Can Germany Invade England?/Chapter6

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"When we cannot embark at proper wharves or jetties, but out at sea with more or less motion, the shipping of horses, guns, wagons, and military carriages must always occupy a considerable time."—Colonel G. A. Furse, C.B.

"It is a fact beyond dispute that the attention paid in embarking the troops, war materials, and provisions for an expedition beyond the sea will always reveal itself when the hour of disembarkation arrives."—Idem.

Mobilisation and concentration are distinct operations; the former consists in raising the peace establishments of an army to a war footing, the latter in bringing its different units together; but as concentration begins as soon as the mobilisation of a few units is completed, the two operations go on simultaneously, almost from the beginning.


In ordinary times all standing armies are kept, for economical reasons, below their reputed strength; but the moment hostilities are imminent, officers and men absent on leave or furlough rejoin their regiments, corps, or departments; the reserves are called out, and all reservists pronounced fit for active service, after a strict medical examination, are furnished with clothing, arms, and equipment; remounts are purchased, and owners of registered horses and wagons are required by the civil authorities to deliver them, under heavy penalties for disobedience or delay, at certain indicated points, where the unfit are rejected, and the fit passed into the several branches of the Service, to the work of which they are best suited, the accepted horses and those purchased being fitted with saddles, harness, etc. Artillery trains, ammunition columns, supply and transport trains are organised, field hospitals equipped, bearer corps brought up to war strength, provisions for the troops and forage for the horses collected at convenient places along the lines of railway and at the final point of concentration, and arrangements made for the billeting and sheltering of men and beasts both at that point and at the towns where halts are likely to occur; whilst immense quantities of locomotive engines and rolling stock of every kind are brought together at the stations where regiments and corps are ordered to entrain.

Lord Roberts believes that, under cover of the General Autumn Manoeuvres, these preliminary steps can be taken "without any fuss," by which he means, without exciting remark or suspicion; but even the lay reader will have his doubts as to the probability of concealing the object of such extraordinary measures, and experienced military men, knowing to how great an extent mobilisation for manoeuvres differs from mobilisation for war, will pronounce such secrecy impossible; but if we accept the possibility of such deception being successfully practised, it could only extend to the measures enumerated above; no General Manoeuvres could account for the activity of the naval authorities, whose preparations must keep pace with those of their military and civil colleagues, if England be the object that the German Government has in view. It would be their business to take up shipping—all the shipping in their respective ports—and to prepare it for the reception of men, horses, guns, ammunition, [1] artillery wagons, supply and transport carriage, provisions, stores, etc. It takes six days to fit a merchant steamer for the conveyance of men and material, ten days to put in the necessary fittings for horses, for whose use the larger vessels must be reserved, as the only proper place for them is on the main deck, where in small vessels there would be no room for the stalls, without which it is impossible to ensure their safety or to hope to land them in good condition.[2] Placed on the upper deck they add greatly to the rolling of the ship, and in heavy weather the horses and stalls are in danger of being washed overboard.[3] This occurred on the voyage of the Queen to Natal in 1881, when a number of horses were lost before she reached St. Vincent. After the Abyssinian Expedition, in which he was disembarkation officer, Lord Roberts was so convinced of the necessity of the horse transports being provided with proper fittings, that he strongly recommended the Government to do the work themselves; since "it was a matter of indifference to ship owners whether the animals were lost or injured during the voyage, and the most careful inspection would not prevent their putting up the stalls as cheaply and as badly as possible."

No doubt the German Admiralty is alive to the need of proper fittings, [4] but it may be doubted whether they will have the skilled labour at their command to install them, at short notice, in the large number of ships that will be needed to carry 78,000 horses, or to ensure to those horses the ventilation without which they suffer severely from seasickness, a bad preparation for active service in the field.[5] But transforming merchant ships into transports will not exhaust the demands on the resources of the German dockyards.

To make landing possible, every vessel must be provided with at least six boats and a steam tug, each boat capable of carrying from forty to sixty men, or ten horses, or one gun, or one wagon; and those intended for the landing of artillery and cavalry in shallow water, must be fitted with inclined and fall-down sterns. On the voyage, the boats will be stowed away on board, and the steam launches taken in tow by the vessel to which it is attached. A cumbersome and awkward arrangement at the best of times, and in bad weather quite out of the question, yet so essential to rapid disembarkation is an ample supply of landing-boats and small steamers to tow them, that, at all hazards, they must accompany the troopships, or the success of the expedition, as a surprise invasion, will be jeopardised.[6]

In the Persian Expedition of 1856, insufficient provision of landing-boats had been made, especially of landing-boats for horses, and in consequence it took three days and two nights to disembark 9,500 men and 1,500 animals. And again in the disembarkation experiments at Clacton-onSea, in 1904, it took two days to land 10,000 men, and though it is true that, for twenty-four hours, the weather was bad, still the delay was largely due to the fact that there were too few steam tugs for the work.[7]


Concentration can be effected both by road and rail, the former being preferable for short distances, where the railway has only a single line. For example, an army corps that can be moved seventy-two miles by a double line in three days needs seven days to do the same distance by a single line, and only six days by road. But even where lines are double, it is frequently advisable to move a portion of an army by road to leave the railway free for the conveyance of military supplies of all kinds, and to prevent a total suspension of its ordinary traffic, on which the existence of the civil population depends.

German railways are not specially adapted to the use of troops. Like those of our own country, they were constructed to meet the requirements of peace, not those of war, and by some even of the double lined, owing to certain defects, it is hardly possible to despatch more than one troop train per hour.[8] Under the most favourable conditions, it takes five days to despatch a complete army corps, with its first and second lines of transport, in 118 trains[9] each of fifty or sixty carriages, from any given station, for, as General von Schellendorff points out, "entraining and detraining troops, and especially unloading trains conveying baggage or supplies, are operations, it should be remembered, requiring no inconsiderable amount of time."[10] In 1870, the Germans did actually mass a combatant force of 16,000 officers, 440,000 men, 135,000 horses, and 14,000 guns, on the French frontier in sixteen days, and we will assume that they can do the same to-day; but, so far as concentration for an invasion of England is concerned, such speed would rather be deprecated than desired, for there would be no use in overcrowding the ports with troops and material, until such time as the ships on which they are to embark are ready to receive them. A part of the Infantry should be first on the spot to help in the tedious task of unloading the trains of horses and baggage, and clearing the stations of the contents of each train as it arrives, to make room for those that are following after. Horse trains should have precedence of trains carrying stores, baggage, transport vehicles, etc., for the sooner living creatures are taken out of the trucks the better. Indian officers have had plenty of experience of horses and transport animals of all kinds dying in trains from exposure, hunger, and thirst, owing to perhaps unavoidable delays and accidents; and even in Germany delays and accidents are not unknown, and in all countries the difficulty of feeding and watering animals on trains is great.


Organise and work as the Germans may, they will find it hard to avoid a great accumulation of men, beasts, baggage, and stores in the ports, for until the fittings of a ship are completed—those fittings including fresh-water tanks in the holds rigged out with pumps[11]— no baggage must go on board, not only because its arrival causes inconvenience at the time, but because, unless the process of embarkation is carried through in an orderly, systematic way, the process of disembarkation will be attended with such confusion as may prove fatal to the expedition. It is impossible to give the order of embarkation in detail; suffice it to say that each unit occupying a troopship, whether it be a regiment or a battery, or a portion of such corps, must be complete in itself, i.e. it must have with it everything of which on landing it will stand in need—baggage, ammunition, camp equipment, stores, animals, carts, wagons, etc.; that the reserve stores and provisions should be sent on board in advance; that regimental equipment and transport must come next, carts and wagons going into the hold, then the horses and the men in charge of them; and last, the main body of troops.

It is evident that for the proper carrying out of this complicated process a very large body of thoroughly instructed, experienced staff officers will be required. Now, German staff officers may be thoroughly instructed—that is to say, may have learnt all about embarkation that books can teach—and a few may have practised embarking a regiment or a battery; but no officers in the world have had experience of putting 50,000 troops—the number assigned to each of the three ports—and their belongings on shipboard. English officers have never had to deal with an oversea expedition numbering more than a few thousand men, and in all such conditions each vessel, or group of vessels, has put to sea as soon as its equipment was complete, leaving its place at the quay to be taken by another, or others; for, outside the harbour, no hostile fleet has been waiting to capture it, and however many thousand miles of water lay between it and the coast for which it was bound, wind and weather were the only foes it had to fear.[12]

Contrast this leisurely, care-free state of things with that which will prevail under conditions that demand that 139 ships shall be got ready simultaneously and steam out of port together. Only a small proportion of those 1 39 could be loaded from the wharves; to the majority, men, horses, guns, ammunition, stores, transport of all kinds, must be conveyed in lighters and troop-boats, out of which the horses must be slung on board, and the wagons—loaded and on wheels, ready for immediate use on disembarkation—hoisted up and lowered down into the holds, a long and, in bad weather, dangerous operation; yet, good weather or bad, the work must go forward, for does not the whole success of a German invasion of England, according to the prophets who warn us to prepare against it, depend upon secrecy, and secrecy upon speed?

  1. For ammunition special arrangements must be made. H. B H
  2. Military Transport pp. 158, 160, by Colonel G. A. Furse, C.B.
  3. Staff Duties, p. 230, by Major F. C. H. Clarke, C.M.G.
  4. "To carry a number of horses, horse fittings must be erected. These are of an elaborate nature, and consist of stalls with padded breast boards and breech boards, slings, and other special fittings."—The Duties of the General Staff, by General von Schellendorff, p. 2.
  5. "The heat is very distressing to horses on board ship, and apoplexy is one of the prevailing diseases; still, on the whole, horses suffer more at sea from the motion of the ship than from heat. Sea-sickness, the result of the motion, causes congestion of the brain, ending in madness, which proves rapidly fatal."—Military Transport, p. 164, by Colonel G. A. Furse, C.B.
  6. "One of the chief points to be attended to is the provision of suitable boats and flats for landing men and horses, and material for the construction of piers. Each ship should be amply provided therewith and also with a steam pinnace."— Staff Duties, p. 239, by Major F. C. H, Clarke, C.M.G.
  7. Lieutenant A. C. Dewar, R.N., advocates in his little work, Is Invasion Impossible? p. 53, providing every transport of 5,000 tons with twelve landing-boats —six for horses and six for wagons—and two steam launches, the former to be carried on deck, the latter to be taken in tow.

    He admits that the launches present a difficulty, but they are a necessity for rapid disembarkation, and two of them must be assigned to each transport, " the weather being assumedly calm." But if these tugs are necessary and the weather is stormy—what then?—H. B. H.

  8. These defects "are often connected with difficulties of an engineering or technical nature as regards the laying out of the line, and, consequently, are by no means easily remedied." —The Duties of the General Staff, pp. 332, 333, by General Bronsart von Schellendorff.
  9. This includes six supply trains.—Ibid. p. 340.
  10. "In some cases, where local arrangements are ill adapted for the purpose, the difficulties may be so great as to cause the railway station in question to be practically excluded, or at any rate only considered as available at long intervals of time." —The Duties of the General Staff,, p. 339,
  11. "Few ships have sufficient arrangements for stowing away such a large quantity of water as is required for a large number of troops, and no point demands greater attention than the furnishing of transports with a plentiful supply of fresh water."—Military Transport, pp. 162, 163.

    A man's allowance is one gallon of water per diem, a horse's eight gallons. At this rate six army corps, allowing 10 per cent, for waste, would consume over 400 tons of water per diem.—H. B. H.

  12. The British contingent of the Expeditionary Force to the Crimea, consisting of 33,500 men and 3,350 horses, escorted by 34 warships, is the largest organised body of troops that ever left these shores.—H. B. H.