[Footnote 46: _Naval_War_of_1812_, 3rd ed. pp. 29, 30.]
SEA-POWER IN RECENT TIMES
We have now come to the end of the days of the naval wars of old time. The subsequent period has been illustrated repeatedly by manifestations of sea-power, often of great interest and importance, though rarely understood or even discerned by the nations which they more particularly concerned. The British sea-power, notwithstanding the first year of the war of 1812, had come out of the great European conflict unshaken and indeed more preeminent than ever. The words used, half a century before by a writer in the great French 'Encyclopedie,' seemed more exact than when first written. 'L'empiredesmers,' he says, is, 'le plus avantageux de tous les empires; les Phoeniciens le possedoient autre fois et c'est aux Anglois que cette gloire appartient aujourd'hui sur toutes les puissances maritimes.' Vast out-lying territories had been acquired or were more firmly held, and the communications of all the over-sea dominions of the British Crown were secured against all possibility of serious menace for many years to come. Our sea-power was so ubiquitous and all-pervading that, like the atmosphere, we rarely thought of it and rarely remembered its necessity or its existence. It was not till recently that the greater part of the nation—for there were many, and still are some exceptions—perceived that it was the medium apart from which the British Empire could no more live than it could have grown up. Forty years after the fall of Napoleon we found ourselves again at war with a great power. We had as our ally the owner of the greatest navy in the world except our own. Our foe, as regards his naval forces, came the next in order. Yet so overwhelming was the strength of Great Britain and France on the sea that Russia never attempted to employ her navy against them. Not to mention other expeditions, considerable enough in themselves, military operations on the largest scale were undertaken, carried on for many months, and brought to a successful termination on a scene so remote that it was two thousand miles from the country of one, and three thousand from that of the other partner in the alliance. 'The stream of supplies and reinforcements, which in terms of modern war is called "communications,", was kept free from even the threat of molestation, not by visible measures, but by the undisputed efficacy of a real, though imperceptible sea-power. At the close of the Russian war we encountered, and unhappily for us in influential positions, men who, undismayed by the consequences of mimicking in free England the cast-iron methods of the Great Frederick, began to measure British requirements by standards borrowed from abroad and altogether inapplicable to British conditions. Because other countries wisely abstained from relying on that which they did not possess, or had only imperfectly and with elaborate art created, the mistress of the seas was led to proclaim her disbelief in the very force that had made and kept her dominion, and urged to defend herself with fortifications by advisers who, like Charles II and the Duke of York two centuries before, were 'not ashamed of it.' It was long before the peril into which this brought the empire was perceived; but at last, and in no small degree owing to the teachings of Mahan, the people themselves took the matter in hand and insisted that a great maritime empire should have adequate means of defending all that made its existence possible.
[Footnote 47: Encyclopedie, 7th Jan. 1765, art. 'Thalassarchie.']
In forms differing in appearance, but identical in essentials, the efficacy of sea-power was proved again in the American Secession war. If ever there were hostilities in which, to the unobservant or short-sighted, naval operations might at first glance seem destined to count for little, they were these. The sequel, however, made it clear that they constituted one of the leading factors of the success of the victorious side. The belligerents, the Northern or Federal States and the Southern or Confederate States, had a common land frontier of great length. The capital of each section was within easy distance of this frontier, and the two were not far apart. In wealth, population, and resources the Federals were enormously superior. They alone possessed a navy, though at first it was a small one. The one advantage on the Confederate side was the large proportion of military officers which belonged to it and their fine training as soldiers. In physique as well as in morale the army of one side differed little from that of the other; perhaps the Federal army was slightly superior in the first, and the Confederate, as being recruited from a dominant white race, in the second. Outnumbered, less well equipped, and more scantily supplied, the Confederates nevertheless kept up the war, with many brilliant successes on land, for four years. Had they been able to maintain their trade with neutral states they could have carried on the war longer, and—not improbably—have succeeded in the end. The Federal navy, which was largely increased, took away all chance of this. It established effective blockades of the Confederate ports, and severed their communications with the outside world. Indispensable articles of equipment could not be obtained, and the armies, consequently, became less and less able to cope with their abundantly furnished antagonists. By dominating the rivers the Federals cut the Confederacy asunder; and by the power they possessed of moving troops by sea at will, perplexed and harassed the defence, and facilitated the occupation of important points. Meanwhile the Confederates could make no reply on the water except by capturing merchant vessels, by which the contest was embittered, but the course of the war remained absolutely unaffected. The great numbers of men under arms on shore, the terrific slaughter in many battles of a war in which tactical ability, even in a moderate degree, was notably uncommon on both sides, and the varying fortunes of the belligerents, made the land campaigns far more interesting to the ordinary observer than the naval. It is not surprising, therefore, that peace had been re-established for several years before the American people could be made to see the great part taken by the navy in the restoration of the Union; and what the Americans had not seen was hidden from the sight of other nations.
In several great wars in Europe waged since France and England made peace with Russia sea-power manifested itself but little. In the Russo-Turkish war the great naval superiority of the Turks in the Black Sea, where the Russians at the time had no fleet, governed the plans, if not the course, of the campaigns. The water being denied to them, the Russians were compelled to execute their plan of invading Turkey by land. An advance to the Bosphorus through the northern part of Asia Minor was impracticable without help from a navy on the right flank. Consequently the only route was a land one across the Danube and the Balkans. The advantages, though not fully utilised, which the enforcement of this line of advance put into the hands of the Turks, and the difficulties and losses which it caused the Russians, exhibited in a striking manner what sea-power can effect even when its operation is scarcely observable.
This was more conspicuous in a later series of hostilities. The civil war in Chili between Congressists and Balmacedists is specially interesting, because it throws into sharp relief the predominant influence, when a non-maritime enemy is to be attacked, of a navy followed up by an adequate land-force. At the beginning of the dispute the Balmacedists, or President's party, had practically all the army, and the Congressists, or Opposition party, nearly all the Chilian navy. Unable to remain in the principal province of the republic, and expelled from the waters of Valparaiso by the Balmacedist garrisons of the forts—the only and doubtful service which those works rendered to their own side—the Congressists went off with the ships to the northern provinces, where they counted many adherents. There they formed an army, and having money at command, and open sea communications, they were able to import equipment from abroad, and eventually to transport their land-force, secured from molestation on the voyage by the sea-power at their disposal, to the neighbourhood of Valparaiso, where it was landed and triumphantly ended the campaign.
It will have been noticed that, in its main outlines, this story repeated that of many earlier campaigns. It was itself repeated, as regards its general features, by the story of the war between China and Japan in 1894-95. 'Every aspect of the war,' says Colomb, 'is interesting to this country, as Japan is to China in a position similar to that which the British Islands occupy to the European continent.' It was additionally interesting because the sea-power of Japan was a novelty. Though a novelty, it was well known by English naval men to be superior in all essentials to that of China, a novelty itself. As is the rule when two belligerents are contending for something beyond a purely maritime object, the final decision was to be on land. Korea was the principal theatre of the land war; and, as far as access to it by sea was concerned, the chief bases of the two sides were about the same distance from it. It was possible for the Chinese to march there by land. The Japanese, coming from an island state, were obliged to cross the water. It will be seen at once that not only the success of the Japanese in the struggle, but also the possibility of its being carried on by them at all, depended on sea-power. The Japanese proved themselves decisively superior at sea. Their navy effectually cleared the way for one army which was landed in Korea, and for another which was landed in the Chinese province of Shantung. The Chinese land-forces were defeated. The navy of japan, being superior on the sea, was able to keep its sister service supplied or reinforced as required. It was, however, not the navy, but the army, which finally frustrated the Chinese efforts at defence, and really terminated the war. What the navy did was what, in accordance with the limitations of sea-power, may be expected of a navy. It made the transport of the army across the sea possible; and enabled it to do what of itself the army could not have done, viz. overcome the last resistance of the enemy.
[Footnote 48: _Naval_Warfare_, 3rd ed. p. 436.]
The issue of the Spanish-American war, at least as regards the mere defeat of Spain, was, perhaps, a foregone conclusion. That Spain, even without a serious insurrection on her hands, was unequal to the task of meeting so powerful an antagonist as the United States must have been evident even to Spaniards. Be that as it may, an early collapse of the Spanish defence was not anticipated, and however one-sided the war may have been seen to be, it furnished examples illustrating rules as old as naval warfare. Mahan says of it that, 'while possessing, as every war does, characteristics of its own differentiating it from others, nevertheless in its broad analogies it falls into line with its predecessors, evidencing that unity of teaching which pervades the art from its beginnings unto this day.' The Spaniards were defeated by the superiority of the American sea-power. 'A million of the best soldiers,' says Mahan, 'would have been powerless in face of hostile control of the sea.' That control was obtained and kept by the United States navy, thus permitting the unobstructed despatch of troops—and their subsequent reinforcement and supply—to Spanish territory, which was finally conquered, not by the navy, but by the army on shore. That it was the navy which made this final conquest possible happened, in this case, to be made specially evident by the action of the United States Government, which stopped a military expedition on the point of starting for Cuba until the sea was cleared of all Spanish naval force worth attention.
[Footnote 49: _Lessons_of_the_War_with_Spain_, p. 16.]
The events of the long period which we have been considering will have shown how sea-power operates, and what it effects. What is in it will have appeared from this narrative more clearly than would have been possible from any mere definition. Like many other things, sea-power is composed of several elements. To reach the highest degree of efficacy it should be based upon a population naturally maritime, and on an ocean commerce naturally developed rather than artificially enticed to extend itself. Its outward and visible sign is a navy, strong in the discipline, skill, and courage of a numerous personnel habituated to the sea, in the number and quality of its ships, in the excellence of its materiel, and in the efficiency, scale, security, and geographical position of its arsenals and bases. History has demonstrated that sea-power thus conditioned can gain any purely maritime object, can protect the trade and the communications of a widely extended empire, and whilst so doing can ward off from its shores a formidable invader. There are, however, limitations to be noted. Left to itself its operation is confined to the water, or at any rate to the inner edge of a narrow zone of coast. It prepares the way for the advance of an army, the work of which it is not intended, and is unable to perform. Behind it, in the territory of which it guards the shores, there must be a land-force adjusted in organisation, equipment, and numbers to the circumstances of the country. The possession of a navy does not permit a sea-surrounded state to dispense with all fixed defences or fortification; but it does render it unnecessary and indeed absurd that they should be abundant or gigantic. The danger which always impends over the sea-power of any country is that, after being long unused, it may lose touch of the sea. The revolution in the constructive arts during the last half-century, which has also been a period of but little-interrupted naval peace, and the universal adoption of mechanical appliances, both for ship-propulsion and for many minor services—mere materiel being thereby raised in the general estimation far above really more important matters—makes the danger mentioned more menacing in the present age than it has ever been before.
THE COMMAND OF THE SEA
[Footnote 50: Written in 1899. (_Encyclopoedia_Britannica_.)]
This phrase, a technical term of naval warfare, indicates a definite strategical condition. The term has been substituted occasionally, but less frequently of late years, for the much older 'Dominion of the sea' or 'Sovereignty of the sea,' a legal term expressing a claim, if not a right. It has also been sometimes treated as though it were identical with the rhetorical expression 'Empire of the sea.' Mahan, instead of it, uses the term 'Control of the sea,' which has the merit of precision, and is not likely to be misunderstood or mixed up with a form of words meaning something different. The expression 'Command of the sea,' however, in its proper and strategic sense, is so firmly fixed in the language that it would be a hopeless task to try to expel it; and as, no doubt, writers will continue to use it, it must be explained and illustrated. Not only does it differ in meaning from 'Dominion or Sovereignty of the sea,' it is not even truly derived therefrom, as can be briefly shown. 'It has become an uncontested principle of modern international law that the sea, as a general rule, cannot be subjected to appropriation.' This, however, is quite modern. We ourselves did not admit the principle till 1805; the Russians did not admit it till 1824; and the Americans, and then only tacitly, not till 1894. Most European nations at some time or other have claimed and have exercised rights over some part of the sea, though far outside the now well-recognised 'three miles' limit.' Venice claimed the Adriatic, and exacted a heavy toll from vessels navigating its northern waters. Genoa and France each claimed portions of the western Mediterranean. Denmark and Sweden claimed to share the Baltic between them. Spain claimed dominion over the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico, and Portugal over the Indian Ocean and all the Atlantic south of Morocco. The claim which has made the greatest noise in the world is that once maintained by the kings of England to the seas surrounding the British Isles. Like other institutions, the English sovereignty of the sea was, and was admitted to be, beneficent for a long period. Then came the time when it ought to have been abandoned as obsolete; but it was not, and so it led to war. The general conviction of the maritime nations was that the Lord of the Sea would provide for the police of the waters over which he exercised dominion. In rude ages when men, like the ancients, readily 'turned themselves to piracy,' this was of immense importance to trade; and, far from the right of dominion being disputed by foreigners, it was insisted upon by them and declared to carry with it certain duties. In 1299, not only English merchants, but also 'the maritime people of Genoa, Catalonia, Spain, Germany, Zealand, Holland, Frisia, Denmark, Norway, and several other places of the empire' declared that the kings of England had from time immemorial been in 'peaceable possession of the sovereign lordship of the sea of England,' and had done what was 'needful for the maintenance of peace, right, and equity between people of all sorts, whether subjects of another kingdom or not, who pass through those seas.' The English sovereignty was not exercised as giving authority to exact toll. All that was demanded in return for keeping the sea safe for peaceful traffic was a salute, enforced no doubt as a formal admission of the right which permitted the (on the whole, at any rate) effective police of the waters to be maintained. The Dutch in the seventeenth century objected to the demand for this salute. It was insisted upon. War ensued; but in the end the Dutch acknowledged by solemn treaties their obligation to render the salute. The time for exacting it, however, was really past. S. R. Gardiner maintains that though the 'question of the flag' was the occasion, it was not the cause of the war. There was not much, if any, piracy in the English Channel which the King of England was specially called upon to suppress, and if there had been the merchant vessels of the age were generally able to defend themselves, while if they were not their governments possessed force enough to give them the necessary protection. We gave up our claim to exact the salute in 1805.
[Footnote 51: W. E. Hall, _Treatise_on_International_Law_, 4th ed. 1895, p. 146.]
[Footnote 52: Hall, pp. 48, 49.]
[Footnote 53: J. K. Laughton, 'Sovereignty of the Sea,' Fortnightly Review, August 1866.]
[Footnote 54: _The_First_Dutch_War_ (Navy Records Society), 1899.]
The necessity of the foregoing short account of the 'Sovereignty or Dominion of the Seas' will be apparent as soon as we come to the consideration of the first struggle, or rather series of struggles, for the command of the sea. Gaining this was the result of our wars with the Dutch in the seventeenth century. At the time of the first Dutch war, 1652-54, and probably of the later wars also, a great many people, and especially seamen, believed that the conflict was due to a determination on our part to retain, and on that of the Dutch to put an end to, the English sovereignty or dominion. The obstinacy of the Dutch in objecting to pay the old-established mark of respect to the English flag was quite reason enough in the eyes of most Englishmen, and probably of most Dutchmen also, to justify hostilities which other reasons may have rendered inevitable. The remarkable thing about the Dutch wars is that in reality what we gained was the possibility of securing an absolute command of the sea. We came out of the struggle a great, and in a fair way of becoming the greatest, naval power. It is this which prompted Vice-Admiral P. H. Colomb to hold that there are various kinds of command, such as 'absolute or assured,' 'temporary,' 'with definite ulterior purpose,' &c. An explanation that would make all these terms intelligible would be voluminous and is unnecessary here. It will be enough to say that the absolute command—of attempts to gain which, as Colomb tells us, the Anglo-Dutch wars were the most complete example—is nothing but an attribute of the nation whose power on the sea is paramount. It exists and may be visible in time of peace. The command which, as said above, expresses a definite strategical condition is existent only in time of war. It can easily be seen that the former is essential to an empire like the British, the parts of which are bound together by maritime communications. Inability to keep these communications open can have only one result, viz. the loss of the parts with which communication cannot be maintained. Experience of war as well as reason will have made it evident that inability to keep open sea-communications cannot be limited to any single line, because the inability must be due either to incapacity in the direction of hostilities or insufficiency of force. If we have not force enough to keep open all the communications of our widely extended empire, or if—having force enough—we are too foolish to employ it properly, we do not hold the command of the sea, and the empire must fall if seriously attacked.
The strategic command of the sea in a particular war or campaign has equal concern for all maritime belligerents. Before seeing what it is, it will be well to learn on high authority what it is not. Mahan says that command, or, to use his own term, 'control of the sea, however real, does not imply that an enemy's single ships or small squadrons cannot steal out of port, cannot cross more or less frequented tracts of ocean, make harassing descents upon unprotected points of a long coast-line, enter blockaded harbours. On the contrary, history has shown that such evasions are always possible, to some extent, to the weaker party, however great the inequality of naval strength.' The Anglo-French command of the sea in 1854-56, complete as it was, did not enable the allies to intercept the Russian ships in the North-Western Pacific, nor did that held by the Federals in the American civil war put an early stop to the cruises of the Confederate vessels. What the term really does imply is the power possessed from the first, or gained during hostilities, by one belligerent of carrying out considerable over-sea expeditions at will. In the Russian war just mentioned the allies had such overwhelmingly superior sea-power that the Russians abandoned to them without a struggle the command of the sea; and the more recent landing in South Africa, more than six thousand miles away, of a large British army without even a threat of interruption on the voyage is another instance of unchallenged command. In wars between great powers and also between secondary powers, if nearly equally matched, this absence of challenge is rare. The rule is that the command of the sea has to be won after hostilities begin. To win it the enemy's naval force must be neutralised. It must be driven into his ports and there blockaded or 'masked,' and thus rendered virtually innocuous; or it must be defeated and destroyed. The latter is the preferable, because the more effective, plan. As was perceptible in the Spanish-American war of 1898, as long as one belligerent's fleet is intact or at large, the other is reluctant to carry out any considerable expedition over-sea. In fact, the command of the sea has not been secured whilst the enemy continues to have a 'fleet in being.'
[Footnote 55: InfluenceofSea-poweronHistory, 1890, p. 4.]
[Footnote 56: See ante, Sea-Power, p. 50.]
In 1782 a greatly superior Franco-Spanish fleet was covering the siege of Gibraltar. Had this fleet succeeded in preventing the revictualling of the fortress the garrison would have been starved into surrender. A British fleet under Lord Howe, though much weaker in numbers, had not been defeated and was still at large. Howe, in spite of the odds against him, managed to get his supply-ships in to the anchorage and to fight a partial action, in which he did the allies as much damage as he received. There has never been a display of higher tactical skill than this operation of Howe's, though, it may be said, he owes his fame much more to his less meritorious performance on the first of June. The revictualling of Gibraltar surpassed even Suffren's feat of the capture of Trincomalee in the same year. In 1798 the French, assuming that a temporary superiority in the Mediterranean had given them a free hand on the water, sent a great expedition to Egypt. Though the army which was carried succeeded in landing there, the covering fleet was destroyed by Nelson at the Nile, and the army itself was eventually forced to surrender. The French had not perceived that, except for a short time and for minor operations, you cannot separate the command of the Mediterranean or of any particular area of water from that of the sea in general. Local command of the sea may enable a belligerent to make a hasty raid, seize a relatively insignificant port, or cut out a vessel; but it will not ensure his being able to effect anything requiring considerable time for its execution, or, in other words, anything likely to have an important influence on the course of the war. If Great Britain has not naval force enough to retain command of the Mediterranean, she will certainly not have force enough to retain command of the English Channel. It can be easily shown why it should be so. In war danger comes less from conditions of locality than from the enemy's power to hurt. Taking up a weak position when confronting an enemy may help him in the exercise of his power, but it does not constitute it. A maritime enemy's power to hurt resides in his fleet. If that can be neutralised his power disappears. It is in the highest degree improbable that this end can be attained by splitting up our own fleet into fragments so as to have a part of it in nearly every quarter in which the enemy may try to do us mischief. The most promising plan—as experience has often proved—is to meet the enemy, when he shows himself, with a force sufficiently strong to defeat him. The proper station of the British fleet in war should, accordingly, be the nearest possible point to the enemy's force. This was the fundamental principle of Nelson's strategy, and it is as valid now as ever it was. If we succeed in getting into close proximity to the hostile fleet with an adequate force of our own, our foe cannot obtain command of the sea, or of any part of it, whether that part be the Mediterranean or the English Channel, at any rate until he has defeated us. If he is strong enough to defeat our fleet he obtains the command of the sea in general; and it is for him to decide whether he shall show the effectiveness of that command in the Mediterranean or in the Channel.
[Footnote 57: In his HistoryofScotland (1873). J. H. M. Burton, speaking of the Orkney and Shetland isles in the Viking times, says (vol. i. p. 320): 'Those who occupied them were protected, not so much by their own strength of position, as by the complete command over the North Sea held by the fleets that found shelter in the fiords and firths.']
In the smaller operations of war temporary command of a particular area of water may suffice for the success of an expedition, or at least will permit the execution of the preliminary movements. When the main fleet of a country is at a distance—which it ought not to be except with the object of nearing the opposing fleet—a small hostile expedition may slip across, say the Channel, throw shells into a coast town or burn a fishing village, and get home again unmolested. Its action would have no sort of influence on the course of the campaign, and would, therefore, be useless. It would also most likely lead to reprisals; and, if this process were repeated, the war would probably degenerate into the antiquated system of 'cross-raiding,' discarded centuries ago, not at all for reasons of humanity, but because it became certain that war could be more effectually waged in other ways. The nation in command of the sea may resort to raiding to expedite the formal submission of an already defeated enemy, as Russia did when at war with Sweden in 1719; but in such a case the other side cannot retaliate. Temporary command of local waters will also permit of operations rather more considerable than mere raiding attacks; but the duration of these operations must be adjusted to the time available. If the duration of the temporary command is insufficient the operation must fail. It must fail even if the earlier steps have been taken successfully. Temporary command of the Baltic in war might enable a German force to occupy an Aland isle; but unless the temporary could be converted into permanent command, Germany could make no use of the acquisition, which in the end would revert as a matter of course to its former possessors. The command of the English Channel, which Napoleon wished to obtain when maturing his invasion project, was only temporary. It is possible that a reminiscence of what had happened in Egypt caused him to falter at the last; and that, quite independently of the proceedings of Villeneuve, he hesitated to risk a second battle of the Nile and the loss of a second army. It may have been this which justified his later statement that he did not really mean to invade England. In any case, the English practice of fixing the station of their fleet wherever that of the enemy's was, would have seriously shortened the duration of his command of the Channel, even if it had allowed it to be won at all. Moreover, attempts to carry out a great operation of war against time as well as against the efforts of the enemy to prevent it are in the highest degree perilous.
In war the British Navy has three prominent duties to discharge. It has to protect our maritime trade, to keep open the communications between the different parts of the empire, and to prevent invasion. If we command the sea these duties will be discharged effectually. As long as we command the sea the career of hostile cruisers sent to prey on our commerce will be precarious, because command of the sea carries with it the necessity of possessing an ample cruiser force. As long as the condition mentioned is satisfied our ocean communications will be kept open, because an inferior enemy, who cannot obtain the command required, will be too much occupied in seeing to his own safety to be able to interfere seriously with that of any part of our empire. This being so, it is evident that the greater operation of invasion cannot be attempted, much less carried to a successful termination, by the side which cannot make head against the opposing fleet. Command of the sea is the indispensable preliminary condition of a successful military expedition sent across the water. It enables the nation which possesses it to attack its foes where it pleases and where they seem to be most vulnerable. At the same time it gives to its possessor security against serious counter-attacks, and affords to his maritime commerce the most efficient protection that can be devised. It is, in fact, the main object of naval warfare.
WAR AND ITS CHIEF LESSONS
[Footnote 58: Written in 1900. (_Naval_Annual_, 1901.)]
Had the expression 'real war' been introduced into the title of this chapter, its introduction would have been justifiable. The sources—if not of our knowledge of combat, at least of the views which are sure to prevail when we come to actual fighting—are to be found in two well-defined, dissimilar, and widely separated areas. Within one are included the records of war; within the other, remembrance of the exercises and manoeuvres of a time of peace. The future belligerent will almost of a certainty have taken a practical part in the latter, whilst it is probable that he will have had no personal experience of the former. The longer the time elapsed since hostilities were in progress, the more probable and more general does this absence of experience become. The fighting man—that is to say, the man set apart, paid, and trained so as to be ready to fight when called upon—is of the same nature as the rest of his species. This is a truism; but it is necessary to insist upon it, because professional, and especially professorial, strategists and tacticians almost invariably ignore it. That which we have seen and know has not only more, but very much more, influence upon the minds of nearly all of us than that of which we have only heard, and, most likely, heard but imperfectly. The result is that, when peace is interrupted and the fighting man—on both sea and land—is confronted with the problems of practical belligerency, he brings to his attempts at their solution an intellectual equipment drawn, not from knowledge of real war, but from the less trustworthy arsenal of the recollections of his peace training.
When peace, especially a long peace, ends, the methods which it has introduced are the first enemies which the organised defenders of a country have to overcome. There is plenty of evidence to prove that—except, of course, in unequal conflicts between highly organised, civilised states and savage or semi-barbarian tribes—success in war is directly proportionate to the extent of the preliminary victory over the predominance of impressions derived from the habits and exercises of an armed force during peace. That the cogency of this evidence is not invariably recognised is to be attributed to insufficient attention to history and to disinclination to apply its lessons properly. A primary object of the _Naval_Annual_—indeed, the chief reason for its publication—being to assist in advancing the efficiency of the British Navy, its pages are eminently the place for a review of the historical examples of the often-recurring inability of systems established in peace to stand the test of war. Hostilities on land being more frequent, and much more frequently written about, than those by sea, the history of the former as well as of the latter must be examined. The two classes of warfare have much in common. The principles of their strategy are identical; and, as regards some of their main features, so are those of the tactics followed in each. Consequently the history of land warfare has its lessons for those who desire to achieve success in warfare on the sea.
That this has often been lost sight of is largely due to a misapprehension of the meaning of terms. The two words 'military' and 'army' have been given, in English, a narrower signification than they ought, and than they used, to have. Both terms have been gradually restricted in their use, and made to apply only to the land service. This has been unfortunate; because records of occurrences and discussions, capable of imparting much valuable instruction to naval officers, have been passed over by them as inapplicable to their own calling. It may have been noticed that Captain Mahan uses the word 'military' in its right sense as indicating the members, and the most important class of operations, of both land- and sea-forces. The French, through whom the word has come to us from the Latin, use it in the same sense as Mahan. _Un_militaire_ is a member of either a land army or a navy. The 'Naval _and_ Military Intelligence' of the English press is given under the heading 'Nouvelles Militaires' in the French. Our word 'army' also came to us direct from the French, who still apply it equally to both services—_armee_de_ _terre,_armee_de_mer_. It is a participle, and means 'armed,' the word 'force' being understood. The kindred words _armada_ in Spanish and Portuguese, and _armata_ in Italian—equally derived from the Latin—are used to indicate a fleet or navy, another name being given to a land army. The word 'army' was generally applied to a fleet in former days by the English, as will be seen on reference to the Navy Records Society's volumes on the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
This short etymological discussion is not inappropriate here, for it shows why we should not neglect authorities on the history and conduct of war merely because they do not state specially that they are dealing with the naval branch of it.
A very slight knowledge of history is quite enough to make us acquainted with the frequent recurrence of defeats and disasters inflicted on armed forces by antagonists whose power to do so had not been previously suspected. It has been the same on the sea as on the land, though—owing to more copious records—we may have a larger list of events on the latter. It will not be denied that it is of immense importance to us to inquire how this happened, and ascertain how—for the future—it may be rendered highly improbable in our own case. A brief enumeration of the more striking instances will make it plain that the events in question have been confined to no particular age and to no particular country.
It may be said that the more elaborately organised and trained in peace time an armed force happened to be, the more unexpected always, and generally the more disastrous, was its downfall. Examples of this are to be found in the earliest campaigns of which we have anything like detailed accounts, and they continue to reappear down to very recent times. In the elaborate nature of its organisation and training there probably never has been an army surpassing that led by Xerxes into Greece twenty-four centuries ago. Something like eight years had been devoted to its preparation. The minute account of its review by Xerxes on the shores of the Hellespont proves that, however inefficient the semi-civilised contingents accompanying it may have been, the regular Persian army appeared, in discipline, equipment, and drill, to have come up to the highest standard of the most intense 'pipeclay' epoch. In numbers alone its superiority was considerable to the last, and down to the very eve of Plataea its commander openly displayed his contempt for his enemy. Yet no defeat could be more complete than that suffered by the Persians at the hands of their despised antagonists.
As if to establish beyond dispute the identity of governing conditions in both land and maritime wars, the next very conspicuous disappointment of an elaborately organised force was that of the Athenian fleet at Syracuse. At the time Athens, without question, stood at the head of the naval world: her empire was in the truest sense the product of sea-power. Her navy, whilst unequalled in size, might claim, without excessive exaggeration, to be invincible. The great armament which the Athenians despatched to Sicily seemed, in numbers alone, capable of triumphing over all resistance. If the Athenian navy had already met with some explicable mishaps, it looked back with complacent confidence on the glorious achievements of more than half a century previously. It had enjoyed many years of what was so nearly a maritime peace that its principal exploits had been the subjection of states weak to insignificance on the sea as compared with imperial Athens. Profuse expenditure on its maintenance; the 'continued practice' of which Pericles boasted, the peace manoeuvres of a remote past; skilfully designed equipment; and the memory of past glories;—all these did not avail to save it from defeat at the hands of an enemy who only began to organise a fleet when the Athenians had invaded his coast waters.
Ideal perfection as a regular army has never been so nearly reached as by that of Sparta. The Spartan spent his life in the barrack and the mess-room; his amusements were the exercises of the parade ground. For many generations a Spartan force had never been defeated in a pitched battle. We have had, in modern times, some instances of a hectoring soldiery arrogantly prancing amongst populations whose official defenders it had defeated in battle; but nonesuch could vie with the Spartans in the sublimity of their military self-esteem. Overweening confidence in the prowess of her army led Sparta to trample with ruthless disdain on the rights of others. The iniquitous attack on Thebes, a state thought incapable of effectual resentment, was avenged by the defeat of Leuctra, which announced the end of the political supremacy and the military predominance of Sparta.
In the series of struggles with Carthage which resulted in putting Rome in a position enabling her eventually to win the dominion of the ancient world, the issue was to be decided on the water. Carthage was essentially a maritime state. The foundation of the city was effected by a maritime expedition; its dominions lay on the neighbouring coast or in regions to which the Carthaginians could penetrate only by traversing the sea. To Carthage her fleet was 'all in all': her navy, supported by large revenues and continuously maintained, was more of a 'regular' force than any modern navy before the second half of the seventeenth century. The Romans were almost without a fleet, and when they formed one the undertaking was ridiculed by the Carthaginians with an unconcealed assumption of superiority. The defeat of the latter off Mylae, the first of several, came as a great surprise to them, and, as we can see now, indicated the eventual ruin of their city.
We are so familiar with stories of the luxury and corruption of the Romans during the decline of the empire that we are likely to forget that the decline went on for centuries, and that their armed forces, however recruited, presented over and over again abundant signs of physical courage and vigour. The victory of Stilicho over Alaric at Pollentia has been aptly paralleled with that of Marius over the Cimbri. This was by no means the only achievement of the Roman army of the decadence. A century and a quarter later—when the Empire of the West had fallen and the general decline had made further progress—Belisarius conducted successful campaigns in Persia, in North Africa, in Sicily, and in Italy. The mere list of countries shows that the mobility and endurance of the Roman forces during a period in which little creditable is generally looked for were not inferior to their discipline and courage. Yet they met with disastrous defeat after all, and at the hands of races which they had more than once proved themselves capable of withstanding. It could not have been because the later Roman equipment was inferior, the organisation less elaborate, or the training less careful than those of their barbarian enemies.
Though it is held by some in these days that the naval power of Spain in the latter part of the sixteenth century was not really formidable, that does not appear to have been the opinion of contemporaries, whether Spaniards or otherwise. Some English seamen of the time did, indeed, declare their conviction that Philip the Second's navy was not so much to be feared as many of their fellow-countrymen thought; but, in the public opinion of the age, Spain was the greatest, or indeed the one great, naval state. She possessed a more systematically organised navy than any other country having the ocean for a field of action had then, or till long afterwards. Even Genoa and Venice, whose operations, moreover, were restricted to Mediterranean waters, could not have been served by more finished specimens of the naval officer and the man-of-war's man of the time than a large proportion of the military personnel of the regular Spanish fleet. As Basques, Castilians, Catalans, or Aragonese, or all combined, the crews of Spanish fighting ships could look back upon a glorious past. It was no wonder that, by common consent of those who manned it, the title of 'Invincible' was informally conferred upon the Armada which, in 1588, sailed for the English Channel. How it fared is a matter of common knowledge. No one could have been more surprised at the result than the gallant officers who led its squadrons.
Spain furnishes another instance of the unexpected overthrow of a military body to which long cohesion and precise organisation were believed to have secured invincibility. The Spanish was considered the 'most redoubtable infantry in Europe' till its unexpected defeat at Rocroi. The effects of this defeat were far-reaching. Notwithstanding the bravery of her sons, which has never been open to question, and, in fact, has always been conspicuous, the military superiority of Spain was broken beyond repair.
In the history of other countries are to be found examples equally instructive. The defeats of Almansa, Brihuega, and Villaviciosa were nearly contemporary with the victories of Blenheim and Ramillies; and the thousands of British troops compelled to lay down their arms at the first named belonged to the same service as their fellow-countrymen who so often marched to victory under Marlborough. A striking example of the disappointment which lies in wait for military self-satisfaction was furnished by the defeat of Soubise at Rossbach by Frederick the Great. Before the action the French had ostentatiously shown their contempt for their opponent.
The service which gloried in the exploits of Anson and of Hawke discerned the approach of the Seven Years' war without misgiving; and the ferocity shown in the treatment of Byng enables us now to measure the surprise caused by the result of the action off Minorca. There were further surprises in store for the English Navy. At the end of the Seven Years' war its reputation for invincibility was generally established. Few, perhaps none, ventured to doubt that, if there were anything like equality between the opposing forces, a meeting between the French and the British fleets could have but one result—viz. the decisive victory of the latter. Experience in the English Channel, on the other side of the Atlantic, and in the Bay of Bengal—during the war of American Independence—roughly upset this flattering anticipation. Yet, in the end, the British Navy came out the unquestioned victor in the struggle: which proves the excellence of its quality. After every allowance is made for the incapacity of the Government, we must suspect that there was something else which so often frustrated the efforts of such a formidable force as the British Navy of the day must essentially have been. On land the surprises were even more mortifying; and it is no exaggeration to say that, a year before it occurred, such an event as the surrender of Burgoyne's army to an imperfectly organised and trained body of provincials would have seemed impossible.
The army which Frederick the Great bequeathed to Prussia was universally regarded as the model of efficiency. Its methods were copied in other countries, and foreign officers desiring to excel in their profession made pilgrimages to Berlin and Potsdam to drink of the stream of military knowledge at its source. When it came in contact with the tumultuous array of revolutionary France, the performances of the force that preserved the tradition of the great Frederick were disappointingly wanting in brilliancy. A few years later it suffered an overwhelming disaster. The Prussian defeat at Jena was serious as a military event; its political effects were of the utmost importance. Yet many who were involved in that disaster took, later on, an effective part in the expulsion of the conquerors from their country, and in settling the history of Europe for nearly half a century at Waterloo.
The brilliancy of the exploits of Wellington and the British army in Portugal and Spain has thrown into comparative obscurity that part of the Peninsular war which was waged for years by the French against the Spaniards. Spain, distracted by palace intrigues and political faction, with the flower of her troops in a distant comer of Europe, and several of her most important fortresses in the hands of her assailant, seemed destined to fall an easy and a speedy prey to the foremost military power in the world. The attitude of the invaders made it evident that they believed themselves to be marching to certain victory. Even the British soldiers—of whom there were never many more than 50,000 in the Peninsula, and for some years not half that number—were disdained until they had been encountered. The French arms met with disappointment after disappointment. On one occasion a whole French army, over 18,000 strong, surrendered to a Spanish force, and became prisoners of war. Before the struggle closed there were six marshals of France with nearly 400,000 troops in the Peninsula. The great efforts which these figures indicate were unsuccessful, and the intruders were driven from the country. Yet they were the comrades of the victors of Austerlitz, of Jena, and of Wagram, and part of that mighty organisation which had planted its victorious standards in Berlin and Vienna, held down Prussia like a conquered province, and shattered into fragments the holy Roman Empire.
In 1812 the British Navy was at the zenith of its glory. It had not only defeated all its opponents; it had also swept the seas of the fleets of the historic maritime powers—of Spain, of France, which had absorbed the Italian maritime states, of the Netherlands, of Denmark. Warfare, nearly continuous for eighteen, and uninterrupted for nine years, had transformed the British Navy into an organisation more nearly resembling a permanently maintained force than it had been throughout its previous history. Its long employment in serious hostilities had saved it from some of the failings which the narrow spirit inherent in a close profession is only too sure to foster. It had, however, a confidence—not unjustified by its previous exploits—in its own invincibility. This confidence did not diminish, and was not less ostentatiously exhibited, as its great achievements receded more and more into the past. The new enemy who now appeared on the farther side of the Atlantic was not considered formidable. In the British Navy there were 145,000 men. In the United States Navy the number of officers, seamen, and marines available for ocean service was less than 4500—an insignificant numerical addition to the enemies with whom we were already contending. The subsequent and rapid increase in the American personnel to 18,000 shows the small extent to which it could be considered a 'regular' force, its permanent nucleus being overwhelmingly outnumbered by the hastily enrolled additions. Our defeats in the war of 1812 have been greatly exaggerated; but, all the same, they did constitute rebuffs to our naval self-esteem which were highly significant in themselves, and deserve deep attention. Rebuffs of the kind were not confined to the sea service, and at New Orleans our army, which numbered in its ranks soldiers of Busaco, Fuentes de Onoro, and Salamanca, met with a serious defeat.
When the Austro-Prussian war broke out in 1866, the Austrian commander-in-chief, General Benedek, published an order, probably still in the remembrance of many, which officially declared the contempt for the enemy felt in the Imperial army. Even those who perceived that the Prussian forces were not fit subjects of contempt counted with confidence on the victory of the Austrians. Yet the latter never gained a considerable success in their combats with the Prussians; and within a few weeks from the beginning of hostilities the general who had assumed such a lofty tone of superiority in speaking of his foes had to implore his sovereign to make peace to avoid further disasters.
At the beginning of the Franco-German war of 1870, the widespread anticipation of French victories was clearly shown by the unanimity with which the journalists of various nationalities illustrated their papers with maps giving the country between the French frontier and Berlin, and omitting the part of France extending to Paris. In less than five weeks from the opening of hostilities events had made it certain that a map of the country to the eastward of Lorraine would be practically useless to a student of the campaign, unless it were to follow the route of the hundreds of thousands of French soldiers who were conveyed to Germany as prisoners of war.
It is to be specially noted that in the above enumeration only contests in which the result was unexpected—unexpected not only by the beaten side but also by impartial observers—have been specified. In all wars one side or the other is defeated; and it has not been attempted to give a general resume of the history of war. The object has been to show the frequency—in all ages and in all circumstances of systematic, as distinguished from savage, warfare—of the defeat of the force which by general consent was regarded as certain to win. Now it is obvious that a result so frequently reappearing must have a distinct cause, which is well worth trying to find out. Discovery of the cause may enable us to remove it in the future, and thus prevent results which are likely to be all the more disastrous because they have not been foreseen.
Professional military writers—an expression which, as before explained, includes naval—do not help us much in the prosecution of the search which is so eminently desirable. As a rule, they have contrived rather to hide than to bring to light the object sought for. It would be doing them injustice to assume that this has been done with deliberate intention. It is much more likely due to professional bias, which exercises over the minds of members of definitely limited professions incessant and potent domination. When alluding to occurrences included in the enumeration given above, they exhibit signs of a resolve to defend their profession against possible imputations of inefficiency, much more than a desire to get to the root of the matter. This explains the unremitting eagerness of military writers to extol the special qualities developed by long-continued service habits and methods. They are always apprehensive of the possibility of credit being given to fighting bodies more loosely organised and less precisely trained in peace time than the body to which they themselves belong.
This sensitiveness as to the merits of their particular profession, and impatience of even indirect criticism, are unnecessary. There is nothing in the history of war to show that an untrained force is better than a trained force. On the contrary, all historical evidence is on the other side. In quite as many instances as are presented by the opposite, the forces which put an unexpected end to the military supremacy long possessed by their antagonists were themselves, in the strictest sense of the word, 'regulars.' The Thebans whom Epaminondas led to victory over the Spartans at Leuctra no more resembled a hasty levy of armed peasants or men imperfectly trained as soldiers than did Napoleon's army which overthrew the Prussians at Jena, or the Germans who defeated the French at Gravelotte and Sedan. Nothing could have been less like an 'irregular' force than the fleet with which La Galissonniere beat Byng off Minorca, or the French fleets which, in the war of American Independence, so often disappointed the hopes of the British. The records of war on land and by sea—especially the extracts from them included in the enumeration already given—lend no support to the silly suggestion that efficient defence can be provided for a country by 'an untrained man with a rifle behind a hedge.' The truth is that it was not the absence of organisation or training on one side which enabled it to defeat the other. If the beaten side had been elaborately organised and carefully trained, there must have been something bad in its organisation or its methods.
Now this 'something bad,' this defect—wherever it has disclosed itself—has been enough to neutralise the most splendid courage and the most unselfish devotion. It has been seen that armies and navies the valour of which has never been questioned have been defeated by antagonists sometimes as highly organised as they were, and sometimes much less so. This ought to put us on the track of the cause which has produced an effect so little anticipated. A 'regular' permanently embodied or maintained service of fighting men is always likely to develop a spirit of intense professional self-satisfaction. The more highly organised it is, and the more sharply its official frontiers are defined, the more intense is this spirit likely to become. A 'close' service of the kind grows restive at outside criticism, and yields more and more to the conviction that no advance in efficiency is possible unless it be the result of suggestions emanating from its own ranks. Its view of things becomes narrower and narrower, whereas efficiency in war demands the very widest view. Ignorant critics call the spirit thus engendered 'professional conservatism'; the fact being that change is not objected to—is even welcomed, however frequent it may be, provided only that it is suggested from inside. An immediate result is 'unreality and formalism of peace training'—to quote a recent thoughtful military critic.
As the formalism becomes more pronounced, so the unreality increases. The proposer or introducer of a system of organisation of training or of exercises is often, perhaps usually, capable of distinguishing between the true and the false, the real and the unreal. His successors, the men who continue the execution of his plans, can hardly bring to their work the open mind possessed by the originator; they cannot escape from the influence of the methods which have been provided for them ready made, and which they are incessantly engaged in practising. This is not a peculiarity of the military profession in either branch—it extends to nearly every calling; but in the profession specified, which is a service rather than a freely exercised profession, it is more prominent. Human thought always has a tendency to run in grooves, and in military institutions the grooves are purposely made deep, and departure from them rigorously forbidden. All exercises, even those designed to have the widest scope, tend to become mere drill. Each performance produces, and bequeaths for use on the next occasion, a set of customary methods of execution which are readily adopted by the subsequent performers. There grows up in time a kind of body of customary law governing the execution of peace operations—the principles being peace-operation principles wholly and solely—which law few dare to disobey, and which eventually obtains the sanction of official written regulations. As Scharnhorst, quoted by Baron von der Goltz, said, 'We have begun to place the art of war higher than military virtues.' The eminent authority who thus expressed himself wrote the words before the great catastrophe of Jena; and, with prophetic insight sharpened by his fear of the menacing tendency of peace-training formalism and unreality, added his conviction that 'this has been the ruin of nations from time immemorial.'
Independently of the evidence of history already adduced, it would be reasonable to conclude that the tendency is strengthened and made more menacing when the service in which it prevails becomes more highly specialised. If custom and regulation leave little freedom of action to the individual members of an armed force, the difficulty—sure to be experienced by them—of shaking themselves clear of their fetters when the need for doing so arises is increased. To realise—when peace is broken—the practical conditions of war demands an effort of which the unfettered intelligence alone seems capable. The great majority of successful leaders in war on both elements have not been considerably, or at all, superior in intellectual acuteness to numbers of their fellows; but they have had strength of character, and their minds were not squeezed in a mould into a commonplace and uniform pattern.
The 'canker of a long peace,' during recent years at any rate, is not manifested in disuse of arms, but in mistaken methods. For a quarter of a century the civilised world has tended more and more to become a drill-ground, but the spirit dominating it has been that of the pedant. There has been more exercise and less reality. The training, especially of officers, becomes increasingly scholastic. This, and the deterioration consequent on it, are not merely modern phenomena. They appear in all ages. 'The Sword of the Saracens,' says Gibbon, 'became less formidable when their youth was drawn from the camp to the college.' The essence of pedantry is want of originality. It is nourished on imitation. For the pedant to imitate is enough of itself; to him the suitability of the model is immaterial. Thus military bodies have been ruined by mimicry of foreign arrangements quite inapplicable to the conditions of the mimics' country. More than twenty years ago Sir Henry Maine, speaking of the war of American Independence, said, 'Next to their stubborn valour, the chief secret of the colonists' success was the incapacity of the English generals, trained in the stiff Prussian system soon to perish at Jena, to adapt themselves to new conditions of warfare.' He pointed out that the effect of this uncritical imitation of what was foreign was again experienced by men 'full of admiration of a newer German system.' We may not be able to explain what it is, but, all the same, there does exist something which we call national characteristics. The aim of all training should be to utilise these to the full, not to ignore them. The naval methods of a continental state with relatively small oceanic interests, or with but a brief experience of securing these, cannot be very applicable to a great maritime state whose chief interests have been on the seas for many years.
How is all this applicable to the ultimate efficiency of the British Navy? It may be allowed that there is a good deal of truth in what has been written above; but it may be said that considerations sententiously presented cannot claim to have much practical value so long as they are absolute and unapplied. The statement cannot be disputed. It is unquestionably necessary to make the application. The changes in naval materiel, so often spoken of, introduced within the last fifty years have been rivalled by the changes in the composition of the British Navy. The human element remains in original individual character exactly the same as it always was; but there has been a great change in the opportunities and facilities offered for the development of the faculties most desired in men-of-war's men. All reform—using the word in its true sense of alteration, and not in its strained sense of improvement—has been in the direction of securing perfect uniformity. If we take the particular directly suggested by the word just used, we may remember, almost with astonishment, that there was no British naval uniform for anyone below the rank of officer till after 1860. Now, at every inspection, much time is taken up in ascertaining if the narrow tape embroidery on a frock collar is of the regulation width, and if the rows of tape are the proper distance apart. The diameter of a cloth cap is officially defined; and any departure from the regulation number of inches (and fractions of an inch) is as sure of involving punishment as insubordination.
It is the same in greater things. Till 1853—in which year the change came into force—there was no permanent British naval service except the commissioned and warrant officers. Not till several years later did the new 'continuous service' men equal half of the bluejacket aggregate. Now, every bluejacket proper serves continuously, and has been in the navy since boyhood. The training of the boys is made uniform. No member of the ship's company—except a domestic—is now allowed to set foot on board a sea-going ship till he has been put through a training course which is exactly like that through which every other member of his class passes. Even during the comparatively brief period in which young officers entered the navy by joining the college at Portsmouth, it was only the minority who received the special academic training. Till the establishment of the Illustrious training school in 1855, the great majority of officers joined their first ship as individuals from a variety of different and quite independent quarters. Now, every one of them has, as a preliminary condition, to spend a certain time—the same for all—in a school. Till a much later period, every engineer entered separately. Now, passing through a training establishment is obligatory for engineers also.
Within the service there has been repeated formation of distinct branches or 'schools,' such as the further specialised specialist gunnery and torpedo sections. It was not till 1860 that uniform watch bills, quarter bills, and station bills were introduced, and not till later that their general adoption was made compulsory. Up to that time the internal organisation and discipline of a ship depended on her own officers, it being supposed that capacity to command a ship implied, at least, capacity to distribute and train her crew. The result was a larger scope than is now thought permissible for individual capability. However short-lived some particular drill or exercise may be, however soon it is superseded by another, as long as it lasts the strictest conformity to it is rigorously enforced. Even the number of times that an exercise has to be performed, difference in class of ship or in the nature of the service on which she is employed notwithstanding, is authoritatively laid down. Still more noteworthy, though much less often spoken of than the change in materiel, has been the progress of the navy towards centralisation. Naval duties are now formulated at a desk on shore, and the mode of carrying them out notified to the service in print. All this would have been quite as astonishing to the contemporaries of Nelson or of Exmouth and Codrington as the aspect of a battleship or of a 12-inch breech-loading gun.
Let it be clearly understood that none of these things has been mentioned with the intention of criticising them either favourably or unfavourably. They have been cited in order that it may be seen that the change in naval affairs is by no means one in materiel only, and that the transformation in other matters has been stupendous and revolutionary beyond all previous experience. It follows inevitably from this that we shall wage war in future under conditions dissimilar from any hitherto known. In this very fact there lies the making of a great surprise. It will have appeared from the historical statement given above how serious a surprise sometimes turns out to be. Its consequences, always significant, are not unfrequently far-reaching. The question of practical moment is: How are we to guard ourselves against such a surprise? To this a satisfactory answer can be given. It might be summarised in the admonitions: abolish over-centralisation; give proper scope to individual capacity and initiative; avoid professional self-sufficiency.
When closely looked at, it is one of the strangest manifestations of the spirit of modern navies that, though the issues of land warfare are rarely thought instructive, the peace methods of land forces are extensively and eagerly copied by the sea-service. The exercises of the parade ground and the barrack square are taken over readily, and so are the parade ground and the barrack square themselves. This may be right. The point is that it is novel, and that a navy into the training of which the innovation has entered must differ considerably from one that was without it and found no need of it during a long course of serious wars. At any rate, no one will deny that parade-ground evolutions and barrack-square drill expressly aim at the elimination of individuality, or just the quality to the possession of which we owe the phenomenon called, in vulgar speech, the 'handy man.' Habits and sentiments based on a great tradition, and the faculties developed by them, are not killed all at once; but innovation in the end annihilates them, and their not having yet entirely disappeared gives no ground for doubting their eventual, and even near, extinction. The aptitudes still universally most prized in the seaman were produced and nourished by practices and under conditions no longer allowed to prevail. Should we lose those aptitudes, are we likely to reach the position in war gained by our predecessors?
For the British Empire the matter is vital: success in maritime war, decisive and overwhelming, is indispensable to our existence. We have to consider the desirability of 'taking stock' of our moral, as well as of our material, naval equipment: to ascertain where the accumulated effect of repeated innovations has carried us. The mere fact of completing the investigation will help us to rate at their true value the changes which have been introduced; will show us what to retain, what to reject, and what to substitute. There is no essential vagueness in these allusions. If they seem vague, it is because the moment for particularising has not yet come. The public opinion of the navy must first be turned in the right direction. It must be led to question the soundness of the basis on which many present methods rest. Having once begun to do this, we shall find no difficulty in settling, in detail and with precision, what the true elements of naval efficiency are.
THE HISTORICAL RELATIONS BETWEEN THE NAVY AND THE MERCHANT SERVICE
[Footnote 59: Written in 1898. (_The_Times_.)]
The regret, often expressed, that the crews of British merchant ships now include a large proportion of foreigners, is founded chiefly on the apprehension that a well-tested and hitherto secure recruiting ground for the navy is likely to be closed. It has been stated repeatedly, and the statement has been generally accepted without question, that in former days, when a great expansion of our fleet was forced on us by the near approach of danger, we relied upon the ample resources of our merchant service to complete the manning of our ships of war, even in a short time, and that the demands of the navy upon the former were always satisfied. It is assumed that compliance with those demands was as a rule not voluntary, but was enforced by the press-gang. The resources, it is said, existed and were within reach, and the method employed in drawing upon them was a detail of comparatively minor importance; our merchant ships were manned by native-born British seamen, of whom tens of thousands were always at hand, so that if volunteers were not forthcoming the number wanted could be 'pressed' into the Royal service. It is lamented that at the present day the condition of affairs is different, that the presence in it of a large number of foreigners forbids us to regard with any confidence the merchant service as an adequate naval recruiting ground in the event of war, even though we are ready to substitute for the system of 'impressment'—which is now considered both undesirable and impossible—rewards likely to attract volunteers. The importance of the subject need not be dwelt upon. The necessity to a maritime state of a powerful navy, including abundant resources for manning it, is now no more disputed than the law of gravitation. If the proportion of foreigners in our merchant service is too high it is certainly deplorable; and if, being already too high, that proportion is rising, an early remedy is urgently needed. I do not propose to speak here of that matter, which is grave enough to require separate treatment.
My object is to present the results of an inquiry into the history of the relations between the navy and the merchant service, from which will appear to what extent the latter helped in bringing the former up to a war footing, how far its assistance was affected by the presence in it of any foreign element, and in what way impressment ensured or expedited the rendering of the assistance. The inquiry has necessarily been largely statistical; consequently the results will often be given in a statistical form. This has the great advantage of removing the conclusions arrived at from the domain of mere opinion into that of admitted fact. The statistics used are those which have not been, and are not likely to be, questioned. It is desirable that this should be understood, because official figures have not always commanded universal assent. Lord Brougham, speaking in the House of Lords in 1849 of tables issued by the Board of Trade, said that a lively impression prevailed 'that they could prove anything and everything'; and in connection with them he adopted some unnamed person's remark, 'Give me half an hour and the run of the multiplication table and I'll engage to payoff the National Debt.' In this inquiry there has been no occasion to use figures relating to the time of Lord Brougham's observations. We will take the last three great maritime wars in which our country has been engaged. These were: the war of American Independence, the war with Revolutionary France to the Peace of Amiens, and the war with Napoleon. The period covered by these three contests roughly corresponds to the last quarter of the eighteenth and the first fifteen years of the nineteenth century. In each of the three wars there was a sudden and large addition to the number of seamen in the navy; and in each there were considerable annual increases as the struggle continued. It must be understood that we shall deal with the case of seamen only; the figures, which also were large, relating to the marines not being included in our survey because it has never been contended that their corps looked to the merchant service for any appreciable proportion of its recruits. In taking note of the increase of seamen voted for any year it will be necessary to make allowance also for the 'waste' of the previous year. The waste, even in the latter part of the last century, was large. Commander Robinson, in his valuable work, 'The British Fleet,' gives details showing that the waste during the Seven Years' war was so great as to be truly shocking. In 1895 Lord Brassey (_Naval_Annual_) allowed for the _personnel_ of the navy, even in these days of peace and advanced sanitary science, a yearly waste of 5 per cent., a percentage which is, I expect, rather lower than that officially accepted. We may take it as certain that, during the three serious wars above named, the annual waste was never less than 6 per cent. This is, perhaps, to put it too low; but it is better to understate the case than to appear to exaggerate it. The recruiting demand, therefore, for a year of increased armament will be the sum of the increase in men _plus_ the waste on the previous year's numbers.
The capacity of the British merchant service to supply what was demanded would, of course, be all the greater the smaller the number of foreigners it contained in its ranks. This is not only generally admitted at the present day; it is also frequently pointed out when it is asserted that the conditions now are less favourable than they were owing to a recent influx of foreign seamen. The fact, however, is that there were foreigners on board British merchant ships, and, it would seem, in considerable numbers, long before even the war of American Independence. By 13 George II, c. 3, foreigners, not exceeding three-fourths of the crew, were permitted in British vessels, 'and in two years to be naturalised.' By 13 George II, c. 17, exemption from impressment was granted to 'every person, being a foreigner, who shall serve in any merchant ship, or other trading vessel or privateer belonging to a subject of the Crown of Great Britain.' The Acts quoted were passed about the time of the 'Jenkins' Ear War' and the war of the Austrian Succession; but the fact that foreigners were allowed to form the majority of a British vessel's crew is worthy of notice. The effect and, probably, the object of this legislation were not so much to permit foreign seamen to enter our merchant service as to permit the number of those already there to be increased. It was in 1759 that Lord, then Commander, Duncan reported that the crew of the hired merchant ship _Royal_ _Exchange_ consisted 'to a large extent of boys and foreigners, many of whom could not speak English.' In 1770 by 11 George III, c. 3, merchant ships were allowed to have three-fourths of their crews foreigners till the 1st February 1772. Acts permitting the same proportion of foreign seamen and extending the time were passed in 1776, 1778, 1779, 1780, 1781, and 1782. A similar Act was passed in 1792. It was in contemplation to reduce the foreign proportion, after the war, to one-fourth. In 1794 it was enacted (34 George III, c. 68), 'for the encouragement of British seamen,' that after the expiration of six months from the conclusion of the war, vessels in the foreign, as distinguished from the coasting, trade were to have their commanders and three-fourths of their crews British subjects. From the wording of the Act it seems to have been taken for granted that the proportion of three-fourths _bona_fide_ British-born seamen was not likely to be generally exceeded. It will have been observed that in all the legislation mentioned, from the time of George II downwards, it was assumed as a matter of course that there were foreign seamen on board our merchant vessels. The United States citizens in the British Navy, about whom there was so much discussion on the eve of the war of 1812, came principally from our own merchant service, and not direct from the American. It is remarkable that, until a recent date, the presence of foreigners in British vessels, even in time of peace, was not loudly or generally complained of. Mr. W. S. Lindsay, writing in 1876, stated that the throwing open the coasting trade in 1855 had 'neither increased on the average the number of foreigners we had hitherto been allowed to employ in our ships, nor deteriorated the number and quality of British seamen.' I have brought forward enough evidence to show that, as far as the merchant service was the proper recruiting ground for the British Navy, it was not one which was devoid of a considerable foreign element.
We may, nevertheless, feel certain that that element never amounted to, and indeed never nearly approached, three-fourths of the whole number of men employed in our 'foreign-going' vessels. For this, between 50,000 and 60,000 men would have been required, at least in the last of the three wars above mentioned. If all the foreign mercantile marines at the present day, when nearly all have been so largely increased, were to combine, they could not furnish the number required after their own wants had been satisfied. During the period under review some of the leading commercial nations were at war with us; so that few, if any, seamen could have come to us from them. Our custom-house statistics indicate an increase in the shipping trade of the neutral nations sufficient to have rendered it impossible for them to spare us any much larger number of seamen. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to resist the conclusion that during the wars the composition of our merchant service remained nearly what it was during peace. It contained a far from insignificant proportion of foreigners; and that proportion was augmented, though by no means enormously, whilst war was going on. This leads us to the further conclusion that, if our merchant service supplied the navy with many men, it could recover only a small part of the number from foreign countries. In fact, any that it could give it had to replace from our own population almost exclusively.
The question now to be considered is, What was the capacity of the merchant service for supplying the demands of the navy? In the year 1770 the number of seamen voted for the navy was 11,713. Owing to a fear of a difficulty with Spain about the Falkland Islands, the number for the following year was suddenly raised to 31,927. Consequently, the increase was 20,214, which, added to the 'waste' on the previous year, made the whole naval demand about 21,000. We have not got statistics of the seamen of the whole British Empire for this period, but we have figures which will enable us to compute the number with sufficient accuracy for the purpose in hand. In England and Wales there were some 59,000 seamen, and those of the rest of the empire amounted to about 21,000. Large as the 'waste' was in the Royal Navy, it was, and still is, much larger in the merchant service. We may safely put it at 8 per cent. at least. Therefore, simply to keep up its numbers—80,000—the merchant service would have had to engage fully 6400 fresh hands. In view of these figures, it is difficult to believe that it could have furnished the navy with 21,000 men, or, indeed, with any number approximating thereto. It could not possibly have done so without restricting its operations, if only for a time. So far were its operations from shrinking that they were positively extended. The English tonnage 'cleared outwards' from our ports was for the years mentioned as follows: 1770, 703,495; 1771, 773,390; 1772 818,108.
Owing to the generally slow rate of sailing when on voyages and to the great length of time taken in unloading and reloading abroad—both being often effected 'in the stream' and with the ship's own boats—the figures for clearances outward much more nearly represented the amount of our 'foreign-going' tonnage a century ago than similar figures would now in these days of rapid movement. After 1771 the navy was reduced and kept at a relatively low standard till 1775. In that year the state of affairs in America rendered an increase of our naval forces necessary. In 1778 we were at war with France; in 1779 with Spain as well; and in December 1780 we had the Dutch for enemies in addition. In September 1783 we were again at peace. The way in which we had to increase the navy will be seen in the following table:—
- Total Seamen additional voted for number Year. the navy Increase. 'Waste.' required. - 1774 15,646 1775 18,000 2,354 936 3,290 1776 21,335 3,335 1,080 4,415 1777 34,871 13,536 1,278 14,184 1778 48,171 13,300 2,088 15,388 1779 52,611 4,440 2,886 7,326 1780 66,221 13,610 3,156 16,766 1781 69,683 3,462 3,972 7,434 1782 78,695 9,012 4,176 13,188 1783 84,709 6,014 4,722 10,736 -
It cannot be believed that the merchant service, with its then dimensions, could have possibly satisfied these great and repeated demands, besides making up its own 'waste,' unless its size were much reduced. After 1777, indeed, there was a considerable fall in the figures of English tonnage 'outwards.' I give these figures down to the first year of peace.
1777 736,234 tons 'outwards.' 1778 657,238 " " 1779 590,911 " " 1780 619,462 " " 1781 547,953 " " 1782 552,851 " " 1783 795,669 " " 1784 846,355 " "
At first sight it would seem as if there had, indeed, been a shrinkage. We find, however, on further examination that in reality there had been none. 'During the [American] war the ship-yards in every port of Britain were full of employment; and consequently new ship-yards were set up in places where ships had never been built before.' Even the diminution in the statistics of outward clearances indicated no diminution in the number of merchant ships or their crews. The missing tonnage was merely employed elsewhere. 'At this time there were about 1000 vessels of private property employed by the Government as transports and in other branches of the public service.' Of course there had been some diminution due to the transfer of what had been British-American shipping to a new independent flag. This would not have set free any men to join the navy.
When we come to the Revolutionary war we find ourselves confronted with similar conditions. The case of this war has often been quoted as proving that in former days the navy had to rely practically exclusively on the merchant service when expansion was necessary. In giving evidence before a Parliamentary committee about fifty years ago, Admiral Sir T. Byam Martin, referring to the great increase of the fleet in 1793, said, 'It was the merchant service that enabled us to man some sixty ships of the line and double that number of frigates and smaller vessels.' He added that we had been able to bring promptly together 'about 35,000 or 40,000 men of the mercantile marine.' The requirements of the navy amounted, as stated by the admiral, to about 40,000 men; to be exact, 39,045. The number of seamen in the British Empire in 1793 was 118,952. In the next year the number showed no diminution; in fact it increased, though but slightly, to 119,629. How our merchant service could have satisfied the above-mentioned immense demand on it in addition to making good its waste and then have even increased is a thing that baffles comprehension. No such example of elasticity is presented by any other institution. Admiral Byam Martin spoke so positively, and, indeed, with such justly admitted authority, that we should have to give up the problem as insoluble were it not for other passages in the admiral's own evidence. It may be mentioned that all the witnesses did not hold his views. Sir James Stirling, an officer of nearly if not quite equal authority, differed from him. In continuation of his evidence Sir T. Byam Martin stated that afterwards the merchant service could give only a small and occasional supply, as ships arrived from foreign ports or as apprentices grew out of their time. Now, during the remaining years of this war and throughout the Napoleonic war, great as were the demands of the navy, they only in one year, that of the rupture of the Peace of Amiens, equalled the demand at the beginning of the Revolutionary war. From the beginning of hostilities till the final close of the conflict in 1815 the number of merchant seamen fell only once—viz. in 1795, the fall being 3200. In 1795, however, the demand for men for the navy was less than half that of 1794. The utmost, therefore, that Sir T. Byam Martin desired to establish was that, on a single occasion in an unusually protracted continuance of war, the strength of our merchant service enabled it to reinforce the navy up to the latter's requirements; but its doing so prevented it from giving much help afterwards. All the same, men in large numbers had to be found for the navy yearly for a long time. This will appear from the tables which follow:—
- Total Seamen additional voted for number Year. the navy Increase. 'Waste.' required. - 1794 72,885 36,885 2,160 39,045 1795 85,000 12,115 4,368 16,483 1796 92,000 7,000 5,100 12,100 1797 100,000 8,000 5,520 13,520 1798 100,000 6,000 6,000 1799 100,000 6,000 6,000 1800 97,300 1801 105,000 7,700 Absorbed 7,700 by previous reduction. -
- Total Seamen additional voted for number Year. the navy Increase. 'Waste.' required. - /38,000 1803 77,600/ 39,600 39,600 1804 78,000 400 3,492 3,892 (for nine months) 1805 90,000 12,000 4,680 16,680 1806 91,000 1,000 5,400 6,400 1807 98,600 7,600 5,460 13,060 1808 98,600 5,460 5,460 1809 98,600 5,460 5,460 1810 113,600 15,000 5,460 20,460 1811 113,600 6,816 6,816 1812 113,600 6,816 6,816 1813 108,600 Reduction /86,000 1814 74,000/ Do. -