"Your explanation is obvious, Herr Admiral; nevertheless, it seems to me that our enemy must have neglected to take the necessary precautions in keeping a look-out."
"Your Excellency must not draw an offhand comparison between operations on land and on sea. The conditions in the latter are essentially different. I do not doubt for a moment that there is a sufficient number of English scouts in the North Sea; if we have really escaped their notice, the fortune of war has been favourable to us. I may tell Your Excellency that, even during our manoeuvres in the Baltic, where we know the course as well as the speed and strength of the marked enemy, he has sometimes succeeded in making his way through, unseen by our scouts. Perhaps this will mitigate your judgment of this apparent want of foresight on the part of the English."
At last, on the evening of the 16th of July, land was reported by the Konig Wilhelm. The end of the journey was in sight, and the news spread rapidly that it was the coast of Scotland rising from the waves.
"We are going to enter the Firth of Forth," was the general opinion. Even the brave soldiers, who perhaps heard the name for the first time in their lives, repeated the word with as important an air as if all the secrets of the military staff had been all at once revealed to them.
In the red light of the setting sun both shores appeared tinged with violet from the deep-blue sky and the grey-blue sea, the north shore being further off than the south. Favoured by a calm sea, the squadron, extended in close order to a distance of about five knots, made for the entrance of the Firth of Forth.
Full of expectation, the expeditionary army saw the vast, bold undertaking develop before its eyes. For nine hundred years no hostile army had landed on the coast of England. Certainly, in ancient times Britain had had to fight against invading enemies: Julius Caesar had entered as a conqueror, Canute the Great, King of Denmark, had subdued the country. The Angles and Saxons had come over from Germany, to make themselves masters of the land. Harold the Fairhaired, King of Norway, had landed in England. But since the time of William of Normandy, who defeated the Saxons at Hastings and set up the rule of the Normans in England, not even her most powerful enemies, neither Philip of Spain nor the great Napoleon, had succeeded in landing their troops on the sea-girt soil of England.
Would a German army now succeed?
The outlines of the country became clearer and clearer; some even believed they could see the lofty height of Edinburgh Castle on the horizon. But soon the distant view was obscured and darkness slowly came on.
Hitherto not a single hostile ship had been seen. But now, when the greater part of the squadron had already entered the bay, the searchlights discovered two English cruisers whose presence had already been reported by the advance boats of the torpedo division.
In view of our great superiority, these cruisers declined battle, and by hauling down their flag, signified their readiness to surrender. From the sea, nothing remained to hinder the landing of the troops. The transports approached the south shore of the bay, on which Edinburgh and the harbour town of Leith are situated; and, after casting anchor, landed the troops in boats by the electric light. The infantry immediately occupied the positions favourable to meet any attack that might be made. But nothing happened to prevent the landing. The Scottish population remained perfectly calm, so that the disembarkation was completed without disturbance.
The population of Leith and the inhabitants of Edinburgh, who had hurried up full of curiosity, beheld, to their boundless astonishment, a spectacle almost incomprehensible to them, carried out with admirable precision under the bright electric light from the German ships.
The people had taken the keenest interest in the great war of England against the allied Powers—Germany, France, and Russia—but with a feeling that it was a matter which chiefly concerned the Government, the Army, and the Navy. They were painfully aware that things were going worse and worse for them, but were convinced that the Government would soon overthrow the enemy. Everyone knew that the Russians had penetrated into India, but the great mass of the people did not trouble about that. It could only be a passing misfortune, and trade, which was at present ruined, would soon revive and be all the more flourishing. But the idea that an enemy, a continental army, could land on the coast of Great Britain, that German or French soldiers could ever set foot on British soil, had seemed to Scotsmen so remote a contingency that they now appeared completely overcome by the logic of accomplished facts.
About noon on the following day the two army corps were already south of Leith. A brigade had been pushed forward towards the south; the rest of the troops had bivouacked, that the men might recuperate after their two days' sea journey.
The quartermasters had purchased provisions for ready money in the town, the villages, and the scattered farmhouses. The warships filled their bunkers from the abundant stock of English coal, guardships being detached to ensure the safety of the squadron. The Admiral had ordered that, after coaling, the warships should take up a position at the entrance to the bay, the transports remaining in the harbour. In the possible event of the appearance of a superior English squadron the whole fleet was to leave the Firth of Forth as rapidly as possible and disperse in all directions. Certainly in that case the army would be deprived of the means of returning, but the military authorities were convinced that the appearance of an army of 60,000 German troops on British soil would practically mean the end of the war, especially as an equally strong French corps was to land in the south. The military authorities consequently thought they need not trouble themselves further about the possibility of the troops having to return.
The garrison of Edinburgh had surrendered without resistance, since it would have been far too weak to offer any opposition to the invading army. Accordingly the German officers and soldiers could move about in the town without hindrance. A number of despatches and fresh war bulletins were found which threw some light upon the strategic position, although they were partly obscure, and partly contained obvious falsehoods.
A great naval battle was said to have taken place off Flushing on the 15th of July, ending in the retreat of the German and French fleets with heavy losses. It was further reported that the British fleet had destroyed Flushing and bombarded several of the Antwerp forts. Lastly, according to the newspapers, the English fleet which had been stationed before Copenhagen had entered Kid harbour and captured all the German ships inside, the loss of the English battleships at the Kieler Fohrde being admitted. The German officers were convinced that only the report of the loss of the two battleships deserved credit, since the English would hardly have invented such bad news. Everything else, from the position of things, bore the stamp of improbability on the face of it.
The trumpets blew, the soldiers grasped their arms, the battalions began their march. The batteries clattered along with a dull rumble. In four columns, by four routes, side by side the four divisions started for the south.
THE BATTLE OF FLUSHING
The strategy of red tape, by which the Commander-in-Chief's hands were tied, was destined, as in so many previous campaigns, to prove on this occasion also a fatal error to the English.
Sir Percy Domvile, the British admiral, had received with silent rage the order of battle communicated to him from London—the same order that had fallen into the hands of the Germans. More than once already he had attempted to show the Lords of the Admiralty what injury might be caused by being tied to strict written orders in situations that could not be foreseen. He now held in his own hands the proof how little the officials, pervaded by the consciousness of their own importance and superior wisdom, were disposed to allow themselves to be taught. But he was too much of a service-man not to acquiesce in the orders of the supreme court with unquestioning obedience. Certainly, if he had been able to gauge in advance the far-reaching consequences of the mistake already committed, he would probably, as a patriot, rather have sacrificed himself than become the instrument for carrying out the fundamentally erroneous tactics of the plan of battle communicated to him. For more was now at stake than the proud British nation had ever risked before in a naval engagement. It was a question of England's prestige as the greatest naval power in the world, perhaps of the final issue of this campaign which had been so disastrous for Great Britain. All-powerful Albion, the dreaded mistress of the seas, was now fighting for honour and existence. A great battle lost might easily mean a blow from which the British lion, wounded to death, would never be able to recover.
. . . . . . .
At the time when the Konig Wilhelm entered the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal at the head of the German transport fleet, the Prince-Admiral, who had hoisted his flag on the Wittelsbach, led the fighting fleet from the harbour of Antwerp into the Zuid Bevelanden Canal, which connects the East and West Schelde, and separates the island of Walcheren from Zuid Bevelanden. Anchor was then cast.
His squadron consisted of the battleships of the Wittelsbach class—Mecklenburg, Schwaben, Zahringen, Wettin, and Wittelsbach (the flagship of the Prince-Admiral), and the battleships of the Kaiser class—Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, Barbarossa, Karl der Grosse, Wilhelm II., and Friedrich III.
These ironclads were accompanied by the large cruisers Friedrich Karl, Prinz Adalbert, Prinz Heinrich, Furst Bismarck, Viktoria Luise, Kaiserin Augusta, and the small cruisers Berlin, Hamburg, Bremen, Undine, Arcona, Frauenlob, and Medusa.
The torpedo flotilla at the Prince's disposal consisted of the torpedo-boats S 102 to 107, G 108 to 113, S 114 to 125, with the division boats D 10, D 9, D 7, and D 8, built on the scale of destroyers.
The three fast cruisers Friedrich Karl, Prinz Adalbert and Kaiserin Augusta, with the torpedo-boats S 114 to 120, had been sent on as scouts, to announce the approach of the enemy in good time. The cruisers had been ordered to post themselves thirty knots west-north-west of Flushing at intervals of five knots, while the torpedo-boats patrolled on all sides to keep a look-out. After having reported the approach of the English fleet to the main squadron by wireless telegraphy, the scouts were to retire before the enemy out of range into the West Schelde, and at the same time to keep up such a fire in their boilers that the clouds of thick smoke might deceive the enemy as to the size and number of the retiring ships. When out of sight of the English, they were to wheel round and show themselves, and, if circumstances permitted, take up the positions previously assigned them; otherwise they were to act according to circumstances.
The object of this manoeuvre, calculated to mislead the enemy, was completely attained.
A signal informed the Prince-Admiral that the English were in sight, and a torpedo-boat detached from the scouting squadron brought more exact information as to the number and formation of the enemy's ships—information which exactly corresponded with the instructions given in the order of battle, and was a fresh proof that it was intended to adhere to them.
This provided a sure foundation for the tactical operations of the German fleet. No alteration was necessary in the course of action decided upon at the council of war on the previous day, and no fresh instructions had to be issued to individual commanders.
The order of battle settled at this council of war ran, in the main, as follows:—
"The squadron will lie at anchor off Zuid-Beveland, fires banked, so that they can get up steam in a quarter of an hour. The battleships will anchor in double line, according to their tactical numbers. The cruisers between Nord-Beveland and Zuid-Beveland. The torpedo-boats with their division boats behind.
"At the signal 'weigh anchor' the ships carry out the order according to their tactical number; the battleships through the Roompot; the cruisers will re-enter the West Schelde through the canal and lie off Flushing athwart.
"The two other torpedo-boat divisions will accompany the squadron."
The course of events developed exactly in accordance with these dispositions.
When the approach of the enemy's ships was announced, the Prince-Admiral's flaghip signalled: "Weigh anchor! hoist top pennants! clear for action! follow in the Admiral's wake! cruiser division and torpedo-boats execute orders!"
Keeping close under the coast of Walcheren, the German squadron, full steam up, advanced to meet the enemy.
Meanwhile the approaching English, having left their hospital and munition ships and colliers in the open under the protection of the cruisers and taken up their appointed positions, opened fire at a distance of about 6,000 yards on Flushing and Fort Frederik Hendrik.
The English Admiral adhered so strictly to his instructions that, with an incomprehensible carelessness, he neglected to search the East Schelde with his second squadron, or even with his scouts. The entry of the German ships which had been sent back from the open into the West Schelde, evidently appeared to Sir Percy Domvile a sufficient confirmation of the assumption that the whole German fleet was in this arm of the river's mouth, for the clouds of smoke which they emitted rendered an accurate computation of their strength impossible.
Thus, the Prince-Admiral's squadron was enabled to approach the enemy so far unobserved that it would be able to take the British fleet in the flank, when it had reached the west point of Walcheren.
At the signal: "Full steam ahead!" the German ships in the formation agreed steamed against the surprised English, and opened fire from their bow-guns. Naturally, the English Admiral at once ordered the first squadron to take up its position behind the second, turned left with both, and went to meet the enemy in double line.
This was the opportune moment, foreseen in the Prince's plan of battle, for the advance of the cruisers lying in the West Schelde. In order to deceive the enemy as to their number, they rapidly approached, accompanied by the torpedo-boats which again sent up their clouds of smoke. The English Admiral, completely surprised by the double attack, was obliged to divide his attention.
Certainly this torpedo attack was still a hazardous undertaking, under existing conditions. The English shot well, and two German boats were sunk by the enemy's shells. Three others, however, hit their mark, damaging three of the English ships so severely that they were incapable of manoeuvring.
It was especially disadvantageous to the English that their torpedo-boats, owing to the unforeseen change in the formation of the battleships, were deprived of the necessary protection. The German destroyers were not slow to make full use of this favourable situation, and began to chase them. In this engagement, which the speed of the little vessels rendered especially exciting for those who took part in it, the pursuers succeeded in destroying four English torpedo-boats without themselves suffering any damage worth mentioning. The others escaped, and, for the time, might be regarded as out of action.
The enemy having altered his front, the Prince-Admiral had turned right about, so that he might enter into action with all the guns of one side. The English Admiral also doubled, but the manoeuvre proved the cause of a fatal misfortune. Whether the disturbance of the tactical unity by the loss of the three torpedoed vessels was the cause of it, or whether the first and second divisions were unaccustomed to manoeuvre together, the Formidable carried out orders so clumsily, that she was rammed amidships by her neighbour the Renown, and immediately heeled over and sunk in a few minutes, carrying hundreds of brave English sailors with her into the deep.
The Renown herself, whose ram had caused the fearful disaster, had not escaped without severe injury in the collision, which had shattered the mighty floating fortress in all its joints. The two first fore compartments, as the bulkheads did not hold together, had filled with water. This caused the vessel to heel over; her value as a fighting instrument was thereby sensibly diminished.
Thus the first great catastrophe in the battle was caused, not by the power of the enemy, but by the clumsy manoeuvring of a friendly ship. This naturally caused many of the spectators, deeply affected by the sinking of the magnificent vessel and her gallant crew, to ask themselves whether the great perfection attained in the construction of modern ships of war was not to a great extent counterbalanced by the defects that were combined with the increasing size and fighting strength of these gigantic ironclads. No ship of the line, no frigate, not even the little gunboat of earlier times could have disappeared from the line of battle so speedily and without leaving a trace behind as the Formidable, built of mighty dimensions and equipped with all the appliances of naval technique. No doubt her armour-plate and steel turrets would have been able successfully to resist a hail of the heaviest projectiles, but a misunderstood steering order had been sufficient to send her to the bottom. Neither the double bottoms nor the division of the bulkheads, which should have prevented the inrush of an excessive amount of water, had been able to avert the fate which threatens every modern ironclad when severely damaged below the water-line. The wooden ship of former times might have been riddled like a sieve without sinking. But the stability of a modern ironclad could be endangered by a single leak, whether caused by a torpedo or a ram, to such an extent that the gigantic mass of iron would be drawn down into the depths by its own weight in a few minutes.
A running fire now went on at a distance of about 2,000 yards, in which the superiority of the Krupp guns was as clearly manifested as the admirable training of the German artillerists, in which the English were far inferior. Certainly, the German ships also suffered various injuries, but no serious damage had as yet occurred.
The three torpedoed and helpless English warships offered especially favourable targets to the German cruisers. The latter, taking up positions at a suitable distance, kept up such a heavy fire upon the vessels, which could scarcely move, that their surrender was inevitable. But before deciding on this, the English offered an heroic resistance, and many of their shots took effect. The conning tower of the Friedrich Karl was pierced by a shell, and the brave commander with those around him found a glorious soldier's death. Other more or less serious injuries were sustained, and it was almost a miracle that no vital damage was done to any part of the ships' hulls.
After the three English ships had been put out of action, it was unnecessary for the cruiser division to remain any longer in this quarter of the scene of action. They accordingly proceeded with the utmost despatch to where the Prince-Admiral was engaged in the main fight with the battleships. Here, indeed, assistance was needed. For, although four of the enemy's ships were lost, the superiority in numbers still remained with the English, especially as the Mecklenburg had been obliged to sheer off, her steering gear having been shot to pieces.
When the English Admiral saw the cruisers approaching, so that they could bring all their bow-guns to bear at once, he recognised that the decisive moment was at hand.
The cruisers' guns inflicted severe damage on the English, for the crews had practised shooting rapidly at a gradually diminishing distance. The high deck structures of the battleships offered an admirable target, so that in the extended English line of battle nearly every shot took effect.
For Sir Percy Domvile rapid and energetic action now became a necessary condition of self-preservation. In the circumstances, the capture of the German fleet, which according to the order of battle was to be the object aimed at, was no longer to be thought of; the only thing left to the Admiral was to endeavour to destroy as many of the enemy's ships as possible. The British flagship signalled "Right about," and the commandants knew that this was as good as an order to ram the German ironclads.
But this manoeuvre, by which alone Sir Percy Domvile could meet the danger that threatened him in consequence of the attack from two sides, had been provided for by the Prince-Admiral. It had been taken into consideration at the council of war held on the previous evening, and each commander had received instructions as to the tactics to be pursued in such an event. A special signal had been agreed upon, and as soon as the English ironclads were observed wheeling round, it was hoisted on the Admiral's ship. Each of the German battleships immediately took up the position prescribed by the plan of battle. The squadron separated into two halves; the first division, wheeling into line behind the flagship, made "left about" with it, while the second division, also making "left about," took up its position between the left wing ship.
These tactics, quite unknown to him, were completely unexpected by the English Admiral. His purpose was entirely frustrated by the speedy and clever manoeuvre of the German ships, the plan of destruction failed, and his own ironclads, while proceeding athwart, had to stand a terrible fire right and left, which was especially disastrous to the two ships on the wings. Overwhelmed by a hail of light and heavy projectiles, and in addition hit by torpedoes, they were in a few minutes put out of action; one of them, the Victorious, sharing the fate of the unlucky Formidable, sank with its crew of more than 700 men beneath the waves.
But the youthful German fleet had also received its baptism of fire in this decisive battle.
All the means of destruction with which the modern art of war is acquainted were employed by each of the two opponents to snatch victory from his adversary. The shells of the heavy guns were combined with the projectiles of the lighter armament and the machine-guns posted in the fighting-tops, so that in the real sense of the word it was a "hail of projectiles," which came down in passing on the ships wrapped in smoke and steam.
Hermann Heideck had become so thoroughly familiar in India with the horrors of war on land in their various forms, that he believed his nerves were completely proof against the horrible sight of death and devastation. But the scenes which were being enacted around him in the comparatively narrow space of the magnificent flagship during this engagement, far surpassed in their awfulness everything that he had hitherto seen. Heideck was full of admiration for the heroic courage, contempt of death, and discipline of officers and men, not one of whom stirred a foot from the post assigned him.
As he only played the part of an inactive spectator in the drama that had now reached its climax, he was able to move freely over the ship. Wherever he went, the same spectacle of horrible destruction and heroic devotion to duty everywhere met his eye.
The men serving the guns in the turrets and casemates were enduring the pains of hell. In the low, ironclad chambers a fiery heat prevailed, which rendered even breathing difficult. The terrific noise and the superhuman excitement of the nerves seemed to have so dulled the men's senses, that they no longer had any clear idea of what was going on around them. Their faces did not wear that expression of rage and exasperation, which Heideck had seen in so many soldiers in the land battle at Lahore; rather, he observed a certain dull indifference, which could no longer be shaken by the horror of the situation.
A shell struck a battery before Heideck's eyes, exploded, and with its flying splinters struck down nearly all the men serving the guns. Happy were those who found death at once; for the injuries of those who writhed wounded on the ground were of a frightful nature. The red-hot pieces of iron, which tore the unhappy men's flesh and shattered their bones, at the same time inflicted fearful burns upon them. Indeed, Heideck would have regarded it as an act of humanity to have been allowed with a shot from a well-aimed revolver, to put an end to the sufferings of this or that unfortunate, whose skin and flesh hung in shreds from his body, or whose limbs were transformed into shapeless, bloody masses.
But those who had escaped injury, after a few moments' stupefaction, resumed their duty with the same mechanical precision as before. Amidst their dead and dying comrades, about whom nobody could trouble himself for the moment, they stood in the pools of warm, human blood, which made the deck slippery, and quietly served the gun which had not been seriously damaged.
A very young naval cadet, who had been sent down to the engine-room from the Prince-Admiral's conning-tower with an order, met Heideck on the narrow, suffocatingly hot passage. He was a slender, handsome youth with a delicate, boyish face. The blood was streaming over his eyes and cheeks from a wound in the forehead. He was obliged to lean with both hands against the wall for support, while, with a superhuman effort of will, he compelled his tottering knees to carry him forward, his sole thought being that he must keep upright until he had fulfilled his errand. When Heideck inquired sympathetically after the nature of his wound, he even attempted to wreathe his pale lips, quivering with pain, into a smile, for in spite of his seventeen years he felt himself at this moment quite a man and a soldier, to whom it was an honour and a delight to die for his country. But his heroic will was stronger than his body, wounded to death. In the attempt to assume an erect military bearing before the Major, he suddenly collapsed. He had just strength enough to give Heideck the Admiral's order and ask him to carry it out. Then his senses left him.
In another battery the store of ammunition had been exploded by a shell. Not a man had escaped alive. Heideck himself, although since the beginning of the engagement he had recklessly exposed himself to danger, had hitherto, by a miracle, escaped death that threatened him in a hundred different forms. He had been permitted, by express command of the Prince, to stay a considerable time in the upper conning-tower, from which the Imperial Admiral directed the battle, and the deliberate calmness of the supreme commander, steadily pursuing his object, had filled him with unshaken confidence in a victory for the German fleet, in spite of the numerical superiority of the English.
Ever since Heideck had heard the news of Edith Irwin's death from Brandelaar, all purely human feelings and sensations that connected him with life had died in his heart. He was no longer anything but the soldier, whose thoughts and efforts were filled exclusively with anxiety for the victory of his country's arms. All personal experiences were completely forgotten as if they had taken place ten years ago. At this moment, when the existence or extinction of nations was at stake, his own life was of so little importance to him that he was not even conscious of the foolhardy intrepidity with which he risked it at every step.
Majestic and powerful, sending forth death-dealing flashes from her turrets and portholes, the Wittelsbach had hitherto proceeded on her way, not heeding the wounds which the enemy's shot had inflicted in her hull. An almost thankful feeling for the glorious ship which carried him arose in Heideck's breast.
"You do honour to the great name you bear," he thought. Through smoke and steam he looked up at the conning-tower, where he knew the Prince-Admiral was. Then he saw it no more, for suddenly a thick, black cloud overspread his eyes. He had only felt a slight blow in his breast, but no pain. He tried to lift his hand to the place where he had been hit, but it sank powerlessly. It seemed as if he were being turned round in a circle by an invisible hand. Thousands of fiery sparks shot up suddenly from the dark cloud—the night closed completely round him—deep, impenetrable night, and still, solemn silence.
Major Hermann Heideck had found a hero's death.
. . . . . . .
A torpedo-boat that had been summoned by signal hurried up at full speed to the Admiral's flagship which was lying on her side. A broadside torpedo had struck the Wittelsbach; and although there was no fear of her sinking, it was impossible for operations to be directed from her any longer.
Regardless of the danger it involved, the Prince-Admiral had himself and his staff transferred by the torpedo-boat to the Zahringen, on which his flag was at once hoisted.
. . . . . . .
The progress of the engagement had hitherto been favourable to the German fleet to a surprising extent. Its losses were considerably less than those of its numerically far superior enemy, and its ships, with few exceptions, were still able to fight and manoeuvre. But as yet, considering the strength of the ships still at the enemy's disposal, it was too early to speak of a decision in favour of the German fleet. Although the clever manoeuvre of the German squadron had frustrated the intended attack of the English, and inflicted very considerable losses upon them, it might still be possible for Sir Percy Domvile to atone for his mistake and to bind the capricious fortune of war to his flag.
The same frightful scenes which Major Heideck had witnessed on board the Wittelsbach had also taken place on the other German battleships and cruisers. Blood flowed in rivers, and, if the murderous engagement continued much longer, the moment could not be far off when it would no longer be possible to fill the gaps caused by death in the ranks of the brave crews. A few luckily-aimed English torpedoes, and no genius in the supreme command, no heroism on the part of the captains, officers, and crew would have been able to avert disaster from the German arms.
Then, suddenly a fresh, apparently very powerful squadron, was sighted from the south-west, which, if it had proved to be a British reserve fleet, must have decided the victory at once in favour of the English.
The moments that passed until the question was definitely settled were moments of the keenest suspense and excitement for those on board the German vessels. The relief was so much the greater when it was seen to be no fresh hostile force, but Admiral Courtille's squadron, advancing at full speed, just at the right moment to decide the issue.
The state of affairs was now changed at one stroke so completely to the disadvantage of the English, that a British victory had become an impossibility. The intervention of the French squadron, still perfectly intact, consisting of ten battleships, ten large and ten small cruisers, was bound to bring about the annihilation of the English fleet. The English Admiral was quickwitted enough to gauge the situation correctly, as soon as he had recognised the approaching ships as the French fleet and assured himself of the enemy's strength. The orders given to form again for an attack were succeeded by fresh signals from the English flagship, ordering a rapid retreat. The English Admiral, regarding the battle as definitely lost, considered it his duty to save what could still be saved of the fleet under his charge. Before the French could actively intervene the English fleet steamed away at full speed to the north-west.
Thundering hurrahs on all the German ships acclaimed the victory announced by this retreat. The boats of the torpedo division and some swift cruisers were ordered to keep in touch with the fleeing enemy.
The French Admiral in command had gone on board the flagship Zahringen to place himself and his squadron under the command of the Prince-Admiral and to come to an arrangement as to the further joint operations of the combined fleets. For there was no doubt that the victory ought to be utilised at once to the fullest extent, if it were really to be decisive.
Deeply moved, the Prince embraced Admiral Courtille, and thanked him for appearing at the critical moment. The French Admiral, however, excused himself for intervening so late. "I was obliged," said he, "to wait till it was night and steer far out to the south-west before I could turn north; I had to do this, so as to be able to break through Prince Louis of Battenberg's blockading squadron without being seen, under cover of night."
Meanwhile, the scouts sent after the enemy had returned with the information that the English fleet had altered its course and appeared making for the Thames. Further pursuit was impossible, as the English Admiral had detached some ships, for which the German cruisers were not a match.
Previous arrangements had been made for transferring the dead and wounded to the ships signalled to for the purpose, and were carried out without great difficulty, the sea being now calmer. Now that the fearful battle had ceased, for the first time the crews became fully conscious of the horrors they had passed through. The rescue of the wounded showed what cruel sacrifices the battle had demanded. It was a difficult and melancholy task, which made many a sailor's heart beat with sorrow and compassion. The dead were for the most part horribly mangled by the splinters of the shells which had caused their death, and the injuries of the wounded, for whom the surgeons on board had, of course, only been able to provide first aid in the turmoil of battle, were nearly all so severe, that they could only be moved slowly.
After the German ships had signalled that they were again ready for action, those which had the dead and wounded on board, together with the German ships put out of action and the captured English ships, were ordered to make for Antwerp. The combined Franco-German fleet, under the supreme command of the Prince-Admiral, resumed its voyage in the direction of the mouth of the Thames.
AT HAMPTON COURT
The long rows of windows in Hampton Court Palace were still a blaze of light, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour. The double post of the royal uhlans before the entrance was still busy, for the unceasing arrival and departure of officers of rank of the three allied nations demanded military honours. Immediately after the naval engagement at Flushing, so disastrous to the English, a large French army and some regiments of the Russian Imperial Guard had landed at Hastings and were now quartered at Aldershot, on the best of terms with the French and the German troops who had marched from Scotland. The Prince-Admiral's headquarters had been removed to Hampton Court, whose silent, venerable, and famous palace became suddenly the centre of stirring military and diplomatic life.
Any further serious military operations were hardly considered, for the supposition that the landing of large hostile armies would practically mean the end of the campaign, had proved correct.
In the resistance which bodies of English troops had attempted to offer to the French advance on London, the volunteers had clearly shown their bravery and patriotic devotion; but had been unable to check the victorious course of their better-led opponents. Accordingly, an armistice had been concluded for the purpose of considering the terms of peace offered by England, even before the German troops advancing from Scotland had had the opportunity of taking part in the land operations.
The conclusion of peace, eagerly desired by all the civilised nations of the world, might be considered assured, although, no doubt, its final ratification would be preceded by long and difficult negotiations. The idea, mooted by the German Imperial Chancellor, of summoning a general congress at the Hague, at which not only the belligerents, but all other countries should be represented, had met with general approval, since all the states were interested in the reorganisation of the relations of the Powers. But the settlement of the preliminaries of peace was necessarily the business of the belligerents, and it was for this purpose that the German Imperial Chancellor, Freiherr von Grubenhagen, the French Foreign Minister, M. Delcasse, and the Russian Secretary of State, M. de Witte, accompanied by Count Lamsdorff, and a full staff of officials and diplomatic assistants, had met at Hampton Court Palace.
The preliminary negotiations between these statesmen and the English plenipotentiaries, Mr. Balfour, Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury, and the Marquis of Londonderry, Lord President of the Privy Council, were carried on with restless eagerness. But the strictest silence in regard to their results up to the present was observed by all who had taken part in them.
The conduct of the Prince-Admiral was an obvious proof that the military leaders were not inactive, in spite of the commencement of peace negotiations. Although he took no part in the diplomatic proceedings and simply occupied himself with military affairs, not only every minute of the day, but a good part of the night, was spent by him in work and discussions with his staff officers, with the chief officers of the land forces, and with the chief commanders of the allied Franco-Russian army. Everyone was full of admiration for the Prince's never-failing vigour and indefatigable power of work; his tall, slender, Teutonic form, and fair-bearded face, with the quiet, clear sailor's eyes, never failed to impress all who came in contact with him. Only his imperial brother, who held in his hand all the threads of political action, could rival the Prince in the traditional Hohenzollern capacity for work at this important time.
It was close on midnight when, after a long and lively consultation, the French general, Jeannerod, left the Prince's study. No sooner had the door closed behind him than the adjutant on duty, with an evident expression of astonishment in the sound of his voice, announced: "His Excellency the Imperial Chancellor, Frieherr von Grubenhagen."
The Prince advanced to the middle of the room to meet his visitor and shook him heartily by the hand.
"I thank Your Excellency for granting me an interview with you to-day, although it is so late and you are overwhelmed with work. I had a special reason for wishing to confer with you, which you will understand when I tell you that all kinds of rumours have reached me as to exaggerated demands on the part of our allies. My previous attitude will have shown you that I have no intention of interfering in diplomatic negotiations, or even exercising my influence in one direction or another. I feel that I am here not as a statesman, but simply as a soldier; and for that very reason I think you can speak the more openly to me. I have been told that the complete annihilation of England is intended as indispensable to the conditions of peace."
The Chancellor, whose manly, determined face showed no signs of exhaustion, notwithstanding his almost superhuman labours, looked frankly at the Prince and shook his head.
"Your Royal Highness has been incorrectly informed. Neither we nor our allies have the intention of annihilating England. Certainly we are all fully agreed that this fearful war must not be waged in vain, and that the reward must correspond with the greatness of the sacrifice at which it has been purchased."
"And to whom is the reward to fall?"
"To all the nations, Your Royal Highness. It would have been a sin to kindle this universal conflagration had it not been taken for granted that its refining flames would prepare the ground for the happiness and peace of the world. For centuries Great Britain has misused her power to increase her own wealth at the cost of others. Unscrupulously she grabbed everything she could lay hands on, and, injuring at every step important and vital interests of other nations, she challenged that resistance which has now shattered her position as a power in the world. The happiness of the peoples can only be restored by a peace assured for years, and only a just division of the dominion of the earth can guarantee the peace of the world. Therefore England must necessarily surrender an essential part of her possessions over sea. Russia wants the way free to the Indian Ocean, for only if she has a sufficient number of harbours open all the year round will the enormous riches of her soil cease to be a lifeless possession. And France—"
"Let us keep to Russia first, Your Excellency. Has the Russian Government already formulated its demands?"
"These demands are the essential outcome of the military situation; they culminate in the cession of British India to Russia. Whatever else our Eastern neighbour may strive to gain, is intended to ensure the peace of Europe more than her own aggrandisement. The standing danger which threatens the peace of Europe from the stormy corner of the old world, the Balkan Peninsula, must be finally removed. A fundamental agreement has been arrived at between the Powers concerned that the Russian and Austrian spheres of influence in the Balkans are to be defined in such a manner that a definite arrangement of affairs in the Balkan States will be the result. There is talk of an independent Kingdom of Macedonia, under the rule of an Austrian archduke. The equivalent to be given to the Russian Empire as a set-off to this increase of the power of Austria will have to be finally settled at the conference at the Hague. But in any case the dangers which threaten the peace of Europe from Bulgaria, Servia, and Montenegro will be effectually obviated for the future."
"But are you not afraid that the Sultan will resist such an agreement, by which Turkey is essentially the sufferer?"
"The Sultan will have to yield to the force of circumstances. We must not forget, Your Royal Highness, that Turkey has hitherto retained her European possessions more from the lack of unanimity among the great Powers than any consecrated rights of the Porte. The unceasing troubles in Macedonia have shown that the Sultan has neither the power nor the intention to give the Balkan countries under his rule a government corresponding to the demands of modern civilisation. If the Porte loses the support it has hitherto received from England, the Sultan is at the same time deprived of all possibility of serious resistance."
"And what is arranged about Egypt?"
"Egypt is the prize of victory for France; but only what she can justly claim on the ground of a glorious history will be restored to her. The sovereignty of the Sultan, which is a mere formality, will remain. But England's present position in Egypt—certainly with a definite limitation—will henceforth fall to France."
"And what is the limitation?"
"It will be administered, not by France alone, but by an international commission, appointed by all the Powers, under the presidency of France, in the place of the present English administration. The first condition is that England must cede all her financial claims and her Suez Canal shares to the allied Powers. These financial sacrifices will at the same time be part of the war indemnity which England will have to pay."
"Does France raise no further claims?"
"France is the more satisfied with the results of this war, since an annexation of Belgium to the French Republic is very probable. Germany, however, claims the harbour of Antwerp, which we have occupied since the beginning of the war."
"If I am correctly informed, was it not suggested that Aden should fall to France or be neutralised?"
"The idea was certainly mooted, but the allied Powers have decided to leave Aden to England. On the other hand, England will have to pledge herself to raise no obstacles which would render the construction and working of the Bagdad railway illusory. The harbour of Koweit on the Persian Gulf, the south-eastern terminus of this railway, must remain the uncontested possession of Turkey."
"And Gibraltar? It raised a storm of indignation in England, when the report suddenly spread that the cession of this fortress would be demanded."
"And yet the English Government will have to submit, for the surrender of Gibraltar is an indispensable condition on the part of the allies."
"It is impossible to rase this natural fortress."
"It would suffice if the English garrison were withdrawn, and all the fortifications dismantled. Gibraltar will cease to exist as a fortress, and will be restored to Spain on definite conditions. However, as it is not the intention of the allies completely to destroy English influence in the Levant, Malta will continue to form part of the British Empire. Thus England retains in the Mediterranean the most important point d'appui for her fleet."
"It will not be easy to get the English Government to accept these conditions. But you have not yet spoken of the demands of Germany—Antwerp does not touch England's interests directly."
"The policy of the German Government will culminate in ensuring settled commercial and political relations with England and her colonies and the rounding off of our own colonial possessions. We therefore demand Walfish Bay for German South-West Africa, the only good harbour, which, at the present time, being English, is closed to our young South African Colony. Besides this, we must insist upon the East African districts, which we gave up in exchange for Heligoland, being restored to us. This serious mistake in German policy must be rectified; for the abandonment of the Protectorate of Zanzibar to England was a blow, which not only paralysed the zeal of our best colonial friends, but also depreciated the value of our East African Colonies."
"If I understand you correctly, Your Excellency, your policy is directed towards setting Germany's colonial efforts on a firmer basis."
"I certainly regard this as one of the most important demands of our time. We must recover what the policy of the last centuries has lost by neglect. At the same time that Your Royal Highness's great ancestor waged war for seven years for a mere strip of land—for tiny Silesia, the far-seeing policy of England succeeded, at a smaller sacrifice, in getting possession of enormous tracts of territory far larger in their whole extent than the entire continent of Europe."
"But for centuries England has been a naval power, and obliged to direct her efforts to the acquisition of colonies over sea."
"And what was there to prevent Prussia, centuries ago, from becoming a naval power that should command respect? It was our misfortune that the mighty ideas and far-seeing plans of the great Elector were frustrated by the inadequate means at his disposal. Had his successors continued what he had begun, Great Britain's power would never have been able to reach such a height. We should have secured in time, in previous centuries, our due share of the parts of the world outside Europe."
The Prince looked thoughtfully before him. After a brief silence the Imperial Chancellor continued—
"Your Royal Highness may have heard that the Netherlands are firmly resolved, in the interest of self-preservation, to be incorporated with the German Empire as a federal state, like Bavaria, Saxony, Wurtemburg, Baden, and the other German states, after the Franco-German War. The rich and extensive Dutch colonies would then also become German colonies; that is to say, they would enter into the political union of the other German colonies while remaining under the administration of Holland. Our intention of repairing the wrong done by England to the Boers has made a very good impression on the Dutch population. The Boer states will enter into the same relation to us in which they stood to England before the Boer War, and their independence will be restored to them."
"Meaning self-government with the recognition of German supremacy. Certainly, they are kinsmen of the Dutch. But, my dear Baron, will not the German people be alarmed at the consequences of an extension of our possessions over sea? Larger colonial possessions necessitate a larger fleet. Think of the struggle which the allied Governments had to carry through Parliament even a modest increase in the German fleet!"
"I am not so much afraid of this difficulty, for the German people have learnt the value of the fleet. We have got beyond the tentative stage, and have paid enough for our experience. We must hold fast what we possess and recover what we have lost during the last decades through the unfortunately unbusiness-like spirit of our foreign policy. Then the German people will have renewed confidence in our colonial policy."
"But how will you raise the sums necessary to make our fleet strong and powerful?"
"Our negotiations with the friendly Governments of France and Russia are a proof that in these states, just as in the German people, there is a desire for a diminution of the land army; there is an equally strong feeling in Italy and Austria. The people would break down under the burden if the expenses for the army were increased, if we diminish our land army we shall have the means to increase our naval forces. Now, after a victorious war, the moment has come when the whole Continent can reduce its enormous standing armies to a footing commensurate with the financial capacities of its people. The external enemy is conquered; we must not think of conjuring up the internal enemy by laying excessive burdens on all classes."
"You spoke just now of the unbusiness-like spirit of our foreign policy. How is this reproach to be understood?"
"Quite literally, Your Royal Highness! The bargain which gave up Zanzibar to get Heligoland would never have been possible if our diplomacy had shown the same far-sightedness and intelligence as the English in economic questions, which I can only designate by the honourable title of a 'business-like spirit.' This business-like spirit is the mainspring of industry and agriculture, of trade and handicrafts, as of all industrial life generally, and it is necessary that this business-like spirit should also be recognised in our ministries as the necessary condition for the qualification to judge of the economic interests of the people. In this respect our statesmen and officials and our industrial classes can learn more from our vanquished enemy than in anything else. England owes her greatness to being 'a nation of shopkeepers,' while our economic development and our external influence has been hindered more than anything else by the contempt with which the industrial classes have been treated amongst us up to the most recent times. In England the merchant has always stood higher in the social scale than the officer and official. Amongst us he is looked upon almost as a second-class citizen compared with the other two. What in England is valued as only a means to an end is regarded by us as an end in itself. The spirit of that rigid bureaucracy, of which Prince Bismarck has already complained, is still unfortunately with few exceptions the prevailing spirit in our Empire, from the highest to the lowest circles; the lack of appreciation of the importance of economic life is the cause of the low esteem in which the industrial classes are held. The sound business-like spirit, which pervades all English state life, cuts the ground from under the feet of Social Democracy in England, while with us it is gaining ground year by year. I am convinced that our German people have no need to fear Social Democracy, for in reforming social cancers those who govern are of more importance than those who are governed."
"There may be much that is true in what you say, Herr Chancellor. But the extension of our colonial possessions will, first and foremost, benefit trade, and the merchant will naturally become of greater importance with us. There is already talk of great plantation societies to be started with enormous capital."
"It is just against the formation of these societies that I intend to exert my whole influence, Your Royal Highness. We could commit no more fatal error than to allow the state-privileged speculation in landed property, which has produced such unwholesome fruits in the old civilised states, to exist in our colonies. Real property must be no object of speculation, it must remain the property of the state. Agriculture belongs to the classes, who at the present time suffer most from economic depression. Nothing but an increase of the protective duties can preserve the agricultural population from the threatening danger of economic ruin. Increase of protective duty will bring with it increased profit, combined with a further increase in the value of land, which is also an article of traffic. Then the increase of land values will at the same time create an increase of the rents to be obtained from landed property, and for this reason I cannot help fearing that, in spite of an increase of protective duties, agriculture will have to suffer in the next generation from the further increase in the value of land and the higher rents that will be the result.
"In our colonies we must not fall into the same error that has produced the socialist question in modern civilised states. The earth belongs to those creatures who live on it and by it in accordance with a higher law than human imperfection has framed. Therefore the soil of our earth must be no object of traffic. Its growth is inseparable from that of the body of the state. I dare not hope that it will be allotted to me or my contemporaries to solve this question, yet I shall never tire of using all my influence to prevent at least a false agrarian policy in our young colonies. Injustice dies from its results, for injustice breeds its own avenger. Mankind committed a fatal wrong in permitting the land that supported them to become an object of speculation. This noxious seed brings noxious fruits to light. It must be the highest task of all governments to carry out land reform—the great problem that decides the destiny of a world—by all possible legislative measures. Now that, in all human probability, peace is assured, now that external dangers no longer threaten the existence of our Empire, there is nothing to exonerate us from the serious and sacred obligation to commence the greatest and most powerful work of reform that humanity can undertake. Then our path will lead us—from the conquest of nations to self-conquests."
At this moment the door of the room opened, and a royal messenger, introduced by the adjutant on duty, handed the Prince a letter decorated with the imperial crown and the initial of the imperial name.
The first glimmer of dawn entered the open window, and through the tops of the venerable trees of Hampton Court Park was heard a mysterious rustling and whispering, as if they were talking of the wonderful changes of fortune, of which they had been the mute witnesses since the remote days of their youth.
The blue eyes of the Hohenzollern Prince were shining proudly, while they scanned the imperial missive. For a few moments a deep silence prevailed. Then the Prince turned to the Imperial Chancellor—
"It will be a great day for us, Your Excellency! His Majesty the Emperor will enter London at the head of the allied armies. Peace is assured. God grant that it may be the last war which we shall have to wage for the future happiness of the German nation!"