of French TB's that the Jeune Ecole could throw against a close blockading capital-ship force. The idea quickly became universal, perhaps owing to the tendency with all things military that bigger is always better. The TBD concept proved rather effective however and the transit of the nine Russian boats that accompanied Rozhesvenksy's Pacific Squadrons to Tsushima demonstrated that they were seaworthy enough for global operations even if they often needed to be towed between ports because of their poor endurance and short range.
The coming of oil fuel and turbine power solved a number of issues with building bigger boats and facilitated the leap to the DD, another British innovation, the first real DD was probably HMS Swift, a relatively unsuccessful and experimental design from the 1906 Estimates. After Swift came the G-Class, the first entire class to carry multiple 4" guns although Swift preceded the F-Class (Tribal Class in SAI) and mounted four-4" but they were rather poorly arranged. The early F's mounted 12-pounders so really can be considered as TBD's. Each successive class became larger but there was considerable latitude allowed to builders so for example White built ships could be considerably different from Hawthorn built ships of the same class compared to Thornycroft boats that would differ from both. By 1914 the British destroyer alphabet had reached the M-Class, between 700 and 1000 tons with an improved wartime construction sub-class reached almost 1200 tons. The excellent V and W-Classes from 1917-19, almost 1500 tons, four-4" in centre-line mounts (B and X guns superimposed over A and Y respectively) represented the future layout of the modern gun-armed DD and lasted a very long time as effective units.
There were tremendous national differences in torpedo craft philosophies during this time. For example the USN used torpedo craft primarily as despatch vessels for much of the period and had a relatively weak force that totalled only about 34 TBD by 1914 (but quantities of obsolete TB's). Given the global commitments of the Navy and the size of the battle forces this seems woefully inadequate and speaks to a low priority for torpedo craft by the Navy's General Board, which concentrated on battleships. That said, it is difficult to fault the USN for this doctrine and in fairness within a few years they would embrace the DD with a passion and build very effective classes with adequate gun and torpedo armament although for the most part these lie outside of the time frame under discussion.
In 1914, probably the most effective DD in the world was Imperial Russia's prototype Novik, over 1200 tons, four-10.2cm guns, eight-torpedo tubes (TT) and the capacity to carry up to 60-mines. She was a truly balanced warship and if you try the SAI Baltic Campaign as Russia you will probably find her incredibly useful as she was in the event. With Novik, the modern, multi-purpose light warship became practical; equally at home screening the battle line, attacking the enemy battleships with torpedoes even in daylight and operating with similar ships in stand-alone duties including raids, escorting, offensive and defensive patrolling with or without cruiser support.
Although many German naval leaders were torpedo specialists (Tirpitz, von Pohl, Scheer and Hipper), there seems to have been little interest in making the move from the TBD to the DD until it was too late to matter. At Jutland, German boats suffered badly under the guns of the better armed British DD's and by the end of the war a class (1916 Large Destroyers) mounted four 15.0cm guns and four TT on 2400 tons but none saw war service. The German's stuck with the largely ineffective 8.8cm gun and only after Jutland did the begin to refit with a more effective 10.5cm piece. Probably the most effective German boats were the TB-Zerstorer class; B97-99, V100, B109-112 that were designed and building for Russia when the War broke out and were similar to but larger than Novik. The class saw considerable war service, only one was lost and they were the first German boats to refit with 10.5cm guns in 1916.
France inherited a huge number of TB and some TBD from the Jeune Ecole era, the latter mostly mounting one or two-75mm guns. The situation in Austria and Italy were similar but neither navy needed a global reach or anticipated fighting fleet actions so it probably makes sense. The cost and complexity of large, oil-fuelled, turbine powered DD's was significant so fewer could be built into the naval estimates and sometimes quantity has a quality all its own.
The situation for Japan was somewhat different as once the decision to create the industrial capacity to be independent of foreign ship-building became policy, it was necessary to start from the bottom. In the wake of the Russo-Japanese War they built 37-Arare Class TBD, 400-tons and four 12-pounders but only two TT. After these came into service follow-on indigenous designs more than doubled in displacement and possessed effective gun and torpedo armament to become real DD although generally smaller than their European counterparts of similar dates. Japanese TBD served effectively as convoy escorts in the Med during 1917-18.
How particular navies used their torpedo craft depended largely on what the opposition was likely to be. With the advent of Dreadnought the British intended for naval battles to be gunnery contests at moderate ranges 7000-10000 yds with the TBD/DD flotillas, led mostly by CL's stationed ahead or astern of the battle line ready to interpose themselves between the fleets to counter an enemy torpedo attack. There was also the option to throw the flotillas against the enemy battle line should the RN be at a tactical disadvantage where the significant gun armament was expected to allow the boats to fight their way into effective torpedo range, even in daylight. We see British DD's performing effectively in both roles at Jutland, in itself evidence that this was doctrinal and practised in the pre-war era. Later, introduction of the centralized gun Director and Dreyer Tables (and the Argo "Clock") pushed the gunnery range out to 14000+ yds but the roles of the DD remained the same. By 1914, deliberate screening smoke capability was already available in the first-rate navies as an aid to daylight defensive and offensive operations. For the High Seas Fleet, the TBD were to be force equalizers but this was not evident in practice and it would seem that the German Naval Staff badly underestimated the need for an effective gun armament and the increase in ship displacement (and cost) that was needed.
So, essentially, what role the torpedo craft might have in action depended principally upon their size and gun armament rather than their speed or torpedo batteries. TB's were essentially single-role vessels, effective only at night or in poor visibility and very vulnerable to the TBD, their natural predators. With the advent of the wireless equipped TBD (from 1904 or so) torpedo craft became increasingly multi-role warships capable of effectively operating in independent flotillas and often without big-ship support. In any sort of fleet action the boats with the greater gun-armament would generally be in a position to dominate forces with inferior firepower. As TBD's evolved to the DD, the requirement of darkness and poor visibility to be effective reduced, although it was always an asset. While torpedo craft were certainly vulnerable to torpedoes, their speed and comparatively shallow draught meant that the principle threat was their counterparts mounting heavier, quick-firing guns. In the RJW the secondary batteries of battleships and cruisers provided effective protection from TB and TBD in daylight but by 1914, the best torpedo defence for the battle line was flotillas of DD's mounting effective guns.
During the period from 1905-1914 TB's and TBD's became increasingly combat ineffective and were relegated to mine warfare duties, escorts in low-threat areas, despatch vessels and general utility warships close to harbours. They would always be at a disadvantage compared to the modern multi-role DD. During the war many of the former were just scrapped or laid up and their crews allocated to new construction.
For an interesting read on the development of the TBD see if you can find The First Destroyers by David Lyon. Although it deals mostly with the period before 1904-05 it provides a very complete picture of the evolution of the TB into the TBD as seen in the British Royal Navy.
I'll shut up now.
Last Edit: Jun 2, 2014 14:22:28 GMT -5 by randomizer: Clarity
With this in mind, I went back and looked at the classes that exist. For the major classes the DDs start at the first true destroyer classes which arrived sometime around 1902-3 and were produced in numbers sufficient to mean that by 1908 they would have been the ones which supported the fleet and thus the game lists are representative of the forces for earlier battles. A few nations without a blue water ocean (e.g. Italy and Austria) appear to have been later to the Destroyer party and by 1908 would have only had a few DDs but larger fleets of TBs. I wonder how they would have fought in 1908-1912? Would they have operated the TBs directly from the ports given the close proximity to their enemy, or would they have used them as fleet screens?
On a side note, you really notice the weakness of the smaller vessels in the North Sea campaign with the A1s and A26s which struggle against anything armed basically. They are possibly indicative of how the "high seas" pre-war torpedo boats would have fared.
In my opinion SAI does an excellent job of following the development and utility of torpedo craft in this era of significant change. Essentially the pace of technological innovation had slowed enough for designers to start exploiting the capabilities allowed by turbines, quick firing medium calibre guns, long-range torpedoes etc. and so create bigger and more effective and adaptable warships. We see even today that stability in a technology usually results in an increase in size thanks at least in part to the economy of scale.
You can use SAI to follow this development with regards to torpedo craft and the British designs demonstrate the trend towards increasing size and gun armament quite nicely whereas speed and torpedo armament remains fairly constant throughout the period. One big caveat however: The designs in SAI are essentially averages since, as noted above there was wide variations amongst builders. A "class" of British TBD and DD should not be thought of as a homogeneous body of sisters but rather as an extended family, cousins rather than siblings. This was also the case in Germany albeit to a lesser extent.
Have a look at the SAI designs using DesignShip2.
1903-1905: River Class <600 tons and 1 x 12-pounder gun. Saw extensive wartime service in subsidiary roles and theatres and then converted to ASW service.
1906-1909: Tribal1 Class (F-Class) 1000 tons (actually varying between 800-1000 tons) Early models 3 x 12-pounders but later versions carried a 4" in the A position. In WW1 the Tribal's were refitted with uniform 4" guns represented in the game by the Tribal2 Class. By 1914 they are no longer in the Grand Fleet but saw much service in the Channel and later in convoy protection.
1906: HMS Swift almost 1900 tons as built and during the war refitted to become a Destroyer Leader bringing her displacement to well over 2200 tons.
1909-1910: G-Class 940 tons, 1 x 4" & 4 x 12-pounders. These have the animal names, Rattlesnake, Grasshopper etc. Saw service with the Grand Fleet early in the war and extensive service on foreign stations and in the Med. Many went from the Fleet to the Dover Patrol.
1910-1912: H-Class 850 tons 2 x 4" & 2 x 12-pounders.
1911-1912: I-Class 800 tons. Similar to the H's and represented in SAI as the Acheron Class.
1912-1913: K-Class 900 tons. 3 x 4" guns and represented in the game as the Acasta Class.
1913-1914: L-Class 1000 tons. 3 x 4" guns and represented in the game by the Laforey Class.
1914-1917: M-Class 900 tons in SAI. 3 x 4" guns. Many displaced up to 1200 tons, particularly the ships built under the wartime construction programmes.
1915-1917: R-Class and Improved M-Class 1000 tons in SAI. 3 x 4" guns. Wartime improvements many displacing up to 1200 tons in service.
1915-1916: Marksman Class 1400 tons in SAI but frequently 1600+ tons in service. 4 x 4" guns. Frequently used as Leaders or converted to fast minelayers and represented in the game as the Lightfoot and Abdiel classes.
Purchased in 1914: Faulknor Class including the famous original HMS Broke. 1600 tons in SAI but more like 1700 tons in service. 6 x 4" guns. These big DD's were built for Chile where they would have represented the most powerful destroyers in South America. They are evidence that size was trending up but that before the war Great Britain had settled on a displacement of 800-1000 tons as a compromise. All four ships were used as Leaders and had eventful wars.
1917: ModifiedR Class, Talisman Class in SAI 1000 tons. 5 x 4" guns. War service has demonstrated the requirement for more guns.
1917-18: V-Class 1200 tons in SAI but generally 1400 or so in service. 4 x 4" guns arranged in the classic centre-line and superfiring layout.
SAI omits a few of the British DD types but it should be clear that the differences in service were largely in the details. The M and R classes represent the classic WW1 fleet DD in the game as they did in real life and some 145 of these two types alone were built between 1914 and 1917. Throw a flotilla of S176 boats from 1910 and probably the most numerous pre-war type of German TBD against a flotilla of British K's or L's to see why the Royal Navy's destroyer forces tended to dominate.
British command and control philosophies differed from German practices as well. The German's used a Torpedo Boat commander (usually a RAdm) in a light cruiser who commanded all of the torpedo boats with the force whereas the British decentralized control to the flotilla level, each under a Captain (D) in a Leader (a larger or specially equipped DD) or a CL. Leaders came to replace the CL's as the war went on and it's arguable that the British forces were more flexible in action. This element of the naval war is difficult to replicate in the game.
A couple of things to add to Randomizer's detailed explanations: -
British doctrine up until WW1 did not always envisage destroyers being attached to the fleet. The original role for destroyers in home waters was to counter enemy torpedo craft leaving their home ports by way of a blockade. Destroyers were initially added to the fleet in the Mediterranean due to the large number of scattered (French) TB bases and shortage of numbers. Policy frequently changed though, probably as a result of Admirals from the Med bringing their practices to home waters.
In the period mentioned by Paul, destroyers were proportionally fewer in number than in WW1. Also, the product of contractors designing and building their designs to conform to general government specifications, designs did not always achieve desirable service performance. The Beagle/G class in Randomizer's list represents the first attempt at standardisation. The ubiquitous turtleback types that preceded the River Class were a good example. These are rated as "26, 27 and 30 knotters" which relates to contract speed; this was generally tested in trial conditions of calm water, more stokers than there was accommodation for and light loads. Furthermore, the lightening of structure to achieve high speed resulted in rather fragile craft. In service in moderate seas, they could barely outrun a battleship which would seriously limit their tactical suitability in a fleet action (in the RJW, almost all successes by torpedo craft were against crippled or moored targets). The River class represent an attempt to produce more seaworthy craft which was partially successful; there was ongoing design issues though with pressure being exerted to match foreign designs that boasted fanciful trial speeds.
Thus in gaming the pre-war period, destroyers can be developed via the editor to realistically curb their effectiveness and the scenario editor can be used to create scenarios in which destroyers represent a significantly lower proportion of the respective fleets.
What we could really do with is a campaign editor to explore this period more fully (hint; please!!)
Randomizer, thanks again for your insight, and I agree that I find the accuracy/feel of SAI to be quite good. It is very addictive as it is such a different style even to WW2. The 2-dimensional (rather than 3D) nature of the battles makes it feel more like a pitched battle and the Destroyers are the skirmishers, screening, niggling and upsetting the plans of the big guys.
If I am to distill what I have heard so far, in the time period I was inquiring about, 1908-1914, the very notion of destroyer flotillas as part of the battle fleet was only just coming into being. In that case, TBs, even the 300t ones would not have been in the fleet in the same way and would have been independent units. Which means I can save myself the trouble of creating those classes for the battle generators
On the other hand, if as turpin suggests, we wanted to create an earlier period Adriatic conflict, then I would need to create the various types for patrol duties
It should be remembered that nobody had enough dreadnoughts to actually form a battle line composed entirely them until about 1912. Before that dreadnoughts tended to be in small divisions or attached to existing battle squadrons as divisional flagships or even exercised as single-ship divisions. Outside of Britain and Germany nobody had a dreadnought battle squadron before about 1914 so tactical issues were in a state of flux everywhere.
If I am to distill what I have heard so far, in the time period I was inquiring about, 1908-1914, the very notion of destroyer flotillas as part of the battle fleet was only just coming into being.
As early as 1912 the Admiralty had moved towards a scheme where the Flotillas would act to prevent a torpedo attack against the battle line, an early iteration of the defensive philosophy "Shoot the Archer not the Arrow"*. The main role of the battleship's secondary battery was to deal with enemy torpedo craft that leaked through the destroyer action at a distance outside effective torpedo range. This would allow the battleships to remain sailing a straight course for the purposes of increasing the number of hits that could be expected in a long-range gunnery action. The big gun was still considered to be the weapon of decision but the risk to battleships from a torpedo attack whilst sailing in line ahead was recognized.
There are no easy answers. Long gunnery ranges meant fewer hits but the number of battleships planned for the First Fleet (the active battleships and supporting squadrons/flotillas later to become the Grand Fleet with the inset of WW1) and the greater calibre of British guns facilitated keeping the range open and enemy torpedo craft at bay using the DD flotillas supported by CL's mounting quick firing 6" guns. However, as effective torpedo ranges approached those of medium range gunnery it could be expected that some torpedoes might reach the battle line and produce a significant percentage of hits. This is why the British returned to the 6" gun as secondary armament for capital ships as it was effective against torpedo craft at greater ranges than the 4" that comprised the secondary guns of every class before the Iron Duke's and Tiger. (Except Dreadnought herself, which mounted no effective anti-torpedo boat armament). The German's were always considering fighting defensively so long range actually suited them unless they managed to catch an isolated RN unit where they could force a decisive action using their flotillas as force multipliers. As noted elsewhere, the poor gun armament of their torpedo boats compared to the RN's destroyers meant that in daylight or good visibility the German flotillas would probably have great difficulty launching an effective torpedo attack in a fleet action and this was demonstrated at Jutland.
During the War, the advent of fire control computing devices that compensated for movement of the firing ship was an important defensive innovation as it removed the necessity of maintaining a steady course in action, theoretically decreasing the probability of hits on the battle line from a spread of torpedoes while retaining the effectiveness of gunfire on the enemy force.
It should also be remembered that to some extent the RJW provided contradictory data. There were some vicious TBD vs TBD fights and the small torpedo boats proved ineffective unless at night and in very favourable weather. The vulnerability of small TB to the TBD was solidly established and the former fell out of favour practically everywhere. The bigger TBD's spent fleet actions mostly trying to stay out of the way and Togo's flotillas were so scattered and out of effective attacking position by dusk on 10 August 1904 that they were unable to conduct any effective night attacks as the Russian's ran back to Port Arthur. At Tsushima the TBD's were under closer control and effectively attacked cripples during the daylight action while there were a number of successful torpedo attack during the night, validating the doctrine of the day. That said, the small (< 200 ton) TB's were found to be largely ineffective as they were unseaworthy and lacked a suitable gun armament. So the trend towards bigger TBD's eventually leading to the modern fleet DD had a sound basis based on the data from the 1904-05 war. The potential for the flotillas in a fleet action was more nebulous and subject to much discussion.
Turpin correctly notes that the doctrine attaching DD flotillas directly to the main fleet was not universal by the start of the war and there is evidence for this. During the Scarborough operation VAdm Sir George Warrander (Overall commander at sea and Commander 2 Battle Squadron) sent his DD flotilla home because the very heavy seas meant the DD's were taking weather-damage could not keep up with the battleships. Later in the war detaching screening destroyers from a capital ship force would have been unthinkable but it should be noted that at this time DD's did not really have a screening role. They were to support the battle line and the task of screening in the modern sense had not really evolved since the submarine may be considered a largely existential threat to battleships for the first months of the Great War, particularly in bad weather. Also, in spite of having faster capital ships and operating in the same weather conditions Beatty kept his DD flotilla close throughout the operation as did Ingenhol although like Warrander, Hipper detached his.
So in pre-war SAI operations, detaching flotillas or operating without them is certainly a legitimate tactical option but I would submit that using them in a "Screening" role should wait for some wartime experience with submarines. That said, I would not say categorically that any option would be in any sense "wrong" as it was a period of operational innovation and analysis that before August 1914 was almost entirely theoretical.
The advent of the all big-gun battleship and the moderately-ranged potentially ship-killing torpedo placed everybody's tactical preconceptions on the table.
[*] See Prof Jon Sumida A Matter of Timing: The Royal Navy and the Tactics of Decisive Battle 1912-1916 here: