I stumbled across Jack Campbell’s Dauntless , which is shaping up to be an amusing adventure yarn in which a fellow escapes in a lifeboat from a disastrous space battle, is kept in suspended animation, and is rescued a century later – just in time for another battle. The catch is that Captain Geary is now — by almost a century — the senior captain in the fleet. And so, when the admiral inevitably is swept from the scene, guess who winds up in command?
Jack Campbell is a pseudonym for John Henry, USN (ret). The catch here – to which the book pays too little attention – is that a century is a long time in this man’s navy: long enough to that, pretty much, everything’s changed.
2009: Major naval battles are won by cruise missiles or submarine torpedoes. Or that’s what everyone assumes: there haven’t been any major naval battles during the career of any active officer in the fleet. A first-rate ship might have a complement of 5,700.
1959: Major naval battles are won by carrier-based planes. The last big battle was Leyte Gulf. A first-rate ship might have a complement of 2,200.
1909: Major naval battles are won by sea-borne artillery. The last big battle was Tsushima. A first-rate ship might have a complement of 750.
1809: Major naval battles are won by broadside cannon. The last big battle was Trafalgar. A first-rate ship might have a complement of 850.
1709: I know nothing about naval warfare of this era.
1609: We’re back to the Armada – fleets commanded by amateurs often without experience at sea. Battles are won at close quarters, if they happen at all: keeping a capital ship afloat at sea is a challenge. A capital ship (say, Sweden’s Vasa) has a complement of 450.
1509: We”re back to Columbus. Battles at sea involve galleys: big rowboats.
If you put Jack Aubrey or Nelson or Anson in command at Jutland, how much good are they going to do – even given the most romantic conception of command? Everything has changed.
Technology is like that. Time flies.