Can Germany Invade England?/Chapter3

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"I always said that whilst we had a Fleet in being they would not dare to make an attempt."—Lord Torrington, First Lord of the Admiralty in 1727.

"We have endeavoured to picture to ourselves a clear issue which is very unfavourable to this country, and have shown, at least to our satisfaction, that on that hypothesis, unfavourable as it is, serious invasion of these islands is not an eventuality which we need seriously consider."—Mr. Balfour.

"Modern history does not afford a single instance of a successful invasion of this country, because our Navy has always stood directly in the path of the would-be invader."—Admiral Sir Vesey Hamilton, G.C.B.

The facts and figures presented in the foregoing chapters ought to convince all thinking men of the baselessness of the expectation that, at some indefinite time, for some indefinite cause, the German Government will suddenly embark upon the most venturesome of enterprises—the invasion of this country.

Unfortunately, there are persons who do not think, but just pin their faith on the dicta of some man, to whom they attribute special knowledge or special foresight; it will, therefore, still be necessary to ascertain who to-day is playing the part of the blind leader of the blind, and then to array against his dicta the testimony of the large number of military and naval experts who differ from him, first, however, sweeping away a traditional error, which has contributed not a little to that sense of insecurity which it is my object to dispel.

There is a very general belief that, at a time when a huge flotilla was waiting at Boulogne to carry a hundred and fifty; thousand French soldiers across the Channel, England's greatest Admiral, deluded by false' reports, sailed to the West Indies, leaving his country defenceless, save for such resistance as her small Army could offer to the, invaders. I will not stop to prove that the] conditions under which it was possible to deceive Nelson as to the whereabouts of the combined French and Spanish Fleet, have given place to conditions under which it is next door to impossible to conceal the movements of vessels in any part of the world, but content myself with affirming that, in sailing away, Nelson left behind him a fleet capable of holding the Channel against any force that might be brought against it, and in the teeth of which no transports would venture to put to sea. Wherever the bulk of Napoleon's Navy might be, he knew that its total strength was eighty men-of-war, and those eighty too scattered to be capable of rapid concentration, whereas Great Britain had sixty ships of the line and as many, or more, frigates, so disposed that, at short notice, they could be brought together in the Straits of Dover.[1] Consequently, England was not, at this juncture, any more than at any other period of her history, solely dependent on her land forces for immunity from conquest.

Having cleared the ground so far as false history had cumbered it, I will now call evidence for and against the possibility of this country's suffering invasion in the future—a very near future, according to some people.

There has, perhaps, never been a time when such a possibility has not been present to the minds of men responsible for England's safety; but, up to a recent date, France, not Germany, was the quarter from which invasion was looked for, and in the course of the last hundred years there have been several well-developed French scares. After the last of these, to which the Fashoda incident gave rise, the British Government of the day appointed a Royal Commission, presided over by the Duke of Norfolk, to inquire into the grounds on which the belief in England's vulnerability was based. As the scope of this Commission's investigations was confined to the sufficiency and efficiency of the British land forces, the witnesses, with one exception, were military men or civilians, but their answers to the searching questions addressed to them made it so clear that, in their opinion, no French transports would ever put to sea so long as our Fleet kept the command of the Channel, that Mr. Balfour, in his double character of Prime Minister and President of the Defence Committee, felt justified in assuring the House of Commons that an openly organised invasion of this country might be regarded as impossible, and that a surprise attack was equally out of the question, as there would be no concealing the assembling of the large number of ships that would be needed to carry 100,000 men, allowing three tons of shipping per man—without counting horses—a figure which must have been furnished to the speaker by experts in the business of transporting troops by sea.

Whether Mr. Balfour's assurances would have long been accounted satisfactory, had France remained the object of British suspicion, it is impossible to say, for hardly had his reassuring words been spoken than a new direction was given to the nation's fears, and, in an incredibly short time, Germany—a country with which we had always been on good terms, and whose commercial prosperity is bound up with our own—was accepted as the national foe.

It is not my business to trace the causes of this extraordinary change of thought and feeling; suffice it to say that it coincided with a struggle to establish conscription as the basis of our military system, and that lurid pictures of Germany's military strength, naval growth, and official efficiency, coupled with boldly expressed distrust of her aims and doubts of her good faith, were, and are being, used to create in the British mind a sense of insecurity sufficiently strong to overcome its deep-rooted aversion to compulsory service. In military circles, dark hints of danger, and w^hispered threats of sudden action by which that danger should be dissipated, were soon current; but no person whose name carried weight with the general public lent himself to an open attempt to create a German scare till Lord Roberts, in a speech delivered on November 23, 1908, gave to that scare the broadest possible base by declaring that he had ascertained, beyond the possibility of doubt, that vessels suitable to the accommodation of 200,000 men—taking one and a half, not three, tons as sufficient for all requirements—were always available in the northern ports of Germany; that during several months in the year 200,000 men could be collected without any fuss or mobilisation arrangements; and that those 200,000 could be conveyed to the selected ports and there embarked in much shorter time than Mr. Balfour had calculated for French soldiers.[2] Disembarkation, thanks to big liners and modern mechanical appliances, would also, so he asserted, be much easier than was generally supposed, and, even if the enterprise failed as a surprise, a few vessels, sent in this direction or that, would be likely so to divert our Admirals' attention from the real German objective that the great fleet of transports, favoured perhaps by fog, might sail unseen across the North Sea, and land their living cargoes before the mistake could be discovered, and our deluded fleets rush back to prevent an already accomplished fact.[3] The picture was gloomy enough, but, lest sanguine people might take comfort and courage from the reflection that when our Fleet did return, it would capture all the German transports and make short work of its escorting squadron, Lord Roberts warned his hearers that, to gain their end, the Germans might not shrink from this sacrifice, for did not General Bronsart von Schellendorff, in his book on The Duties of the General Staff, assert that "the advantage of gaining the command of the sea, at least for a time, and thereby making possible the transport of troops by sea, may justify the loss of our own fleet?" "These remarkable words," continued Lord Roberts, represent the best German teaching on the co-operation of the two services in war," and on the strength of a vision of a German flotilla, escorted by the German Fleet, sailing cheerfully across the North Sea, in a friendly fog, to certain capture or destruction, nobly indifferent to its own fate, if it could but succeed in placing two hundred thousand German troops in a position in which they could not be reinforced, and from which they could not retire, he closed his speech by calling for the immediate formation of a British citizen army of a million men.[4]

I hardly think I need assure my military and naval readers that General von Schellendorff had not the invasion of England in his mind, when he wrote the sentence which Lord Roberts interpreted in that sense. The man who recognised that " The transport of troops is a very risky enterprise, if the command of the sea has not been gained, even when the troopships are escorted by a Fleet which is superior to the enemy's ships,"[5] and that "No force is more sensitive about its communications than a landing-force; it has no broad base upon which it can fall back, but must retire upon a single point—its landing-place,"[6] was incapable of recommending to his students an act of suicidal folly; and no one can read the chapter on " The Cooperation of the Army and Navy in War," from which Lord Roberts quoted, without being convinced that the only circumstances in which the writer would hold it lawful to sacrifice even a portion of a nation's fleet in order to make possible the transport of troops by sea, are to be found in the case of an army whose land communications are assured, requiring to be quickly reinforced, or relieved to some extent of pressure by the landing of troops at some vital point of the enemy's coast.

It is fortunate for me and my readers that the facts and arguments which answer Lord Roberts's speech, also answer everything that has been said or written, from his point of view; for all subsequent speakers and writers, who have helped to spread the German scare, have based themselves on his assertions and covered themselves with his reputation. Answers to that speech were not long in coming. A week after its delivery, in a letter to The Times,[7] Admiral Sir Vesey Hamilton ridiculed the late Commander-in-Chief's assertion that he had ascertained, without the possibility of doubt, that vessels accommodating 200,000 men were at very short notice available in German ports—a waste of German capital on which Sir Vesey desired to have the opinion of "some of our mercantile magnates, if such is likely to be the case," as also "the opinions of Sir A. Wilson, Lord C. Beresford, Sir W. May [now at the Admiralty], Sir Compton Domvile, and others, and ask them their opinion as to even 100,000 troops and their baggage having a happy time of it crossing the North Sea, being carried in transports commanded by men totally unaccustomed to sailing In company—harassed by a host of mosquito-boat destroyers, and all the portion of our Fleet 'not decoyed away.'"

Another letter of the same date, signed "Admiral," to which The Times accorded the honour of large type, severely criticised Lord Roberts's estimate of the amount of tonnage that would be sufficient for all purposes " in such a serious undertaking as an invasion of England. "When preparing this statement,' so he wrote, "Lord Roberts, and those who assisted him, appear to have insufficiently taken into consideration the fact that, in estimating for the tonnage of an oversea expedition, regard must be taken not only of the number of men to be conveyed, but provision must at the same time be made for the huge equipment which in these days accompanies our army—guns, ammunition, stores of many descriptions, provisions,] wagons, and last, but far from least, the horses, which call for a tonnage allowance! far in excess of that for a man."

"No doubt," he continued, "it would be quite possible for a short voyage to put 4,000 men into a 6,000-tons vessel," but not 4,000 men plus the equipment, without! which, on disembarkation, "the troops would find themselves in much the same position as ordinary passengers landing from a ship without luggage," whilst the equipment^ of an expedition must, fortunately for England, always prove an obstacle to a rapid invasion of her shores," for "the landing in a few hours of many thousands of men in any sort of boat, from a gig to a launch, is a simple matter, but not so the equipment. Horses, guns, and wagons cannot descend a gangway ladder, but have to be hoisted out and then transported ashore in large boats especially suitable; weather, even though only moderately bad, being a serious hindrance and possibly a stopper on operations"

But the best refutation of Lord Roberts's depressing predictions is to be found in the Blue Book containing the evidence given before the Norfolk Royal Commission, for the chief witnesses who appeared before it, in virtue of the positions they held or had lately vacated, were peculiarly fitted to form a cool and reasoned judgment on the probability of our land forces ever being called on to repel a foreign invasion; and Lieutenant-General Sir William Nicholson, K.C.B., Director-General of Intelligence, Colonel P. H. N. Lake, C.B., Assistant Quartermaster-General for Mobilisation, and Major-General Sir John Ardagh, K.C.M.G., K.C.I.E., Director of Military Intelligence from 1896 to 1901, were unanimously of opinion that England could never be the subject of a surprise invasion—the very kind of invasion which Lord Roberts would have us believe to be imminent. The first-named officer held that the British Government, under the most unfavourable circumstances must have at least two months' warning of the projected attack[8]; the second, that fourteen days was the period in which the final preparations for embarking 100,000 men could be completed—" fourteen days," as he expressed it, "from the time when you say, "Now I do not mind who knows [what] I am doing'"[9] the third put the maximum limit of 150,000 men as the utmost either France or Germany could do from all their ports, and with long preparation!"[10]

On the question of the probability of an invasion of England so long as the regular troops were in the country, the evidence of Lord Roberts, then Commander-in-Chief, may be taken as conclusive, and he supposed that "' no attempt would be made at invasion of this country until we had sent all, or nearly all, of our regular troops abroad."[11]

This answer naturally led up to the inquiry whether there was reason to suppose that the country would ever be so denuded of its ordinary defenders as to render an invasion a comparatively easy matter, and on this point the evidence of an ex-Commander-in-Chief, Lord Wolseley, was very satisfactory. He admitted that the possibility of a heavy naval defeat or the temporary absence of our Fleet from the Channel must be taken into account in determining the strength of the force that must be held ready to meet an attempted invasion, which would be made very rapidly after the declaration of war; but he declared his conviction that no "Government would attempt to send our fighting Army away from England, unless England was quite secure from invasion at the moment."[12]

What military men understand by " quite secure " was explained by Sir William Nicholson, who declared that, until the command of the sea was indisputably in British hands, a condition which he thought would take from four to six months to fulfil, no large military contingent could be sent out of the country; certainly the Admiralty would not agree to their despatch. In other words, until every hostile vessel on the seas had been captured or destroyed, and every hostile port sealed, so that no ship could issue from it, the British Army must of necessity remain at home; so that England would be safe from invasion before she had obtained the command of the sea, by reason of the presence of her Army, and after she had obtained that command by reason of the fact that, whether her Army were present or absent, no hostile force could descend upon her shores.[13]

Not satisfied with answers which went to prove that no sane nation would dream of invading this country without some prospect of making good its footing here, the Norfolk Commission pushed its inquiries into those fantastic regions in which Lord Roberts was later to seek justification for his alarmist campaign, by asking Major-General Sir Alfred Turner, K.C.B., Inspector-General of Auxiliary Forces, whether, in view of the enormous shock that the landing of, perhaps, as much as three Army Corps on our shores would be to our national credit and prestige, he thought it would be worth while for an enemy, who had temporarily obtained command of the sea, to risk the loss of so large a force for the sake of the moral effect It would have on the country?

"I do not think," was the reply, "that they would risk it on an hypothesis of that kind. I do not think the game would be worth the candle."[14]

Sir Alfred was not prepared to say that a small invasion would be out of the bounds of possibility, but he was sure that "no serious invasion would take place by a foreign Power when the Navy was still on the deep, because. If so, communications would be cut, and that force would be in a position that no nation that was not absolutely Insane, according to my ideas—I may be wrong—would risk."[15]

On this point the one naval witness, Admiral Sir John Ommanney Hopkins, G.C.B., late a Naval Lord of the Admiralty, and Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, was equally emphatic. He granted that, if the theatre of war was in the Mediterranean and a very large proportion of the British Fleet were away from our shores, during that time a foreign force might possibly be thrown into England; but, on the other hand, there was this to be remembered, "that if we command the sea, directly the invasion takes place and our Fleets fall back on our own shores, then the possibility of that force ever returning to its country is at an end; it ought to be swallowed up in this country."[16]

Lastly, turning from the testimony to the practical invulnerability of this country given seven years ago, when the hypothetical invader was France, let us hear what the latest authoritative witnesses, Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge, and Admiral of the Fleet Sir Arthur Wilson, late First Sea Lord, have to say on the subject, now that Germany has taken the place of France in the popular mind.

In his work on The Art of Naval Warfare,Sir Cyprian gives a crushing reply to the extraordinary theory in support of which Lord Roberts has invoked General von Schellendorff's authority.

"Continental soldiers contemplating the invasion of an island State may," so he writes, "be ready, as some say that they are, to sacrifice their escorting fleet to the presumably stronger insular Navy," but how could they imagine that this sacrifice "would render the voyage of the invading troops practicable?" Even "if, in sacrificing itself, the escorting or protecting fleet had managed to put out of action a portion of the insular naval forces equal to itself, . . . the survivors of the stronger Navy would have the now entirely unprotected transports at their mercy." The difference between passing an army into a contiguous State across a frontier often not wider than a mere geographical line, and "passing an army across the sea, in the teeth of a strong Navy's efforts to prevent it, is enormous," so he affirmed, adding that "The difficulties of work on the sea are not apparent to men whose work is done exclusively on shore, and so those difficulties are treated as non-existent."[17]

In a Memorandum of November lo, 1910, issued in 1911, Sir Arthur Wilson showed that the strength of our Fleet is determined by the necessity of protecting our commerce, and that, if it is sufficient for this purpose, it will practically be sufficient to prevent invasion. The main object of a fleet, whether employed in defence of commerce or in frustrating invasion, is to prevent the enemy's ships from getting to sea far enough to do mischief, and any disposition that is even moderately successful in attaining this object will practically be effective in preventing a large fleet of transports, than which nothing is more vulnerable and difficult to conceal, from reaching our shores. Even if the enemy succeeded in drawing off half our Fleet, the other half, in conjunction with destroyers and submarines, would be quite sufficient to sink the greater part of his transports, even if supported by the strongest fleet he could collect. [18]

That the British Fleet is so disposed, as to be assured of success in the attainment of this object, I proved conclusively in the preceding chapter; and having now demonstrated how scanty, and of what small value, is the evidence in support of the belief in an invasion of this country, I might stop; but because some people are not satisfied until they have gone to the root of a subject, and made acquaintance with the facts on which the opinions of experts must be founded — people for whom I have the greatest respect — I will now try to give my readers such an insight into all that an invasion of England would involve that they may be able to judge for themselves whether there is any justification for expecting one.[19]

  1. Admiral Sir Vesey Hamilton in the Nineteenth Century for March 1906.
  2. Mr. Balfour's speech in 1905, on the possibility of a French invasion of this country, involved the assumption that what was impossible to the State nearest to our shores was a fortiori impossible in the case of Germany. —H. B. H.
  3. "If our naval forces are to be fooled by so unsurprising a surprise as this, or by so time-honoured a ruse de guerre I confess I do not see the use of our having an Admiralty or a Navy at all. No one would do Lord Roberts the

    in- justice of supposing for one single moment that he and his staff in the field would allow themselves to be fooled in this way on land " (extract from a letter which appeared in The Times of November 30, 1908, in large print, signed by a "Modern Mariner."— H. B, H.

  4. "No matter," Lord Roberts said, " how strong and powerful our Navy is, the main preventive of invasion is a numerous and efficient Home Army. . . Even if our Navy were double as strong as it is relatively to that of other Powers, the necessity of maintaining a sufficient and efficient Citizen Army for home defence would still be an essential condition of peace and security, as well as of public confidence." This " Citizen Army," he said, " must consist of a million men,"—The Times, November 24, 1908.
  5. The Duties of the General Staff, p. 554. [4th edition.]
  6. Ibid. p. 556.
  7. November 30, 1908.
  8. Blue Book, vol. i. p. 12 [Cd. 2062] of 1904.
  9. Ibid. pp. 104, 105.
  10. Blue Book, vol. i. p. 119. The italics are mine.—H. B. H.
  11. Ibid. p. 38.
  12. Blue Book, vol. i. p. 65.
  13. Blue Book, vol, i. p. 3.
  14. Blue Book, vol. i. p. 74.
  15. Ibid. p. 75.
  16. Blue Book, vol. i. p. 110.
  17. The Art of Naval Warfare, pp. 170, 171, 173.
  18. See Appendix, in which the Admiralty Memorandum is given verbatim.
  19. The Times Correspondent for Naval Affairs puts forward, with great plainness, statements utterly subversive of the alarmist attitude taken up by a large part of the Press. In the weekly edition of January 5 of this year he writes: "The theory of the Defending Fleet—the Fleet in being — having been decoyed away does not really help the opposite argument at all. . . . Even if the Battleship Fleet is absent — which it ought not to be so long as invasion is within the bounds of possibility, and never will be, if those who are conducting the war know their business—yet it is unthinkable that a sufficient defending force of cruisers and torpedocraft should be absent at the same time."