Imágenes de páginas

of the human or mechanical elements. To specify a few of these, I don't suppose that anybody will deny, for instance, that complete wisdom cannot always be insured at the Admiralty; sometimes the admiral in command has not risen to the situation; a modern warship is a huge combination of complicated machines, and some small failure in these machines, such as does occur in the best ships, may make them useless just at the critical moment; accidents of weather may mar some essential movement; finally, the enemy may happen to be a very tough customer, and prompt to profit by any advantage he may gain. Some of these events, or a combination of them, might bring about a reverse at an inconvenient place and period, and in that case, if we had refused to provide against such a possibility, such a simple reverse might turn into a catastrophe and the ruin of the Empire. Moreover it is reasonable to remember that the elements of naval warfare have entirely altered since our great historical successes were gained. We are told that in case of a naval war we should consider the enemy's coast line as our frontier and prevent his fleets from crossing it—blockade him, in fact-or, if he succeeded in getting out, follow and destroy him. We acted on this system in the old war, and our fleets in superior strength kept their stations for months off the enemy's harbours; but even then he sometimes got out and deceived our admirals as to the direction in which he had gone, by which he gained plenty of time and chances for out-manæuvring our fleets. We cannot be certain until we have experience that under modern conditions of steam and iron we shall be as successful in this system in a future war as in the past. The broad question whether we should provide against the possibility of local and temporary naval superiority is not one that can only be answered by a soldier or a sailor, or both combined. Any intelligent person who will be at the pains of informing himself of the facts of history, and capable of understanding and estimating the value of professional opinions, past and present, can come to a just conclusion.

If an invasion of England is such a hare-brained adventure as some would represent, it is remarkable that so many projects for it have been entertained by men of the fullest knowledge and experience of war. There are, of course, people who argue that, as such an invasion has not actually come off, it may be assured that it is impossible; or if they admit that there have been invasions, they are satisfied to explain them away, saying that the circumstances of the present day are quite different. Many people must have known the case of some robust man who will not believe that he need put on an overcoat in winter because he has never found the necessity, but who one day finds himself struck down with pneumonia and carried off. His lesson has been learnt, too late to profit by it. This might be our case if we are guided by the people who will not believe in the possibility of invasion until we suffer it. When that happens, if we have made no provision against it, the game is pretty well up.

It will, I believe, serve a useful purpose to set out a few historical facts which show that other nations, who know our strength and resources as well as we do, have over and over again practically demonstrated that in their opinion an invasion is a feasible proposal, and, further, that, though the navy has baffled some of these enterprises, it has not always been a complete protection. Some of these will prove (if proof is wanting) that we cannot always rely upon our Government providing us with a superior fleet; others will show that even a superior fleet is not an absolute protection.

The invasion by William of Orange in 1688 is no doubt a peculiar case, but it certainly was not prevented by James the Second's Navy, or the fear of it. Nor did it prevent James with his French contingent landing in Ireland in 1689, which was followed by several landings of French troops in that year and 1690, the English feet which tried to prevent them being defeated in Bantry Bay. Though the French navy was thus proved to be superior, it did not prevent William invading Ireland and beating his rival.

French troops were actually landed in Torbay in 1690, and in 1691, though the English fleet was then superior, the French continued to send troops to Ireland. In 1692 Louis the Fourteenth and his advisers had 30,000 men and 500 transports in readiness, awaiting the result of a naval battle, which, his fleet being vastly inferior, went against him.

In 1716 Charles the Twelfth of Sweden considered such an enterprise feasible, and was to have headed an invasion, but his death put a stop to the project. In 1744 an invasion by 15,000 men headed by Marshal Saxe was foiled partly by the Channel fleet, partly by a storm.

In 1759 the French prepared to invade England with 50,000 men, and Scotland with 12,000, and in 1779 the French and Spaniards together formed a similar plan, having Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight as the objective. Their fleets were vastly superior to ours in the Channel, and they actually lay in Cawsand Bay, near Plymouth. Owing to their own mismanagement the attempt never came off ; but obviously it was not the Navy that prevented it.

In 1796 we had been about four years at war with the French. We had had four stand-up fights with them, two with their allies the Dutch, and numerous minor engagements; but this did not prevent Hoche's expedition, consisting of fifteen ships of the line, eighteen corvettes and frigates, besides transports carrying 25,000 men, sailing for Ireland, and (except those who were separated in a storm) reaching there, lying several days in Bantry Bay, and sailing back again to Brest without even seeing the British fleet. In 1798 the French, evading our fleet, sent 36,000 men to Egypt, capturing Malta on the way, and had possession of it till 1800. From the 19th of May, when they left Toulon, till the 1st of August, when the battle of the Nile was fought, they were not molested by our fleet-a period of two and a half months. In the same year, 1798, the French landed troops in Ireland.

I need not do more than mention Napoleon's project for invasion in 1805, which some people try to explain away, but which our forefathers thought real enough, and, notwithstanding their full appreciation of the Navy, they prepared to resist on land as well as at sea. Alison remarks how nearly this vast design succeeded, and how little the British were aware of the quarter whence danger threatened them.

Coming to more recent years, we find the Duke of Wellington, who certainly could not be classed as a mere narrow-minded soldier, lamenting that there was nothing but the Navy to prevent invasion, and rousing the Government to increase the Army and build fortifications, in order that the French, with their very large army and good naval organisation, might not take advantage of some local and temporary inferiority in our naval force to destroy our naval bases.

We find statesmen like Lord John Russell, Lord Derby, and Lord Palmerston, who, considering the times in which they lived, must have fully appreciated our naval power, and who had the best naval opinions of the day to advise them, taking up strenuously, and bringing to practical issue, the strengthening of our system of land defence, both by men and fortifications, and this not as an alternative to a superior Navy, but as an aid to it, in order that a temporary naval inferiority or reverse might not lead to the destruction of the bases of our naval power. Captain Mahan, the great champion of sea power, refers strongly to the duty of strengthening by fortifications and otherwise the vital points to which the communications led, so that these points should not depend in any way upon the fleet for protection.

The doctrine that a 'fleet in being,' though beaten and inferior, would suffice to stop an invasion has been propounded by some writers; but the facts of our own history are against it, not to mention numerous other cases. We landed in Egypt in 1801 in face of opposition before the French fleet had been wiped out at Trafalgar, and we landed an army in the Crimea without fear of the fleet'in being' at Sebastopol.

It is most unfortunate that when a few years back some able writers set themselves to bring about a great increase to the Navyefforts for which the country should be most grateful—they thought it would serve their purpose to contrast the expenditure on the Navy with that on the Army, which suggested the idea that the necessary funds for increasing the Navy were not available because they were appropriated to the Army. Funds of course could be found, and have been found, for making the necessary provision for one without starving the other, but still the same sort of feeling is exhibited in some quarters—that increased expenditure on the land forces will be depriving the Navy of its proper nourishment-and this creates opposition to the adoption of measures which are absolutely necessary for securing our position in the world.

It is not to be supposed that such an enterprise as an attack on us at home would be carried through without great risks, even if circumstances were as favourable as an enemy could expect; but war is a game in which risks must be run, and will be, when the prize is much heavier than the stakes. Napoleon did not propose to himself to subjugate and annex England, but to destroy her arsenals and ruin her dockyards so as to prevent her recovering her naval superiority; he calculated on only a temporary naval superiority of three weeks in order to effect this.

The Royal Commission of 1859, which has in recent years come in for so much abuse for not doing what it was not set to do, and for asserting principles which it never asserted—by its recommendations made it quite impossible for an enemy to carry out such a project during any short term of local naval weakness on our side. The effect of the fortification of the dockyards is that it would not be sufficient to transport a field army across the Channel and to win a battle, but it would be necessary to bring over and land all the material for a siege, and to hold possession of the country and maintain superiority in the Channel for the period necessary to carry such a siege to a successful conclusion.

What these works have done, therefore, is to make the task of the Navy considerably easier to fulfil by making the transport across the Channel a much larger and longer business than it would be without them. The principle which governed their erection is the same as that which leads a bank to build vaults and safes to contain its valuablesnot as a substitute for the police, but to ensure their having time to act. The little foundation there is for the assertion very commonly made that the Government and distinguished men who promoted these works ignored the true defence of England by its navy, is shown by the circumstance, which is entirely left out of sight, that their erection was preceded and accompanied by very large and costly extensions of the dockyards they are built to protect.

The writers I have referred to indeed admit that, as ships are not effective beyond a very small fringe round an enemy's coast, an army is necessary if operations are to be undertaken beyond that fringe, either to assail an enemy on his own territory or to protect our own. They admit, too, that land forces and fortifications are necessary at our foreign and colonial naval stations and coaling ports. It has been almost officially announced, in fact, that the Navy cannot guarantee the convoy of large bodies of troops to these stations in the event of war with a Great Power, so that they should provide for themselves independently; and this makes it difficult to understand the theory that the heart of the Empire should not have the same protection.

'What should be the strength of our Army' is a problem that will have to be worked out by the joint committee of war and defence. How to raise that strength and maintain it in peace and war is a problem for statesmen of similar character to that which has to be solved by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in framing his financial system : the one has to tap the pecuniary resources of the country, the other to find the means by which the manhood of the population is to be attracted to the colours. It is a problem which we should not expect to be solved by any stray politician who happens to find himself at the head of the War Department, for it has required the genius of men of the type of Frederick the Great and Napoleon to solve it in other countries. Moreover in all European nations but ours the knot has been cut by the adoption of compulsory service, and immense armies have been set on foot, in consequence much increasing our difficulties. We alone have imposed on us the much more difficult task of finding means of raising by voluntary enlistment an army sufficient for our needs, which, unlike other armies, has in large part to be stationed in other lands, some of them having unfavourable climates, and to discover the attraction which will make larger numbers than at present adopt a military life under these conditions.

As the unreasonable claims of the school of writers I have referred to have made it necessary to dwell upon instances of the failure of the Navy, it may be well, in order to guard against misunderstanding, to point out that the acknowledgment of such incidents in the history of the Navy is quite consistent with the fullest appreciation of the glorious position it has won by its successes and the superiority which it has ultimately always secured for this country, as well as with a conviction of the absolute and primary necessity for securing to us the command of the sea.

Nor would I be supposed to desire in the smallest degree to advocate directly or indirectly any slackening of our efforts to provide a naval force unquestionably superior to any we are likely to bave to oontend with. On the contrary, it seems to me that any person who carefully studies the magnitude of our commerce and our dependence on it for our daily life, and examines a chart which shows the routes which it takes across the sea, will wish that our Navy, largely as it has been lately increased, bore a still larger proportion to those of our possible enemies than it does at present. But this sense of the magnitude of its task makes it even more necessary that every effort should be made to lighten its task and increase the difficulties of an enemy, and every possible aid given to it by the other defensive or offensive forces of the country.

E. F. Dy CANE.

« AnteriorContinuar »