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Unit 8: Set 3: High School - ABG Debate: Critics

ABG Debate Intro | Critics | Defenders | ABG Debate Conclusion | ABG Debate Activities |
Treaty Intro | Documents | Treaty Activities

In 1906, a man named Henry Reuterdahl launched a series of criticisms at the Navy Department, most of them based on organization. Though Reuterdahl’s arguments did not reflect on the new battleships, they left the Navy Department defensive about any criticism. So, when Navy Lieutenant Commander Albert L. Key began to raise questions about the construction of the North Dakota as it was being built in 1907, a debate among Navy officers ensued.

Commander Key was assigned to the USS Salem which was under construction nearby. He visited and studied the North Dakota often and submitted to the Secretary of the Navy a list of objections to its design. The disturbance caused by his assessment of the battleship led to a Naval Conference called by President Theodore Roosevelt, who had been Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1897 to 1898 and maintained a strong interest in the Navy and its representation of US power abroad. At this conference, Key’s observations were under discussion. He had a good deal of support from other officers, though Navy regulations prevented them from speaking publicly on the matter.

The New York Times and Scientific American sought information on the matter of the North Dakota’s effectiveness and safety. Both printed articles on the debates before and after the Newport Naval Conference held in August 1908. The official report of the conference was released in November, just three days before the ship was launched.

The following statements concerning the North Dakota are taken from these journals as well as Captain Gilbert F. Rindahl’s study of the ship which was published in North Dakota History 32 (April 1965): 107 – 116.

  1. The armor on the five inch guns was not thick enough to protect the guns from enemy shells. The five-inch guns were designed to repel torpedoes. They were mounted in the sides of the ship just below the deck.
  1. The five inch guns were placed too low on the ship and would be dashed by sea-water at moderate speed of 10 knots and in relatively calm seas. The shutters on the gun mounts could be closed when not in use, but when needed in warfare, it was possible that the gunpowder would be wet and the gun deck would be flooded. These guns also lacked a firing angle wide enough to protect the entire ship from torpedoes.
  1. The number 3 powder magazine (where gun powder was stored) was located between the engine room and the steam pipes which could cause the powder to rise in temperature, possibly leading to fire or explosion. The high temperature of the powder would also make the powder less reliable in firing the ship’s big guns. The French battleship Jena had had an explosion of overheated powder in 1907.
  1. The 12-inch gun turrets on the main deck were poorly positioned. The ship was designed for broadside combat which, it was presumed, would be the nature of naval combat in the future. The big guns of the North Dakota could be turned to either side of the ship for firing. However, if the ship had to fire to the rear, one of the two turrets which were located on the same level would be unable to fire, diminishing the effectiveness of the ship’s guns.
  1. The 12 inch guns of the North Dakota were inferior to those of other nations’ navies. The guns were lighter in weight than most others, similar only to those of France; they had the slowest “initial velocity” – meaning that the shells left the gun at a slower rate of speed compared to those of other navies; the shells had the least penetrating power on armor plate compared to those of other navies; and the “danger space” was the shortest, meaning that the shells were less likely to hit the target even if properly aimed.
  1. The armor belt which protected the sides of the ship was too high and should be lowered by at least one foot, though some officers said the armor belt was too low and should be raised. The armor belt was supposed to protect the ship at the water line or load line. That line was also debated depending on whether the ship was fully loaded or partially loaded.
  1. The North Dakota was fitted with two Curtis turbine engines (the Delaware had reciprocating engines) which could run on coal or oil. Some officers considered these engines inferior and noted that test runs on these engines revealed poor performance. They consumed more coal than other types of engines.
  1. The ventilators and funnels were too high and not protected by armor. These ventilators brought fresh air into the engine room. If they were damaged and unable to function, the men working in the engine room would suffocate from lack of oxygen.

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