- A.N. Other
- History - general, Ship design and development, Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2012 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Instead of making the fortune I ought to be making: I’m next door to starving on 500 pounds a year…. Yet if you ask the ordinary man in the street who were the top men who expounded ships, he’d mention my name before most as a cert.
Lack of recognition in practical financial terms reflected a general failure in British naval circles to recognise that naval problems at the time were so complex that they justified full- time study. When a distinguished admiral protested in the Times against Jane’s expressing opinions on naval tactics, Jane defended himself on the grounds that he was “professionally compelled to devote hours and days to the study of points which the average Naval officer can only spend as many minutes on.
Jan’s various attempts to open up debate on naval matters, however, resulted in a series of snubs that demonstrated the unwillingness of the contemporary service establishment to accept outside comment. A quite moderate symposium on battleship design was criticized as rendering the 1901 Fighting Ships too polemical and theoretical. Jane himself felt that general articles – written by such distinguished naval commentators as William Hovgaard – were not treated as seriously as they might have been elsewhere. Invited to lecture at the Royal United Services Institute in 1902, he suggested warship design should bear closer relationship to the Navy’s strategic requirements. The latest British battleship he likened to prize gooseberries; very fine to look at, but “in market gardening the wise man does not concentrate all his efforts on a gooseberry to make his neighbours stare, but on a gooseberry for use.
On another occasion Jane proposed to bombard the coast of any country attacking British commercial shipping, a notion greeted with such horror that the institute took the unprecedented step of refusing to publish an account of the lecture in its journal. How far Jane’s proposal was serious and how far he had been attempting to bring some life into the naval deliberations of the institute are unclear. One thing is certain: Jane was too much his own man to have to fit easily into the stifling conventionality of Edwardian society in general, and of the Edwardian Navy in particular. He preferred “to drift to the gunroom whenever I can and best of all I like to talk to the type of sub. Who explains how much better he could run the fleet than his admiral”.
Jane was, however, associated with one of the Royal Navy’s major achievements. In 1903 , Fighting Ships carried an article by Colonel Vittorio Cuniberti, Constructor to the Royal Italian Navy, entitled: “An Ideal Warship for the British Navy”. His design combined great speed with long-range guns to avoid the threat of hostile torpedos. These attributes closely resembled those of the revolutionary battleship to be launched in 1906, rendering all existing battleships obsolete, and giving her name to all subsequent big-gun capital ships: Dreadnought. Despite this subsequent vindication by Cuniberti, at the time Jane wished he had not publicized the Italian’s views, as everybody described the Cuniberiti ship as more suitable for the pages of H.G. Wells than for a serious publication dealing with technically with matters naval. The Admiralty, however, was already considering such a ship, as was the U.S. Navy, justifying the claim of a later Fighting Ships editor that: “Never before had Jane so clearly attained his ambition of making Fighting Ships the mirror of naval progress”.
Though he might reflect progress, he could not ensure that officials looked in the glass. In 1909 a crises erupted when it appeared that Germany might outbuild the Royal Navy in the crucial new weapon system. When a member of the government claimed ignorance of German ability to build Dreadnoughts, Jane was furious: Anyone who cared to do so could find out German naval progress without the slightest trouble.
The Germans made no secret of it. For years in Fighting Ships I have published the number of slips in Germany suitable for building big ships on and the exact rates at which the Germans have turned out warships.
The outbreak of World War 1 in August 1914 threatened everything Jane valued, personally and professionally. He had always feared that the war he predicted between Britain and Germany would ruin the former, win or lose: “Peace at any Price is the motto …. the price of peace is preparedness for war”. Jane never profited personally from World War 1 as a professional pundit might expect to do in the late 20 th century. In the short term, hostilities brought the opportunity to recycle material from Fighting Ships into popular, inexpensive formats, while Jane began to contribute a commentary – with remarkable promptness – on the war at sea to the weekly Land and Water. For Fighting Ships, on the other hand, war was a disaster. Although the German Navy was presumably well equipped with prewar copies, the Admiralty originally refused to allow any information about the Royal Navy to appear in the 1915 issue. So strong was the belief the war would be short that Fighting Ships provided coupons so civilian purchasers could acquire the missing pages after the war.