« PreviousContinue »
might be beaten and beaten again, but we should come and come again, and for ever replenish our losses far more rapidly than the invader could do. He could move in no direction without having to carry positions, and all England would be one endless vista of positions, with swarms of men to hold them—'a huge crowd of men firing rifles from behind hedge-rows,' as Colonel Lonsdale Hale, with the bogey rifleman always before his eyes, prefers to describe it. The Colonel goes on to state that professional soldiers search through the military history of the world to find any support for such a theory of defence, and search in vain. The very thing itself is going on before our eyes in South Africa. If the numbers of the Boers had been far superior to our own what chance would we have had of being able to conquer their country? But the Colonel does less than justice to his own knowledge of military history when he asserts that he cannot recall many instances of undisciplined, or slightly disciplined, fighting men being able to hold their own against highly organised troops, and even, unless in a hopeless minority, being able to tire them out. Apart from South Africa and the recent instance of the Afridis, which are the more important as showing how modern weapons have affected the question, we have in the past such examples as the American War of Independence, the victories of Hofer over the Bavarians and the French in 1809, the three years' struggle between the Vendéans and the Republican armies, and many others which occur to even so superficial a student of military history as myself.
In conclusion let me say that I fully recognise that Colonel Lonsdale Hale is earnestly pursuing the same object as myself, although I have the temerity to differ from him in detail. I hope that, if he will do me the honour to read what I have written, he will find that our points of agreement are more numerous and of strife less serious than he has, possibly through my own faults of expression, been led to believe. It is an invidious thing to argue upon professional subjects with a professional man, but I do it under a strong sense of duty, feeling convinced that the country is suffering from want of men, and that the men could easily be found if some method could be devised by which they could render themselves efficient. Without universal compulsory service I can think of no way save the extension of rifle clubs to get at the main body of the people, and that is why I grudge no time or work which can help to that end.
A. CONAN DOYLE.
Undershan, Hindhead, Haslemere.
THE ADMIRALTY VERSUS THE NAVY
WHEN a year ago I pointed out certain grave defects, all, however, easily remediable, in the Navy, I was met with the rejoinder in the press that no fleet would stand such detailed criticism. But let me now say that I have seen a navy that will. It is the German, which is going to be in the very near future our most formidable rival. In the German Navy and in the German organisation one can find nothing to blame and very much to praise. They are already the model for the world. From top to bottom they are thorough; at every turn they bear the impress of careful thought. Mobilisation, dockyards, ships, officers and men, all are such as reason would have them. Tradition, appearances, the conservatism which is born of routine and habit, are in Germany all brushed ruthlessly aside. Everything is sacrificed to efficiency, and efficiency is the factor which ultimately tells in life and in war.
There are three heads under which criticism of our navy may best be grouped-organisation, material, and personnel. In the public mind there is always a tendency to attach excessive importance to the second, though it is really upon the first and third that the usefulness of the material depends. Ships are valueless if they are not correctly designed, if arrangements are not made for bringing them to bear upon the enemy's forces, and if the officers and men are not there to take them to sea or are not so instructed as to employ them to advantage. Organisation in particular has a preponderating influence in a day of great navies, yet less attention is commonly paid to it than to either of the other points.
The organisation of the British Navy is a survival from a remote past, when the conditions of war were in many essentials different. It has been altered and changed, but to suit the convenience of the political parties which alternately govern this country, and not with any idea of adapting it to modern requirements. Essentially it is based upon the negation of direct responsibility. There is a political First Lord in the Cabinet, who generally has no technical knowledge
of naval matters. He is aided by four naval officers, usually of flagrank, a civil lord, and a financial secretary. These two last are politicians, generally with no knowledge of naval affairs, though fortunately in the present Administration the financial secretary happens to be a man who has studied the navies of the world and naval history with the utmost care.
'Boards,' said Sydney Smith, ' are only meant to serve as screens.' In this case responsibility is completely lost in the Board. There is a conflict of opinion as to whether the First Lord is the superior or the equal of the First Sea Lord, and whether the second and fourth Sea Lords and the Controller-who is the naval officer charged with the superintendence of construction are the equals or inferiors of the First Sea Lord. There is even conflict between the various ordinances to which the Admiralty owes its existence. The patent appointing the Board does not distinguish between the First Lord and the other Lords, and might be held to regard them as equals: an Order in Council in 1869, however, made the First Sea Lord responsible for the personnel and condition of the fleet to the First Lord, who was again made responsible to Parliament. But this order was rescinded under Mr. Goschen in 1872. Such is the confusion at the present moment that, as a long correspondence in the Times has shown, the most distinguished officers in the navy and ex-Sea Lords themselves do not know what precisely is the responsibility that attaches to each member of the Board.
The advocates of the present system assure us that it is 'elastic.' Contrast with it the ideal outlined by Stein and existing in the Germany of our own day, where there is no Board and no confusion as to duties and responsibilities:
The principal object is to give the greatest possible unity, energy, and activity to the administration of affairs, to cause it to converge to the highest point, . . combining independence and free initiative with complete responsibility.
Theoretically the German organisation is perfect; practically it works splendidly. This is an incontrovertible statement. There is a Naval Minister, who is an Admiral, with great professional knowledge; a Commander-in-chief under the Emperor: for though called by the name of General-Inspekteur der Marine, this is really Admiral Koester's office; and a Chief-of-the-Staff, with a carefully chosen General Staff. The Admiralstab (General Staff) is concerned with the distribution of ships, mobilisation, manoeuvres, study of foreign navies, and general preparation for war. Its analogue does not exist in our navy, and its want is a defect which may have the gravest consequences. It is in vain that great seamen, such as Admiral Hornby, and military students, such as Mr. Spenser Wilkinson, have pointed to the necessity of remedying the defect. The stock argument to Let well alone' is the only reply they have been able to extort from an indifferent public.
The General Staff has been well described as 'the brain of the navy' by Mr. Wilkinson, because it does the thinking and foreseeing. To some extent, no doubt, the Intelligence Department covers the same ground, but not by any means completely. In the German General Staff the Intelligence Department is but one of other departments. Nor is our First Sea Lord, as has sometimes been said, virtually a Chief-of-the-Staff or naval Commander-in-Chief. A commander cannot be the equal of those commanded or primus inter pares; nor would a real Chief-of-the-Staff be harassed with such questions as collisions, slave trade, rewards for deserters, regulation of uniform, and hydrography.
À priori, then, from a study of our organisation, we should expect to find a lack of foresight, fleets badly distributed, and general unpreparedness for war, and this not so much because the Sea Lord or Sea Lords are wanting in the sense of duty, as because they have not time to attend to everything or leisure to think out and frame general views. Then, too, action by a Board of four or five people is sure to be slow, timid, and hesitating. The Board is a council of war, with all the council of war's proverbial defects. This alone seems to spell failure in war.
If we look at the distribution of the various squadrons, we shall see just these faults exhibited. There are four great British fleets maintained in time of peace, one with reduced crews. Three-the Channel, Reserve, and Mediterranean fleets-are in European waters; one, the China fleet, in the Far East. Not one of these four last autumn was properly composed or prepared for war. The Channel fleet had eight battleships and four available cruisers. Now such a proportion of cruisers is utterly inadequate. In a big fleet, which may have to blockade the enemy's ports, hunt for his ships, or hurry post-haste to the Mediterranean to reinforce our squadron in that sea, there should be at least eight, or, if we can judge from manœuvre practice, twelve to sixteen cruisers. There should be destroyers, fleet-colliers, a repair-ship and a distilling ship. Without these cruisers and adjuncts the fleet is not ready for war. It is not as though we had not got the cruisers: we have them in our home ports, out of commission, rusting in the basins. It is perfectly well known that it takes from a month to a year for a newly commissioned ship to become perfectly efficient. Thus at the critical moment the Channel Squadron will be hampered by a number of hastily manned, inefficient vessels. Further, the crews of the Channel Squadron are, in normal time, too young. An enormous proportion of boys and ordinary seamen is serving on board them, and, in the opinion of many Channel officers, it would be dangerous to go out and fight till this raw material had been stiffened. Thus it cannot be said that the squadron is ready for war.
The case of the Reserve fleet is yet worse. It is composed of a
number of old battleships, all of which need the most drastic reconstruction. Normally, its component members are scattered round the coast half manned. For one or two months in each year it is assembled and trained, but there are many reasons why its fighting value is low. The training given is altogether insufficient, the officers are generally old and weary of the service, the ships are bad, and there are only four cruisers to thirteen battleships. Yet, as in case of war the Channel Squadron is sure to be sent to the Mediterranean, this is the force upon which we depend for the command of the Channel and the North Sea. Far better would it be to reduce the number of ships in commission, but to keep them concentrated, fully manned, and always manoeuvring, while thoroughly reconstructing the ships not in service.
Next we come to the Mediterranean fleet. At this moment the fleet contains ten battleships, three old ironclads, seven protected cruisers, fifteen destroyers, and several torpedo boats, some of which are so old as to be practically valueless. The fleet is in a position of great responsibility and danger. At Toulon are the headquarters of the French Navy in the Mediterranean, which can at any time put six perfectly modern battleships, three older ones, ten cruisers, and a host of torpedo craft to sea. Besides this, the Russian fleets have to be watched. In the Mediterranean, Russia has one battleship, in the Black Sea seven, and these may always attempt to combine with the French or try a stroke against Egypt and the Suez Canal. It is a nice problem, how, with ten modern battleships, at once to close the Straits of Gibraltar and to watch fourteen hostile battleships, when these fourteen are distributed as are the French and Russian. If anyone wants to understand the perilous situation, the utter inadequacy of the Mediterranean fleet, let him place himself, in imagination, in the position of the Admiral in command of it, and think how the ten ships are to be disposed. He will speedily see that the problem is an insoluble one, and that reinforcements-strong reinforcements are absolutely necessary. Notoriously, the Admiral on the station has asked for them; notoriously, they have been refused him. Mark that he is so ill supplied with cruisers that he cannot in these craft hold his own against France alone, and that when war comes he will, through this weakness, have to grope in the dark for information. Mark, too, that his twenty efficient destroyers and torpedo-boats will have to look after about one hundred French craft of this type.
But even this is not the worst. Placed in the very forefront of the battle, as the Mediterranean fleet must be, one would expect it to be made up with the extremest care. One great advantage of our navy is the homogeneity of its ships-that is to say, our ships are built in batches of six or eight or even more. Homogeneity in a squadron is of great military importance. It means that the ships are of the same