Can Germany Invade England?/Chapter5

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"In war nothing is to be done but by calculation. Whatever is not profoundly considered in its details produces no good results."


"For the transport of a force of any size considerable preparation] is required even by Great Britain."—Lecture on Transport of Troops by Sea, by Major F. C. H. Clarke, C.M.G., Professor at the Staffs College.

"Preparations for oversea invasion were never easy to conceal, owing to the disturbance of the flow of shipping that they caused."'—Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, by Julian S. Corbett, LL.M.

In the foregoing chapter I described the constitution of a German Army supposed to be adequate in point of numbers to the task of invading England: in the present chapter I shall inquire into the amount and nature of the shipping that Germany has at her command for the conveyance of that army to our shores.

Now, the first question that we must ask ourselves is this: Will the Expeditionary Force sail from one port or several? and to answer it we must consider what would be the effect on our own great ports of a sudden influx of 246,000 men—150,000 troops, 96,000 non-combatants. It would nearly double the population of Newcastle-on-Tyne (285,000) or Hull (280,000); more than double the population of Portsmouth (217,989), and treble the population of Southampton (127,159), or Plymouth (126,265); and whereas these figures include men, women, and children, down to infants in arms, the quarter of a million newcomers would all be strong young men who, hard at work from morning till night, would require full rations to keep them in proper condition, and the same would be true of the 78,000 horses.

Now, I assert that, within a few days of the descent of this multitude upon Newcastle, Hull, Portsmouth, Southampton, or Plymouth, both It and the original inhabitants of any one of those towns would be brought to the verge of starvation, for no town has more than a few days' food in hand, and the railways, blocked with troops, horses, guns, military carriage and stores, would be unable to bring up even the usual daily supplies, let alone the additions to them demanded by the increase in the number of mouths requiring to be filled; and as German towns are unlikely to be better stocked than ours, no better able, therefore, to bear the strain that would be thrown upon their resources, if the attempt were made to embark the whole of the Army destined for the invasion of England from a single point, we may safely assume that it will be broken up, probably into three parts, sailing respectively from the Rivers Elbe, Weser, and Jahde Bay.[1]

Has Germany sufficient tonnage of her own to carry six Army Corps and their equipment across the North Sea? That is the second question to which we must find an answer. Her total ocean tonnage is 2,300,000 gross,[2] one-third of which is estimated to be in foreign ports, one-third on the sea, and the remaining 766,666 tons in home waters; but, practically, none of this third would be ready for use; many vessels would be loading or unloading; some just arriving, some ready to weigh anchor, some in dock being overhauled, a few even stripped and undergoing a thorough examination of their boilers and machinery.[3] Of course there are always a number of sailing vessels in every German harbour, but as they would need to be towed by steamers, they would be quite unsuitable for employment in a surprise invasion.[4]

The next step to the correct solution of the problem of sea-transport by which the German Government will be confronted is the determining the amount of tonnage that will be needed for the conveyance of:

Men 246,000
Horses 78,000
Guns 864
Vehicles 13,200

According to Lord Wolseley (see Soldiers Pocket-book, pp. 180, 181), 1½ tons net per man and 2½ tons net per horse must be allowed "for very short voyages, such as crossing the English or Irish Channels"; and 2 tons net per man and 6 tons net per horse " for voyages not exceeding a week " in duration.[5] The latter estimate includes "space for one month's forage and provisions,"[6] a reasonable and prudent allowance with which to meet the needs of an army during the voyage and the period of debarkation, and to fill up the supply and transport columns, and stock the magazines at the base on landing. The length of the passage from the German ports to the British coast being uncertain, but in all circumstances likely greatly to exceed what Lord Wolseley understands by a very short voyage, we will take his second estimate as the basis of our calculations, with all the more assurance because, as Colonel Furse says, "It is not considered prudent ever to base the calculations on short voyages, for the alertness of the enemy, or unfavourable weather for landing, might keep the troops on board a longer time than was anticipated, or might make it necessary to steam away to attempt the landing in some place other than the one originally contemplated."[7]

As, however, Lord Wolseley calculates in net tonnage, whilst the tonnage of German shipping has been given in gross, we will begin by ascertaining the relation in which the one stands to the other.

Now, net tonnage means that part of a vessel's carrying capacity which remains for the accommodation of passengers and freight after all its own requirements have been met, a large allowance having always to be made for such spaces as engine room, crew room, coal bunkers, etc. Lord Wolseley's rule for raising net to gross for merchant steamers is to add 53 per cent, to the former,[8] but Major Clarke considers that an addition of about 66 per cent, is necessary,[9] and Colonel G. A. Furse, perhaps a still greater authority, is in favour of 70 per cent.[10]; but, faithful to my custom of under, rather than over, estimating Germany's difficulties, I will content myself with adding 50 per cent, in arriving at the amount of gross tonnage that she will require to accommodate her Invading Force.

For 246,000 men at 2 tons per man 492,000 net
For 78,000 horses at 6 tons per horse 468,000 ,,
Total 960,000 ,,

Nine hundred and sixty thousand tons net plus 50 per cent. = 1,440,000 gross, or 673,334 tons in excess of the amount to be found at any one time in all the German ports.

The following examples of our Admiralty's estimates for over-seas expeditions, quoted by Colonel Furse in his book Military Expeditions Beyond the Seas, p. 209, will show how careful I have been to avoid anything like exaggeration in my own estimates.

First Estimate

"Independently of warlike materials, stores and provisions," sea transport of 260,047 tons would have to be taken up for an English Army Corps which consists of:

Officers, Men, and Non-Combatants 35,087
Horses and pack animals 10,121
Carriages 1,736

Multiplying 260,047 tons by 6 we obtain 1,560,282 tons, as against my estimate of 1,440,000 for Germany's six Army Corps; and my readers will remember that a German Army Corps [41,000 men], is considerably larger than an English one [35,087 men], being in the proportion of nearly six to five.

Second Estimate

Four hundred and fifty-seven thousand one hundred and twelve tons would be required for an army consisting of:

  Men Horses Carriages
Army Corps 35,087 10,121 1,736
Cavalry Division 6,700 6,677 454
Troops for Lines of Communication 11,959 3,278 401
Total 531746 20,076 2,591 =457,112 tons

And Furse remarks that the provision of suitable ships for the transport of this force would " tax all the energies of the Transport Department of the Admiralty."

But if there is no escape from the law that in reckoning sea transport one must calculate on a net basis, the only way in which Germany can provide herself with the tonnage she will require, is to seize all foreign vessels lying in her ports—all of them, of course, in the same state of unreadiness as her own.

I doubt whether this expedient would suffice, and I am certain that she would hesitate to commit such a breach of international law at the risk of embroiling herself with all the maritime nations of the world; but as, for argument's sake, I have not refused to attribute to her other impossible and discreditable acts, I am ready to allow that she will confiscate the foreign shipping in her harbours, and that it will be sufficient for her needs; nay, I will go further, and as I have assumed that she will be able to conceal the transformation of her own merchant vessels into transports, so, now, I will grant that she will succeed in so sealing her harbours, and in so controlling her postoffices and telegraphs, that no whisper of this high-handed proceeding will reach the outer world. But here a new difficulty presents itself: the greater part of all the impressed vessels, whether native or foreign, will be fully or partially loaded. What is to be done with their cargoes? "Land them," you will say. But where? At each of the three ports of embarkation the quays must be kept free from obstruction of every kind, to make room for troops and baggage, horses and wagons, guns and stores, and I greatly fear that, as a preliminary to preparing merchant ships for their new duties, their cargoes will have to be flung overboard. There might be unpleasantness with their crews, especially with foreign crews, but they could be overpowered and replaced by German seamen, of whom, of course, there would be the necessary reserve at hand!

We have determined the tonnage that Germany will require; we have still to estimate the number of ships among which that tonnage will be divided. She has 109 ships of about 5,000 tons, [11] but as two-thirds of these will be abroad or at sea, she will only have about 36 vessels at home, and as she would need 288 steamers of that capacity to accommodate six Army Corps, or 418 ships between 2,000 and 5,000 tons,[12] each of her three flotillas would consist of 139 vessels, a few very large, some of moderate size, a number small, and of such varying speeds that the Admiralty Memorandum, from which I quoted in a previous chapter, was overliberal in attributing to the invading fleet an average of 10 to 12 knots an hour, for certain conditions, to be mentioned later, will tend to make its progress very slow.

Having now provided our army with seatransport, we will follow its movements through their various stages—mobilisation, concentration, embarkation, voyage, debarkation—and after.

  1. Port on the Elbe—Hamburg; on the Weser—Bremen; and on the Jahde—Wilhelmshaven.
  2. L. G. Chiozza Money, M.P.
  3. "A liner arriving at her home port is forthwith taken in hand in preparation for her next trip, which involves much labour. Her machinery is all opened out for examination and adjustment, her boilers are emptied and overhauled, her tubes swept, her coal-bunkers replenished, her bottom surfaces cleansed and coated with composition in dry dock. In the majority of cases her crew are discharged while she is in port, and do not sign on again till she is ready for sea."—" Invasion from the Nautical Standpoint," by "Master Mariner," Contemporary Review for March 191 1, p. 280.
  4. We have frequently made use of sailing vessels towed by steamers in over-sea expeditions. In the transport of troops to the Crimea 24 steamers and 64 sailing vessels were employed. In the China War of 1860, out of 200 ships a large number were sailing vessels. The sea-transport in the Abyssinian Expedition was made up of 75 steamers and 205 sailing ships. In 1878 the Indian contingent was carried to Malta in 12 steamers and 15 sailing-vessels, but in none of these cases were secrecy and speed essential.—H. B. H.
  5. Another authority writes: " (i) For a short voyage of a few hours, a man requires an allowance of 1½ tons, a horse 2½ tons; (2) for a voyage under a week, 2 tons per man, 6 per horse. ... In these calculations are included arms, ammunition, stores, ist Line transport complete, together with provisions and forage for one month in the second case . . . but not tents or other 2nd Line transport. When a large amount of transport-vehicles accompanies, additional tonnage must be added. For 2nd Line transport, extra stores, hospital ships and food beyond the aforesaid provision, other vessels will be required."—Staff Duties, by Major F. C. H. Clarke, Professor at the Staff College, p. 226.
  6. Wolseley's Soldiers Pocket-book, p. 181.
  7. Military Expeditions Beyond the Seas, by Colonel G. A. Furse, C.B., vol. i. pp. 207, 208.
  8. The Soldiers' Pocket-book, p. 181.
  9. Staff Duties, p. 266,
  10. Military Expeditions Beyond the Seas, p. 208,
  11. To be absolutely correct, 109 ships between 4,000 and 5,000 tons.— H. B. H.
  12. As a matter of fact Germany possesses no such mercantile fleet, but for the sake of argument, I will suppose she does. She has 489 steamships, varying between 2,000 tons and 30,000 (see chap, ii, p. 25), whose carrying capacity is approximately 2,485,500 tons gross. As, however, only onethird of these steamers will be in home waters—the remainder being at sea or in foreign ports—there will only be 828,500 tons available for the conveyance of the three Army Corps across the North Sea. As 1,440,000 gross tons are required for the invasionary army, provision must be made for carrying the difiference between 1,440,000 and 828,500, namely 611,500 tons gross, and Germany will therefore have to press into her service a sufficient number of foreign vessels to make good the deficiency in steamers.— H. B. H.