Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

Napoleon, to prove that the English had always been prepared for invasion when it took place. For the sake of his argument the instances cited were rather unfortunate, as the only two invasions of the three mentioned which actually took place were entirely successful.

The important part of his speech referred to the progress made in aerial navigation and the views which responsible Germans hold regarding its future influence on international relations. He stated that the development of aerial flight denoted a complete modification of the relations of the British Isles with the Continent.

As soon as she ceased to be an island her worldly dominion would coase. No longer would the will of London determine international relations. The present imperfect state of airships was immaterial ; the progress already made in aeronautics would suffice to drive the British fleet from the North Sea. Ger. many's present airships could cross the Channel several times without stopping for gas or benzine. Had not Count Zeppelin travelled 654 kilometres without intermission ?

He is reported to have gone on making further remarks in the same sense, which here it is unnecessary to reproduce. Of course, we may regard the opinions of Professor Martin as of little account, possibly as the dreams of a scientific enthusiast, but still it is well to have in view the existence of all possibilities, however extravagant and problematical they may now appear to be. Suffice it to say, should any of these wild dreams, as they are now considered, take substantial form and be realised in actual existence, the question of universal military service for home defence would cease

cease to be a matter of debate, but would be—as is now fortunately recognised by all parties as regards the efficiency of the Navy - a matter of life and death.

Whatever may be their opinion, I am confident that my readers will agree with me in saying that no discussion on the subject of this article would be complete without a tribute being paid to the selfsacrificing labour of Lord Roberts. For years he has been like one crying in the wilderness, trying to make his fellow-countrymen realise the great danger which overshadows the existence of their country. He, at least, has no object to serve; he has no axes to grind ; his warnings are the result of mature deliberation, of long experience, of careful research, and minute study of the history of the past. Mr. Haldane in one of his many recent speeches is reported to have said that when the people of this country were satisfied of the necessity of universal military training they would insist on having it, no matter what Parliament said-or words to that effect. It would appear that such a statement is almost puerile in its innocence. What do the mass of the electorate know of the complications of European politics? Have they ever studied the problems of war or the dangers of invasion ? As pointed out by Lord Roberts, they place their leaders in power and trust them to protect their interests. He said in the House of Lords:

I can understand the general public turning a deaf ear to warnings thus distasteful to them. They are for the most part so fully occupied with their own affairs and their individual struggles for existence that they do not trouble themselves much by what goes on in the outside world, but are content to trust the safety of their country to those whose duty it is to watch over it and to take all possible measures for its protection.

It may, perhaps, be asked and not inappropriately, Why do those in active service not give these warnings, why do they leave this duty to the officers who have retired ? To this it may be replied that those actually in employment have their hands tied. If their opinion is asked, they can make representations to the authorities which are regarded as confidential; but were any officer in an official position to make public the misgivings he might feel regarding the measures taken by those in power to ensure the proper safety of the country, he would probably find himself in the position of the French Admiral who was recently removed from his command for indiscretion. It is related of an illustrious personage, who for many years held a high position in the British Army, that not unfrequently when any question arose in which he differed from other great authorities, he sent for the various members of his staff and used to say to them: “Now, General So-and-So, I want to have your opinion on such a point. My opinion is as follows. Now tell me what is yours.' It would certainly be straining human nature rather hard in such circumstances to expect a perfectly free and unbiassed opinion from any individual who knew that probably his future professional prospects would be much prejudiced if he ventured to differ from his chief.

Lord Crewe in his reply to Lord Roberts reproached him for having initiated this important discussion in the House of Lords, and cited the example of the Duke of Wellington's celebrated letter to Sir John Burgoyne, which he says was published without the wishes and greatly to the indignation of the author. It would be well if the present Government were to study carefully the contents of this letter, which was extensively quoted in the article contributed by the writer three years since, and much of which is most applicable at the present time. Apparently, however, Lord Crewe’s complaints on this point are entirely unfounded. The result of Lord Roberts's researches and studies were first submitted to the Government, and it was only after his warnings were ignored, just like those of Colonel Stoffel to the French Government before the FrancoGerman War of 1870, that the veteran Field-Marshal decided to take the British public into his confidence.

Whatever be the result of these warnings, it is to be earnestly hoped that we may have some continuity and permanence in our defensive policy. We hear one day that not even the crew of a dinghy

[ocr errors]

could land on our shores; another day this crew has increased to 70,000 men. One day measures are taken for the defence of London, land purchased, and storehouses erected where temporary fortifications can be improvised in case of emergency. Shortly afterwards another War Minister comes into power; the land is sold and the storehouses pulled down. One day an elaborate system of mines and submarine defences are created round our coasts; shortly afterwards another school of thought' is predominant at the Admiralty ; these submarine defences are rooted out at considerable expense and are pronounced to be useless. What does it all mean?

The case of Rosyth is even worse. Both political parties in the State now admit it absolutely essential for the safety of the Navy that it should have a base, with docks where battleships of the largest size can be repaired, in the North Sea. Rosyth has been selected as the spot most suitable, and it is argued that it has natural advantages superior to those possessed by any other maritime nation. The present Government has now been in office for three years; the contracts are not yet signed or completed; and we are told that perhaps in seven years' time these docks, which are already urgently needed, may be fit for use. A great deal may happen in the course of seven years.

In connexion with this proposed naval base in the Forth there is another matter of great importance, which, strange to say, in the various questions which have from time to time been addressed to Ministers in Parliament regarding Rosyth, has, so far as the writer knows, never been even alluded to--that is, the formation of a Clyde and Forth Canal. Long before there was any suggestion of a naval base in the North Sea, this scheme has been advocated simply as a commercial enterprise, which many of the most experienced experts declare would, at least in the course of a few years, prove a brilliant Enancial success. A very distinguished admiral, who gave a most interesting lecture at the Royal United Service Institution in January 1903, alluded to this proposed waterway in the light of a strategic precaution; and there is no doubt that if, like the Kiel Canal, it were constructed of sufficient size to allow the passage of the largest battleships, it would be of enormous value to our Navy.

In the first place it would allow of the rapid concentration either in the Atlantic or the North Sea of our naval forces, should an enemy's fiset appear on either coast ; secondly, it would add, in a manner which bow is not apparently realised, to the safety and mobility of any menof-war that might be refitting or taking refuge in the naval base of Posyth. We will suppose that, say, half a dozen battleships and a number of cruisers chanced to be at any time on the inland side of the Forth Bridge, and that one night this bridge were blown up in half a dozen places by some of the spies, waiters and such like, by whom it is stated that we are now infested. Perhaps some naval

a

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

or other expert of the ‘ Blue-water school' will hazard a suggestion as to how many days or weeks would be required to clear away the wreckage of that gigantic structure, so as to enable the free passage of our imprisoned ships into the open sea. In the meantime the remainder of our fleet might have been defeated by a superior force, held ready for that purpose, the command of the Channel might be lost, and the crews of a good many 'dinghys ' might have been landed on our shores.

As a matter of fact, quite apart from its commercial value, which in all probability, as before mentioned, would justify its construction, quite apart also from its strategic importance, this suggested canal might almost be regarded as a necessary adjunct to the naval base of Rosyth, if only as a ' bolt-hole' for our ships. In these circumstances it certainly does seem most remarkable that any Government which took the question of our national defence seriously should have omitted to consider the suggestion of a Clyde and Forth Canal simultaneously with that of the naval base at Rosyth.

In point of fact, the apathy and delay of those now in power would be unaccountable in ordinary circumstances, but perhaps they may be explained by the declarations of various members of the present Government when they were in Opposition. These unfortunate utterances now hamper their action, just as their denunciations regarding the Chinese slavery fiction prejudiced their policy in connexion with the British possessions in South Africa. When the Unionists were in, however, the Opposition were loud in their condemnation of the policy of providing for permanent works of defencebarracks and such-like-by means of loans, and declared that such expenditure should come out of revenue. Hence they now hesitate to eat their own words, and prefer sacrificing the efficiency of the Navy to meeting the charge of inconsistency. We are confident the country would pardon the latter delinquency, but will never forgive the former.

In conclusion, however, whatever may be the cause of such constant fluctuations of policy, such indecision, and such delay, the result, if they continue, can be easily predicted—and that is certain disaster. Let us take warning while there is still time; otherwise London before long may share the fate of Carthage, and Macaulay's New Zealander, before many generations have passed away, may actually gaze on the ruins of St. Paul's.

FRANK S. RUSSELL (Major-General).

1909

OUR MILITARY WEAKNESS

a

[ocr errors]

MR. HALDANE is reported to have said at Guildford early in December that during the last three years he had added 90,000 men to the Army. It is easy to picture the satisfaction with which the non-military reader must have greeted this reassuring announcement. He must have felt that the Secretary of State had indeed a magician's wand, and had called these spirits from the vasty deep. Nor can he have doubted whether they had answered the call. There they were in black and white-on paper. 90,000 men ! it is a great addition, equivalent to three divisions ! No wonder the public is reassured and sniffs at the eritics who say all is not well with the defensive forces of the country. Its fears are tranquillised and it feels that its responsibility is at an end. It is by means such as these that any doubts are set at rest and that the ordinary citizen is lulled into that state of happy indifference which he has come to regard as his birthright. But, what of the soldiers ? What do they say? Is there a soldier of any standing, nay, is there any civilian who has taken the trouble to examine below the surface, who believes in the 90,000 additional men? Don't they know that these men exist only in the imagination of the Secretary of State, and are due to a delicate manipulation of figures and changes of name which amuse the public and throw dust in its eyes by attempting to make two and two look like five. What the country wants to know 13 : Do these extra men really exist in the flesh, or are they not more in the nature of a stage-army, in which the same men are counted several times over? Mr. Haldane went on, in the speech to which I have alluded, to claim an increase of 65,000 men in the Special Reserve, and an increase of 40,000 men in the Reserve of the Regular Army. From this total of 105,000 men he deducted 15,000 due to the reduction of nine battalions and other units, and thus arrived at the net increase of 90.000. Now, I would point out that this calculation is erroneous and absolutely misleading, because it altogether ignores the Militia as it existed three years ago. It must be remembered that this statement professed to be a comparative statement between our strength now and n 1905, and it will be seen that the numbers were arrived at by ruling out the Militia of that date and taking credit for the Special Reserve

« VorigeDoorgaan »