Friday, July 8, 2016


8 July 2016: A few months ago, the U.S. Naval Institute did a survey of what people thought were the greatest inventions for the navy over the history of the world.... I know, pretty ambitious. But they received a surprising number of responses to the survey. The overall winner, perhaps not surprisingly (though I was a bit shocked at it) was the concept of the aircraft carrier and launching warplanes from the sea. Here is the rest of the story.

USS Essex (WWII)
The number one answer was “aircraft at sea on an aircraft carrier.” As noted by a reader, it “allows the Navy to be a strategic asset, it gives the leadership flexibility in responding to international crises. Aircraft are effective against air, surface and subsurface threats, which no other weapon system/platform can claim. It has a reach far beyond that of any gun, it can be more precise than any missile, and it is recallable if the circumstances of its employment change. Its versatility is unmatched in the history of naval technology.”

“The application of steam propulsion to ships,” noted one Proceedings writer, “restored the tactical mobility which had been lost when the oar was discarded for sail. It gave fleets a temporary superiority which momentarily offset their losses in relative strategic mobility.” Yet for decades seagoing vessels retained their sails, and steam was more or less an auxiliary apparatus. But over time, the effectiveness of steam against Mother Nature’s fury became more than evident, and sails were largely abandoned.

USS Nautilus
Much as steam propulsion permitted ships to move under their own power, nuclear propulsion, readers recognized, revolutionized surface and submarine tactics. Developers of atomic energy recognized the potential for nuclear power to provide long-term sources for energy without the need for refueling, as coal- and liquid-fueled ships had relied on for over a century. Nuclear energy, without the need for frequent refueling, offered the possibility of “continuous cruising at top speeds, unlimited cruising radii, and practically absolute freedom from fuel logistics.” Ships such as the USS Nautilus (SSN-571) and Enterprise (CVN-65) “allow[ed] navies to do what navies do best—project national power overseas in support of foreign policy.”

Our personal choice, here at Maritime Maunder, was the ability to navigate the oceans with accuracy and confidence. Without that all these other wonderful inventions become kind of useless! So our first choice was the compass followed by Harrison's Chronometer. 

The magnetic properties of lodestone were understood as early as 400 BC, and it is thought early Viking and Roman navigators harnessed those properties for navigation, but the earliest confirmed remarks to its use date to ancient China, and instances of “‘South-pointing chariots’ are said to have been used ashore in warfare about 800 A.D.” Chinese compasses and navigation charts, once described by one European as “very useful when once understood, and not so rude as their appearance indicates,” had spread to Europe by the 13th century, and in time allowed the Occident to largely control the seas for centuries.

But the compass and celestial navigation really only provided—with any accuracy—just half the necessities for navigation. In order to determine the longitude of one’s position at sea, an accurate timekeeper was needed. Thus, readers were quick to recognize the development of the chronometer by John Harrison in the 18th century as a monumental innovation in the history of navigation and the world’s navies.
 With that accurate timekeeper, built to withstand the rocking forces and other impacts of the shipboard environment, “the art of navigation became something more than the crude approximations of former times.”
So that's what the readers of the Naval Institute Proceedings thought - and what we at Maritime Maunder thought. We'll leave it up to you, our readers, to decide your own choice for the greatest (most useful) invention in the naval world. I guess the argument could go on indefinitely....
Until next time,
                                           Fair Winds,
                                                   Old Salt

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