Britain's Deadly Peril/Chapter 8
THE PERIL OF INVASION
There are few questions upon which experts differ more profoundly than that of a possible invasion of this country by Germans.
Here, in England, opinion may be roughly divided into two schools. It is understood generally that the naval authorities assert that the position of our Fleet is such that even a raid by say ten thousand men, resolved to do us the greatest possible damage and cause the maximum of alarm even if the penalty be annihilation, is out of the question. On the other hand, the military authorities hold the view—a view expressed to me by the late Lord Roberts—that it would be quite possible for the Germans to land a force in Great Britain which would do an enormous amount of damage, physically and morally, before it was finally rounded up and destroyed by the overwhelming numbers of troops we could fling against it.
What we think of the matter, however, is of less importance than what the enemy thinks, and it is beyond question that, at any rate until quite recently, the German War Staff regarded the invasion of England as perfectly practicable, and had made elaborate plans for carrying out their project.
When writing my forecast "The Invasion of England," in 1905, I received the greatest advice and kind assistance from the late Lord Roberts, who spent many hours with me, and who personally revised and elaborated the German plan of campaign which I had supposed. Without his assistance the book would never have been written. I am aware of the strong views he held on the subject, and how indefatigable he was in endeavouring to bring the grave peril of invasion home to an apathetic nation. Poor "Bobs"! The public laughed at him and said, "Yes, of course. He is getting so old!"
Old! When I came home from the last Balkan War I brought him some souvenirs from the battlefields of Macedonia, and he sent me a telegram to meet him at 8 a.m. at a quiet West End hotel—where he was in the habit of staying. I arrived at that hour and he grasped my hand, welcomed me back from many months of a winter campaign with the Servian headquarters staff, and, erect and smiling, said: "Now, let's talk. I've already done my correspondence and had my breakfast. I was up at half-past five,"—when I had been snoring!
Roberts was a soldier of the old school. He knew our national weakness, and he knew our stubborn stone-wall resistance. After the outbreak of war he told me that he would deplore racing, football, and cricket—our national sports—while we were at death-grips with Germany, because, as he put it, if we race and play games, the people will not take this world-war seriously. Then he turned in his chair in my room, and, looking me straight in the face, said: "What did I tell you, Le Queux, when you were forecasting 'The Invasion'—that the British nation will not be awakened by us—but only by a war upon them. They are at last awakened. I will never seek to recall the past, but my duty is to do my best for my King and my Country."
And so he died—cut off at a moment when he was claiming old friendship of those from India whom he knew so well. The night before he left England to go upon the journey to the front which proved fatal, he wrote me a letter—which I still preserve—deploring the atrocities which the Germans had committed in Belgium.
Ever since the war broke out we have heard of great concentration of troops, and ships intended to carry them, at Wilhelmshaven and Cuxhaven, a strong indication that something in the nature of a raid was in contemplation. It is quite possible that opinion, both in Germany and in this country, has been very profoundly modified by the fate which befell the last baby-killing expedition launched against our eastern coasts, which came to grief through the vigilance of Admiral Beatty. The terrible mauling sustained by the German squadron, the loss of the Blucher and the battering of the Seydlitz and Derffinger, may have done a good deal to drive home into the German mind the conviction that in the face of an unbeaten—and to Germany unbeatable—battle-fleet, the invasion of England would be, at the very best, an undertaking of the most hazardous nature which would be foredoomed to failure and in which the penalty would be annihilation.
Perhaps, however, the enemy are only waiting. We know from German writings that the plans for the invasion of England have usually postulated that our Fleet shall be, for the time being, absent from the point of danger, probably out of home waters altogether, and that the attack would be sprung upon us as a surprise. We do not know, and we do not seek to know, the exact position of the British Fleet, but we can be perfectly certain that, with the invention of wireless, the moment at which the Germans might have sprung a surprise upon us has gone for ever. There is good reason for believing that the Germans intended to strike at us without any formal declaration of war, and I have been informed, on good authority, that before war broke out, certain dispositions had actually been made which were brought to naught only by a singularly bold and daring manœuvre on the part of our naval authorities. No doubt, in the course of time, this incident, with many others of a similar nature, will be made public. I can only say at present that when the startling truth becomes known, further evidence will be forthcoming that Germany deliberately planned the war, and was ready to strike long before war was declared.
People who say that an invasion of our shores is impossible usually do so with the reservation, expressed or implied, that the effort would be unsuccessful—that is, that it could not succeed so far as to compel Britain to make peace. But, even if the Germans believe this as firmly as we do, it by no means follows that they may not make the attempt.
It is a part of the Germans' theory and practice to seek, by every possible means, to create a panic, to do the utmost moral and material damage by the most inhuman and revolting means, and it is more than likely that they would hold the loss of even fifty or sixty thousand men as cheap indeed, if, before they were destroyed, they could, if only for a few days, vent German wrath and hatred on British towns and on British people.
To say they could not do this would be exceedingly foolish. Few people would be daring enough to say that it would be impossible for the Germans, aided undoubtedly by spies on shore, to land suddenly in the neighbourhood of one of the big East Coast towns a force strong enough to overpower, for the moment, the local defences, and establish itself—if only for a few days—in a position where it could lay waste with fire and sword a very considerable section of country. And we must never forget that, if ever the Germans get the chance, their atrocious treatment of the British population will be a thousand times worse than anything they have done in France and Belgium. That fact ought to sink deeply into the public mind. A German Expedition into this country would be undertaken with the one definite object of striking terror and producing a panic which would force our Government to sue for peace. To secure that end, the Germans would spare neither young nor old—every man, woman, and child within their power would be slaughtered without mercy, and without regard for age or sex. We have heard something, though not all, of the infamies perpetrated by German troops upon the helpless Belgians even before the world had realised how much Belgium had done to foil their plans. And we must not overlook the fact that certain German officers—enjoying the services of valets and other luxuries at Donington Hall, fitted up by us at a cost of £13,000—were those who ordered the wholesale massacre of women and children. We relieve the poor Belgian refugees, and caress their murderers.
If the flood-gates of German hatred were opened upon us, what measure would the enemy mete out to us who, as they now bitterly realise, have stood between the Kaiser and his megalomaniac dreams? I do not think we need be in any doubt as to what the German answer to that question would be!
Recent events have made it vividly apparent that the Germans have already reached a pitch of desperation in which they are willing to try any and every scheme which, at whatever cost to themselves, offered a prospect of injuring their enemies. They feel the steel net slowly, but very surely, tightening around them; like caged wild beasts they are flinging themselves frantically at the bars, now here, now there, in mad paroxysms of rage. Their wonderful military machine, if it has not absolutely broken down, is at any rate badly out of gear, though there is a huge strength still left in it. Their vaunted fleet skulks behind fortifications, and whenever it ventures to poke its head outside is hit promptly and hit hard. Their boasted Zeppelins, which were to lay ever so many "eggs" on London, have certainly, up to the time of writing, failed utterly.
We frequently hear the man-in-the-street jeer at the Zeppelin peril, and declare that it is only a "bogey" raised to frighten us. To a certain extent I think it is, but the fact that Zeppelins have not yet appeared over London is, surely, no reason why they should not come and commit havoc and cause panic as the vanguard of the raid which may be intended upon us. There is much in our apathy which is more than foolish—it is criminal. Had the country, ten years ago, listened to the warnings of Lord Roberts and others, instead of being immersed in their own pleasure-seeking and money-grubbing, we should have had no war. The public, who are happily to-day filled with a spirit of patriotism because they have learnt wisdom by experience, now realise their error. They see how utterly foolish they were to jeer at my warnings in the Daily Mail; and by singing in the music halls "Are we Down'earted—No!" they have gallantly admitted it—as every Britisher admits where he is wrong—and have come forward to stem the tide of barbarians who threaten us.
As one who has done all that mortal man can do to try to bring home to his country a sense of its own danger, and who, by the insidious action of "those in power," narrowly escaped financial ruin for daring to be a patriot, I cast the past aside and rejoice in the fine spirit of the younger generation of men, actuated by the fact that they are still Britons.
But, after this war, there will be men—men whose names are to-day as household words—who must be indicted before the nation for leading us into the trap which Germany so cunningly prepared for us. Those are men who knew, by the Kaiser's declaration in 1908, what was intended, and while posing as British statesmen—save the mark!—lied to the public, and told them that Germany was our best friend, and that war would never be declared—"not in our time."
There will be a day, ere long, when the pro-German section of what Britons foolishly call their "rulers"—certain members of that administration who are now struggling to atone for their past follies in being misled by the cunning of the enemy—will be arraigned and swept out of the public ken, as they deserve to be. The blood of a million mothers of sons in Great Britain boils at thoughts of the ghastly truth, and the wholesale sacrifice of their dear ones, because the diplomacy of Great Britain, with all its tinsel, its paraphernalia of attaches, secretaries (first, second, and third), its entertainments, its fine "residences," its whisperings and jugglings, and its "conversations," was quite incapable of thwarting the German plot.
By our own short-sightedness we have been led into this conflict, in which the very lives of our dear ones and ourselves are at stake. Yet, to-day, we in England have not fully realised that we are at war. Illustrated papers publish fashion numbers, and the butterflies of the fair sex rush to adorn themselves in the latest mode from Paris—the capital of a threatened nation! Stroll at any hour in any street in London, or any of our big cities. Does anything remind the thoughtful man that we are at war? No. Our theatres, music halls, and picture palaces are full. Our restaurants are crowded, our night-clubs drive a thriving trade—and nobody cares for to-morrow.
Why? Read the daily newspapers, and learn the lesson of how the public are being daily deluded by false assertions that all is well, and that we have great Imperial Germany—the country which has, for twenty years, plotted against us—in the hollow of our hand.
The public are not told the real truth, and there lies the grave scandal which must be apparent to every person in the country. But, I ask, will the malevolent influence which is protecting the alien enemy among us, and refusing to allow inquiry into spying, ever permit the truth to be told?
Let the reader pause, and think.
Despite the cast-iron censorship, and the most docile Press the world has ever seen, the German people must, on the other hand, to-day be suspecting the truth. Germans may be braggarts, but they are not fools, and it is safe to say that the hysterical spasms of hatred of Great Britain—by which the entire nation seems to be convulsed—have their origin in an ever-growing conviction of failure and a very accurate perception of where that failure lies.
In this frame of mind they may venture on anything, and it is for this reason that I believe they may yet, in spite of all that has happened, attempt a desperate raid on these shores.
What are we doing to meet that peril?