ITwas inevitable that the destruction of the French battleship Liberte by the explosion of her magazines would revive in our minds the loss of the Maine. Whatever the First cause, the results in each case were so identical, both in the Joss of life and the complete destruction of the ship, as to make it certain that it was the letting loose of the enormous energy stored in the powder magazines that tore the two ships asunder and sent them swiftly to the bottom. At the present time it is hopeless to attempt to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion as to the ultimate cause of this horrible tragedy on the French ship. The dispatches contain the usual and inevitable mass of contradictory statements of eye witnesses and suggestions by experts. This, however, is certain, that among professional men in this country, both naval and military, there is a grave suspicion that there is something wrong with the French smokeless powders. With the similar accident to the lena fresh in mind, this suspicion is unavoidable. We notice that one apparently official dispatch states that all smokeless powder is being landed from certain ships, and that some of this powder was manufactured as far back as 1902—a period which antedates by several years the lena disaster. On the other hand, if it be true that a fire started in the paint room and ran from there to the coal bunkers and magazines, the question will at once be asked, What in the world is a paint room doing down below the protective deck and in contiguity to the magazines? On the ships of our navy the paint room is located immediately under the forecastle deck and up in the very eyes of the ship at the bow, And if a fire that proved difficult to control did break out below the protective deck, why, it will be asked, were not the magazines immediately flooded? Perhaps the answer is to be found in a cabled dispatch, which states that the commander of one of the French ships who recently flooded his magazines on the outbreak of a fire received a reprimand on the ground that his action was too precipitate. It is pathetic that the gifted people who gave to the; world that smokeless powder which has revolutionized naval construction should themselves so frequently be the victims of their own invention. If the Liberte disaster leads to a thorough overhauling and reorganization of the French navy (and the unending list of naval disasters strongly suggests that such an upheaval is necessary) the loss of the Liberte costly and tragic as it is, will not have happened in vain. Section of Battleship for Big-gun Attack THE tendency of target practice, as far as appropriations will allow, is in the direction of substituting the actual ship and solid armor for the time-honored canvas screen and this for obvious reasons. Although the canvas target serves admirably its purpose of showing the accuracy of gun-fire, it gives no indication whatever of the punishing effect of such shots as get home upon the mark. Hitherto we have depended almost entirely for such information upon the results obtained by firing at armor plate, set up at a proving ground and attacked by a gun a few hundred feet in front of the target, whose projectiles have been delivered with reduced powder charges, giving a low velocity, corresponding to that at which the projectiles in an actual engagement would reach the ship when fired at long ranges. A disadvantage of most proving-ground trials is that the projectiles strike the plate normally to its face, and therefore under the best conditions for penetration, whereas in an engagement, carried out at ranges of from eight thousand to twelve thousand yards, the shells will be descending at an angle of from seven to ten or more degrees." Our ordnance officers have always recognized these facts, and it is only recently that a liberal policy and more generous appropriations have enabled them to test the resistance of the armor and the ship under conditions at least approximating those of the future sea fight. Our readers will have in mind the Katahdin experiments, when heavy armor plate which had been erected on this obsolete vessel was attacked by a l:2-inch gun, at ranges of 8,000 yards and up. Even more valuable in the information gained was the famous target practice against the San Marcos formerly the Texas Here the test was of the resisting power, not only of the armor, but of the whole ship itself, to modern gun attack. It is necessary to take but one step further to give the navy absolute information on this subject, and this would be to sacrifice one of our modern ships, carrying the latest armor, backed up by the most approved methods of interior reinforcement and subdivision, by mooring her in Chesapeake Bay and permitting one of our latest ships to subject her to a bombardment similar to that which tore the San Marcos to pieces and quickly sent her to the bottom. But not even the information of priceless value which could be thus secured would warrant so costly an experiment. There is, however, a cheaper way to secure the desired information. That is by building a floating structure of limited displacement, representing an exact section of a modern battleship, whose behavior under gun attack would be sufficiently similar to that of the ship itself to afford our naval constructors and ordnance officers a large amount of greatly needed information. N ow, it is exceedingly gratifying to learn that there has been constructed at the Norfolk Navy Yard an experimental caisson which represents a battleship on one side and a cruiser on the other. The caisson is being subjected to attack by guns, big and little, at ranges corresponding to those which may obtain in the various stages of a hard-fought naval engagement. In the present case, there is no such wholesale bombardment as marked the spectacular destruction of the San Marcos That sham battle was carried on mainly as a test of the accuracy of our modern system of correcting the range by spotting the fall of the shots. The tearing of the old ship to pieces was a foregone conclusion. Outside of the fact that it lent a touch of realism for the officers and men, and provided no end of stimulating copy for the press of the country, the lessons of the bombardment were necessarily, because of the great age of the ship, of limited value. In the attacks on the caisson, however, we venture to state that after every single successful hit, the structure will be visited by officers of the line and staff, who will take careful count by photograph, and sketch and note book, of every detail of the damage inflicted. Each hit will have its own story to tell; and thus by alternate attack and inspection, round by round, our navy will lay in a store of practical information, the like of which, we venture to say, has never before been gathered by any navy in the world. Foreign Students at German Universities ^ HE fame of the German universities is such as to render it quite unnecessary to extol their praise or to recite at length the many virtues for which they are so deservedly held in universal esteem. A question which invites discussion, .however, is the influence, both upon Germany and upon the other countries, which the steady migration of students from abroad to the German seats of learning, and their subsequent return to their home countries, must exert both on Germany and upon the world at large. There is something slightly humiliating in the thought that we and we do not stand alone in this matter must needs send some of our best students to Germany, so that they may there receive what our universities seem to be unable to give them. While we would not for a moment entertain the desire or hope that this flow of young American manhood to Germany should ever diminish, yet we may very well .harbor the wish that the . causes for it may in time change, and that there may be an equal inducement in days to come for German students to visit our schools. There can be little doubt that a certain kind of academic work receives more attention and appreciation in Europe than it does with us, and possibly the causes for this are so deeply ingrained in the American national character that they can never be removed. In that case, the future to which we must look forward is that in time our universities may develop their own special points of excellence, for which they will be sought out by students from abroad. To some extent this is, no doubt, the case even now. Those who have themselves imbibed a little of the spirit of the old-world devotion to scientific investigation and to the study of art and literature, will, we think, hardly be quite satisfied with such a programme. Only the future can show just what course events will take. Much more might be.said on this side of the question, the influence of foreign studies upon our own country. There is, however, another aspect to the situation, which has recently been discussed in the pages of the Zeitschrift fur angewandte Chemie by J. Bronn, namely, the effect which the extensive visitation of German universities by foreign students must have upon Germany itself. There are those, among the Germans, who feel some entirely justifiable jealousy in seeing the citizens of other countries, sometimes not particularly friendly to Germany, reaping of the harvest sown specifically for Germans by Germans. That such feelings should be voiced is perfectly natural, but it is also quite obvious that they are framed from a rather narrow point of view, which is not only somewhat repellent, owing to its selfish ring, but in view of the failure to take into account certain factors, is probably entirely fallacious. And these factors assuredly far more than compensate for any losses which Germany may suffer in the way indicated. Mr. Bronn considers the effect of the attendance of foreigners at German universities, first upon the state, secondly upon German industries as a whole, and thirdly upon the chemical industry in particular. As regards the first point he observes that Germany as a State does not enjoy very great popularity among other nations, and he points out that this fact cannot be viewed with indifference by a country which, like Germany, carries on extensive export trade. The young student arrives in Germany with a good stock of prejudice, and instead of mixing with the natives, as would be best for all concerned, prefers to keep aloof and frequent only the company of his own countrymen. It is usually not until after two or three years' sojourn that he begins to become acclimatized, and from this point on he learns to appreciate the good points of German character and German customs. He returns to his home with his views radically changed, and takes every opportunity, if only in a spirit of contradiction, to sing the praises of Germany. The value to Germany of this kind of missionary work can not be estimated too highly. Passing on to the discussion of the second point, namely, the effect upon Germany industry of an increase in the enrollment of foreigners at the German universities, Mr. Bronn remarks that such effect must be slight, for foreign students, practically without exception, return to their home country after the completion of their studies. There is, therefore, no question of competition by the stranger with the native for industrial positions. On the other hand, the market for German products is most favorably ' influenced, for the man who has been trained in Germany will invariably give his first thought to German wares when considering the purchase of goods or machinery which cannot be procured in his own country. Finally, as to the third point, the effect of foreign students upon the chemical industry of Germany, the same remark applies with regard to German exports in this field, as was made above with reference to German exports generally. The fear may be expressed that the graduate from a German university, upon settling down in his home country, will make use of the knowledge imbibed from German sources to place upon the market by home production the wares which until then had been imported from Germany. But as a matter of fact, every chemist knows that the mere univcrsity training, without experience in actual manufacture, is quite insufficient to enable a man to successfully establish a manufacturing installation on his own initiative, to say nothing of the very serious questions of capital, raw material, etc., which place severe obstacles in the path.
This article was originally published with the title "The “Liberte” and the “Maine”, and more" in Scientific American 105, 15, 310 (October 1911)