President Theodore Roosevelt and his aide, Commander Cameron McRae Winslow.


Washington, D. C.,
August 19th, 1904.


In obedience to your verbal order, I respectfully submit the following statement on the subject of torpedo boats:

The “Cushing” was the first torpedo-boat built for our Navy. She was built by the Herreshoffs at Bristol, R. I. and paid for by an appropriation controlled by the Bureau of Ordnance and built under the direction of that Bureau alone. No other vessel belonging to the Navy has been built in this way, and it is, therefore, easy to determine the factors which made our first effort in torpedo boat building a success. Had the same factors received the same consideration in the building of other vessels of the torpedo-boat class, we would today have a torpedo-boat and torpedo-boat destroyer fleet composed of vessels, than which there would be none better in the world.

The Bureau of Ordinance [sic] laid no claim to being competent to design and built torpedo-boats, for such a competency could only have resulted from thorough theoretical knowledge and long experience in designing, building and running faststem [sic] vessels of strong but light construction. The Bureau, therefore, did the only sensible thing which it could have done under the circumstances, and a sensible thing to do under the circumstances. It awarded the contract for the building of the vessel and machinery to the firm which has established for itself a well earned reputation for both designing and building small steam vessels of high speed. Not only were the Herreshoffs to build the vessel, but they were also to design the vessel, and machinery, the Bureau of Ordinance thus utilizing to the fullest extent the experience of the Herreshoffs, which the Bureau could not have done had the builder been required to build in accordance of designs not his own.

To avoid making any mistakes as to type and tactical qualities of both vessels and engines, the was [sic] guided by the advice of an officer who had visited the plants of successful torpedo-boat builders abroad, had witnessed trial trips of their boats, and who, admittedly, posessed [sic] more knowledge, theoretical and practical, of the subject of torpedo-boats than any other officer of the Navy, and made this officer its representative at the Herreshoffs Works while the vessel was being built.

The success of the “Cushing” was due, not to the fact that the vessel was built under the Bureau of Ordinance, but to two reasons: first, that the tactical details and qualities of both engine and hull upon by a sea officer [sic] who knew better than any one in this country the requirements of a torpedo-boat; and, secondly, that the vessel and engines were designed and built by a firm who knew better than any one in this country how to design and build engines and vessels of light construction for high speed.

The efficiency of the “Cushing” did not, however, result in a continuation of the policy which was followed in producing the vessel, and the “Ericsson”, the second torpedo-boat built for the Navy under a different policy, was, therefore, inferior to the “Cushing”. This vessel, about the same size as the “Cushing”, was designed by the Bureau of Construction and Repair and Steam Enginering as an improvement on the “Cushing”. The “Ericsson’s” engines were designed by engineers who did not appreciate the tactical necessities of a torpedo boats [sic] engines, and who had no previous experience in either designing or running high speed marine engines for torpedo-vessels. The vessel was built by a firm in Dubuque, Iowa, as inexperienced in building engines and vessels of the torpedo-boat class as were the designers in designing their engines and hulls. The result of this impractical way of producing a vessel was easily predicted by those who knew something of torpedo-boats. The “Ericsson” after many accidents killing five men was finally accepted by the Government without making the speed run in accordance with contract. Her history after acceptance was one of constant repairs and her engines were reliable even at low speeds.

These two cases are cited as they clearly demonstrate the methods which in one case produced success, and in other [sic], inevitable failure.

Unfortunately our torpedo-boats and destroyers have, been, in the main, been designed and built under a system much the same as that which have produced the “Ericsson”; the board on construction, until lately having had no member who possessed any knowledge derived from practical experience as torpedo vessels.

The history of nearly all our torpedo-boats and torpedo-boat destroyers has been that immediately after being delivered they have gone to the navy yard for repairs and alterations. They have rarely been run at any speed approximating the contract speed and are almost continually under repairs.

A flotilla of torpedo-boat destroyers recently made the voyage from the United States to the Philippines. In a letter to the Department from the Commanding Officer of the flotilla, written while en route he states, in substance, that the flotilla had proceeded that far on its voyage without repairs of any consequence to the engines of any vessel of the flotilla, and cites this fact as proof that the statements in regard to the unreliability and inefficiency of the engines of the destroyers were without foundation in fact. Up to the time of making the report, the flotilla had cruised for the greater part of the distance at approximately its economical speed, and at no time at a high rate of speed. There was, therefore, little or no stress placed on the engines. An engine designed to develop seven to ten thousand horse power could not be accepted as reliable though it had propelled a vessel thousands of miles at a rate requiring but a few hundred horse power of the engines, any more than a race horse could not be considered fit to win a race because he had cantered five miles on the track. Its ability to steam at all speeds which is the real test of reliability of the engines. There is nothing more important than reliability. Extreme speed should be, if necessary, sacrificed to secure reliability. The sacrifice of extreme speed does not, however, necessarily secure reliability. Our fastest boats, the PORTER and DUPONT, and others built by the Herreshoffs, have proven themselves to be the most reliable. Many of the other boats are not reliable even at low speeds. One of the recently built destroyers was subjected to such excessive engineering vibration when running at low speed under convoy to Colon that one of the main engines shook the engine framing loose from the engine foundation. The Bureau of Steam Engineering afterwards recommended that the vessel should not be run at any speed below about fourteen knots. It is easy to imagine the handicap to which a commanding officer of a torpedo-boat in time of war would be subjected if he were compelled to dash about at all times at a speed exceeding fourteen knots, under the penalty of shaking the engines out of his vessel if he steamed at a lower speed. This is an instance indicating that the designer of the engine, who is not required to have knowledge of the tactical requirements of a torpedo-vessel, had in view mainly to produce an engine which would drive the vessel at high speed. The engine might have balanced when developing a large horse power, but was apparently unbalanced when developing the small horse power required for speed below fourteen knots.

The war in the East indicated that in the future a Battleship Fleet in time of war must be accompanied, particularly at night and in foggy weather, by a fleet of torpedo vessels. Otherwise the Commander-in-Chief would be reluctant to take the sea except in broad daylight when the approach of an enemy’s torpedo vessels could be easily detected. To limit a Commander-in-Chief to operating with his fleet of battleships during daylight alone would be out of the question.

If it is admitted that a Battleship Fleet cannot remain at sea without the protection of numerous torpedo vessels, then it becomes of great importance to determine correctly the number of such torpedo vessels to be built, as well as their type and their tactical qualities. The question of determining the number necessary should be easy, and should be based on the number of heavy vessels to compose the fighting fleet. The type and tactical qualities cannot be so redily determined. The General Board and the staff of the Naval War College should be required to express an opinion as to the number of torpedo vessels necessary with reasons for such opinion. The type and tactical qualities of the vessels and their engines should be determined by a board of officers who have had experience in torpedo-boats, not in the boats that have been constantly under repairs at navy yards, but more particularly those officers who have served in boats which have run at high speeds without difficulty. and have been able to keep the sea and do the work which would be required of a vessel of this class during time of war. Such a board of officers could work in conjunction with the General Board and Board on Construction. It is necessary that there should be such a board in order that practical experience as well as theory be utilized in designing, building and developing the vessels of this arm of national defense.

Having decided upon the number of torpedo boats and torpedo-boat destroyers necessary, and their types and tactical qualities it becomes necessay to take up the question of designing and building the vessels. Experience in foreign countries has demonstrated that the designing and building of such torpedo-boat machinery has only been attended with success when undertaken by firms which have made the building of torpedo-boats their specialty. Our own experience has demonstrated that engines for torpedo vessels designed by the Department and built by private firms have not been successful. At the present there is one firm in the country, the Herreshoffs, who can design and build as fast and efficient vessels as any firm in the world, but that insists, and with reason, upon building upon its own designs. Other firms in this country undoubtedly would be successful in building vessels of this class, after a certain amount of experience. This experience might be attended with financial loss.

To summarize, the General Board and staff of the Naval War College should be consulted as to the number of torpedo-boats and torpedo-boat destroyers necessary. A board of line officers who have had practical experience with torpedo vessels should decide upon the types and tactical qualities of both vessels and machinery, this board to work in conjunction with the Board on Construction and the General Board.

One or two destroyers and one or two torpedo-boats should be built by contact, vessels and machinery to be designed and built by the contractors, but holding to the type decided upon and embodying the tactical qualities which the board of experienced torpedo vessel officers has determined to be essential.

If these vessels, after exhaustive trial under all conditions which a torpedo vessel might experience in time of war, prove to be satisfactory, then a sufficient fleet of such vessels should be built, thereby securing a homogenous fleet of destroyers and torpedo-boats of the best practical type.

Extreme speed should be sacrificed, if necessary, to secure reliability, handiness and sea-worthiness.

I have the honor to be, Sir, Very respectfully,

[s] C. McR. Winslow

Commander, U.S.N.

Courtesy: Chris Wright, Warship International.