*** British Royal Navy iron and steam

The Royal Navy: Iron and Steam

Figure 1.--J.M.W. Turner's painting, 'The Fighting Temeraire', shows the illustrious vessel being towed up the Thames to her last berth by a dingy, smoke bellowing paddel wheel tug boat (1838). The 98-gun 'HMS Temeraire' was one of the last second-rate ships of the line to have played a role in the Battle of Trafalgar. She was to be broken up for scrap at Rotherhithe--an important with many shipyards from Elizabethan times. (Now a qiet subrrban neigboirhood in the middle of London.) Truly at end of an era for Britain's Royal Navy.

The Royal Navy established its naval dominance at Trafalgar, still in the age of sail (1805). The Industrial Revolution had already begin in Britain (mid-18th century). The industrial evolution began with textiles and the Royal Navy played a role in it. Part of the success of the Royal Navy in the 18th century was standardization an early mass production. After the Napoleonic Wars (1800-15), the sun was setting on sail power and shifting to steam and iron. (Naval power is ultimately based on industrial power--something the Japanese in the 20th century failed to comprehend.) Britain as the leading industrial power would be able to continue its naval dominance throughout the 19th century. Sail boats could not moved without wind. And there were times that sea was becalmed. Steam power not only solved that problem, but as technology improved, offered more power than wind could generate. This had huge implications for naval warfare. Just as rail roads collapsed time and distance, steamboats did the same at sea. And it also meant that first iron plating defensive armor could be added and eventually whole steel ships. The Royal Navy was slow to change, in part because there was no real naval threat. Some of the changes came came from America in the Civil War (1860s). In addition, the paddle wheel was not very effective at sea. And for some reason the Royal Navy was convinced that the screw propeller was not suitable for naval vessels. Isambard Kingdom Brunel's SS Great Britain proved them wrong (1843). An then France launched Gloria, the first ocean-going ironclad (1859). Britain responded with HMS Warrior (1860) which would guarantee British naval supremacy for the rest of the century. Advances on the other side of the Atlantic as part of the Civil War included gun turrets and screw propellers -- the USS Monitor (1862). John Erickson who had played a major role with screw propeller was the genius behind Monitior. This ended the era of wooden-hulled sailing ships gave way to that of steam-powered iron ships. Phenomenal changes ensued during the second half of the 19th century in nearly every aspect of warship design, operation, and tactics. But the United States (except for the Civil War) which was surpassing Britain in industrial power was was not interested in massive arms spending until the 20th century. The Royal Navy's only real threat would come from Germany and the Kaiser's Navy.


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Created: 9:20 AM 8/21/2022
Last updated: 9:20 AM 8/21/2022