Can Germany Invade England?/Chapter4

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"Articles of provision are not to be trifled with or left to chance, and there is nothing more clear than that the subsistence of the troops must be certain upon the proposed service, or the service must be relinquished."—The Duke of Wellington.

"The chief necessity in war is that supplies should be abundant and quickly delivered."

General Bronsart von Schellendorff.

"It consequently follows that armies cannot exist for any time, at any rate, in the field without uninternipted communication with home."—Idem.

"The whole question is one of commissariat—that of commissariat one of transport."—The Duke of Wellington.

In considering the possibility of an invasion of England, I will accept the conditions under which Lord Roberts believes that it will be undertaken.[1]

These conditions are four:

The first, that a large part of our Navy — say half—will be absent from our shores.

The second, that a large expeditionary Force—say 100,000 men—will have been despatched to Egypt or India, or some other of our over-sea dominions.

The third, that the invasion will be in the nature of a surprise, without a declaration of war, and at a time when our relations with Germany are such as to give rise to no suspicion of hostile intention on her part.

The fourth, that the invading Army will consist of 150,000 troops.

These disputable conditions agreed to, let us now recall what was said in Chapter II as to the relative strength of the German and British Fleets in their respective Home Waters.


(See Abstract of Table IIIb, p. 17.)

Line-of-Battleships 27
Armoured Cruisers 1
Protected Cruisers 7
Destroyers 36[2]


(See Abstract of Table IIIa, p. 16.)

Line-of-Battleships 51
Armoured Cruisers 26
Protected Cruisers 40
Scouts 8
Destroyers 165[2]
Total 290

From the British strength deduct 25 battleships, 13 armoured cruisers, and 20 protected cruisers (the number of small craft would in no circumstances have been reduced), and we shall be left with a fleet weaker by one battleship than Germany, but stronger by 12 armoured cruisers, 13 protected cruisers, and 137 scouts and destroyers, specially adapted for acting against transports conveying troops—a superiority sufficient to justify Sir Arthur Wilson's confidence that, with half our Home Fleet away, " the other half, in conjunction with destroyers and submarines, would be quite sufficient to sink the greater part of his [the enemy's] transports, even if supported by the strongest fleet he could collect."

Having established the naval conditions under which a German Invasion would be carried out, we must next Institute a comparison between the attacking and the defending military forces.

According to Lord Roberts's last condition, the former is to consist of 150,000 troops, and we may assume that they will be picked troops, the best Germany can put into the field. What will Great Britain be able to oppose to them?

The strength of our fighting force at home, irrespective of troops in India and the Colonies, is as follows:

Regular Army 129,503 [3]
Staff, Departments, etc. 2,474 [4]
Army Reserve 138,531 [4]
Special Reserve (old Militia) 60,931 [4]
Royal Marines 17,200 [5]
Coast Guard 3,048 [5]
National Reserve 54,481 [6]
Militia 1,655 1,860 [4]
Militia Reserve 205
Territorial Force:
Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Men 264,911 268,53 [4]
Permanent Staff 2,786.
Reserve 656
Total 676,381

Of the above we will suppose the following to be out of England, on garrison duty, or on board ship.

Expeditionary Force of 100,000 men, consisting of:

Regular Army 50,000 100,000
Regular Reserve 50,000
Royal Marines on board ship, or garrison duty 100,000
National Reserve on garrison duty 24,481
Militia on garrison duty 1,860
Territorial Force on garrison duty 68,353
Total 211,894

Leaving for the active defence of the country:

Regular Army 79,503
Staff, Departments, etc. 2,474
Army Reserve 88,531
Special Reserve (old Militia) 60,931
Coast Guard 3,048
National Reserve 30,000
Territorial Force 200,000
Total 464,487

Of this number 264,487 would be in all respects the equals of any troops that might be pitted against them, while the 200,000 Territorials, stiffened by 30,000 National Reservists, fighting side by side with the Regulars, and working in an enclosed country like England, would, even to-day, be a formidable foe to an invading force, whose long scattered lines would be open to attack at a thousand vulnerable points[7] But since our Army Scheme provides for their embodiment on the despatch of the Regular troops from the country, they will have been in training and under full discipline for a considerable time before their services can be required, for I will not admit that Germany can make her arrangements for an over-sea war at a moment's notice, however accommodating I may be as regards her success in concealing those arrangements.

Of course we shall not be able to put the whole of our strength into the field, but then no more can the Germans; both sides—but specially the attacking side—will have to make large deductions for the guarding of its base and line of communications, also for rear, hospital, and baggage guards, for flanking and reconnoitring parties, patrols, observation posts, and for casualties from death, sickness, and wounds both among men and horses; and whenever or wherever the encounter which is to decide the fate of the invasion takes place, the advantage in numbers will be on the British side, even without the Territorials, overwhelmingly so if we take them into our calculations, as we shall be justified in doing.

Having compared the two Forces as a whole, we will now consider the relative value of the units of which each is composed—not the regiments, but the individual men.

Since Germany's astonishing military successes in 1866 and 1870, the German soldier has been looked on as the best in the world; but, without wishing to disparage either his physical or his mental qualities, I doubt whether he would prove the superior of the British soldier; firstly, because he is a conscript and short-service man,[8] whilst his British rival is voluntarily enlisted and serves seven years, sometimes eight, before passing into the Reserve; and, secondly, because for forty years the German Army has seen no fighting, whereas most English regiments have taken part in Indian Frontier Expeditions, invaluable experience for any kind of warfare, and many of the non-commissioned officers still in our ranks and most men of the Reserve saw service in South Africa.[9] Then, too, the special conditions under which an invasion of this country must be entered on would place the German soldier at a disadvantage with regard to the British soldier, against whom he will have to make good his footing in this island: the hurried embarkation; the long, probably stormy voyage, terribly trying to men the majority of whom will never before have been at sea; the risks run; the catastrophes witnessed (for I am not assuming that our reduced Fleet will be hoodwinked to the last moment, nor yet that it will be commanded by incapables, or cowards); the difficult landing from the transports that had escaped destruction or disablement,—all these things will, at least at the outset, impair his morale and diminish his physical efficiency.

But where Germany really has no equal is in her military organisation ; and, in the light of this admission, let us now inquire into the composition of the Force which is presently to descend upon our shores.

The German Peace Establishment consists of twenty-three Army Corps, and each Army Corps, when placed on a war footing, is composed of[10]:

Troops 25,000
Non-Combatants 16,000
Horses 13,000
Guns 144
Vehicles, including artillery wagons 2,200
Its nominal formation is [10]:
Battalions of Infantry 25
Squadrons of Cavalry 6
Batteries of Artillery 24.

and its fighting strength [10]:

Men 25,000
Horses 1,900
Guns 144

Therefore, for the invasion of England on what Lord Roberts considers a scale commensurate to the difficulty of the enterprise—i.e. 150,000 soldiers—Germany must mobilise and send out of the country six Army Corps—a risky step to take, seeing that to the east of her lies Russia, with twenty-three Army Corps, and to the west, France, with twenty, and that in neither of these neighbours has she complete confidence. However, as we have already granted so much to our alarmists, we will concede that, in this particular also, Germany will allow hatred of England to out-weigh respect for her own safety, and continue our investigations.

Six Army Corps,[11] as we now see, mean not only six times 25,000 fighting men, but six times 16,000 non-combatants, six times 13,000 horses, six times 144 guns, and six times 2,200 vehicles, or

Troops 150,000
Non-Combatants 96,000
Horses 78,000
Guns 864
Vehicles 13,200

I can imagine that this table will be received with an outcry of protestation.

"What, 96,000 non-combatants to 1 50,000 troops! 78,000 horses, 13,200 vehicles! The thing is monstrous! We never allowed for such superfluities!

True, the men who have found satisfaction in terrifying themselves and others with visions of 150,000 German soldiers landing on our coast one day, and marching on London the next, never have made any allowance for non-combatants, nor for carts and wagons, nor for horses to draw them; yet non-combatants and carts and wagons have to accompany every army, and, without them, it can neither march, nor fight, nor live.

Ninety-six thousand non-combatants to 150,000 troops is not too large a proportion when one remembers all the duties that they have to fulfil. Think of the eighteen bearer-companies, three to each Army Corps, and of the attendants in the forty-eight field hospitals, and the clerks and the telegraphists and the store-keepers, and the surgeons and their assistants, and the veterinary surgeons, and the mechanics and the bakers, and officers' servants, and to all these and many others, falling under headings too numerous to enumerate, add the drivers of the 13,200 vehicles, some, two-horse carts needing only one man to look after them, but some would be wagons with four and six horses, calling for two or three men's care; and as for the vehicles, hear what General Bronsart von Schellendorff, whose teaching is, as we know, the last word in military science, has to say about them:

"This apparently enormous number of vehicles is unavoidable, if the troops are to be kept supplied with all they need. The transport with the troops and the ammunition columns[12] enable the troops to be ready for battle. The telegraph carts, pontoons, tool carts, etc., increase their efficiency; the field bakery, supply and transport columns, assure their being fed under difficulties; the wagons of the medical units are required for the sick and wounded, and allow of the erection of field hospitals."[13]

But the scaremongers, who have not allowed for non-combatants and vehicles to carry an Army's supplies, nor yet for the supplies themselves, are not likely to have considered such trifles as telegraphs and tools and hospital wagons. In their dark dreams the enemy is to live on the country, carry his commandeered food and forage in carts provided and horsed by the inhabitants, and either use our hospital wagons and hospitals, or have no sick and wounded to impede their triumphant advance, all the casualties being, presumably, on our side.

Listen again to General von Schellendorfif. Treating of the possibility of equipping men with horses in an enemy's country, he writes: " Few remounts for the combatant branches are obtainable "[14]; and of food and forage: " As, moreover, all such supplies, both as regards quantity and quality, must always be of a doubtful character, any organisation intended to maintain the efficiency of Armies in the field must depend on communications with home being properly maintained."[15] Why properly maintained? Because it is from home that the supplies must come; and since the German Army, on the morrow of its landing in England, will find its communications cut, what will be the amount of supplies that it must bring with it in the first and last instance?

In the foregoing tables I have omitted one item: to every four German Army Corps it is usual to attach one or two independent Cavalry divisions,[16] each composed of three brigades of two regiments, each of four squadrons; and these three brigades, together with two batteries of Horse Artillery, a light Ammunition Column, and an Engineer detachment, require 5,000 horses. My reason for omitting the two independent Cavalry divisions which ought to accompany the invading Army from my calculations, is solely due to my desire not to complicate further a problem which, as I have stated it, is already difficult enough, for I am not satisfied that six squadrons to each Army Corps will prove equal to the many duties that Cavalry are called on to perform[17]; and I am quite in agreement with Sir John French, who told the Norfolk Commission, in answering the question whether an invader would bring only '* a small number [of mounted men], but very good what he did bring," that "he [the enemy] would bring his proper proportion of Cavalry, I think. Probably the railways would be cut, and he would not be able to use them at first. He would have nothing but Cavalry to rely upon for information."[18]

Doubtless I shall be reminded that Sir John French spoke before the dawn of the aeroplane age, and that the Germans would rely not only upon Cavalry, but upon a body of airmen for information.

That the hypothetical invading Army will be equipped with aeroplanes I do not question, but, in view of their frailness and their dependence on weather conditions, no sensible commander will rely solely upon them for information[19]; and scouting to discover the enemy is only one of the objects for which Cavalry are needed: screening the Army so as to secure it against surprise is also one of their functions, and yet another, the collection of supplies; and, bring with them what they may, the Germans will still need to pick up, day by day, all the local food and forage they can lay their hands on.

I emphasise this point because there are men who, in their desire to smooth the way before our German invaders, would have us believe that " they will not be hampered by over-much Artillery or Cavalry, arms difficult to employ in enclosed country,"[20] and others who go yet farther, and assure us that they will come without horses, and may so confidently reckon on finding horses and provisions in England that, soon after landing, they will be as well horsed as our own Territorial Cavalry[21]—innocently ignorant of the fact that horses are needed to capture horses and unearth provisions.

No, our alarmists cannot have it both ways—either they must allow that the Germans will bring their supplies with them, and the vehicles to carry those supplies and the horses to draw the vehicles, or else that they will bring Cavalry—large numbers of Cavalry—to hunt for supplies and for horses and carts, and to cover the Infantry that will be needed to bring their booty into camp. German Generals and German Staff Officers are not magicians, but sensible, well-informed men, who will conduct war in this country on the same lines, and with the same precautions, as they would recognise to be essential in any other country; and if they know that this cannot be done, will stay at home, and not gratify their English admirers by such a display of military recklessness as the world has never yet witnessed.

They may, or may not, be acquainted with the despatch in which Sir Arthur Wellesley refused to lead an imperfectly equipped force to Egypt; but they know as well as that great commander that "Articles of Provision are not to be trifled with or left to chance, and there is nothing more clear than that the subsistence of the troops must be certain upon the proposed service, or the service must be relinquished."[22]

  1. See Lord Roberts's speeches in the House of Lords on November 23, 1908; April 3, 1911; and February 20, 1912.
  2. 2.0 2.1 A large reserve of destroyers, torpedo-boats, and submarines will still be in the ports of both nations; but here too Great Britain will be greatly superior to Germany (see Table VI).— H. B. H.
  3. General Report of the British Army, War Office 1912 [Cd. 6065], p. 34.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Ibid. p. 26.
  5. 5.0 5.1 First Lord's Statement on Navy Estimates [Cd. 6106], p. 10.
  6. General Report of the British Army, p. 125. Strength to-day is 78,000.—H. B. H.
  7. The Territorials should be taught to take up strategical points, and when the enemy had deployed, or had partially deployed, to disperse and fall on his flanks and rear. These were the tactics which the Duke of Wellington recommended to his half-trained Spanish allies in the Peninsular War.—H. B. H.
  8. Service with the Colours is three years with the Cavalry and Horse Artillery, and two years with other arms." —Strength and Organisation of the Armies of France, Germany, and Japan. See Journal of the Royal United Service Institution for February 1912.
  9. There may have been many "regrettable incidents" in the Boer War, but in its hard and difficult school many lessons were learnt, lessons not yet forgotten.— H. B. H.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 The Duties of the General Staff, pp. 272, 273, by General Bronsart von Schellendorff.
  11. Lord Roberts sees no reason why the invading army should not consist of nine Army Corps: " Considering, my Lords [so he said], that in all the large Continental ports steamers each capable of carrying 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers for a short voyage can always be made available, 70,000 multiplied by two, or even by three, would require quite a small number of vessels for their transport."—Speech in the House of Lords, February 20, 1912.
  12. Seventy-two ammunition columns, twelve to each Army Corps—H. B. H.
  13. The Duties of the General Staff p. 273.
  14. Duties of the General Staff, p. 528.
  15. Ibid. pp. 528, 529.
  16. "With a peace establishment of twenty-two Army Corps, which would probably in case of war be organised as five or six Armies, each Army must consist of about four Army Corps, and one or two Cavalry divisions."—Duties of the General Staff, p. 235. (The italics are mine.—H. B. H.)
  17. "As a matter of fact, it sometimes happens, as experience has shown, that both sides remain watching each other till nightfall. Any one who has experienced this knows the frightful tension of the nerves which such a state of affairs produces. The remedy lies, indeed, in having a Cavalry superior to that of the enemy, either in numbers or skill, and being able to be beforehand in getting an insight into his position, numbers, strength, movements, and intentions."—Duties of the General Staff, p. 480.
  18. Report of the Norfolk Commission, vol. i. p. 91.
  19. Napoleon held that the most reliable information was to be obtained from prisoners. Aeroplanes could not hope to make prisoners.—H. B. H.
  20. The late Sir E. Collen's article on "The Real Military Problem and its Solutions " in The National Review for April 1911.
  21. Speech by Lord Ellenborough in the House of Lords, see The Times, April 4, 1911.
  22. Despatch, dated February 18, 1801.