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Title: The British Navy in Battle
Author: Pollen, Arthur H.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The British Navy in Battle" ***

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  THE BRITISH NAVY
  IN BATTLE

  BY
  ARTHUR H. POLLEN


  [Illustration]


  _ILLUSTRATED_


  GARDEN CITY     NEW YORK
  DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
  1919



  COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY
  DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THAT OF
  TRANSLATION INTO FOREIGN LANGUAGES,
  INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                        PAGE
      I. A Greeting. By Way of Dedication                           3

     II. A Retrospect                                              11
             The First Crisis                                      14
             The Second Crisis                                     20
             The Third Crisis                                      22
             The Fourth Crisis                                     25
             The New Era                                           28

    III. Sea Fallacies: A Plea for First Principles                33

     IV. Some Root Doctrines                                       48

      V. Elements of Sea Force                                     61

     VI. The Actions                                               79

    VII. Naval Gunnery, Weapons and Technique                      93
             Fire Control                                          96
             The Torpedo in Battle                                103

   VIII. The Action that Never Was Fought                         108

     IX. The Destruction of _Koenigsberg_                         119
             The First Attempt                                    126
             Success                                              134
             A Problem in Control                                 142

      X. Capture of H. I. G. M. S. _Emden_                        152

     XI. The Career of Von Spee.  I                               165
             Coronel                                              172

    XII. Battle of the Falkland Islands.  I:
             The Career of Von Spee II                            180
             A. Preliminary Movements                             182

   XIII. Battle of the Falkland Islands.  II:
             B. Action with the Armoured Cruisers                 191

    XIV. Battle of the Falkland Islands.  III:
             C. Action with the Light Cruisers                    201
             D. Action with the Enemy Transports                  210

     XV. Battle of the Falkland Islands.  IV:
             Strategy--Tactics--Gunnery                           213
             British Strategy                                     215
             The Tactics of the Battle                            219
             A Point in Naval Ethics                              230

    XVI. The Heligoland Affair                                    232
             The North Sea                                        240

   XVII. The Action Off the Dogger Bank.  I                       245

  XVIII. The Dogger Bank.  II                                     251

    XIX. The Battle of Jutland:
             I. North Sea Strategies                              267

     XX. The Battle of Jutland (_continued_):
             II. The Urgency of a Decision                        283

    XXI. The Battle of Jutland (_continued_):
             III. The Distribution of Forces                      294

   XXII. The Battle of Jutland (_continued_):
             IV. The Second Phase                                 307

  XXIII. The Battle of Jutland (_continued_):
               V. The Three Objectives                            315
               The Tactical Plans:
                 Admiral Scheer’s Tactics                         317
                 Sir David Beatty’s Tactics                       324
                 Sir John Jellicoe’s Tactics                      326

   XXIV. The Battle of Jutland (_continued_):
             VI. The Course of the Action                         330
             The German Retreat                                   333
             The Night Actions and the Events of June 1           335

    XXV. Zeebrügge and Ostend                                     341
             Strategical Object                                   342
             Sir Roger Keyes’s Tactics                            345
             Attack on the Mole                                   352
             Moral Effect                                         353



LIST OF LINE CUTS


                                                                 PAGE
  Big guns more accurate at long range, because more regular       94

  Big guns need less accurate range-finding, because the danger
      space is greater                                             95

  Range-finding by bracket                                         97

  The crux of sea fighting, changes of course and speed produce
      an irregularly changing range                                98

  In this sketch the black silhouette shows the position at the
      moment the torpedo is fired; the white silhouette the
      position the ship has reached when the torpedo meets it     107

  Plan of _Sydney_ and _Emden_ in action                          158

  Plan of the action between the British battle-cruisers and
      the German armoured cruisers                                199

  Plan of action between _Kent_ and _Nürnberg_, and of that
      between _Cornwall_ and _Glasgow_ and _Leipzig_              207

  The action off Heligoland up to the intervention of
      Commodore Goodenough’s Light Cruiser Squadron               235

  The action off Heligoland. The course of the battle-cruisers    239

  The Dogger Bank Affair. Diagram to illustrate the character
      of the engagement up to the disablement of _Lion_           249

  The official plan of the Battle of Jutland. Note that the
      course of the Grand Fleet is not shown to be “astern”
      of the battle-cruisers, but parallel to their track         295

  Position of the opposing fleets at 3:30 P.M.                    298

  The first phase; from Von Hipper’s coming into view, until
      his juncture with Admiral Scheer                            301

  The second phase; Beatty engages the combined German Fleet,
  and draws it toward the Grand Fleet                             309

  Sketch plan of the action from 6 P.M. when the Grand Fleet
      prepared to deploy, till 6:50 when Admiral Scheer
      delivered his first massed torpedo attack                   332

  Jutland Diagrams. Third phase                        at end of book



THE BRITISH NAVY IN BATTLE



CHAPTER I

A GREETING BY WAY OF DEDICATION


            _Xmas, 1915._

To the Admirals, Captains, Officers and Men of the Royal Navy and of
the Royal Naval Reserve:

To the men of the merchant service and the landsmen who have
volunteered for work afloat:

To all who are serving or fighting for their country at sea:

To all naval officers who are serving--much against their will--on land:

Greetings, good wishes and gratitude from all landsmen.

We do not wish you a Merry Christmas, for to none of us, neither to
you at sea nor to us on land, can Christmas be a merry season now.
Nor, amid so much misery and sorrow, does it seem, at first sight,
reasonable to carry the conventional phrase further and wish you a
Happy New Year. But happiness is a different thing from merriment. In
the strictest sense of the word you are happy in your great task, and
we doubly and trebly happy in the security that your great duties, so
finely discharged, confer. So, after all it is a Happy New Year that we
wish you.

If you could have your wish, you of the Grand Fleet--well, we can
guess what it would be. It is that the war would so shape itself as to
force the enemy fleet out, and make it put its past work and its once
high hopes to the test against the power which you command and use with
all the skill your long vigil and faithful service have made so singly
yours to-day. And in one sense--and for your sakes, because your glory
would be somehow lessened if it did not happen--we too could wish that
this could happen. But we wish it only because you do. Although you do
not grumble, though we hear no fretful word, we realize how wearing and
how wearying your ceaseless watch must be. It is a watchfulness that
could not be what it is, unless you hoped, and indeed more than hoped,
_expected_ that the enemy must early or late prove your readiness to
meet him, either seeking you, or letting you find him, in a High Seas
fight of ship to ship and man to man. We, like you, look forward to
such a time with no misgiving as to the result, though, unlike you,
we dread the price in noble lives and gallant ships that even an
overwhelming victory may cost.

Your hopes and expectation for this dreadful, but glorious, end to all
your work do not date from August, eighteen months ago. When as little
boys you went to the _Britannia_, you went drawn there by the magic of
the sea. It was not the sea that carries the argosies of fabled wealth;
it was not the sea of yachts and pleasure boats. It was the sea that
had been ruled so proudly by your fathers that drew you. And you, as
the youngest of the race, went to it as the heirs to a stern and noble
heritage. So, almost from the nursery have you been vowed to a life
of hardship and of self-denial, of peril and of poverty--a fitting
apprenticeship for those who were destined to bear themselves so nobly
in the day of strain and battle. To the mission confided to you in
boyhood you have been true in youth and true in manhood. So that when
war came it was not war that surprised you, but you that surprised war.

When the war came, you from the beginning did your work as simply, as
skilfully, and as easily as you had always done it. Not one of you
ever met the enemy, however inferior the force you might be in, but
you fought him resolutely and to the end. Twice and only twice was he
engaged to no purpose. _Pegasus_, disabled and outraged, fell nobly,
and the valiant Cradock faced overwhelming odds because duty pointed
to fighting. Should the certainty of death stand between him and that
which England expects of every seaman? There could only be one answer.
In no other case has an enemy ship sought action with a British ship.
In every other case the enemy has been forced to fight, and made to
fly. It was so from the first. When two small cruisers penetrated the
waters of Heligoland with a flotilla of destroyers, the enemy kept his
High Seas Fleet, his fast cruisers, and his well-gunned armoured ships
in the ignoble safety of his harbours and his canal. He left, to his
shame, his small cruisers to fight their battle alone. Tyrwhitt and
Blount might, and should, have been the objects of overwhelming attack.
But the Germans were not to be drawn into battle. The ascendancy
that you gained in the first three weeks of war you have maintained
ever since. Three times under the cover of darkness or of fog, the
greater, faster units of the German force have--in a frenzy of fearful
daring--ventured to cross or enter the sea that once was known as
the German Ocean. Three times they have known no alternative but
precipitate flight to the place from which they came.

Not once has a single merchant ship bound for England been stopped or
taken by an enemy ship in home waters. But fifty-six out of eight
thousand were overtaken in distant seas. It has been yours to shepherd
and protect the vast armies we have sent out from England, and so
completely have you done it that not a single transport or supply ship
has been impeded between this country and France. From the first there
has not been, nor can there now ever be, the slightest threat or the
remotest danger of these islands being invaded. Indeed, so utter and
complete has been your work that the phrase “Command of the Sea” has a
new meaning. The sea holds no danger for us. Allied to other great land
powers, we find ourselves able and compelled to become a great land
power also. The army of four millions is thus not the least of your
creations.

So thorough is your work that Britain stands to-day on a pinnacle of
power unsurpassed by any nation at any time.

Has the completeness of your work been impaired by the ravages of the
submarine? Its gift of invisibility has seemed to some so mystic a
thing that its powers become magnified. Because it clearly _sometimes
might_ strike a deadly blow, it was thought that it _always could_
so strike, till madness was piled upon madness, and it seemed as if
the very laws of force had been upset, and ships and guns things
obsolete and of no use. But you have always known--and we at last are
learning--that this is idle talk, and that as things were and as they
are, so must they always be; and that sea-power rests as it always has,
and as it always will, with the largest fleet of the strongest ships,
and with big guns well directed and truly aimed.

It did not take you long to learn the trick of the submarine in war,
and had things been ordered differently, you might have learned much of
what you know in the years of peace. But you learned its tricks so well
that it has failed completely to hurt the Navy or the Army which the
Navy carries over the sea, and has found its only success in attacking
unarmed merchant ships. These are only unarmed because the people of
Christendom had never realized that any of its component nations could
turn to barbarism, piracy, and even murder in war. It would have been
so easy, had this utter lapse into devilry been expected, to have
armed every merchant ship--and then where would the submarine have
been? But even with the merchantmen unarmed, the submarine success has
been greatly thwarted by your splendid ingenuity and resource, your
sleepless guard, your ceaseless activity, and the buccaneers of a new
brutality have been made to pay a bloody toll.

Take it for all in all, never in the history of war has organized force
accomplished its purpose at so small a cost in unpreventable loss,
or with such utter thoroughness, or in face of such unanticipated
difficulties.

It was inevitable that there should be some failures. Not every
opportunity has been seized, nor every chance of victory pushed to
the utmost. Who can doubt that there are a hundred points of detail
in which your material, the methods open to you, the plans which tied
you, might have been more ample, better adapted to their purpose,
more closely and wisely considered? For when so much had changed, the
details of naval war had to differ greatly from the anticipation. In
the long years of peace--that seem so infinitely far behind us now--you
had for a generation and a half been administered by a department
almost entirely civilian in its spirit and authority. It was a control
that had to make some errors in policy, in provision, in selection. But
your skill counter-balanced bad policy when it could; your resources
supplied the defects of material; too few of you were of anything but
the highest merit for many errors of selection to be possible.

And the nation understood you very little. Your countrymen, it is true,
paid you the lip service of admitting that you alone stood between the
nation and defeat if war should come. But war seemed so unreal and
remote to them, that it was only a few that took the trouble to ask
what more you needed for war than you already had.

And you were so absorbed in the grinding toil of your daily work to be
articulate in criticism; too occupied in trying to get the right result
with indifferent means--because the right means cost too much and could
not be given to you--to strive for better treatment; too wholly wedded
to your task to be angry that your task was not made more easy for you.
Hence you took civilian domination, civilian ignorance, and civilian
indifference to the things that matter, all for granted, and submitted
to them dumbly and humbly, as you submitted silent and unprotesting
to your other hardships; you were resigned to this being so; and
were resigned without resentment. If, then, the plans were sometimes
wrong, if you and your force were at other times cruelly misused, if
the methods available to you were often inadequate, it was not your
fault--unless, indeed, it be a fault to be too loyal and too proud to
make complaint.

If we took little trouble to understand you, we took still less to
pay and praise you. There is surely no other profession in the world
which combines so hard a life, such great responsibilities, such
pitiful remuneration. But small as the pay is, we seize eagerly every
chance to lessen it. If we waste our money, we do not waste it on
you. But we fully expect you to spend your money in our service. The
naval officer’s pay is calculated to meet his expenses in time of
peace. Now a very large proportion of the pay of cadets, midshipmen,
sub-lieutenants, and lieutenants necessarily goes in uniform and
clothes. The life of a uniform can be measured by the sea work done by
the wearer. Sea work in war is--what shall we say?--three to six times
what it is in peace. But we do nothing to help young officers to meet
these very ugly attacks on their very exiguous pay. We do not even
distribute the prize money that the Fleet has earned.

Some day, when this war is won, it may be realized that it has been won
because there is a great deal more water than land upon the world, and
because the British Fleet commands the use of all the water, and the
enemy the use of only a tiny fraction of all the land. If France can
endure, and if Russia can “come again”; if Great Britain has the time
to raise the armies that will turn the scale; if the Allies can draw
upon the world for the metal and food that make victory--and waiting
for victory--possible; if the effort to shatter European civilization
and to rob the Western world of its Christian tradition fails, it is
because our enemies counted upon a war in which England would not
fight. Some day, then, we shall see what we and all the world owe to
you.

We may then be tempted to be generous and pay you perhaps a living wage
for your work, and not cut it down to a half or a third if there is no
ship in which to employ you. And if you lose your health and strength
in the nation’s service, we may pay you a pension proportionate to
the value of your work, and the dangers and responsibilities that you
have shouldered, and to the strenuous, self-sacrificing lives that you
have led, for our sakes. We may do more. We may see to it that honours
are given to you in something like the same proportion that they are
given, say, to civilians and to the Army. We may do more still. We may
realize that to get the best work out of you, you must be ordered and
governed and organized by yourselves.

But then again we may do nothing of the kind. We may continue to treat
you as we have always treated you; and if we do, there is at any rate
this bright side to it. You will continue to serve us as you have
always served us, working for nothing, content so you are allowed to
remain the pattern and mirror of chivalry and knightly service, and to
wear “the iron fetters” of duty as your noblest decoration.



CHAPTER II

A RETROSPECT


            _August, 1918._

In looking back over the last four years, the sharpest outlines in
the retrospect are the ups and downs of hopes and fears. Indeed,
so acutely must everyone bear these alternations in mind, that to
remark on them is almost to incur the guilt of commonplace. For they
illustrate the tritest of all the axioms of war. It is human to
err--and every error has to be paid for. If the greatest general is he
who makes the fewest mistakes, then the making of some mistakes must
be common to all generals. The rises and reversals of fortune on all
the fronts are of necessity the indices of right or wrong strategy.
These transformations have been far more numerous on land than at
sea, and locally have in many instances been seemingly final. Thus
to take a few of many examples, Serbia, Montenegro, and Russia are
almost completely eliminated as factors; our effort in the Dardanelles
had to be acknowledged as a complete failure. But at no stage was any
victory or defeat of so overwhelming and wholesale a nature as to
promise an immediate decision. The retreat from Mons, Gallipoli, Neuve
Chapelle, Hulloch, Kut--the British Army could stand all of these,
and much more. France never seemed to be beaten, whatever the strain.
Even after the defection of Russia, a German victory seemed impossible
on land. Never once did either side see defeat, immediate and final,
threatened. A right calculation of all the forces engaged may have
shown a discerning few where the final preponderance lay. The point is
that, despite extraordinary and numerous vicissitudes, there never was
a moment when the land war seemed settled once and for all.

This has not been the case at sea. The transformations here have
been fewer; but they have been extreme. For two and a half years the
sea-power of the Allies appeared both so overwhelmingly established
and so abjectly accepted by the enemy, that it seemed incredible that
this condition could ever alter materially. Yet between the months
of February and May, 1917, the change was so abrupt and so terrific
that for a period it seemed as if the enemy had established a form of
superiority which must, at a date that was not doubtful, be absolutely
fatal to the alliance. And again, in six months’ time, the situation
was transformed, so that sea-power, on which the only hope of Allied
victory has ever rested was once more assured.

Thus, after the most anxious year in our history, we came back to where
we started. This nation, France, Italy, and America no less, we have
all returned to that absolute and unwavering confidence in the navy
as the chief anchor of all Allied hopes. Not that the navy had ever
failed to justify that confidence in the past. There was no task to
which any ship was ever set that had not been tackled in that heroic
spirit of self-sacrifice which we have been taught to expect from our
officers and men; there had never been a recorded case of a single ship
declining action with the enemy. There were scores of cases in which
a smaller and weaker British force had attacked a larger and stronger
German. Ships had been mined, torpedoed, sunk in battle, and the men
on board had gone to their death smiling, calm, and unperturbed. If
heroism, goodwill, a blind passion for duty could have won the war,
if devotion and zeal in training, patient submission to discipline, a
fiery spirit of enterprise could have won--then we never should have
had a single disappointment at sea. The traditions of the past, the
noble character of the seamen of to-day--we hoped for a great deal, nor
ever was our hope disappointed. And when the time of danger came, when
our tonnage was slipping away at more than six million tons a year, so
that it was literally possible to calculate how long the country could
endure before surrender, it never occurred to the most panic-stricken
to blame the navy for our danger. The nation saw quite clearly where
the fault lay, and the Government, sensitive to the popular feeling, at
last took the right course.

But it was a course that should have been taken long before. For,
though the purposes for which sea-power exists seemed perfectly secure
and never in danger at all till little more than a year ago, yet there
had been a series of unaccountable miscarriages of sea-power. Battles
were fought in which the finest ships in the world, armed with the
best and heaviest guns, commanded by officers of unrivalled skill and
resolution, and manned by officers and crews perfectly trained, and
acting in battle with just the same swift, calm exactitude that they
had shown in drill--and yet the enemy was not sunk and victory was not
won. Though, seemingly, we possessed overwhelming numbers, the enemy
seemed to be able to flout us, first in one place and then in another,
and we seemed powerless to strike back. Almost since the war began we
kept running into disappointments which our belief in and knowledge of
the navy convinced us were gratuitous disappointments. A rapid survey
of the chief events since August, 1914, will illustrate what I mean.


THE FIRST CRISIS

The opening of the war at sea was in every respect auspicious for the
Allies. By what looked like a happy accident, the British Navy had
just been mobilized on an unprecedented scale. It was actually in
process of returning to its normal establishment when the international
crisis became acute, and, by a dramatic stroke, it was kept at war
strength and the main fleet sent to its war stations before the British
ultimatum was despatched to Berlin. The effect was instantaneous.
Within a week transports were carrying British troops into France and
trade was continuing its normal course, exactly as if there were no
German Navy in existence. The German sea service actually went out of
existence. Before a month was over a small squadron of battle-cruisers
raided the Bight between Heligoland and the German harbours, sank there
small cruisers and half-a-dozen destroyers, challenged the High Seas
Fleet to battle, and came away without the enemy having attempted to
use his capital ships to defend his small craft or to pick up the glove
so audaciously thrown down. The mere mobilization of the British Fleet
seemed to have paralyzed the enemy, and it looked as if our ability
to control sea communications was not only surprisingly complete, but
promised to be enduring. The nation’s confidence in the Navy had been
absolute from the beginning, and it seemed as if that confidence could
not be shaken.

Before another two months had passed we had run into one of those
crises which were to recur not once, but again and again. During
September an accumulation of errors came to light. The enormity of the
political and naval blunder which had allowed _Goeben_ and _Breslau_ to
slip through our fingers in the Mediterranean, and so bring Turkey into
the war against us, at last become patent. There was no blockade. There
were the raids which _Emden_ and _Karlsruhe_ were making on our trade
in the Indian Ocean and between the Atlantic and the Caribbean. The
enemy’s submarines had sunk some of our cruisers--three in succession
on a single day and in the same area. Then rumours gained ground
that the Grand Fleet, driven from its anchorages by submarines, was
fugitive, hiding now in one remote loch, now in another, and losing
one of its greatest units in its flight. For a moment it looked as if
the old warnings, that surface craft were impotent against under-water
craft, had suddenly been proved true. Von Spee, with a powerful pair
of armoured cruisers, was known to be at large. As a final insult,
German battle-cruisers crossed the North Sea, and battered and ravaged
the defenceless inhabitants of a small seaport town on the east coast.
Something was evidently wrong. But nobody seemed to know quite what it
was.

The crisis was met by a typical expedient. We are a nation of
hero-worshippers and proverbially loyal to our favourites long after
they have lost any title to our favour. In the concert-room, in the
cricket-field, on the stage, in Parliament--in every phase of life--it
is the old and tried friend in whom we confide, even if we have
conveniently to overlook the fact that he has not only been tried, but
convicted. This blind loyalty is, perhaps, amiable as a weakness, and
almost peculiar to this nation. But we have another which is neither
amiable nor peculiar. We hate having our complacency disturbed by being
proved to be wrong and, rather than acknowledge our fault, are easily
persuaded that the cause of our misfortune is some hidden and malign
influence. And so in October, 1914, the explanation of things being
wrong at sea was suddenly found to be quite simple. It was that the
First Sea Lord of the Admiralty was of German birth. With the evil eye
gone the spell would be removed. And so a most accomplished officer
retired, and Lord Fisher, now almost a mythological hero, took his
place.

Within very few weeks the scene suffered

    ... a sea change.
    Into something rich and strange.

Von Spee was left but a month in which to enjoy his triumph over
Cradock; _Emden_ was defeated and captured by _Sydney_; _Karlsruhe_
vanished as by enchantment from the sea; and Von Hipper’s
battle-cruisers, going once too often near the British coast, had been
driven in ignominious flight across the North Sea and paid for their
temerity by the loss of _Blücher_. Three months of the Fisher-Churchill
régime had seemingly put the Navy on a pinnacle that even the most
sanguine--and the most ignorant--had hardly dared to hope for in the
early days. The spectacle, in August, of the transports plying between
France and England, as securely as the motor-buses between Fleet Street
and the Fulham Road, had been a tremendous proof of confidence in
sea-power. The unaccepted challenge at Heligoland had told a tale. The
British fleet had indeed seemed unchallengeable. But the justification
of our confidence was, after all, based only on the fact that the
enemy had not disputed it. It was a negative triumph. But the capture
of _Emden_, the obliteration of Von Spee, the uncamouflaged flight of
Von Hipper, here were things positive, proofs of power in action, the
meaning of which was patent to the simplest. No man in his senses could
pretend that our troubles in October had not been attributed to their
right origin, nor that the right remedy for them had been found and
applied.

There was but one cloud on the horizon. The submarine--despite the loss
of _Hogue_, _Cressy_, _Aboukir_, _Hawk_, _Hermes_, and _Niger_, and
the disturbing rumours that the fleet’s bases were insecure--had been
a failure as an agent for the attrition of our main sea forces. The
loss of _Formidable_, that clouded the opening of the year, had not
restored its prestige. But Von Tirpitz had made an ominous threat. The
submarine might have failed against naval ships. It certainly would not
fail, he said, against trading ships. He gave the world fair warning
that at the right moment an under-water blockade of the British Isles
would be proclaimed; then woe to all belligerents or neutrals that
ventured into those death-doomed waters. The naval writers were not
very greatly alarmed. For four months, after all, trading ships--turned
into transports--had used the narrow waters of the Channel as if the
submarines were no threat at all. Yet, on pre-war reasoning, it was
precisely in narrow waters crowded with traffic that under-water war
should have been of greatest effect. These transports and these narrow
waters were the ideal victims and the ideal field, and coast and
harbour defence and the prevention of invasion, by common consent, the
obvious and indeed the supreme functions the submarine would be called
upon to discharge. From a military point of view the landing of British
troops in France was but the first stage towards an invasion of Germany
and, from a naval point of view, it looked as if to defend the French
ports from being entered by British ships was just as clearly the
first objective of the German submarine as the defence of any German
port. Now six months of war had shown that, if they had tried to stop
the transports, the submarines had been thwarted. Means and methods
had evidently been found of preventing their attack or parrying it
when made. Was it not obvious that it could be no more than a question
of extending these methods to merchant shipping at large to turn the
greater threat to futility? It was this reasoning that, in January and
February, made it easy for the writers to stem any tendency of the
public to panic, and when, towards the end of February, the First Lord
addressed Parliament on the subject, and dealt with the conscienceless
threat of piracy with a placid and defiant confidence, all were
justified in thinking that the naval critics had been right.

And so the beginning of the submarine campaign, though somewhat
disconcerting, caused no wide alarm. An initial success was expected.
It would take time to build the destroyers and the convoying craft on
the scale that was called for, and so to organize the trade that the
attack must be narrowed to protected focal points. And as absolute
secrecy was maintained, both as to our actual defensive methods and
as to our preparations for the future, there was neither the occasion
nor the material for questioning whether the serene contentment of
Whitehall was rightly founded.

Meantime, as we have seen, success had justified the solution of the
October crisis. The attempt to probe deeper and to get at the cause
of things was a thankless task. Those who could see beneath the
surface could not fail to note in December and January that, while
an exuberant optimism had become the mark of the British attitude
towards the war at sea, a movement curiously parallel to it was going
forward in Germany. The shifts to which the Grand Fleet had been put
by the defenceless state of its harbours, though rigidly excluded from
the British Press, has been triumphantly exploited in the German.
Hence, when the enemy’s only oversea squadron was annihilated by Sir
Doveton Sturdee, his Press responded with an outcry on the cowardice
of the British Fleet that, while glad to overwhelm an inferior force
abroad, dared not show itself in the North Sea. And, as if to prove
the charge, Whitby and the Hartlepools were forthwith bombarded by
a force we were unable to bring to action while returning from this
exploit. The enemy naval writers surpassed themselves after this. And
it looked so certain that the German Higher Command might itself become
hypnotized by such talk that, before the New Year, it seemed prudent to
note these phenomena and warn the public that we might be challenged
to action after all, of the kind of action the enemy would dare us
to, and what the problems were that such an action would present. And
in particular it seemed advisable to state explicitly that much less
must be expected from naval guns in battle than those had hoped, whose
notions were founded upon battle practice. A battle-cruiser manœuvring
at twenty-eight knots--instead of a canvas screen towed at six--mines
scattered by a squadron in retreat, a line of retreat that would
draw the pursuers into minefields set to trap them; the attacks on
the pursuing squadrons by flotillas of destroyers, firing long-range
torpedoes--these new elements would upset, it was said, all experiences
of peace gunnery, because in peace practices it is impossible to
provide a target of the speed which enemy ships would have in action,
and because there had been no practice while executing the manœuvres
which torpedo attack would make compulsory in battle.

Within a fortnight the action of the Dogger Bank was fought and Von
Hipper’s battle-cruisers were subjected to the fire of Sir David
Beatty’s Fleet from nine o’clock until twelve, without one being
sunk or so damaged as to lose speed. The enemy’s tactics included
attacks by submarine and destroyer which had imposed the manœuvres as
anticipated--and the best of gunnery had failed. But _Blücher_ had been
sunk; the enemy had run away; so the warning fell on deaf ears; the
lesson of the battle was misread. Optimism reigned supreme.


THE SECOND CRISIS

Within a month a naval adventure of a new kind was embarked upon,
based on the theory that if only you had naval guns enough, any fort
against which they were directed must be pulverized as were the forts
of Liège, Namur, Maubeuge, and Antwerp. The simplest comprehension
of the principles of naval gunnery would have shown the theory to be
fallacious. It originated in the fertile brain of the lay Chief of
the Admiralty, and though it would seem as if his naval advisers felt
the theory to be wrong, none of them, in the absence of a competent
and independent gunnery staff, could say why. And so the essentially
military operation of forcing the passage of the Dardanelles was
undertaken as if it were a purely naval operation, with the result
that, just as naval success had never been conceivable, so now the
failure of the ships made military success impossible also.

It was thus we came to our second naval crisis. The first we had solved
by putting Lord Fisher into Prince Louis’s place. The lesson of the
second seemed to be that there was only one mistake that could be made
with the navy and that was for the Government to ask it to do anything.
Mr. Churchill, as King Stork, had taken the initiative. Lord Fisher,
the naval superman, had not been able to save us. It was clear that lay
interference with the navy was wrong--equally clear that it would be
wiser to leave the initiative to the enemy. And so a new régime began.

But, in reality, the lessons of the first crisis and the second crisis
were the same. To suppose that a civilian First Lord is bound to be
mischievous if he is energetic, and certain to be harmless if, in
administering the navy as an instrument of war, he is a cipher, were
errors just as great as to suppose that a seaman with a long, loyal,
and brilliant record in the public service had put an evil enchantment
over the whole British Navy because, fifty years before, he had been
born a subject of a Power with which till now we had never been at war.
Things went wrong in October, 1914, for precisely the same reasons
that they went wrong in February, March, and April, 1915. The German
battle-cruisers escaped at Heligoland for exactly the same reasons
that the attempt to take the Dardanelles forts by naval artillery
was futile. We had prepared for war and gone into war with no clear
doctrine as to what war meant, because we lacked the organism that
could have produced the doctrine in peace time, prepared and trained
the Navy to a common understanding of it, and supplied it with plans
and equipped it with means for their execution. What was needed in
October, 1914, was not a new First Sea Lord, but a Higher Command
charged only with the study of the principles and the direction of
fighting.

But in May, 1915, this truth was not recognized. And in the next year
which passed, all efforts to make this truth understood were without
effect. And so the submarine campaign went on till it spent itself in
October and revived again in the following March, when it was stopped
by the threat of American intervention. The enemy, thwarted in the only
form of sea activity that promised him great results, found himself
suddenly threatened on land and humiliated at sea, and to restore
his waning prestige, ventured out with his forces, was brought to
battle--and escaped practically unhurt.

The controversies to which the battle of Jutland gave rise will be in
everyone’s recollection. Another of the many indecisive battles with
which history is full had been fought, and the critics established
themselves in two camps. One side was for facing risks and sinking the
enemy at any cost. The other would have it that so long as the British
Fleet was unconquered it was invincible, and that the distinction
between “invincible” and “victorious” could be neglected. After all, as
Mr. Churchill told us, while our fleet was crushing the life breath out
of Germany, the German Navy could carry on no corresponding attack on
us; and when the other camp denounced this doctrine of tame defence, he
retorted that victory was not unnecessary but that the torpedo had made
it impossible.


THE THIRD CRISIS

Yet, within two months of the battle of Jutland, the submarine campaign
had begun again, and, at the time of Mr. Churchill’s rejoinder, the
world was losing shipping at the rate of three million tons a year!
As there never had been the least dispute that to mine the submarine
into German harbours was the best, if not the only, antidote, never
the least doubt that it was only the German Fleet that prevented this
operation from being carried out it seemed strange that an ex-First
Lord of the Admiralty should be telling the world first, that the
German Fleet in its home bases delivered no attack on us and therefore
need not be defeated! And, secondly, as if to clinch the matter and
silence any doubts as to the cogency of his argument, we were to make
the best of it because victory was impossible.

This utter confusion of mind was typical of the public attitude. If a
man who had been First Lord at the most critical period of our history
had understood events so little, could the man in the street know any
better?

Once more the root principles of war were urged on public notice. But
it was already too late. Jutland, whether a victory, or something
far less than a victory, had at any rate left the public in the
comfortable assurance that the ability of the British Fleet was
virtually unimpaired to preserve the flow of provisions, raw material,
and manufactures into Allied harbours and to maintain our military
communications. But soon after the third year of the war began, a
change came over the scene. The highest level that the submarine
campaign had reached in the past was regained, and then surpassed
month by month. Gradually it came to be seen that the thing might
become critical--and this though the campaign was not ruthless. Yet it
was carried out on a larger scale and with bolder methods which the
possession of a larger fleet of submarines made possible. The element
of surprise in the thing was not that the Germans had renewed the
attempt--for it was clear from the terms of surrender to America that
they would renew it at their own time. The surprise was in its success.
The public, still trusting to the attitude of mind induced by the
critics and by the authorities in 1915, had taken it for granted that
the two previous campaigns had stopped in December, 1915, and in March,
1916, because of the efficiency of our counter-measures. The revelation
of the autumn of 1916 was that these counter-measures had failed.

It was this that brought about the third naval crisis of the war. Once
more the old wrong remedy was tried. The Government and the public
had learned nothing from the revelation that we had gone to war on
the doctrine that the Fleet _need_ not, and _ought_ not, to fight the
enemy, and were apparently unconcerned at discovering that it _could_
not fight with success. And so, still not realizing the root cause of
all our trouble, once more a remedy was sought by changing the chief
naval adviser to the Government.

But on this occasion it was not only the chief that was replaced, as
had happened when Lord Fisher succeeded Prince Louis of Battenberg,
and when Sir Henry Jackson succeeded Lord Fisher. When Admiral
Jellicoe came to Whitehall several colleagues accompanied him from the
Grand Fleet. There was nothing approaching to a complete change of
personnel, but the infusion of new blood was considerable. But this
notwithstanding, the menace from the submarine grew, when ruthlessness
was adopted as a method, until the rate of loss by April had doubled,
trebled, and quadrupled that of the previous year. All the world then
saw that, with shipping vanishing at the rate of more than a million
tons a month, the period during which the Allies could maintain the
fight against the Central Powers must be strictly limited.

Thus, without having lost a battle at sea--but because we had failed to
win one--a complete reverse in the naval situation was brought about.
Instead of enjoying the complete command Mr. Churchill had spoken
of, we were counting the months before surrender might be inevitable.
During the ten weeks leading up to the culminating losses of April, a
final effort was made to make the public and the Government realize
that failure of the Admiralty to protect the sea-borne commerce of a
seagirt people was due less to the Government’s reliance on advisers
ill-equipped for their task, than that the task itself was beyond human
performance, so long as the Higher Command of the Navy was wrongly
constituted for its task. It was, of course, an old warning vainly
urged on successive Governments year after year in peace time, and
month after month during the war. Evidences of inadequate preparation
of imperfect plans, of a wrong theory of command, of action founded on
wrong doctrine but endorsed by authority, had all been numerous during
the previous two and a half years.


THE FOURTH CRISIS

But where reason and argument had been powerless to prevail, the logic
of facts gained the victory. At last, in the fourth naval crisis of the
war, it was realized that changes in personnel at Whitehall were not
sufficient, that changes of system were necessary. Before the end of
May the machinery of administration was reorganized and a new Higher
Command developed, largely on the long resisted staff principle.

Thus, after repeated failures--not of the Fleet but of its directing
minds in London--a complete revolution was effected in the command
of the most important of all the fighting forces in the war, viz.,
the British Navy. It was actually brought about because criticism had
shown that the old régime had first failed to anticipate and then to
thwart a new kind of attack on sea communications--just as it had
failed to anticipate the conditions of surface war. It was at last
realized that two kinds of naval war could go on together, one almost
independent of the other. A Power might command the surface of the
sea against the surface force of an enemy, and do so more absolutely
than had ever happened before, and yet see that command brought, for
its main purposes, almost to nothing by a new naval force, from which,
though naval ships could defend themselves, they seemingly could not
defend the carrying and travelling ships, upon which the life of the
nation and the continuance of its military effort on land depended. The
revolution of May saved the situation. At last the principle of convoy,
vainly urged on the old régime, was adopted, and within six months the
rate at which ships were being lost was practically halved. In twelve
months it had been reduced by sixty per cent.

But the departure made in the summer of 1917, though radical as to
principle, was less than half-hearted as to persons. Many of the
men identified with all our previous failures and responsible for
the methods and plans that have led to them, were retained in full
authority. The mere adoption of the staff principle did indeed bring
about an effect so singular and striking as completely to transform
all Allied prospects. In April, defeat seemed to be a matter of a
few months only. By October it had become clear that the submarine
could not by itself assure a German victory. If such extraordinary
consequences could follow--exactly as it was predicted they must--from
a change in system which all experience of war had proved to be
essential, why, it may be asked, was the adoption of the staff
principle so bitterly opposed? Partly, no doubt, because of the natural
conservatism of men who have grown old and attained to high rank in
a service to which they have given their lives in all devotion and
sincerity. The singularity of the sailor’s training and experience
tends to make the naval profession both isolated and exclusive. And
that its daily life is based upon the strictest discipline, that gives
absolute power to the captain of a ship because it is necessary to hold
him absolutely responsible, inevitably grafts upon this exclusiveness
a respect for seniority which gives to its action in every field the
indisputable finality bred of the quarter-deck habit. Thus, there was
no place in Admiralty organization for the independent and expert work
of junior men, because no authority could attach to their counsel. It
is of the essence of the staff principle that special knowledge, sound,
impartial, trained judgment, grasp of principle and proved powers of
constructive imagination, are higher titles to dictatorship in policy
than the character and experience called for in the discharge of
executive command. But to a service not bred to seeing all questions of
policy first investigated, analyzed, and, finally, defined by a staff
which necessarily will consist more of younger than of older men, the
suggestion that the higher ranks should accept the guiding coöperation
of their juniors seemed altogether anarchical. The long resistance to
the establishment of a Higher Command based on rational principles may
be set down to these two elements of human psychology.

That successive Governments failed to break down this conservatism
must, I think, be explained by their fear of the hold which men of
great professional reputation had upon the public mind and public
affections. It was notable, for example, that when our original
troubles came to us at the first crisis, the Government, instead
of seeking the help of the youngest and most accomplished of our
admirals and captains, chose as chief advisers the oldest and least
in touch with our modern conditions. It was, perhaps, the same fear of
public opinion that delayed the completion of the 1917 reforms until
the beginning of the next year. But, with all its defects and its
limitations, the solution sought of the fourth sea crisis had made the
history of the past twelve months the most hopeful of any since the war
began.


THE NEW ERA

The period divides itself into two unequal portions. Between June and
January, 1918, was seen the slowly growing mastery of the submarine.
The rate of loss was halved and the methods by which this result was
achieved were applied as widely as possible. But in the next six or
eight months no improvement in the position corresponding to that which
followed in the first period was obtained. The explanation is simple
enough. The old autocratic régime had not understood the nature of the
new war any better than the nature of the old. It had from the first,
under successive chief naval advisers, repudiated convoy as though it
were a pestilent heresy. In June, 1917, the very men who, as absolutist
advisers, had taken this attitude, were compelled to sanction the
hated thing itself. It yielded exactly the results claimed for it, but
no more. It was in its nature so simple and so obvious that it did
not take long to get it into working order. It was the best form of
defence. But defence is the weakest form of war. The stronger form,
the offensive, needed planning and long preparations. In the nature
of things these could not take effect either in six months or in
twelve. Nor is it likely that, while the old personnel was suffered to
remain at Whitehall, those engaged on the plans and charged with the
preparations for this were able to work with the expedition which the
situation called for. For the first six months after the revolution,
then, little occurred to prove its efficiency, except the fruits of
the policy which instructed opinion had forced on Whitehall. But
these, so far as the final issue of the war was concerned, were surely
sufficient. For the losses by submarines were brought below the danger
point.

It was not until the revolution made its next step forward by the
changes in personnel announced in January that marked progress was
shown in the other fields of naval war. The late autumn had been
marked, as it was fully expected, once the submarine was thwarted, by
various efforts on the part of the enemy to assert himself by other
means at sea. A Lerwick convoy, very inadequately protected, was
raided by fast and powerful enemy cruisers, and many ships sunk in
circumstances of extraordinary barbarity. The destroyers protecting
them sacrificed themselves with fruitless gallantry. There were ravages
on the coast as well. Both things pointed to salient weaknesses in
the naval position. At the time of the third naval crisis at the end
of 1916, it had been pointed out that the repeated evidences of our
inability to hold the enemy in the Narrow Seas ought not to be allowed
to pass uncensured or unremedied. But the fatal habit of refusing to
recognize that an old favourite had failed prevented any reform for
a year. It was not until Sir Roger Keyes was appointed to the Dover
Command and a new atmosphere was created that remarkable departures
in new policy were inaugurated. This policy took two forms. First,
there was the establishment of a mine barrage from coast to coast
across the Channel, and simultaneously with this, North Sea minefields
stretching, one from Norwegian territorial waters almost to the
Scottish foreshore, and another in the Kattegat, to intercept such
German U-boats as base their activities upon the enemy’s Baltic force.
Two great minefields on such a scale as this are works of time. Nor can
their effect upon the submarine campaign be expected to be seen until
they are very near completion; but then the effect may possibly be
immediate and overwhelming.

Principally to facilitate the creation and maintenance of the barrages,
a second new departure in policy was the organization of attacks on
the German bases in Flanders. Of these Zeebrügge was infinitely the
more important, because it is from here that the deep water canal
runs to the docks and wharves of Bruges some miles inland. The value
of Zeebrügge, robbed of the facilities for equipment and reparation
which the Bruges docks afford, is little indeed. It is little more
than an anchorage and a refuge. To close Zeebrügge to the enemy called
for an operation as daring and as intricate as was ever attempted.
Success depended upon so many factors, of which the right weather was
the least certain, that it was no wonder that the expedition started
again and again without attempting the blow it set out to strike. Its
final complete success at Zeebrügge was a veritable triumph of perfect
planning and organization and command. It came at a critical moment
in the campaign. A month before the enemy, by his great attack at St.
Quentin, had achieved by far the greatest land victory of the war. He
had followed this up by further attacks, and seemed to add to endless
resources in men a ruthless determination to employ them for victory.
The British and French were driven to the defensive. Not to be beaten,
not to yield too much ground, to exact the highest price for what was
yielded, this was not a very glorious rôle when the triumphs on the
Somme and in Flanders of 1916 and 1917 were remembered. It cannot
be questioned that the originality, the audacity, and the success of
Vice-Admiral Keyes’ attacks on Zeebrügge and Ostend, gave to all the
Allies just that encouragement which a dashing initiative alone can
give. It broke the monotony of being always passive.

But the new minefields, the barrages, the sealing of Zeebrügge, these
were far from being the only fruits of the changes at Whitehall. A
sortie by _Breslau_ and _Goeben_ from the Dardanelles, which ended
in the sinking of a couple of German monitors and the loss of a
light German cruiser on a minefield, directed attention sharply to
the situation in the Middle Sea. There was a manifest peril that the
Russian Fleet might fall into German hands and make a junction with the
Austrian Fleet at Pola. Further, the losses of the Allies by submarines
in this sea had for long been unduly heavy. A visit of the First Lord
to the Mediterranean did much to put these things right. First steps
were taken in reorganizing the command and, before the changes had
advanced very far, an astounding exploit by two officers of the Italian
Navy resulted in the destruction of two Austrian Dreadnoughts, and
relieved the Allies of any grave danger in this quarter.

Meantime, it had become known that a powerful American squadron had
joined the Grand Fleet, that our gallant and accomplished Allies had
adopted British signals and British ways, and had become in every
respect perfectly amalgamated with the force they had so greatly
strengthened. And though little was said about it in the Press, it was
evident enough that the moral of the Lerwick convoy had been learned,
nor was there the least doubt that the Grand Fleet, under the command
of Sir David Beatty, had become an instrument of war infinitely more
flexible and efficient than it had ever been. His plans and battle
orders took every contingency into council so far as human foresight
made possible. At Jutland, at the Dogger Bank, and in the Heligoland
Bight, Admiral Beatty had shown his power to animate a fleet by his own
fighting spirit and to combine a unity of action with the independent
initiative of his admirals, simply because he had inspired all of them
with a common doctrine of fighting. Under such auspices there could
be little doubt that our main forces in northern waters were ready
for battle with a completeness and an elasticity that left nothing to
chance.

But if we are to look for the chief fruit of last year’s revolution,
we shall not find it in the reorganized Grand Fleet, nor in the new
initiative and aggression in the Narrow Seas, for the ultimate results
of which we still have to wait. If the enemy despairs both of victory
on land or of such success as will give him a compromise peace, if he
is faced by disintegration at home and, driven to a desperate stroke,
sends out his Fleet to fight, we shall then see, but perhaps not till
then, what the changes of last year have brought about in our fighting
forces. Meantime, the success of the great reforms can be measured
quite definitely. In the months of May and June over half a million
American soldiers were landed in France, sixty per cent. of whom were
carried in British ships. No one in his senses in May or June last year
would have thought this possible.

Looked at largely, then, last year’s revolution at Whitehall is in all
ways the most astonishing and the most satisfactory naval event of the
last four years. It is the most satisfactory event, because its results
have been so nearly what was foretold and because it only needs for
the work to be completed for all the lessons of the war to be rightly
applied.



CHAPTER III

SEA FALLACIES: A PLEA FOR FIRST PRINCIPLES


What do we mean by “sea-power” and “command of the sea”? What really
is a navy and how does it gain these things? How come navies into
existence? Of what constituents, human and material, are they composed?
How are the human elements taught, trained, commanded, and led? How are
the ships grouped and distributed, and the weapons fought in war?

To the countrymen of Nelson, and to those of his great interpreter,
Mahan, these might at first sight seem very superfluous questions, for
they, almost of natural instinct, should understand that strange but
overwhelming force that has made them. To the Kingdom of Great Britain
and Ireland, to the Empires that owe allegiance to the British Crown,
to the United States of America, sea-power is at once their origin
and the fundamental essential of their continued free and independent
existence. And it is their predominant races that have produced the
world’s greatest sea fighters and sea writers. It is to the British
Fleet that the world owes its promise of safety from German diabolism
bred of autocracy. It is to sea-power that America must look if she is
to finish the work the Allies have begun. With so great a stake in the
sea, Great Britain and America should have fathomed its mysteries.

But, despite the fighters and the writers, the sea in a great measure
has kept its secret hidden. In every age the truth has been the
possession of but a few. Countries for a time have followed the
light, and have then, as it were, been suddenly struck blind, and the
fall of empires has followed the loss of vision. The world explains
the British Empire of to-day, and the great American nation which has
sprung from it, by a happy congenital talent for colonizing waste
places, for self-government, for assimilating and making friends with
the unprogressive peoples, by giving them a better government than they
had before. And certainly without such gifts the British races could
not have overspread so large a portion of the earth. But the world is
apt to forget that there were other empires sprung from other European
peoples--Portuguese, French, Spanish, and Dutch--each at some time
larger in wealth, area, or population, than that which owed allegiance
to the British Crown. In each case it was the power of their navies
that gave each country these great possessions. Of some of these
empires only insignificant traces remain to-day. They have been merged
in the British Empire or have become independent. And the merging or
the freeing has always followed from war at sea. It is the British
sailors, and not the British colonists, that have made the British
Empire. It is not because the settlers in New England were better
fighters or had more talent for self-government, but because Holland
had the weaker navy, that the city which must shortly be the greatest
in the world is named after the ancient capital of Northern England,
and not after Amsterdam. It was not England’s half-hearted fight on
land, but her failure to preserve an unquestionable command of the sea
that secured the extraordinary success of Washington and Hamilton’s
military plans.

To all these truths we have long paid lip service. Years ago it passed
into a commonplace that should ever national existence be threatened
by an outside force, it would be on the sea that we should have to
rely for defence. With so tremendous an issue at stake, why was our
knowledge so vague, why has our curiosity to know the truth been so
feeble? Perhaps it is that communities that are very rich and very
comfortable are slow to believe that danger can hang over them. In
the catechism used to teach Catholic children the elements of their
religion, the death that awaits every mortal, the instant judgment
before the throne of God, the awful alternatives, Heaven or Hell, that
depend on the issue, are spoken of as the “Four Last Things.” Their
title has been flippantly explained by the admitted fact that they
are the very last things that most people ever think of. So has it
been with America and England in the matter of war. The threat seemed
too far off to be a common and universal concern. It could be left
to the governments. So long as we voted all the money that was asked
for officially, we had done our share. And, if statesmen told us that
our naval force was large enough, and that it was in a state of high
efficiency, and ready for war, we felt no obligation to ask what war
meant, in what efficiency consisted, or how its existence could be
either presumed or proved. We had no incentive to master the thing
for ourselves. We were not challenged to inquire whether in fact the
semblance of sea-power corresponded with its reality. The fact that it
was on sea-power that we relied for defence against invasion should,
of course, have quickened our vigilance. It, in fact, deadened it. For
we had never refused a pound the Admiralty had asked for. We took the
sufficiency of the Navy for granted and, with the buffer of the fleet
between ourselves and ruin, the threat of ruin seemed all the more
remote.

A minority, no doubt, was uneasy and did inquire. But they found their
path crossed by difficulties almost insuperable. The literature of
sea-power was based entirely upon the history of the great sea wars of
a dim past. Mahan, it is true, had so elucidated the broad doctrines
of sea strategy that it seemed as if he who ran might read. But lucid
and convincing as is his analysis, urbane and judicial as is his
style, Mahan’s work could not make the bulk of his readers adepts in
naval doctrine. The fact seems to be that the fabled mysteries of the
sea make every truth concerning it elusive, difficult for any one but
a sailor to grasp. The difficulties were hardly lessened by Mahan’s
chief work having dealt completely with the past. The most important
of the world’s sea wars may be said to begin with the Armada and to
end in 1815. In these two and one quarter centuries the implements of
naval warfare changed hardly at all. Broadly speaking, from the days of
Howard of Effingham to those of Fulton and Watt, man used three-masted
ships and muzzle-loading cannon. Hence the history of the Great Age
deals very little with the technique of war.

To the lay reader, therefore, the study of sea-power, based upon these
ancient campaigns, seemed not only the pursuit of a subject vague
and elusive in itself, but one that becomes doubly unreal through
the successive revolutions of modern times. It was like studying the
politics of an extinct community told in records of a dead language.
The incendiary shell, armour to keep the shell out, steam that made
ships completely dirigible in the sense that they could with great
rapidity be turned to any chosen course, these alone had, by the middle
of the last century, completely revolutionized the tactical employment
of sea force. Steam, which made a ship easier to aim than a gun, gave
birth to ramming; and naval thought was hypnotized by this fallacy for
nearly two generations. By the end of the century the whole art had
again been changed, first by the development of the monster cannon, and
next, a far more important invention, the mountings that made first
light, and then heavy, guns so flexible in use that they could be aimed
in a moderate sea way. These and the invention of the fish torpedo and
the high speed boat for carrying it--that in the twilight of dawn and
eve would make it practically invisible--brought about fresh changes
that altered not only the tactics of battle, but those of blockade and
of many other naval operations.

But, great and surprising as were the changes and developments in
naval weapons and the material in the last half of the nineteenth
century, they were completely eclipsed by the number and nature of the
advances made in the first decade and a half of the twentieth. If, to
the ordinary reader, the lessons of the past seemed of doubtful value
in the light of what steam, the explosive shell, the torpedo, and
the heavy gun had effected, what was to be said in the light of the
kaleidoscope of novelties sprung upon the world _after_ the latest of
all the naval wars? For between 1906 and 1914 there came a succession
of naval sensations so startling as to make clear and connected
thinking appear a visionary hope.

First we heard that naval guns, that until 1904 had nowhere been
fired at a greater range than two miles, were actually being used in
practice--and used with success--at distances of ten, twelve, and
fourteen thousand yards. It was not only that guns were increasing
their range, they were growing monstrously in size and still more
monstrously in the numbers put into each individual ship, so that
the ships grew faster than the guns themselves, until the capital
ship of to-day is more than double the displacement of that of ten
years ago. And with size came speed, not only the speed that would
follow naturally from the increase in length, but the further speed
that was got by a more compact and lighter form of prime mover. Ten
years ago the highest action pace a fleet of capital ships would have
been, perhaps, seventeen knots. Now whole squadrons can do twenty-five
per cent. better. And with the battle-cruiser we have now a capital
ship carrying the biggest guns there are, that can take them into
action literally twice as fast as a twelve-inch gun could be carried
into battle twelve years ago. Thus with range increased out of all
imagination, and vastly greater speed, the tactics of battle were
obviously in the melting pot.

But these were far from being the only revolutionary elements. There
followed in quick succession a new torpedo that ran with almost perfect
accuracy for five or six miles and carried an explosive charge three
or four times larger than anything previously known. It had seemed but
yesterday that a mile was the torpedo’s almost outside range. Then, at
the beginning of the decade of which I speak, the submarine had a low
speed on the surface, and half of that below it, with a very limited
area of manœuvre in which it could work. It seemed little more, many
thought, than an ingenious toy capable, perhaps, of an occasional
deadly surprise if an enemy’s fleet should come too near a harbour, but
seemingly not destined to influence the grand tactics of war. But in an
incredibly short time the submarine became a submersible ocean cruiser,
with three times the radius of a pre-Dreadnought battleship, with a far
higher surface speed, and able to carry guns of such power that they
could sink a merchant ship with half-a-dozen rounds at four miles. In
this, even the dullest could see something more than a change in naval
tactics. Might not the whole nature of naval war be changed? For the
long range torpedo that could be used in action, at a range equal to
that at which the greatest guns could be expected to hit; the submarine
that, completely hidden, could bring the torpedo to such short range
that hits would be a certainty, the invisible boat that could evade
the closest surface cordon and, almost undisturbed, hunt and destroy
merchantmen on the trade routes--that, but for the submarine, would
have been completely protected by the command won by the predominant
fleet--wonderful as these new things were, they were far from
exhausting the new developments of under-water war. Great ingenuity had
been shown not only in developing very powerful mines, but in devising
means of laying them by the fastest ships, so that not only could
these deadly traps be set by merchantmen disguised as neutrals, but by
fast cruisers whose speed could at any time enable them to evade the
patrols. And, finally, it was equally obvious that the submarine could
become a mine layer also. There was, then, literally no spot in the
ocean that might not at any moment be mined.

Add to all this, that while wireless introduced an almost instant means
of sending orders to or getting news from such distant spots that space
was annihilated, airships and aeroplanes--with some, as many thought,
with a decisive capacity for attacking fleets in harbour--seemed to
make scouting possible over unthought of areas. Can we blame the
landsman who set himself patiently to learn the rudiments of the naval
art if, after a painful study of the past, he found himself so bemused
by the changes of the present as to wonder if a single accepted dogma
could survive the high-explosive bombardment of to-day’s inventions? It
almost looked as if nothing could be learned from the past and less,
if possible, be foretold about the future. If the understanding of
sea-power in the days of old had been the possession of but a few, it
seemed that to-day it must be denied to all.

It is, therefore, not surprising that extraordinary misunderstandings
were--and are--prevalent. Only one truth seemed to survive--the
supremacy of the capital ship. But this, too, became an error,
because it excluded other truths. To the vast bulk of laymen the word
“navy” suggested no more than a panorama of great super-Dreadnought
battleships. From time to time naval reviews had been held, and
the illustrated papers had shown these great vessels, long vistas
of them, anchored in perfectly kept lines, with light cruisers and
destroyers fading away into the distance. Both in the pictures and in
the descriptions all emphasis was laid upon the ships. And in this
the current official naval thought of the day was reflected. If any
one wished to compare the British Fleet with the German or the German
with the American, he confined himself to enumerating their respective
totals in Dreadnoughts, and let it go at that. His mental picture of
a fleet was thus a perspective of vast mastodons armed with guns of
fabulous reach and still more fabulous power, gifted, some of them,
with speed that could outstrip the fastest liner, and encased, at least
in part, in almost impenetrable armour.

He would know generally, of course, that such things as cruisers,
destroyers, and submarines not only existed, but were indeed necessary.
He would know vaguely that cruisers were useful for cruising, and
destroyers for their eponymous duties--though he would have been sorely
puzzled if he had been asked to say exactly what the cruising was for,
or what the destroyers were intended to destroy. He would have heard
of the mystic properties of torpedoes, and of mines, and of certain
weird possibilities that lay before the combination of the torpedo with
the submarine. Similarly, if one challenged him, he would admit, of
course, that guns could only be formidable if they hit, and that fleets
could only succeed in battle if their officers and crews were properly
trained and skilfully led. But these were things that could not be
tabulated or scheduled. They did not figure in Naval Annuals, nor in
Admiralty statements. They were stumbling blocks to the layman’s desire
to be satisfied--and he took it for granted that they were all right,
and was content to measure naval strength by the number of the biggest
ships, and so rate the navies of the world by what they possessed in
these colossal units only. Thus, he would always put Great Britain
first, and recently Germany second, with the United States, Japan, and
France taking the third place in succession, as their annual programmes
of construction were announced. And just as he thought of navies in
terms of battleships, so he thought of naval war in terms of great sea
battles. A reaction was inevitable.

Four years have now passed since Germany struck her felon blow at the
Christian tradition the nations have been struggling to maintain--and
so far there has been no Trafalgar. The German Fleet, hidden behind its
defences, is still integral and afloat, and though the British Fleet
has again and again come out, its battleships have got into action
but once, and then for a few minutes only. For four years, therefore,
the two greatest battle fleets in the world seem to have been doing
nothing; and to be doing nothing now! And so, if you ask the average
layman for a broad opinion on sea-power to-day, he will tell you that
battle fleets are useless. For a year or more he has heard little of
any work at sea except of the work of the submarine. To him, therefore,
it seemed manifest that the torpedo has superseded the gun and the
submarine the battleship. His opinions, in other words, have swung full
cycle. Was he right before and is he wrong now, or was his first view
an error and has he at last, under the stern teachings of war, attained
the truth?

He was wrong then and he is wrong now. It was an error to think of
sea-power _only_ in terms of battleships. It is a still greater error
to suppose that sea-power can exist in any useful form _unless_ based
on battleships in overwhelming strength. It is true that the German
submarines did for a period so threaten the world’s shipping as to
make it possible that the overwhelming military resources of the
Allies might never be brought to bear against the full strength of the
German line in France. It is also true that they have added years to
the duration of the war, millions and millions to its cost, and have
brought us to straits that are hard to bear. They were truly Germany’s
most powerful defence, the only useful form of sea force for her. But
it is, nevertheless, quite impossible that the submarine can give to
Germany any of the direct advantages which the command of the sea
confers.

These simple truths will come home convincingly to us if we suppose
for a minute that, at the only encounter in which the battle fleets
met, it had been the German Fleet that was victorious. Had Scheer and
Von Hipper met Beatty and Jellicoe in a fair, well-fought-out action,
and sunk or captured the greater part of the British Fleet so that but
a crippled remnant could struggle back to harbour--as little left of
the mighty British armada as survived of Villeneuve’s and Gravina’s
forces after Trafalgar--would it ever have been necessary for Germany
to have challenged the forbearance of the world by reckless and
piratical attacks on peaceful shipping? Quite obviously not. For with
her battle-cruisers patrolling unchallenged in the Channel, the North
Sea, and the Atlantic, with all her destroyers and light cruisers
working under their protection, no British merchantman could have
cleared or entered any British port, no neutral could have passed
the blockading lines. British submarines might, indeed, have held up
German shipping--but we should have lost the use of merchant shipping
ourselves. Our armies would have been cut off from their overseas
base, our fighting Allies would have been robbed of the food and
material now reaching them from North and South America and the British
Dominions, and the civil population of England, Scotland, Ireland,
and Wales, would have been threatened by immediate invasion or by not
very far distant famine. And this is so because command of the sea
is conditioned by a superior battleship strength, and can only be
exercised by surface craft which cannot be driven off the sea.

Let us look at this question again from another angle. It is probable
that Germany possessed, during the summer of 1917, some two hundred
submarines at least. She may have possessed more. These submarines
were, for many months, sinking on an average of from twenty to
twenty-four British ships a week, and perhaps rather more than half
as many Allied and neutral ships as well. It was, of course, a
very formidable loss. But of every seventeen ships that went into
the danger zone, sixteen did actually escape. How many would have
escaped if Germany could have maintained a fleet of fifty surface
ships--light cruisers, armed merchantmen, swift destroyers--in these
waters? Supposing trade ships were to put to sea and try to get past
such a _cordon_ just as they risk passing the submarines, how many
could possibly escape? What would be the toll each surface ship would
take--one a fortnight? One a week? One a day?

These are all ridiculous questions, because, could such a _cordon_ be
maintained, no ship bound for Great Britain would put to sea at all.
It would not be sixteen escaping to one captured; the whole seventeen
would so certainly be doomed that they all would stay in port. So much
the war has certainly taught us. When, on August 4, 1914, the British
Government declared war on Germany, the sailing of every German ship
the world over was then and there stopped. A hundred that were at sea
could not be warned and were captured. Those that escaped capture made
German or neutral ports. But the order not to sail did not wait upon
results. The stoppage of the German merchant service was automatic
and instantaneous. It would have been raving insanity to have risked
encounter with a navy that held the surface command.

Three months later the situation was locally reversed in South American
waters. Von Spee, with two very powerful armoured cruisers and three
light fast vessels, encountered a very inferior British force under
Admiral Cradock off Coronel, and defeated it decisively. Von Spee’s
victory meant that in the Southern Atlantic there was no force capable
of opposing him. Instantly every South American port was closed.
No one knew where Von Spee might turn up next. Not a captain dared
clear for England. Even in South Africa General Botha’s hands were
tied. A section of the Transvaal and Orange Colony Dutch had risen in
rebellion, and had made common cause with the Germans in South West
Africa. With Von Spee at large there was no saying what help he would
bring to the enemy, and the risk that communications with the mother
country might be cut, was a real one. For four weeks the South African
Government was paralyzed.

Then followed the most brilliant piece of sea strategy in the war. Two
battle-cruisers were sent secretly and at top speed to the Falkland
Islands. They reached Port Stanley on December 7, and on the next
morning at eight o’clock, Von Spee, in obedience to some inexplicable
instinct, brought the whole of his forces to attack the islands. It
was the most extraordinary coincidence in the history of war. It was
as if a man had been told that a sixty-pound salmon had been seen in
a certain river, had thrown a fly at random, and had got a bite and
landed him with his first cast. The verdict of Coronel was reversed.
Four out of five German ships were sunk. The _Dresden_ escaped, but
only to hide herself in the fjords of Patagonia. Germany’s brief spell
of sea command in the South Atlantic had ended as dramatically as it
began. And within twenty-four hours the laden ships of Chile and the
Argentine had put to sea, the underwriters had dropped their premiums
to the pre-war rate, and the arrangements for the invasion of South
West Africa had begun.

Once more it had been proved that the course of sea traffic is governed
by sea command, and sea command means the general power to use the
ocean for what it truly is, the highway that connects all the ports of
the world together. To use, that is to say, exclusively; to limit its
use to the power possessing that command, and to those other powers
that might be friendly to them, or to neutrals unconcerned with the
war altogether. Never in history has this command been complete. From
Trafalgar to 1815, the British, if ever, commanded the sea adversely
against their enemies. But they lost anything from six hundred to one
thousand ships a year, and it was never possible to stop the whole of
the enemy’s trade. Before submarines were ever heard of, then, command
could not be made absolute. Strangely enough, steam changed all this.
To-day the surface command against surface force is virtually absolute.
In August, 1914, Germany had in all a dozen armed vessels on the high
seas prepared to attack British shipping. They took and destroyed
fifty-six vessels only. All but three were destroyed or driven to
intern in very few months. Save for a raider or two--exceptions that
prove the rule--no surface attack has been made on the Allies’ ocean
trade since then. And there has been no ocean trade in German bottoms
at all. In a sense, then, the submarine has only restored to the
weaker belligerent a part--and only a small part--of the powers he
possessed in the days of sailing fleets. It gives him a limited power
of attack on his enemy’s supply. But, two cruises of the _Deutschland_
notwithstanding, it has returned him none of his old trading power.
And, as the course of the submarine war has shown, so long as he limits
the attack on trade to proportions which the neutral world can put up
with, the power of attack is so restricted as to be without military
value. The attempt, then, to get a kind of command of the sea by
submarine alone could only be made at the cost of turning the whole
neutral world into an enemy world. And from the German point of view,
the tragedy of the thing is this. The attempt was made, the whole world
has become hostile, and the thing has failed.

In these two popular fallacies--the pre-war error that battleships
were everything, and the present error that they are absolutely
useless, and that it is the submarine that reigns at sea--we see, as
it appears to me, convincing proofs that an exposition of the A B C
of sea fighting would not be a work of supererogation. I have spoken
of these fallacies as popular fallacies, but they are not limited to
the unlettered, nor are they foreign to men of affairs. They have, on
the contrary, flourished most in ministries, and been strongly held
by those whose business it should have been not only to follow or
express, but to mould, public opinion. A British statesman, afterwards
Prime Minister, said once in Parliament: “I believe that since the
Declaration of Paris, the fleet, valuable as it is for preventing an
invasion of these shores, is almost valueless for any other purpose.”
Most strange of all, the strongest exponents of these heresies have
been certain naval officers themselves. It would be interesting to
essay to account for this, as it seems to me the strangest curiosity
of our times. Let it suffice for the moment to state that what up to a
year ago was a dominating faith, is recognized universally to-day as a
devastating tissue of errors.

Had the root principles of sea-power been properly understood, these
errors never could have prevailed. For it is popular opinion that is
ultimately responsible for the kind of government each nation has. On
it depends the kind of navy that each government creates, and hence the
measure of safety at sea that each nation enjoys. The tragic history
of the last four years shows how this opinion can be misguided into an
almost fatal tolerance of what is false.

When will a new Mahan arise to set things right? The world needs a
naval teacher.



CHAPTER IV

SOME ROOT DOCTRINES


War is a condition which arises when the appeal to reason, justice, or
fear has failed and a nation wishes, or in self-defence is compelled,
to bring another to its will by force.

Force is exerted by armies on land and naval fleets at sea. It is the
primary business of the armed force in each element to defeat that of
the enemy in battle, and so disintegrate and destroy it. The beaten
nation’s power to fight is thus brought to naught. Its resolution to
renew the attack or to continue resistance is broken down. If defeat
throws it open to invasion without power of stopping the invader, its
national life, internal and external, is paralyzed and it is compelled
to bow to the will of the conqueror. In its simplest conception, then,
war is a struggle between nations in which the opposing sides pit their
armed forces against each other and have to abide by the issue of that
combat.

It is rarely, however, that a single battle between armies has
decided the issue of a war. The campaigns of Jena and Sadowa are
indeed instances in point. But they are in their way as exceptional
as is the Boer War--decided without a pitched battle being fought at
all. These may be regarded as the extremes. Normally, war may end
victoriously for one side without the other having been deprived of
the means of continuing even effective resistance. In such cases it is
some moderation in the victor’s terms, some change in the ambition of
the partially defeated side, or, at least, a sense that no adequate
results can be expected from further fighting, that has brought about
the cessation of hostilities.

But, again, there are wars in which the issues can admit of no
compromise at all. The invasions of Tamerlane, Attila, and the
Mohammedan conquerors were not wars but campaigns of extermination.
It is in such a war that we are engaged to-day. The stake for
every country is of a vital character, so that compromise is
indistinguishable from defeat, and defeat must carry with it the
negation of everything which makes national life tolerable. The Germans
have convinced themselves that there is no alternative to world
dominion but downfall, and the civilized world is determined that
there shall be no German world dominion. Such a struggle by its nature
permits of no end by arrangement or negotiation. It must go forward
until either one side or the other is either militarily defeated or
until the economic strain disintegrates the state. In such conditions a
secondary form of military pressure may be of paramount importance.

Now if we go back to our first definition of war, as a struggle in
which the opposing sides pit their armed forces against each other and
abide by the issue of the combat, we must remember that, just as it
is rare for a war to be decided by a single combat, so is it rare for
a single combat to dissipate and destroy an army. Ordinary prudence
dictates that there shall be protected lines or some strong place
into which it can retreat in the event of defeat. And when it is thus
compelled to abandon open fighting and seek a position of natural
or artificial strength, it becomes the business of the stronger to
complete the business by destroying and penetrating the defences. But
if this is too costly a proceeding, the stronger tries to contain the
force so protected and passes on, if possible, to investment and siege.
The simplest case of this is the complete encirclement and siege of the
great city or camp, of which the war of 1870 gave two such striking
examples in Metz and Paris.

When war calls out the whole manhood of many nations and turns them
into fighting forces, it is obvious that there cannot be equality
of force in all the theatres. Where either side is weaker, it is
compelled locally to adopt the same tactics that a defeated force
adopts. It must, that is to say, go upon the defensive. It entrenches
and fortifies itself. Thus, as military operations, the attack and
defence of fortifications may become general, and this without either
side being necessarily able to inflict the pressure of siege upon its
opponent, siege being understood to mean severing of communications
with the outside world. But, clearly, where siege is possible, as was
the case with Metz and Paris, the attacking force becomes also the
investing force. It can rely upon the straits to which it can reduce
the besieged to bring about that surrender which, _ex hypothesi_, would
have been the result of the battle had the weaker not declined it.

Battle and siege are thus in essence complementary modes of war and all
military action may roughly be defined as fighting, or some method of
postponing fighting, or steps or preparations towards fighting.


SEA WAR

War at sea is carried on, as we have seen, by naval fleets. The
immediate object of a fleet is to find, defeat, and destroy the enemy’s
fleet. The ultimate or further objective which is gained by such
destruction is to monopolize the use of the sea, as the master highway,
by retaining freedom for the passage of the victor’s ships while
denying such passage to those of the defeated. The power to insist on
this exclusive control of sea communications is called “command of the
sea.”

If the war is a purely naval war, that is, limited to the use of
naval forces and hence directed solely to naval ends--as was the war
between England and France, in the course of which the United States
gained their independence--the command of the sea can theoretically
be won by a single victorious battle. For if the main force of one
side is destroyed, that belligerent becomes incapable of questioning
the supremacy of the enemy, and hence must limit his sea action to
sporadic attempts on communications. These can never be maintained to
a degree that can be decisive, simply because a power greater than can
be brought to the attack can be employed for their defence. Success
in such a war, then, can simply be measured in terms of trade or of
sea supply; defeat by the economic loss that its cessation must cause.
There have been purely naval wars in the past and, could a combination
be formed of countries whose aggregate sea-power was greater than that
of Great Britain, a purely naval war might occur again. But it could
only be brought about by such a conjuncture for the reason that Great
Britain is the only country to which a purely naval defeat would mean
such utter and immediate ruin, that her surrender to her sea conqueror
would follow inevitably and promptly. This is so because, whereas
almost every country is to some extent dependent upon sea supplies,
Great Britain exists only in virtue of them.

To us, therefore, the advantages that derive from possession of command
of the sea are overwhelming; and our possession of it adversely to any
other country must be disadvantageous, exactly in proportion as that
country is dependent upon sea supplies.

In a war which is both naval and continental, as in the present war,
command of the sea means much more than the power to deny the gain and
comfort of sea supplies. The side that is defeated at sea, or avoids
fighting for fear of defeat, may lose not only everything which can
come to it directly or indirectly from the use of ships, but will
suffer from the added disadvantage that a military use can be made of
sea communications in the enemy’s possession. The side that commands
the sea can carry on its ocean traffic, and supply not only its civil
population but its armies and its fleets from abroad. It can ally
itself with continental nations and send its military forces away in
ships and land them in friendly ports. It can prevent the sea invasion
of its own, of its allies’ territory, and of its colonial possessions.
It can stop not only the enemy’s own sea trade, but all neutral sea
trade that directly or indirectly can benefit him, so that he is cut
off from all supplies, whether raw material, food, or manufacture,
not produced in his own territories or in those with which he has
land communications. If the sea force of the side possessing command
includes means of engaging stationary defences with success, and
removing passive sea defences from the approaches to the enemy’s coast
and harbours, then it can even beat down the enemy’s coast protection
and invade him directly. The nation with sea command, then, threatens
its opponents with attack by land at every point and, pending its
development, can to the extent to which the enemy is dependent on
overseas traffic for the necessaries of life, or for the maintenance of
his armies at full fighting strength, subject him to all the rigour of
siege.

The command of the sea which makes the exercise of these menaces
possible, is, as we have seen, the fruit of victory over the enemy’s
armed forces. But if that enemy is weaker and follows at sea the course
which, as we have seen, an army inferior on land must adopt, viz.,
declines battle and withdraws his fleet behind defences to postpone
it, he thereby to a great extent surrenders the sea command to the
stronger. And if the stronger knows his business, he at once uses this
command to subject his opponent to the economic disadvantages set out
above. Siege by sea, then, like siege on land, may be the consequence
of, but is always the alternative to, victorious battle in bringing
about a decision. For while victorious battle robs the defeated nation
of any possibility of warding off further attack by force, siege
undermines the will and resolution of the civil population to endure,
and thus calls forces into existence which will compel the enemy’s
government to surrender.

The command of the ocean ways are, then, of tremendous consequences
in war--so great, indeed, that the control of sea communications has
often been put forth as the primary object to be aimed at by sea-power.
That it is the object of sea-power victoriously used we have already
seen. But so long as the enemy possesses forces that actually disturb
the tranquil enjoyment of sea communications, command is certainly
_qualified_, and if he have in reserve unused and unimpaired forces for
attacking and defeating the fleet which secures command, the command of
the sea cannot be said to be unconditionally possessed. Consequently,
if destruction of the enemy’s armed forces is a necessary condition to
real--because indisputable--sea command, it is for victorious battle
and for nothing else that fleets exist.

These propositions are not only obviously true; they seem to be truly
obvious. But in recent history we have witnessed the curious spectacle
that an inversion of the order of these two statements did actually
create two different and opposed schools of naval thought. The first
school saw in victory the first and constant preoccupation of the
fleet. It concerned itself, therefore, chiefly with the essentials
to victory, and as victory can only come from fighting, it was at
the elements of fighting that it worked. It sought to find the most
perfect methods of using weapons, because it realized that it was only
from the evolution of these that right tactics could be deduced. It
studied the campaigns of the past to discover the two great groups of
doctrine that our fighting ancestors have bequeathed to us, the first
dealing with the science of strategy, the second with the principles of
command. They realized that weapons and the ships that carry them do
not fight themselves, but must be fought by men; and they wished those
men rightly educated and trained in the subtle and complex science
of their high calling. To them, in short, sea war was an affair of
knowledge applied by men trained both in the wisdom and in the lofty
spirit of those that had excelled in naval war before. And, faithful to
the traditions of the past, no less than eager for research into all
the undeveloped potentialities of the products of modern progress, they
pinned their faith on ability to force the enemy to battle, and to beat
him there when battle came.

The other school went for a short cut to naval triumph. If only they
could get a fleet of ships so big, so fabulously armed, so numerous as
to make it seem to the enemy that his fleet was too feeble to attack,
why then battle would be made altogether superfluous, and no further
worry over so unlikely a contingency was necessary. They did not,
therefore, trouble to inquire either into the processes needed for
bringing battle about, or into what was necessary for success when
battle came. They passed on to the contemplation of what can only be
the fruit of victory--as if victory were not a condition precedent!

It was, unfortunately, this group, hypnotized by a theory it did
not understand, which controlled naval policy in Great Britain for
the ten years preceding the war, and for the first three and a half
years of it. Their error lay, of course, in supposing that a fleet,
so materially strong and numerous that its defeat was unimaginable
because no attack on it could be conceived, must--so long as any
serious lowering of its force by attrition was avoided--be the
military equivalent to one which had already defeated the enemy; that
“invincible” and “victorious” were, in short, interchangeable terms. So
masterful was this obsession that their apologists--shutting their eyes
to the obvious and appalling consequences of this creed in action--two
years after the event, still regarded the only encounter between the
main fleets in this war as a great victory, because the larger, by
avoiding the risk of close contact with the lesser, came out of the
conflict with forces as substantially superior to the enemy’s as they
were before the opportunity of a decisive battle had been offered.

The group in question had, indeed, become possessed of one truth. It
was simply that preponderant force is a vital element. But by holding
it to the exclusion of all other truths they were blinded not only
to the crucial business of studying the intellectual and technical
essentials to fighting, but even to the orthodox meaning of the
communication theory of sea war, on which they had so eagerly, but
ignorantly, seized. For the true doctrine is, as we have already seen,
just this, that when an enemy refuses battle, the stronger navy’s
sole remaining offensive is to cut him off from communication with the
sea. It must do this, as we have seen, to restrict his supplies, to
weaken his armed forces, to strike at his prosperity and the comfort
of his civil population, and thus obtain that partial paralysis of his
national life, the completion of which can only be got by a victory
that disarms him. And these things, which are the results of blockade,
are also the intended results. But they are not intended for their
own sake only, nor, primarily, to make the enemy surrender to avoid
them. They are inflicted to force the enemy to the battle which he has
refused, because it is only by battle that he can relieve himself from
them. A stringent blockade, then, is the primary means of inducing
a fleet action, and hence we see that siege, while truly the only
alternative to battle, is something much more.

Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that, viewed in its right relation
to the true theory of war--a state of things in which a conflict
of wills between nations is settled by a conflict of their armed
forces--it is almost the primary object of siege to bring this conflict
about and so to hasten the issue. From the definition the aim of war
is the enemy’s defeat and not merely his surrender. And battle is
necessary to defeat.

The failure to realize this elementary truth was the cause of much
more than an omission to fathom the technique of fighting, the fruits
of which we shall find, when we come to the consideration of the
naval actions of the last three years and note the curious result of
the Jutland deployment and the inconclusive character of so many of
the artillery encounters which have occurred, and the extraordinary
prolongation of those which were not inconclusive. It brought about
what is, at first sight, something even more astonishing, viz., an
actual indisposition by those in control of the British Navy, to adopt,
when the enemy refused battle, the only course that could compel him to
it, though it was actually the first article of their creed to gain the
power to do this very thing.

Great Britain went to war at midnight August 4, 1914. The Grand Fleet
went to its war stations. The High Seas Fleet withdrew to the security
of the Kiel Canal. Within a day no enemy trading ships dared put to
sea. Within a week, transports were carrying a British army to France.
Our merchantmen continued their sea trading almost as if nothing had
happened. But, though the German flag vanished from the seas, neutral
vessels were free to use the German ports until the following March,
and for another six months the enemy was free to import, in almost any
quantities that he liked, certain forms of food, cotton, fats, and many
of the ores and chemicals which were the indispensable raw material of
the propellants and explosives vitally necessary to him in a prolonged
war.

By permitting this, we showed that our policy, in other words, was not
to attack but to wait attack, and then not to do anything to compel
the enemy to attack. Our sea statesmen had not indoctrinated the
civil government with a clearly defined policy that it was prepared
to enforce at the opening of hostilities. Yet in a matter of this
kind it was exactly at the opening of hostilities that a stringent
blockade, accompanied by a generous rationing of sea supplies to
the neutrals bordering on Germany, could have been proclaimed and
enforced with the least friction. For, in the first place, Germany’s
declaration of war was so entirely unprovoked and sudden, and her
first measure of war, the invasion of Belgium--when her soldiery
became at once outrageous--combined the world over to create a neutral
opinion strongly in favour of the Allies. Next, the fact that Great
Britain’s participation in the war was both professedly and actually
in loyalty to the identical obligation to Belgium which Germany had
violated, predisposed America, for the first time since the colonies
proclaimed their independence, to an active sympathy with the British
ideal, perhaps because for the first time that ideal appeared to them
to be one that was purely chivalrous. It was then everything that
the psychological moment should have been seized. Nor could it have
been difficult to see that, if the opportunity was allowed to slip
by, the mere fact that a half measure--to wit, the suspense of German
shipping--had been enforced, must lead to a new condition, namely,
a hugely magnified trade through the neutral ports. This trade, it
is true, was nominally confined to goods that were not contraband of
war. But contraband is an elastic term, and, to make things worse, the
British Government proclaimed its intention--so little had war-trained
thought prepared its policy--of accepting the provisions of the
unexecuted Declaration of London as defining what contraband was to
be. This gave the enemy the liberty to import materials indispensable
to his manufacture of munitions and of armament, was one of which full
advantage was taken. It was bad enough that cotton, indispensable
ores, the raw materials of glycerine as well as the finished product,
were poured into the laboratories, the factories, and the arsenals
of Germany without stint or limit. It was, if possible, worse that
this traffic created gigantic exporting interests in America which,
once vested, made the restriction of them wear the appearance of
an intolerable hardship when, many months too late, more stringent
measures were taken. So powerful indeed had these interests become,
that the real and rigid blockade which, under the doctrines of the
“continuous voyage” and the “ultimate destination” would from the first
have been fully consonant with international law, was actually never
attempted at all until the United States themselves became belligerents.

For fourteen months, then, we witnessed a state of things so
paradoxical as to be without parallel in history. It was our professed
creed that the fleet existed to seize and control sea communications.
The enemy conceded us this control and, so far from using it to
straiten him so relentlessly that he would have no choice but to fight
for relief from it, we actually permitted him to draw, through sources
absolutely under our control, for essentials in the form of overseas
supplies that he needed in a war which all the world realized must now
be a prolonged one. The traditional naval policy of the country was
thus not reflected in the action of the country’s government, because
that policy had no representation in the Navy’s counsels. There is,
perhaps, no single heresy for which so high and disastrous a price has
been paid.

It would appear, then, that our pre-war naval policy did not
contemplate that immediate and stringent sea pressure that would compel
the enemy to action, nor yet the closest and most vigilant kind of
watch that would have brought him to action in the promptest and most
fatal manner when circumstances compelled him to come out. Nor is it
difficult to see why this was so. To profess the communication theory
of sea war without realizing that the control of communications is
the result of victory, that is, setting up a consequence as an aim
while ignoring its cause, inevitably led to the inverted error, an
unwillingness so to employ the control of communications, when the
enemy ceded them without victory, as to force the enemy into battle
as the only hope of escaping an intolerable condition. Not having
contemplated and prepared for battle as the first aim of naval policy,
they left an instinctive disinclination to force on an affair which
they suddenly realized would be as critical as it was certainly
unanticipated. It is this which explains possibly the greatest paradox
in history, viz., that Germany proclaimed a strict blockade of Great
Britain before Great Britain proclaimed such a blockade of Germany.



CHAPTER V

ELEMENTS OF SEA FORCE


Having established the truth that the primary purpose of a navy is to
fight and its immediate object victory, we must next pass on to ask of
what it is that naval force consists and by what processes it fights
and wins. All fighting is done by men using weapons. At sea the men and
weapons have to be carried in ships. The ships and weapons have to be
designed and selected, and the men have to be converted from ignorance
into accomplished fighting units. Finally, the ships and the weapons
must be employed in accordance with certain methods and in obedience
to certain dynamic laws--the technique, the tactics, and the strategy
of war. It may simplify the subject to summarize the elements of naval
force as follows. It may be said to consist:

1. Of the main weapon-bearing ships built for fighting fleet actions.

2. Of smaller armed ships of many kinds necessary for the right use of
the main fighting ships and for the subsidiary operations leading up
to, or following from, fleet actions.

3. Of means other than ships--aircraft, mines, and the like--for
entrapping and injuring the main fleets and cruisers of the enemy,
for defending and attacking bases, and for making certain sea areas
dangerous or impassable to the enemy’s forces.

4. Of the personnel to man, fight, and command the ships and to direct
the operations of the separate squadrons and fleets at sea; and

5. Of that higher central command on shore that, by designing and
selecting the material, by training the officers and men, creates
sea force; that discovers the right method of using weapons; that
elucidates the tactics that follow from such use; that develops the
strategy which the strength and situation of rival forces makes best;
that as a preparation for war, keeps the whole force ready in all
particulars; that in war, directs it to the greatest advantage.

To get the best naval force it is clear, then, that you want

(_a_) Ships whose tactical properties are superior to those which the
enemy possesses, and you want more of them.

(_b_) Weapons delivering a more devastating blow, that can reach to
longer ranges, and can be employed with higher rapidity.

(_c_) Methods of employing both the ships and the weapons that will
assure to them the utmost scope of efficiency so as to strike at the
enemy--if possible--before the enemy can strike, and will keep them in
use when conditions of movement, light, and weather have become too
difficult for the enemy to overcome.

(_d_) A personnel of higher _moral_, better discipline, and greater
skill.

(_e_) A staff of officers to train and command this personnel, adept in
all the craft of fighting, instinct with the loftiest patriotism, and
masters of the art of leadership.

(_f_) A supreme command, not only equally conversant both with the
doctrine that can be gathered from a study of the past and with the
resources that modern scientific and industrial development place at
the disposal of the fighting men, but consciously cultivating what may
be called a prophetic imagination, by which alone future developments
can be anticipated, and guided throughout, and always, by regard to the
public interest only.

The factors that enter are first, material; secondly, men; and,
thirdly, the intellectual, spiritual, and moral activities necessary
for shaping and turning the first two to their purpose.

Looked at largely, the elements have been enumerated above in the
inverse order of their importance. For, clearly, the qualities of
the ship are much less important than the qualities of the weapons
that she carries. A slow, unarmoured battleship, carrying accurate,
quick-firing, long-range guns, is a better fleet unit than a fast,
perfectly protected ship with weapons unlikely to hit, because
ill-made, poorly mounted, or badly ammunitioned. And the power and
range of the weapons are less important than the science and methods
with which they are employed. An old 12-inch gun that can be used with
constant effect at 12,000 yards when the change of range is high, the
target often obscured by smoke, and the firing ship constantly under
helm, is an infinitely more effective weapon than a new 15-inch that,
in spite of a legend range of 20,000 yards, cannot be made to hit in
action conditions. And it is from right method that are derived right
tactics by which, in turn, the decisive massing of ships in action
is obtained. Again, the best of ships’ weapons and methods must be
absolutely useless unless the discipline, _moral_, and skill of those
who use them are equal to the strain of fighting. Again, it is highly
improbable that you will have good discipline and skill unless you
have good leaders, for the excellent reason that it is the officers
who make the men; certainly, if they exist in spite of there not being
good leaders, weak or heartless leadership can throw them altogether
away. The Revolution robbed the French Navy of nearly all its trained
officers--and, though possessed of better ships and courageous crews,
that navy never fought with real effect in the Great War of from 1792
to 1815. Again, however excellent your ships, weapons, and methods,
your _moral_ and your courage, unskilful command at sea and ignorance
of the true principles of tactics may rob you of victory. And, lastly,
unless those who are responsible for the creation of the material and
the training of human force, and for the chief command and general
strategy before and during war, are equal to their task unless they
keep in close and real touch with the active service, not only is it
almost impossible that a force of very high efficiency can exist, but
quite impossible that a right direction can be given to it in war.

The reader will very likely detect in the foregoing category of
precedence a trite maxim of Napoleon’s elaborated into a series of
sonorous, if illustrative, commonplaces. But this is a matter in which,
even at the cost of being hackneyed, it is absolutely necessary that
certain points should be clearly established. First, looking at the
whole subject of sea force as a problem in dynamics, it should be
constantly before our eyes that a navy is so highly complex an affair
that it can only act rightly when _all_ the elements of which it is
composed are employed in accord with the principles peculiar to each,
and are combined so that each takes its due place in relation to the
rest. It is, for example, quite conceivable that you might have a
fleet or a flotilla equipped with the best material, its personnel
instructed and expert in the best methods, commanded in detail and
directed by the chief command according to the soundest principles of
tactics and strategy, and yet that such a unit might fail in winning
its legitimate purpose, simply because of some failure to base its
operations on correct data. The omission to provide all the means for
obtaining intelligence that science and experience suggest, or, having
employed them and got the raw material, an inability to interpret and
transmit it rightly and promptly to the officer in command, might send
a fleet upon its mission either to the wrong place or at the wrong
time, or with the wrong dispositions. In considering naval science,
then, it is, so to speak, axiomatic to recognize that, as its extent
and variety are almost infinite, the task of elucidating and teaching
its principles and their application, so that every person making up
the organism which is to set the science into action shall act in the
light of true doctrine, requires an intellectual effort of incalculable
magnitude, just because the dynamic laws governing each element are
extraordinarily obscure, and because the number of elements is so
extraordinarily great. To be part perfect, then, may vitiate the whole
effort.

But if a whole science must be explored and its principles universally
inculcated, it would seem as if a wholly untenable ideal was being
put forward. But there is no escape from this ideal. For the laws
of science are ruthless. Just as “the wages of sin is death,” so is
failure the fruit of false doctrine. And the cruelty of the things lies
in this, that what seems an almost infinitesimal infidelity may bring
a large and noble effort, greatly conceived and gallantly executed, to
disaster.

The scale of the task prescribes the scale of the instruments for its
discharge. It was clearly beyond the scope of a single individual as
chief professional adviser to the Admiralty, I will not say to solve,
but even to keep account of, all the intricate problems which require
investigation. Indeed, for many years before the war it was fully
realized that only a properly organized war staff could even make a
beginning from which a right understanding of naval war in modern
conditions could derive. The necessity for this had constantly been
urged upon successive governments. The matter came to a head when,
in 1909, the Cabinet appointed a committee from its own members to
consider Lord Charles Beresford’s very grave statements as to the
condition of the Navy. This committee never published the evidence by
which Lord Charles and his associates tried to establish their case.
But in the course of a brief report which was published they said
that they had been impressed “with the difference of opinion amongst
officers of high rank and professional attainments regarding important
principles of naval strategy and tactics, and they look forward with
much confidence to the further development of a naval war staff, from
which naval members of the Board and flag officers and their staffs
at sea may be expected to derive common benefit.” Observe, that the
most experienced officers of the day differed with regard to important
principles of tactics! The technical officers of the navy knew that
this absence of doctrine “among officers of high rank and professional
attainments” arose very largely out of a total want of exact data as
to the precise effect our weapons could be expected to have upon the
enemy, and the effect the enemy’s weapons could be expected to have
upon us. If there was no agreement as to how to use weapons there could
be no agreement as to their value and, without such agreement, any
common doctrine of tactics must be impossible. And with tactics in the
melting-pot, strategy must be pure guesswork.

The 1909 committee had hoped that an extended war staff would bring
order out of chaos. But by 1911 there had still been nothing done to
realize its pious aspirations. When Mr. Churchill took office, then,
in the autumn of that year, he had the conclusions of the Beresford
Committee to guide him as to the state of strategy and tactics and a
state of things in the matter of guns, torpedoes, and mines, no less
than the manifest trend of active naval thought, to show where the
beginnings of reform must be made.

Mr. Churchill became First Lord in circumstances which were very
unexpected, and his first public announcement raised hope to the
highest point. For, over the date of New Year’s Day, 1912, there was
published by the First Lord a Memorandum which contained a passage on
which every optimist fastened. This document defined the root need of
naval force with masterly precision. Coming so soon, expressed with
such clarity and conviction, it seemed to be not so much a collection
of eloquent and thoughtful sentences logically compacted, but a
profession of intentions that must definitely turn the current of
naval life into the only channel that could assure right progress. Mr.
Churchill, in short, had quite evidently grasped the fundamental truth
that the whole structure of naval war was based upon the mastery of
weapons and, as evidently, intended the pursuit of this mastery to be
the watchword of his administration. His actual words were as follows:

“Unit efficiency--that is to say, the individual fighting power of
each vessel--is in the sea service for considerable periods entirely
independent of all external arrangements and unit efficiency at sea,
far more so than on land, is the prime and final factor _without which
the combinations of strategy and tactics_ are only the _preliminaries
of defeat_, but with which even faulty dispositions can be swiftly and
decisively retrieved.”

At last, then, the man and the moment had come together. To the new
First Lord had been given the vision that the moment called for. At
last, the consistent, concerted, co-ordinated effort would be made
which, proceeding by investigation, analysis, reason, and experiment,
would lead us to the root truths of one weapon after another. When the
conditions of action were analyzed and the problems they propounded
isolated, a measure of our capacity to deal with them would be
afforded, and not only would the points of our incapacity be made
clear, but the reasons for that incapacity and the character of the
measures needed for the remedy would be automatically shown by the
analysis. For the first condition for solving any problem is its
accurate, scientific, and exhaustive statement. And, if the statement
is sufficiently full, it almost carries the solution with it. Let the
problems of the gun, torpedo, mine, and submarine once be set out in
full, and the principles on which we should proceed to get the utmost
out of them in attack, and the utmost against similar efforts by the
enemy in defence, would become very clear indeed. In short, when all
available knowledge was put before those capable of appreciating it,
weighing it, and drawing from it right deductions, progress in a right
direction would be assured because, for the first time, it would be
established on a scientific foundation.

Nor, indeed, was this all. For no such inquisition could be made in
fundamentals without the work being reflected in every other department
of naval activity. In place of uninstructed conjecture, we should have,
as a basis of naval thought and plan, the reasoned conclusions of
expert knowledge.

There was the more reason for this optimistic view because Mr.
Churchill’s Memorandum went on to indicate the machinery by which
alone right methods can invariably, because together impartially
and impersonally, be discovered. For the particular occasion of the
Memorandum was the establishment of a new and extended war staff for
which, since 1904, we had all been waiting. This, the First Lord
explained, must have four carefully differentiated but very important
tasks.

It was first, the Memorandum said, “to be the means of preparing and
training officers for dealing with the extended problems that await
them in stations of high responsibility.” Its second function was to
sift, develop, and apply the results of history and experience, and to
preserve them “as a general stock of reasoned opinion available as an
aid and as a guide for all who are called upon to determine in peace
or war the naval policy of the country.” Its third function was the
exhibition of the vast superiority which a well-selected committee
of experts possesses over even the most brilliant expert working by
himself. The Staff was to be a “brain far more comprehensive than of
any single man, however gifted, and tireless and unceasing in its
action, applied continuously to the scientific study of naval strategy
and preparation.” Finally, this Staff, carefully selected from the
most promising officers, whose work would train them for the highest
command, making all history and experience the province from which
to draw the raw material of its doctrines, engaged tirelessly and
unceasingly in applying this doctrine to the guidance of the civilian
authorities by defining the requirements of our war preparation and war
strategy, was also to be the executive department through which the
higher command would issue its authoritative orders. “It is to be an
instrument capable of formulating any decision which has been taken,
or may be taken, by the executive, in terms of precise and exhaustive
detail.”

To those hopefully disposed this departure, then, seemed beyond words
momentous. For thirty years, whatever disagreement there may have been
in the navy, there was absolute unanimity as to the need of a staff
for the study of war and the formulation of campaign plans. So long
as weapons in use could be mastered by the personnel of the ships
without dependence on methods of fire control and so forth extraneously
supplied, this was indeed the navy’s chief and overmastering need. Had
such a staff existed even sixteen years ago, it is quite inconceivable
that we could imperceptibly have drifted into dependence on extraneous
methods for the right use of weapons, without the staff responsible
for preparation for war, bringing the fact of this dependence to the
notice of its chief. And, the principle once recognized that staff
organization is the only road to infallibility, the institution
of an additional staff for the study of so vital a matter must
inevitably have followed. The existence of one competent, impartial,
and impersonal expert body would automatically have resulted in the
creation of another.

But actually when this new staff was so resoundingly established at the
beginning of 1912, some amongst the optimists began to wonder whether
there might not be a fly in the ointment of their content. It was
pointed out that to create a staff for dealing “with the combinations
of strategy and tactics” _before_ any machinery existed for elucidating
the essentials of “unit efficiency” did most certainly have the air of
putting the cart before the horse. But to doubt that this machinery
would follow seemed too absurd in face of the tremendous emphasis that
Mr. Churchill had laid upon its necessity. If, without unit efficiency,
“the combinations of strategy and tactics were only the preliminaries
of defeat,” whereas if it existed a position in which tactics had
failed, “could be retrieved with swiftness and decision,” it was
manifestly unthinkable that such efficiency could be left to chance,
or assumed to exist on the _ipse dixit_ of any official. Obviously the
First Lord, having put his hand to the minor and secondary matter,
would not delay action at least as drastic in the major primary.

The institution of the War Staff, then, was watched with sympathetic
interest in the full expectation, not only that it must lead to great
results, but that it must be followed--as, of course, it should have
been preceded--by one for fathoming all the potentialities of the means
employed in the attack and defence of fleets.

But the War Staff was never put into the position to discharge the
functions which the 1909 committee had designated as its main purpose.
So far from being an authority equipped for the exhaustive study of
war and how to prepare for it, the whole apparatus of fighting was
carefully excluded from its purview. It had no connection with the
departments administering gunnery, torpedoes, submarines, aircraft,
or mines. As to some of these activities, there were as a fact no
departments solely charged with their control before the War Staff was
instituted. They were not entrusted to the War Staff. And no new staffs
were created! If the strategical vagueness, to which the Beresford
Committee had borne witness in 1909, arose largely, as many supposed,
from the uncertain state of naval technique, then, so far as the War
Staff was concerned, this vagueness had to continue--for technique was
not their concern.

The consequences were demonstrated in many striking ways as the war
progressed. But not the least curious result was the confusion that
arose as to the offensive and defensive aspects of naval strategy and
preparation. In the debate on the Naval Estimates of 1916 a violent
attack on Admiralty policy by Mr. Churchill left Mr. Balfour with no
alternative but to break the brutal truth to us that, at the outbreak
of war, we had not a single submarine-proof harbour on the East
Coast. Reflect for a minute what this means. In the years which have
elapsed since Lord Fisher came to the Admiralty as First Sea Lord, two
altogether revolutionary changes have been made in naval war.

1. Until 1904 the 12-inch guns of our battleships were weapons that no
one would have thought of using beyond the range of 4,000 yards. The
identical guns have been used in this war at 11,000, 12,000, and 13,000
yards. The advance in range owes nothing to improvements in the gun. It
has been brought about by improvements in sights, in range-finders, and
in the organization called fire control.

2. Again, in 1904 the submarine, or submersible torpedo-carrying boat,
had indeed been proved to be a practical instrument for war, but was
still in its infancy. By 1907, when Captain Murray Sueter wrote his
well-known work on the subject, it had become obvious that the tactics
of battle, no less than the defence of fleets, stood to be completely
changed by its actual and probable developments.

Now every new engine of war--and as a long-range weapon the modern gun
is such--creates a double problem. There is the art of using it in
attack; there is the art of countering it when it is in the enemy’s
hands. With every new development, then, the Navy has to learn a new
offensive and a new defensive. In the matter of guns, there is but one
defensive that can be perfectly successful. It is to develop a method
of using them so rapid, so insistent, and so accurate that the enemy’s
guns will be out of action before they can be employed against us.
Failing this there is a secondary defensive, viz., to protect ships
by armour. Finally, you may keep out of range of the enemy’s guns by
turning or running away. The adoption of armour calls for no perfection
either of tactical organization or technical practice. It is a matter
which can be left to the metallurgists, engineers, and constructors.
The purely naval policy, then, would have been either to develop the
use of guns offensively, which, as we have seen, must also be the best
defence, or with a purely defensive idea, solely to enjoin the tactic
that will avoid the risks inseparable from coming under the enemy’s
fire. To the country that was completing nearly two battleships to any
other country’s one, that aspired to command the sea, that hoped to be
able to blow any enemy fleet out of the water if it got the chance, it
would seem obvious that there could be only one gunnery policy; to wit,
push the offensive to the highest possible extent.

Again, the distinguishing feature of submarines is their capacity
to approach the strongest of vessels unseen and then, in waters
superficially under hostile command, to strike with the most deadly
of all weapons. As they gained in speed and radius of action, it
became obvious that wherever a fleet might be--whether at sea or
in harbour--it must, unless it were protected by effective passive
defences while in harbour, and by numerous mobile guards when at sea,
be exposed to this insidious and, if successful, deadly form of attack.

The basic supposition of British naval policy has been to maintain
a fleet sufficiently powerful to drive all enemy’s craft within his
harbours and defences. The proposition has only to be stated for it
to be clear that the navy could not have expected, except in rare
circumstances, to have any targets for its submarines, whereas it was
as certain as any future thing could be, that every British ship would
be a constant target for the enemy’s submarines. British policy in
regard to submarine war should, then, have been mainly, if, indeed, not
wholly, defensive.

Thus, if there was one form of _offensive_ imperatively imposed on
us, it was that of naval artillery; and if there was one form of
_defensive_ not less imperatively incumbent, it was the provision of
adequate protection against submarines.

It is now, of course, common knowledge that it was exactly in these
two particulars that Admiralty policy from 1904-1914 was either
discontinuous, vacillating, and self-contradictory, or simply
non-existent. So far as it cultivated anything, it was a defensive
tactic for the gun and offensive tactics for the submarine! On the
latter point let the non-provision of a safe anchorage on the Northeast
coast stand for the whole. If you pick up a Navy List for any month
in any year prior to August, 1914, you will look in vain for any
department of Whitehall, any establishment at a principal port, any
appointment of flag officer or captain, to prove that there was at any
time an individual or a committee charged with the vital problem of
protecting the British Fleet against enemy submarines when war broke
out. The necessity had indeed been realized. It was set out by Captain
Sueter in 1907. It had been urged on the Board of Admiralty. But no
action was taken.

This, of course, was bad enough. The case of gunnery was worse,
for if you compare the Navy List of August, 1914, with that of the
corresponding month of the year that Mr. Churchill took office, you
will find that it was to his administration that we owe the abolition
of the only officer and department in the navy competent to advise
or direct methods of gunnery adequate for war. From 1908 to 1913 the
Inspectorship of Target Practice had been effective in giving shape,
and to some extent, a voice, to the alarm, anxiety, and indignation
of the navy at the manner in which gunnery administration boxed the
compass of conflicting policies. With the suppression of the office
there came administrative peace--and technical chaos.

Why were not these problems, each and all of them, thoroughly
investigated and their solutions discovered before war began?

Mr. Churchill supplies us with the answer. He closes his article in
the _London Magazine_ of September, 1916, with a protest against naval
operations being more critically and even captiously judged than
military operations. They are so judged, he tells us, because of the
apparent simplicity of a naval battle, and the obvious character of
any disaster that happens to any unit of a fleet. Regiments may be
thrown away upon land and no one be any the wiser, but to lose a ship
is an event about which there can be no dispute. It is regarded as a
disaster, and at once somebody, it is assumed, must be to blame. This
is hard measure on the seaman. Surely, an admiral, he tells us, has a
greater claim upon the generosity of his countrymen than a general.
“His warfare is almost entirely novel. Scarcely one had ever had
any experience of sea fighting. All had to learn the _strange new,
unmeasured, and_, in times of peace, _largely immeasurable conditions_.”

Now this is really a very striking admission. Whence arose this theory
that naval warfare consisted of unfathomable mysteries? Perhaps the
explanation is as follows: Popular interest in the navy was first
thoroughly aroused by Mr. Stead’s _Pall Mall_ articles in the middle
eighties. It is from the controversies that he aroused that Brassey’s
and the other annual naval publications emerged. For twenty years
newspaper interest in shipbuilding programmes, design, and so forth,
advanced in a crescendo of intensity. The many and startling departures
in naval policy that characterized Lord Fisher’s tenure of the first
professional place on the Board of Admiralty, brought this interest to
a climax. There was a controversial demand for more costly programmes
involving political and journalistic opposition, which in turn provoked
greater vigour in those that advocated them. Thus the whole of naval
policy had to be commended to popular--and civilian--judgment. And it
followed that the advocates of expansion had to employ arguments that
civilians could understand. They very soon perceived that success lay
along the line of sensationalism. Larger and faster ships, heavier and
longer range guns carrying bigger and more devastating shells, faster
and more terrifying torpedoes, those new craft of weird mystery, the
submarines--all these things in turn and for considerable periods were
urged upon the public and the statesmen in terms of awe and wonder.
But the Augurs, instead of winking behind the veil, came finally to
be hypnotized by their own wonder talk. Who cannot remember that
ever-recurring phrase, “the untold possibilities” of the new engines
of war? They got to be so convinced on this subject that they made
no effort to find out precisely what the possibilities were, and
Mr. Churchill’s phrase that I have just quoted, “the strange new,
unmeasured, and largely immeasurable conditions,” exactly summed up the
frame of mind of those who were responsible for naval policy up to and
including Mr. Churchill’s time. If all these problems were insoluble,
if the conditions were immeasurable, if the possibilities of new
weapons were really untold and untellable, what was the use of worrying
about experiment and knowledge, judgment and _expertize_? It was this
frame of mind that led a humorist to suggest that the materialists
ought really to be called the spiritualists.

It was all very unfortunate, because any rightly organized system of
inquiry, investigation, and experiment, would have dissipated this
atmosphere of mystery once and for all. When new inventions are made
that affect the processes of industry, it is not the men who go about
talking of their “untold possibilities,” their “incalculable” effects,
and their “immeasurable” results, that get the commercial advantage of
their development. It is those who take immediate steps to investigate
the limits of their action and the precise scope of their operations
who turn new discoveries to account. To talk as if the performance
of guns, torpedoes, submarines, and aircraft were beyond human
calculation, was really a confession of incompetence. The application
to these things of the principles of inquiry universally employed in
other fields was always perfectly simple, and had it been employed we
should not have begun the war with wondering what we could do, but
knowing precisely what we ought to do. It was want of preparation in
these matters that was undoubtedly one of the deciding factors in tying
us down both to defensive strategy and to defensive tactics.

Once grasp what are the possibilities open to the enemy’s armed forces;
once realize the scope the mine and torpedo possess; once analyze their
influence both on strategy and on tactics, with the new problems that
they create both for cruising force and for naval artillery in action,
and it becomes exceedingly clear what it is that your own fleet must
be prepared to do. Had these things been realized at any time between
1911 and 1914, should we have had our own naval bases unprotected
against submarine attack? Should we have been without any organization
for using mines offensively against the enemy? Still more, should we
have been practically without any means whatever of preventing the
enemy using mines against us? We should have had a fleet composed of
different units, organized, trained, and equipped in a very different
way.



CHAPTER VI

THE ACTIONS


The naval operations suggested and described in the following
chapters are the surprise attack that Germany did _not_ deliver, the
destruction of _Koenigsberg_, the capture of _Emden_, Cradock’s heroic
self-sacrifice off Coronel, the destruction of Von Spee’s squadron
off the Falkland Islands, the affair of the Heligoland Bight, the
pursuit of Von Hipper across the Dogger Bank, the battle of Jutland,
and finally, the operations carried out against Zeebrügge and Ostend
in the fourth year of the war. I have not in these chapters followed
strict chronological order, but have arranged them so as to present the
problems of sea fighting as they arise in a crescendo of interest and
complexity.

Modern war is fought in conditions to which history offers no parallel.
Both the British and German Governments have maintained the strictest
reserve in regard to every operation. When one reads the despatches it
is quite obvious to the least instructed student of war, that their
publication has been guided by the consciousness that within two or
three days of issue the text would be in the enemy’s hands. Every atom
of information, then, that could be of the slightest value to the
Germans has been ruthlessly excised, with results to a great extent
ruinous to lay comprehension of the events described. This being so,
I wish it clearly to be understood that every opinion or judgment
expressed in these chapters must obviously be subject to modification
and revision when further information becomes available. Generally
speaking, too, the plans I have included with the text have no pretence
whatever to be authentic, but are presented simply as diagrammatic ways
of making the text intelligible. No more can be claimed for them than
that they should not be inconsistent with the information officially
given. The plans of the Falkland Islands engagements are the only
exceptions. These I believe to be substantially correct.

In the destruction of _Koenigsberg_ the main interest is the solution
of a gunnery problem in itself not very intricate, if once the means of
carrying it out exist and the right method of procedure is recognized.
But in the actual operations the men on the spot had to do an immense
number of things before the problem could be tackled at all, and in the
solution of the gunnery problem they had to learn from the beginning
and so discover, from their failure at the first attempt, the method
which was so brilliantly successful on the second. In this respect
the story isolates a single and, as I have said, a simple problem in
gunnery and illustrates what is meant by right technique. Apart from
this, the story is full of human interest and exhibits the exceptional
advantages which naval training gives to those who have to extemporize
methods of dealing with circumstances and difficulties without the
guidance of experience.

In the _Sydney-Emden_ engagement we have a very good example of the
modern single ship action. Not the least of its points of interest
is that _Sydney_ seems to have lost her rangefinder a very few
minutes after the action began. At first sight it would seem to be an
absolutely disabling loss. In some quarters more emphasis has been
laid on the value of a good rangefinder to fire control than to any
other element of that highly debated branch of naval science. But in
this engagement, as in that of _Koenigsberg_, the enemy was destroyed
by a ship that did not use a rangefinder at all. The action thus not
only shows the place which the observation of fire takes in the art
of sea fighting, but illustrates in the highest degree the value of
long practice in gunnery. Since 1905 every commissioned ship in the
fleet has worked assiduously on this problem, and, whether the methods
in use have been good, bad, or indifferent, this practice produced a
race of officers extraordinarily well equipped for dealing with fire
control as a practical problem. It is highly probable, if the methods
and instruments they have been given have not always been of the best,
that this fact, by throwing them on their own resources, did much to
stimulate that singular capacity for extemporization which we shall see
illustrated in the _Koenigsberg_ business. Moreover, this is a faculty
in which our officers seem to excel the Germans greatly. In this fight,
as in so many others, it was the enemy who first opened fire, and it
was his opening salvoes that were the most accurate. But the enemy has
seldom kept this initial advantage, whereas we shall generally find the
British personnel improving as the action proceeds. It would appear,
then, that as the material suffers the Germans, who are most dependent
on it, have on the whole shown less resource than our own officers.

In the action off Coronel the heroic self-sacrifice of the British
force overlays the technical interest. In one respect it is altogether
unique, for it is the only action in this war in which the weaker
and faster squadron sought action with one of incalculably greater
fighting power but of inferior speed. Neither side seems to have
manœuvred in a way that would have added to the difficulties of fire
control, but as, apart from manœuvring, the shooting conditions were
extraordinarily difficult, one is forced to the conclusion that the
deciding factor was less the great superiority of the enemy’s force,
as measured by the weight of his broadsides, than the still more
marked superiority that arose from his having a more modern and more
homogeneous armament.

At the Falkland Islands the all-big-gun ship appeared for the first
time in a sea action and, although opposed by vessels whose armament
was no match for such heavy metal, it was actually employed according
to the tactics officially set out as the basis of the Dreadnought idea
in design; the tactics, that is to say, of keeping away from an enemy,
so as to maintain a range favourable to the more powerfully gunned
ship. The battle resolved itself into three separate actions, and it
was on this principle that Sir Doveton Sturdee fought the Graf von Spee
and his two battle-cruisers, and that the Captain of the _Cornwall_
engaged _Leipzig_. But, curiously enough, in the engagement between
_Kent_ and _Nürnberg_ a different principle is seen at work. Captain
Allen pursued at full speed until he had crippled the enemy’s engines,
and then, as his speed fell off, continued to close till he was able
to silence him altogether at a range of 3,000 yards. Thus on a single
day two diametrically opposed tactical doctrines were exemplified by
officers under a single command.

In each of these four actions the tactics of the gun escaped
complication by the distractions and difficulties which torpedo attack
imposes on long-range gunnery. In our next action, the affair off
Heligoland, the torpedo figures largely, because visibility was limited
to about 6,000 yards. The affair off Heligoland cannot be described
as an engagement. It was primarily a reconnaissance in force developed
into a series of skirmishes and single ship actions, which began at
seven in the morning and ended at mid-day. Submarines, destroyers,
cruisers of several types and, finally, battle-cruisers, were employed
on the British side. There were sharp artillery engagements between
destroyers, there were torpedo attacks made by destroyers on light
cruisers and by submarines on battle-cruisers. But they were not massed
attacks on ships in formation, but isolated efforts at marksmanship,
and they were all of them unsuccessful. This failure of the torpedo
as a weapon of precision is of considerable technical interest. The
light thrown on gunnery problems by the events of the day is less easy
to define. The chief interest of this raid into the Bight lies in the
strategical idea which prompted it and in its moral effects on the
British and German naval forces. That Sir David Beatty, in command of
four battle-cruisers, should coolly have challenged the German Fleet
to fight and that this challenge was not accepted, was extremely
significant. It was of special value to our side, for it showed the
British Navy to possess a naval leader who knew how to combine dash and
caution and marked by a talent for leadership as conspicuous as the
personal bravery which had won him his early promotions.

These qualities were still better displayed in the engagement off the
Dogger Bank. This action is remarkable in several respects. For the
first time destroyers were here employed to make massed torpedo attacks
on a squadron of capital ships. The particular defensive functions of
such torpedo attacks will be discussed in the proper place. Suffice it
to say here that no torpedo hit, but that the British were robbed of
victory by a chance shot which disabled Sir David Beatty’s flagship,
and deprived the squadron of its leader when bold leadership was most
needed. Why the action was broken off by Rear-Admiral Moore, who
succeeded to the command, has never been explained, and the unfortunate
wording of an Admiralty _communiqué_ gave the world for some time an
impression that Sir David Beatty--of all people--had retreated from the
threat of German submarines.

The battle of Jutland eclipses in technical interest all the other
engagements put together. It presents, of course on a far larger
scale, all the problems hitherto met separately. We are still far too
imperfectly informed as to many of the incidents of this battle for it
to be possible to attempt any complete analysis of its tactics, or to
indicate the line on which judgment will ultimately declare itself. We
are, for example, entirely without information either about the method
of deployment prescribed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet
at six o’clock, or of the theory on which the night attack by the
destroyer on the retreating German Fleet was ordered. We do not know
how it was that a misunderstanding[A] arose between the battle-cruiser
fleet and the battle fleet as to the time and place of junction, nor
the arrangements which resulted in contact with the German Fleet being
lost after the action was over. It is, therefore, only possible to
discuss those points on which light has been thrown by the despatch,
and the principles of action which the Commander-in-Chief has set out
in various speeches delivered after he had ceased to command at sea.

    [A] The positions of the two fleets at six o’clock had
        been estimated by dead reckoning, both in _Lion_ and
        in _Iron Duke_. The two reckonings did not agree, and
        the Commander-in-Chief said in the despatch that such a
        discrepancy was inevitable. The word “misunderstanding” in
        the text must not be taken to mean that the calculation in
        either fleet was avoidable, still less reprehensibly, wrong.

In the engagement off the Falkland Islands, it will be remembered that
there was a marked contrast between the tactical methods followed in
the pursuit of Von Spee and those adopted by Captain Allen in his
pursuit of _Nürnberg_. In the battle of Jutland we shall find a still
more marked contrast between the strategic conceptions of the two
leaders of the British forces.

Admiral Beatty seems to have acted throughout as if the enemy should
be brought to battle and destroyed, almost regardless of risk. The
Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet seems to have been willing to
engage only if he could do so without jeopardizing the forces under his
command. The one was bent on victory, the other seemed satisfied--so
long as the enemy were thwarted in any ulterior purpose--if only the
British Fleet were saved from losses.

It followed from such very opposite views, that their tactical methods
differed also. At each stage of the action Sir David Beatty’s tactic
was to get his forces into action at the first possible moment and
to keep them in action as long as possible. Thus when the news first
reaches him that the enemy is to the northeast, he leads his whole
fleet at top speed straight for the Horn Reef to get between him and
his base. And this he does without waiting for any information about
the composition of the enemy’s force. Whether it is the battle-cruiser
and light forces only, or the whole German Fleet, his first idea is
to make sure that _he_ is in a position to engage if he wishes to. As
it was at 3:0 P.M., so it was at each stage after he got into action.
The reduction of his squadron by one third does not seem to have upset
the coolness of his judgment or the firmness of his determination in
the least degree. When he found himself opposed, no longer by five
battle-cruisers, but by sixteen Dreadnought battleships as well, he
reversed the course of the fleet, made Evan-Thomas fall in behind him,
and, during a holding action for the next hour, kept the Germans under
his guns, risking their fire, threatening the head of their line, and
half-cajoling, half-forcing Scheer northward to where the British
fleets would be united. The moment contact becomes imminent--knowing
that the light might at any moment fail--he forces the pace and
discounts risks incalculably greater than at any time during the day,
if only the enormous striking power of the Grand Fleet can be brought
for once into action as a whole. And so, regardless of the punishment
his fleet had received earlier in the day, he shortens the range from
14,000 yards to 12,000 and then from 12,000 to 8,000, in a last effort
to hold the enemy, while the Grand Fleet deploys and comes into action.
There is no foolhardiness in his tactics, for the speed that enables
him to head the German line is not only the best defence of his own
squadron against torpedo attack. He has made it almost impossible for
the German destroyers to enfilade the Grand Fleet, if only it deploys
at full speed on him. He knows, of course, that at 8,000 yards the side
armour of his ships will not keep out the enemy’s shells. But he has
demoralized the German gunfire by his own once before and, confident in
the superior coolness and nerve of his officers and crews, he relies on
this element again as the best defence of his squadron.

It is not till 6:50, when he realizes that his whole effort has
miscarried, that he makes the entry in his despatch which seems to me
one of the most tragic phrases ever used by a great master of fighting.
He had been baulked of victory at the Dogger Bank by a chance injury
to his ship, when his squadron came under the command of an Admiral
trained in the tenets of Whitehall. Now on May 31 he had executed a
master stroke of tactics. The armoured cruiser, designed to be a swift
bully over the weak, he had used to confound and paralyze the strong.
There had been many a discussion as to the tactical value of speed
when the Dreadnought type was first designed, but no thinker had had
the daring to forecast any such stroke as Sir David Beatty planned and
executed off the Jutland Reefs. But it was a stroke struck in vain. “By
6:50 the battle-cruisers were clear of our leading Battle Squadron,
then bearing about north northwest three miles and I ... reduced to 18
knots.”

There was no more to try for that day. When, a quarter of an hour
afterwards, the Grand Fleet starts south, he hunts for and heads the
German line again. But it is all to no purpose. Yet he does not give
up hope. At half-past nine darkness makes further pursuit impossible,
but at any rate “our strategical position was such as to make it
appear certain that we should locate the enemy at daylight under most
favourable circumstances.” It is plain, then, that he had a plan for
next day’s battle, just as he had had one for the hard and costly day
just passed. To the last the thought still preoccupies him that has
been his guide throughout. The enemy must be found and destroyed.

The Commander-in-Chief, however, whatever his anxiety for victory,
is plainly concerned throughout by the enormous responsibility that
weighs upon him as the guardian of the fleet under his command.
Only one of the ships was hit by gunfire and only one was struck by
torpedo! In summing up the story of the day, “the hardest fighting,”
he says, “fell to the lot of the Battle Cruiser Fleet ... the Fifth
Battle Squadron, the First Cruiser Squadron, the Fourth Light Cruiser
Squadron, and the flotillas.” But he must add a note, that the units
of the Battle Cruiser Fleet were _less heavily armoured_ than their
opponents! The obsession of the defensive idea is obvious. “The enemy
constantly turned away and opened the range under cover of destroyer
attacks and smoke screens.” “The German Fleet appeared to rely very
much on torpedo attacks, which were favoured by low visibility, and
by the fact that we had arrived in the position of a ‘following’ or
‘chasing’ fleet. A large number of torpedoes were apparently fired, but
only one took effect (on _Marlborough_), and even in this case the ship
was able to remain in the line and to continue the action.”

“The enemy opened the range under cover of destroyer attacks ... which
were favoured by the fact ... that we had arrived in the position
of a ‘following’ ... fleet.” Had Admiral Jerram’s squadron followed
full speed straight into the wake of the battle-cruisers, had the
whole Grand Fleet deployed on Sir David Beatty’s track, the enemy’s
business should have been finished, for Scheer never could have turned
under such a concentration of fire. But the form of the deployment
created the situation that Scheer needed. It exposed the fleet to the
torpedoes. And the risk was not faced. Speaking eight months afterwards
at the Fishmongers’ Hall, Admiral Jellicoe explained why. “The torpedo,
as fired from surface vessels, is effective certainly up to 10,000
yards range, and _this requires_ that a ship shall keep beyond this
distance to fight her guns. As conditions of visibility, in the North
Sea particularly, are frequently such as to make fighting difficult
beyond a range of 10,000 yards, and as modern fleets are invariably
accompanied by very large numbers of destroyers, whose main duty is
to attack with torpedoes the heavy ships of the enemy, it will be
recognized how great becomes the responsibility of the Admiral in
command of a fleet, particularly under the conditions of low visibility
to which I have referred. As soon as destroyers tumble upon a fleet
within torpedo range the _situation becomes critical for the heavy
ships_.”

At Jutland three British and one German battle-cruiser were sunk by
gunfire. At Dogger Bank _Lion_ was disabled by a chance shot. Ten
German battleships and one British were struck by torpedoes on May 31.
One of these, one only, and she in all probability hit simultaneously
by several, blew up. The other nine German ships and _Marlborough_
all reached port in safety. Surely, if the situation of heavy ships
is “critical” when within torpedo range, their situation when within
reach of heavy guns must be more critical still. Is it possible to
distinguish and say that one form of risk is _always_, and the other
_never_, to be run? Is not the issue identical with that raised by the
abandonment of the Dogger Bank pursuit--if it is true that pursuit was
abandoned, as the Admiralty told us, on account of the presence of
submarines?

At any rate, we see in this attitude one that stands in sharp contrast
to Sir David Beatty’s. He had faced torpedo attack in the Bight of
Heligoland, and submarine attack in the Dogger Bank affair, and
seemingly in the early fighting of May 31, without allowing the menace
to influence him to avoid action. He took the right precautions against
it. He had his cruisers and flotillas out as a screen, but having done
all that was humanly possible to parry the attack he then, with a
clear conscience, went for victory.

The same contrast is seen in the events of June 1. Sir John Jellicoe
was perfectly willing to fight if the Germans would come out and
fight on his conditions. At 4:0 A.M. an enemy Zeppelin flew over
the fleet, so that its position was known to Scheer. Yet says the
Commander-in-Chief, “the enemy made no sign.” His own pre-occupation
is not to find the enemy, but his own light forces. He thinks it worth
recording that he hung about the scene of the yesterday’s battle, “in
spite of the ... danger incurred in waters adjacent to enemy coasts
from submarine and torpedo craft.” Napoleon speaks bitterly of his
admirals, who acted as though they could win victory without taking
risks.

A strong case can, of course, be made for the doctrine on which Sir
John Jellicoe acted on these two days, a doctrine endorsed by the
Admiralty, so far at least as it was shown in action on the first and
only opportunity the British Fleet was given of utterly destroying
the enemy. The defence can hardly be put better than it was by Mr.
Churchill in his _London Magazine_ article. Nor am I concerned here to
argue the pros and cons on a point on which there can be little doubt
as to the judgment of posterity. I direct attention to the singular
fact that the British Fleet on May 31 fought as two separate units
until six o’clock, and that the leaders of the two sections were
animated by conflicting theories of war. One admiral represents the
fighting fervour of the fleet: the other the caution--perhaps the wise
caution--of the Higher Command.

There is no getting out of this dilemma. If Admiral Jellicoe was right
in refusing to face the risks inseparable from a resolute effort to
make the battle decisive, then Sir David Beatty must have been wrong
to have fought in a way which cannot be intelligently explained except
on the basis that from first to last he had decisive victory as his
object. If the tender care that brought the Grand Fleet through the
action with hardly a man killed and only two ships touched, was right
and wise, then the clear vision, all the more luminous for seeing
and counting the cost, which exposed _Indefatigable_, _Queen Mary_,
and _Invincible_ to destruction, was woefully wrong. Now it seems
extraordinary, if the strategy of waiting to fight till the Germans
attacked was right--if this was the Admiralty doctrine--that it was not
communicated to Sir David Beatty as well as to Sir John Jellicoe. If
it was axiomatic to avoid the risk of ships being destroyed, so that
Admiral Moore was right to break off the action at the Dogger Bank and
Admiral Jellicoe right in letting the enemy “open the range under the
cover of torpedo attacks,” why was not Admiral Beatty forbidden to
jeopardize his ships, and Admiral Arbuthnot warned against any pursuit
of the enemy’s cruisers or destroyers, that might possibly bring him
within range of the German gunfire? How are we to explain Bingham’s
attack on the head of the German line or Goodenough’s reconnaissance
which brought him under the salvoes of the German guns at 12,000
yards? Is the doctrine of caution and ship conservation to apply only
to battleships and not to battle-cruisers, armoured cruisers, light
cruisers, and destroyers? Is it only the battle fleet that is not to
fight except when it risks practically nothing by doing so? All these
questions are forced to the student’s attention when he reviews the
events here recorded.

Many defects in our preparations for war have been attributed to our
lack of staff machinery in the years preceding the war. The defenceless
state of the fleet’s bases, the absence of any policy for using mines,
or the means for carrying one out, the contrast between our pre-war
confidence in our gunnery methods and what they have achieved in
action, these and a score of other deficiencies have been attributed,
and probably rightly, to our failure to appreciate the fact that modern
war is so various and complicated a thing, and employs instruments and
weapons and methods, the full possibilities of which are so obscure
that only a long concerted effort could analyze and unravel them, that
no organ except a General Staff could possibly have laid down the right
doctrine of war or ensured the means of its application. But of all
the evidence of what we had lost by its absence, I know of none more
striking than that from the outbreak of war until Sir David Beatty took
command of the whole main forces of the navy, those forces should have
been divided, and the two divisions commanded by men whose views as to
the main purpose for which the force existed were utterly incompatible.
It is amazing that Whitehall either never knew that this divergency of
doctrine existed, or, knowing it, should not have secured that one or
the other doctrine should predominate.

No official despatches descriptive of the attacks on Zeebrügge and
Ostend have been published. For these extraordinary events, then, we
have to rely upon the stories officially given out by the Admiralty’s
descriptive writer and the interviews which the officers concerned were
allowed to give to different journalists.



CHAPTER VII

1. NAVAL GUNNERY, WEAPONS, AND TECHNIQUE


Before passing to the actions, it is important to have a clear idea of
two things which these actions illustrate. The first is the nature of
the advantage which heavy guns have over lighter pieces. In each of
these actions the side which had the largest number of heavier guns, or
generally heavier guns, was successful. A heavy shell obviously has far
greater effect than a light shell when it hits. Its advantages in this
respect do not need demonstration. It is as well, however, to make it
quite clear why it is more probable that a heavy shell will hit.

And next, these actions illustrate the great advance in fire control
which has been made in the last ten years, and they also show, and
I think convincingly, the limitations of the systems in use. As my
comments on these actions will be particularly directed towards showing
the tactical developments that have followed on the advance of gunnery
and towards what further tactical developments must follow from a
greater advance, it is essential that the nature of the fire-control
problem should be understood.

The principle of heavy guns being superior at long range is exemplified
by the Sketches 1 and 2. Sketch 1 represents the manner in which a
salvo of guns may be expected to spread if all the sights are set to
the same range. All guns lose in range accuracy as the range increases,
but light guns more than heavy. If six 6-inch guns are fired at a
target at 12,000 yards the shell will be apt to be spread out as shown
in the top line. Six 9.2’s will fall in a closer pattern, as shown in
the second line, six 12-inch in a still smaller space, and the 13.5
in one still smaller. Regarded simply as instruments for obtaining a
pattern at a given range, heavy guns are, therefore, far more effective
than light ones.

[Illustration: Big guns more accurate at long range, because more
regular]

But this is far from being the heavy guns’ only advantage, as will
be seen from Sketch 2. The heavier the projectile is, the longer it
retains its velocity. The angle at which a shot falls from any height
depends solely upon its forward velocity while it is falling. Sketch 2
shows the outline of a ship broadside on to the enemy’s fire, the shell
being fired from the right-hand of the sketch. A is the point where
the ship’s side meets the water. If the gun were shooting _perfectly_
accurately and was set to 10,000 yards, all the shots would hit at
this point. And clearly any shot set at a range greater than this,
but one which did not carry the shot over the target, would hit the
ship somewhere between the points A and X. Now if a 6-inch shot grazes
the point X and falls into the water, it falls at the point B beyond
the ship. But the angle at which it is falling is so steep that the
difference in range between the point A and the point B is only forty
yards. To hit, then, with a 6-inch gun the range must be known within
forty yards. This interval is called the “Danger Space.”

[Illustration: Big guns need less accurate range-finding, because the
danger space is greater]

The 9.2 will fall at a more gradual angle, and the shot grazing on X
will fall at C, which is twenty yards beyond B; and a 12-inch shell,
falling still more gradually, will fall at D, which is 100 yards from
A; and similarly the 13.5 at E, which is 150 yards beyond it. Hence, at
any given range, far _more accurate knowledge_ of range is necessary
for hitting with a 6-inch gun than with a 9.2, with a 9.2 than with a
12-inch, and with a 12-inch than with a 13.5.

But we have seen from Sketch 1 that, in proportion as the range gets
long, so does the range accuracy of the gun _decrease_, and that this
loss of accuracy is greater in small guns than in bigger. To hit with
it at all a more perfect fire control is necessary, and for any given
number of rounds a much smaller proportion of hits will be made. The
advantage of the big gun over the small, merely as a hitting weapon, is
twofold. It does not require such accuracy in setting the sight, and
more shots fired within these limits will hit.


FIRE CONTROL

If ships only engaged when they were stationary the range would not
change, and it could be found by observation without rangefinders.
And even with rangefinders it can never be found at great distances
_without_ observation. But ships do not stand still, and when they
move the distance between them alters from second to second. If these
movements could be (1) ascertained, (2) integrated, and (3) the results
impressed upon the sight, change of range would be eliminated, and we
should have come back to the conditions in which ships were stationary.
Fire control is successful in so far as it succeeds in doing these
three things. Sketches 3 and 4 show the process by which hits are
secured, when the conditions are not complicated by changes in the
range, that is, if these complications have been eliminated by fire
control. The second two illustrate what these complications are. The
ships turn away from each other and then turn towards each other.

The rate graph (6) shows the effect of these movements on the range and
the rate at which it is changing from moment to moment.

The process shown in Sketches 3 and 4 is called “bracketing.” Two shots
are fired at a difference of, say, 800 yards. Observation shows the
first to be too short, the second to be too far. The difference is
bisected by the third shot. This places the target in one of the halves
of the bracket. This half is bisected by the fourth shot, placing
the target in a quarter. If an eighth of the bracket is less than the
danger space, then the fifth shot must hit.

[Illustration: Range-finding by bracket]

In Sketch 5 the ships keep parallel courses for two minutes. The range
does not change. The line in the graph (6) is, for these two minutes,
horizontal. It is as if both were stationary. When the ships turn the
range increases and the graph rises. But the graph is not a straight
line but a curve. This shows that the rate also is changing. Each
movement of the two ships, whether they keep steady courses or turn,
alters the range and the rate. As projectiles take an interval of time
to travel from the gun to the target, the range must be _forecasted_.
B, then, cannot engage A unless he knows where A is going to be. He
cannot know this until A has settled on a steady course. While A is
turning, then he is safe from gunfire except by a chance shot. B cannot
engage while he is himself turning unless he can integrate his own
movements with A’s. It is this latter difficulty which largely explains
the duration of modern actions. At the mean range of each engagement,
with ships standing still, _Sydney_ could have sunk _Emden_ in ten
minutes; _Inflexible_ and _Invincible_ could have sunk _Scharnhorst_
and _Gneisenau_ in fifteen. But it was ninety minutes before _Emden_
was driven on the rocks, 180 before _Scharnhorst_ sank, and 300 before
_Gneisenau_ went under.

[Illustration: The crux of sea fighting, changes of course and speed
produce an irregularly changing range]

In the ten years preceding the war, Admiralty policy, as shown by the
official apology for the Dreadnought design and by the course of naval
ordnance administration, had been governed by the purely defensive idea
of providing ships fast enough to keep outside of the zone of the
enemy’s fire, armed with guns that outranged him. The professed object
was to have a chance of hitting your enemy when he had no chance of
hitting you. At the Falkland Islands there was given a classic example
of the tactics that follow from this conception. On the assumption that
twenty-five 12-inch gun hits would suffice to sink each of the enemy’s
armoured cruisers, it appeared that in this engagement the 12-inch gun
had attained the rate of _one hit per gun per 75 minutes_. This figure
may be contrasted with the _one hit per gun per 72 seconds_ attained
by the _Severn_ in her second engagement with the _Koenigsberg_ at the
Rufigi. The contrast seems to show that it was only the obsession of
the defensive theory that explained contentment with methods of gunnery
so extraordinarily ineffective in battle conditions. For the difference
in the rate of hitting was almost completely explained by the range
being _constant_ at the Rufigi, and _inconstant_ at the Falklands. And
the methods of fire control in use were proved at the Falklands to be
unequal to finding, and continuously keeping, accurate knowledge of an
inconstant range.

Again at the affair of the Dogger Bank, _Lion_, _Tiger_, _Princess
Royal_, _New Zealand_, and _Indomitable_ were in action for many
hours against three battle-cruisers and an armoured cruiser, and for
perhaps half the time at ranges at which good hitting is made at battle
practice; and although two of the enemy battle-cruisers were hit and
seen to be in flames they were able, after two and a half hours’
engagement, to continue their retreat at undiminished speed, and only
the armoured cruiser, whose resisting power to 13.5 projectiles must
have been very feeble, was sunk.

The lesson of Jutland is still more striking, and it is possible to
draw the moral with a little greater precision since it has been
officially admitted in Germany that _Lutzow_, Admiral von Hipper’s
flagship, the most modern of Germany’s battle-cruisers, was destroyed
after being hit by only fifteen projectiles from great guns. It is not
clear from the German statement whether this means fifteen 13.5’s and
omits to reckon 12-inch shells, or whether there were fifteen hits
in all, some of the one nature and some of the other. The latter is
probably the case; for we know from Sir David Beatty’s and the German
despatches that it was _Invincible’s_ salvos that finally incapacitated
the ship and compelled Von Hipper to shift his flag. _Lutzow_ was
always at the head of the German line and so was exposed to the fire
of our battle-cruisers for nearly three hours. If we assume that she
was hit by ten 13.5’s and five 12-inch; if we further assume that the
effect of shells is proportionate to their weight; if we take the
resisting power of British battle-cruisers, German battle-cruisers
(which are more heavily armoured than the British), and all battleships
to compare as the figures 2, 3, and 4 respectively; if we further
assume that the Fifth Battle Squadron did not come into effective
action till the second phase began, and went out of action at 6:30,
and that the battle cruisers were in action for three hours, and omit
Hood’s squadron altogether, we get the following results: Five German
battle cruisers were exposed to seventy-two hours of 13.5 gun fire and
to twenty-four hours of 12-inch gun fire, and five German battleships
were exposed to forty-eight 15-inch gun hours. Similarly--omitting
_Queen Mary_, _Indefatigable_, and _Invincible_, seemingly destroyed
by chance shots and not overwhelmed by gunfire--four British
battle-cruisers were exposed to thirty-seven 12-inch and sixty 11-inch
gun hours, and the Fifth Battle Squadron was exposed to one hundred and
eighty 12-inch gun hours. Had both sides been able to hit at the rate
of _one hit per hour per gun_, the Germans, roughly speaking, should
have sunk six British battle-cruisers, and the four ships of the Fifth
Battle Squadron nearly twice over; the Fifth Battle Squadron should
have sunk four German battleships; and the British battle-cruisers
seven German battle-cruisers! The number of hits received by the
British Fleet has not been published, but it is probably safe to say
that the Germans could not have made a quarter of this number of hits,
nor the British ships more than a third. It would seem, then, that at
most we made one hit per gun per three hours and the Germans one hit
per gun per four hours.

At no time, throughout such parts of the action as we are considering,
did the range exceed 14,000 yards, and at some periods it was at 12,000
and at others at 8,000. In battle practice not only on the British
Fleet but in all fleets, hits at the rate of one hit per gun per four
minutes at 14,000 yards have constantly been made. How, then, are we
to explain the extraordinary difference between battle practice and
battle results? In the former certain difficulties are artificially
created, and methods of fire control are employed that can overcome
these difficulties successfully. But these methods evidently break down
when it comes to the quite different difficulties that battle presents.
So far we are on indisputable ground. Whether fire control can be so
improved that the difficulties of battle can be overcome, just as the
difficulties of battle practice have been overcome is another matter.

The difference between action and battle practice is, broadly speaking,
twofold. First, you may have to fight in atmospheric conditions in
which you would not attempt battle practice. All long-range gunnery,
whether on sea or on land, depends for success upon range-finding and
the observation of fire, and as at sea the observations must be made
from a point at which the gun is fired, the correction of fire becomes
impossible if bad light or mist prevents the employment of observing
glasses and range-finders. In the Jutland despatch particular attention
was directed to the disadvantages we were under in the matter of
range-finding from these causes. It would appear, then, that those who,
for many years, had maintained that the standard service rangefinder
would be useless in a North Sea battle, have been proved to be right.

The second great difference lies in the totally different problems
which movement creates in battle. In battle practice the only movement
of the target is that which the towing ship can give to it. Its
speed and manœuvring power are strictly limited, whereas a 30-knot
battle-cruiser can change speed and direction at will. The smallest
change of course must alter the range, and the smallest miscalculation
of speed or course must make accurate forecast of range impossible. But
the movements of the target are only a part of the difficulty. Those
that arise from the manœuvres of the firing ship may be still greater
and more confusing. And so obvious is this that, in peace time, it used
to be almost an axiom that to put on helm during an engagement--even
for the sake of keeping station--should be regarded almost as a crime.
But the long-range torpedo has long since made it clear that a firing
squadron may _have_ to put on helm. It must manœuvre, that is to say,
in self-defence--a thing it would never have to do in battle practice.
And when both target ship and firing ship are manœuvring, it is small
wonder if methods of fire control, designed primarily for steady
courses by one ship and low speed and small turns by the other, break
down altogether. It is undoubtedly true that the mainspring of all
defensive naval ideas is _doubt as to the success of offensive action_,
and as the only offensive action that a battleship can take is by its
guns, it would seem as if those who disbelieve in the offensive have
had far too much reason for their scepticism.


THE TORPEDO IN BATTLE

It was the invention of the hot-air engine round about 1907 that
converted the torpedo from a short- to a long-range weapon, and when,
a year or two later, the feasibility of running one of these with
almost perfect accuracy and regularity to a distance of five miles was
demonstrated, it became quite obvious that a new and, as many thought,
a decisive element had been introduced into naval war, the effect of
which would be especially marked in any future fleet actions. Just what
form its intervention would take was much discussed in three years,
and the following quotation from a confidential contribution of my own
on this discussion, written in December 1912, is perhaps not without
interest as indicating the points then in debate:

“The tactical employment of fleets has, of course, recently been
complicated, in the opinions of many, by the facts that the range
of torpedoes is more than doubled; that their speed is very greatly
increased; and that their efficiency (that is, the extent to which they
can be relied upon to run well) has increased almost as much as their
range and speed. This advance of the torpedo has followed very rapidly
on the development of the submarine, and has led, quite naturally, to
the suggestion that it should be employed on a considerable scale in
a fleet action either from under-water craft or by squadrons of fast
destroyers.

“The torpedo menace has undoubtedly confused the problem of fleet
action in a most bewildering manner; but, with great respect to those
who attach the most importance to this menace, there are, it seems to
me, certain principles that should be borne in mind in estimating its
probable influence.

“There is a world of difference between a weapon that can be evaded and
one that cannot. You can, by vigilance, circumvent the submarine and
dodge the torpedo--at any rate, in some cases. You can never double
to avoid a 12-inch shell. It may yet be proved that not the least
interesting aspect of modern naval warfare will be that the torpedo
will thus put seamanship back to its pride of place.

“In any circumstances the torpedo, however highly developed, is not
a weapon of the same kind as the gun. It seems to belong to the same
order of military ideas as the cutting-out expeditions and use of
fire-ships in olden days and the employment of mines of more recent
date. It is, of course, an element in fighting, and a most serious
element; a means of offence far handier, and with a power of striking
at a far greater distance than has been seen in any parallel mode of
war hitherto. And yet I should be inclined to maintain that it and
its employment remain more in the nature of a ‘stratagem’ than of a
tactical weapon, truly so called.

“Mines, torpedoes, a bomb dropped from an airship or aeroplane--these
are all new perils of war. In the hands of a Cochrane their employment
might conceivably be decisive. But it would need the conjunction of an
extraordinary man with extraordinary fortune.

“Both Japanese and Russians lost ships by mines and torpedoes in 1906,
and ships will be lost in future wars in the same way, but I find it
hard to believe that the _essential_ character of fleet actions or of
naval war generally can be affected by them. It seems indisputable
that the future must be with the means of offence that has the longest
reach, can deliver its blow with the greatest rapidity, and, above
all, that is capable of being employed with the most exact precision.
In these respects the gun is, and in the nature of things must remain,
unrivalled.

“The two directions in which fleet-fighting seems likely to be most
noticeably affected by the new weapon are in the formation of fleets
and the maintenance of steady courses, and in making longer ranges
compulsory.

“I think there are other reasons why the tactical ideal set out
above--viz., that of using long lines of ships on approximately
parallel courses at equal speed in the same direction--will be
questioned; but even if there were not, that a mobile mine-field can
be made to traverse the line of an on-coming squadron, and do so at
a range of 10,000 yards, and that ships formed in line ahead offer
between five and six times more favourable a target to perpendicular
submarine attack than a line of ships abreast, will make it certain
that sooner or later there will be a tendency in favour of smaller
squadrons and, even with these, of large and frequent changes of
course, and possibly of formation, so as to lessen the torpedo menace.

“In other words, we must recognize that in the long-range torpedo we
have a new element in naval battle, that of the _defensive_ offensive.
It is defensive because, if the range of the torpedo is 10,000 yards
of absolute run, its range is greater if fired on the bow of an
advancing squadron by the distance that squadron may travel--3,000
to 4,000 yards--while the torpedo is doing its 10,000. A very fast
battle-cruiser, for instance, may have a speed only a few knots less
than that of the under-water weapon. This means either keeping out of
gun range of an enemy that is retreating, or taking the risk of torpedo
attack. If you face the risk, you must be ready to manœuvre to avoid it.

“It looks, then, as if long-range gunnery and gunnery under helm were:
the first, compulsory, and the second, inevitable.”

[Illustration: THEORY OF DEFENSIVE USE OF TORPEDO IN RETREAT.

In the above sketch the black silhouette shows the position at the
moment the torpedo is fired; the white silhouette the position the ship
has reached when the torpedo meets it. In the upper sketch the ship is
running away from the torpedo, in the lower one coming to meet it. The
distance run by the torpedo is the same in each case, but the range at
the moment of firing is 6,000 yards in the upper case and 13,300 in the
lower]



CHAPTER VIII

THE ACTION THAT NEVER WAS FOUGHT


            _August, 1914._

Take it for all in all, the most remarkable thing about the naval war
is that it took the Germans by surprise. They had planned the most
perfect thing imaginable in the way of a scheme for the conquest of
all Europe. It had but one flaw. They left Great Britain out of their
calculations--left us out, that is to say, not as ulterior victims,
but as probable and immediate combatants. We were omitted because
Germany assumed that we should either be too rich, too frightened, or
too unready to fight. So that, of all the contingencies that could
be foreseen, simultaneous sea war with Great Britain and land war on
two frontiers, was the one for which almost no preparations had been
made. Hence to undo Germany utterly at sea proved to be a very simple
business indeed.

Much has been made of this statesman or that admiral having actually
issued the mandate that kept the Grand Fleet mobilized and got it to
its war stations two days before war was declared. But there is here no
field for flattery and no scope for praise, and the historical interest
in identifying the actual agent is slender. It has always been a part
of the British defensive theory that the main Fleet shall be ever ready
for instant war orders. Of the fact of its being the plan, we need
no further testimony than Mr. Churchill’s first Memorandum after his
elevation to the control of British naval policy and of the British
Fleet. The thing, therefore, that was done was the mere mechanical
discharge of a standing order.

Once the Fleet was mobilized and at its war stations, German sea power
perished off the outer seas as effectually as if every surface ship
had been incontinently sunk. There was not a day’s delay in our using
the Channel exactly as if no enemy were afloat. Within an hour of the
declaration of war being known, no German ship abroad cleared for a
German port, nor did any ship in a German port clear for the open sea.
The defeat was suffered without a blow being offered in defence, and,
for the purposes of trade and transport, it was as instantaneous as it
was final.

Nor was it our strength, nor sheer terror of our strength, that made
the enemy impotent. He was confounded as much by surprise as he was
by superior power. In point of fact, the disparity between the main
forces of the two Powers in the North Sea, though considerable, was
not such as to have made Germany despair of an initial victory--and
that possibly decisive--had she been free to choose her own method of
making war on us, and had she chosen her time wisely. In August 1914
three of our battle cruisers were in the Mediterranean, one was in the
Pacific, one was in dockyard hands. Only one German ship of the first
importance was absent from Kiel. In modern battleships commissioned and
at sea, the German High Seas Fleet consisted of at least two _Königs_,
five _Kaisers_, four _Helgolands_, and four _Westfalens_. All except
the _Westfalens_ were armed with 12.2 guns--weapons that fire a heavier
shell than the British 12-inch. The _Westfalens_ were armed with
11-inch guns. They could, then, have brought into action a broadside
fire of 110 12-inch guns and 40 11-inch. Germany had, besides, four
battle-cruisers, less heavily armed than our ships of the same class,
quite as fast as our older battle-cruisers and much more securely
armoured. So that if protection--as so many seem to think--is the one
essential quality in a fighting ship, they were more suited to take
their share in a fleet action than our battle-cruisers could have been
expected to be.

On our side we had twenty battleships and four armoured cruisers. In
modern capital ships, then, we possessed but twenty-four to nineteen--a
percentage of superiority of only just over 25 per cent., and less than
that for action purposes if the principle alluded to holds good. It was
a margin far lower than the public realized. At Jutland we lost two
battle cruisers in the first forty minutes of the action. Had such an
action been fought, with like results, in August, 1914, our surviving
margin would have been very slender indeed. But the enemy dared not
take the risk. He paid high for his caution. Yet his inferiority should
not have paralyzed him. At Jutland he faced infinitely greater odds.
His numbers were not such as to make inglorious inactivity compulsory
had he been resourceful, enterprising, and willing to risk all in the
attack. It certainly was a position that bristled with possibilities
for an enemy who, to resource, courage, and enterprise, could add the
overpowering advantage of choosing the day and the hour of attack, and
could strike without a moment’s warning.

If the German Government had realized from the start that in no war
that threatened the balance of power in Europe could we remain either
indifferent or, what is far more important, inactive spectators, then
they would have realized something else as well, something that was, in
point of fact, realized the moment Germany began her self-imposed--but
now impossible--task of conquering Europe by first crushing France and
Russia. She would have realized as then she did, that if Great Britain
were allowed to come into the war her intervention might be decisive.
It would seemingly have to be so for very obvious reasons. With France
and Russia assured of the economic and financial support of the
greatest economic and financial Power in Europe, Germany’s immediate
opponents would have staying power: time, that is to say, would be
against their would-be conquerors. The intervention of Great Britain,
then, would make an ultimate German victory impossible. In a long war
staying power would make the population of the British Empire a source
from which armies could be drawn. Beginning by being the greatest sea
Power in the world, we would necessarily end in becoming one of the
greatest military Powers as well. The two things by themselves must
have threatened military defeat for Germany. Nor, again, was this
all. For while sea power, and the financial strength which goes with
sustained trade and credit, could add indefinitely to the fighting
capacity and endurance of Russia and France, sea power and siege were
bound, if resolutely used, to sap the fighting power and endurance of
the Central Powers.

To the least prophetic of statesmen--just as to the least instructed
students of military history--the situation would have been plain. And
there could be but one lesson to be drawn from it. To risk everything
on a quick victory over France or Russia was insanity. If the conquest
of Europe could not be undertaken with Great Britain an opponent, the
alternative was simple. Either the conquest of Great Britain must
precede it or the conquest of the world be postponed to the Greek
Kalends.

Was the conquest of Great Britain a thing so unattainable that it had
only to be considered to be discarded as visionary? No doubt, had
we been warned and upon our guard, ready to defend ourselves before
Germany was ready to strike, then certainly any such scheme must have
been doomed to failure. But I am not so sure that a successful attack
would have been beyond the resources of those who planned the great
European war, had they from the first, grasped the elementary truth
that it was necessary to their larger scheme. For to win the conquest
of Europe it would not be necessary to crush Great Britain finally and
altogether. All that was required was to prevent her interference for,
say, six months, and this, it really seems, was far from being a thing
beyond the enemy’s capacity to achieve.

The essentials of the attack are easy enough to tabulate. First,
Germany would have to concentrate in the North Sea the largest force
of capital ships that it was possible to equip. Her own force I have
already enumerated. Had Germany contemplated war on Great Britain she
would, of course, not have sent the _Goeben_ away to the Straits. The
nucleus of the German Fleet, then, would have been twenty and not
nineteen ships. To these might have been added the three completed
Dreadnoughts of the Austrian Fleet, the _Viribus Unitis_, _Tegetthof_,
and _Prinz Eugen_--all of which were in commission in the summer of
1914. They would have contributed a broadside fire of 36 12-inch
guns--a very formidable reinforcement--and brought the enemy fleet
to an almost numerical equality with ours. A review at Kiel would
have been a plausible excuse for bringing the Austrian Dreadnoughts
into German waters. Supposing the British force, then, to have been
undiminished, the war might have opened with a bare superiority of
five per cent. on the British side.

But there is no reason why British strength should not have been
reduced. Knowing as we now do, not the potentialities, but the
practical use that can be made of submarines and destroyers, it must
be plain to all that, had Germany intended to begin a world war with a
blow at Great Britain, she might well have hoped to have reduced our
strength to such a margin before the war began, as to make it almost
unnecessary to provide against a fleet action. Most certainly a single
surprise attack by submarines could have done all that was desired.

By a singular coincidence, an opportunity for such an attack--an
opportunity that could hardly have failed of a most sinister
success--offered itself at the strategic moment when the Central
Powers had already resolved to use the murder of the Archduke as a
pretext for an unprovoked attack on Christendom. All our battleships
of the first, second, and third lines, all our battle-cruisers
commissioned and in home waters, almost all our armoured cruisers and
fast light cruisers, and the bulk of our destroyers and auxiliaries
were, in the fateful third week in July, gathered and at anchor--and
completely unprotected--in the fairway of the Solent. There were to
be no manœuvres in 1914, but a test mobilization instead, and this
great congregation of the Fleet was to be a measure of the Admiralty’s
capacity to man all our naval forces of any fighting worth. The fact
that this gathering was to take place on a certain and appointed date
was public property in the month of March. A week or a fortnight before
the squadrons steamed one by one to their moorings, a plan of the
anchored lines was published in every London paper. The order of the
Fleet, the identity of every ship in its place in every line, might
have been, and probably were, in German hands a week before any single
ship was in her billet. From Emden to the Isle of Wight is a bare 350
miles--a day and a half’s journey for a submarine--and in July 1914,
Germany possessed between twenty and thirty submarines. It was a day
and a half’s journey if it had been all made at under-water speed. What
could not a dozen Weddigens and Hersings have done had they only been
sent upon this fell mission, and their arrival been timed for an hour
before daybreak on the morning of July 18? They surely could have gone
far beyond wiping out a margin of five big ships, which was all the
margin we had against the German Fleet alone. They could, in the half
light of the summer’s night, have slipped five score torpedoes into a
dozen or more battleships and battle-cruisers. They could have attacked
and returned undetected, leaving Great Britain largely helpless at sea
and quite unable to take part in the forthcoming European war.

Germany could, of course, have done much more to complete our
discomfiture. A hundred merchant ships, each carrying three brace of
4-inch guns, and sent as peaceful traders astride the distant trade
routes; the despatch of two score or more destroyers to the approaches
of the Channel and the Western ports, and all of them instructed--as in
fact, eight months afterwards, every submarine was instructed--to sink
every British liner and merchantman at sight, without waiting to search
or troubling to save passengers or crew--raids organized on this scale
and on these principles could have reduced our merchant shipping by a
crippling percentage in little more than forty-eight hours. The two
things taken together--the assassination of the Fleet, the wholesale
murder of the merchant marine--must certainly have thrown Great Britain
into a paroxysm of grief and panic.

What a moment this would have been for throwing a raiding force, could
one have been secretly organized, upon the utterly undefended, and
now indefensible, eastern coast! Secretly, skilfully, and ruthlessly
executed these three measures could have done far more than make it
impossible for Great Britain to take a hand in the defence of France.
They might, by the sheer rapidity and terrific character of the blows,
have thrown us so completely off our balance as to make us unwilling,
if we were not already powerless, to make further efforts even to
defend ourselves. At least, so it must have appeared to Germany.
For it was the essence of the German case that the nation was too
distracted by political differences, too fond of money-making, too
debilitated by luxury and comfort, too conscious of its weak hold
on the self-governing colonies, too uncertain of its tenure on its
oversea Imperial possessions, to stand by its plighted word. The nation
has since proved that all these things were delusions. But it was no
delusion that Great Britain would be very reluctant to participate in
any war. And we need not have fallen so low as Germany supposed and yet
be utterly discomposed and incapable of further effort, had we indeed,
in quick succession or simultaneously, received the triple onslaught
that it was well within the enemy’s power to inflict.

Even had these blows so failed in the completeness of their several
and combined effects as to crush us altogether, had we recovered and
been able to strike back, what would have been the situation? It would
have taken us some months to hunt down and destroy a hundred armed
German merchantmen. If 100,000 or 150,000 men had been landed, the
campaign that would have ended in their defeat and surrender could not
have been a very rapid one. Our re-assertion of the command of the
seas might have had to wait until the dockyards, working day and night
shifts, could restore the balance of naval power. Suppose, then, we
escaped defeat; suppose these assassin blows had ended in the capture
or sinking of a hundred merchantmen in the final overthrow of Germany’s
sea power--could these things have been any loss to Germany, if it
had been the price of swift and complete victory in Europe? In the
unsuccessful attack on Verdun alone she threw away not 150,000 men but
three times that number. There is not a German merchantman afloat that
has been worth sixpence to her country since war was declared, nor
in the first two years of war did the German Fleet achieve anything
to counter-balance what the German Army lost by having to face the
British as well as the French Army in the west. The sacrifices, then,
would have been trivial compared with the stake for which Germany was
playing. If it had resulted in keeping us out of the Continent for six
months only, our paralysis, even if only temporary, should have decided
the issue in Germany’s favour.

Greatly as Germany dared in forcing war upon a Europe altogether
surprised and almost altogether unready, yet in point of fact she
dared just too little. Abominably wicked as her conduct was, it was
not wicked enough to win the justification of success. If war was
intended to be inevitable from the moment the Serbian ultimatum was
sent, the capacity of Great Britain to intervene should have been dealt
with resolutely and ruthlessly and removed as a risk before any other
risk was taken. It sobers one to reflect how changed the situation
might have been had German foresight been equal to the German want of
scruple. Looking back, it seems as if it was but a very little thing
the enemy had to do to ensure the success of all his plans.

Had any one before the war sketched out this programme as one which
Germany might adopt, he would perhaps have been regarded by the great
majority of his countrymen as a lunatic. But to-day we can look at
Germany in the light of four years of her conduct. And we can see that
it was not scruple or tenderness of conscience or any decent regard for
the judgment of mankind that made her overlook the first essential of
success. We must attribute it to quite a different cause. I am quoting
from memory, but it seems to me that Sir Frederick Pollock has put the
truth in this matter into exact terms. “The Germans will go down to
history as people who foresaw everything except what actually happened,
and calculated everything except its cost to themselves.” It is the
supreme example of the childish folly that, for the next two years, we
were to see always hand in hand with diabolical wickedness and cunning.
And always the folly has robbed the cunning of its prey.

In the edifying tales that we have inherited from the Middle Ages, when
simple-minded Christian folk personified the principle of evil and
attributed all wickedness to the instigation of the Devil, we are told
again and again of men who bargained with the Evil One, offering their
eternal souls in payment for some present good--a grim enough exchange
for a man to make who believed he had a soul to give. But it is seldom
in these tales that the bargain goes through so simply. Sometimes it is
the sinner who scores by repentance and the intervention of Heaven and
a helpful saint. But often it is the Devil that cheats the sinner. The
forfeit of the soul is not explicit in the bargain. There is some other
promise, seemingly of plain intent, but in truth ambiguous, which seems
to make it possible for sin to go unpunished. Too late, the deluded
gambler finds the treaty a “scrap of paper.” The story of Macbeth is a
case in point.

Does it not look as if Germany had made some unhallowed bargain of
this kind?--as if this hideous adventure was started on the faith of
a promise of success given by her evil genius and always destined to
be unredeemed? Is it altogether chance that there should have been
this startling blindness to the most palpable of the forces in the
game?--such inexplicable inaction where the right action was so obvious
and so easy?



CHAPTER IX

THE DESTRUCTION OF “KOENIGSBERG”


The story of the destruction of _Koenigsberg_ by the twin monitors
_Severn_ and _Mersey_ in the Rufigi Delta, has an interest that far
transcends the intrinsic military importance of depriving the enemy of
a cruiser already useless in sea war. For the narrative of events will
bring to our attention at once the extreme complexity and the diversity
of the tasks that the Royal Navy in war is called upon to discharge. It
is worth examining in detail, if only to illustrate the novelty of the
operations which officers, with no such previous experience, may at any
moment be called upon to undertake, and the extraordinary combination
of patience, courage, skill, and energy with which when experience at
last comes, it is turned to immediate profit. The incident possesses,
besides, certain technical aspects of the very highest importance. For
it gives in its simplest form perfect examples of how guns should not
and should be used when engaged in indirect fire, and by affording
this illuminating contrast, is highly suggestive of the progress that
may be made in naval gunnery when scientific method is universally
applied. The incident, then, is worth setting out and examining in some
detail, and there is additional reason for doing this, in that the
accounts that originally appeared were either altogether inaccurate or
so incomplete as to be misleading. First, then, to a narrative of the
event itself.

_Koenigsberg_ was a light unarmoured cruiser of about 3,400 tons
displacement, and was laid down in December 1905. She carried an
armament of ten 4.1-inch guns, and was protected by a 2-inch armoured
deck. The Germans had begun the construction of vessels of this class
about seven years before with _Gazelle_, which was followed in the
next year by _Niobe_ and _Nymphe_, and then by four more--including
_Ariadne_, destroyed by _Lion_ in the affair of the Heligoland
Bight--which were laid down in 1900. Two years later came the three
_Frauenlobs_, and the _Bremen_ class--five in number--succeeded these
in 1903-4. In 1905 followed _Leipzig_, _Danzig_, and finally the ship
that concerns us to-day. All these vessels had the same armament, but
in the six years the displacement had gone up 1,000 tons. The speed
had increased from 21½ knots to about 24, and the nominal radius
of action by about 50 per cent. _Koenigsberg_ was succeeded by the
_Stettins_ in 1906-7, the two _Dresdens_ in 1907-8, the four _Kolbergs_
in 1908-9, and the four _Breslaus_ in 1911. _Karlsruhe_, _Grodenz_,
and _Rostock_ were the only three of the 1912-13 programmes which were
completed when the war began. The process of growth, illustrated in
the advance of _Koenigsberg_ over _Niobe_, was maintained, so that
in the _Karlsruhe_ class in the programme of 1912, while the unit of
armament is preserved, we find that the number of guns had grown from
ten to twelve; the speed had advanced from 23½ to 28 knots, and the
displacement from 3,400 to nearly 5,000 tons. As we know now, in the
Battle of Jutland we destroyed light cruisers of a still later class
in which, in addition to every other form of defence, the armament had
been changed from 4.1-inch to 6.7 guns.

_Koenigsberg_, on the very eve of the outbreak of war, was seen by
three ships of the Cape Squadron off Dar-es-Salaam, the principal
port of German East Africa. She was then travelling due north at top
speed, and was not seen or heard of again until, a week later, she sank
the British steamer _City of Winchester_ near the island of Socotra.
There followed three weeks during which no news of her whereabouts
reached us. At the end of the month it was known that she had returned
south and was in the neighbourhood of Madagascar. At the end of the
third week in September she came upon H.M.S. _Pegasus_ off Zanzibar.
_Pegasus_ was taken completely unawares while she was cleaning furnaces
and boilers and engaged in general repairs. It was not possible then
for her to make any effective reply to _Koenigsberg’s_ sudden assault,
and a few hours after _Koenigsberg_ left she sank. Some time between
the end of September and the end of October, _Koenigsberg_ retreated
up one of the mouths of the Rufigi River, and was discovered near the
entrance on October 31 by H.M.S. _Chatham_. From then onwards, all the
mouths of the river were blockaded and escape became impossible. Her
captain seemingly determined, in these circumstances, to make the ship
absolutely safe. He took advantage of the high water tides, and forced
his vessel some twelve or more miles up the river. Here she was located
by aeroplane at the end of November. Various efforts had been made to
reach her by gunfire. It was asserted at one time that H.M.S. _Goliath_
had indeed destroyed her by indirect bombardment. But there was never
any foundation for supposing the story to be true, and if in the
course of any of these efforts the ship suffered any damage, it became
abundantly clear, when she was finally engaged by the monitors, either
that her armament had never been touched, or that all injuries had been
made good.

The problems which the existence of _Koenigsberg_ propounded were:
first, Was it a matter of very urgent moment to destroy her? Second,
How could her destruction be effected? The importance of destroying her
was great. There was, of course, no fear of her affecting the naval
position seriously if she should be able to escape; but that she could
do some, and possibly great, damage if at large, the depredations
of _Emden_ in the neighbouring Indian Ocean, and of _Karlsruhe_ off
Pernambuco, had proved very amply indeed. If she was not destroyed
then, a close blockade would have to be rigidly maintained, and it was
a question whether the maintenance of the blockade would not involve,
in the end, just as much trouble as her destruction. Then there was a
further point. Sooner or later, the forces of Great Britain and Belgium
would certainly have to undertake the conquest of German East Africa.
While _Koenigsberg_ could not be used as a unit for defence, her crew
and armament might prove valuable assets to the enemy. Finally, there
was a question of prestige. The Germans thought that they had made
their ship safe. If the thing was possible, it was our obvious duty to
prove that their confidence was misplaced.

If the ship was to be destroyed, what was to be the method of her
destruction? She could not be reached by ship’s guns. For no normal
warship of superior power would be of less draught than _Koenigsberg_,
and unless the draught were very materially less, it would be quite
impossible to get within range, except by processes as slow and
laborious as those by which she had attained her anchorage. Was it
worth while attempting a cutting-out expedition? It would not, of
course, be on the lines of the dashing and gallant adventures so
brilliantly drawn for us by Captain Marryat. The boats would proceed
under steam and would not be rowed; they would not sally out to board
the enemy and fight his crew hand to hand, but to get near enough to
start a torpedo at him, discharged from dropping gear in a picket boat.
To have attempted this would have been to face a grave risk, for not
only might the several entrances be mined, but the boats clearly would
have to advance unprotected up a river whose banks were covered with
bush impenetrable to the eye. The enemy, it was known, had not only
considerable military forces in the colony, but those well supplied
with field artillery. And there were on board _Koenigsberg_ not only
the 4.1-inch guns of her main armament, but a considerable battery of
eight or perhaps twelve, 3-inch guns--a weapon amply large enough to
sink a ship’s picket boat, and that with a single shot. An attack by
boats then promised no success at all, for the excellent reason that it
would be the simplest thing on earth for the enemy to defeat it long
before the expedition had reached the point from which it could strike
a blow at its prey.

There was then only one possible solution of the problem. It was to
employ armed vessels of sufficient gun-power to do the work quickly,
and of shallow enough draught to get to a fighting range quickly. If
the thing were not done quickly, an attack from the masked banks might
be fatal. If the guns of such a vessel were corrected by observers
in aeroplanes, they might be enabled to do the trick. Fortunately,
at the very opening of the war, the Admiralty had purchased from the
builders three river monitors, then under construction in England for
the Brazilian Government. They drew but a few feet. Their free board
was low, their centre structure afforded but a small mark; the two
6-inch guns they carried fore and aft were protected by steel shields.
They had been employed with marked success against the Germans in
their first advance to the coast of Belgium. When the enemy, having
established himself in the neighbourhood of Nieuport, had time to bring
up and emplace long-range guns of large calibre, the further employment
of these river monitors on this, their first job, was no longer
possible. For the moment, then, they seemed to be out of work, and
here was an undertaking exactly suited to their capacity. It was not
the sort of undertaking for which they had been designed. But it was
one to which, undoubtedly they could be adapted. Of the three monitors
_Mersey_ and _Severn_ were therefore sent out to Mafia Island, which
lies just off the Rufigi Delta and had been seized by us early in the
proceedings.

The first aeroplanes available proved to be unequal to the task,
because of the inadequacy of their lifting power. The atmosphere in
the tropics is of a totally different buoyancy from that in colder
latitudes, and a machine whose engines enable it to mount quite easily
to a height of 4,000 or 5,000 feet in Northern Europe, cannot, in
Central Africa, rise more than a few hundred feet from the ground.
New types of machines, therefore, had to be sent, and these had to
be tested and got ready for work. For many weeks then, before the
actual attack was undertaken, we must picture to ourselves the Island
of Mafia, hitherto unoccupied and indeed untouched by Europeans, in
the process of conversion into an effective base for some highly
complicated combined operations of aircraft and sea force. The virgin
forest had to be cleared away and the ground levelled for an aerodrome.
The flying men had to study and master machines of a type of which they
had no previous experience. The monitors had to have their guns tested
and their structural arrangement altered and strengthened to fit them
for their new undertaking. And indeed preparing the monitors was a
serious matter. The whole delta of the Rufigi is covered with forest
and thick bush--nowhere are the trees less than sixty feet high, and
in places they rise to nearly three times this height. To engage the
_Koenigsberg_ with any prospect of success, five, six, or seven miles
of one of the river branches would certainly have to be traversed.
There was, it is true, a choice of three mouths by which these vessels
might proceed. But it would be almost certain that the different mouths
would be protected by artillery, machine guns, and rifles, and highly
probable that one or all of them would be mined. The thick bush would
make it impossible for the monitors to engage any hidden opponents with
sufficient success to silence their fire. And obviously any portion of
the bank might conceal, not only field guns and riflemen, but stations
from which torpedoes could be released against them. It was imperative
therefore, to protect the monitors from such gun fire as might be
encountered, and to take every step possible to preserve their buoyancy
if a mine or torpedo was encountered.

The _Trent_ had come out as a mother ship to these two unusual
men-of-war, and from the moment of their arrival, she became an active
arsenal for the further arming and protection of her charges. Many tons
of plating were laid over their vulnerable portions--the steering gear,
magazines, navigating bridges, etc., having to be specially considered.
The gun shields were increased in size, and every precaution taken to
protect the gunners from rifle fire. Where plating could not be added,
sandbags were employed. By these means the danger of the ship being
incapacitated, or the crew being disabled by what the enemy could do
from the bank, was reduced to a minimum. These precautions would not,
of course, have been a complete protection against continuous hitting
by the plunging fire of _Koenigsberg’s_ artillery. The more difficult
job was to protect the ships against mines and torpedoes. Their first
and best protection, of course, was their shallow draught. But it was
not left at that; and most ingenious devices were employed which would
have gone a fair way to keep the ships floating even had an under-water
mine been exploded beneath the bottom. At intervals, between these
spells of dockyard work, the monitors were taken out for practice in
conjunction with the aeroplanes. Mafia Island, which had already served
as a dockyard and aerodrome, was now once more to come in useful as
a screen between the monitors and the target. The various operations
necessary for indirect fire were carefully studied. Gun-layers, of
course, cannot aim at a mark they cannot see. The gun, therefore, has
to be trained and elevated on information exteriorly obtained, and
some object within view--at exactly the same height above the water
as the gun-layer--has to be found on which he is to direct his sight.
The gun is now elevated to the approximate range, a shot is fired and
the direction of the shot and the distance upon the sight are altered
in accordance with the correction. At last a point of aim for the
gun-layer, and a sight elevation and deflection are found, and his duty
then is to fire away, aiming perhaps at a twig or a leaf a few hundred
yards off, while the projectile he discharges falls upon a target four,
five, or even six miles off.


THE FIRST ATTEMPT

At last all was ready for the great attack. The crew had all been put
into khaki, every fitting had been cleared out of the monitors; they
had slipped off in the dark the night before and were anchored when,
at 3:30 in the morning, all was ready. I will now let a participant
continue the story:

“I woke up hearing the chatter of the seedy boys and the voice of the
quartermaster telling someone it was 3:20. I hurried along to my cabin
and was dressed in three minutes; khaki shirt, trousers, shoes, and
socks. A servant brought me a cup of cocoa and some biscuits, and I
then gathered the waterbottle and a haversack of sandwiches, biscuits,
brandy flask, glass phial of morphia, box of matches, cigarettes, and
made my way up to the top.

“It was quite dark in spite of the half moon partly hidden by clouds,
and men wandering about the docks putting the last touches. It was
impossible to recognize any one as all were in khaki and cap and
helmet. By 3:45 all were at general quarters and at ---- we weighed and
proceeded. Both motor-boats were towing, one on either side amidships.
Two whalers anchored off Komo Island, and burning a single light each,
acted as a guide to the mouth. We soon began to see the dim outline of
the shore on the right hand, and ---- declared he could distinguish
the mouth. There were four of us in the top. We arranged ourselves
conveniently, ---- and ---- taking a side each to look out. The Gunnery
Lieutenant took the fore 6-inch and starboard battery. I had the after
6-inch and port battery. I dozed at first for about ten minutes, but
as the island neared woke up completely. We had no idea what sort of
reception we should have, and speculated about it. It was quite cold
looking over the top. The land came nearer and nearer. We were going
slow, sounding all the way. On the starboard side it was quite visible
as the light grew stronger and stronger. Suddenly when we were well
inside the right bank we heard a shot fired on the starboard quarter,
but could not see the flash. Then came another, but only at the third
did we see where it came from. It was a field-gun on the right, but we
had already passed it, and both it and the pom-pom were turned on the
_Mersey_ astern of us.

“At least nothing fell near us. It was still not light enough for us
to judge the range, but as the alarm had been given we opened fire
with the 3-pounders, starboard side, at the fieldgun. As we came up
to the point on the port side I trained all the port battery on the
foremost bearing, and opened fire as soon as the guns would bear. We
were now going pretty well full speed. Some snipers were hidden in the
trees and rushes, and let us have it as we went past. The report of
their rifles sounded quite different from ours, but we were abreast
before they started, and were soon past. It was just getting light. We
were inside the river before the sun rose, and went quite fast up. It
was just about dead low water as we entered, neap tide. The river was
about 700 yards broad. The banks were well defined by the green trees,
mangroves probably, which grew right down to the edges. The land beyond
was quite flat on the left, but about four miles to the right rose to
quite a good height--Pemba Hills. Here and there were native huts well
back from the river; we could see them from the top though they were
invisible from the deck. On either side as we passed up were creeks of
all sorts and sizes at low tides, more of them on the port side than
on the starboard. As we passed, or rather before, we turned the port
or starboard batteries on them and swept either side. The gun-layers
had orders to fire at anything that moved or looked suspicious. We
controlled them more or less, and gave them the bearings of the creeks.
---- was in charge of those on deck, and the crews themselves fired or
ceased fire if they saw anything or had sunk anything. We checked them
from time to time as the next creek opened up. We were looking ahead
most of the time, but I believe (from ----) we sank three dhows and a
boat. Whether they were harmless or not, I don’t know, but it had to
be done as a precaution. We made a fine noise, the sharp report of the
five 3-pounders and one 4.7 and the crackle of the machine guns (four
a side) must have been heard for miles. The _Hyacinth_, the tugs, the
_Trent_, the _Weymouth_, and other odd craft were demonstrating at the
other mouths of the Rufigi, and we could hear the deep boom of their
6-inch now and then. I believe, too, that there was a demonstration by
colliers, etc., off Dar-es-Salaam at the same time.

“I had thought that the entry would be the worst part, but it was not
much. A few bullets got us and marked the plates or went through the
hammocks but no one was hit, and as our noise completely drowned the
report of their rifles I doubt if many knew we were being sniped. The
forecastle hands knew all about it later on. As they hauled in the
anchor or let it go they nipped behind any shelter there was, and could
hear the bullets zip-zip into the sandbags. The _Mersey_ astern was
blazing away into the banks just as we were. There was probably nothing
in most of the creeks--but we did not know it then.

“It was 6:30 o’clock by the time we reached ‘our’ island, where the
river branches into three, at the end of which we were to anchor. We
were steering straight up the middle of the stream, and then swung
slowly round to port, dropped the stern anchor, let out seventy
fathoms of wire, dropped the main anchor, went astern, and then
tightened in both cables, so that we were anchored fast bow and stern.
As soon as we steadied down a bearing was taken on the chart and the
gun laid--about eight minutes’ work. It was then found that, thanks to
the curious run of the current, the fore 6-inch would not bear, and we
had to take up the bow anchor and let it go again to get us squarer
towards the _Koenigsberg_.

“We could see the aeroplane right high up, and received the signal
‘open fire.’ We were not quite ready, however. From the moment when
we turned to port to take up our firing position to the time we
were finally ready and had laid both guns, occupied about twenty
minutes. The _Koenigsberg_ started firing at us five minutes before
we were ready to start. Their first shot (from one gun only) fell on
the island, the next was on the edge of it, and very soon she was
straddling us. Where they were spotting from I don’t know, but they
must have been in a good position, and their spotting was excellent.
They never lost our range. The firing started, and for the next two
hours both sides were hard at it. I don’t believe any ship has been in
a hotter place without being hit. Their shooting was extraordinarily
good. Their salvoes of fire at first dropped 100 short, 50 over, 20 to
the right--then straddled us--then just short--then all round us, and
so on. We might have been hit fifty times--they could not have fired
better; but we were not hit at all, though a piece of shell was picked
up on the forecastle.

“The river was now a curious sight, as dead fish were coming to
the surface everywhere. It was the _Koenigsberg’s_ shells bursting
in the water which did the damage, and there were masses of them
everywhere--mostly small ones.

“We were firing all the time, of course. I attended to the W/T, and
passed the messages to the Gunnery Lieutenant, who made the corrections
and passed them to the guns. ---- watched the aeroplane and the banks
as far as possible. ---- attended to the conning tower voice pipe.
We got H. T. fairly soon, and the _Koenigsberg’s_ salvoes were now
only four guns. We heard the boom; then before it had finished came
whizz-z-z-z or plop, plop, plop, plop, as the shells went just short or
over. They were firing much more rapidly than we, and I should think
more accurately, but if I had been in the _Koenigsberg_ I should,
probably, have thought the opposite! All this time the 3-pounders
had occasional outbursts as they saw, or thought they saw, something
moving. Occasionally, too, the smoke and fumes from our funnel drifted
across the top, and it was unpleasant for a minute or two. We could
see now where the _Koenigsberg_ was, and the smoke from her funnels,
or that our shells made. She was firing salvoes of four with great
rapidity and regularity, about three times a minute, and every one of
them close. Some made a splash in the water so near that you could have
reached the place with a boat-hook.

“At 7:40 (so I am told, as, though I tried I lost all count of time) a
shell hit the fore 6-inch of the _Mersey_ and a column of flame shot
up. Four were killed and four wounded. Part of the shield was blown
away. Only one man remained standing, and after swaying about he fell
dead. One had his head completely blown off. Another was lying with his
arm torn out at the shoulder, and his body covered with yellow flames
from a lyddite charge which caught. The R. N. R. Lieutenant in charge
was knocked senseless and covered with blood, but had only a scratch
on the wrist to show for it. The gun-layer had an extraordinary
escape, and only lost three fingers. Two men escaped as they had just
gone forward to weigh the anchor. A burning charge fell into the shell
room below, but was fortunately got out. Another shell burst in the
motor-boat alongside the _Mersey_ and sank it. One burst in the water
about a foot from the side, and we thought she was holed. The _Mersey_
captain then wisely moved and went down river, taking up a position of
1,000 yards down, by the right bank (looking at the _Koenigsberg_).
She started in again with her after gun, the other being disabled. For
an hour and twenty minutes we went on, and the _Koenigsberg’s_ salvoes
came steadily and regularly back, as close as ever. It seemed as if it
could not go on much longer. We registered four hits, and the salvoes
were reduced from four to three, and later to two, and then to one gun.
Whether we had reduced them to silence or whether the _Koenigsberg’s_
crew left them and saved ammunition it is impossible to say.

“The aeroplane spotting had been fair, but now someone else started in
and made the signals unintelligible. Then we got spotting corrections
from two sources--both differing widely. Finally, the aeroplane made
“W. O.” (going home). We weighed and took up station again by the
_Mersey_. She moved to get out of our way, and when another aeroplane
came we started it again. The replies from the _Koenigsberg_ were not
so frequent, and nothing like so accurate. It was as if they could not
spot the fall of shot. The aeroplane soon disappeared, and as we could
see the mast of the _Koenigsberg_ (I could only see one personally) and
a column of smoke which varied in thickness from time to time, we tried
to spot for ourselves. It was useless as, though we saw the burst
(or thought we did) in line with the masts, we did not know whether
they were over or short. Finally, we moved up the river nearer, still
keeping on the right side, and set to work again.

“There were two cruisers--_Weymouth_ and _Pyramus_, I think--at the
mouth. The _Weymouth_ did a good deal of firing at Pemba Hill and a
native village close to us, where there might be spotters.

“When we reached W/T corrections now they were of no use. Most were
‘did not observe fall of shot,’ or 600 short. We went up 1,000, but
still received the same signal--whether from the aeroplane or the
_Koenigsberg_, I don’t know. It was most confusing. We crept up the
scale to maximum elevation. Finally, we moved up the river again, but
put our nose on the mud. We were soon off, and moved over to the other
side and continued firing, spotting as well as we could (but getting
nothing definite) till four o’clock, when we packed up and prepared
to come out. We swept the banks again on both sides, but only at the
entrance was there opposition. We made such a noise ourselves that we
drowned the report of any shots fired at us. Two field-guns made good
practice at us from the right bank (looking at the _Koenigsberg_).
One came very close indeed to the top--so much so that we all turned
to look at each other, thinking it must have touched somewhere. One
burst about five yards over us. Another burst fifteen yards from the
_Mersey_, and a second hit her sounding boom. We could see the white
smoke of the discharge and fired lyddite, but the object was invisible.

“It was getting dusk as we got outside at full speed. The secure was
sounded at about 4:45. We had been at general quarters for thirteen
hours, and eleven of them had been under fire. Outside the other ships
were waiting for us near Komo Island, and we went straight alongside
the _Trent_. Each ship cheered us as we passed. The _Mersey_ put her
wounded on the _Trent_, and then pushed off to bury the dead.

“Tuesday, July 6, was the day of the first attempt, and one of the
worst I ever had or am likely to have. We were at our stations from
3:45 A.M. till 4:45 P.M., and eleven hours of that were under fire. The
engine-room people were not relieved the whole time, and they were down
there the whole time in a temperature of 132°-135°! It was hot up in
the top--but child’s play to the engine room.”


SUCCESS

On July 11 the second attack was made, but made in a very different
manner from the first. Once more let us allow the same writer to
complete the story:

“We went to General Quarters at 10:40 A.M. and were inside the entrance
by 11:40. How well we seemed to know the place! I knew exactly where
the beastly field guns at the mouth would open fire and exactly when
they would cease--as we pushed in, and so if their shots went over
us they would land on the opposite bank among their own troops. Very
soon came the soft whistle of the shell, then again and again--but we
were nearing the entrance and they turned on the _Mersey_. They hit
her twice, wounding two men and knocking down the after 6-inch gun
crew--none was hurt, however. I spotted a boat straight ahead making
across the river for dear life--they may only have been natives, but we
fired the 6-inch at them till they leapt ashore and disappeared.

“Up the river we went. I knew each creek, and almost each tree, and as
before we blazed into them just before we passed.

“We left the _Mersey_ at the place where we anchored last time in the
hope that she would draw the _Koenigsberg’s_ fire and leave us a free
hand. The _Koenigsberg_, however, fired one salvo at her and then
for the rest of the day concentrated on us. She was plugging us for
seventeen minutes before we could return her fire. The salvoes of four
were dropping closer than ever if possible and afterwards almost every
man in the ship found a bit of German shell on board as a souvenir.
They were everywhere--in the sandbags, on the decks, round the engine
room--but not a soul was even scratched!

“We went on higher up the river than last time and finally anchored
just at the top of ‘our’ old island. As the after 6-inch gun’s crew
were securing the stern anchor two shells fell, one on either side,
within three feet of the side, and drenched the quarter-deck. It was a
very critical time. If she hit us we were probably finished, and she
came as near as possible without actually touching. I had bet 5_s._
that she would start with salvoes of four guns, and I won my bet. They
did not last long, however, once we opened fire. It was a near thing,
and had to end pretty quickly one way or the other. We had received
orders that she must be destroyed, and the captain, the night before,
had told all hands assembled on the quarter-deck that we had to do it.
We intended to go up nearer and nearer, and if necessary sight her. Of
course we could not have gone through it--but there is no doubt that on
the 11th it was either the monitors or the _Koenigsberg_.

“We had no sooner anchored and laid the guns (the chart proved to be
one mile out in the distance from us to the _Koenigsberg_!) than the
aeroplane signalled she was ready to spot. Our first four salvoes,
at about one minute interval, were all signalled as ‘Did not observe
fall of shot.’ We came down 400, then another 400 and more to the
left. The next was spotted as 200 yards over and about 200 to the
right. The next 150 short and 100 to the left. The necessary orders
were sent to the guns, and at the seventh salvo we hit with one and
were just over with the other. We hit eight times in the next twelve
shots! It was frightfully exciting. The _Koenigsberg_ was now firing
salvoes of three only. The aeroplane signalled all hits were forward,
so we came a little left to get her amidships. The machine suddenly
signalled ‘Am hit: coming down; send a boat.’ And there she was about
half way between us and the _Koenigsberg_ planing down. As they fell
they continued to signal our shots, for we, of course, kept firing.
The aeroplane fell into the water about 150 yards from the _Mersey_
and turned a somersault; one man was thrown clear, but the other had a
struggle to get free. Finally both got away and were swimming for ten
minutes before the _Mersey’s_ motor-boat reached them--beating ours by
a short head. They were uninjured and as merry as crickets!

“We kept on firing steadily the whole time, as we knew we were
hitting--about one salvo a minute. The _Koenigsberg_ was now firing
two guns; it is hard to be certain, as there was much to do and a good
noise going on. Still, within seventeen minutes of our opening fire I
noticed and logged it down that she was firing two. She may have been
reduced to that before, but she never fired more after.

“In a very short time there was a big explosion from the direction
of the _Koenigsberg_, and from then on she was never free from
smoke--sometimes more, sometimes less; at one moment belching out
clouds of black smoke, then yellow, with dull explosions from time
to time. We kept on firing regularly ourselves, one salvo to the
minute--or perhaps two salvoes in three minutes, but the gun-layers
were told to keep cool and make sure of their aim. There was one
enormous explosion which shot up twice as high as the _Koenigsberg’s_
masts, and the resulting smoke was visible from our deck. The men sent
up a huge cheer.

“For some time now we had had no reply from the _Koenigsberg_. At 12:53
I fancy she fired one gun, but I was not certain. She certainly did not
fire afterwards. As our guns were getting hot we increased the range
from 9,550 to 9,575, and later to 9,625--as when hot the shots are apt
to fall short. Fine columns of smoke, black, white, and yellow, and
occasional dull reports rewarded us, but we were making no mistake and
kept at it. The aeroplane was not available, and we had no one to spot
for us, remember; still we could see the _K.’s_ masts from our foretop,
and the smoke, etc., told its own tale.

“Another aeroplane turned up, and we now signalled the _Mersey_ to pass
on up stream and open fire nearer. She gave us a great cheer as she
passed.

“We raised our topmast and had a look at the _Koenigsberg_. She was a
fine sight. One mast was leaning over and the other was broken at the
maintop, and smoke was pouring out of the mast as out of a chimney.
The funnels were gone, and she was a mass of smoke and flame from
end to end. We had done all the firing which had destroyed her. The
_Mersey_ only started afterwards. That was part of the plan. _Only
one ship was to fire at a time, and then there could be no possible
confusion in the spotting corrections_; it was a lesson we learned on
the Tuesday before! We started. The _Mersey_ was then to move up past
her and fire for an hour and so on. Fortunately it was not necessary,
and as it turned out would have been impossible. If we had gone on we
should probably be there now! When the _Mersey_ passed us she struck
a bar about 1,000 yards higher up, and after trying to cross in two
different places 100 yards apart, anchored for firing. There was only
eight feet of water on the bar and the tide was falling. If we had got
up we should probably have had to wait twelve hours for high tide, and
probably the Germans would have annoyed us from the banks!

“The _Mersey_ fired about twenty salvoes and made several hits, and as
the aeroplane had signalled ‘O. K.’ (target destroyed) we prepared to
leave the river. Before we went the Gunnery Lieutenant and myself went
to the top of the mast to get a better view, and I took a photo of the
smoke, resting the camera on the very top of the topmast! The Captain
came up too, and there were the three of us clinging to the lightning
conductor with one arm, glasses in the other, and our feet on the empty
oil drum we had fixed up there as a crow’s-nest.

“Just as we were starting back we saw some telegraph poles crossing
a creek behind us. It was undoubtedly the communication used by the
German spotters. We let fly with everything and smashed them up. A pole
is not an easy thing to hit, and I expect the destruction of those two
cost the Government about £300 in ammunition.

“All the way down we swept the banks and made up our minds to knock out
the field guns at the mouth if we possibly could. We tried our best,
but I don’t think we touched them. They fired on us till we were out of
range. They did not hit--but I saw one fragment about six inches by one
inch picked up on the boat deck.

“Two tugs were waiting over the bar, and after giving us a cheer took
us on tow to help us back to _Trent_. The _Weymouth_, with the Admiral
on board, came round and then passed us at speed; all hands lined the
ship and, led by the small white figure of the Admiral on the bridge,
gave us three splendid cheers. It was one of the finest sights I have
ever seen. We answered back--and what a difference there was to our
cheers of Tuesday last. We made about three times the noise....

“I went to the Captain’s cabin for half an hour to copy out the notes I
had taken. From the very first shot we fired I kept a record of every
shot fired by the 6-inch guns, and all I could see or hear round about,
writing something every minute, i.e. 12:37 2 guns. H.T. J.M. 12:38 2
guns. H.T. 12:38½ (_Koenigsberg_ firing 2). Column of smoke; aeroplane
hit and coming down, etc.

“I ought to explain that ‘J.M.,’ ‘B.F.,’ ‘F.20,’ ‘G.15,’ ‘H.T.,’ and so
on are signals from the aeroplanes. ‘H.T.’ means ‘a hit.’ In order to
make sure of the right letters having passed the man shouts not ‘H.T.’
alone, ‘H. for Harry, T for Tommy,’ and then there can be no confusion.
The man at the voice pipe in the conning tower simply roared out ‘H.
for Harry, T. for Tommy,’ each time it was signalled. Well, when I was
making my copy in his cabin on the way back, the Captain came in for a
moment. He leaned his hand quietly on my shoulder and with a huge sigh
said, ‘If ever I live to have a son, his name shall be Harry Tommy!’ I
firmly believe he meant it too, at the time!”

If the people in _Severn_ and _Mersey_ had had a narrow squeak for it,
not once but a dozen times, from _Koenigsberg’s_ salvoes, the spotting
party in the aeroplane must have had just as exciting a time. And, as
we have seen from the foregoing account, with them _Koenigsberg_ was
more fortunate. On July 11th everything was against Lieutenant Cull,
the first pilot to go up, and Flight-Sub-Lieutenant Arnold, who was
acting as observer. To begin with it was a cloudy day, and the machine
had to be kept dangerously low if the observer was to do his work.
The aeroplane got over the target at about 12:20, while _Mersey_ was
firing hard. But this fire of the _Mersey_ had nothing to do with the
organized effort to destroy the enemy. It was merely a blind--an effort
to get the enemy’s observer on land to deflect the fire on that ship on
to _Mersey_, while _Severn_ got ready for the real work. The aeroplane,
therefore, paid no attention to _Mersey’s_ fire and telegraphed no
observations. Ten minutes later _Severn_ opened fire and _Mersey_
ceased. _Mersey’s_ diversion did for a time bring _Koenigsberg’s_ guns
in her direction. But no sooner did _Severn_ open fire than she got
the full benefit of _Koenigsberg’s_ salvoes of four, which followed
each other at intervals of about a minute. Five minutes after _Severn_
opened at 12:30, _Koenigsberg’s_ salvoes began to straddle her. Nine
minutes after _Severn_ opened fire the aeroplane signalled first hit.
And less than ten minutes after that Lieutenant Arnold telegraphed
‘We are hit; send boat.’ In point of fact, it is probable that the
aeroplane’s engine had been slightly injured earlier. For, dangerously
low as the machine had to fly at the beginning, it was found impossible
to keep even at that height, and as it got lower and slower, it
obviously became an easier mark for the _Koenigsberg’s_ 12-pounders. At
12:46 a terrific bump was felt in the machine, and shortly afterwards
the engine broke up with a rattle and a crash, and there was nothing
for it but to start sliding down. Imagine the situation! The machine,
between 3,000 and 4,000 feet in the air, nearly three miles from the
monitors; the only possible hope of safety to make this long glide and
then to land--if the bull may be permitted--in a narrow strip of river
bordered by impenetrable bush--the bush dotted with lofty trees! If
the machine missed the river and hit the trees, it was certain death
wherever it landed. If it missed the trees and hit the river, there
was palpably no safety unless it was within a very short distance of
the monitors. For nowhere else did the pilot and observer stand the
faintest chance of rescue. A situation more absolutely desperate could
hardly be imagined.

It was certainly not one in which the seemingly doomed occupants could
have been blamed if they had thought of their safety and of nothing
else. But while the pilot was, quite properly, concentrating his
attention on performing as nice a feat in flying as can be imagined,
Flight-Lieutenant Arnold, content to leave this matter in the skilled
hands of his comrade, continued imperturbably to carry on his duties.

_Severn_, having got the range, naturally continued firing.
Flight-Lieutenant Arnold, having been sent up to observe, continued
observing, and each shot that he observed, on what must have seemed his
last glide to certain death, was signalled to the control parties on
board the monitor. The gist of this was that six out of ten shots were
hitting, and apparently were hitting steadily, but all were striking
_Koenigsberg_ in the bows. Arnold’s last achievement as an observer
was to deflect this fire amidships and to the stern. And he had hardly
succeeded before the ‘plane crashed into the water 500 yards from the
_Mersey_. _Mersey_ had her motor-boat ready and it was sent full speed
to the rescue. Arnold had no difficulty in getting himself free, but
Lieutenant Cull was not so fortunate. In the excitement of his task
he had forgotten to loosen the straps that held his belt and feet,
and was fairly under water before he realized his predicament. How he
wrenched himself free of these impediments is somewhat difficult to
understand, and it is not surprising that his apparel suffered somewhat
severely from his efforts. When he came to the surface he found Arnold
scrambling about the wrecked machine in search of him, and both were
got safely into the boat. The machine, smashed and waterlogged in the
river, was of course past saving, and there was nothing for it but to
demolish it. Take it all in all, few prettier pieces of work in the
air--whether we look at the flight craftsmanship of the thing, or the
practical use that the last moments of flight were put to--have yet
been recorded.


A PROBLEM IN CONTROL

There are several features in these operations that are of great
interest. To begin with, the destruction of a ship by the indirect
fire of another ship had not, so far as I know, been systematically
attempted before. There was indeed a story of _Queen Elizabeth_ having
sunk a Turkish transport by a shot fired clean over the Gallipoli
peninsula. In the case of the _Queen Elizabeth’s_ victim the target was
not only incredibly far off but actually under way. But this must be
regarded as amongst the flukes of war, if indeed that may be called a
fluke when the right measure had been taken to ensure success. Still,
it was more probable that the attempt might be made a hundred times
without a hit being made than that the first shot fired should have
landed straight on the target. But here on the Rufigi the monitors had
gone up after making ample preparations and after full practice, to
achieve a particular object. It was to destroy a very small ship at a
range which, for the gun employed, must be considered extraordinarily
great. Ten thousand yards is relatively a longer range for a 6-inch
gun than is, say, 18,000 for a 15-inch. But while in this respect the
task proposed was extraordinarily difficult, there was one element
present that would distinguish it from almost any other known use of
naval guns. In engaging land forts, both on the Belgian coast and off
Gallipoli, there had been ample experience with a stationary target
engaged by a stationary ship. But here the firing ship was not only
stationary in the sense that it was moored, but was practically at rest
in that it was lying in smooth water with no roll or pitch to render
the gun-layers’ aim uncertain. The current did cause a certain veering,
but not a sufficient movement to embarrass laying. But if in this
respect the conditions were easy, they were extraordinarily difficult
in every other. The monitors, for instance, were as much exposed to
_Koenigsberg’s_ fire as was _Koenigsberg_ to that of the monitors,
and whereas _Koenigsberg’s_ guns could be spotted from a position on
shore the monitors’ fire had to be spotted by aeroplane. The whole of
the operations of _Severn_ and _Mersey_ then were not only carried out
under fire, but under an attack that on the second day as well as the
first was extraordinarily persistent and extraordinarily accurate.
That in the course of two days only one of our ships was hit, and that
one only once, must be considered a curiosity, for so good were the
gunnery arrangements of _Koenigsberg_ that each monitor when under fire
was straddled again and again by salvoes, and when not straddled had
the 4.2 shells falling in bunches either just short or just over them.
The explanation of her having failed to get more hits than she did,
while ultimately _Severn’s_ was completely effective, does not lie
in any inferiority of skill, but almost entirely in the fact that the
range, if exceptionally great for a 6-inch gun, was almost fabulous
for a 4.2, and next that _Koenigsberg_ was a much larger target than
either _Severn_ or _Mersey_. _Koenigsberg_ was probably aground, and
therefore showing from three to four feet more of her side than she
would at sea. Monitors are a craft with a very, very low freeboard,
with a comparatively small central house built up amidships. As a
point-blank target _Koenigsberg_ would probably be more than twice the
superficial area that either _Mersey_ or _Severn_ would present. The
contrast between them as virtual targets, that is, the target that
would be presented to the shell as it descended from a height upon the
ship, would not, of course, be so great, because the monitors were each
of them wider than the German cruiser, but even as a virtual target the
_Koenigsberg_ was much more favourable for the British guns.

But the master difficulty of the situation was for the men on the spot,
without previous experience of indirect fire, and unaided apparently by
any advice from headquarters as to the result of service experiments
elsewhere, to extemporize all the processes for finding and keeping the
range of a target invisible from the ship. The two essential elements
in these processes were (1) for the observer in the aeroplane to note
where each shot fell, and (2) to _inform the ship that fired it_
exactly what the position of the impact was, whether to the right or to
the left, over or short, and an approximate measurement in yards of its
distance from the target. No one of those concerned had ever engaged
in any similar operation. The aviators had not only never carried
observers to spot naval gunfire, they had none of them ever even flown
in the tropics, where the conditions of flight differ altogether
from those in more temperate zones. The observers were even more new
to the work than the aviators. Apparently some of them had never been
in flying machines before. They not only had to learn the elements
of spotting, they had to become familiar with the means of sending
communications. There seems at one time to have been considerable doubt
as to the best means to employ for communication. The means would have
to include not only a system of sending messages, whether by wireless,
by lights flashing a Morse code or otherwise, but the production of a
code as well. When these points were settled, the preliminary practices
of Mafia Island gave what appeared to be sufficient experience to show
that right principles were being followed. Only when this practice had
given satisfactory results was the first attempt of July 6th made.

In the course of that day’s firing the observers reported eight
possible hits during the first phase of the firing, and none
afterwards. Once or twice smoke was seen to issue from _Koenigsberg_
and in the course of the day the number of guns in her salvo fell from
five to three, and ultimately she was employing only a single gun.
The monitors had fired approximately 500 rounds to obtain these hits,
and had probably double this number fired at them. Opinions differed
as to the result, but that some thought _Koenigsberg_ had finally
been destroyed is apparent from the character of the Rear-Admiral’s
message to the Admiralty. Reflection, however, appears to have made
it clear that _Koenigsberg_ was very far indeed from being really
out of action, and it became necessary to inquire why there should
have been any uncertainty in the matter. The crux of the position
was this. Fire had opened at seven in the morning and continued till
nearly half-past four in the afternoon. But when the character of the
messages transmitted by the observers came under critical examination,
it seemed almost certain that no hits were made at all after the first
hour. Every kind of explanation for so indecisive and disappointing a
result was examined. It was disappointing because it had been shown
that it was quite practical to make hits, and it seemed as if there
must be something wrong if the hitting could not be continued. Every
possible cause of breakdown was put under examination. Had there been
anything wrong with the wireless transmitters in the aeroplanes? Had
the receiving gear in the monitors broken down? Were the observers
too inexperienced, hasty, or unreliable? Had the guns become worn
or too hot? Were the sights at fault? But when it came to the point
each of these criticisms broke down. There was no reason to distrust
the observers, and as all the ships in the offing had received the
messages, the transmitting gear must have been above suspicion. Then
the monitors’ records tallied with the ships’ records, so that there
was nothing wrong with the receivers. When the observers themselves
were put through their paces, it seemed that over an area of at least
half a mile, say 600 yards short of the target and 200 over, there
was really no possibility of making mistakes about where the shots
fell, for in this area it was all either open water or dry sand. But
outside of this comparatively narrow area there was thick bush, and
to an observer at the height of between 3,000 and 4,000 feet even a
bursting shell falling in a forest whose trees ran from between 70
to 150 feet high, affords a very uncertain mark. And after 8 P.M. it
seemed that only very few shells fell in the belt where their impact
was visible, and that sometimes, for very considerable periods, every
shot seemed to go into the forest. Could the guns have suddenly become
absolutely unreliable? But tests were made, and the guns proved to be
quite as accurate as they were before the firing began, and indeed the
exactitude of the results precluded this form of error from explaining
the failure to complete the business.

At last, when the firing times of the two ships were compared with
the observers’ records of the pitching of the shell, the true
explanation leapt into sight. The whole show had broken down over
the old difficulty of the identification of shots. The people in the
aeroplanes could not tell whether a particular shot had been fired
by _Mersey_ or _Severn_, and as both ships got the message, neither
could tell whose shot had been observed. It followed therefore that
the consequent correction was often put on to the wrong gun. Thus, for
example, suppose _Mersey_ had fired a shot 300 yards over the target
that fell in bush and was invisible to the observers, while _Severn_
had fired one that was 200 yards short and visible. The observers
would wireless 200 short, whereupon the _Mersey_ would think that this
message was intended for her, and raise her sight by this amount.
Her next round, of course, would go still farther into the bush, and
suppose this was visible or partially visible to the observer, who
might perhaps have missed _Severn’s_ next round, he might telegraph
back 500 or 600 over, a correction that _Severn_ might take to herself,
and lose her next shot in the bush short of the target. The men on
the Rufigi in short discovered for themselves, by their experiences
on this first arduous day against the _Koenigsberg_, that the problem
of correcting the fire of two separated batteries by the work of a
single observer is so exceedingly difficult of solution as to make
it hardly worth attempting. The lessons so painfully brought home
were put to immediate and most successful use. It was resolved on the
second attempt that only one monitor should fire at a time. This was
not of course the only experience of value obtained in the first day’s
operation for when all the results were collated and compared, a pretty
exact knowledge of the actual range from the chosen anchorage to the
target was obtained, so that on the second day there were fewer initial
rounds lost before shell began to fall in the immediate surroundings
of the enemy, where the position of each could be verified. When all
ambiguity as to the meaning of corrections was removed, the process of
finding the target and keeping the range became exceedingly simple.

As will be seen from the narrative, the serious work of the second day
began when _Severn_ opened fire about half-past twelve. Nine minutes
later, after quite deliberate fire, she obtained her first hit, and
from then on continued hitting with great regularity. But before she
had been firing ten minutes the spotting aeroplane was disabled and
came down. Though the _Koenigsberg_ herself was invisible, the columns
of lyddite fumes and smoke sent up by the hits could be seen over
the trees, and such columns indicated that hits were being made very
frequently. Within a quarter of an hour of the first hit, _Koenigsberg_
ceased her return fire, and shortly after this a huge volume of smoke
of a totally different colour from that sent up by lyddite indicated
that there had been a great explosion in the ship. When the second
aeroplane came out to resume the work of spotting, _Mersey_ took up
the work of firing in _Severn’s_ place. _Severn_ had ceased fire at
1:35 and _Mersey_ opened at a quarter past two. But it soon became
clear that it was unnecessary for her to proceed with the work, and
that with the explosion at 1:15 the business of the _Koenigsberg_ was
finished.

What two ships firing continuously for eight hours on July 6th had
failed to achieve, a single ship had accomplished in probably fifteen
minutes. It was the most perfect exemplification imaginable of the
difference in results that wrong and right systems of gunnery produce.
The skill shown on the second day was no better than on the first. It
was a change of method that made the difference.

What is of special interest is this. Up to the year 1909 it appeared
quite premature to discuss methods of concentrating the fire of
several ships on a single distant target, until right methods had
been discovered for making sure of hitting it with the guns of a
single ship. But by the winter of 1909 there seemed to be sufficient
experience to show that a complete solution of the simpler problem was
assured, and that the time had come for considering how two or more
ships could combine their armament. The difficulty of the matter was
soon made obvious. While great guns do not all shoot exactly alike, it
is possible to ascertain by experiment the individual differences of
all the guns in a single ship, and to vary the sight scales so that,
at all critical ranges, they should give identical results. But what
can be done for a single battery of eight or ten guns cannot be done by
experiment for two units of such batteries. If then two ships are to
be employed at the same target, it was the very essence of the matter
if two processes were carried on simultaneously to obtain one result,
that each process should be so organized as to run as if the other were
not going at all. Now ships’ guns at sea can be corrected only from
positions high up in the masts. It therefore became clear that if
the firing ship allowed a fixed interval, say three or four seconds,
to elapse after a sister ship had fired, before sending her own salvo
at the enemy, it would be quite easy, by keeping a record of the time
of flight of the projectiles, to pick out her own amongst the salvoes
falling in rapid succession on the target, so that there should be no
possibility of her mixing up her own shells with her neighbours’. It is
now many years since it was suggested that gongs driven by a clockwork
device, which could be set to the time of flight, would simplify this
method of identification. Suppose the time of flight to be twelve
seconds, the gong would be set to this interval and the clockwork
started into motion simultaneously with the firing of the salvo. The
observers watch the target and pay no attention to any shots that fall,
except those whose incidence coincided with the ringing of the gong.

The essence of this system was the ear-marking, so to speak, of each
separate salvo as it went away. But it was manifestly not a principle
on which observers placed at a distance from a ship could work. If they
were to do their work they must employ some totally different means of
identification. Else indirect firing could only be carried on by one
ship at a time.

My correspondence in 1909 and 1910 shows that these principles were
fully grasped by many gunnery officers in the navy in these years.
And I must confess I was extremely astonished when our proceedings at
the Dardanelles in March and February and April showed that there was
no common practice in the matter throughout the navy. At last, in the
month of May 1915, I set out these elementary principia of indirect
firing in _Land and Water_. “The difficulty in correcting the fire
of a multitude of ships is, it may be added, twofold, because each
salvo must be identified as coming from a particular ship, and then
that ship be informed of the correction. There is apparently no escape
from the necessity of having a separate spotter for each ship. If the
spotter is in an independent position, the obstacles in the way of this
double task are considerable. And aeroplanes are not a satisfactory
substitute. _At best an aeroplane can help one ship only._” It will be
observed that in July the officers at the Rufigi had to work them all
out again for themselves!

Nothing could better illustrate the curious individualism which governs
the organization of our sea forces. Each ship, each squadron, each
fleet seems to come to the study of these things as if they were virgin
problems, entirely unaided by advice or information from the central
authorities, so that there is not only no uniformity of practice--in
itself a not unmitigated evil--but what is really serious, a total
absence of uniformity of knowledge. I am the last person in the world
to suggest that all naval affairs should be regulated in every petty
detail from Whitehall. There are quite enough forces at work to repress
freedom of thought or restrict liberty to investigate and experiment
in the fullest possible way. But there is surely the widest possible
difference between a restraining tyranny and an intelligent system of
communicating proved principles and the results of successful practice.



CHAPTER X

CAPTURE OF H.I.G.M.S. “EMDEN”


On November 11, 1914, the Secretary of the Admiralty issued a statement
which, after referring to the self-internment of _Koenigsberg_ in the
Rufigi River, and the measures taken to keep her there, proceeded as
follows:

“Another large combined operation by fast cruisers, against the
_Emden_, has been for some time in progress. In this search, which
covered an immense area, the British cruisers have been aided by
French, Russian, and Japanese vessels working in harmony. His Majesty’s
Australian ships _Melbourne_ and _Sydney_ were also included in these
movements.

“On Monday morning news was received that the _Emden_, which had been
completely lost after her action with the _Jemchug_, had arrived at
Keeling, Cocos Island, and had landed an armed party to destroy the
wireless station and cut the cable.

“Here she was caught and forced to fight by His Majesty’s Australian
ship _Sydney_ (Captain John C. T. Glossop, R.N.). A sharp action took
place, in which the _Sydney_ suffered the loss of three killed and
fifteen wounded.

“The _Emden_ was driven ashore and burnt. Her losses in personnel are
reported as very heavy. All possible assistance is being given the
survivors by various ships which have been despatched to the scene.

“With the exception of the German squadron now off the coast of Chile,
the whole of the Pacific and Indian oceans are now clear of the enemy’s
warships.”

The material news was that _Emden_ had been caught and sunk. She was
one of Germany’s small fast cruisers, armed like the rest with 4.2
guns, and therefore no very formidable match for the ship that met and
encountered her. The work of her destruction, we afterwards learned,
had been done by Captain Glossop of _Sydney_, with a rapidity and
neatness unsurpassed in any naval engagement of the war before or,
indeed, since. But at the moment when the news came, the method of
the thing was of far less importance than the thing itself, for it is
no exaggeration to say that at the end of the first week of November
the spirits of the nation were at an exceedingly low ebb. There was a
marked uneasiness as to the naval position. The successes of the Fleet
had been achieved without fighting, and it looked as if, in the naval
war, we were not only watching, almost abjectly, for the initiative
of the enemy, but that we were unable to defeat that initiative when
it was taken. The public therefore forgot that 98 per cent. of our
trade was carrying on as before, that our sea communications with our
armies were under no threat, that the enemy’s battle force was keeping
completely within the security of its harbours. There had been but one
active demonstration of British naval strength--the affair of the Bight
of Heligoland. But a dropping fire of bad news had made our nerves
acutely sensitive. It was submarines people feared most. Writing at the
time, I summarized the general attitude of the public as it appeared to
me:

“Long before the war began the public had been prepared by an active
agitation to believe that the submarine had superseded all other forms
of naval force, so that when one cruiser after another was sent to
the bottom, almost within hail of the English coast, people really
began to believe that no ship could be safe, and that (under a form
of attack that was equally impossible to foresee, evade, or resist)
our vaunted strength in Dreadnoughts must in time dwindle altogether
away. Then there were not wanting circumstances that, superficially at
least, looked as if the Admiralty’s war plans and distribution of the
Fleet were not adequate to their purpose. In at least one conspicuous
instance, the resources of our enemy had been too great either for the
means or the measures of our admirals. War had not been declared more
than a day or two before the _Goeben_ and _Breslau_ made their way
through the Mediterranean and escaped unengaged to the Dardanelles.
The public knew that we had two powerful squadrons of ships in these
waters, one overwhelmingly stronger than the German force; the other,
on almost every conceivable train of reasoning, at least a match for
it.[B] It seemed utterly humiliating that, with the French Fleet as
our allies, and with Germany having none, so important a unit as the
_Goeben_ should have got away scot-free. Then it was not long before we
heard of the depredations of the _Emden_, and of British ships being
chased and threatened in the North and South Atlantic by other German
cruisers.

    [B] I should not say this now.

“Against all these things could be set more cheering incidents. Twice
the North Sea was swept from top to bottom by the British Fleet, the
first resulting in the sinking of three, if not four, cruisers and one
destroyer, and in the driving off, apparently hopelessly crippled, of
two other cruisers and a great number of smaller craft. The second
sweep seemed to show that the entire German Fleet had sought safety
in port. Then the _Carmania_ sank the _Cap Trafalgar_, and the
_Undaunted_, with a small flotilla of destroyers, ran down and sank
an equal flotilla of the enemy’s. But these were not sufficient to
outweigh the anxiety which the German submarine successes had caused
nor did they restore public confidence in the dispositions of the
Admiralty in distant seas, where there were still two powerful armed
cruisers, a large number of light cruisers, and an unknown number of
armed merchantmen still at large.

“The whole thing culminated in a series of very disturbing events.
First it was announced that German mines had been laid north of
Ireland, and that the _Manchester Commerce_ had been sunk by striking
one. Were any of our waters safe for our own battle squadrons, if the
enemy could lay mines with impunity right under our noses? This was
swiftly followed by our hearing that the _Good Hope_ and _Monmouth_ had
been sunk by the _Gneisenau_ and _Scharnhorst_ off Coronel. Then came
the sinking of the _Hermes_ and the _Niger_, one in mid-Channel, the
other lying in the anchorage at Deal. And just when nervous people were
wondering whether the mine and submarine had really driven the English
Fleet off the sea, only to find that ports were not safe, there came
the startling news that a German squadron had appeared off Yarmouth....
To many it looked as if this was the last straw. We had sacrificed
four cruisers to patrol the neutral shipping in these waters, and
when, almost too late, it was discovered that our methods made them
too easy targets for submarines, we announced the closing of the North
Sea. The public undoubtedly understood by this that, if we closed the
North Sea to neutrals, we had closed it to the German Fleet also, and
the appearance of this squadron so soon after the announcement was
made, and its escape back to its own harbours without being cut off and
brought to action, made people ask if the closing of the North Sea had
not really meant that Great Britain had resigned its possession to the
enemy.”

It is difficult, this being the situation, to overrate how cheering was
the news of _Emden’s_ destruction.

If the Canadian naval contingent were the first of our Colonial
subjects to shed their blood in this war, then certainly the Australian
ship _Sydney_ was the first to assert Great Britain’s command over
distant seas, by the triumphant destruction of a ship that dared to
dispute it. We began our debt to the Colonies early.

Captain Glossop’s despatch was not published till January 1, but a good
many other accounts had been published before, and some have become
available since the action.

A very interesting letter from an officer of the _Sydney_ was printed
in _The Times_ of December 15. With this account was also published,
later on, a plan of the action which, with certain corrections which
I have reason to believe are required, is reproduced here. A second
account, by another officer in the _Sydney_, has been sent to me so
that it is possible to add some not uninteresting or unimportant
details to Captain Glossop’s story. But of all of the accounts Captain
Glossop’s is at once the most interesting and the most complete, and
I print it in full, because it is in every respect a model of what a
despatch should be.

            “H.M.A.S. _Sydney_, at Colombo,
                      “15th November, 1914.

  “Sir:--I have the honour to report that whilst on escort duty
  with the Convoy under the charge of Captain Silver, H.M.A.S.
  _Melbourne_, at 6:30 A.M., on Monday, 9th November, a wireless
  message from Cocos was heard reporting that a foreign warship was
  off the entrance. I was ordered to raise steam for full speed at
  7:0 A.M. and proceed thither. I worked up to 20 knots, and at
  9:15 A.M. sighted land ahead and almost immediately the smoke of
  a ship, which proved to be H.I.G.M.S. _Emden_ coming out towards
  me at a great rate. At 9:40 A.M. fire was opened, she firing the
  first shot. I kept my distance as much as possible to obtain the
  advantage of my guns. Her fire was very accurate and rapid to
  begin with, but seemed to slacken very quickly, all casualties
  occurring in this ship almost immediately. First the foremost
  funnel of her went, secondly the foremast, and she was badly
  on fire aft, then the second funnel went, and lastly the third
  funnel, and I saw she was making for the beach of North Keeling
  Island, where she grounded at 11:20 A.M. I gave her two more
  broadsides and left her to pursue a merchant ship which had come
  up during the action.

  2. “Although I had guns on this merchant ship at odd times during
  the action, I had not fired, and as she was making off fast I
  pursued and overtook her at 12.10, firing a gun across her bows
  and hoisting International Code Signal to stop, which she did.
  I sent an armed boat and found her to be the S.S. _Buresk_,
  a captured British collier, with 18 Chinese crew, 1 English
  steward, 1 Norwegian cook, and a German Prize Crew of 3 Officers,
  1 Warrant Officer and 12 men. The ship unfortunately was sinking,
  the _Kingston_ knocked out and damaged to prevent repairing, so
  I took all on board, fired 4 shells into her and returned to
  _Emden_, passing men swimming in the water, for whom I left two
  boats I was towing from _Buresk_.

  3. “On arriving again off _Emden_ she still had her colours up
  at mainmast head. I inquired by signal, International Code, ‘Will
  you surrender?’ and received a reply in Morse, ‘What signal?
  No signal books.’ I then made in Morse ‘Do you surrender?’ and
  subsequently ‘Have you received my signal?’ to neither of which
  did I get an answer. The German officers on board gave me to
  understand that the Captain would never surrender, and therefore
  though reluctantly, I again fired at her at 4:30 P.M., ceasing
  at 4:35, as she showed white flags and hauled down her ensign by
  sending a man aloft.

[Illustration: Plan of _Sydney_ and _Emden_ in action]

  4. “I then left _Emden_ and returned and picked up the _Buresk’s_
  two boats, rescuing 2 sailors (5:0 P.M.), who had been in the
  water all day. I returned and sent in one boat to _Emden_, manned
  by her own prize crew from _Buresk_, and 1 Officer, and stating
  I would return to their assistance next morning. This I had to
  do, as I was desirous to find out the condition of cables and
  Wireless Station at Direction Island. On the passage over I was
  again delayed by rescuing another sailor (6:30 P.M.), and by the
  time I was again ready and approaching Direction Island it was
  too late for the night.

  5. “I lay on and off all night, and communicated with Direction
  Island at 8:0 A.M., 10th November, to find that the _Emden’s_
  party consisting of 3 Officers and 40 men, 1 launch and 2
  cutters had seized and provisioned a 70-ton schooner (the
  _Ayesha_), having 4 Maxims, with 2 belts to each. They left the
  previous night at six o’clock. The Wireless Station was entirely
  destroyed, 1 cable cut, 1 damaged, and 1 intact. I borrowed a
  Doctor and 2 Assistants, and proceeded as fast as possible to
  _Emden’s_ assistance.

  6. “I sent an Officer on board to see the Captain, and in
  view of the large number of prisoners and wounded and lack of
  accommodation, etc., in this ship, and the absolute impossibility
  of leaving them where they were, he agreed that if I received his
  Officers and men and all wounded ‘then as for such time as they
  remained in _Sydney_ they would cause no interference with ship
  or fittings, and would be amenable to the ship’s discipline.’ I
  therefore set to work at once to transship them--a most difficult
  operation, and the ship being on the weather side of the Island
  and the send alongside[C] very heavy. The conditions in the
  _Emden_ were indescribable. I received the last from her at 5:0
  P.M., then had to go round to the lee side to pick up 20 more men
  who had managed to get ashore from the ship.

    [C] _I. e._ the rise and fall of the sea.

7. “Darkness came on before this could be accomplished, and the ship
again stood off and on all night, resuming operations at 5:0 A.M. on
11th November, a cutter’s crew having to land with stretchers to bring
wounded round to embarking point. A German Officer, a Doctor, died
ashore the previous day. The ship in the meantime ran over to Direction
Island to return their Doctor and Assistants, send cables, and was back
again at 10:0 A.M., embarked the remainder of wounded and proceeded for
Colombo by 10:35 A.M., Wednesday, 11th November.

8. “Total casualties in _Sydney_: killed 3, severely wounded (since
dead) 1, severely wounded 4, wounded 4, slightly wounded 4. In the
_Emden_ I can only approximately state the killed at 7 Officers and 108
men from Captain’s statement. I had on board 11 Officers, 9 Warrant
Officers, and 191 men, of whom 3 Officers and 53 men were wounded, and
of this number 1 Officer and 3 men have since died of wounds.

9. “The damage to _Sydney’s_ hull and fittings was surprisingly small;
in all about 10 hits seem to have been made. The engine and boiler
rooms and funnels escaped entirely.

10. “I have great pleasure in stating that the behaviour of the ship’s
company was excellent in every way, and with such a large proportion of
young hands and people under training it is all the more gratifying.
The engines worked magnificently, and higher results than trials were
obtained, and I cannot speak too highly of the Medical Staff and
arrangements on subsequent trip, the ship being nothing but a hospital
of a most painful description!

      “I have the honour to be, Sir,
                Your obedient Servant,
                     JOHN C. T. GLOSSOP,
                               _Captain_.”

The first point of interest in this engagement is the rapidity with
which the gunfire on both sides became effective. _Emden_ made no
attempt to get away, and opened fire before _Sydney_ did, and at a
range of 10,500 yards. One account says “her first shots fell well
together for range, but very much spread out for line. They were all
within twenty yards of the ship.” Either the gun range-finders were
marvels of accuracy, or else they had great luck in picking up the
range so quickly. This account proceeds: “As soon as her first salvo
had fallen she began to fire very rapidly in salvoes, the rate of fire
being as high as ten rounds per gun per minute, and very accurate for
the first ten minutes.”

I draw the reader’s attention particularly to this phrase, because it
reproduces almost verbatim Commodore Tyrwhitt’s comment on the fire of
the German cruisers in his third action of the Heligoland affair. We
find the same phenomenon at the destruction of _Koenigsberg_, whose
guns both throughout the first and second day of that affair seem
to have had the exact range of the monitors. This testimony to the
accuracy of the enemy’s fire must be read in connection with Captain
Glossop’s statement, that in all about ten hits seem to have been made.
All accounts agree that no hits were made after the first ten minutes.
But if the rate of _Emden’s_ fire is correctly given, she must have
fired 500 rounds in this phase of the action. Ten hits to 500 rounds
gives 2 per cent. of hits only!

The explanation, both of the Rufigi monitors and of _Sydney’s_
comparative immunity, is undoubtedly the extreme range at which each
action was fought. At such ranges a gun of so small a calibre as the
4.2 would have to be raised to a very high elevation. The projectiles,
therefore, would fall very steeply towards the target. In conditions
like these salvoes may fall just short and just over, and even straddle
the boat fired at, without a single hit being made.

But of the excellence of the _Emden’s_ shooting and of her control of
fire--so long as the fire was controlled--there can be no shadow of
doubt whatever. It was obvious that if the battleships were equally
good, the German Fleet would prove a serious foe. We must certainly
esteem it one of the fortunate chances of this war that when Germany
was building her Fleet, her naval authorities were convinced that all
fighting would be at short range. Their calculation was that at short
range a rapid and accurate fire of smaller pieces should prove just as
effective as the slower fire of larger pieces. Her cruisers therefore
were armed with 4.2’s when ours were being armed with 6-inch, and her
battleships with 11-inch guns when ours were being fitted with 12-inch
and 13.5’s. In the case of battleships and battle-cruisers, the German
constructors had their eye upon a further advantage in the adoption of
lighter pieces. The weight saved could be put, and in fact was put,
into a more thorough armoured protection. Von Müller, the captain of
_Emden_, when he was congratulated, after the capture, on the gallant
fight put up, was at first seemingly offended. “He seemed taken aback
and said ‘No,’ and went away, but presently he came to me and said,
‘Thank you very much for saying that, but I was not satisfied; we
should have done better. You were very lucky in shooting away my voice
pipes in the beginning.’” But if the Germans lost their voice pipes,
_Sydney_ lost her rangefinder in the opening salvoes. The German fire
control had not survived the derangement of its communications. It
was not possible to extemporize anything to take their place. We do
not hear that the accuracy of _Sydney’s_ fire lost anything when the
rangefinder went.

Both ships appeared, in this action, to have employed, or at least to
have attempted to employ, their torpedoes. In an interview with Von
Müller reported from Colombo, he is said to have explained that his
intention in closing _Sydney_ at the opening of the engagement was not
to lessen the range so as to bring the ballistics of his guns to an
equality with ours, but to get _Sydney_ within torpedo range. _Sydney_
seems certainly to have fired a torpedo rather less than half-way
through the action when the range was at its shortest. But as in the
Heligoland affair, so here, the difficulties in getting a hit were
insuperable. That _Emden_ did not fire a torpedo at the same time is
explained by the fact that the action had not proceeded twenty minutes
before not only was her steering gear wrecked, so that she had to steer
by her screws, but her submerged torpedo flat also was put out of
action.

All accounts of the action agree upon the excellent conduct of the men
and boys on board _Sydney_. A letter published in _The Times_ gives
us many evidences of this. “The hottest part of the action for us was
the first half-hour. We opened fire from our port guns to begin with.
I was standing just behind No. 1 port, and the gun-layer (Atkins, 1st
class Petty Officer) said, ‘Shall I load, sir?’ I was surprised, but
deadly keen there should be no ‘flap,’ so said, ‘No, don’t load till
you get the order.’ Next he said, ‘_Emden’s_ fired, sir.’ So I said
‘All right, load, but don’t bring the gun to the ready.’ I found out
afterwards that the order to load had been received by the other guns
ten minutes before, and my anti-‘flap’ precautions, though they did
not the slightest harm, were thrown away on Atkins, who was as cool as
a cucumber throughout the action.” It was the boys’ quarters on board
that suffered most from _Emden’s_ fire. The same writer says:

“Our hits were not very serious. We were ‘hulled’ in about three
places. The shell that exploded in the boys’ mess deck, apart from
ruining the poor little beggars’ clothes, provided a magnificent stock
of trophies. For two or three days they kept finding fresh pieces.”

They were probably consoled for the lost wardrobe by this treasure of
souvenirs.

“There are lots of redeeming points in the whole show. Best of all was
to see the gun’s crew fighting their guns quite unconcerned. When we
were last in Sydney we took on board three boys from the training ship
_Tingira_, who had volunteered. The captain said, ‘I don’t really want
them, but as they are keen I’ll take them.’ Now the action was only a
week or two afterwards, but the two out of the three who were directly
under my notice were perfectly splendid. One little slip of a boy did
not turn a hair, and worked splendidly. The other boy, a very sturdy
youngster, carried projectiles from the hoist to his gun throughout the
action without so much as thinking of cover. I do think for two boys
absolutely new to their work they were splendid.”[D]

    [D] The (slightly modified) plan of this action is reproduced
        by the kind permission of the Editor of the _Times_.



CHAPTER XI

THE CAREER OF VON SPEE


At the beginning of hostilities the strategic position in the Pacific
and Indian oceans should have been one that could have caused no
possible naval anxiety to the Allies. Japan had at once thrown in her
lot with us, and as we had squadrons in the China Seas, in the Indian
Ocean, and in Australasia there was, when the forces of our eastern
allies are added to them, a total naval strength incalculably greater
than that at the disposal of the enemy. But this fact notwithstanding,
there was for some months extraordinary uncertainty, and the
arrangements adopted by the Admiralty permitted a serious attack to
be made on our shipping and involved a tragic disaster to a British
squadron. The facts of the case are far from being completely known,
but the main features of the original situation and its development
make it possible to draw certain broad inferences, which are probably
correct.

In the summer of 1914 the German sea forces at Tsing-Tau consisted
of two armoured cruisers, two light cruisers, certain destroyers and
gun-boats. Leaving the destroyers and gun-boats behind, Von Spee in
the month of June abandoned his base at Tsing-Tau, and, after calling
at Nagasaki, made for the German possessions in the Caroline Islands.
His flag flew in _Scharnhorst_, and this ship with her sister vessel
_Gneisenau_ constituted his main strength. He had the two light
cruisers, _Leipzig_ and _Emden_, in his company, and on July 20,
when the situation was becoming acute, he ordered _Nürnberg_, which
was at San Francisco, and _Dresden_, which was at Vera Cruz, at the
other side of the American continent, to join him. _Nürnberg_ reached
him in a couple of weeks; _Dresden_ not till the end of October. By
mid-August, then, his force consisted of two armoured cruisers, each
with a broadside of six 8-inch and three 6-inch guns, and three light
cruisers armed only with 4-inch. Of the light cruisers _Emden_ and
_Nürnberg_ had a speed of between 25 and 26 knots; _Leipzig_ of about
23 or 24. The fighting value of the armoured cruisers was approximately
equal to that of _Minotaur_ and _Defence_ and probably superior to that
of the _Warrior_ class. The German 8-inch guns fired a projectile only
slightly lighter than the British 9.2, so that, gun for gun, there
should have been little to choose between them; while from the point
of view of the control of fire, the broadside of six homogeneous guns
could probably be used quite as effectively as a mixed armament of four
9.2’s and five 7.5’s, and more so than one of four 9.2’s and two 7.5’s.
To engage such a squadron with the certainty of success, therefore, at
least three British armoured cruisers of the latest type would have
been required.

Neither of the British squadrons in eastern waters possessed the
combination of speed and power that would have made them superior
to Von Spee’s force. Vice-Admiral Jerram, in the China station, had
under his command _Triumph_, _Minotaur_, _Hampshire_, _Newcastle_,
and _Yarmouth_. But _Triumph_ was not in commission at the outbreak
of war, and, though armed with 10-inch guns, she was three knots
slower than the German cruisers. Sir Richard Peirse’s command in the
East Indies consisted of _Swiftsure_, a sister ship of _Triumph_;
_Dartmouth_, a cruiser of the same class as _Newcastle_; and _Fox_, a
cruiser of old and slow type. Neither squadron, then, could have sought
for Von Spee with any hope of bringing him to action, if he choose
to avoid it, or with any certainty of defeating him, if he accepted
battle. Australia possessed a navy of her own of vastly greater force
than either of these outpost forces of the mother-country. Of ships
finished, commissioned, and ready for sea, it consisted of _Australia_,
a battle-cruiser of the _Indefatigable_ class; two protected cruisers
of the _Dartmouth_ type, _Sydney_ and _Melbourne_; and _Encounter_,
a sister ship of _Challenger_, with destroyers and submarines. A
fast light cruiser, _Brisbane_, and some destroyers were building.
In the Japanese Navy the Allies had, of course, resources out of all
proportion to the enemy’s strength.

When war became imminent Admiral von Spee, as we have seen, left his
base for the Polynesian islands. He did this because it was obvious
that he could not keep Tsing-Tau open in face of the strength that the
combined Japanese and British forces could bring to bear against it,
and to have been trapped would have been fatal. The same reasons that
made him abandon Tsing-Tau forbade his trying to keep possession of
Rabaud in the Bismarck Archipelago. He faced his future, then, without
a base--just as Suffren did in 1781. There were several elements
peculiar to the situation that made this possible. In the coast towns
of Chile and Peru the Germans had a very large number of commercial
houses and agents, and there were German ships in every South American
port. Their trade with the islands was considerable and, no doubt long
before war, it had been arranged that, on receiving the right warning,
a great deal of shipping should be equipped and mobilized to supply the
German squadron. The widely scattered German outposts afforded also a
service hardly less valuable than coal and food. They constituted an
intelligence organization that was indispensable. Having no base, and
no source of supply other than these German houses in South America
and the islands, it was inevitable that Von Spee should look to the
east, and not to the west, in any operations that he undertook, if
those operations were to be extended and made by a squadron, and not
by detached ships. In discussing, then, the strategy which the German
Admiralty pursued, these facts must not be lost sight of.

Of warlike policies he had a choice of two. He might either keep his
ships together and embark on a war of squadrons, or he could scatter
his ships and devote himself to commerce destruction. In the first
case, as we have seen, he could only look for objectives in the east.
In the alternative the greatest fields of his operations were either
north of the Carolines, where the Chinese trade could be attacked; or
northwest, where the Asiatic and Australian trades converge to Colombo;
or still farther to the west, where the whole eastern trade runs into
the mouth of the Red Sea. To the eastward there was no focal point
of trade where great results could have been achieved--unless indeed
he took his ships round the Horn to attack the River Plate trade or,
better still, the main route that passes Pernambuco. It was an obvious
truth of the situation that, according as the attack on trade promised
great results, so would that attack encounter the greatest dangers,
for it seemed to be a certainty that the focal points would be the
best protected. The most frequented of these, the approaches to the
Red Sea, were also the furthest from his source of supply, and had he
in fact resolved upon commerce destruction, his ships would have had
to maintain themselves, as did _Emden_, by coaling and re-victualling
out of the prizes that they took. The advantage of scattering and
going for the trade ruthlessly would have been the virtual certainty
of inflicting very formidable damage indeed of an economic kind. The
advantage of keeping his squadron together was the chance of some
_coup_ that would turn the scale--even if only for a time--in his
country’s favour. The disadvantages of the first policy were that
there was the certainty that each ship would ultimately be run down
and destroyed by superior force, and grave risk that one or more ships
would be paralyzed by want of supplies, before a sufficient destruction
of trade could justify the sacrifice. The weakness of the second was
that, as a squadron, his ships might accomplish nothing at all.

I have so far discussed the German Admiral’s alternatives as if they
had been debated at the time when war became certain. But it can be
taken for granted that the principles on which he acted were not solely
his own, but had determined German policy in this matter long before.
And, in the main, the decisive arguments probably arose from the
character of his force.

Writing in 1905, Admiral Sir Reginald Custance exposed the whole tissue
of fallacies on which the policy of building armoured cruisers had
been based. The main duties of cruising ships are, first, to assist
in winning and maintaining command of the sea, by acting as scouts
and connecting links between the battle squadrons, and, secondly, to
exercise command, once it has been established by the attack on and
defence of trade. For the successful discharge of these functions the
essential element is that the cruisers should be numerous. So long
as their speed is equal, or superior, to that of the enemy cruisers,
there is no reason why their individual strength should be greatly or
at all superior. The armoured variety represents, roughly speaking,
the value of three cruisers of ordinary type, and is manned by a crew
almost proportionately larger. When first designed, it was possible
to build these large cruisers of a speed superior to that of the
smaller vessels, and having this monopoly, the French invented the
type in pursuance of the idea that a sea war that consisted chiefly of
attacks on commerce, promised brighter prospects than one which could
not succeed unless based on battle-fleet supremacy. But this monopoly
vanished nearly twenty years ago. For cruising purposes proper, then,
this bastard type, while individually enormously more powerful than the
light cruiser, was slower and so could not cover even one-third of the
ground of its equivalent value in the smaller vessels. Over nine-tenths
of the field of cruising, then, it represents a loss of between 60 and
70 per cent. of war efficiency, and this merely from its size.

But because size means cost and because cost has certain definite
influences on the human appreciation of values, it was confidently
prophesied that no one in command of a number of units of this value
could fail to give an undue consideration to the importance of
conserving them. Armoured cruisers, in short, would never be treated
as cruisers at all, but would be kept in squadrons, just as capital
ships are kept, partly to ensure a blow of the maximum strength, if
to strike came within the possibilities of the situation, much more,
however, for the protective value of mutual support, for fear of an
encounter with superior force. This protective tendency would obviously
have a further and much more disastrous effect upon the cruising value
of such vessels. It would simply mean that, instead of each doing
one-third of what three smaller cruisers of the same value might have
done, they would really do no cruising, properly so called, at all; and
not only this, but would probably monopolize the work of two or three
small cruisers to act as special scouts of a squadron so composed, so
diverting these units in turn from their proper duties. If any one
will take the trouble to read the chapter in Barfleur’s “Naval Policy”
dealing with this topic, he will find in Von Spee’s conduct an exact
exemplification of what that accomplished and gallant author suggested
must happen. Von Spee’s policy, in other words, was probably settled
for him by the logic of the situation and the doctrine which prevailed
to create it.

Von Spee actually did, then, what it was fully anticipated he would do.
He kept his ships together and travelled slowly eastward, maintaining
himself in absolute secrecy from the outbreak of war until November
1. What were his exact hopes in the policy pursued, and what the
consideration that led him to adopt it? His hopes of achieving any
definite strategic result can only have been slender. The composition
of his force was so well known that he could hardly have supposed it
possible that he would ever meet a squadron of inferior strength.
He cannot, then, primarily have contemplated the possibility of any
sort of naval victory. Failing this, he may have had various not very
precisely defined ideas in his mind. There was to begin with the
possibility of picking up a sufficient number of German reservists off
the South American coast to have made it possible, not only to attack
and seize the Falkland Islands, but actually to have occupied them by
an extemporized military force. This, as we know, he did attempt. He
might further have contemplated crossing the South Atlantic to the
Cape, with a view to supporting an insurrection of the Boers, if that
materialized, or in any event of backing up the German colonists, who
would be open to attack. Or, having struck a blow at the Falkland
Islands, he might have sent his ships on a final mission in raiding
the Atlantic trade. So long as his squadron was afloat, there were
many possibilities--and always a certainty that it would force counter
concentration on his opponents and thereby embarrass them in the task
of searching for him.

But one thing was certain. He could not combine squadron war with
commercial war. _Emden_ he detached in August to attack the trade in
the Indian Ocean. But the only support he could lend her was such
immunity from pursuit as would result from the concentration he forced
upon the British forces. It is highly probable that, had he sent all
his ships on the same mission, he would have had at least a month’s
run before effective measures could be taken, if only for the fact,
possibly unknown to him, that so large a part of the Allied forces were
being devoted to convoying the Australian troops.


CORONEL

But whatever the risks and difficulties of trade war, the uncertainties
of doing anything at all as a squadron were really greater, and the
final fate of his ships more certain. Whatever his hopes of striking a
blow for his country’s profit or prestige, he could hardly, even in his
most sanguine moments, have anticipated anything so extraordinary as
Admiral Cradock’s attack on him on November 1.

The full story of this ill-fated British force is still to be told. Nor
can what we know be made fully intelligible until we have at least the
actual words of Admiral Cradock’s instructions. But certain inferences
from his actions show that whatever those instructions were, his own
understanding of them is not in doubt at all. Briefly, the facts of the
case are these:

Shortly after the outbreak of war Admiral Cradock transferred his
flag from _Suffolk_ to _Good Hope_ and made his way round the Horn,
taking _Monmouth_, _Glasgow_, and the liner _Otranto_ with him. The
old battleship, _Canopus_, was despatched from home to join his flag,
and actually caught him up some time before the action. The _Canopus_
needed time either for refitting, to coal, or to re-provision, and the
Admiral, instead of waiting for her, pursued his way north with his
original three ships.

Before _Canopus_ joined the flag the last letters written by the
officers and men of the squadron were posted, and in one of these a
member of his staff stated that the general feeling was that the ships
were inadequate to the task set before them, and so far, at least, as
their mission was concerned, the naval supremacy of Great Britain was
not being employed to any useful purpose.

Certain truths with regard to the force that Cradock took north, and
of the force that he attacked, should be borne in mind. _Good Hope_,
_Monmouth_, and _Glasgow_ were as a squadron, markedly faster than Von
Spee’s squadron. Whether the _Otranto_ was capable of more than 22 or
23 knots I do not know; but the three warships certainly had the heels
of the Germans. It is, then, obvious that if Admiral Cradock’s staff
regarded themselves and their ships as inadequate or in danger, it
cannot have been because, had the enemy attacked them, they would have
been unable to escape. It is next equally obvious that had the Admiral
kept _Canopus_ with him, while the pace of the squadron would have been
brought down from 23 knots to 15, its fighting value, as measured by
broadside power, would have been very much greater than Von Spee’s.
That Von Spee at least thought so is clear from his published letters.

Without _Canopus_, then, Cradock would have been safe if he had run
away. With _Canopus_ he would have been reasonably safe if he had
awaited the enemy’s attack. The significance of the letter which I have
alluded to is that it was written by a man to whom neither of these
contingencies seemed to be open. The superiority in speed which would
always have made it possible for Cradock to evade Von Spee was also the
one quality of his ships that gave him capacity to attack the Germans
if they showed any signs of avoiding action. No doubt, if the Germans
would have awaited action by a squadron which included the _Canopus_
Admiral Cradock’s chances might have been brilliant. But if he started
out to look for Von Spee with a 15-knot squadron, his chances for
acting swiftly on any information that came his way would have been
greatly reduced; and to have limited his advance to 15 knots would have
been handing over the initiative in the matter entirely to the enemy.

Bearing these elements in mind and noting first that the British
Admiral deliberately left _Canopus_ behind; next, that at two o’clock
in the afternoon of November 1, when the presence of an enemy was
suspected to the north, he at once ordered all ships to close on _Good
Hope_, and continued when the squadron was formed, to advance against
the enemy, and that then, when he saw him, in spite of the bad weather
and bad light, at once announced that he intended to attack him, the
inference is irresistible that he thought it his duty to find and
attack the enemy, and that he refused to interpret the sending of
_Canopus_ to mean that he could judge for himself whether or not he
was in sufficient force to attack. He acted, that is to say, as no
man would act unless he believed his mission to be of a peremptory and
quite unmistakable kind.

So much, I think, is clear from the few known facts of the case.
Whether Admiral Cradock was right in so interpreting his orders is,
of course, another matter. Of that no one can judge until the orders
themselves are published, and then only those who are familiar with
the precise meaning of the phrases employed. Of the instructions
themselves, then, I express no opinion. I am only concerned with the
light that Admiral Cradock’s actions throw on his own interpretation of
them.

Two official descriptions of the action have been published, Captain
Luce’s, and the Graf von Spee’s despatches. There are further the
private letters of the German Admiral, of his son Otto, and that of a
lieutenant of the _Glasgow_. All of these are in substantial agreement
in their statement of the facts--an unusual thing, to be explained
perhaps quite simply. The British officers naturally told the truth
about the fate of the squadron; and the German success was so complete
that there was no reason for the Government to exaggerate or garble the
straightforward and not ungenerous statements of the German sailors. It
is to Von Spee’s credit that he declined any public rejoicings by the
German colony at Valparaiso, when he visited that port directly after
the action to secure the internment of _Good Hope_, of whose fate he
was uncertain.

The story of the fight is simple enough. Admiral Cradock formed
his ships in line with _Good Hope_ leading, then _Monmouth_, then
_Glasgow_. _Otranto_ he ordered away as soon as battle became imminent,
and _Glasgow_ shortly afterwards. Von Spee criticizes the British
Admiral for not attacking the two armoured cruisers during the half
hour that elapsed between the formation of the Fleet while _Nürnberg_
and _Dresden_ were coming up full speed to join the line. At 6:30 the
two lines were on nearly parallel and southerly courses at a distance
of about 14,700 yards. Twenty minutes later Von Spee had closed the
range about 1,200 yards, and he then altered course a point towards the
enemy, and this, in a quarter of an hour, brought the range to about
11,000 yards. He then opened fire and, five minutes later, got his
first hit with a salvo on _Good Hope_. He had the best of the light,
and it was obvious to him that the British gunnery suffered more from
the heavy seas than did his own. As in neither squadron could any
but the upper-deck guns be used, the Germans had an overwhelmingly
superior armament in action--their twelve 8-inch guns having nothing
opposed to them except the two 9:2 of _Good Hope_ and the upper-deck
6-inch guns of _Good Hope_ and _Monmouth_. Inferior metal and the more
difficult conditions soon told their tale. In the quarter of an hour
during which the German Admiral closed the range from 11,000 yards to
less than 7,000, he says “both the British cruisers were practically
covered by the German fire, whereas _Scharnhorst_ was hit only twice,
and _Gneisenau_ only four times.” The German Admiral now sheered off,
and it looks as if Admiral Cradock had then begun to close. An English
account supposes that _Good Hope_ was drifting and not under control.
Anyhow, the range, in spite of the German change of course, was reduced
by another 1,200 yards, and the Germans thought that the British
Admiral contemplated a torpedo attack. About fifty minutes after the
action commenced there was an enormous explosion in _Good Hope_ which
had been on fire some time. The people in _Glasgow_ for a time thought
it was the German flagship that had gone, so short had the range
become. Neither of our armoured cruisers fired after this, and the
Germans seem to have lost sight of _Good Hope_ altogether, in spite of
her proximity. _Monmouth_, listing badly and on fire, turned to keep
bows on to the sea, and Von Spee sent his light cruisers in pursuit of
her. She kept her flag flying to the last and was sunk, an hour and a
half after _Good Hope_ blew up, by a short range attack by _Nürnberg_.

Both ships could, of course, quite honourably have saved themselves
once their case had become hopeless, had their officers chosen to
surrender. But it was with no thought of surrendering that they had
engaged, and the stoic heroism of their end is the noblest legacy
they could have left to their fellow countrymen. _Glasgow_ kept with
_Monmouth_ as long as she could; but her orders from the Admiral had
been explicit, and it was obvious that she could not single-handed
engage the undamaged German squadron, nor be of the slightest service
to _Monmouth_ had she attempted to do so. Captain Luce, quite rightly
therefore, retreated from the scene.

A private letter, written a day after the action by the German Admiral,
throws an interesting light on the situation. After recounting the
unimportant character of the damage suffered by his ships, he adds,
“I do not know what adverse circumstances deprived the enemy of every
measure of success.... If _Good Hope_,” he wrote “escaped she must, in
my opinion, make for a Chilean port on account of her damages. To make
sure of this I intend going to Valparaiso to-morrow with _Gneisenau_
and _Nürnberg_, and to see whether _Good Hope_ could not be disarmed
by the Chileans. If so, I shall be relieved of two powerful opponents.
_Good Hope_, though bigger than _Scharnhorst_, was not so well armed.
She mounted heavy guns, but only two, while _Monmouth_ succumbed to
_Scharnhorst’s_ as she had only 6-inch guns. The English have another
ship like _Monmouth_ hereabouts and, in addition, as it seems, a
battleship of the _Queen_ class carrying 12-inch guns. Against the
latter we can hardly do anything. Had they kept their force together,
we should probably have got the worst of it. You can hardly imagine the
joy which reigned among us. We have at least contributed something to
the glory of our arms, although it may not mean much on the whole and
in view of the enormous number of English ships.”

Viewing this action apart from the circumstances that led up to it and
the magnificent spirit and self-sacrifice displayed, its technical
and historical interest lies chiefly in the fact that it is the only
instance in the war in which an inferior force has sought action with
one incomparably stronger. The weaker, not only sought battle, but
apparently executed no defensive manœuvres of any kind whatever. We
shall find, for instance, no parallel in Coronel to the tactics of Von
Spee at the Falkland Islands, or to those of Admiral Scheer at Jutland.
And it is perhaps remarkable that the British Admiral, once having
determined on action which he must have known would be desperate,
did not either at once attempt to close the enemy at full speed, so
as to give his very inferior artillery and his torpedoes a chance of
inflicting serious damage on the enemy while daylight lasted, or delay
closing until bad light would make long-range gunnery impossible, in a
_mêlée_ at point blank. Anything might have happened, and it was to the
weaker side’s interest to leave as much as possible to chance.

It is hardly conceivable that the total result of the action could
have been different so far as the British squadron is concerned. But
it is permissible to speculate as to whether the Germans might not
have suffered more, had either of the above plans been followed. The
reasoning which dictated Admiral Cradock’s tactics can, of course,
never be known.

A matter of considerable technical interest is, that though two
armoured cruisers kept firing for a considerable period, it is
quite clear from Von Spee’s despatch that their fire was completely
ineffective. Everyone has agreed in explaining this largely by the
extreme difficulty of gunnery conditions, but it is surely highly
probable that the chief cause is to be found in the fire of the German
ships having, so far as the power of offence is concerned, put _Good
Hope_ and _Monmouth_ out of action within very few minutes of action
beginning. All accounts agree in the _Scharnhorst’s_ salvo having
found _Good Hope_ within five minutes, and it is not likely that
_Monmouth_ fared any better at the hands of _Gneisenau_. What seems to
me remarkable is the length of time the ships kept afloat after being
militarily useless. The explosion in _Good Hope_ took place after
she was in action fifty minutes, and it is not known when she sank.
The _Monmouth_ survived the opening salvoes by two hours and twenty
minutes, and to the last seemed to have her engines in perfect working
order. It is impossible, I think, to resist the inference, that all the
German hitting, except the shell that caused the explosion in _Good
Hope_, was done in the first few minutes of action, while the light was
at its best, though the range was at its longest.



CHAPTER XII

BATTLE OF THE FALKLAND ISLANDS (I)


THE CAREER OF VON SPEE (II)

The Battle of the Falkland Islands was fought on December 8th by
a squadron under Vice-Admiral Sir F. Doveton Sturdee, K.C.B.,
C.V.O., C.M.G., against the German China Squadron--less _Emden_,
but strengthened by the addition of the cruiser _Dresden_. Admiral
Sturdee’s despatch was not published until about three months after
the action, but in the meantime several accounts appeared in various
newspapers, and since the despatch was published others have been
printed in different magazines. Of no other action in the war have we
such various or full information as about this. It will perhaps be a
convenient way of dealing with this extremely instructive and important
engagement to reproduce the Vice-Admiral’s despatch textually, and to
supplement it by explanatory notes, and incorporate in these what is
most material of the additional information which is available.

The despatch begins with the tabulation of the sections into which the
despatch is divided:

A. Preliminary Movements.

B. Action with the Armoured Cruisers.

C. Action with the Light Cruisers.

D. Action with the Enemy’s Transports.

“The squadron, consisting of H.M. ships _Invincible_, flying my flag,
Flag Captain Percy T. H. Beamish; _Inflexible_, Captain Richard F.
Phillimore; _Carnarvon_ flying the flag of Rear-Admiral Archibald P.
Stoddart, Flag Captain Harry L. d’E. Skipwith; _Cornwall_, Captain
Walter M. Ellerton; _Kent_, Captain John D. Allen; _Glasgow_, Captain
John Luce; _Bristol_, Captain Basil H. Fanshawe; and _Macedonia_,
Captain Bertram S. Evans--arrived at Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, at
10:30 A.M. on Monday, the 7th December, 1914. Coaling was commenced at
once, in order that the ships should be ready to resume the search for
the enemy’s squadron the next evening, the 8th December.”

The account previously given of the Graf von Spee’s movements leading
up to and subsequent to the action off Coronel, will have made the
general strategic position in the Eastern Pacific and Southern Atlantic
more or less plain. Of his ships, however, this should be added. The
clear light and prevalence of smooth water on the China Station has
always proved an incentive to good gunnery, and indeed the performances
of the _Terrible_, when Vice-Admiral Sir Percy Scott commanded her as
captain, may be regarded as the starting point of all modern gunnery
skill. It is not surprising, therefore, that both of Von Spee’s ships
should have stood, as they in fact did, at the head of the German Fleet
in order of gunnery merit. And it was clear from their performances
that their skill was not merely limited to good gun-laying. Both at
Coronel and at Falkland Islands they gave conclusive evidence of being
perfect masters of such fire control as they possessed, and on the
first occasion shot superbly in very rough weather. They therefore
constituted an extremely formidable combination. The German 8.2
shell of the latest type--with which these ships were armed--fired
a projectile very nearly as heavy as did the British 9.2’s--the
actual weights are 320 pounds and 380. The percentage is roughly 8.4
to 10. These two ships had as scouts and auxiliaries the _Leipzig_,
_Nürnberg_, and _Dresden_, cruisers of similar design; but _Dresden_
was considerably faster than either of her consorts.

After the destruction of the _Good Hope_ and _Monmouth_, Von Spee
cruised for a short time in the Eastern Pacific, and then made his way
in leisurely fashion round the Horn with the intention of crossing
to South Africa. In a fatal moment he decided to attack the British
Colony at Falkland Islands first, and it was this that brought him
within reach of Admiral Sturdee’s guns. It is clear enough from his
conduct--let alone admissions made by prisoners afterwards--that he had
no idea whatever of the strength of the force that had been sent out to
attack him. He fully expected to find _Canopus_ at Port Stanley, and
he thought it possible that _Carnarvon_ and _Glasgow_ might be there
also. And these ships he was quite prepared to engage. It was quite a
different thing, however, to take on two battle-cruisers that under any
bearing could bring between them a dozen 12-inch guns into action and,
on certain bearings, four more. As will be seen from the despatch, the
moment he realized the strength against him, he adopted what seemed the
only possible course, namely flight.


A. PRELIMINARY MOVEMENTS

“At 8 A.M. on Tuesday, the 8th December, a signal was received from the
signal station on shore:--

  “‘A four-funnel and two-funnel man-of-war in sight from Sapper
  Hill, steering northwards.’

“At this time, the positions of the various ships of the squadron were
as follows:--

  “_Macedonia_: At anchor as look-out ship.

  “_Kent_ (guardship): At anchor in Port William.

  “_Invincible_ and _Inflexible_: In Port William.

  “_Carnarvon_: In Port William.

  “_Cornwall_: In Port William.

  “_Glasgow_: In Port Stanley.

  “_Bristol_: In Port Stanley.

“The _Kent_ was at once ordered to weigh, and a general signal was made
to raise steam for full speed.

“At 8:20 A.M. the signal station reported another column of smoke in
sight to the southward, and at 8:45 A.M. the _Kent_ passed down the
harbour and took up a station at the entrance.

“The _Canopus_, Captain Heathcoat S. Grant, reported at 8:47 A.M. that
the first two ships were eight miles off, and that the smoke reported
at 8:20 A.M. appeared to be the smoke of two ships about twenty miles
off.

“At 8:50 A.M. the signal station reported a further column of smoke in
sight to the southward.

“The _Macedonia_ was ordered to weigh anchor on the inner side of the
other ships, and await orders.”

Here the signal, it will be observed, says “a four-funnel and
two-funnel man of war.” The ships were probably end on when they were
seen, and in the _Nürnberg_ there was a considerable gap between the
after-funnel and the two forward funnels. Seen from a point a little
off the direct keel line, she would seem therefore to have two funnels
only.

Port William and Port Stanley are two inlets with a tongue of land
between them, and opposite this tongue of land is the channel to the
sea. Port Stanley is in the more southerly division of the harbour,
which is also the larger of the two. _Canopus_ was anchored to the
eastward of the town of Port Stanley, so that her guns could fire
over the low-lying land between her and the sea. The land rises to
the north as it creeps round towards the mouth of the harbour, and on
this higher land there was an observation station where arrangements
had been made by which the fire of _Canopus_ could be directed out to
sea at any squadron that threatened to attack. The reader is therefore
to imagine the _Macedonia_ lying in the outside mouth of the harbour;
_Kent_ anchored in the channel half way between _Macedonia_ and where
the harbour divides Port Stanley to the south and Port William to the
north; with _Inflexible_, _Invincible_, and _Carnarvon_ anchored in
line in Port William; the _Bristol_ and _Glasgow_ in the southern bay,
with Port Stanley behind them to the westward, and _Canopus_ behind
them to the east.

The Vice-Admiral wasted no time. As a fact, all his ships were then
coaling. And the officers not engaged in this were making plans for
a day’s shooting over the rough moors in the neighbourhood of the
town--where hares and partridges were to be found--and were many of
them in mufti, and most of them at breakfast when the startling and
welcome news of the advent of the enemy came to them. Everything, of
course, gave way to the necessity of getting out of harbour with the
utmost speed. Colliers were cast off. The furnaces were fed, and all
hands were started to clean first the ships and then themselves. At
eight the first ships seemed to be probably twenty miles off. Twenty
minutes later, a further detachment came into sight; half an hour later
than that, the last of the Germans were seen upon the horizon.

Round about 9 o’clock _Kent_ was outside the harbour, while
_Gneisenau_ and _Nürnberg_ were approaching at about twenty knots.

3. “At 9:20 A.M. the two leading ships of the enemy (_Gneisenau_ and
_Nürnberg_), with guns trained on the wireless station, came within
range of the _Canopus_, who opened fire at them across the low land at
a range of 11,000 yards. The enemy at once hoisted their colours and
turned away. At this time the masts and smoke of the enemy were visible
from the upper bridge of the _Invincible_ at a range of approximately
17,000 yards across the low land to the south of Port William.

“A few minutes later the two cruisers altered course to port, as though
to close the _Kent_ at the entrance to the harbour, but about this time
it seems that the _Invincible_ and _Inflexible_ were seen over the
land, as the enemy at once altered course and increased speed to join
their consorts.

“The _Glasgow_ weighed and proceeded at 9:40 A.M. with orders to join
the _Kent_ and observe the enemy’s movements.”

The Germans, as we have seen, expected possibly to find _Canopus_
at the Falkland Islands, but not that she would be concealed from
their fire behind the low-lying ground. Their astonishment then to
find themselves under the fire of 12-inch guns at twenty minutes past
nine was considerable. They therefore turned, not with the intention
of running away but clearly to throw out the fire control that was
directing the big guns at them, for it must have been about this time
that they saw the county cruiser _Kent_ in the offing, and their first
thought was to go in and finish her off. But a very few moments after
there opened up over the line of vision the tripod masts of the two
battle-cruisers, and the _Gneisenau_ and _Nürnberg_, that had been
coming due north for the attack, now turned round to the east, and
went full speed to join their approaching consorts, who were cutting
off the corner made by the first two ships.

Two quite important questions arise at this point. Was it good policy
on the part of Admiral Sturdee to allow _Canopus_ to open fire and
so drive the Germans away? If, indeed, it was _Canopus_ that drove
them off. He knew, of course, that it would take him at least half an
hour to forty minutes before all his squadron could be clear of the
harbour, and ready to begin the chase. Would it have been wiser if he
had allowed the Germans to come right up and so to have made sure of
having them within easy range when he did come out? The answer to this
criticism is obvious. _Gneisenau_ was a great deal more than a match
for _Kent_, and no British ship could have got out to her assistance
in time to prevent her destruction if _Gneisenau_ had been allowed to
close. The speed of Admiral Sturdee’s battle-cruisers was such--he
had certainly a five, if not a six knot advantage over the armoured
cruisers--that he knew he had it well within his power with the whole
day before him, to give the Germans forty minutes’ start, and catch
them and finish them off before evening. And it was his business to
do this, if he could, with the smallest possible loss of life and the
least possible damage to his ships. That is the first point. But next,
it was quite within the possibilities of the case that _Canopus’s_ guns
would make a hit either on _Gneisenau_ or _Nürnberg_. Indeed, so close
did the fourth and fifth rounds go that it was thought on shore that
there had been a hit; but this was afterwards proved to be a mistake.
There was a good chance then of laming one of them and so making a
quick capture certain. Finally, it was not altogether the fire of
_Canopus_ but the sight of the battle-cruisers’ masts that decided Von
Spee, or rather the Captain of _Gneisenau_, to retreat.

It is more pertinent to ask whether it would not have been better
policy on the part of the Germans to have got inside the range of
_Canopus_--for obviously if she had fired over the hills she would
not be able to use her guns at short range--and then bring the
British squadron under an accurate bombardment just when they were
coming out of harbour and unable to use their armament to effect. The
same considerations that weighed with Admiral Sturdee in deciding
to allow _Canopus_ to open fire with the possible result of driving
them off, should have weighed with the German captain and made him
realize that once the battle-cruisers were out of harbour, there was
no possible escape either for his ship or for the flagship. And it is
undoubtedly certain that whether they could have succeeded in sinking
and destroying any British ships before being destroyed themselves,
they must have done vastly greater damage than they were, in fact, able
to inflict in an action which, as we shall see, the British Admiral
was able to fight on his own conditions from first to last. The main
features of the final issue--that is, the destruction of the two
armoured cruisers--could certainly not have been prevented, but had
they closed the range, and fought the British ships as they came out,
the complete escape of the light cruisers could have been assured, and
it is certain that they could have done very great damage before being
destroyed themselves.

4. “At 9:45 A.M. the squadron--less the _Bristol_--weighed, and
proceeded out of harbour in the following order: _Carnarvon_,
_Inflexible_, _Invincible_, and _Cornwall_. On passing Cape Pembroke
Light, the five ships of the enemy appeared clearly in sight to the
southeast, hull down. The visibility was at its maximum, the sea was
calm, with a bright sun, a clear sky, and a light breeze from the
northwest.”

At 9:45, when the squadron got clear of the harbour and was working up
to full speed, the Germans, whose main squadron was about 8½ sea miles
off at 9:30, while _Gneisenau_ and _Nürnberg_ were three miles closer
in, were probably about twelve or thirteen miles off. There was then
a gap of five or six miles to be made up before action range could be
reached, and to make this good in three hours the British squadron
would have to produce a speed greater by some two knots.

“At 10:20 A.M. the signal for a general chase was made. The
battle-cruisers quickly passed ahead of the _Carnarvon_ and overtook
the _Kent_. The _Glasgow_ was ordered to keep two miles from the
_Invincible_, and the _Inflexible_ was stationed on the starboard
quarter of the flagship. Speed was eased to twenty knots at 11:15 A.M.
to enable the other cruisers to get into station. At this time the
enemy’s funnels and bridges showed just above the horizon.”

It will be observed that the British Admiral was carrying on his chase
on a wide front and at full speed--probably twenty-four knots. Only
_Glasgow_, _Kent_, and the two battle-cruisers could maintain this,
which meant that _Carnarvon_ and _Cornwall_ were falling very much
behind. The Admiral therefore, after an hour, dropped his speed to
twenty knots to enable his two cruisers to catch up. Why did he do this?

In the first place, his burst at full speed had probably shown him that
instead of having an advantage of only two knots in speed over his
enemy, he could beat him by at least five knots when he chose. And he
reasoned that if he drove at the five German ships with only four of
his own, it was possible for the German ships to scatter and so for
one or more of them to escape. It was of the essence of his tactics
that the enemy should keep his fleet together as long as possible, and
it was a vital matter that when the dispersion took place the pursuit
of the light cruisers should be undertaken by his own light cruisers
with the best possible prospects of bringing all of them to action. As
we shall see by the next paragraph, this measure did not attain its
desired end.

“The enemy were still maintaining their distance, and I decided at
12:20 P.M. to attack with the two battle-cruisers and the _Glasgow_.

“At 12:47 P.M. the signal to ‘Open fire and engage the enemy’ was made.

“The _Inflexible_ opened fire at 12:55 P.M. from her fore turret at the
right-hand ship of the enemy, a light cruiser; a few minutes later the
_Invincible_ opened fire at the same ship.

“The deliberate fire from a range of 16,500 to 15,000 yards at
the right-hand light cruiser, who was dropping astern, became too
threatening, and when a shell fell close alongside her at 1:20 she
(the _Leipzig_) turned away, with the _Nürnberg_ and _Dresden_, to the
southwest. These light cruisers were at once followed by the _Kent_,
_Glasgow_, and _Cornwall_, in accordance with my instructions.

“The action finally developed into three separate encounters besides
the subsidiary one dealing with the threatened landing.”

It is plain from this that when the speed was limited by that of its
slowest ship, that is, the _Carnarvon_, the squadron was unable to
gain on the Germans at all. The time, therefore, had come to force
the enemy to a decision, and full speed was once more ordered. The
British squadron from now until the next decisive move was taken,
must be pictured in this way--the two battle-cruisers and _Glasgow_
racing along at twenty-six or twenty-seven knots; _Cornwall_ and _Kent_
following along at their best speed--probably a knot and a half or two
knots less--and _Carnarvon_ bringing up the rear. She must soon have
been left considerably behind. For an hour then the two squadrons had
probably been keeping about twenty-one knots at a distance of about
19,000 yards. Half an hour’s chase at twenty-five knots brought the
range to 17,000 and twenty-five minutes later, to something less than
15,000.

The German squadron was now under fire and Von Spee made the signal,
“I intend to fight the battle-cruisers as long as I can, the light
cruisers are to scatter and to escape if possible.” The reader will
of course realize that up to this moment _Leipzig_, _Nürnberg_, and
_Dresden_ had been limiting their speed by the speed of _Scharnhorst_.
This was undoubtedly Von Spee’s second mistake, if we assume he was
wrong in not attacking the British squadron as it issued from the
harbour. By keeping his light cruisers with him until the British were
within ten miles of him, he brought their chance of escape to a very
low ebb indeed. It is clear that Admiral Sturdee’s drop in speed at
11:20 completely deceived him. He probably thought that none of the
British cruisers could exceed the speed the Vice-Admiral then ordered.

We now have to treat of the rest of the day’s work as three separate
actions, though it is really more correct to call it four, because the
actions between _Kent_ and _Nürnberg_, _Cornwall_ and _Glasgow_ with
_Leipzig_ had, after the first phase, no influence one upon the other.
We will deal first, as the Vice-Admiral does, with the action with the
armoured cruisers.



CHAPTER XIII

BATTLE OF THE FALKLAND ISLANDS (II)


B. ACTION WITH THE ARMOURED CRUISERS

“The fire of the battle-cruisers was directed on the _Scharnhorst_
and _Gneisenau_. The effect of this was quickly seen, when at 1:25
P.M., with the _Scharnhorst_ leading, they turned about seven points
to port in succession into line ahead and opened fire at 1:30 P.M.
Shortly afterwards speed was eased to twenty-four knots, and the
battle-cruisers were ordered to turn together, bringing them into line
ahead, with the _Invincible_ leading.

“The range was about 13,500 yards at the final turn, and increased
until at 2 P.M. it had reached 16,450 yards.”

The moment Von Spee found himself under the effective fire of the
battle-cruisers, he took the only course open to him. To delay the
finish by sheer flight would do no good. It was his duty to inflict
some reciprocal injury on his opponent. He was under the fire of at
least eight if not twelve 12-inch guns, and he only had six 8-inch
guns bearing on Admiral Sturdee. To do anything at all effective he
had to turn broadside on. He therefore turned seven-eighths of a right
angle to port, that is, to the left--his course now being almost at
right angles to Admiral Sturdee’s--and six minutes afterwards, when
both his ships were on a steady course, he opened fire. Three minutes
after he began his turn, and therefore three minutes before he opened
fire, Admiral Sturdee turned his ships to port also, but his turn was
not quite so big as the enemy’s, and for about twelve minutes the
range was steadily closing. The effect of these changes of course
was to bring the battle-cruisers to within 11,000 or 12,000 yards of
_Scharnhorst_ and _Gneisenau_. The Germans took full advantage of this
opportunity, and before they had been firing five minutes they had
salvo after salvo straddling the battle-cruisers.

As we have seen, both in the stories of the _Koenigsberg_ and of
the _Emden_, there has been no feature of any gunnery action more
regularly reproduced than the rapidity with which the Germans find
the range at the beginning of an action, or the regularity with which
the projectiles of every broadside fall together. It was strikingly
exemplified in the present instance, so much so indeed that Admiral
Sturdee thought it wise to make a further turn to port, thus increasing
the range, and as he says in this despatch, by the time his total turn
was completed, he brought the range out again to about 13,500 yards.
At this distance the 12-inch guns would have a marked advantage over
the 8.2’s. But for all that the German fire continued surprisingly
accurate, and many hits were made on our ships. The British Admiral
held to his new course and the German ships theirs. This involved the
lengthening of the range. But Von Spee doubtless preferred this to the
confusion of a changing rate. He held on then till he could reach the
British ships no longer. The consequence was that in twenty minutes
the range had increased by a further 2,500 yards, which was far beyond
the capacity of 8.2’s, and a range at which the shooting of even the
12-inch guns might be irregular. Accordingly at about 2 o’clock the
British squadron began a gradual turn towards the enemy, which in about
seven minutes’ time brought them on a course at right angles to their
previous course, and therefore a little less than right angles to the
course which the Germans were steering.

“The enemy then (2:10 P.M.) turned away about ten points to starboard
and a second chase ensued, until, at 2:45 P.M., the battle-cruisers
again opened fire; this caused the enemy, at 2:53 P.M., to turn into
line ahead to port and open fire at 2:55 P.M.

“The _Scharnhorst_ caught fire forward, but not seriously, and her
fire slackened perceptibly; the _Gneisenau_ was badly hit by the
_Inflexible_.”

In the seven minutes of the beginning of Admiral Sturdee’s turn he
reduced the range by considerably over 1,000 yards, and Von Spee
perceiving the change of course of the British ships, turned about
half a right angle to starboard, that is to the right, as if undecided
whether to go right across the bows, and then a few minutes afterwards
turned much more than a right angle to the right again. This brought
the British squadron dead astern of him and showed that his only
anxiety at this moment was to escape our fire as long as possible. It
appears from various accounts that firing had ceased on both sides for
some little time before Admiral Sturdee began his turn at 2 o’clock,
and Von Spee wished to make the lull in the fighting as long as
possible. There were doubtless many wounded to carry off, damages to be
made good, and so forth. The whole of the first phase of the gunnery
engagement, then, beginning just after half-past one on the German
side, may be supposed to have ended round about ten minutes to two.

At ten minutes past two the enemy began his new flight, necessitating
a reproduction by the British squadron of their tactics of two hours
before. It was a chase, not on the direct track of the Germans, but on
a course parallel to them and coming round on their port or left-hand
side. Von Spee’s retreat had naturally increased the range, carried it
out indeed considerably beyond 16,000 yards, but by a quarter to three
it had been reduced once more to 15,000 yards, and when the British
ships reopened fire, after less than ten minutes of it the enemy turned
to bring his broadside into action, just as he had done at 1:25.

“At 3:30 P.M. the _Scharnhorst_ led round about ten points to
starboard; just previously her fire had slackened perceptibly, and one
shell had shot away her third funnel; some guns were not firing, and
it would appear that the turn was dictated by a desire to bring her
starboard guns into action. The effect of the fire on the _Scharnhorst_
became more and more apparent in consequence of smoke from fires, and
also escaping steam; at times a shell would cause a large hole to
appear in her side, through which could be seen a dull red glow of
flame. At 4:4 P.M. the _Scharnhorst_, whose flag remained flying to the
last, suddenly listed heavily to port, and within a minute it became
clear that she was a doomed ship; for the list increased very rapidly
until she lay on her beam ends, and at 4:17 P.M. she disappeared.”

There was this difference between the enemy’s manœuvres on this
occasion and that of an hour and a half before. At 1:25 he simply
turned sufficiently to bring his broadside to bear. This time he turned
not less but much more than a right angle, and Admiral Sturdee was
considerably behind him when he opened fire at a quarter to three.
Had the British squadron not turned shortly afterwards, the Germans
could have closed the range to collision point. As a matter of fact,
immediately after the Germans turned, Admiral Sturdee turned too, but
not so large an angle, and the consequence was that at 3 o’clock
the range had been reduced to 12,000 yards, and at one time it had
shortened down to about 9,000. It was apparently Von Spee’s intention
at this stage to shorten the range to an extent that would give his
guns the opportunity of doing some real damage to our ships. This is of
course the proper policy to adopt if a squadron has inferior gun-power
and is unable to escape by flight.

But it will be observed that Von Spee did not persist in this manœuvre,
and it is obvious that he adopted it too late. He missed his first
opportunity of inflicting serious and possibly decisive injury, when
he failed to engage the British ships as they were coming out of
harbour. He missed the second when, on Admiral Sturdee turning away
from him at 1:45, he held on his course and allowed the range to be
increased. He missed it again when at 2:10, instead of holding on his
course and going across Admiral Sturdee’s bows, he began his second and
necessarily futile flight. When the fourth chance came it was probably
too late. Both ships had been hit and _Scharnhorst_ seriously. But for
about twenty minutes the German Admiral did now close the range and
come in almost direct pursuit of the British. So much so that shortly
after a quarter past three Admiral Sturdee turned away from him, and
describing a kind of circle with his ships from left to right, brought
his squadron round so as to be directly behind the German ships. He had
two reasons for making this turn. His course was straight up wind, so
that gunnery conditions were bad, and the turn brought him to the most
favourable possible position for concentrating fire upon the enemy,
while they had only a minimum number of guns bearing. This position Von
Spee found intolerable. Both his ships were suffering, and one of the
_Scharnhorst’s_ funnels was carried away. It must have been evident
to him that the end was not far off when he turned at half past three.
Never since the first twenty minutes had the enemy’s fire been really
good, and now the thing was assuming the dimensions of a military
execution. The second phase of gunfire between a quarter to three and
half past had been decisive as far as the _Scharnhorst_ was concerned.

A curious incident in this interval should be noted. Just as the firing
began in this second phase, a full-rigged sailing ship was observed
about four miles off to the southeast from the leading British ship.
She is not identified in any of the reports of the action that I have
seen, nor has any account appeared that I know of, of what those on
board saw. But it must have been an astonishing experience for a
peaceful trading sailing vessel, beating down quietly towards the Horn,
to find herself suddenly in the middle of so grim a business as this.
Those on board saw a thing at that time unprecedented in the history of
the world. A sea battle in which ships as fast as the swiftest Atlantic
liners were using an armament twice as powerful as that carried by any
battleship that had ever been used in war before.

The last moments of _Scharnhorst_ were curiously dramatic. Till now
she had led _Gneisenau_ throughout the fight. Just before she sank
she turned a half circle past _Gneisenau_ in the reverse direction,
and before anybody in the British ships could guess whether this was
an intentional manœuvre or purely involuntary, she turned over on her
side, her bows plunged downwards, and after standing upright for a
second or two with her screws whirring high in the air, vanished from
sight. It is probable that coincident with one shot inflicting such
injuries that she was flooded, another had smashed up her steering
gear, and jammed her helm hard a-port.

“The _Gneisenau_ passed on the far side of her late flagship, and
continued a determined but ineffectual effort to fight the two battle
cruisers.

“At 5:8 P.M. the forward funnel was knocked over and remained resting
against the second funnel. She was evidently in serious straits, and
her fire slackened very much.

“At 5:15 P.M. one of the _Gneisenau’s_ shells struck the _Invincible_;
this was her last effective effort.

“At 5:30 P.M. she turned towards the flagship with a heavy list to
starboard, and appeared stopped, with steam pouring from her escape
pipes, and smoke from shell and fires rising everywhere. About this
time I ordered the signal ‘Cease fire,’ but before it was hoisted the
_Gneisenau_ opened fire again, and continued to fire from time to time
with a single gun.

“At 5:40 P.M. the three ships closed in on the _Gneisenau_, and, at
this time, the flag flying at her fore truck was apparently hauled
down, but the flag at the peak continued flying.

“At 5:50 P.M. ‘Cease fire’ was made.

“At 6 P.M. the _Gneisenau_ heeled over very suddenly, showing the men
gathered on her decks and then walking on her side as she lay for a
minute on her beam ends before sinking.”

The _Gneisenau_, at 4:17, still had all her guns in action, and
seemed indeed to have suffered very little. Had the fire of both
battle-cruisers hitherto been concentrated chiefly on the flagship? If
so, the effect was really rather unfortunate, for with one ship going
strong, it was impossible for the Vice-Admiral to attempt the rescue of
the people in _Scharnhorst_. Rain had set in. There were signs of mist
and thick weather. At any moment the light might fail. The conditions
of the morning had been ideal for the control of guns at long range.
These conditions had long since vanished. No doubt it went greatly
against the grain to leave the brave fellows of the _Scharnhorst_ in
their hopeless struggle, but the necessities of the situation gave
no choice. For that matter, when the loss of life that took place in
the _Gneisenau_ is considered, it is highly probable that had the
British ships stopped to look for people of the _Scharnhorst_ they
would have found none. For she turned over and sank, not as _Gneisenau_
subsequently did, so slowly that the people on board were able to
muster on deck and then clamber on to the ship’s sides as she heeled
over, but with such fearful rapidity that it is said that a salvo which
_Carnarvon_ had fired at her when she was still afloat and showed no
signs of immediate collapse, actually pitched in the water where she
had sunk! If this story is true she must have turned over and vanished
from sight in from ten to fifteen seconds. In this instance there can
have been few if any survivors left swimming in the water, and those
must have perished before help could reach them.

With the disappearance of _Scharnhorst_ Admiral Sturdee made a double
turn with his ships to bring them more or less into the wake of
_Gneisenau_ and adopted a new disposition. He followed _Gneisenau_ on
the starboard side himself, in _Invincible_, and sent _Inflexible_ to
take up a corresponding position on the port quarter. This brought both
ships within a range of about 12,000 yards of the _Gneisenau_, who for
the next forty minutes was subjected to a double attack, one on each
side. At 5:15 she made her last effort. She hit _Invincible_ amidships.

[Illustration: Plan of the action between the British battle-cruisers
and the German armoured cruisers]

It is curious that after 5:30, when every gun but one was out of action
and the ship had a heavy list, that she should still have been able
to fire her last surviving piece. But such incidents are common to
all naval actions. It is said that, at the battle of Tuschima, when
_Savaroff_ had not only been shot to pieces, but seemed to be red hot
from stem to stern, one of the 6-inch casemates kept at work quite
steadily throughout, the last shot being fired when the ship was on her
beam ends, in the act of sinking, so that the shell must have been shot
straight up into the air.

“The prisoners of war from the _Gneisenau_ report that by the time the
ammunition was expended, some 600 men had been killed and wounded. The
surviving officers and men were all ordered on deck and told to provide
themselves with hammocks and any articles that could support them in
the water.

“When the ship capsized and sank there were probably some two hundred
unwounded survivors in the water, but owing to the shock of the cold
water, many were drowned within sight of the boats and ship.

“Every effort was made to save life as quickly as possible, both by
boats and from the ships; life-buoys were thrown and ropes lowered,
but only a proportion could be rescued. The _Invincible_ alone rescued
108 men, fourteen of whom were found to be dead after being brought
on board; these men were buried at sea the following day with full
military honours.”

Some of the German prisoners believed that _Gneisenau_ was not sunk
by gun-fire at all, and said that the commander had had the Kingston
valves opened as soon as the ammunition was exhausted and there was no
possibility of carrying on the fight.



CHAPTER XIV

BATTLE OF THE FALKLAND ISLANDS (III)


C. ACTION WITH THE LIGHT CRUISERS

At about 1 P.M., when the _Scharnhorst_ and _Gneisenau_ turned to port
to engage the _Invincible_ and _Inflexible_ the enemy’s light cruisers
turned to starboard to escape; the _Dresden_ was leading and the
_Nürnberg_ and _Leipzig_ followed on each quarter.

“In accordance with my instructions, the _Glasgow_, _Kent_, and
_Cornwall_ at once went in chase of these ships; the _Carnarvon_, whose
speed was insufficient to overtake them, closed the battle-cruisers.

“The _Glasgow_ drew well ahead of the _Cornwall_ and _Kent_, and at
3 P.M. shots were exchanged with the _Leipzig_ at 12,000 yards. The
_Glasgow’s_ object was to endeavour to outrange the _Leipzig_ with her
6-inch guns and thus cause her to alter course and give the _Cornwall_
and _Kent_ a chance of coming into action.

“At 4:17 P.M. the _Cornwall_ opened fire, also on the _Leipzig_.

“At 7:17 P.M. the _Leipzig_ was on fire fore and aft, and the
_Cornwall_ and _Glasgow_ ceased fire.

“The _Leipzig_ turned over on her port side and disappeared at 9 P.M.
Seven officers and eleven men were saved.

“At 3:36 P.M. the _Cornwall_ ordered the _Kent_ to engage the
_Nürnberg_, the nearest cruiser to her.

“Owing to the excellent and strenuous efforts of the engine-room
department, the _Kent_ was able to get within range of the _Nürnberg_
at 5 P.M. At 6:35 P.M. the _Nürnberg_ was on fire forward and ceased
firing. The _Kent_ also ceased firing and closed to 3,300 yards; as the
colours were still observed to be flying in the _Nürnberg_, the _Kent_
opened fire again. Fire was finally stopped five minutes later on the
colours being hauled down, and every preparation was made to save life.
The _Nürnberg_ sank at 7:27 P.M. and as she sank a group of men were
waving a German ensign attached to a staff. Twelve men were rescued,
but only seven survived.

“The _Kent_ had four killed and twelve wounded mostly caused by one
shell.

“During the time the three cruisers were engaged with the _Nürnberg_
and _Leipzig_, the _Dresden_, who was beyond her consorts, effected her
escape owing to her superior speed. The _Glasgow_ was the only cruiser
with sufficient speed to have had any chance of success. However, she
was fully employed in engaging the _Leipzig_ for over an hour before
either the _Cornwall_ or _Kent_ could come up and get within range.
During this time the _Dresden_ was able to increase her distance and
get out of sight.

“The weather changed after 4 P.M. and the visibility was much reduced;
further, the sky was overcast and cloudy, thus assisting the _Dresden_
to get away unobserved.”

Sir Doveton Sturdee’s account of the two actions between the two light
cruisers is almost too syncopated to be intelligible. Fortunately,
however, many other records of these two encounters are available,
so it is possible to describe what happened in somewhat greater
detail. From 1:20 until about quarter to four, _Glasgow_, _Kent_,
and _Cornwall_ were engaged in a plain stern chase with the three
enemy cruisers. At that time the enemy began separating out, and the
three British cruisers worked into a line abreast following suit. The
_Glasgow_ was at the right of the line between three and four miles
from _Cornwall_ and about a mile to a mile and a half ahead of her.
_Kent_ was to the left of _Cornwall_, about two and a half miles off
and about abreast of her. Straight ahead of _Cornwall_ was _Leipzig_,
the centre ship of the enemy. She was about eight miles from _Cornwall_
and between six and seven from _Glasgow_. To _Leipzig’s_ right, and
two or three miles ahead of her, was _Dresden_, and to her left and
about the same distance off was _Nürnberg_. There had been a certain
exchange of shots before this condition was reached, for _Glasgow_,
very much the fastest of the British cruisers, had more than once drawn
up towards _Leipzig_, and opened fire on her in hopes of turning her
towards _Cornwall_ and _Kent_. And each time her attack was met by
resolute and accurate fire by the Germans. As the German ships began
to separate, _Glasgow_ headed off to the right towards _Dresden_,
once more coming under the broadside fire of _Leipzig_. It must be
remembered that _Glasgow_ only had two 6-inch guns, only one of
which--the bow gun--could be employed in these conditions, and that the
_Leipzig’s_ 4.2’s completely outranged her 4-inch. It appears to be a
universal practice with the Germans to mount all their guns from the
largest to the smallest, so that they can be used at extreme elevation.
It will be remembered how the _Koenigsberg_ showed the most perfect
accuracy of fire at nearly 11,000 yards with guns of a calibre that in
pre-war days few in the British Service would have thought it possible
to employ at greater range than 7,000 or 8,000 yards. These efforts
of _Glasgow_ to manœuvre _Leipzig_ into contact with Cornwall, gave
_Dresden_ a chance she was not slow to take. She was much the fastest
of all the German craft, and managed, between four and five, to slip
completely out of sight and escape.

This escape was made easier, and all the shooting throughout the two
cruiser actions was made much more difficult by the sudden change in
the weather that has already been noted as having begun shortly before
4 o’clock. A drizzling rain had set in, and not only had it become
practically impossible to use rangefinders owing to the poor light, but
it became extremely hard to detect the fall of shot and so correct the
fire. In considering these two fights then, the extremely difficult
conditions that prevailed must be taken into account. Let us deal first
with the pursuit and destruction of _Nürnberg_.


“KENT” V. “NÜRNBERG”

At 5 o’clock _Kent_, after a chase of nearly four hours, was getting
within range of _Nürnberg_. _Nürnberg_ had crept away to the eastward
of _Leipzig_, so that by the time fire was opened, a considerable
distance separated this from the other engagements. In point of fact,
when the action began, the rain and increasing mist hid every other
ship from sight. It was _Nürnberg_ which was first to open fire and,
so far as could be judged, the range must have been about 11,000 yards
or slightly over. _Kent_ held her fire for another ten minutes, as if
waiting to see what the _Nürnberg’s_ guns could do at this range. She
could of course, only use her two guns on the quarter-deck, and the
after gun on the port side. To the astonishment of the _Kent_ all her
first salvoes were right over. The range would have been a long one
for a 6-inch gun; it seemed almost fabulous for a 4.2. Ten minutes
later _Kent_ opened with her bow turret, and for the next half hour
an active duel was maintained. The _Kent_ had sheered off a little
to the left so as to bring her forward casemate guns also to bear.
There was no doubt about the _Nürnberg’s_ shots falling over close,
and the _Kent’s_ guns seemed from the ship to be fairly on the target.
But for a considerable time there was no evidence that they were
hitting, and _Kent_ was certainly not suffering from _Nürnberg’s_ fire,
astonishingly accurate as it was. But suddenly, soon after half-past
five, _Kent_, who was keeping up a speed of nearly a knot more than she
had ever done before, began to gain enormously on her opponent. The
range had been over 11,000 yards at 5 o’clock; by twenty minutes to six
it got almost down to 7,000. It was obvious that _Nürnberg’s_ motive
power had somehow come to grief. Had one of _Kent’s_ shells landed in
her engine, or had one of the boilers, under the strain of so many
hours’ high pressure, given way?

Whatever the cause, the results were exactly what Captain Allen
was looking for. If the light had been bad at five it was getting
worse every minute, and if the business was to be finished it had to
be finished quickly. With the shortening range, the effect of the
British lyddite was soon visible, and _Nürnberg_ had no alternative
but to repeat the manœuvre of Von Spee and turn broadside to for her
assailant. _Kent_ turned too, and not this time to lengthen the range,
but to bring her whole nine broadside guns to bear. In point of fact,
she closed the range as rapidly as she could, consistently with keeping
all her guns bearing, and by 6 o’clock had reduced it to 3,000 yards.
_Nürnberg_ was now a beaten ship. She had one topmast gone; her funnels
were riddled; her speed had fallen from twenty-four knots at 5 o’clock
to about eighteen at a quarter to six, and now almost to ten. Of the
five guns on her port side only two were in action. Shortly after this
she turned bows on to the _Kent_, and was at once caught by several
6-inch shells in the forecastle, which smashed up both the bow guns,
shattering the bridge and conning-tower. Ever since the turn at a
quarter to six, _Kent_ had kept ahead of her, though shortening the
range, doubtless with an eye to the possibilities of _Nürnberg_ using
a torpedo. When, therefore, at 6:10 she was almost stopped and seemed
beaten, _Kent_ passed her and pushed on to about 5,000 yards to await
developments. Shortly after six, _Nürnberg_ ceased fire altogether, and
seemed a wreck. But her colours were still flying, and it was necessary
to fire at her again. Just before seven she hauled down her colours
and surrendered. Both ships were now at a dead stop, and _Kent_ got
out her boats as far as she could to take possession of the enemy.
But, as Captain Allen told the Association of Kentish Men in his very
interesting letter about the action, the ship had received no less than
thirty-six hits during the short but decisive engagement, and though
she had been singularly fortunate in losing very few men--four men
killed and twelve wounded--all her boats but two were in splinters,
and both of these needed repairs before they could be used. They were,
however, manned and lowered as quickly as possible, but they were
hardly on their way towards the _Nürnberg_, some two miles off, when
the enemy was seen to turn slowly on her side and sink. As she went
below the waves, some of her gallant crew were seen on the stern waving
the German ensign defiantly. For an hour and a half, that is until some
time after dark, the _Kent’s_ two boats searched for survivors. Only
seven were saved alive. Some were lashed to hammocks and gratings,
and others were swimming. But in the extreme cold the great majority
perished. One account of this dismal episode that has been sent to me
says that the albatrosses were actually attacking the living as well as
the dead in this last melancholy scene.

[Illustration: Plan of action between _Kent_ and _Nürnberg_, and of
that between _Cornwall_ and _Glasgow_ and _Leipzig_]


“CORNWALL” AND “GLASGOW” V. “LEIPZIG”

We have seen in the account of the _Kent_ and _Nürnberg_ action that
up to 4 o’clock cruisers of both sides kept fairly well together, and
that then the Germans opened out. It was shortly after this that they
got out of sight of each other. _Kent_ pursued _Nürnberg_ in a more
easterly direction, the _Glasgow_ and _Cornwall_ pursuing _Leipzig_
more to the south. In order to bring the _Leipzig_ to action _Glasgow_
was sent forward on the _Cornwall’s_ left, which made Leipzig, while
still of course retreating as fast as she could, turn slightly
towards _Cornwall_ and transfer her fire to her. All three ships were
now firing, but the shots were falling short, until at about 4:20
_Cornwall_ made the first hit on the enemy, carrying away his foremast.
This made the enemy edge away to the right, a move which was followed
by _Cornwall_ also. The range was now shortening. When it was 8,000
yards _Leipzig_ made her first hits. _Cornwall_ thereupon altered
course still more to starboard thus bringing about two effective
results. The whole broadside of guns came in play, and the change of
course threw out _Leipzig’s_ fire control. Both ships kept on these
courses, and the range increased again to nearly 10,000 yards. As we
have previously seen, it was at this time that the weather began to
get really thick, and as a consequence of this it became exceedingly
difficult to see the fall of shot, but it is worth remembering that
_Leipzig_ was still hitting with her 4.2’s. Shortly after 5 o’clock,
however, the range reached over 10,000 yards, and it became necessary
to close once more. Between five and a quarter to six _Cornwall_, that
had now clearly got the speed of _Leipzig_, carried out precisely the
same tactics that the Vice-Admiral had adopted in the case of the
battle-cruisers. Alternately, that is to say, closing the enemy at full
speed, shelling him with the fo’c’sle guns, and then turning sharply to
starboard to bring the whole broadside to bear. At about a quarter to
six _Leipzig_ landed a shell in _Cornwall’s_ paint room, which shook
the ship but did no damage. Captain Ellerton now decided to shorten the
range and use lyddite shell. In the half hour between a quarter to six
and a quarter past the range was brought down to about 8,500, and by
about 6:40 it was reduced to 7,000. A far better proportion of hits was
now being obtained, and the effect of the lyddite became immediately
apparent. First one and then another of _Leipzig’s_ guns ceased firing,
and by ten minutes to seven a big fire started forward. A few minutes
before _Cornwall_ had heard the news by wireless of the sinking of
_Scharnhorst_ and _Gneisenau_, and officers and men redoubled their
efforts. The range was closed still more, the hitting became more
intense, but the enemy in spite of his losses and damages kept every
gun that could still work firing, and was actually hitting _Cornwall_
frequently right up to five minutes past seven, but in another five
minutes two of her funnels were gone and the ship was blazing fore and
aft.

_Cornwall_ thereupon ceased fire, expecting the enemy to strike his
colours, but he did not do so. So _Cornwall_ closed about 5,000 yards
and gave her a few more salvoes of lyddite. At a quarter to eight
there was a loud explosion on board _Leipzig_ and her mainmast went
over the side. At 8:12, it was of course dark by now, she sent up
signals of distress. Both _Cornwall_ and _Glasgow_ now lowered boats
as fast as they could be repaired and manned, but they were not able
to reach the enemy until after 9 o’clock, and before they did so the
ship turned over and sank. Only six officers and nine men were rescued
from the water. Heavy as the casualties must have been, there were in
all probability more than these unwounded at the end of the action,
and all of those not killed, wounded as well as unwounded, might have
been saved, for the ship was not actually in a sinking condition from
_Cornwall_ and _Glasgow’s_ fire, and had been sunk by the orders of her
own officers.

_Cornwall_ was hit eighteen times, but did not suffer a single
casualty. _Glasgow_ had one man killed and five wounded. One of the
_Leipzig’s_ officers said that from a quarter past six till seven, that
is when the range had been brought down to about 7,000 yards, some
rounds out of every salvo fired hit the ship. The effect of the lyddite
appears to have been appalling. Men were blown to pieces and the ship
was littered with ghastly fragments and relics of humanity. When the
ship could reply no more, for there was no ammunition left for such
guns as might still have been worked, the captain called the survivors
together and said any one who liked could go and haul the flag down,
but he would not do it. Nor did any one volunteer. About fifty jumped
overboard, and when the ship sent up signals of distress there were
only eighteen left alive on board. All but one of them were saved.


D. ACTION WITH THE ENEMY TRANSPORTS

“A report was received at 11:27 A.M. from H.M.S. _Bristol_ that three
ships of the enemy, probably transports or colliers, had appeared off
Port Pleasant. The _Bristol_ was ordered to take the _Macedonia_ under
his orders and destroy the transports.

“H.M.S. _Macedonia_ reports that only two ships, steamships _Baden_ and
_Santa Isabel_, were present; both ships were sunk after the removal of
the crew.”

It is not clear from this what became of the third ship. But there were
persistent rumours in various South American ports that the Germans
had, in the course of the autumn, collected a very considerable number
of trained reservists from the different South American States and
cities, and had got them on board a transport with arms, etc., so as to
be ready for any military purpose the naval commander-in-chief might
select. It is exceedingly probable that the reason Von Spee did not
appear off the Falkland Islands till five weeks after his defeat of
Admiral Cradock was that he had had to spend a considerable time in
getting these reservists ready for action. It certainly is quite clear
that on December 8th he arrived off the Falkland Islands intending
to attack, and it is far more probable that he intended to attack,
seize, and annex the colony than merely to subdue and rob it. To
seize and annex he would have needed troops, and the third transport
that _Macedonia_ did not find when she got _Santa Isabel_ and _Baden_
probably contained the men destined to hold the colony. That the
British Admiralty expected some attack of this kind is shown from the
fact that _Canopus_, after being ordered north, was told to return to
the Falkland Islands and to do the best possible for the defence of the
colony. The only military strength possessed by the colony was three
hundred volunteers who had had very little training and practically
no arms beyond rifles. _Good Hope_ had left a field-gun when passing
at the beginning of October, but of other artillery there was none.
The seizure of the island, then, by Von Spee’s force of five ships,
supplemented by a regiment of reservists, was a perfectly feasible
project. Had it succeeded and the island been left with an adequate
supply of machine and field guns, to resist a landing, it would have
been an extremely difficult job to have turned them out. For with guns
properly emplaced, the ships’ artillery could have done very little
to protect landing parties, and Admiral Sturdee’s ships carried no
sufficient surplus of men for it to have been practicable to incur a
heavy sacrifice of life to regain the island. So far as this adventure
was concerned the whole thing miscarried through being a week too late.



CHAPTER XV

BATTLE OF THE FALKLAND ISLANDS (IV)


STRATEGY--TACTICS--GUNNERY

Von Spee’s mistakes we have seen in the course of my comment on the
narrative. They were broadly fourfold. Three arose from an inability to
realize from the very beginning the true character of the situation,
the fourth from want of resolution to fight an unequal action on the
only conditions in which any success was to be gained.

Von Spee’s initial blunder was approaching the Falkland Islands with
the whole of his force instead of making a _reconnaissance_ by a
single fast, light cruiser. It was obvious that he could gain nothing
by surprise. For it was beyond the power of the colony to extemporize
defence. It was equally obvious that he stood to lose everything if
he was himself surprised. And however improbable it might have seemed
to him that a force superior to his had reached the Falkland Islands
by this date, he should yet have realized that there was nothing
impossible in such a force being there very much earlier. For from the
North Sea to the Falkland Islands is only a little over 7,000 miles. He
might have credited the British Admiralty with a willingness to avenge
Cradock’s defeat and with ingenuity enough to arrange the most secret
coaling of any force that was sent out. When all allowances were made,
there should have been no difficulty in battle-cruisers reaching the
South Atlantic three weeks after they were despatched. Nor was there
any reason why the despatch should be delayed more than two weeks after
the news of the disaster.

If _Gneisenau_, instead of turning away when the tripod masts of the
battle-cruisers were seen, had persisted in the advance towards _Kent_;
had _Scharnhorst_ joined her at top speed, it is morally certain that
_Kent_ and _Macedonia_ would have been destroyed before either of the
battle-cruisers could come to their rescue. It would not have been
difficult to have found dead ground that the guns of _Canopus_ could
not reach, and from such a point to have subjected the battle-cruisers
to a most damaging succession of salvoes, as they emerged from the
narrow channel, before there was any possibility of their replying.
It was indeed possible that the motive power of each might have been
so injured that a pursuit by the battle-cruisers would have been
impossible. At the worst, Von Spee would have paid no higher price
than he ultimately paid, and he might have won an exchange entirely
beneficial to German arms. Certainly, an action fought in these
conditions would have given ample time for the light cruisers to make
their way into the winding and uncharted fjords of Patagonia. Here
_Dresden_ maintained herself for many weeks, and who knows but that the
others might have lasted longer still? Had it been possible for the
three to keep together they would have been formidable opponents for
any single cruiser in search of them. Had they scattered and been able
to maintain their coal supply, they could have held up British trade
for a considerable time.

Just as Von Spee missed this real opportunity, so, later on, he first
of all kept his light cruisers with him far too long, and then,
throughout the action, accepted battle far too much on Admiral
Sturdee’s conditions. But the initial mistake was the greatest.


BRITISH STRATEGY

The battle of the Falkland Islands was an event of enormous importance
and interest, and I propose to discuss a few of its more obvious
bearings. Let us first consider its immediate direct and indirect
effects upon the course of the war. The overseas naval situation at
the end of October, while not in the larger sense at all threatening
or dangerous, afforded nevertheless grounds for very great anxiety.
_Emden_ had made a series of sensational captures in the Bay of Bengal
and the Indian Ocean. _Karlsruhe_ was working havoc with the British
trade off the northeast corner of South America. The German China
squadron had evaded the Japanese and British and Allied fleets in
the East, and _Australia_ and her consorts had obtained no news of
its whereabouts when cruising between the Antipodes and the German
islands. A few British ships had been taken by _Dresden_ on her passage
down to the Straits of Magellan, and the public was entirely without
information which led them to suppose that either Von Spee or any of
the raiding cruisers were the subject of any effective pursuit. Though
the loss of ships by hostile cruisers was absurdly smaller than experts
had anticipated, it was quite large enough to disconcert and alarm
the public, who knew, after all, very little about the character of
those anticipations. Suddenly in the first week of November came two
thunderclaps. Admiral Cradock, with a preposterously weak force, had
been engaged and been defeated by the lost Von Spee. Of the four ships
composing his squadron, the armed liner _Otranto_ and the light cruiser
_Glasgow_ had escaped, but _Good Hope_ and _Monmouth_ had gone down,
lost with all hands. Then on November 3rd came the bombardment of
Lowestoft by certain German cruisers. It was the first attack of any
kind on the people of these islands, and it was hastily explained to
us by the Admiralty--and quite rightly--that the thing was without a
military objective or military importance, and as if to forestall naval
criticism, we were further told that it would not be allowed to disturb
any previously made Admiralty plans. We were asked to believe that it
was a mere piece of frightfulness.

But it is not certain that this was the only motive of the adventure.
May it not have been done in the express hope that the British higher
command, face to face with a shocked and outraged public opinion,
would hesitate about diminishing those forces at home which were best
calculated to intercept and bring to action the fast vessels which
alone could be employed with any chance of safety on these bombarding
expeditions? Is it not more than possible that the German staff,
knowing the prospects of the rebellion in South Africa, was most
desperately anxious to give Von Spee an added chance of crossing the
Atlantic in security and lending the tremendous support of his squadron
to the German forces in South-West Africa, who, with this added
prestige, could be counted upon to attract all the disaffected South
African sentiment to its side? Were not these bombardments, in short,
undertaken solely to compel us to keep our stronger units concentrated?

Whether this was the German plan or not, let it stand to the credit of
the Fisher-Churchill _régime_ that no fear, either of public opinion
or as to the success of future raids, stood in the way of dealing
promptly with the Von Spee menace. It should undoubtedly have been
dealt with long before. It was a blunder that Jerram’s force was not
overwhelmingly superior to Von Spee’s; a blunder that he had not
been instructed to shadow him from the beginning. Cradock’s mission
ought never to have been permitted. But now that fate had exposed
these errors of policy, the right thing at last was done. Yet it must
have taken some nerve to do it. The British forces in the North Sea
had certainly been greatly strengthened since the outbreak of war.
_Agincourt_, _Erin_, _Canada_, _Benbow_, and certain lighter units
had joined the Grand Fleet. _Tiger_ was finished and commissioned as
part of the Battle-Cruiser Fleet under Sir David Beatty. This gave him
four battle-cruisers of a speed of twenty-eight knots and armed with
13.5 guns, in addition to the four of an older type--_New Zealand_,
_Indomitable_, _Invincible_, _Inflexible_. To take two of these and
send them after Von Spee reduced this force very considerably, but it
was probably thought that the addition of _Tiger_ left Sir David strong
enough for the main purpose. After victory had been won a month later,
rumours were prevalent that a third battle-cruiser had been despatched
westward as well, but this has never been confirmed. But on the main
point, namely, the vital importance of sending an adequate force for
the pursuit and capture of Von Spee, the strategical decision was
indisputably right.

Its value can be judged by the immediate results of the victory.
Between November 1st and December 8th it is almost true to say that
British trade with the west coast of South America was at a standstill.
On the east coast things were very little better. For if shippers
were still willing to send their ships to sea, it was only on the
receipt of greatly enhanced freights. Immediately after the victory
Valparaiso shipping put to sea as if no war was in existence, and all
Pacific and South Atlantic freight fell immediately to normal. Even
the escape of _Dresden_ did not qualify the universal sense of relief.
The repercussion in South Africa was equally prompt. The rebellion
in the Anglo-Dutch colonies had been put down. But to embark on the
conquest of German South-West Africa was a different thing altogether,
and certainly one that could not be attempted so long as there was the
least suspicion of insecurity in General Botha’s sea communications.
And while Von Spee was at large this insecurity was obvious. One of the
direct results then of the despatch of Admiral Sturdee to the South
Atlantic was to make the first military invasion of German territory
both possible and ultimately successful.

Apart from its immediate results in the way of relieving British trade
in South America and removing the last obstacle to active British
military policy in South Africa, the Falkland Islands engagement was
of enormous value not only in re-asserting the prestige of the British
Navy, but in giving fresh heart to all the Allies after the exhausting
struggles to defeat the German advances on the French capital and
Calais. It was especially the first definite proof the Alliance had
received that British sea-power was no vague and shadowy thing, but a
real force which, rightly and relentlessly employed, must ensure the
ultimate victory of Allied arms. These were its good sides.

It had one lamentable and disastrous consequence. _Emden_ was captured
before the battle-cruisers left their English port. _Karlsruhe_ was
never heard of again, and the rumours of her destruction seemed before
December to be well founded, so that after the victory of December
8th, beyond the fugitive _Dresden_ and two armed liners unaccounted
for, there was not a German ship in the world to threaten a single
British trade or territorial interest. For _Koenigsberg_, if she had
escaped the guns of the two ships that had attempted her destruction
in the mouth of the Rufigi, which was doubtful, was at any rate so
closely blockaded that her power for active mischief was clearly at an
end. German naval force was then limited to the High Seas Fleet, still
of course intact, but with apparently no wish to attempt an active,
and no power to make an effective, offensive. Of this force Sir John
Jellicoe seemed to have taken the measure. Four months of activity,
strenuous and anxious beyond description, had made our fleet bases
proof against submarine attack, so that the only offensive open to the
German fleet, that embodied in the policy of attrition, was no longer a
menace. The submarine attack on trade was unexpected. At a blow, then,
Whitehall, which for four months had been kept on tenterhooks by its
unpreparedness for cruiser or submarine warfare, suddenly found itself
without a naval care in the world.

But Mr. Churchill could not be idle, and the tempter planted in his
fertile brain the crazy conception that the unemployed and unemployable
fleet should add to his laurels, by repeating, on the Dardanelles
forts the performances of the German howitzers at Liège, Maubeuge,
and Antwerp. The failure of the Naval Brigade at Antwerp was to be
picturesquely avenged. In judging of the results of the Falkland
Islands battle then, we must set against its immediate and resounding
benefits the humiliating tragedy of Gallipoli.


THE TACTICS OF THE BATTLE

The battle of the Falkland Islands, as we have seen, resolved itself
into three separate engagements, and two of these may be taken as
classic examples of the tactics of superior speed and armament,
unconfused by the long-distance torpedo. It was this theory of tactics
that held the field in England from 1904 or 1905, when the Dreadnought
policy was definitely adopted, until 1912 or 1913 when the effect in
naval action of the new torpedo, was first exhaustively analyzed. These
actions, then, taken in conjunction with the _Sydney_-_Emden_ fight,
stand entirely by themselves, and it is possible that very little naval
fighting will ever take place again under similar conditions.

At the Dogger Bank and off the Jutland Reef the torpedo was employed
to the fullest extent, with results that we shall see when we come to
consider these actions. We have of course, no direct statement that
no torpedoes were employed in the Falkland engagements. Indeed in a
modified way the torpedoes certainly had some influence. But there is
the whole world of difference between torpedoes fired singly from one
warship to another, and torpedoes used both in great quantities and by
light craft which, under the defensive properties of their speed, can
close to ranges sufficiently short to give the torpedo a reasonable
chance of hitting, or, by taking station ahead, can add the target’s
to the torpedo’s speed to increase its range. We shall be broadly
right then in treating these engagements as affairs of gunnery purely,
for the torpedo had seemingly no influence in the periods that were
decisive.

Briefly put, what were the tactics of Admiral Sturdee with the
battle-cruisers, and Captain Ellerton with _Cornwall_ and _Glasgow_ on
December 8th? Their business was to destroy an enemy far weaker than
themselves, one who had neither strength enough to fight victoriously
nor speed enough to fly successfully. Both followed the same plan.
They employed their superior speed, first to get near enough for their
heavier guns to be used with some effect, and then, whenever the enemy
tried to close, to get to a range at which his inferior pieces could
be expected to get a considerable percentage of hits, they manœuvred
to increase the range so as to keep the enemy at a permanent gunnery
disadvantage. As this long-range fire gradually told, the enemy’s
artillery became necessarily less and less effective, until he was
reduced to a condition in which he could be closed and finished off
without taking any risks at all. These tactics resulted in _Gneisenau_
and _Scharnhorst_ being destroyed by _Invincible_ and _Inflexible_, the
whole crews of both German ships being either killed or captured, while
the two battle-cruisers had three casualties only. _Invincible_ was
actually hit by twenty-two shells, _Inflexible_ by only three, and it
was the latter ship who had the only three men hit. _Cornwall_ received
eighteen direct hits and, like _Invincible_, had no casualties at all,
while _Glasgow_ had one man killed and five wounded.

Obviously an action could not be fought upon these lines unless time
and space sufficed in which to bring about the desired result. In point
of fact, when the disparity of force is considered, the time taken was
extraordinary. _Inflexible_ opened fire on the German cruisers at five
minutes to one, _Scharnhorst_ sank at seventeen minutes past four, and
_Gneisenau_ just after 6 o’clock. If we suppose only twelve 12-inch
guns to have been bearing throughout the action, we have one hundred
12-inch gun hours! There was time therefore--at a battle-practice rate
of fire--for both ships to have fired away their entire stocks of
ammunition at least dozens of times over. What they did, of course, was
to fire extremely deliberately when the target was within range and
the conditions suitable, and to cease fire altogether when they were
manœuvring.

In the _Cornwall_-_Glasgow_-_Leipzig_ action, fire was opened at about
4 o’clock, and it was not till about 7:8 that the enemy was beaten. An
hour afterwards he sent up signals of distress and surrendered. Here
there were eleven 6-inch guns in the two British broadsides, and five
4-inch, against a handful of 4.25. The disparity in force was perhaps
not quite so great as in the battle-cruiser action, but these things
are difficult to compare, and from all accounts 6-inch lyddite, once
the hitting begins, does not take long to put a light cruiser of the
_Leipzig_ class completely out of action.

Captain Allen’s action against _Nürnberg_ is in very sharp contrast to
this. He opened fire at 5 o’clock, some few minutes after the enemy
had attacked him. The range was about 11,000 yards, and for some time
no apparent damage was done. At 5:45, however, though _Nürnberg_
seemed still undamaged, the range was reduced by 4,000 yards, owing to
_Nürnberg’s_ sudden loss of speed. There then followed twenty minutes
of action at ranges between 6,000 and 3,000, and these sufficed to
finish the enemy off altogether. It may be objected to Captain Allen’s
tactics that he received twice as many hits as the _Cornwall_ and had
twelve men wounded and four killed. But as Admiral Sturdee points
out in his despatch these casualties were almost entirely caused by
a single chance shell that burst in a gun position, right amongst
the crew. No one in any of the very exposed positions--control tops,
rangefinder positions, etc.--was even touched. Too much, therefore,
must not be made of the casualties, for in this matter chance enters
too largely for safe deductions to be made. _Invincible_, for instance,
received twenty-two hits without a single casualty, _Inflexible_ three
hits and three casualties. _Cornwall_ and _Kent_ were sister ships,
and if the gun shields of _Kent_ were unable to protect one crew, any
one of the eighteen shells that hit _Cornwall_ might have done equal
damage to that suffered by _Kent_. The value, as it seems to me, of the
_Kent_-_Nürnberg_ example lies in this, that for all practical purposes
exactly the same result was obtained, at the same cost, in one hour--of
which twenty minutes was at almost point-blank range--in this action,
as was got by two ships in three hours in the _Leipzig_ action, and by
two battle-cruisers in five hours in the battle cruiser action.

It would be a mistake to assume that we see a new contrast in methods
in these engagements. _Kent_ certainly followed the Nelsonian
tradition. He closed with his enemy at top speed, and got not only
the full artillery value of his attack, by making hitting easier and
therefore more certain, but won what is hardly less valuable, the vast
moral advantage of giving his enemy no breathing time at all. There are
fifty parallels to this, of which Trafalgar is in fact only the supreme
example. Given a superior force of guns--obtained by Nelson by the
concentration of the whole of his fleet on the centre and rear of the
enemy--the tactical plan is to be found in the method of bringing these
guns to do their work in the shortest possible time.

We can find many exact parallels to Admiral Sturdee’s tactics in the
war of 1812, for the Americans employed them against us with the
utmost success on several occasions. Indeed, it was these victories
that led first to a practical revival of gunnery skill--brought about
with such effect by Broke--and later to Sir Howard Douglas’s effort to
create a scientific study of gunnery in the British Navy. It is now
nearly a hundred years since his historic work on naval gunnery was
published. His father had been one of Howe’s captains and had invented
an important improvement in naval guns. The son entered the Artillery,
and his education, no less than his family tradition, made him both an
interested observer and a very competent critic of the naval gunnery
of the period. He had, in his own words, witnessed “the triumphant and
undisputed domination of the British marine,” after the victories of
Nelson had swept continental fleets from the sea, and then, seven years
after Trafalgar, he had seen this triumphant navy utterly humiliated by
the Americans in the war of 1812. He analyzed the causes both of the
triumph and the humiliation, and was, perhaps, the first to lay down
the most important of all maxims of naval doctrine--then and still also
the most neglected.

He pointed out how, in the later years of the Republic, practical
gunnery amongst French seamen was so wretched that strongly manned
ships were seen “employing batteries of twenty or thirty guns against
our vessels without more effect than might easily have been produced by
one or two well-directed pieces. Indeed in some cases, heavy frigates
used powerful batteries against our vessels for a considerable time
without producing any effect at all.” Thus, the victories of the
Nelsonian era were made possible because of the great disparity between
the two forces in gunnery skill, and it was this disparity that made
it possible to adopt the tactics by which the victors got their great
successes. Victory was won by superior skill and tactics founded upon
its employment. And in the hour of victory we forgot its conditioning
cause.

“We became,” says Douglas, “too confident by being feebly opposed, and
then slack in warlike exercises, by not being opposed at all. And,
lastly, in many cases inexpert for want of even drill practice. And
herein consisted the great disadvantage in which, without suspecting
it, we entered, with too great confidence, into a war with a marine
much more expert than that of any of our European enemies. Comparative
views of warlike skill, as well as of bulk and force ... are necessary
to correct analysis of naval actions.”

In the course of his work he made a very detailed analysis of the
actions between the _Macedonian_ and the _United States_, the
_Guerriere_ and the _Constitution_, the _Shannon_ and the _Chesapeake_,
and the _Java_ and the _Constitution_. In the three instances in which
the Americans were victorious, they owed success to no superiority in
the handling of their ships, but to a combination of longer-range guns
and a much higher accomplishment in marksmanship and tactics designed
to keep outside the range of British effective fire. In none of the
three cases could any criticism be based upon the bravery of any of the
British officers and crews. All were, in fact, honourably acquitted by
court martial. But it was obvious in each case that had the gunnery
skill been equal, while the difference in armament might ultimately
have been decisive, the enemy would have had to pay very dearly indeed
for victory. In each case, in point of fact, the victor’s losses were
trivial. Amongst these, the action between _Shannon_ and _Chesapeake_
stands out just as the _Kent_ and _Nürnberg_ action stands out in
the Falkland Islands. Broke, in the first very few minutes of the
engagement, established a complete fire ascendancy over _Chesapeake_,
and had he chosen, could have hauled off and pounded her into
submission without risking the life of a single one of his men. But, as
in the first instance, he had relied upon close action, trusting with
perfect confidence to the skill and marksmanship of his well-trained
crew, so after he had got _Chesapeake_ out of control, he chose the
quickest path to victory. He ran straight alongside and boarded her
without a moment’s delay. As at Trafalgar, so here we see the British
commander pre-occupied with one thought only--to bring the enemy to
action as soon as possible and to finish the business quickly and
decisively. So long as this is ensured, there is no thought of losses
nor any hesitation in risking the ship.

Why was there any other tactical conception? It arose, as we have just
seen, in the war of 1812 and was spontaneously reproduced in 1905,
and in both cases it was the product of a new skill in long-range
gunnery. In 1812 there was the choice in armament, long range and short
range that existed in 1905, but with this striking difference. The
long-range gun of a century ago might be an eighteen or twenty-four
pounder, but it was far heavier for the weight of shell it used than
the short-range carronade. There was therefore a distinct temptation
to arm ships with a lighter gun that would be more effective at close
range, and the mistake was not discovered till the greater skill of
the American ships made it clear that the long gun, in a ship rightly
handled, could prevent the short-range gun from coming into action at
all. But in our own day the pride of length of reach goes with the
heavier projectile. Not that the 12-inch guns of _Inflexible_ and
_Invincible_ literally outranged the 8.2’s of Von Spee, for the Germans
have always mounted their guns, as we have seen, so that they can be
elevated far more greatly than our own. It is quite possible therefore,
that, speaking literally, Von Spee’s 8.2’s, as they were mounted, might
have outranged Sir Doveton Sturdee’s 12-inch. But at the extreme
range of the 12-inch, it would be almost impossible for the 8.2’s to
hit on account of the extremely steep angle at which the shot falls,
and, consequently, the high accuracy in range knowledge required and
the improbability of the gun shooting with perfect precision at such
extreme distances. But both in 1812 and now, the basic idea behind
seeking for a long-range decision is defensive. Captain Glossop opened
up the range when _Emden_ closed him and got the advantage of his
heavy artillery. Admiral Sturdee kept the range as long as possible to
save his ships from being hit. Captain Ellerton did his best to keep
_Cornwall_ and _Glasgow_ out of _Leipzig’s_ reach. In all these cases
there was a very obvious argument in favour of defensive tactics.
_Sydney_, _Glasgow_ and _Cornwall_, _Inflexible_ and _Invincible_
were all at very great distances from dockyards and possibilities of
repairs. The two battle-cruisers were a considerable percentage of
our total Dreadnought force. It was not a question of risking their
destruction; it might at any moment be vital for them to be immediately
ready for action. If possible, even the shortest period devoted to
repairs and docking should be avoided. These considerations do not
excuse defensive tactics; they may be said to have imposed them. But
this should not blind us to the fact that they were defensive.

And this leads to another interesting question. Von Müller in _Emden_
began the action by trying to close _Sydney_. Von Spee turned at right
angles at one o’clock to shorten the range. _Nürnberg_ finally turned
round to bring her broadside to bear on _Kent_, but she was too late.
_Leipzig_ never turned at all. In no case did the German commanders
persist in seeking a short-range action. Cradock apparently did nothing
to close Von Spee at Coronel. What would have happened if Von Spee and
Von Müller had stuck to their resolution to close? In all these cases,
as we have seen, the weaker side accepted the stranger’s conditions.
But it was not necessary that it should have been so. A resolute effort
to close at full speed would no doubt throw a broadside of guns out of
action, just as flight did. But would the stronger ships have run away
had the weaker persisted in attacking? If they had held their course,
there would have been a very considerable change of range, in itself a
defensive element favouring the weaker ship. We can take it for granted
that no effort to close would ultimately have saved the weaker ship in
any case. But--and this seems to me to be the vital point--would not
his chance of seriously damaging the stronger have been far higher? And
is not this the one thing that should preoccupy the weaker force when
compelled to engage?

Finally, two entirely new elements in naval fighting in our own time
distinguish it from the fighting of the early days of last century.
With ships dependent upon wind, if the chance of engaging was lost, it
might never recur.

In all Nelson’s letters, memoranda, and sayings, he is haunted by the
vital importance of swift decision and rapid and resolute action. The
whole spirit behind the Trafalgar Memorandum is impatience of delay.
When the Allied Fleet was seen, there was no time wasted in securing
symmetrical formations or order. The Fleet was roughly grouped as
Nelson intended it should be, and the only preliminary of action was
not a race to get into station but a race to get to grips with the
enemy. The cult of the close action was thus a direct outcome of the
haunting uncertainty as to whether the fighting ship would be able
to move or not. This has all been changed by steam. Admiral Sturdee,
for instance, at 10:20, 11:15, and 12:20 knew perfectly well that he
could have the Germans in his grip and finish the thing off in five
minutes whenever he liked. If he played with them as a cat plays with
a mouse, it was because he knew that he had time on his side. But time
will not always be on the side of what is for the moment the stronger
force. The enemy may be heading for protection or may be expecting
reinforcements, or the light may suddenly fail altogether. In spite of
steam, therefore, the desirability of a quick decision is really as
paramount in modern conditions as in the old days. So that, had the
problem of action never been complicated by the long-range torpedo, we
ought, as soon as we began the cultivation of long-range gunnery, to
have realized that it was useless to limit our skill to conditions in
which the target ship and the firing ship were keeping steady courses.

A further argument against closing the range in modern conditions has
been put forward. Just as the change from sails to steam has helped the
tactician of to-day, so the altered relation of the destructive power
of the weapon and the resisting power of the ship has operated to his
disadvantage. _Lion_, for instance, in the Dogger Bank affair, was
knocked out by a chance shot that killed no men and did no vital injury
to the ship at all. But it cut the feed pipes of an engine, and in two
minutes the ship was disabled and for the purposes of that action,
useless. Only small damage could be done to sailing ships by a shot
amongst the masts and rigging. And when to a single shot there is added
the risk of a torpedo, it must be admitted that the arguments against
closing are stronger to-day than they were.


A POINT IN NAVAL ETHICS

The conduct of Cradock and his captains at Coronel, of Von Müller in
_Emden_, and of the captains of _Gneisenau_, _Leipzig_, and _Nürnberg_,
raises an interesting point in the ethics of war. Captain Glossop, it
will be remembered, after driving _Emden_ on to the rocks at Direction
Island, had to return towards Keeling Island to look for the _Emden’s_
tender. When he came back with certain prisoners on board, he appealed
to Von Müller to surrender. No reply was given, and the prisoners on
board the _Sydney_ informed Captain Glossop that no surrender would be
made. It therefore became necessary to open fire again. This brought
about the hauling down of the German flag. _Gneisenau_ had lost 600
killed out of a crew of eight or nine hundred when, at 8:40, she
hauled down her flag. _Leipzig_ and _Nürnberg_ were in a similar case.
_Bluecher_ was similarly defeated long before she was sunk. Both _Good
Hope_ and _Monmouth_ were apparently out of action within five minutes
of action beginning. Now in each instance it is obvious that fighting
was carried on, and that therefore men were sacrificed, long after
the ship was hopelessly beaten. But in many cases not only was the
fighting carried on, so to speak, gratuitously, but the ship herself
scuttled, thus ensuring the drowning of several wounded men and risking
the drowning of a very large number of unwounded. In all, taking the
_Emden_, _Gneisenau_, _Nürnberg_, _Leipzig_, and _Bluecher_ together,
it is not improbable that over 1,000 lives were thus thrown away to
no immediately military purpose. The alternative was to surrender
the ship. Why is it taken for granted that no ship, however fairly
defeated in action, however hopeless further resistance, may not quite
honourably yield herself a prize to the enemy? It is an entirely new
doctrine, unknown in an age surely not inferior in naval skill, in
military spirit, or in chivalrous feeling. Does it date from the howl
of execration that went up in Russia when, after the flower of the
Russian fleet had been defeated at Tsushima, Nebogatoff surrendered his
archaic craft to the overwhelming force of the victors?

So far as I know it was in that war that the great break with the old
tradition was made. The old tradition, of course, was that a ship that
had fought till it could fight no longer could be surrendered to a
victorious enemy without shame. The records of the wars of a century
ago abound in courts-martial on officers who in these circumstances had
yielded a beaten ship, and they were always honourably acquitted, when
it was shown that all that was possible had been done. It was evidently
thought to be mere inhumanity to condemn a crew that had fought bravely
to death by fire or drowning. Not that there are not grim stories that
tell of a sterner resolution, like that of Grenville in the _Revenge_.

But on the whole the navy that had done more fighting than any
other, and in the period of its existence when its fighting was most
continuous, took what is at once a rational and a Christian view of
these situations. Now it seems that war at sea dooms those who have
fought unfalteringly to finish the business, when they can fight
no longer, by a savage self-immolation. It is the only alternative
to allowing the enemy the glory of a capture. Is this, after all,
an intolerable humiliation? To find it so is a break with the old
tradition and is not an innovation for the better. It sets up a pagan
standard, and it is not the paganism of the stoic, but the unfeeling
barbarism of the Choctaw.



CHAPTER XVI

THE HELIGOLAND AFFAIR


Towards the end of August, 1914, the submarines under Commodore Roger
Keyes discovered a _rôle_ of quite unexpected utility. Their immediate
function had been to watch the approaches to the Channel, so as to stop
any attempt by the German Fleet to interfere with the transport of the
Expeditionary Force into France. In doing this, they found that they
had exceptional opportunities for observing the enemy’s destroyers
and light craft, and, as soon as the safety of the transports seemed
assured, they constituted themselves the most efficient scouts
possible. They soon found themselves in possession of an extensive
knowledge of the habits of the Germans. It was this knowledge that led
to the decision to sweep the North Sea up to Heligoland and cut off as
many of the enemy’s light craft, destroyers, and submarines as possible.

The expedition included almost every form of fast ship at the
Commander-in-Chief’s disposal. First the submarines were told off
to certain stations, presumably to be in a position to attack any
reinforcements which might be sent out from Wilhelmshaven or Cuxhaven.
Then, in the very earliest hours of the morning, the two light cruisers
_Arethusa_ and _Fearless_ led a couple of flotillas of destroyers into
the field of operations. The _Arethusa_ flew the broad pennant of
Commodore Tyrwhitt. The _Fearless_ was commanded by Captain Blount.
The two flotillas, with their cruiser leaders, swept round towards
Heligoland in an attempt to cut off the German cruisers and destroyers
and drive them, if possible, to the westward. Some miles out to the
west, Rear-Admiral Christian had the squadron of six cruisers of the
_Euryalus_ and _Bacchante_ classes ready to intercept the chase.
Commodore Goodenough, with a squadron of light cruisers, attended
Vice-Admiral Beatty, with the battle-cruisers, at a prearranged
rendezvous, ready to cut in to the rescue if there was any chance of
_Arethusa_ and _Fearless_ being overpowered.

The expedition obviously involved very great risks. It took place
within a very few miles of bases in which the whole German Fleet of
battleships and battle-cruisers was lying. It was plainly possible that
the attempt to cut the German light cruisers off might end in luring
out the whole Fleet, and one of the conditions contemplated was that
Admiral Beatty, instead of administering the quietus to such German
cruisers as survived the attentions of the two Commodores, might find
himself condemned to a rearguard action with a squadron of German
battleships. That he took this risk cheerfully, well understanding the
kind of criticism that would meet him, if in the course of such an
action he lost any of his ships, was the first indication we got of the
fine fighting temper of this Admiral.

_Arethusa_, _Fearless_, and the destroyers found themselves in action
soon after seven o’clock with destroyers and torpedo-boats. Just
before eight o’clock two German cruisers were drawn into the affray,
and _Arethusa_ had to fight both of them till 8:15, when one of them
was drawn off into a separate action by _Fearless_, which in the
ensuing fight became separated from the flagship. By 8:25 _Arethusa_
had wrecked the forebridge of one opponent with a 6-inch projectile,
and _Fearless_ had driven off the other. Both were in full flight for
Heligoland, which was now in sight. Commodore Tyrwhitt drew off his
flotillas westward. He had suffered heavily in the fight. Of his whole
battery only one 6-inch gun remained in action, while all the torpedo
tubes were temporarily disabled. Lieutenant Westmacott, a gallant
and distinguished young officer, had been killed at the Commodore’s
side. The ship had caught fire, and injuries had been received in the
engines. _Fearless_ seems now to have rejoined, and reported that the
German destroyer Commodore’s flagship had been sunk. By ten o’clock
Commodore Roger Keyes, in the _Lurcher_, had got into action with the
German light cruisers and signalled to the _Arethusa_ for help. Both
British cruisers then went to his assistance, but did not succeed in
finding him. All _Arethusa’s_ guns except two had meantime been got
back to working order.

At eleven o’clock _Arethusa_ and _Fearless_ engaged their third enemy,
this time a four-funnelled cruiser. _Arethusa_, it must be remembered,
still had two guns out of action. The Commodore therefore ordered
a torpedo attack, whereupon the enemy at once retreated, but ten
minutes later he reappeared, when he was engaged once more with guns
and torpedoes, but no torpedo hit. The Commodore notes an interesting
feature of this cruiser’s fire: “We received a very severe and most
accurate fire from this cruiser. Salvo after salvo was falling between
twenty and thirty yards short, but _not a single shell_ struck.” We
shall find this happened several times in the different engagements.
The Commodore continues: “Two torpedoes were also fired at us, being
well directed but short.”

[Illustration: The action off Heligoland up to the intervention of
Commodore Goodenough’s Light Cruiser Squadron]

At this point the position was reported to Admiral Beatty. This cruiser
was finally driven off by _Fearless_ and _Arethusa_, and retreated
badly damaged to Heligoland. Four minutes after, the _Mainz_ was
encountered. _Arethusa_, _Fearless_, and the destroyers engaged her
for five-and-twenty minutes, and when she was in a sinking condition
Commodore Goodenough’s squadron came on the scene and finished her off.
_Arethusa_ then got into action with a large four-funnelled cruiser at
long range, but received no hits herself, and was not able to see that
she made any.

It was now 12:15. _Fearless_ and the first flotilla had already been
ordered home by the Commodore. The intervention of the battle-cruisers
was very rapid and decisive. The four-funnelled cruiser that had been
the last to engage _Arethusa_ was soon cut off and attacked, and within
twenty minutes a second cruiser crossed the _Lion’s_ path. She was
going full speed, probably twenty-five knots, and at right angles to
_Lion_, who was steaming twenty-eight. But both _Lion’s_ salvoes took
effect, a piece of shooting which the Vice-Admiral very rightly calls
most creditable to the gunnery of his ship. The change of range must
have been 900 yards a minute. I know of no parallel to this feat,
though it must be remembered that the range was short. _Lion’s_ course
was now taking her towards known mine-fields, and the Vice-Admiral
very properly judged that the time had come to withdraw. He proceeded
to dispose of the cruiser he first attacked--which turned out to be
_Köln_--before doing so.

The expedition had been a complete success. Three German cruisers had
been sunk and one destroyer. Three other cruisers had been gravely
damaged, and many of the German destroyers had been hit also. Our
losses in men were small, and we lost no ships at all. _Arethusa_ had
perhaps suffered most, though some of the destroyers had been pretty
roughly handled. But all got safely home, and none were so injured but
that in a very few days or weeks they were fit again for service.

The affair was in every respect well conceived and brilliantly carried
out. The two essential matters were to begin by employing a force
sufficiently weak to tempt the enemy to come out, and yet not so small
nor so slow a force as to risk being overwhelmed. If something like a
general action amongst the small craft could be brought about, the plan
was to creep up with a more powerful squadron in readiness to rescue
the van, if rescue were necessary, at any rate to secure the final and
immediate destruction of as many of the enemy’s ships as possible. But
there was no squadron fighting at all. Goodenough’s light cruisers, and
Beatty’s battle-cruisers did, no doubt, keep in formation, but they
found no formed enemy. There were no obvious tactical lessons.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the business is to be found not
in what did happen, but in what did not. The German Commander-in-Chief
must have known long before eight o’clock in the morning that fighting
was going forward within five-and-twenty or thirty miles of him. He
could have got to the scene with his whole force before ten o’clock.
But beyond sending in a few more light cruisers and U-boats, he appears
to have done nothing either to rescue his own ships or to attempt to
cut off and sink ours. It is more than probable that he suspected the
trap that was indeed laid for him. But the opportunity had been given
of appearing in the North Sea in force, and the opportunity was not
taken. It seemed very clear to most observers after this that the
German Fleet would not willingly seek a general action, or even risk
a partial action in the North Sea, except under conditions entirely
of their own choosing. It seemed obvious that if such action was not
sought in the early days of the war, it certainly would not be sought
later, when the balance of naval power would be turning increasingly
against them.

The battle-cruisers in this action had some exciting adventures with
submarines. They had, for instance, to wait for some hours before the
moment came for their intervention, and while at the rendezvous they
were repeatedly attacked by them. From the Vice-Admiral’s despatch,
it would appear that this attack was frustrated partly by rapid
manœuvring, partly by sending destroyers to drive the U-boats off.
Later in the day, when the squadron was engaged in sinking _Köln_ and
_Ariadne_, it was once more attacked by submarines, and _Queen Mary_
(Captain W. R. Hall) turned his ship, not to avoid the submarine, but
its torpedo, which was seen approaching. We got very early warning,
therefore, of the truth of the prophecy that the first result of
the employment of the torpedo in fleet actions would be compulsory
movements of the attacked ships. It was a prompt reminder that if
manœuvring meant loss of artillery efficiency, that the enemy had it
in his power, by submarine and destroyer onslaughts, to extinguish our
gunfire from time to time.

Alone of the actions which have taken place in this war, the firing
was all within comparatively short range. Six thousand yards was the
limit of visibility. There are not sufficient data to judge whether
the British gunnery was greatly superior to the German. But Commodore
Tyrwhitt draws attention to a fact, already familiar to us, viz. that
a German cruiser can send salvo after salvo, all within a few yards of
the target, without securing a hit. It proved later to be a feature
common to all engagements.

[Illustration: The action off Heligoland. The course of the
battle-cruisers]


THE NORTH SEA

The engagement off Heligoland had no successor until the spring of
1916, when the attack on the island of Sylt took place. A second sweep
some days after the first was made in the same waters, but nothing of
the enemy was seen. Whether such sweeps were repeatedly made in 1915
without the public being informed, we do not know. By this I do not
imply that no incursions into German waters were made--I mean only that
we heard of none, and presumably that, if any were made, there was no
result.

But two points in this connection may be borne in mind. The affair off
Heligoland took place on August 28, 1914. After losing three cruisers
by exposing them to Sir David Beatty’s and Commodore Goodenough’s
forces, the Germans managed their affairs very differently. Perhaps
from this time on no German craft ventured into the North Sea at all,
except when the whole fleet came out in force. And they did not come
out in force very often, nor at all, except at night or when the
weather was clear enough for the fleet’s scouts, either in the form of
airships, destroyers, or cruisers, to give long warning of the presence
of danger. The two raiding expeditions and Von Hipper’s excursion of
January 28 are undertakings of a very different character.

_The Bombardments._--Whatever the explanation, there was no more
fighting in home waters for exactly five months, but the Germans made
two expeditions in force right across to the English shores. Early
in November a squadron of cruisers appeared off Yarmouth, fired at
the _Halcyon_, let off some rounds, without doing any damage, on the
town, and retreated precipitately, dropping mines as they went. A
British submarine unfortunately ran foul of one of these and was lost
with all hands at once. _Halcyon_, perhaps the smallest and least
formidable vessel that ever crept into the “Navy List”, engaged the
enemy imperturbably when they fled, losing one man from a fragment of
shell, though practically unhurt herself. Private letters speak of
salvoes falling short and over in the most disconcerting manner, and of
the ship being so drenched with water as to be in danger of foundering.
The old story of the very accurate, but ineffective, fire of the German
ships, was thus repeated. But no official or detailed information
on this subject has been given. In December a second and much more
successful raid was made. Scarborough, the Hartlepools, and Whitby
were bombarded by a squadron, whose composition was never officially
announced. The American papers have printed letters from Germany
stating that the _Von der Tann_ and _Moltke_, the _Yorck_ and the
_Bluecher_, with smaller cruisers, constituted the force. The visitors
to Hartlepool experienced the hospitality of that flourishing port in
its warmest form. The garrison artillery dealt faithfully with _Von
der Tann_, and her disappearance was credibly attributed to injuries
sustained in a collison, which damage to her steering gear, effected
by the north country gunners, had prevented her evading. The squadron
that bombarded Yarmouth made off in the thick weather. It was obvious
from the terms in which the Admiralty announced the fact that the
bombardment had taken place that it was considered quite certain that
they could not escape a second time. Unfortunately, however, they did;
but they lost the _Yorck_ by a German mine when re-entering harbour.
The details of the arrangements made for anticipating them were quite
properly kept secret, but it became known that a sudden fog explained
why these arrangements did not succeed.

Both in the case of the Yarmouth and the Scarborough raids the enemy
appeared at daylight. He had evidently crossed the North Sea during
the night. From Whitby to the mine-fields off Heligoland is about 275
miles, a distance which each of the ships employed could cover quite
comfortably in thirteen or fourteen hours. Had the squadron left
Heligoland an hour before dark it could have fetched the English coast
by daylight, hardly using more than three-quarter power. If it started
for home at 8:30 it would have nine hours of daylight before it. At
twenty-five knots 225 miles could be covered. This would bring them
within fifty or sixty miles of the minefields, and it is probable that
at some greater distance from Heligoland than this a rendezvous for
submarines and destroyers had been arranged.

These raids were doubtless planned on the theory that the
battle-cruiser fleet would be based on some point so far north that no
difference in speed between the British and German ships would enable
the former to overtake them before the mine-fields, or at least the
waiting submarines and destroyers were met. And it may well have been
hoped that an exasperated English Admiral, if he came up with them
then, would not willingly give up the hope of an engagement. It may
have seemed a very feasible operation to draw him either on to the
mines themselves or within range of the submarines. It is, it seems to
me, not difficult to reconstruct the German plan for both the Yarmouth
and the Whitby raids.

It has often been pointed out--and with perfect justice--that in
shelling open and undefended towns, and even a commercial port like
Hartlepool that did have a 6-inch gun or two to defend it, the
Germans were employing their fleet to no _immediate_ military purpose
whatever. It has been suggested that there might have been the very
excellent military object of keeping our battle-cruisers in home waters
and so securing Von Spee a free hand abroad. What has not been so
often insisted on is that had there been any military centre, fort,
or magazine worth attack, the fugitive character of the bombardments
robbed them of any probable hope of hitting it.

There have been ample experiences during this war of ships bombarding
distant objects on shore. And it is finally proved to be one of the
most difficult operations conceivable. The case of the _Koenigsberg_
was altogether exceptional. And many as were the difficulties to be
faced in that action, there was yet this favourable element present,
that the people in the aeroplanes could not possibly make any mistake
as to the target that was to be bombarded, nor from the fact that it
was a small ship lying in a considerable expanse of water could the
observers, spotting all the different rounds, fail to give to the
fire-control parties on board very accurate indications how to correct
their sights for the next round. At the Dardanelles when isolated forts
were attacked on a point on land, where one ship could lie off nearly
at right angles to the line of fire and mark the fall of shot and the
firing ship correct the fire for line, exact corrections of the same
character as at the Rufigi were made possible. But when it came to
correcting the fire by captive balloons and aircraft, when forts and
gun positions had to be picked out in the folds of the hills, and still
more where forts had to be engaged with no other corrections than the
men in the control tops of the firing ship could supply, it became
practically impossible to ensure sustained effective firing.

When, therefore, the German ships lay off Lowestoft, Hartlepool,
Whitby, and Scarborough and bombarded for half an hour or so without
any attempt to select particular targets, or if such were selected,
to adopt any scientific means of directing their fire on to them, it
became perfectly clear that their military object was about as defined
as that of midnight bombing raids with Zeppelins. One is driven to the
conclusion, therefore, that the primary object of these adventures was
mere frightfulness, and that perhaps the secondary object was to draw
the pursuing ships into some catastrophic trap.



CHAPTER XVII

THE ACTION OFF THE DOGGER BANK


The two bombardments of the early winter of 1914 have been variously
explained. They may have been meant to force us to keep our main forces
concentrated: or simply to cheer up the Germans and depress our people.
Both were organized so that the German squadron could start its race
for home within an hour of daybreak.

It is more difficult, however, to explain the events of January 28. The
precise point where Sir David Beatty encountered Admiral von Hipper’s
fleet has not been authoritatively made known, but it seems to have
been on the northeastern edge of the Dogger Bank. They were encountered
at seven o’clock in the morning. Von Hipper’s presence at this point
cannot, then, explain his being out on an expedition analogous to the
former two. And I have some difficulty in understanding exactly why he
took this risk. It is, of course, possible the Germans had had reports
to the effect that the North Sea was clear on the 27th. It may have
been so reported on several occasions, and it is possible that aircraft
had verified this fact, when the weather permitted of their employment
for this purpose. The Germans, who are fond of jumping to conclusions
on very insufficient premises, may have exaggerated the effect of their
submarine campaign on British dispositions. We know, for instance, that
the alarm undoubtedly felt by the public in September and October was
very greatly exaggerated in the German press. At any rate, immediately
after the battle of the Falkland Islands a good deal of rodomontade
appeared about the British being driven from the North Sea, and the
German seamen may have felt bound to act as if this rodomontade were
true. Or a much simpler explanation may suffice. Von Hipper may have
come out to look for the British ships and draw them into prepared
positions and to engage them on the German terms. The defeat of Von
Spee may have made a naval demonstration necessary.

Whatever the explanation of the Germans being where they were, it was
only by mere chance that they escaped annihilation. Had Sir David
Beatty--as it might well have happened--been to the east of them when
they were sighted, not a single German ship would ever have got home.
It was unlucky, too, that his squadron was temporarily deprived of the
services of the _Queen Mary_. A fourth ship of a speed superior to that
of _Lion_, _Tiger_, and _Princess Royal_, and armed like them with 13.5
guns might have made the whole difference in the conditions in which
the fight took place. Besides, _Queen Mary_ was much the best gunnery
ship in the Fleet. Once more, then, the Germans had quite exceptional
luck upon their side.

The moment Von Hipper’s scouting cruisers found themselves in contact
with Commodore Goodenough’s squadron the German battle-cruisers turned
and made straight for home at top speed. They had a fourteen-miles’
start--say, six miles beyond effective gun range--of the British
squadron, and Admiral Beatty settled down at once to a stern chase at
top speed. The chase began in earnest at 7:30, the Germans, fourteen
miles ahead, steering S.E., the British ships on a course parallel to
them, the German ships bearing about twenty degrees on the port bow.
In an hour and twenty minutes the range had been closed from 28,000
yards to 20,000. Von Hipper was evidently regulating the speed of
his squadron by that of the slowest ship, _Bluecher_. Admiral Beatty
disposed of his fleet in a line of bearing, so that there should be
a minimum of smoke interference, and the flagship opened fire with
single shots to test the range. In ten minutes her first hit was made
on the _Bluecher_ which was the last in the German line. _Tiger_ then
opened on the _Bluecher_, and _Lion_ shifted to No. 3, of which the
range was 18,000 yards. At a quarter past nine the enemy opened fire.
Soon after nine, _Princess Royal_ came into action, took on _Bluecher_,
while _Tiger_ took No. 3 and _Lion_ No. 1. When _New Zealand_ came
within range, _Bluecher_ was passed on to her. This was at about 9:35.
So early as a quarter to ten the _Bluecher_ showed signs of heavy
punishment, and the first and third ships of the enemy were both on
fire. _Lion_ was engaging the first ship, _Princess Royal_ the third,
_New Zealand_ the _Bluecher_, while _Tiger_ alternated between the
same target as the _Lion_ and No. 4. For some reason not explained the
second ship in the German line does not appear to have been engaged at
all. Just before this the Germans attempted a diversion by sending the
destroyers to attack. _Meteor_ (Captain Mead), with a division of the
British destroyers, was then sent ahead to drive off the enemy, and
this apparently was done with success. Shortly afterwards the enemy
destroyers got between the battle-cruisers and the British squadron
and raised huge volumes of smoke, so as to foul the range. Under cover
of this the enemy changed course to the northward. The battle-cruisers
then formed a new line of bearing, N.N.W., and were ordered to proceed
at their utmost speed. A second attempt of the enemy’s destroyers
to attack the British squadron was foiled by the fire of _Lion_ and
_Tiger_.

The chase continued on these lines more or less for the next hour, by
which time the _Bluecher_ had dropped very much astern and had hauled
away to the North. She was listing heavily, was burning fiercely, and
seemed to be defeated. Sir David Beatty thereupon ordered _Indomitable_
to finish her off, and one infers from this, the first mention of
_Indomitable_, that she had been unable to keep pace with _New
Zealand_, _Princess Royal_, _Tiger_, and _Lion_, and therefore would
not be able to assist in the pursuit of the enemy battle-cruisers.

The range by this time must have been very much reduced. If between
7:30 and 9:30 a gain of 10,000 yards, or 5,000 yards an hour, had been
made, between 9:30 and 10:45 a further gain of 6,250 yards should
have been possible, if the conditions had remained the same. But with
_Bluecher_ beaten, the German battle-cruisers could honourably think
of themselves alone. Unless their speed had been reduced by our fire,
while we ought to have gained, we should hardly have caught up so
much as in the first hour and a half. But there had, besides, been
two destroyer attacks threatened or made by the enemy, one apparently
at about twenty minutes to ten, and one at some time between then
and 10:40. It is highly probable that each of these attacks caused
the British squadron to change course, and we know that before 10:45
the stations had been altered. Each of these three things may have
prevented some gain. Still, on the analogy of what had happened in
the first two hours, we must suppose the range at this period to have
been at most about 13,000 yards. At six minutes to eleven the action
had reached the first rendezvous of the German submarines. They
were reported to and then seen by the Admiral on his starboard bow,
whereupon the squadron was turned to port to avoid them. Very few
minutes after this the _Lion_ was disabled.

[Illustration: The Dogger Bank Affair. Diagram to illustrate the
character of the engagement up to the disablement of _Lion_]

What happened from this point is not clear. We know that as Sir David
stopped he signalled to _Tiger_, _Princess Royal_, and _New Zealand_
to close on and attack the enemy. _Bluecher_ had been allotted to
the _Indomitable_ some twenty minutes before. The squadron passed
from Admiral Beatty’s command to that of Rear-Admiral Sir Archibald
Moore. In a very few minutes it was, of course, out of sight of the
Vice-Admiral himself. Sir David called a destroyer alongside and
followed at the best pace he could and, soon after midday, found
the squadron returning after breaking off the pursuit some seventy
miles from Heligoland. _Bluecher_ had been destroyed, but the three
battle-cruisers had escaped. Of the determining factors in these
proceedings we know little. Such data as there are will be examined in
the next chapter.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE DOGGER BANK II


There are several matters of technical and general interest to be
noted about this action. In the two torpedo attacks by destroyers on
Sir David Beatty’s fleet, we see the first employment of this weapon
for purely defensive purposes in a fleet action. It is defensive, not
because the torpedo is certain to hit, and therefore to remove one
of the pursuing enemy, but because if shoals of torpedoes are fired
at a squadron, it will almost certainly be considered so serious a
threat as to make a change of course compulsory. This is of double
value to the weaker and retreating force. By compelling the firing
ships to manœuvre, the efficiency of the fire control of their guns
may be seriously upset, and hence their fire lose all accuracy and
effect. To impose a manœuvre, then, is to secure a respite from the
pursuers’ fire. But it does something more. By driving the pursuer
off his course he is thrown back in the race, and his guns therefore
kept at a greater distance. If the pursuer has then to start finding
the range, and perhaps a new course and speed of the enemy, all over
again, an appreciable period of time must elapse before his fire once
more becomes accurate. And if he is prevented closing, the increase
of accuracy, which shorter range would give, is denied him. Apart
altogether, then, from quite good chances of a torpedo hitting, the
evolution is of the utmost moment to the inferior force. It was
employed in this action for the first time.

Again, for the first time we find the destroyers getting between the
pursuing ships and the chase, and creating a smoke screen to embarrass
the pursuers’ aiming and fire control. Finally, we find that Von
Hipper has directed his flight to a prearranged point, where certainly
submarines had been gathered and possibly mine-fields had been laid.
This of course was a contingency that had always been foreseen. In an
article published in the _Westminster Gazette_ a week or two before the
action, I dealt with Von Tirpitz’s remark, that “the German Fleet were
perfectly willing to fight the English, if England would give them the
opportunity,” and interpreted this to mean, that the Germans would be
willing to fight if they had such a choice of ground and position as
would give them some equivalent for their inferior numbers. And writing
at that time, I naturally set out what may be called the general view
of North Sea strategy. No good purpose would have been served by
questioning it--even if such questioning had been permitted. Nor, in
view of the very narrow margin of superiority that we possessed in
capital ships, had I any wish to question it.

I began with the supposition that the enemy might attempt, on a
big scale, exactly what, on a much smaller scale, we ourselves had
attempted in the Bight of Heligoland five months before.

“Assuming,” I said, “that it is a professed German object to draw
a portion of the English Fleet into a situation where it can be
advantageously engaged, what would be the natural course for them
to pursue? The first and perhaps the simplest form of ruse would be
to dangle a squadron before the English Fleet, so that our fastest
units should be drawn away from their supports, and enticed within
reach of a superior German force. If we suppose the Scarborough raid
to be carried out by a squadron used for this purpose, we must look
upon that episode not merely as an example of Germany practising its
much-loved frightfulness, but as an exercise in wiliness as well. That
the Admiralty had taken every step it could think of to catch and
destroy this squadron, we may safely infer from the character of the
communications made to us. The measures adopted were, we also know,
frustrated by the thick weather, so that no engagement actually took
place. Is it not highly probable that the Germans, not knowing the
character of the English counter-stroke, may have concluded that our
failure to bring their squadron to action was brought about quite as
much by prudence as by ill-luck? At any rate, it is rather a curious
phenomenon that the German papers during the last two weeks have been
filled with the most furious articles descanting upon the pusillanimity
of the British Fleet. To our eyes such charges, of course, seem absurd,
nor when we know how welcome the appearance of the German Fleet in
force would be to Admiral Jellicoe and his gallant comrades can we
conceive any sane man using such language; but if we interpret this as
the expression of disappointed hopes, as evidence of the failure of a
plan to catch a portion of our Fleet, a reasonable explanation of what
is otherwise merely nonsense is afforded.

“The average layman probably supposes that a fleet action between the
English Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet would be fought
through on the lines of previous engagements in this war, and of the
two naval battles of the Russo-Japanese war. They would expect the
contest to be an artillery fight in which superior skill in the use of
guns, if such superiority existed on either side, would be decisive;
and if equality of skill existed, that victory would go to the side
possessing a superior number of guns of superior power. But other
naval weapons have advanced enormously in the last eight years. We not
only have torpedoes that can run five and six miles with far greater
accuracy and certainty than the old torpedo could go a third of this
distance, but we know that Germany--almost alone amongst nations--has
carried the art and practice of sowing mines to a point hitherto
not dreamt of. When the first raid was made on Yarmouth, it will be
remembered that the German ships retreated from a British submarine,
and that the submarine ran into and was blown up and sunk by a mine
left by the German ship in its wake. Again, after the North-Eastern
raid, many ships--some authorities say over a dozen--were blown up by
running into German mines left in the waters which the raiders had been
through. The German naval leaders are perfectly aware that in modern
capital ships they have an inferiority of numbers, and that gun for gun
their artillery force is inferior to ours in an even greater degree.
It is certain, therefore, that in thinking out the conditions in which
they would have to fight an English fleet they are fully determined to
use all other means that can possibly turn the scale of superiority
to their side. Just as they have relied on the torpedo and the mine
to diminish the general strength of the English Fleet, while it was
engaged in the watch and ward of the North Sea, so as to redress the
balance before the time for a naval action arrived; so, too, they have
counted, when actually in action, on crippling and destroying English
ships by mines and torpedoes, so that the artillery preponderance may
finally be theirs. If we suppose that the German admirals have really
thought out this problem, and we must suppose this, it is not difficult
to see that with a fast advance battle-cruiser squadron engaged in mine
laying, the problem of so handling a fleet as to pursue and cut off
this squadron without crossing its wake must be extremely intricate
and difficult. If further we imagine that this fast squadron has drawn
the hostile squadron towards its own waters, where mine-fields unknown
to us have been laid, we have not only the problem of the mines left
in the wake of the enemy, but the further difficulty of there being
prepared traps, so to speak, lying across the path which the attacking
squadron would most naturally take. If we imagine the problem still
further complicated by an attack on a battleship line by flotillas of
fast destroyers firing high-speed, long-range torpedoes, to intersect
the course that that squadron is taking, we have the third element
of confusion. It does not need much imagination then to see that
with mines actually dropped during the manœuvres that lead up to or
form part of the battle, with mine-fields scattered over the chosen
battlefield, and with the possibility of a battle fleet being rendered
liable at the shortest notice to a massed attack of long-range torpedo
fire, a naval battle will be a totally different affair from the
comparatively simple operations that took place in the engagement of
August 10, or at the battle of Tsushima.

“Such conditions as these demand extraordinary sagacity on the part
not only of the Commander-in-chief, but of all the squadron commanders
under him. It requires insistent vigilance; but then, for that matter,
such vigilance is the daily routine of the Navy always. Finally, it
makes demands on the art of gunnery of which we have hitherto had no
practical experience at all. For reasons that hardly need discussion,
all practice gunnery is carried out in conditions almost ludicrously
unlike war, and quite absurdly unlike the kind of naval engagement that
seems to me probable. The principal difference between the two is that
it is impossible to practise with the big guns at a fast target. There
is no way of manœuvring and running a target at high speed unless it
is propelled by its own power, and that power is kept supplied and is
got by human agents, and obviously you cannot fire at a ship which is
full of people. And when you fire at a towed target the differences
are, first, that no target can be towed beyond perhaps a third of a
battleship’s speed, and next, that it cannot be manœuvred as a ship
can. Lastly, the firing ship, so far as I am aware, is never called
upon to fire while executing the kind of manœuvres, or subject to the
kind of limitations, that would be incident to a modern battle.

“To sum up my argument. The present indications are that Germany,
carrying out its previously expressed intentions, has made a first, and
is now aiming at getting the information for a second, attempt to draw
the English Fleet into fighting on ground which she can mine before we
are drawn on to it, and to fight in conditions in which she can use a
fast advance squadron to compel our ships to adopt certain manœuvres,
and to turn that advance squadron into mine-layers, so as to limit
our movements or make them exceedingly perilous. She will try to make
the battlefields as close as she can to her own ports, both so as to
facilitate the preliminary preparation by mines and to surprise us with
unexpected torpedo attacks. I interpret the fulminations of Captain
Persius and others as expressions of their anger at the failure of
their first attempt, and I interpret the air raids as attempts to get
information for making a second.

“We can, I am sure, rely upon Sir John Jellicoe being at no point
inferior to his enemy, either in wiliness or in resources. It is to be
remembered that, so far as we are concerned, much as we should like
to have all anxiety settled by hearing of the definite destruction of
the German Fleet, its continued existence is nevertheless perfectly
innocuous, _so long as it is unable to affect the transporting of our
troops or the conduct of our trade_.”

The foregoing article, I think, fairly represents what the _Spectator_,
in referring to it, called the case for “naval patience.” But it did
not mean, nor was it intended to mean, that it would be improper
in _any_ circumstances for a British ship to face _any_ risks from
torpedoes and mines, nor that to fight the Germans in their own waters
was necessarily the same thing as fighting them on their own terms. It
is indeed clear that I expected the British commanders to be more their
equal to circumventing the enemy’s ingenuity. But no resource can rob
war of risk--and if it were made a working principle that risks from
torpedoes and mines were _never_ to be faced, then the clearing of the
British Fleet out of the North Sea would be a very simple process. It
would only be necessary for the enemy to send out a score or so of
submarines to advance in line abreast when, _ex hypothesi_, the Fleet
would have no choice but incontinent flight.

My object was first to show the public that the problem of the naval
engagement was far more complicated than was generally supposed,
and that the ingenuity, resource, and vigilance of the Admiral in
command would be taxed. It seemed to me important that a sympathetic
understanding of these anxieties should be created in the public mind.
Next, however, it was not less important to discount any extravagant
expectation in the matter of naval gunnery. We had not at that time
any full accounts of the Battle of the Falkland Islands; but it seemed
clear that, in this respect, the performance of the two battle-cruisers
had been disappointing. If in the North Sea an action was to be fought
in poor light, with the ships made to manœuvre by torpedo attack and
the enemy from time to time veiled in smoke screens, it seemed quite
certain that a task would be set to the service fire-control with which
it would be quite unable to deal.

And if these were the weaknesses of our fire-control, it was further
highly desirable to keep before our eyes the certainty that, if the
opportunity arose and a fleet action, intended to be decisive and
pushed to a decision, took place, we were almost bound to lose ships by
torpedoes and mines. At any rate, it seemed as if such a risk _must_ be
run if our own gunfire was to be made effective. And for such losses
the public should be prepared.

This being the situation, it seems to me most unfortunate that the
Admiralty followed the course they did in communicating their various
accounts of this action to us. For there were three accounts given, and
no two of the three agreed as to the reason why the pursuit was broken
off! For two days we were not told that _Lion_ was injured, and for
four days were ignorant of the fact that the control of the British
Fleet had passed out of Sir David Beatty’s hands some time before the
action was ended. It was not till March 3--that is, five weeks after
the action--that we were told the name of the officer on whom command
had devolved when _Lion_ fell out of line! This suppression was really
extraordinary. To be mentioned in despatches had always been an
acknowledged honour. To be ignored was a new form of distinction. How
was the public to take so singular an omission? Had it ever happened
before that an officer had been in command of a fleet at so grave a
crisis and the fact of his being in command suppressed in announcing
the fact of the engagement? No one quite knew how to take it. The
discrepancies in the _communiqués_ are worth noting. In the first, of
January 25, was this curiously worded paragraph:

“A well-contested running fight ensued. Shortly after one o’clock
_Bluecher_, which had previously fallen out of the line, capsized and
sank. Admiral Beatty reports that two other German _battle-cruisers_
were seriously damaged. They were, however, able to continue their
flight, and reached an area where dangers from German submarines and
mines prevented further pursuit.”

Did whoever drafted this statement suppose that the _Bluecher_ was a
battle-cruiser? We are now, however, more concerned with the reasons
given for breaking off the action. An area was reached where “dangers
from German submarines and mines prevented further pursuit.” The
_communiqué_ of January 27 was silent on this point. On the 28th was
published what purported to be “a preliminary telegraphic report
received from the Vice-Admiral.” The paragraph dealing with this matter
is as follows:

“Through the damage to _Lion’s_ feed-tank by an unfortunate chance
shot, we were undoubtedly deprived of a greater victory. The presence
of the enemy’s submarines subsequently necessitated the action being
broken off.”

In this statement the excuse of mines is dropped. In the despatch
published on March 3 the end of the action is treated by the
Vice-Admiral as follows:

“At 11:20 I called the _Attack_ alongside, shifted my flag to her at
about 11:35. I proceeded at the utmost speed to rejoin the squadron,
and met them at noon retiring north-northwest. I boarded and hoisted my
flag in _Princess Royal_ at about 12:20, when Captain Brock acquainted
me with what had occurred since _Lion_ fell out of line, namely, that
_Bluecher_ had sunk, and that the enemy battle-cruisers had continued
their course to eastward in a considerably damaged condition.”

Here observe no mention was made of submarines necessitating the action
being broken off, nor of an area being reached where dangers from
submarines and mines prevented further pursuit. The whole incident
is passed by the Vice-Admiral without comment, unless indeed the
phrase about the accident to the _Lion_, in the telegraphic report,
is a comment. Did the Vice-Admiral imply that had he remained in
command he would have seen to it that his specific orders--viz. that
_Indomitable_ should settle _Bluecher_ and the other ships pursue the
battle-cruisers--were carried out?

A very unfortunate situation resulted from these reticences and
contradictions. Naval writers in America were naturally enough amazed
by the statement attributed to Admiral Beatty in the telegraphic
report, for, if the presence of submarines could stop pursuit, could
not submarines drive the British Fleet off the sea? These authors
naturally expressed extreme astonishment that an admiral capable of
breaking off action in these conditions, and publicly acknowledging so
egregious a blunder, was not at once brought to court-martial. No one
in his senses could have supposed that Sir David Beatty, who dealt
with submarines without the least concern in the affair of Heligoland
and earlier in the day on January 28, could possibly have accepted
the dictum that the presence of a German submarine would justify
pursuit having been broken off. It was then quite evident that the
quotation from the Vice-Admiral’s telegraphic report could not have
represented the Vice-Admiral’s opinion on a point of warlike doctrine.
What the actual facts of the case were, we do not to this day know.
Rear-Admiral Moore did not continue long in Sir David Beatty’s squadron
after this, but there was no court-martial nor any public expression
of the Admiralty’s opinion by way of approval or disapproval of his
proceedings. In a speech made a month after the action in the House of
Commons, Mr. Churchill passed over the fact that the action had not
been fought out, as if such a thing was of no exceptional importance or
interest whatever. Soon afterward it became known that the Rear-Admiral
in question had got another and very important command elsewhere, so
that it became plain that his conduct had not met with their Lordships’
reprobation.

War in modern conditions undoubtedly makes it exceedingly important to
keep the enemy as far as possible in ignorance of a great many things.
It imposes too a continuous strain upon practically the whole personnel
of the Navy, and these two things taken together have been quoted to
explain why the old rule of holding a public court-martial on the
captain of every ship that was lost, or on every individual officer
whose action in battle gave rise to uncertainty or question, has
virtually been abrogated. But it is doubtful whether the Navy has not
lost more by the abandonment of this wholesome practice than the enemy
could have gained by its Spartan application.

This point came in for a good deal of public discussion at the
beginning of 1915, and I venture to quote a contribution to it. Looking
back upon this controversy, it is easy enough to see now wherein lay
the chief disadvantage of the suppression of courts-martial. There was
no general staff at the Admiralty, representative of the best Service
opinion, and, deprived of court-martial, the Navy had no means of
expressing a corporate judgment on the vital issues as they arose. The
doctrine with regard to torpedo risk, which seems to have been acted
on at the close of this action, was evidently one which either the
Admiralty had laid down, or at least accepted as correct. Could it
have been referred to the corporate judgment of the Service and had
that judgment not endorsed it, the history of the war might have been
altogether different.

Mr. Churchill’s speech in the official reports is entitled ‘British
Command of the Sea: Admiralty Organization.’ It would have been as
well if this description had been given out before the speech was
made, for, as it happened, many thought it was intended as a survey
of the first epoch of the war and were disappointed that, in so
eloquent and forceful a review, there was hardly a word of tribute to
the incomparable services of our officers and men. There was lavish
praise of the generosity of the House of Commons; of the foresight
of Lord Fisher; of the excellence of the Admiralty’s preparedness at
every point; of the amazing scale and success of the provisioning with
coal and supplies of a vast fleet always at sea; of the astonishing
perfection of the work of the engineering branch. But there was
singularly little of the work of the fighting men. The officers were
dismissed simply as ‘painstaking.’ No doubt the tribute will be made
at another time. Is there any time, however, which is not the right
time for acknowledging these services? On Tuesday we learned that
between 300 and 400 officers have died for us--and over 6,000 men.
Is it gracious to postpone their eulogy? And the absence of eulogy
was emphasized by the forceful manner in which the First Lord asked
that he and his colleagues should be entrusted with the most absolute
and dictatorial powers. Indeed, he excused the departure from the
Service custom of holding courts-martial whenever a ship was lost on
the ground that modern conditions called for instant action, with
which courts-martial were incompatible. But the court-martial, as I
have before pointed out, is the palladium of the Navy’s liberties. To
abolish it is like suspending the Habeas Corpus. It is so extreme a
measure because it ignores the great unwritten law of the Navy, which
is that, in spite of the authority of Whitehall over the Navy, of an
admiral over a fleet, and of a captain over a ship’s company, being
necessarily and in each case absolute, yet there must always be an
appeal from authority to the profession itself. If this is necessary
for the protection of subordinate officers and men against arbitrary
action by a captain, against arbitrary and prejudiced action by an
admiral in a fleet, how much more necessary is it as a protection of
naval standards and traditions against arbitrary action by the Board?
For a captain is at any rate an entirely naval authority; an admiral
is certainly an officer of large naval experience, acting generally
with at least one other admiral. But the Board is largely a lay body.
Indeed, it is now by a majority a lay body. And like all boards, it
is liable to be the mouthpiece of its strongest personality. If this,
as sometimes happens, is a seaman, he may be a partisan--I say it in
no invidious sense--of certain policies and so prejudiced against
brother officers who differ. If the stronger character is a layman, he
may be ignorant of, or see no danger in waiving, naval traditions that
are embodied in no statute or regulation, but are not embodied simply
because their cogency has never been questioned. In other words, the
autocracy of the Admiralty is a necessity of executive administration,
but can only be exercised safely if its enforcement is continuously
tested by professional opinion.

How many people, I often wonder, really appreciate how singular a
body is that which is made up of admirals, captains, commanders, and
lieutenants of the Royal Navy? The accomplishments that make the seaman
confuse the landsman by their strangeness and intricacy. Indeed, if
one wishes to express the extremity of bewilderment, he does so best
by the metaphor which describes the sailor’s normal environment. When
we say we are “at sea,” we do so because language expresses no greater
helplessness. To master these conditions calls for forms of knowledge
and proficiency that are only acquired by a lifetime’s familiarity. But
these conditions are not only baffling, they are incredibly dangerous.
If steam has done much to lessen the perils of the sea, speed, the
product of steam, has added to them. The sailor then, even in times
of peace, passes his days, and still more his nights, encompassed
by the threat of irreparable disaster. An oversight that may take
thirty seconds to commit--and a hundred deaths, a wrecked ship, and a
shattered reputation reward thirty years of constant and unblemished
devotion to duty. To face a life and responsibilities like these calls
for more than great mental and physical skill, though nowhere will
you find these in a higher degree or more widely diffused than in the
Fleet. It calls for moral and spiritual qualities, for a development
of character in patience, unselfishness, and courage which few landsmen
have any inducement to cultivate. A life lived daily in the presence of
death must be a unique life, and it is not surprising that men bred to
these conditions--always as hard and ascetic as they are uncertain and
unsafe--grow to be a body quite unlike other men, with standards and
traditions of their own, and a corporate spirit and capacity that are
unique, wonderful, and to most landsmen incomprehensible.

Their standards and traditions can only be maintained and can only be
enforced by themselves. And the great peril that follows from excluding
all reference to them of the accidents and failures of war is that,
failing this reference, we have no security that naval action will be
judged as it should be, solely by the highest naval standard.

Much was said in the House of Commons about the loss of ships. Mr.
Churchill assumed that the only motive for asking for courts-martial
was to find a scapegoat. Lord Charles Beresford only made clear that
a court-martial was as much for clearing the character as for finding
criminals. There was a significant phrase in Mr. Churchill’s speech
that raises, it seems to me, a point in this connection of far greater
importance. The battle of the Dogger Bank, he said, was “not fought
out because the enemy made good their escape into waters infested by
submarines and mines.” The officer who had to call off a fleet in these
circumstances was necessarily faced by a grave and almost terrifying
responsibility. To be too bold was to risk everything, to be too
cautious was to throw away a victory. Can any tribunal, except the
Navy, judge whether this responsibility was rightly exercised? When
we remember that in our greatest days hardly a naval battle took place
that was not followed by courts-martial, it seems to me a most perilous
thing to allow these tremendous issues to go by the board because
unless they are adjudicated upon by the profession itself they are not
adjudicated upon at all.



CHAPTER XIX

THE BATTLE OF JUTLAND

I. NORTH SEA STRATEGIES


The battle off Jutland Bank, which took place on May 31, 1916, was the
first and, at the time of writing, has been the only meeting between
the main naval forces of Great Britain and Germany. It was from the
first inevitable that we should have to wait long for a sea fight. It
was inevitable, because the probability of a smaller force being not
only decisively defeated, but altogether destroyed in a sea fight,
is far greater than in a land battle, and the consciousness of this
naturally makes it chary of the risk. Sea war in this respect preserves
the characteristic of ancient land fighting, for--as is luminously
explained in Commandant Colin’s incomparable “Transformations of
War”--it was a common characteristic of the older campaigns that the
main armies would remain almost in touch with each other month after
month before the battle took place. He sums up his generalization thus:

“From the highest antiquity,” he says, “till the time of Frederick II,
operations present the same character; not only Fabius or Turenne, but
also Cæsar, Condé, and Frederick, lead their armies in the same way.
Far from the enemy they force the pace, but as soon as they draw near
they move hither and thither in every direction, take days, weeks,
months in deciding to accept or to force battle. Whether the armies are
made up of hoplites or legionaries, or pikemen or musketeers, they
move as one whole and deploy very slowly. They cannot hurl themselves
upon the enemy as soon as they perceive him, because while they are
making ready for battle he disappears in another direction.

“In order to change this state of affairs we must somehow or another
be able to put into the fight big divisions, each deploying on its own
account, leaving gaps and irregularities along the front.

“This, as we have seen, is what happened in the eighteenth century.

“Up to the time of Frederick II, armies remained indivisible during
operations; they are like mathematical points on the huge theatres of
operations in Central Europe. It is not possible to grasp, to squeeze,
or even to push back on some obstacle, an enemy who refuses battle, and
retires laterally as well as backwards. There is no end to the pursuit.
It is the war of Cæsar, as it was that of Condé, Turenne, Montecuculi,
Villars, Eugène, Maurice de Saxe, and Frederick. It is the sort of
war that all more or less regular armies have made from the remotest
antiquity down to the middle of the eighteenth century.

“Battle only takes place by mutual consent, when both adversaries, as
at Rocroi, are equally sure of victory, and throw themselves at one
another in open country as if for a duel; or when one of them, as at
Laufeld, cannot retreat without abandoning the struggle; or when one is
surprised, as at Rossbach.

“And certainly to-day, as heretofore, a general may refuse battle; but
he cannot prolong his retreat for long--it is the only means that he
has for escaping the grip of the enemy--if the depth of the theatre
of operations is limited. On the other hand, an enemy formerly could
retire laterally, and disappear for months by perpetually running to
and fro, always taking cover behind every obstacle in order to avoid
attack.”

But at sea a fleet has to-day precisely the same power of avoiding
action that an army had in former days. It cannot disappear for months
by “running to and fro,” but it can disappear for years by burying
itself in inaccessible harbours. It can, in other words, take itself
out of the theatre of war altogether while yet retaining liberty at any
moment to re-enter it. How, in view of these potentialities, did the
rival fleets dispose their forces?

On April 25, 1916, some German cruisers made an attack on Lowestoft,
similar in character but far less considerable in result to those
made in the autumn of 1914, on the same small town, on Scarborough,
Whitby, and the Hartlepools. As in 1914, there was considerable
perturbation on the East Coast, and the Admiralty, urged to take steps
for the protection of the seaboard towns, made a somewhat startling
announcement. While this was going forward in England, the German
Admiralty put out an inspired commentary on the raid, which dwelt with
great exultation over the picture of “the Island Empire, once so proud,
now quivering with rage at its own impotence.” These two documents, the
First Lord’s and the German apology, led to a good deal of discussion,
which I dealt with at the time in terms that I quote textually, as
showing the general conception of naval strategy underlying the
dispositions of the British Fleet.

“The directly military employment of the British Fleet has during
the last week been made the subject of discussion. Mr. Balfour has
written a strange letter to the Mayors of the East Coast towns, which
foreshadows important developments; an inspired German apology for
the recent raid on Yarmouth and Lowestoft has been published, and both
have aroused comment. Mr. Balfour’s letter was inspired by a desire to
reassure the battered victims of the German bombardment. He realized
that the usual commonplace that these visits had little military value
no longer met the case, and proceeded to threaten the Germans with new
and more effective methods of meeting them, should these murderous
experiments be repeated. The new measures were to take two forms. The
towns themselves would be locally defended by monitors and submarines,
and, without disturbing naval preponderance elsewhere, new units would
be brought farther south, so that the interception of raiders would be
made more easy. But for one consideration the publication of such a
statement as this would be inexplicable. If the effective destruction
of German raiders really had been prepared, the last thing the
Admiralty would be expected to do would be to acquaint the enemy with
the disconcerting character of its future reception. Count Reventlow
indeed explains the publication by the fact that no such preparations
have indeed been made. But the thing is susceptible of a more probable
explanation.

“When Mr. Churchill, in the high tide of his optimism, addressed the
House of Commons at the beginning of last year--he had the Falkland
Islands and the Dogger Bank battles, the obliteration of the German
ocean cruising force, the extinction of the enemy merchant marine, the
security of English communications to his credit--he explained the
accumulated phenomena of our sea triumph by the splendid perfection
of his pre-war preparedness. The submarine campaign, the failure of
the Dardanelles, the revelation of the defenceless state of the
northeastern harbours, these things have somewhat modified the picture
that the ex-First Lord drew. And, not least of our disillusions, we
have all come to realize that in our neglect of the airship we have
allowed the enemy to develop, for his sole benefit, a method of naval
scouting that is entirely denied to us. That the British Admiralty and
the British Fleet perfectly realize this disadvantage is the meaning
of Mr. Balfour’s letter. He would not have told the enemy of our new
North Sea arrangements had he not known that he could not be kept in
ignorance of them for longer than a week or two, once they were made.
The letter is, in fact, an admission that our sea power has to a great
extent lost what was at one time its supreme prerogative, _the capacity
of strategical surprise_.

“But this does not materially alter the dynamics of the North Sea
position, although it greatly affects tactics. The German official
apologist will have it, however, that another factor has altered these
dynamics. Admiral Jellicoe, he says, may be secure enough with his
vast fleet in his ‘great bay in the Orkneys,’ and, between that and
the Norwegian coast, hold a perfectly effective blockade line, but
all British calculations of North Sea strategy have been upset by
the establishment of new enemy naval bases at Zeebrügge, Ostend, and
Antwerp. He speaks glibly, as if the co-operation of the forces based
on the Bight with those in the stolen Belgian ports had altered the
position fundamentally. This, of course, is the veriest rubbish. So
far no captured Belgian port has been made the base for anything more
important than submarines that can cross the North Sea under water, and
for the few destroyers that have made a dash through in the darkness.
Such balderdash as this, and that the German battle-cruisers did not
take to flight, but simply ‘returned to their bases’ without waiting
for the advent of ‘superior forces,’ imposes on nobody. It remains,
of course, perfectly manifest that our surface control of the North
Sea is as absolute as the character of modern weapons and the present
understanding of their use make possible.

“The principles behind our North Sea Strategy are simple. One hundred
years ago, had our main naval enemy been based on Cuxhaven and Kiel,
we should have held him there by as close a blockade as the number of
ships at our disposal, the weather conditions, and the seamanship of
our captains made possible. The development of the steam-driven ship
modified the theory of close blockade and, even without the torpedo,
would have made, with the speed now attainable, an exact continuation
of the old practice impossible. The under-water torpedo has simply
emphasized and added to difficulties that would, without it, have been
insuperable. But it has undoubtedly extended the range at which the
blockading force must hold itself in readiness. To reproduce, then,
in modern conditions the effect brought about by close blockade in
our previous wars, it is necessary to have a naval base at a suitable
distance from the enemy’s base. It must be one that is proof against
under-water or surface torpedo vessel attack, and it must be so
constituted that the force that normally maintains itself there is
capable of prompt and rapid sortie, and of pouncing upon any enemy
fleet that attempts to break out of the harbour in which it is intended
to confine it.

“The great bay in the Orkneys’ may, for all I know to the contrary,
supply at the present moment the Grand Fleet’s main base for such
blockade as we enforce. But there are a great many other ports, inlets,
and estuaries on the East Coast of Scotland and England which are
hardly likely to be entirely neglected. Not all, nor many, of these
would be suitable for fleet units of the greatest size and speed, but
some undoubtedly are suitable, and all those that are could be made to
satisfy the conditions of complete protection against secret attack.
Assuming the main battle fleet to be at an extremely northerly point,
any more southerly base which is kept either by battle cruisers, light
cruisers, or submarines may be regarded as an advance base, if for no
other reason than that it is so many miles nearer to the German base.
The Orkneys are 200 miles farther from Lowestoft than Lowestoft is from
Heligoland. An Orkney concentration while making the escape of the
Germans to the northward impossible, would leave them comparatively
free to harry the East Coast of England. If, approaching during the
night, they could arrive off that coast before the northern forces
had news of their leaving their harbours, they would have many hours’
start in the race home. It is not, then, a close blockade that was
maintained. This freedom had to be left the enemy--because no risk
could be taken in the main theatre. It is assumed on the one side
and admitted on the other, that Germany could gain nothing and would
risk everything by attempting to pass down the Channel. The Channel
is closed to the German Fleet precisely as the Sound is closed to the
British. It is not that it is physically impossible for either fleet
to get through, but that to force a passage would involve an operation
employing almost every kind of craft. Minefields would have to be
cleared, and battleships would have to be in attendance to protect the
mine-sweepers. The battleships in turn would have to be protected from
submarine attack, and as the operation of securing either channel
would take some time, there would be a virtual certainty of the force
employed being attacked in the greatest possible strength. In narrow
waters the fleet trying to force a passage would be compelled to engage
in the most disadvantageous possible circumstances. The Channel is
closed, then, for the Germans, as the Sound is closed to the British,
not by the under-water defences, but by the fact that to clear these
would involve an action in which the attacking party would be at too
great a disadvantage. The concentration, then, in the north of a
force adequate to deal with the _whole_ German Fleet--again I have
to say in the light of the way in which the use of modern weapons is
understood--remains our fundamental strategical principle.”

I then went on to reply to the critics who had said that the use of
monitors for coast defence was the most disturbing feature of a very
unwise series of departures from true policy, and then passed on to
what seemed to me the more serious criticism, as follows:

“The attack on this part of Mr. Balfour’s policy is vastly more
damaging. For it asserts that the policy of defensive offence, Great
Britain’s traditional sea strategy, has now been reversed. The East
Coast towns may expect comparative immunity, but only because the
strategic use of our forces has been altered. It is a modification
imposed upon the Admiralty by the action of the enemy. Its weakness
lies in the ‘substitution of squadrons _in fixed positions_ for
periodical sweeps in force through the length and breadth of the North
Sea.’ Were this indeed the meaning of Mr. Balfour’s letter and the
intention of his policy, nothing more deplorable could be imagined.

“But what ground is there for thinking that this is Mr. Balfour’s
meaning? He says nothing of the kind. He makes it quite clear that a
new arrangement is made possible by _additional units_ of the first
importance now being ready to use. The old provision of adequate
naval preponderance at the right point has not been disturbed. It is
merely proposed to establish new and advanced bases from which the new
available squadrons can strike. It stands to reason that the nearer
this base is to the shortest line between Heligoland and the East
Coast, the greater the chance of the force within it being able to
fall upon Germany’s cruising or raiding units if they venture within
the radius of its action. To establish a new or more southerly base,
then, is a development of, and not a departure from, our previous
strategy--it shortens the radius of German freedom. If there is nothing
to show that the old distribution is changed, certainly there is no
suggestion that the squadron destined for the new base will be ‘fixed’
there. If squadrons now based on the north are there only to pounce
upon the emerging German ships, why should squadrons based farther
south not be employed for a similar purpose?”

The foregoing will make it clear that the general idea of British
strategy was to maintain, to the extreme north of these islands,
an overwhelming force of capital ships. It was adopted because it
economized strength and secured the main object--viz. the paralysis of
our enemy, outside certain narrow limits.

The southern half of the North Sea--say, roughly from Peterhead to
the Skagerack, 400 miles; from the Skagerack to Heligoland, 250; from
Heligoland to Lowestoft, 300; and from Lowestoft to Peterhead, 350
miles--was left as a kind of no man’s land. If the Germans chose to
cruise about in this area, they took the chance of being cut off and
engaged by the British forces, whose policy it was to leave their
bases from time to time for what Sir John Jellicoe in the Jutland
despatch describes as “periodic sweeps through the North Sea.” But
the German Fleet being supplied with Zeppelins, could, in weather
in which Zeppelins could scout, get information so far afield as to
be able to choose the times for their own cruises in the North Sea,
and so make the procedure a perfectly safe one, so long as chance
encounters with submarines and straying into British mine-fields could
be avoided. Thus for the old policy of close blockade was substituted
a new one, that of leaving the enemy a large field in which he might
be tempted to manœuvre; and it had this value, that should he yield to
the temptation, an opportunity must sooner or later be afforded to the
British Fleet of cutting him off and bringing him to action. Meantime
he was cut off from any large adventure far afield. He would have to
fight for freedom. It gave, so to speak, the Germans the chance of
playing a new sort of “Tom Tiddler’s ground.” The point to bear in mind
is, that it left the Germans precisely the same freedom to seek or
avoid action as the armies of antiquity possessed. Thus no naval battle
could be expected unless--as Colin says--the weaker wished to fight, or
was cornered or surprised.

Now, against surprise, the German Fleet was seemingly protected
by Zeppelins. It could hardly be cornered unless, in weather in
which aerial scouting was impossible, it was tempted to some great
adventure--such as the despatch of a raiding force to invade--which
would enable a fast British division to get between this force and
its base. So that the chance of a fleet action really turned upon the
Germans being willing to fight one. And they could not be expected to
be anxious for this. “A war,” says Colin, “is always slow in which we
know that the battle will be decisive, and it is so important as to be
only accepted voluntarily.”

The state of relative strength in May, 1916, was not such as to afford
the Germans the slightest hope of a decisive victory if it brought the
whole British Fleet to action. Nor was the naval situation such that
there was any stroke that Germany could execute if it could hold the
command of some sea passage for twenty-four hours or so. There was
nothing it could expect to achieve if, by defeating or at any rate
standing off one section of the British Fleet, it could enjoy a brief
local ascendancy.

The argument, indeed, was all the other way. The professed main
naval policy of Germany, viz., the blockade of England by submarine,
though for the moment in abeyance, was being held in reserve until
the military and political situation made the stake worth the candle.
Now, deliberately to risk the High Seas Fleet in an action on the
grand scale, when the chances of decisive victory were remote and the
probability of annihilation extremely high, was to jeopardize not the
fleet alone but also the blockade. For, with the High Seas Fleet once
out of the way, the one stroke against the submarine which could alone
be perfectly effective, viz., the close under-water blockade by mines,
immediately outside the German harbours, would at once become feasible.
So far, then, as military considerations went, the arguments against
seeking action were far stronger than those in its favour.

But in war it is not always reasons which are purely military that
operate; and as this war got into its second year there were many
forces, each of which contributed something towards driving the
German Navy into action. First, and in all probability by far the
most powerful, would be the impatience of a large body of brave and
skilful seamen--in control of an enormous sea force--with the _rôle_
of idleness and impotence that had been imposed upon them. The German
apologist, when uttering his pæans of triumph over the bombardments of
Lowestoft, said, on May 7:

“It must not be assumed that this adventure was a mere question of
bombarding some fortified coast places. It would also be a mistake to
think that it was only an expression of the spirit of enterprise in our
young Navy. The spirit is indeed just as fresh as ever, and is simply
thirsting for deeds, and when one sees or talks to officers and men one
reads on their lips the desire ‘If only we could get out.’ The sitting
still during the spring and winter may also play their part in this.
Only a well-considered leadership knows when it will use this thirst
for action, and employ it in undertakings which keep the great whole in
view. Our Navy, thank God, does not need to pursue prestige policy; the
services which it has already rendered us are too considerable and too
important for that.”

There is no occasion to quarrel with a word in this passage. The German
admirals and captains in command of twenty-three or twenty-four of the
most powerful ships in the world must certainly have been straining at
the leash. This, then, would be a predisposing cause to a battle of
some kind being voluntarily sought by the weaker force.

And in May, 1916, there were other causes as well. The German Higher
Command, while ignorant perhaps of the exact points at which the
Allies would attack, must have been very perfectly aware that attacks
of the most formidable character, and on all fronts, were impending.
It also knew that the resources of the Central Empires were to this
extent relatively exhausted, that all the Allied attacks, when they
came, must result in a series of successes, not of course immediately
decisive, but such as no counter-attacks could balance or neutralize.
Austria and Germany, in short, would be shown to be on the defensive.
They would have to yield ground. It may not have seemed a situation
bound to lead to military defeat. For the superiority of the Allies--at
least so it may have appeared to the German command--in men and
ammunition and _moral_, would have to be overwhelming to bring this
about.

But the Higher Command had made the mistake of carrying the civil
population with them in the declaration and prosecution of the war,
first by the promise and then by the assertion of overwhelming victory.
But the victory that was claimed did not materialize in the way that is
normal to great victories. There was no submission of the enemy, and no
sign of a wish for an honourable peace. What was worse, the defeated
enemy had shown an almost unlimited capacity to starve and hamper
their conquerors. It was bad enough that they should not acknowledge
themselves beaten. It was worse that the flail of hunger should fall on
those who should be fattening on the fruits of victory. What would the
state of mind of the German people be if, on the top of all this, the
conquered Allies were to evince a capacity for winning a few battles
themselves? It was manifestly a position in which, at any cost, the
_moral_ of the German people should be braced for a new trial. Given a
fleet impatient to get out and a higher command anxious for news of a
victory, these are surely elements enough to explain the events that
led to the action of May 31.

But the most powerful motive of all was this: Not only was German
_moral_ badly in need of refreshment, it was especially that Germany’s
belief in her naval power needed to be confirmed. For, in the last week
in April, the Emperor and his counsellors had been compelled to submit
to a peremptory ultimatum despatched by President Wilson with the
endorsement of both houses of Congress behind him. Towards the end of
the winter 1915-16 the German people had been led to expect a decisive
stroke against England by the new U-boats which the Tirpitz building
programme of the previous year was reputed to be producing in large
and punctual numbers. The Grand Admiral himself, amid the vociferous
applause of the Jingoes and Junkers, announced that the campaign would
begin on a certain day in March. The story how more cautious counsels
prevailed, how the Grand Admiral was dismissed, how an agitation was
thereupon organized throughout Germany, and how, finally, the campaign
was begun, though its author was out of office, are well known. The
point is that the sinking of the passenger ship _Sussex_ led America
to define the position and to inflict a public humiliation, not only
on the German Government but on the German Navy. On the top of all the
other predisposing causes, then, here was a special reason why the
sea forces of the Fatherland should vindicate their existence by some
signal act of daring.

We must then, I think, in considering the Battle of Jutland, start
with the assumption that the German Fleet came out in obedience both
to policy and to its own desire. But we should be wrong if we supposed
that they came out with any hopes of achieving final and decisive
victory. It has never been a characteristic of German military thought
to build on the possibilities of an inferior force defeating its
superior.

On the other hand, it was very confident that it could not be
decisively beaten. Being an inferior force, the German Navy has been
driven to giving the utmost consideration to all the methods of
fighting that can add to the defensive in battle. It was not slow to
realize, as we have seen, the enormous advantage that the dirigible
airship offered in scouting, and from the first it has devoted itself
with special energy and care to the practice and development of the
defensive tactics which the long-range torpedo made possible. Nor is
this all. For though the Germany Navy was the last of all the great
navies to cultivate long-range gunnery, it very quickly appreciated the
fact that its efficiency depended upon the visibility of the target,
that it should be launched at periods when the rate of change was
constant. It consequently made it a first step in its war preparations
to supply itself with the finest optical instruments regardless of
cost, so as to get the range and the rate with utmost accuracy and
rapidity and to master all the means by which the enemy’s gunfire
could be made nugatory both by devices that would hide its own ships
from his view, and by imposing sudden manœuvres by torpedo attack. We
have already seen, in the story of the Dogger Bank engagement, how
the pursuing British battle-cruisers were hampered in their chase and
indeed deflected from their course by submarines skilfully stationed
for attack, and by the employment in action of destroyer flotillas.
And, again, how when _Bluecher_ was disabled, and two out of three
battle-cruisers were on fire and their batteries useless, they were
shielded in their final flight by the destroyers interposing themselves
on the British line of fire and then raising huge volumes of smoke
impenetrable to the eye.

Lastly, as German writers since the battle have never ceased to remind
us, the German Fleet had never been built with the idea of its being
able to fight and defeat the British Fleet, but with the idea of
creating a force so formidable that the British Fleet would not face
the risk to itself that would be involved in its destruction. That
there was some justification for such a belief will become apparent
when we consider the statements of various British naval authorities
made after the action was over. I draw attention to it here because it
was undoubtedly reliance on some hesitation of this kind that gave the
Germans such confidence in the methods of evasion which they adopted
when the two fleets met.

In asking ourselves why the Germans came out we must bear this
extremely significant truth in mind. They believed that they could
almost certainly avoid contact with the Grand Fleet, but they also
believed that if contact were made, what with torpedo attacks and
smoke screens, they could hold off their enemies long enough to make
evasion possible. To the Germans, then, it was very far from being an
irrational risk to come into the North Sea to look for the enemy, with
a view to fight on the principle of limited liability.



CHAPTER XX

THE BATTLE OF JUTLAND--(_Continued_)

II. THE URGENCY OF A DECISION


We can safely accept the German official statement, that their
objective on May 31 was to cut off and chastise that portion of our
advanced forces that had so often swept across to the Schleswig coast
in the previous few months. The force they were looking for would
naturally be the Battle Cruiser Fleet, for it had been this force that
had always been nearest the German bases, even when the whole of both
British fleets were engaged in sweeping. But it is not necessary to
suppose that in every sweep both fleets took part. In coming out, then,
the Germans would expect to meet the battle-cruisers, if anything, and
they would count either upon the Grand Fleet not being in the field at
all, or at any rate to be sufficiently far off to be of no immediate
danger.

But how could the Germans expect to bring Sir David Beatty to action?
The Battle Cruiser Fleet, before the Battle of Jutland, was exactly
twice as numerous, and in gun power more than twice as strong, as the
German fast division. In the Battle of Jutland it was reinforced by the
Fifth Battle Squadron, ships to which Germany possessed no counterparts
at all. Clearly, then, if Sir David Beatty’s force was to be brought to
action and defeated it would be useless to rely upon Von Hipper alone.
The whole German naval forces would be required. And according to
enemy accounts sixteen modern battleships appeared on May 31. None of
these had a greater speed than 21 knots, and, as they were said to be
accompanied by six pre-Dreadnoughts, the speed of the whole fleet could
not have exceeded 18 knots. The united German forces would, of course,
have a fleet speed of the slowest squadron. How can an 18-knot squadron
corner and chastise a 25-knot squadron--for 25 knots was an easy speed
for the slowest of the Battle Cruiser Fleet?

It is clear, then, that Von Hipper’s fleet would not be able to get
into action with Sir David Beatty’s fleet, unless the British Admiral
chose to engage. Before the news of the battle was three days old, the
suggestion had been many times made that the loss of _Queen Mary_,
_Indefatigable_, and _Invincible_ was to be explained by their having
been employed in “rash and impetuous tactics,” and set to engage a
superior force by the “over-confidence” of the Admiral responsible
for their movements. And one critic went so far as to say that the
opportunity for the German Commander-in-Chief to overwhelm an inferior
British force with greatly superior numbers was exactly what the enemy
was looking for. With the justice of this as a criticism of Sir David
Beatty’s tactics I will deal later. But that Admiral Scheer fully
expected that if Sir David Beatty found him he would engage him, we may
take for granted. Just as he and his own officers and men were anxious
for action, so must Sir David and his fleet be burning with a desire
to get to grips. He banked, that is to say, on Sir David attacking.
If he did, the German position and prospects were distinctly good.
There would be twenty-one ships against nine or ten, and if the fast
battleships were with the British Vice-Admiral, against fourteen or
fifteen. The preponderance in force would certainly be on the German
side. It should not be difficult to escape defeat. With luck, serious
loss might be inflicted on the British before it was compelled to break
off battle and retreat, especially if it sought close action. It might
indeed be compelled to continue the battle, if some of its units were
wounded, for the Vice-Admiral would certainly hesitate to desert them.

As to the danger of the situation being reversed--by the Grand Fleet
turning up--in the first place, Zeppelins might save him from that.
If they did not, he always had the card up his sleeve, that he could
stand the British Fleet off by torpedoes, and shield himself by smoke
from the very long-range gunnery which the torpedo attacks would make
inevitable. So much for the German plan. Now how about the English plan?

It is a little difficult to say exactly what the British plan was, if
by plan we mean a definite understanding existing between the Higher
Command in London and the Commander-in-Chief at sea. For as to this
no information whatever has been given to the public and we can only
arrive at its tenor by the fact that the Admiralty after the event
expressed itself completely satisfied with the Commander-in-Chief’s
conduct after the fight--a matter to be gone into in greater detail
later. For the moment the only indication we have of the general policy
which has inspired Whitehall, is that given by Mr. Churchill in an
article contributed to a popular magazine a few months after the action
was fought. In this he laid down the following as the sea doctrine that
should guide our naval conduct:

From the first day of the war, he said, the British Navy had exercised
the full and unquestioned command of the sea. So long as it really
remained unchallenged and unbeaten the superior fleet ruled all the
open waters of the world. From the beginning it had enjoyed all the
fruits of a complete victory. Had Germany never built a Dreadnought,
or if all the German Dreadnoughts had been sunk, the control and
authority of the British Navy could not have been more effective. There
had been no Trafalgar, but the full consequences of a Trafalgar had
been continuously operative. There was no reason why this condition
of affairs should not continue indefinitely. Without a battle we had
all that the most victorious of battles could give us. This was the
true starting point of any reflections on the war by sea. We were
content! As for Jutland, there was no need for the British to seek that
battle at all. There was no strategic cause or compulsion operating to
draw our battle fleet into Danish waters. If we chose to go there it
was because of zeal and strength. A keen desire to engage the enemy
impelled, and a cool calculation of ample margins of superiority
justified, a movement not necessarily required by any practical need.
The battle must, therefore, be regarded as an audacious attempt to
bring the enemy to action, arising out of consciousness of overwhelming
superiority!

A little consideration will, I think, convince us that Mr. Churchill
was altogether wrong in supposing that a decisive action was not highly
important to us at this time. For obviously the German Fleet came out
to do something, and if my suggestion is right--that its mission was to
raise German _moral_--we had first the obvious duty of preventing the
German Fleet doing anything it wished to do, and next an insistent duty
to depress German _moral_, at least as much as Admiral Scheer wished
to raise it. Apart from any material or directly military results, a
second Trafalgar, had it really broken the hearts of German civilians,
might have been an element decisive of the power of the German people
to endure the privations that the prolongation of war inflicts upon
them. It might finally have broken down the whole structure of lying
bluff that the Emperor’s government has maintained. This would have
been a military object of the first value and importance. If the war
is to end by the collapse, not of the German Army but of the German
people, the value of such a victory and such a result can be measured
by the number of days of war that it would have saved at a cost in men
and treasure that it is hard to calculate.

But apart altogether from this, there were other considerations, some
economic and some military, so immensely serious, as would certainly
have justified Sir David Beatty in risking, not three, but all his
battle-cruisers, if by so doing he could have insured the entire
destruction of the German Fleet by Sir John Jellicoe’s forces. To
realize this point we must carry our consideration of the naval
strategy of the two sides in this war a little further. We have seen
that our method of disposing of our forces in the North Sea gave the
German Fleet a certain limited freedom of manœuvre in the irregular
quadrilateral formed by Peterhead, the Skagerack, Heligoland, and
Lowestoft. Outside of this area there was not, after December 8, 1914,
a single German warship afloat that was not a fugitive or in hiding,
nor has any surface ship ventured outside this area since. When the
careers of _Karlsruhe_ and _Emden_ terminated, the period of systematic
capture of our trading ships closed also. But Von Tirpitz was very far
from being satisfied with the situation so created.

The Grand Admiral was wildly wrong in the kind of navy that he built
for Germany, and hopelessly at sea in his forecast of the action
England would take in the kind of war that Germany intended to
provoke. But when the events of the first few months showed that the
war would be a long one, it is not certain that he was not the first
European in authority to realize to the full the rôle sea-power would
play. In a long war, the merchant shipping of the world--and it was
immaterial whether it was belligerent or neutral--would obviously be
the one thing by which the Allies, by importations of raw material, and
the manufactures of America, the British colonies, and Japan, could
counterbalance the vastly superior organization of the Central Powers
for working their industries and factories. Shipping was at once the
source of supply of the whole Alliance and the military communications
of the most formidable of them. The German submarines had had a small
initial success against British warships. It was disappointing from
the point of view of the attrition that Germany had hoped for. But it
opened Von Tirpitz’s eyes to the immense possibilities of a submarine
attack on trading ships. He saw, then, both the necessity of cutting
the Allies off from the sea, and the means of cutting them off. The
plan was an outrageous one from the point of view of morals. But Von
Tirpitz’s conception of the importance of sea supplies to the Allies
was perfectly correct, and in organizing an attack upon it he was
striking straight at the heart of our power of carrying on the war.

This campaign had a very direct bearing upon our North Sea strategy,
for at the date at which the Battle of Jutland was fought, about two
and a half million tons of British, Allied, and neutral shipping had
been sunk by submarine and mine. Had the war imposed no other attacks
upon merchant shipping, the percentage lost would not have been very
formidable. In the eighteen months that had elapsed since the first
organized submarine attack on trade, it represented a rate of sinking
of less than a million and three-quarter tons a year, a loss which the
Allies and neutrals could easily have counteracted by more energetic
building. But more than half of Great Britain’s ocean-going shipping
had been commandeered for various war purposes and already in 1916
it had become obvious that the remaining stock of ships could not
seriously be diminished without grave embarrassment, either to civil
supply, to our financial position, to our military power abroad, or to
all three. What was much more serious was this: It was a well-known
fact that immediately after the German Government decided to blockade
by submarine, a very large building programme was put in hand. The
programme, as we have seen, had begun to materialize at the beginning
of 1916, and it was Germany’s resources in new ships that was Tirpitz’s
justification for risking a quarrel with America, so certain did the
ruin of England seem, were ruthlessness of method combined with the
employment of larger and larger numbers. The Higher Naval Command,
then, in this country were fully aware of the extreme importance of
being able to deal drastically with this menace, should it once more
arise to threaten our sea communications. They also knew that it was
certain to arise. And, again, they knew that the under-water threat
could only be completely met by an under-water antidote. In the nature
of things, as we have seen, there could be no complete reply to the
submarine except by mines laid in continuous barrage outside the German
harbours, and this in turn was a thing that could not be done unless
the German Fleet were destroyed. Whatever reason there may have been
in 1914 and 1915 for holding the Churchill doctrine that a victory was
unnecessary, the brief submarine campaign of 1916 must have undeceived
the blindest. For this campaign had not only shown that ruthlessness
could double the rate of sinking, it had also shown that our stock
counter-measures were ineffective to thwart it. It was, then, a matter
of the very highest military importance to the cause of the Alliance
that the German Fleet should be disposed of, so that the renewal of the
German submarine campaign should be virtually impossible.

Had this indeed been the result, it is difficult to calculate the
profound influence it must have had upon the course of the war, for
within a year of the Battle of Jutland over five and a half million
tons of shipping were destroyed and throughout that year a very high
percentage of British shipbuilding capacity had necessarily to be
devoted to purely military purposes.

The continued existence of the German Fleet made it impossible to
curtail, made it indeed obligatory to increase and accelerate, the
building of war ships of all sizes. The effect of this on the capacity
to build merchant ships was felt immediately. In pre-war days the
shipyards of Great Britain had turned out over a million and a quarter
tons of merchant shipping and a quarter of a million tons of naval
shipping. The same yards, had their industry been organized as a
national activity, could under the pressure of war undoubtedly have
produced two and a half million tons a year. The complete destruction
of the German Fleet at Jutland, then, would have made the difference of
nearly eight million tons of shipping before another year was out. What
would this have meant in the saving of treasure, in man-power, in every
other form of military strength to the Allies? But apart from these,
there were further military objects of a very striking kind that might
well have been within reach.

We have just seen, in discussing the North Sea strategy, that the
kind of blockade we have maintained over the Germans was a long-range
sort, leaving the German fleets an area of, say, 60,000 square miles
in which to manœuvre. If there had been no fleet of German battleships
something very like the old close blockade could have been maintained.
It is well known that it is not mines and submarines that close the
Channel and the Sound to the German and British fleets. It is the
fact that the operation of clearing these things away must expose the
force doing it to battleship action. The converse also holds true.
If there were no German battleships the operation of confining the
German cruisers, destroyers, as well as the German submarines, within
waters of comparatively narrow limits, by mines, nets, &c., might
not have been impossible. Certainly the opening of the battle would
have been comparatively simple. There are many kinds of operations in
which it would be folly to risk a battle-fleet so long as the enemy’s
battle-fleet was in being. But with no hostile enemy fleet in existence
a whole vista of new possibilities is opened up to naval and amphibious
force. It is unnecessary to enumerate them.

We may take it, then, as axiomatic that, if any chance of bringing the
German Fleet to action was offered, it was the first business of the
British Navy, and on purely military grounds, no less than those of
economic and moral advantage, to force it to decisive action, and that
very heavy losses indeed would be justified by complete success.

But a further word must be added. If every admiral at every juncture
is to regulate his action by nice calculation of policy and chance,
is there not a risk that the balancing of pros and cons may be pushed
so far as to confuse the main issue? It is not on these principles
that, when it comes to fighting, brave men with an instinct for war do
in fact act. It is almost true to say that the example of Hawke and
Nelson, no less than those of the light cruiser and destroyer captains
in the battle we are about to consider, prove that the best way of
diminishing the risk of loss is to take the risk as boldly and as
often as you get the chance. Something seems to be due to fighting for
fighting’s sake. What was it that Nelson said about no captain could go
far wrong who laid his ship alongside an enemy’s! or as Napoleon has
it, “the glory and honour of arms should be the first consideration of
a general who gives battle!”

In summing up the situation on May 31, the elements appear to be as
follows: The German Government was in double need of a stroke to
restore the _moral_ of its people. A Russian revival was possible,
the British army in France and Flanders was growing to formidable
dimensions, the blow at Verdun had failed. The German Government, and
particularly the Imperial Navy, had been humiliated by the surrender to
America, so that everything pointed to a stroke at sea, if one could
be planned that did not involve too great a risk. Admiral Scheer and
his officers of the High Seas Fleet were full of eagerness to justify
themselves to their force. They believed the British naval strategy
to be such that it would be possible for them to inveigle the fast
division of the British Fleet into an action with greatly superior
numbers, when serious damage might be inflicted on them. They counted,
and with confidence, on Sir David Beatty’s eagerness to fight, and they
trusted to being able to defeat him before he could break off action or
could be supported by forces with whom engagement would be hopeless.
They relied upon their air scouts to save them from surprise, and
had no intention of coming into contact with Sir John Jellicoe if it
could possibly be avoided. At the same time, however, they recognized
that the defensive tactics which smoke screens and the new torpedo
made possible would not only prevent contact with superior numbers
being disastrous, they believed here, too, either that the British
would avoid the risk of torpedo disaster, or that the keenness of the
British Fleet for action must expose them to very formidable losses by
under-water attack, while their gun-fire could be rendered harmless by
the obscuration of the target and the manœuvres the torpedo could force
upon them. And in these conditions the evasion of an artillery fight at
decisive range should present no difficulties. Finally, such risks as
were involved were well worth the incalculable enhancement of German
prestige that would follow if a not-too-untruthful claim could be made
to a naval victory. The world that has a natural sympathy with the
weaker force would be inclined to regard even the escape of the German
Fleet as something very like a German success.

It was the manifest duty of the British Fleet first to thwart any
German naval design, whatever it might be, and, secondly, to remove
from the theatre of war the only formidable sea force that the enemy
possessed. For to do this would make a close investment of his ports
possible, would to a large extent cut down the possibility of his
submarine successes by mining them into their harbours and channels
instead of netting them out of ours, would open the Baltic to British
naval enterprise, and would set the whole resources of the Clyde and
the Tyne free to produce merchant shipping.



CHAPTER XXI

THE BATTLE OF JUTLAND (_Continued_)

III. THE DISTRIBUTION OF FORCES


In the afternoon of May 31 the main sea forces of Great Britain and
Germany were all in the North Sea. The Grand Fleet, under the command
of Sir John Jellicoe, accompanied by a squadron of battle-cruisers,
two of light cruisers, and three flotillas of destroyers, were to the
north; the Battle Cruiser Fleet--of two squadrons--three squadrons of
light cruisers, and four destroyer flotillas, supported by the Fifth
Battle Squadron, all under the command of Sir David Beatty, were
scouting to the southward.

The British Fleet was out “in pursuance of the general policy of
periodical sweeps through the North Sea.” The disposition of the forces
and the plan of operations were the Commander-in-Chief’s own. Neither
was dictated from Whitehall. The despatches describing the operation
do not--as some of those relating to the events off Heligoland in
August, 1914--say that the ships were following Admiralty instructions.
The fact has considerable importance in view of the fears expressed
earlier in the spring that Whitehall was interfering with the
Commander-in-Chief’s dispositions. Note also that the fleet was here in
pursuit of the general policy followed since the early days of the war.
This hunting for the enemy is not described as taking place at regular
intervals, but as “periodic.” These searching movements would be made
at the times when there was a greater likelihood of there being an
enemy to find.

[Illustration: The official plan of the Battle of Jutland. Note that
the course of the Grand Fleet is not shown to be “astern” of the
battle-cruisers, but parallel to their track]

There was a considerable interval between the forces--just how great
we do not exactly know. But at the point at which the story in the
despatches opens, Sir David Beatty’s force was steering northward,
that is, toward the Grand Fleet. At 2:20 _Galatea_, the flagship of
Commodore Alexander Sinclair, reported the presence of enemy vessels.
The light cruisers were spread out on a line east and west, ahead of
the battle-cruisers. When Sir David Beatty got news that the enemy had
been sighted on the extreme right of his line of cruisers, he at once
altered course from north to S.S.E., that is, rather more of a right
angle and a half, steering for the Horn Reefs, so as to place his force
between the enemy and his base. It is to be noted that the Vice-Admiral
at once adopted not the movement that would soonest bring the enemy to
action, but that which would compel him to action whether he wished it
or not. Observe he does not wait to do this till he has ascertained
the enemy’s strength. A quarter of an hour later smoke was seen to
the eastward--that would be on the port bow--which would confirm the
_Galatea’s_ account that the enemy was still to the north of the line
that Sir David Beatty was steering. The distance of the battle-cruisers
from the Horn Reefs was such that the enemy’s escape from action
would still be impossible, even if he altered course to cut him off
sooner. This, accordingly, he did, steering first due east and then
northeast and, in less than an hour, sighted Von Hipper’s force of five
battle-cruisers, probably almost straight ahead. When, at 2:20, the
battle-cruisers headed for the Horn Reefs, the First and Third Light
Cruiser Squadrons changed their direction also without waiting for
orders, and swept to the eastward, screening the battle-cruisers. The
Fifth Battle Squadron, which we must suppose originally to have been
on Sir David Beatty’s left, was coming up behind the battle-cruisers
as fast as possible. The Second Light Cruiser Squadron, leaving the
screening functions to the First and Third, made full speed to take
station ahead of the battle-cruisers, where two flotillas of destroyers
were already. While these movements were proceeding, a seaplane was
sent up from _Engadine_ which, having to fly low on account of clouds,
pushed to within 3,000 yards of the four light cruisers of Von Hipper’s
advance force. Full and accurate reports were thus received just before
the enemy was sighted in the distance.

At 2:20, when the enemy’s scouting advanced craft were first seen by
_Galatea_, Von Hipper was seemingly to the south of them, and according
to the German account went north and east to investigate. While then
Sir David Beatty was travelling southeast, east, and then northeast,
we shall probably be right in supposing that Von Hipper was executing
an approximately parallel series of movements out of sight to the
northeast of him. Both advance forces were increasing their distance
from their main forces. At any rate, neither was approaching his main
force when they came into sight at 3:30, Von Hipper a few miles north
of Sir David Beatty.

What was the distance at this period that separated the battle-cruisers
of each side from their supporting battle-fleets? At 3:30 the German
battle-cruisers headed straight for their main fleet at full speed, and
met them an hour and a quarter afterward. If Von Hipper’s speed was 26
knots and Admiral Scheer’s 18--he had pre-Dreadnoughts with him, and it
was not likely to have been greater--there would have been fifty-five
sea miles separating the German forces. According to the despatch, Sir
John Jellicoe at 3:30 headed his fleet toward Sir David Beatty, and
came down at full speed. He came into contact with the battle-cruisers
on their return from their excursion to the south at 5:45. Sir David
Beatty would by this time have returned approximately to the same
latitude he was on at 3:30. Had he then at 3:30 closed Sir John
Jellicoe at full speed, he would have come in contact with him in, say,
fifty minutes. The British fleets at 3:30, then, may have been between
forty and forty-five sea miles apart, against the German fifty-five.

[Illustration: POSITION OF THE OPPOSING FLEETS AT 3.30 P.M.]

It has been said that both sides fell into a strategical error in
dividing their forces. This criticism has been prominent in the neutral
Press; but it arises from a confusion of thought. On neither side
were the battle-cruisers considered as anything but scouting forces,
which in all sea campaigns have been, because it is a necessity of the
case, maintained at suitable distances from the main force. The only
division of forces proper on the British side was the presence of four
battleships with Sir David Beatty. But as we see from the despatch, for
some reason a squadron of three of Sir David’s battle-cruisers was with
the main fleet, and the Fifth Battle Squadron seems to have been taking
its place.

The only evidences of a strategical blunder in the disposition would
be, first, a failure of the chosen plan to bring the Germans to action,
next a failure to defeat them when brought to action, because of
inability to concentrate the requisite strength for the purpose at the
critical point. It is surely a sufficient reply to say that the German
Fleet was brought to action, and that any incompleteness in the victory
arose, not from there being insufficient forces present, but owing
to circumstances making it impossible to employ them to the greatest
advantage.


THE ACTION: FIRST PHASE

When the enemy was sighted at 3:30, Sir David formed his ships for
action in a line of bearing, so that, in the northeasterly wind, the
smoke of one ship should not interfere with the fire of the rest. His
course was east-southeast, and he was converging on that of the enemy,
who was steering rather more directly south. By the time the line was
formed the range was about 23,000 yards, and at twelve minutes to four
had been closed to 18,500, when both sides opened fire simultaneously.
When the range had closed to about 14,000 yards or less, parallel
courses were steered and kept until the end of this phase of the
engagement. The Fifth Battle Squadron, consisting of four ships of the
_Queen Elizabeth_ class, under the command of Admiral Evan-Thomas, at
the time when Sir David formed his battle-line, was about 10,000 yards
off--not straight astern of the battle-cruisers, but bearing about half
a right angle to port. The course that would bring them immediately
into the line of the Battle Cruiser Fleet, then, was not parallel to
that steered by Sir David Beatty, but a course converging on to it. It
was this that enabled them, with their inferior speed, to come into
action at eight minutes past four, though only then at the very long
range of 20,000 yards.

The interval had been singularly unfortunate for the British side.
_Indefatigable_ (Captain Sowerby) had the misfortune to be hit
by a shell in a vulnerable spot. The destruction of the ship was
instantaneous, and almost the entire personnel, including the ship’s
very gallant Captain, was lost. An exactly similar misfortune later
befell _Queen Mary_. Neither ship had, in any sense of the word, been
overwhelmed by the gunfire of the enemy. Indeed, when _Queen Mary_ went
down, the enemy’s fire, which had been singularly accurate and intense
in the first phase of the action had, as the Vice-Admiral says in his
despatch, slackened. The superior skill, due chiefly to the wider
experience of the British fire-control organizations, had already begun
to tell--the enemy’s fire-control being evidently unable to survive the
damage, and losses of action.

[Illustration: The first phase; from Von Hipper’s coming into view,
until his juncture with Admiral Scheer]

Sir David Beatty’s main force was thus reduced first by one-sixth,
and then by one-fifth of its number, so that he was now left with four
ships against the German five. But three of these ships disposed of
broadsides of 13.4’s, the fourth employing a gun equal to the most
powerful in the German armament. In weight and power of broadside the
British cruisers still had the advantage, and it is clear that their
rate of fire was faster, and their aiming and range-keeping more
effective.

Just as the Fifth Battle Squadron came into action at ten minutes past
four, a brisk and dramatic encounter took place between the light
craft of the two sides. Two flotillas of destroyers and one squadron
of light cruisers, it will be remembered, were stationed well ahead of
the British flagship. Eight units of the Thirteenth Flotilla, together
with two of the Tenth and two of the Ninth, had been designated for
making an attack on the enemy’s line as soon as an opportunity offered.
The opportunity came at 4:15. A destroyer attack is of course a torpedo
attack, and is delivered by the flotilla engaged in steering a course
converging toward that of the enemy. The destroyers must be well ahead
of their targets if the attack is to be effective, so that the torpedo
and the ship attacked shall be steering toward each other. These boats
proceeded then, at 4:15, to initiate this manœuvre toward the enemy.
It was almost simultaneously countered by an identical movement by
the enemy, who had a considerable preponderance of force--fifteen
destroyers and a cruiser against the British twelve destroyers. These
two forces met before either had reached a position for effecting its
main purpose, viz., the torpedo attack on the capital ships. A very
spirited engagement followed. It was a close-quarters affair, and was
carried through by the British destroyers in the most gallant manner
and with great determination. Two of the enemy’s destroyers were sunk,
and what was far more important, it was made quite impossible for him
to carry through a torpedo attack. None of our boats went down. But
just as the enemy’s boats had been unable to get a favourable position
for attacking our battle-cruisers, so, too, the English boats, delayed
by this engagement, were unable to get the desired position on the
enemy’s bow for employing their torpedoes to the best advantage. Three
of them, however, though unable to attack from ahead, pressed forward
for a broadside attack on Von Hipper’s ships, and naturally came under
a fierce fire from the secondary armament of these vessels. One of
them, _Nomad_, was badly hit, and had to stop between the lines. She
was ultimately lost. _Nestor_ and _Nicator_ held on between the lines
until the German Battle Fleet was met.

For a full half hour these two boats had been either fighting an
almost hand-to-hand action with the enemy’s boats, or had been under
the close-range fire of Von Hipper’s battle-cruisers. They now found
themselves faced by the German Battle Fleet. But they were at last in
the right position for an attack. Both closed, in spite of the fire,
to 3,000 yards and fired their torpedoes. It is believed that one hit
was made. _Nicator_ escaped and rejoined the Thirteenth Flotilla, but
_Nestor_, though not sunk, was stopped, and had to be numbered amongst
the losses when the action was over.

While this had been going forward, the artillery action between the
two squadrons of battle-cruisers continued fierce and resolute. Sir
Evan-Thomas’s battleships did their best with the rear of the enemy’s
line, but were unable to reduce the range below 20,000 yards, if,
indeed, they were unable to prevent the enemy increasing it. At 4:18
a second palpable evidence that the British fire was taking effect
was afforded by the third of Von Hipper’s ships bursting into flames.
The first evidence was, of course, the falling off in the rate of the
enemy’s fire, and the still more marked deterioration in its accuracy.

It will be remembered that the Second Light Cruiser Squadron, under
Commodore Goodenough, had got to its action station ahead of Sir David
Beatty’s line a little while before the engagement opened with Von
Hipper at half-past three. This squadron maintained its position well
ahead, and at 4:38 reported the advent of Scheer with a German battle
squadron from the south. They would then be from 20,000 to 24,000 yards
off. Until _Southampton_ sent in her message at 4:38, the British
Admiral had no reason for knowing that the enemy Battle Fleet was out.
Not that the knowledge would have affected the plan he actually carried
out, for the immediate attack on Von Hipper was right in either event.
But it was obvious that, with only four battle-cruisers, it was out of
the question continuing the action as if the forces were equal. The
Fifth Battle Squadron was out of range, and the Vice-Admiral’s first
business was to concentrate his force, and then to judge how to impose
his will upon the enemy in the matter of forcing him up to action with
the Grand Fleet. The junction with Admiral Evan-Thomas could obviously
not be delayed; as obviously the manœuvre was a dangerous one, for
as each ship turned it would be exposed to the enemy’s fire without
being able to reply. Had only speed of junction to be considered, the
battle-cruisers could have been turned together when the rear ship
on the old course would have become the leading ship on the new. The
turn could probably be accomplished in less than three minutes. But
seriously as the German fire had depreciated, it was not a thing with
which liberties could be taken. Sir David Beatty, therefore, turned
his ships one by one, thus keeping three in action while the first was
turning; two while the second was turning--the first and second coming
into action on a reverse course as the third and fourth turned from the
old. At no time, then, was the fire of the British squadron reduced
below that of two ships.

No sooner had Sir David turned than Von Hipper followed his example,
and as the Vice-Admiral led up on the new course, he met Evan-Thomas
with his four battleships directing a fierce fire on Von Hipper. These
two squadrons were on opposite courses, and the change of range was
rapid. The conditions for hitting were extremely difficult. Evan-Thomas
was not yet in sight of the German Battle Fleet, and the Vice-Admiral
told him to turn, as he had done, and to form up behind him. By the
time this manœuvre was completed--that is, within a quarter of an hour
of Sir David Beatty having begun his own turn--the head of Admiral
Scheer’s line had got within range, and a brisk action opened between
the leading German ships and the rear ships on the British side.

During this quarter of an hour, Commodore Goodenough in _Southampton_
pushed south to ascertain the precise numbers and composition of
the German force. It was of course of great moment, not only to the
Vice-Admiral but to the Commander-in-Chief that the enemy’s strength
should be ascertained as accurately and as soon as possible. But to do
this the Commodore had to take his squadron under the massed fire of
the German Dreadnoughts. He held on until a range of about 13,000 yards
was reached and, having got the information he wanted, returned to
form up with the Cruiser Fleet on its northerly course. His squadron
was hardly hit: for though the fire was intense, here, too, the change
of range was rapid, and far too difficult for the German fire-control
to surmount.



CHAPTER XXII

THE BATTLE OF JUTLAND (_Continued_)

IV. THE SECOND PHASE


The flotillas and light cruiser squadrons were now regrouped--some
ahead, some alongside of the battle-cruiser and battleship squadrons,
and the whole steered to the northward, keeping approximately parallel
to and well ahead of the German line. From the time when Scheer came
into action at 4:57 until six o’clock, Sir David Beatty kept the
range at about 14,000 yards. Both sides must have had some anxious
moments during this critical hour. Sir David Beatty knew what Admiral
Scheer did not--for the weather was too thick for the Zeppelins to
give him the much-needed information--that he was falling back on Sir
John Jellicoe, when of course overwhelming force could be brought to
bear. His business was to keep Admiral Scheer in play, while exposing
his ships, especially his battle-cruisers, as little as possible,
consistent with their maintaining an efficient attack upon the
enemy. Sir David was criticized for exposing his ships imprudently.
Is this criticism well founded? Von Hipper’s battle-cruisers were
at the head of the German line, but one had certainly fallen out of
action by five o’clock, and one more was to leave the line in the
course of this holding action. The battle-cruisers, however, did not
affect the situation, for the German Fleet’s speed was that of the
pre-Dreadnoughts in the rear, and this could not have exceeded 18
knots and was probably less. But the slowest ship in Sir David Beatty’s
squadron could make at least 24. Nothing, therefore, could have been
simpler than to have taken the whole force out of reach of Scheer’s
guns whenever he chose. Had there at any stage been the remotest chance
of the lightly armoured battle-cruisers being exposed to smothering
fire from the German battleships, the danger could have been averted by
the expedient of putting on more speed. Beatty’s main preoccupation,
however, was not this. It was undoubtedly the fear that Scheer might
retreat before the Grand Fleet could get up. He had, therefore, first
to act as if he were a promising target, next to be ready with a
counter-stroke if the Germans showed any sign of flight. How did he
meet the first necessity of the position?

By keeping the range at 14,000 yards, at which the heavier projectile
guns of the British artillery would have a distinct advantage over the
German batteries, and by keeping so far ahead that it was impossible
for Admiral Scheer to bring the fire of concentrated broadsides to
bear, not only was an absolute inequality of gunnery conditions
avoided, but it is probable that, so far as tactical disposition
went, Sir David Beatty, as throughout the action, had so handled his
ships as to be actually superior in fighting power over the forces he
was engaging. I say “so far as tactical disposition was concerned,”
advisedly, because a new element came into action at this point which
favoured first one and then the other, and was ultimately to make
long-range gunfire altogether nugatory.

[Illustration: The second phase; Beatty engages the combined German
Fleet, and draws it toward the Grand Fleet]

Already between a quarter past four and half past, light mists had
been driving down, and even before a quarter to five the outlines
of Von Hipper’s squadron were becoming vague and shadowy to the
British gun-layers. Between half-past five and six these conditions
got very much worse. It handicapped the fire-control severely, and
already they were beginning to feel, what the Commander-in-Chief says
was a characteristic of the whole period during which the Grand Fleet
was intermittently in action, viz., the extreme difficulty of using
rangefinders in the shifting and indifferent light. How local and
variable the mist was may be judged from the fact that the British
line was not only free from mist, but was outlined sharply against the
setting sun--thus giving a great advantage to the German rangefinders.
It was this that largely neutralized the advantage which Sir David
Beatty had so skilfully derived from the superior speed of his ships.
No ships were lost on the British side during this part of the action.
But it can hardly be doubted that had the conditions of visibility
been the same for both sides, the head of the German line would have
suffered more severely than it did from the Fifth Battle Squadron’s
15-inch guns. But, as we have seen, one of the battle-cruisers had
to haul out severely damaged, and certain others showed unmistakable
evidence of having suffered severely.

In this phase of the action, as in the first, the British destroyers
made attacks on the German line, and it is believed that one ship, seen
to be hopelessly on fire and emitting huge clouds of smoke and steam,
owed her injuries to a torpedo fired by _Moresby_.

What was Admiral Scheer’s idea in following up the British squadron
as he did? He knew that he had not the speed which would enable him
to catch it. It was almost impossible--for he was now the pursuing
squadron--to hope for any success from a destroyer attack. There was a
risk that he might be caught and forced to engage by the Grand Fleet.
There are, it seems, two explanations of his action. In the first
place, he knew that Von Hipper had already sunk two of the British
vessels. It was worth a considerable effort to try and get more, and in
face of these losses Sir David Beatty’s movements may have looked so
extremely like flight as to make him think that he had, to this extent,
the upper hand, and that the British Admiral would be unlikely to risk
his force again by seeking a close action. Apart from the risk of the
Grand Fleet being out, then, there seemed to be everything to gain and
nothing to lose by carrying on the chase.

But is it quite certain that his action was altogether voluntary?
What would Sir David Beatty’s action have been had Scheer attempted
to renounce the fight? There can be no hesitation in answering this
question, for we only have to look at what Sir David actually did at
six o’clock, when the Germans got news of the Grand Fleet’s approach
and had to change tactics immediately. We shall find in this the clue
to what would have happened had Scheer attempted to change course and
withdraw earlier in the action.

The governing factors of the situation were, first, Beatty’s superior
speed; secondly, his superior concentration of gun power, and, lastly,
the greater efficacy of his guns at long range. The difference between
the speed of the slowest ships in the British fast division, say 24½
knots, and that of the slowest in the German main squadron, say 18, was
6½ knots at least.

If Scheer had attempted simply to withdraw, he must have reversed
the course of his fleet, either by turning his ships together or in
succession. In the first case, the simplest of manœuvres would have
brought the British Fleet into the T position across the German rear.
And with a six-knot advantage in speed, Sir David could even have
attempted the final tactics of Admiral Sturdee at the Falkland Islands,
and pursued the flying force with his four battle-cruisers, engaging
them from one side, and the Fifth Battle Squadron attacking them from
the other. So disastrous, indeed, must this manœuvre have been to the
Germans that it need not be considered as thinkable. The alternative
was to lead round from the head of the line, when the choice would have
arisen between a gradual change of course and a reverse of course,
viz., a sixteen-point turn. The objections to the sixteen-point turn
were precisely similar to those to turning the fleet together, with,
perhaps, the added objection that the British would have had two
lines of ships to fire into instead of only one--an advantage which
would not have been counterbalanced by the enemy keeping one or two
broadsides bearing, for they would be the broadsides of ships under
full helm, and it is highly improbable that their fire would have
been effective. When Scheer actually did break off battle, we shall
find that he turned his fleet in succession through an angle of 135°.
There were special reasons that made it obligatory he should do this,
and special conditions which made it possible. Until he met the Grand
Fleet, there was nothing to force him to turn, and the counter-stroke
on which he relied to rob the turn of its chief dangers would not have
been operative against the two squadrons of fast ships under Sir David
Beatty’s command.

Had Scheer attempted such a turn as he actually made at 6:45, or had
he initiated and continued such a manœuvre as he began at six o’clock,
Beatty’s speed advantage would have enabled him to maintain his
dominating position ahead of the German line. He could either have
manœuvred to get round between Scheer and his bases, with a view to
heading him north again, or, if he judged it hopeless to expect the
Grand Fleet to reach the scene in daylight, could himself have reversed
course and pounded the weak ships at the end of the German line
unmercifully.

In any event, while it would be an exaggeration to say that he had the
whip-hand of the enemy, it is no exaggeration to say that his force was
so formidable and so fast as to make escape from it anything but a safe
or a simple problem. The utmost Scheer could have hoped for would have
been a long defensive action until darkness made attack impossible, or
winning the mine-fields made pursuit too dangerous.

These considerations cannot be ignored in asking why it was that Scheer
followed the British Admiral so obediently in the hour and a quarter
between 4:57 and 6 P.M. But still less must we forget that had Scheer
known earlier that the Grand Fleet was out, he would certainly have
preferred the risk of a pursuit by Beatty to the chance of having to
take on the whole of Sir John Jellicoe’s battle fleet.

At twenty-five minutes to six Admiral Scheer began hauling round to
the east, changing his course, that is to say, gradually away from the
British line. Sir David supposes that he had by this time received
information of the approach of the Grand Fleet. This information might
have come from Zeppelins, though in the weather conditions this would
seem to have been improbable; or it might have come from some of his
cruisers, which were well ahead, and had made contact with Hood’s
scouts. But is this quite consistent with what Admiral Jellicoe says of
Hood’s movements?

“At 5:30 this squadron observed flashes of gun-fire and heard the sound
of guns to the southwestward. Rear-Admiral Hood sent _Chester_ to
investigate, and this ship engaged three or four enemy light cruisers
at about 5:45.”

It is not stated that Rear-Admiral Hood saw the German light cruisers,
and it seems improbable, then, that they saw him. Admiral Scheer could
not have changed course at 5:35, because of the action of his scouts
with _Chester_ at 5:45. But her presence may have been signalled to
him as soon as she was seen, and he may have concluded that the news
could have but one significance, viz., that the Grand Fleet was coming
down from the north. But is it altogether impossible that Scheer began
his gradual easterly turn before suspecting that the Grand Fleet was
out? Was he not, perhaps, already aware of the dangers of getting too
far afield, and beginning that gradual turn which might keep Sir David
Beatty’s ships in play as long as daylight lasted, without giving the
openings which a direct attempt at flight would offer? Whatever the
explanation of the movements, the enemy began this gradual turn and Sir
David turned with him, increasing speed, so as to maintain his general
relation to the head of the German line. At ten minutes to six some of
the Grand Fleet’s cruisers were observed ahead, and six minutes later
the leading battleships came into view. The moment for which every
movement since 2:20 had been a preparation had now arrived--the Grand
Fleet and the German Fleet were to meet.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE BATTLE OF JUTLAND (_Continued_)

V. THE THREE OBJECTIVES


The issue of the day would now depend upon how the commanders of the
three separate forces appreciated the tasks set to them; the principles
that governed the plans for their execution; the efficiency of their
command in getting those principles applied; the resolution and skill
with which the several units executed each its share in the operations.
It was easy enough to define the task of each leader. Sir David Beatty
had so far completely justified what seemed the general strategic plan
of the British forces. He had driven the German fast divisions back to
their main fleet, he had held that fleet for an hour and a half, and
had brought it within striking distance of the overwhelmingly superior
main forces of his own side. He had lost two capital ships and three
destroyers to achieve his end to this point. He had the sacrifice of
some thousands of his gallant companions to justify. Neither a parade
nor a “gladiatorial display,” only the utter rout and destruction of
the enemy’s fleet, could pay that debt. His task was not, therefore,
complete. He had to help the Grand Fleet to deliver its blow with the
concentration and rapidity that would render it decisive.

It was already obvious that rapidity would be vital. The weather
conditions had been growing more and more unfavourable to the gunnery
on which the British Fleet would rely for victory. Everything pointed
to the conditions growing steadily worse. It was a case of seizing
victory quickly or missing it altogether. Had there been no shifting
mists there would have been two and a half or three hours of daylight
on which to count. But with lowering clouds and heavy vapours, clear
seeing at 10,000 or even 5,000 yards might be as impossible two hours
before as two hours after sunset. Everything pointed, therefore, to
this: the British attack would have to be instant--or it might not
materialize at all. The Vice-Admiral commanding the Battle-Cruiser
Fleet saw his duty clearly and simply. But to decide exactly what
action he should take was a different thing altogether.

No less clear was the task of the British Commander-in-Chief. Twelve
miles away from him was the whole naval strength of the enemy, 150
miles from his mine-fields, more than 200 from his fleet bases. Against
sixteen modern battleships, he himself commanded twenty-four--a
superiority of three to two. His gun-power, measured by the weight
and striking energy of his broadsides, must have been nearly twice
that of the enemy; measured by the striking energy and the destructive
power of its heavier shells, it was greater still. Opposed to the
enemy’s five battle-cruisers, there were four under the command of
Sir David Beatty and three led by Rear-Admiral Hood. Against the six
18-knot pre-Dreadnoughts that formed the rear of the German Fleet,
with their twenty-four 11-inch guns firing a 700-pound shell, there
were Rear-Admiral Evan-Thomas’s four 25-knot ships of the Fifth Battle
Squadron, carrying thirty-two 15-inch guns, whose shells were three
times as heavy and must have been nine times as destructive. This
force, vastly superior if it could be concentrated for its purpose, had
to be deployed for a blow which, if simultaneously delivered at a range
at which the guns would hit, must be final in a very brief period.

The German Admiral could never have had the least doubt as to his task.
His business was to save his fleet from the annihilation with which
it was manifestly menaced. So far fortune had been kind. The British
Battle-Cruiser Fleet had done what the Germans had expected it to do.
It had engaged promptly and determinedly and its losses, surprisingly
enough, had been suffered, not while it was holding a force greatly
superior to itself, but while engaging Von Hipper, whose ships were
less numerous and more lightly armed. Though Scheer did not expect an
encounter with the Grand Fleet, he was very far from being unprepared,
should it come. Accordingly, when at six o’clock he realized that the
supreme moment had arrived, he was probably as little in doubt as to
his method of executing his task, as to the character of the task
itself.


THE TACTICAL PLANS

_Admiral Scheer’s tactics_

The tactics of Admiral Scheer were a development and an extension
of those of Von Hipper on January 24 of the previous year. If his
task was to break off action as soon as possible and to keep out of
action until darkness made fleet fighting impossible, means must be
found of thwarting or neutralizing the attack of the British Fleet
while it lasted, of evading that attack at the earliest moment, and
of preventing its resumption. He could only neutralize the attack in
so far as he could thwart the fire-control and aiming of the enemy
by the constant or intermittent concealment of his ships by smoke. He
could only evade attack by preventing the overwhelming force against
him being brought within striking distance. Recall for a moment the
lessons of the Dogger Bank. In his retreat Von Hipper had put his
flotillas to a double task. For the first two hours of that engagement
he had checked the speed of his battle cruisers to cover _Bluecher_.
When the British Fleet had so gained on him that its artillery became
effective, he realized that the case of _Bluecher_ was hopeless and
that, unless prompt measures were taken, the case of the battle
cruiser would be little better. _Bluecher_ was, therefore, abandoned
to her fate and _Derfflinger_, _Seydlitz_, and _Moltke_ concealed by
smoke. Simultaneously, or almost simultaneously, a veritable shoal of
torpedoes was launched across the path on which _Lion_ and her consorts
were advancing. The smoke baffled the gun-layers, the changed course
forced on the battle-cruisers baffled the fire-control. The Germans
gained immunity from gunfire and, in the pause, changed course and
got a new start in the race for home. Then the first of a succession
of rendezvous for submarines placed on the pre-arranged line of the
German retreat, repeated this tactic of diversion just before _Lion_
was disabled. The intervention--an hour later--of a second protecting
picket of submarines was decisive, for, on realizing their presence,
the officer who had succeeded Sir David in command broke off pursuit.
It was on these tactics on a greatly extended scale and developed no
doubt by assiduous study and repeated rehearsal, that Scheer now had to
rely.

The circumstances of the moment were exceptionally favourable for their
employment. The conditions of atmosphere that made long-range gunnery
difficult, made the establishment of smoke screens to render it more
difficult still, exceptionally easy. The wind had dropped, the air
was heavy and vaporous, the ships were running from one bank of light
fog into another. It was a day on which smoke would stay where it was
made, clinging to the surface of the sea, mingling with and permeating
the water-laden atmosphere. Further, these were just the conditions in
which, were a torpedo attack delivered at a fleet by the fast destroyer
flotillas, the threat would have an element of surprise that would
be lacking in clear vision. Such menaces, then, should they have any
deterrent effect on the enemy’s closing, would be likely to have a
maximum effect. The respite from gunfire, the delay in the re-formation
of the fleet for pursuit, each could be the longest possible.

Two considerations must have caused Scheer the gravest possible
anxiety. In the first place, smoke screens would not protect the van
of his fleet. What if the British used their speed to concentrate
ships there and crush it? Secondly, as destroyer attacks could only be
delivered from a point in advance of the course of the squadrons it was
hoped to injure or divert, the method on which he relied, first for
breaking off from, and then evading, action could not be used until
he had the British Fleet on his quarter or astern. Now at six o’clock
the British Fleet was dead ahead of him. Its fleet’s speed must have
been three, and may have been four, knots greater than his own. He had
four powerful ships, six or seven knots faster still, on his port bow
at a range of only 14,000 yards, supported by a 25-knot squadron only
three knots slower and of enormous gun power. How was he to turn a
line of twenty-one ships to get the whole of this force behind him,
without some portion of it being overwhelmed in the process? For to
turn in succession would be to leave first the centre and the rear,
and then the rear entirely unsupported as the leading ships escaped.
As we have seen in a previous chapter, until the enemy’s artillery was
neutralized, it was out of the question to do anything but to turn
on a flat arc, so that so long as it was necessary or possible, all
the ships should act in mutual support. The crux of the situation was
this: The Grand Fleet was but twelve miles off, a distance that could
be shortened to easy gun range in ten or twelve minutes. What if the
whole of this force were in a quarter of an hour brought parallel to,
and well ahead of, his own? To engage it defensively by gun power
would be useless for the odds were hopeless. To turn the head of the
line sharply would be to purchase a precarious safety for the van by
the certain immolation of the centre and the rear. Scheer must have
seen that, were things to develop along this line, he would have no
choice but to turn his whole fleet together, a dangerous and desperate
manœuvre, but permissible because the time would have come for a _sauve
qui peut_.

But while these considerations may have caused him some anxiety, there
were other elements to reassure him. Years before the war, the Germans
had discovered and grasped what seemed the fundamental strategic
idea that had shaped British naval strategy. It was that the rôle of
our main sea forces in war was to be primarily defensive. Our fleet
was to consist of units individually more powerful than those of
competing navies. As to numbers, we were aiming at possessing these
on an equality with the two next largest Powers combined. It was a
policy that permitted of an overwhelming concentration against the
most powerful of our competitors, the Germans, while still maintaining
substantial forces the world over. It was a presumption of this policy
that the use of the sea would in war be ceded to us by our enemies, and
would remain virtually undisturbed until our main forces were not only
attacked but defeated. Numbers and individual power made an attack by
inferior forces seem the most remote of all contingencies, and defeat
impossible.

From this theory the Germans derived a corollary. It was that, as
the British ideal was concerned not primarily with victory, but in
avoiding defeat, we should probably not face great risks to destroy
an enemy--and obviously no enemy could be destroyed without great
risks--but rather would be chiefly preoccupied with averting the
destruction, not only of our whole fleet, but even of such a proportion
of it as would deprive us of that pre-eminence in numbers on which we
seemed chiefly to rely. Hence, in the preamble of the last Navy Bill
which the Government got the Reichstag to accept before the war, it
was plainly stated that the naval policy of the German Higher Command
did not aim at possessing a fleet capable of defeating the strongest
fleet in the world, but would be satisfied with a force that the
strongest fleet could not defeat, except at a cost that would bring it
so low that its world supremacy would be gone. The underlying military
conception was that the group then controlling the British Navy would
not fight, and the underlying political conception that, should this
group be replaced by leaders of a more aggressive complexion, the price
we should pay for a sea victory would be a combination of the world’s
other sea forces against us, they being prompted to this by their
long-felt jealousy of Great Britain’s navalism.

In May, 1916, the bottom had fallen out of the political argument.
There was no naval Power that was the least jealous of Great Britain.
The submarine campaign had disgusted all with Germany’s sea ethics,
and the whole world would have rejoiced had sea victory, which was
necessary before the submarine could be finally defeated, been won. But
on the military argument the Germans were on surer ground. They had
certain substantial reasons for believing that they had not misread
the psychology of our Higher Naval Command. Indeed, if Jutland left
them or the world in any doubt about the matter, their interpretation
was to receive the most striking of all confirmations by a statesman
who had not only been First Lord of the Admiralty, but had personally
selected the Commander-in-Chief on this eventful day, and had no doubt
been a party to, if he had not inspired, the strategy which the Grand
Fleet was to observe. Mr. Churchill left the world in no uncertainty at
all that, in his opinion--which, presumably, was that not only of the
Boards over which he had presided, but of those from whom it had been
inherited--the British Fleet, without a victorious battle, enjoyed all
the advantages that the most crushing of victories could give us, and
that it was for the Germans and not for us to attempt any alteration
in the position at sea. Beyond this, however, Scheer not only had it
in his favour that the British Commander-in-Chief might, under such
inspiration, hesitate about the risks inseparable from seeking a rapid
decision at short range; he seemed to have a definite and official
confirmation of a further theory, viz., that to avoid a certain form
of risk was almost an axiom of official British doctrine. Von Hipper’s
escape at the Dogger Bank, unexplained it is true in Sir David Beatty’s
despatch, had been complacently attributed by the British Admiralty to
the unexpected presence of enemy submarines. The immediate abandonment
of the field in the presence of this form of attack, so far from being
made the subject of Admiralty disapproval, seems to have been endorsed
by the continuous employment of the officer responsible. Scheer could
then look forward to his torpedo attack not only as holding a menace
over the British Fleet that might endanger its numerical superiority.
It seemed to be a menace specifically accepted as one not in any
circumstances to be encountered.

Still, for all that, there was uncertainty in the matter. The sport
of bull-fighting owes its continuance solely to the fact that the
instincts of each brute playmate in that cruel game are exactly
identical with those of every other. However busy any bull may be
with a tossed and disembowelled horse, it is a matter of mathematical
certainty that a red cloak dangled before his eyes will divert him from
goring the rider. The animal’s reactions to each well-known pin-prick
or provocation are inevitable. The safety of every toreador, piccador,
and matador depends not on their power of meeting the unexpected, but
upon the rapidity, deftness, and agility with which they can first time
the movements which long experience has taught them to expect, and then
execute the counter-stroke or evasion which an old-established art has
prescribed. Scheer, it seems to me, showed something more than rashness
in relying on a German analysis of our naval mentality, and upon a
single instance--and endorsement--of that mentality in action, as if it
established a rule of conduct as irrevocable as instinct. But, then, it
must be understood, he had no choice.


_Sir David Beatty’s Tactics_

At six the Grand Fleet was five miles to the north, approximately
twelve miles from the enemy. It could not come into action in less than
a quarter of an hour. The speed of _Lion_, _Tiger_, _Princess Royal_,
and _New Zealand_ was twenty-seven knots, at least eight, possibly
nine or even ten knots faster than that of the enemy. The head of the
enemy’s line bore southeast from the flagship. Scheer, already aware
of Sir John Jellicoe’s approach, was beginning his eastward turn.
Beatty realized that at full speed he could head the German Fleet, so
that by the time the Grand Fleet’s deployment was complete, he would
be in a commanding position on the bow of the enemy’s van. It would
probably not be possible for Evan-Thomas to gain this position, too.
But there was no reason why he should. Assuming Sir David’s purpose to
be the realization of the most elementary of tactical axioms, viz. to
strike as nearly as possible simultaneously with all the forces in the
field, Evan-Thomas would be just as useful at one end of the line as
the other. The twenty-four ships of the Grand Fleet, led by the battle
cruisers and with the four _Queen Elizabeths_ as a rear squadron, would
outflank the enemy at both ends of his line.

The realization of the plan would depend entirely upon the pace of
the Grand Fleet in getting into action. Had all the divisions of the
Grand Fleet kept their course at full speed until reaching the track
of Sir David Beatty’s squadron, the starboard division would have cut
that line in about ten minutes and the port division in about twelve
and a half to thirteen. There would have been an interval of five
miles between the leading ships. Even at twenty-seven knots the four
battle-cruisers led by _Lion_ could hardly have got clear of the port
division and, to avoid collision, all would have had to ease their
speed slightly. But undoubtedly at 6:15 or, at least, 6:20, a line
might have been formed exactly in Sir David Beatty’s track. Had this
line followed him as he closed down after Hood at 6:25 the enemy would
have been completely outflanked at both ends of his line and even
surrounded at its head. There would have been half an hour between the
Grand Fleet getting into action and the failure of the light. It is
difficult to suppose that, at ranges of from 11,000 yards to 8,000,
the guns of the Grand Fleet could not have beaten the High Seas Fleet
decisively. Scheer could not have turned. His choice would have been
between annihilation and a flight _pêle-mêle_.

Not only does it seem that some such deployment as this was manifestly
possible; it looks as if it was exactly this deployment that Admiral
Beatty had expected. On any other supposition his manœuvre in throwing
first his own and then Hood’s battle cruisers into a short-range fight
with the Germans was to run the gravest risks of disaster, without any
high probability of justifying it by a final defeat of the enemy. If he
expected the Grand Fleet to deploy on to his course and so come into
action with its entire strength, possibly within fifteen, certainly
within twenty minutes of the enemy being sighted, then to have incurred
the loss, not of one but of half of his and Hood’s ships would have
been amply justified.

The manœuvre he executed--judged not as a self-contained evolution but
as part of a large plan--was, of course, one of the most brilliant and
original in the history of the naval war. For the first time for more
than two thousand years two fleets met of which a section of one had
nearly a 50 per cent. superiority in speed over the other. This fast
squadron was sent at top speed to hold and envelop the enemy’s van. It
was calculated to, and it did, arrest that van by sinking the leading
ship and throwing the remainder into confusion. It was not a movement
that interfered with the deployment of the Grand Fleet in the least
degree. It was one, on the contrary, that would have covered it most
effectively, and to a great extent must have concealed its character
from the enemy. But, further, being carried through at a speed which
probably exceeded that which any enemy flotilla could maintain in the
open sea, the manœuvre must have made it impossible for Scheer to get
his destroyers into the right position for a torpedo attack, either
upon the deploying ships or upon the Grand Fleet once deployed. For to
attack to advantage, the flotillas must have been brought up ahead of
the British battle-cruisers, a manifest impossibility. Had the Grand
Fleet as a whole, then, been in action in Sir David Beatty’s wake
from 6:20 on, it is almost certain that, with all his fleet in action
at short range, against guns almost twice as numerous as his own and
more than three times as powerful Scheer could not have ventured upon
changing the course of his fleet at all. He could not have done so,
that is to say, while attempting to keep his ships in line. He might,
as we have seen, have turned all his ships together in undisguised
flight, he could not have kept them in fighting formation while
withdrawing from a fight in these circumstances.


_Sir John Jellicoe’s Tactics_

Before speculating as to the plans or discussing the tactics of the
British Commander-in-Chief, two factors which influenced the situation
must be kept in mind. The first is, that the positions of the two
fleets and of the enemy had been the subject of a forecast by dead
reckoning in both flagships. It is to be supposed that Sir David Beatty
kept Admiral Jellicoe informed from time to time of the position,
speed, and course of his fleet and of the enemy, and that from these
data the lines of approach had been calculated. Each flagship made
its own calculations and, being made by dead reckoning, there was a
discrepancy between the two, which the Commander-in-Chief describes
as inevitable. It resulted from this that both were equally surprised
when, at four minutes to six, _Lion_ and _Marlborough_ came within
sight of each other. Whatever plan of action was adopted could not,
if it was intended to meet the situation of the moment, have been the
subject of long forethought or preparation.

The second factor was the difficulty of seeing anything at long range.
This, in the first place, had prevented any rectification of the
misunderstanding as to positions, such as might easily have been done
had the scouting cruisers of the two fleets come into sight earlier.
It followed, next, that the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet did
not probably see a single ship in the enemy’s line until ten or twelve
minutes _after_ seeing the leading ship of the British Battle-Cruiser
Fleet. His plan of deployment, then, orders for which must have been
given some minutes before the deployment was complete, _could not have
been based upon his own judgment of the situation after seeing the
enemy, but must have been dictated, either by some general principle of
tactics applied to the information as to the enemy’s position, speed,
and course, as given by the Vice-Admiral, or it must have been part of
a plan suggested by the Vice-Admiral_. There is nothing in the despatch
to say whether Sir David Beatty communicated anything more to the
Commander-in-Chief than the bearing and distance, first, of the enemy’s
battle cruisers, then of his battleships. But it seems irrational to
suppose that Sir David did not announce what he intended to do or
failed to suggest how best he could be supported.

If the despatches are silent as to the nature of Sir David Beatty’s
plan, they are equally silent about the Commander-in-Chief’s. We are
told simply that he formed his six divisions into a line of battle and
are left to infer the character and the direction of the deployment
from internal evidence. The facts, so far as they can be gathered from
the despatch seem to be as follows:

The Grand Fleet came upon the scene in six divisions on a S.E.-by-S.
course. This means that the six divisions were parallel with the
leading ships in line-abreast, with an interval of approximately a
mile between each division. A line drawn through the leading ships and
continued to the west would have cut the line of Sir David Beatty’s
course after six o’clock, if that also had been similarly continued,
making an angle of about 33 degrees. The division on the extreme right,
led by _Marlborough_, flagship of Vice-Admiral Sir Cecil Burney,
sighted Sir David Beatty’s squadron at six o’clock. At the same time
Sir David reported the position of the enemy’s battle-cruisers, three
of which were still at the head of the German line. The speed of the
Grand Fleet was probably at least twenty knots, if not twenty-one. The
six divisions seem to have continued their former course for ten or
twelve minutes, when all the leading ships turned eight points--or a
right angle--together to port, the second, third, and fourth ships
in each division following their leaders in succession, so that, very
few minutes after the leading ship had turned, the fleet would be on
a line at right angles to its former course, and steering N.E. by E.
If the leading ship continued on the new course, the fleet would then
be heading at an angle of 56 degrees _away_ from the enemy. A fleet so
deployed would now be brought into action by the leading ship turning
again, either to a course parallel with the enemy or converging towards
it.

It seems probable that it was some such manœuvre as this that took
place, from the fact that the starboard (or right hand) division, which
became the rear division after deployment, got into action so early
as 6:17, at a range of 11,000 yards, that is, a thousand yards nearer
to the enemy than Sir David Beatty’s track, while the port division,
now the leading, did not open fire till some time after 6:30, when, as
we learn from the despatch, the British fleet was on the bow of the
enemy. This means that the courses were parallel, but that the leading
British divisions were well ahead of the enemy. Both fleets, in other
words, were still steering to the east. The track of the Grand Fleet
was, therefore, parallel, not only to that of the enemy, but to that of
Sir David Beatty up to 6:25, but by some considerable amount, probably
2,000 yards farther from the High Seas Fleet. At 6:50 the leading
battle squadron was 6,000 yards N.N.W. from _Lion_. The Grand Fleet
had not formed up astern of the Battle-Cruiser Fleet. It had not come
into action as a unit simultaneously. It had not deployed either on the
enemy or on the British fast division.



CHAPTER XXIV

[E]THE BATTLE OF JUTLAND (_Continued_)

VI. THE COURSE OF THE ACTION


What in fact happened was this. Beatty, as we have seen, had led due
east at six o’clock, closing the enemy from 14,000 yards to 12,000
yards, and was overhauling the head of his line rapidly. At 6:20 Hood,
in _Invincible_, with _Inflexible_ and _Indomitable_, was seen ahead
returning from a fruitless search for the Germans, which he had made
to the southwest an hour before. Hood was one of Beatty’s admirals
with the Battle-Cruiser Fleet temporarily attached to the Grand Fleet.
When, therefore, his old Commander-in-Chief ordered him to take station
ahead, he had not the slightest difficulty in divining his leader’s
intentions. It was characteristic of this force that the rear-admirals
and commodores in command of the unit squadrons acted without orders
throughout the day. Hood formed before the _Lion_ and led down straight
on the German line. By 6:25 he had closed the range to 8,000 yards and
had _Lützow_, Von Hipper’s flagship, under so hot a fire that she was
disabled and abandoned almost immediately. By an unfortunate chance his
own flagship, _Invincible_, was destroyed by the first and almost the
only shell that hit her, the Rear-Admiral and nearly all his gallant
companions being sent to instant death. But their work was done and the
van of the German fleet was crumpled up.

    [E] For diagrams illustrating this chapter, see end of book.

Scheer by this time had had his fleet on an easterly course for five
and thirty minutes, waiting for the opportunity to turn a right angle
or more, so as to retreat under the cover of his torpedo attacks. Up
to this time the main body of his fleet had only been under fire for
a brief interval, during which the rear division of the Grand Fleet
had been in action. Scheer had, no doubt, watched the deployment of
the Grand Fleet and had realized that the method chosen had not only
given him already a quarter-of-an-hour’s respite, but had supplied him
with that opportunity for counter-attack and the evasion it might make
possible, which he had been looking for. The battle cruisers were well
away to the east. The van and centre of the Grand Fleet, though well on
his bows, were only just beginning to open fire.

It is probable that the van was now converging towards him and
shortening the range. Scheer was trying to make the gunnery as
difficult as possible by his smoke screens, but probably soon realized
that, if the range was closed much more, his fleet would soon be in a
hopeless situation. At about a quarter to seven, therefore, he launched
the first of his torpedo attacks. This had the desired effect. “The
enemy,” says the Commander-in-Chief, “constantly turned away and
_opened the range_ under the cover of destroyer attacks and smoke
screens as the effect of British fire was felt.” “Opening the range”
means that the object of the torpedo attacks had been attained. For
a quarter of an hour or more the closing movement of the Grand Fleet
was converted into an opening movement. Scheer had prevented the close
action that he dreaded. He had gained the time needed to turn his whole
force from an easterly to a southwesterly course.

[Illustration: A. Battle-Cruiser Fleet; B. Grand Fleet; C. German Fleet

Sketch plan of the action from 6 p.m. when the Grand Fleet prepared
to deploy, till 6:50 when Admiral Scheer delivered his first massed
torpedo attack]

Sir David Beatty’s account of his movements up to now is singularly
brief. “At six o’clock,” he says, “I altered course to east and
proceeded at utmost speed.... At 6:20 the Third Battle Squadron bore
ahead steaming south towards the enemy’s van. I ordered them to take
station ahead.... At 6:25 I altered course to E.S.E. in support of the
Third Battle-Cruiser Squadron, who were at this time only 8,000 yards
from the enemy’s leading ship.” Nothing is said of his movements in
the next twenty minutes. “By 6:50,” he continues, “the battle-cruisers
were clear of our leading Battle Squadron, then bearing N.N.W. three
miles from _Lion_.” (_Lion_ was now third ship in the line). “I
ordered the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron to prolong the line astern
and _reduced to eighteen knots_.” There was nothing now to hurry for.
The daylight action was, in fact, over. For that matter good visibility
was at an end. From 6:0 to 6:50, though never perfect, it had been more
favourable to us than to the enemy. Could the British forces have been
concentrated for united effort during this period, what might not have
resulted? But from 6:0 to 6:17 Scheer had been engaged by Sir David
Beatty’s four battle-cruisers only. For a short period after 6:17 it
was engaged by some ships of the rear division as well. From 6:30 till
the torpedo attacks broke up the Grand Fleet’s gunnery, it was engaged
intermittently and at longer range by all three of the main squadrons.
But by this time Sir David Beatty had passed ahead, and the survivors
of the enemy’s van had begun their turn.


THE GERMAN RETREAT

The next phase of the action was a fruitless chase of the enemy from
seven o’clock until 8:20. “At 7:6,” says Sir David Beatty, “I received
a signal that the course of the fleet was south.... We hauled round
gradually to S.W. by S. to regain touch with the enemy (who were lost
to sight at about 6:50), and at 7:14 again sighted them at a range of
about 15,000 yards.... We re-engaged at 7:17 and increased speed to
twenty-two knots. At 7:32 my course was S.W. speed eighteen knots, the
leading enemy battleship bearing N.W. by West.... At 7:45 P.M. we lost
sight of them.”

The two quotations I have made from Sir David Beatty’s despatch divide
themselves naturally in this way. The first deals with the plan he had
attempted to make possible and to share, the second describes his
course after that plan had proved abortive. Between them they make it
clear that Sir David kept an easterly course at full speed from six
o’clock till 6:25. He then turned a quarter of a right angle to the
south, that is, to his right, and held this course for twenty-five
minutes when, having lost sight of the enemy and, the Grand Fleet being
still three miles from him, he dropped his speed from say twenty-seven
or twenty-eight knots and awaited developments. As soon as he heard
that the Grand Fleet, after recovering from the first torpedo attack,
had turned south in pursuit of the Germans, he increased his speed by
four knots, hauled round to the southwest, found and re-engaged the
enemy at 7:14. By this time, as we have seen, the enemy’s whole line
would be following the leading ships on a southwesterly course, so that
Sir David Beatty’s movements between 6:0 and 7:14 were approximately
parallel to those of the enemy. He had been able to keep parallel by
availing himself of his ten or eleven knots’ superiority between 6:0
and 6:50 and by his four or five knots’ superiority between 7:0 and
7:14.

On hearing that at last he was to be supported, Sir David Beatty raised
his battle-cruiser speed to twenty-two knots and made a last effort to
get in touch with the retiring enemy. He soon found and engaged him at
a range of 15,000 yards and contact coincided with a sudden improvement
in the seeing conditions. Four ships only, two battle-cruisers and two
battleships, evidently the van of the enemy’s line, were visible, and
these were at once brought under a hot fire, which caused the enemy to
resort to smoke-screen protection, and, under cover of this he turned
away to the west. At 7:45 the mist came down again and the enemy was
lost to sight. The First and Third Light Cruiser Squadrons were then
spread out. They swept to the westward and located the head of the
enemy’s line again, and at 8:20 the battle-cruisers--whose course had
been southwest up to now--changed course to west and got into action
apparently with the same four ships as before, at the short range of
10,000 yards. The leading ship soon turned away emitting high flames
and with a heavy list to port. She had been brought under the fire
of _Lion_. _Princess Royal_ set fire to one of the two battleships.
_Indomitable_ and _New Zealand_ engaged a third and sent her out of the
line, heeling over and burning also. Then the mist came down once more
and the enemy was last seen by _Falmouth_ at twenty-two minutes to nine.

The Commander-in-Chief is far less explicit as to the occasions on
which his ships got into action. The action between the battle fleets,
he said, lasted intermittently from 6:17 to 8:20. At 6:17 we know that
Burney’s division got into action, and at 6:30 until some time up to
7:20 the other divisions also. But no details of any kind of encounters
later than that are mentioned. It is clear that after 6:50 the weather
made any continuous engaging quite impossible. There was a second
torpedo attack during the stern chase--and once more the enemy “opened
the range.”


THE NIGHT ACTIONS AND THE EVENTS OF JUNE 1

The form that the deployment actually took, and the fifteen minutes’
respite from attack won by the torpedo attack at 7:40 which enabled
Scheer to get his whole fleet on to a southeasterly from an easterly
course were, tactically speaking, the explanation of the German escape
on the 31st. It is more difficult to understand exactly why they were
not brought to action on the following day. Very little is actually
known of what happened in the course of the night, and the despatches
throw little light on it because, though many incidents are mentioned,
very few have any definite hour assigned to them. The facts, so far as
they can be gathered, are as follows:

The Grand Fleet seems to have lost sight of the Germans altogether
after 8:20 and Sir David Beatty’s scouts saw the last of their enemy at
8:38. The Vice-Admiral continued searching for forty minutes longer and
then fell back east and to the line which was the course of the Grand
Fleet when he was last in touch with it by wireless. Both fleets seem
to have proceeded some distance south and to have waited for the night
in the proximity of a point about equi-distant--eighty miles--from the
Horn Reef and Heligoland. One destroyer flotilla, the Thirteenth, and
one light cruiser squadron were retained with the capital ships for
their protection. The rest were disposed, as the Commander-in-Chief
says, “in a position in which they could afford protection to the
fleet and at the same time be favourably situated for attacking the
enemy’s heavy ships.” They must have been placed north of the British
forces. No British battle or battle-cruiser squadron was attacked
during the night, but the Second Light Cruiser Squadron, which was
disposed in the rear of the battle line, got into action at 10:20 with
five enemy cruisers, and at 11:30 _Birmingham_ sighted several heavy
ships steering south or west-southwest. The Thirteenth Flotilla, which
seems to have been associated with the Second Light Cruiser Squadron
astern of the battle fleet, reported a large vessel half an hour
after midnight, which opened fire on three of the flotilla, disabling
_Turbulent_. At 2:35 another, _Moresby_, sighted four pre-Dreadnoughts
and had a shot at them with a torpedo. We are not told the course they
were steering.

The destroyers sent out to attack the enemy got several opportunities
for using their torpedoes, three of which were probably successful,
and a fourth attack resulted in the blowing up of a ship. The despatch
does not say, however, whether the destroyers were able to keep in
wireless communication with the main fleet, whether any were instructed
to keep contact with the enemy and just hang on to him till daylight;
whether, in fact, either the Commander-in-Chief or Sir David Beatty had
any authentic information at daylight as to the enemy’s formation or
movements. _Champion’s_ encounter with four destroyers at 3:30 is the
only occurrence we hear of after daybreak, until the engagement of a
Zeppelin at 4:0 A.M. All we are told is to be gathered from these words
of Lord Jellicoe’s:

“At daylight, June 1, the Battle Fleet, being then to the southward
and westward of the Horn Reef, turned to the northward in search of
enemy vessels and for the purpose of collecting our own cruisers and
torpedo-boat destroyers.... The visibility early on June 1 (three to
four miles) was less than on May 31, and the torpedo-boat destroyers,
being out of visual touch, did not rejoin until 9 A.M. The British
Fleet remained in the proximity of the battlefield and near the line
of approach to German ports until 11 A.M. on June 1, in spite of the
disadvantage of long distances from fleet bases and the danger incurred
in waters adjacent to enemy coasts from submarines and torpedo craft.
_The enemy, however, made no sign_, and I was reluctantly compelled
to the conclusion that the High Sea Fleet had returned into port.
Subsequent events proved this assumption to have been correct. _Our
position must have been known to the enemy_, as at 4 A.M. the fleet
engaged a Zeppelin for about five minutes, during which time she had
ample time to note and subsequently report the position and course of
the British Fleet. The waters from the latitude of the Horn Reef to
the scene of the action were thoroughly searched.... A large amount
of wreckage was seen, but no enemy ships, and at 1:15 P.M., it being
evident that the German Fleet had succeeded in returning to port,
course was shaped for our bases, which were reached without further
incident on Friday, June 2.”

At this time of year and in this latitude, it will be daylight some
time before 3:30. The fleet, therefore, made for the scene of the
action at this hour--principally, it would seem, to pick up the
cruisers and destroyers--and remained in its proximity until 11 A.M.,
when the waters between the Battle Fleet and the Horn Reef were
searched. The Commander-in-Chief does not tell us of any search made
for the enemy at all. But from the fact that he had gone northward to
look for his own destroyers and cruisers, it is evident that, whatever
information he had got during the night, pointed to the probability
of the enemy having retreated from the battlefield not south or west,
but east and northwards. At 8:40 on the previous evening he was last
reported at a point 120 miles from the Horn Reef lightship, bearing
almost exactly northwest from it. It is highly probable that at least
ten of the German ships had been struck by torpedoes, in addition to
the one sunk. And though _Lützow_ was the only ship sunk by gunfire,
many others had suffered very severely. If the fleet’s maximum speed
before the action was eighteen knots, it is highly improbable that
after the action it exceeded fifteen. At fifteen knots it would have
taken the Germans eight hours to reach the Horn Reef lightship, had
they started for that point directly after contact with the British
main squadrons was lost. Having suffered so severely and escaped so
miraculously, it was not only obvious that Scheer’s one idea on June
1 would be to make the most of his luck and get safely home, it was
also to the last degree probable that he would shape a course for home
which would bring him soonest under the protection of whatever defences
the German coast could offer. He would not, that is to say, attempt to
regain Heligoland by trying to get round the British Fleet to the south
and west, and then turn sharply east to Heligoland; he would probably
try to creep down the Danish and Schleswig coasts, where wounded
ships might, if necessary, be beached, and the islands might supply
some form of refuge if the situation became desperate. It was on this
route also that the submarines sent out to cover the retreat could be
stationed. The best chance of bringing the Germans once more to action
on the morning of June 1 would then appear to have been a sweeping
movement towards the Horn Reef. The German fleet could not possibly
have reached this point before half-past four, and probably not before
half-past six. The fast, light forces and the battle-cruisers could
have got across to the Schleswig coast in two and a half hours and the
battleships before seven o’clock.

If the despatch tells us all that was done, one is rather driven to
the conclusion that the Commander-in-Chief assumed that it was not our
business, but the Germans’ business, to resume the action. Why else
should he say that “the enemy made no sign”? or exult in the fact that
he knew from his Zeppelin at four o’clock where the British fleet was
if he liked to look for it? Why should the enemy make a sign? Was it
not obvious after the events of the preceding day that he could have
but one idea and that was safety? Scheer and Von Hipper had certainly
done enough for honour. They had inflicted heavier losses than they had
suffered. If they could get home they had anything but a discreditable
story to tell. If the Commander-in-Chief really thought it was not his
first duty to find and bring the enemy to action again; if the risk
of approaching the Jutland coast seemed too great; if the frustration
of any ulterior object the enemy might have contemplated the day
before seemed cheaply purchased by the losses the Battle Cruiser Fleet
had suffered, so long as our main strength at sea was not impaired,
then the proceedings on June 1, as communicated to us, are perfectly
intelligible.

Yet there must have been many among his officers and under his command
who took a diametrically different view. After engaging for the last
time at 8:40 on the previous evening, Sir David Beatty says: “In view
of the gathering darkness, _and of the fact that our strategical
position was such as to make it appear certain that we should locate
the enemy at daylight under most favourable circumstances_, I did not
consider it desirable or proper to close the enemy battle fleet during
the dark hours. I therefore concluded that I should be carrying out
your wishes by turning to the course of the fleet, reporting to you
that I had done so.”

On the events of June 1 Sir David Beatty’s despatch is silent, but it
is obvious that it was not his opinion overnight that the morrow should
be spent in waiting for the enemy to give a sign, but that, on the
contrary, it was certain that he could and should be found and brought
to action.



CHAPTER XXV

ZEEBRÜGGE AND OSTEND


In the course of the night April 22-23, an attack was made on the
two Flemish bases, Ostend and Zeebrügge, with a view to blocking the
entrances of both by the familiar method of sinking old cement-filled
ships in the narrow fairway. At Ostend the block-ships were grounded
slightly off their course, and a few days later a second attempt was
made. The Zeebrügge block-ships got into their chosen billets and are
safely grounded there. The latter port, in spite of official denials,
was for many months made almost useless to the enemy, and it is
probably safe to assume that the value of Ostend, where _Vindictive_
lies across the fairway, is considerably diminished. Material results,
therefore, of high importance were achieved by this enterprise.

The operations are worth examining on three quite independent grounds.
First, what is the strategical value of their objective? How, that is
to say, would the naval activities of Great Britain and her Allies
gain by Zeebrügge and Ostend being, for some months at least out of
action? And, conversely, what would the enemy lose? Unless we are
satisfied that the gain must be substantial--apart altogether from the
moral effect--we should obviously have a difficulty in justifying, not
the losses in ships incurred, which were trivial and easily replaced,
but the losses in picked men, which were irreparable. Secondly, the
incident is clearly worth examining for its tactical interest. What
were the difficulties the vice-admiral in command had to overcome?
By what weapons, devices, and manœuvres did he attempt to effect his
purpose? Third, what was the moral effect?


STRATEGICAL OBJECT

There is now only one theatre of the war, and in this the issue of
civilization or barbarism must be decided by military action. The event
depends upon the capacity of the sea power of the Allies to deliver
in France all the fighting men and all the war material that Allied
ships can draw from Asia, from Australia, from South America, from the
United States, and from Canada, and then deliver either directly into
France, or first into British ports, and then from Britain into France.
To beat the German Army is ultimately a problem in sea communications.
The whole of these have to pass through the bottle-neck of the Western
end of the Atlantic lanes. Into an area south of Ireland and north
of Ushant, a hundred miles square, every ship that comes from the
Mediterranean, from the Cape, from Buenos Ayres, Rio, the West Indies,
or the Gulf of Mexico, from the Atlantic seaboard of America, must come.

Secondary only to this are the areas that feed ships into it, or
into which the ships that pass through it are dissipated on their
way to the several ports--the Mediterranean, the Bay of Biscay, the
English Channel, St. George’s Channel, the Irish Sea. It is in these,
when it is driven from the main funnel point of traffic, that the
submarine must do its work. The defeat of the submarine, when at
large, turns upon three factors: (1) the under-water offensive--that
is, mine-fields, that will tend to keep it within certain areas;
(2) the efficiency with which ships liable to attack are protected
by convoy; and (3) the skill and persistence with which submarines,
once on their hunting grounds, are in turn hunted. To maintain a
cross-Channel barrage, the enemy surface craft must be handicapped in
every possible way. The second and third factors of anti-submarine
war make heavy demands on material, on personnel, and on skill,
judgment, and organization. Here the decisive material factor is the
number of destroyers available for both forms of work. When it comes
to a close-quarters fight, no craft that has a speed of less than
thirty knots, that cannot maintain itself in any weather, that does
not possess a large cruising radius, can be of the first efficiency.
The larger petrol-driven submarine-chasers and the many special craft
which are built for various purposes in connection with the defensive
campaign, all have their field of utility. But for the final power to
rush swiftly on to a submarine if it is momentarily seen afloat, and
for covering the area into which it can submerge itself, while the
destroyer approaches with depth bombs, the destroyer, if only from its
superior speed, stands supreme as the enemy of the U-boat. From the
very earliest days of the submarine work it has, then, been axiomatic
that every measure which will put a larger number of destroyers at
our disposal should be taken at almost any cost. How does the work at
Zeebrügge and Ostend help us, both in this respect and in a mining
policy?

At these two ports our enemy was able to maintain a very considerable
destroyer force. Its activities were necessarily mainly confined to
work in darkness or in thick weather. But in such conditions its
efficiency was of a very high order. The public only heard of its
activities when it shelled some point of the coast of Kent, or raided
our trawlers or other patrols, and, in all conscience, it heard of
these activities often enough. Yet we were inclined to suppose them
unimportant because their material results were insignificant. The news
that a cross-Channel barrage was in course of establishment gave them a
new value. But their value to the enemy should not be measured by the
casualties they inflicted on our light craft, nor by their occasional
excursions into the murder of civilians on shore. It lay in the fact
that the enemy’s force permanently withdrew from the anti-submarine
campaign numerous destroyer leaders and destroyers which had to be
maintained at Dover to cope with it. From Zeebrügge to Emden--the
nearest German port--is, roughly, three hundred miles by sea, and it
does not need elaborate argument to show that if Zeebrügge and Ostend
are permanently out of action the problem of dealing with enemy craft
in the narrow seas is totally and entirely changed. With these gone,
the East Coast ports became the natural centres from which to command
the waters between Great Britain and Holland. They are fifty miles
nearer Emden than is Dunkirk. If any German destroyers got west and
south of Dunkirk, and the news of their presence were cabled to an
East Coast base, destroyers could get between the enemy and his ports
without difficulty. Thus, enemy surface craft, based upon German ports,
would practically be denied access to Flemish waters altogether, and
this by the East Coast and not by the Dover forces. In other words, the
Dover patrol forces would, by the closing of Ostend and Zeebrügge, be
set free for the highly important work of aiding in the anti-submarine
campaign--and there is certainly no naval need that is greater.

The strategical objective, therefore, which Admiral Keyes put before
himself in his expedition was, so far as he could, to set back the
enemy’s naval bases by no less than three hundred miles. Its importance
as setting free new forces, both for the direct attack on submarines,
and for saving the mine-layers from attack, cannot be exaggerated, for
it was a step--and a great step--forward in making sure of the sea
communications on which all depends. It must be conceded, then that the
results Admiral Keyes had in view amply justify a very considerable
expenditure both of material and men. Let us next ask ourselves what
kind of material he chose, and how he proposed to use his forces with
utmost economy and maximum tactical effect.


SIR ROGER KEYES’S TACTICS

The purposes of the expedition, as we have seen, were to block the exit
of the canal at Zeebrügge and the entrance of the small, narrow harbour
at Ostend with old cruisers filled with cement, the removal of which
would be an operation of a lengthy and tedious kind. Incidentally,
the plan was to effect the maximum destruction of war stores and
equipment at Zeebrügge and to sink as many as possible of the enemy
vessels found in either port, and finally, to inflict on the enemy the
maximum possible losses of personnel. By blocking the canal the value
of Zeebrügge was reduced from being an equipped base to being a mere
refuge. As there were two points of attack, the expedition naturally
resolved itself into two distinct, but simultaneous, undertakings. The
simpler, the less dangerous, the less ambitious, but, as the event
showed, the more difficult operation of the two, was the attempt to
block Ostend. The larger, more complex, and infinitely more perilous
undertaking, but because of its very complications, ultimately easier,
was the attempt at Zeebrügge. In its broad outlines, the scheme was to
get the ships as near as possible without detection, and then to trust
to a final rush to gain the desired position. Concealment up to the
last moment was to be secured by smoke screens. At Ostend the problem
was simply to run two or three ships into the entrance--that is, to get
them into position before the enemy’s artillery made it impossible to
manœuvre. If the Ostend attempt failed, it was largely because a sudden
change in the weather conditions robbed the smoke screens, which were
to hide the ships, of their value, so that the operation of placing
the block-ships accurately was made almost impossible. The operation
of blocking such entrances has, of course, long been familiar. The
exploit of Lieutenant Hobson in the Spanish-American War, is fresh in
the memories of all sailors. This failed through the steering gear of
the blocking-ship being destroyed by gunfire at the critical moment.
The Japanese attempted the same thing on a large scale at Port Arthur
but with anything but complete success. If the first Ostend effort,
then, fell short of finality, we have the experience of these earlier
precedents to explain and account for it.

I have dealt with Ostend first because, after the preliminary
bombardment, nothing more could have been attempted than to force the
ships into the harbour entrance and sink them there. But at Zeebrügge a
far more intricate operation was possible. Zeebrügge is not a town. It
is just the sea exit of the Bruges Canal, with its railway connections,
round which a few streets of houses have clustered. The actual entrance
to the canal is flanked by two short sea walls, at the end of each of
which are guide lights. From these lights up the canal to the lock
gates is about half a mile. A large mole protects the sea channel to
the canal from being blocked by silted sand. The mole is connected
to the mainland by five hundred yards of pile viaduct. The mole is
nearly a mile long, built in a curve, a segment amounting to, perhaps,
one-sixth of a circle, the centre of which would be a quarter of a mile
east of the canal entrance, while its radius would be three-quarters
of a mile. It is a large and substantial stone structure, on which are
railway lines and a railway station, and has been turned to capital
military account by the enemy, who erected on it aircraft sheds and
military establishments of many kinds.

The general plan was to bombard the place for an hour by monitors and,
under cover of this fire, for the attacking squadron to advance to the
harbour mouth. Then, when the bombardment ceased, _Vindictive_ was to
run alongside the mole, disembark her own landing party and those from
_Iris_ and _Daffodil_, who were to overpower the enemy protecting the
guns and stores while the old submarines were run into the pile viaduct
to cut the mole off from the mainland, thus isolating it. Meanwhile,
other forces were to engage any enemy destroyers or submarines that
might be in the port. Finally, the block-ships were to be pushed right
up into the canal mouth and there sunk. The success of the latter part
of these operations turned upon the extent to which the enemy could be
made to believe that the attack on the mole was the chief objective.

To ensure success against the mole, several very ingenious devices
were brought into play. The main landing parties were placed in
_Vindictive_. This cruiser--which displaced about 5,600 tons, and
had a broadside of six 6-inch guns--was fitted, on the port side,
with “brows,” or landing gangways, that could be lowered on the mole
the moment she came alongside. All the vessels of the squadron were
equipped with fog- or smoke-making material, which would veil the force
from the enemy until he sent up his star shells and, in the artificial
light, would conceal the character, numbers, and composition of the
force as completely as possible. It seems that a shift of wind at the
critical moment--here, as at Ostend--robbed this plan of some of its
anticipated efficiency. At some point of the approach, then, apparently
just before _Vindictive_ rounded and got abreast of the lighthouse,
the presence of the invaders was detected, and they were saluted
first by salvoes of star shells and next by as hot a gunfire as can
be conceived. _Vindictive_ lost no time in replying. Her six 6-inch
guns--and no doubt her 12-pounders as well--swept the mole as long as
they could be fired, and, once alongside, the “brows”--only two out of
eighteen seem to have survived the heavy gunfire--were lowered, and
officers and men “boarded” the mole.

The earlier accounts stated that this landing was effected in spite
of the stoutest sort of hand-to-hand fighting, that the enemy was
overcome and driven back, and that the landing party then proceeded
to the destruction of the sheds and stores. The plans had included
the blowing-up of the pile viaduct, which connects the stone mole
with the mainland--by means of one or two old submarines charged with
explosives, and so virtually converted into giant torpedoes. These
did their work most effectively, and had the enemy been in occupation
of the mole, his force would have been isolated. But, as a fact, the
mole was not occupied, and the enemy relied upon machine- and gun-fire
organized from the shore end of the mole for making the landing
impossible. In spite of a withering fusillade, a considerable landing
party of marines and bluejackets got ashore, though Colonel Elliott and
Commander Halahan and great numbers of their men were killed in the
attempt. Those that got on the mole proceeded to destroy, as far as
possible, the sheds, stores, and guns, and then turned their attention
to the destroyers moored against its inner side.

Meantime, the only enemy destroyer that seems to have had steam up
tried to escape from harbour, and was either rammed or torpedoed and
instantly sunk. Others, less well prepared, were either boarded, after
the resistance of their crews had been overcome, and, it must be
presumed, sunk also. Others, again, were attacked by motor launches,
which preceded and helped clear a way for the block-ships. Whether
an attempt on the lock gates was made or even contemplated, we have
not been told; but the main purpose of the expedition, the sinking of
at least two out of the three old _Apollos_ in the right place, was
achieved with precision. The moment the block-ships were in place, the
purpose for which the mole was occupied was gained, and the order was
rightly given for an immediate retreat. The work had been done, and
there was no knowing what new resources the enemy could have brought to
bear had time been wasted. Many of the vessels, including _Vindictive_,
had been holed by 11-inch shells. But _Vindictive’s_ damages were
not of a serious kind, and the whole force was able to withdraw in
safety, with the exception of one destroyer and two motor launches.
The destroyer is known to have been sunk by gunfire. The successful
withdrawal of the expedition is conclusive evidence that the enemy was
demoralized.

For such close-quarters work Admiral Keyes, naturally enough, armed his
forces as for trench fighting. _Vindictive_ carried howitzers on her
forward and after decks, and her boarding parties were liberally armed
with grenades and flame-throwers as well as with rifles, bayonets,
and truncheons. Machine guns also seem to have been landed, so that
hand-to-hand fighting was prepared for in the full light of the most
recent war experience. The plan, it should be noted, was to have
included aeroplane co-operation to supplement, if not to assist, the
work of the monitors; but the change in the weather appears to have
interfered with this part of the programme, and may quite easily have
made any accurate work by the monitors impossible also.

It is, first of all, patent that the expedition was thoroughly thought
out in all its details, and therefore closely planned. An accurate
study of the enemy’s defences had been made, and suitable means of
avoiding his attack or overcoming his defences had been elaborately
worked out. It is equally clear that almost to the moment when the
attack was made, the weather conditions were those which the plan
contemplated as necessary to success, and that it was only the sudden,
unexpected change in the wind that threatened the Ostend part of the
operations with partial failure and made the Zeebrügge operations
more costly in life than they should otherwise have been. When it is
remembered that the approaches to Ostend and Zeebrügge are commanded
by very formidable batteries, armed with no less than 120 guns of the
largest calibre, and that the mole and the sides of the canal bristled
with quick-firing 12-pounders and larger pieces, it will be realized
that, to the enemy, any attempt actually to bring an unarmoured vessel,
with her cement-laden consorts, right up either to the mole or to
the actual mouth of the canal must have appeared an undertaking too
absurdly hare-brained for any one but a lunatic to have attempted. It
was just because Sir Roger Keyes had evaluated the enemy’s defences
with exactitude and had thought out and adopted, first, methods
of evading his vigilance and, next, manœuvres that would _for the
necessary period_ make his weapons useless, that it was possible not
only to make the attempt, but to realize the very high degree of
success that has apparently been won.

The essence of the matter, of course, was to take the enemy by
surprise. At first sight, it may appear a curious way of putting him
off his guard, that he should for an hour be bombarded by monitors and
aeroplanes. But the Vice-Admiral probably reasoned that this would
lead, as it often does, to the crews of the big guns taking shelter
underground until the attack is over. If the monitors were placed at
their usual great distance from ports, and were concealed by smoke or
fog screens, the enemy gunners would know that it was merely idle to
attempt to reply to their fire. If nothing was to be possible in the
way of response until daylight, the gun-layers were just as well in
their shell-proofs as anywhere. Under cover, then, of this long-range
bombardment, and concealing his squadron by the ingenious fog methods
invented by the late Commander Brock, Sir Roger Keyes made his way
within a very short distance of the veiled lights at the end of the
mole. It was at this point that the wind shifted and the presence of
the squadron was revealed to the enemy. There was a brief interval
before the big guns could be manned, and it was doubtless owing to this
that _Vindictive_ got alongside before more than one 11-inch shell had
struck her. Once under the shelter of the mole, she was safe from the
larger pieces, and only her upper works could be raked by the smaller
natures.


ATTACK ON THE MOLE

The policy of attacking the mole and making that appear to the enemy
the central affair, was a fine piece of tactics. The engagement which
developed there was in fact, a containing action, which left the
execution of the main objective to the other forces, and its purpose
was to prevent the enemy from interfering too much with them. Nelson,
it will be remembered, cut out a block of ships in the centre of the
enemy’s line at Trafalgar, occupying them so that their hands were
full, and preventing both them and the van from coming to the succour
of the rear. The main operation was the destruction of the rear by
Collingwood. Here it was _Vindictive_, her landing party, that played
the Nelson rôle while the Vice-Admiral, in _Warwick_, himself directed
the crucial operation, namely, the navigation of the block-ships to
their billets. The moment they were blown up and sunk the purpose of
the expedition was fulfilled, and _Vindictive’s_ siren recalled all
those from the mole who could get back to the ship. The actual fortunes
of the fight on the mole itself, while of thrilling human interest
owing to the extraordinary circumstances in which it was undertaken,
were of quite subsidiary importance. The primary object, it must be
borne in mind, was not the destruction of the mole forts, or of the
aeroplane shed, or of whatever military equipment was there, or even of
killing or capturing its garrison. These were only important in so far
as their partial realization was necessary to relieving the block-ships
from the danger of premature sinking.

This is a matter of real capital importance and of very great
interest, for it is, I think, not difficult to realize that, had
similar circumstances existed at Ostend--had it been possible, that is
to say, to occupy the defenders and distract their attention on some
perfectly irrelevant engagement--the requisite time would have been
given to those in command of the block-ships to make sure of getting
them into the right position. As things were, they were threatened by
the fate which made Hobson’s attempt at Santiago a failure. With the
whole gun-power of Ostend concentrated upon the blocking-ships, there
was not a minute to be wasted. But with the enemy’s fire drawn there
would have been the leisure which alone could make precision possible.


MORAL EFFECT

The attack on Zeebrügge and the two successive attacks on Ostend,
carefully planned and boldly and resolutely carried out, achieved a
very high measure of success. It was natural enough, on the first
receipt of the news, that we should all have been carried away by
our wonder and admiration at the astonishing heroism that made it
possible to carry through so intricate a series of operations, when
every soul engaged was seemingly aware of the desperate character
of the enterprise, when no one could have expected to return alive,
when the enemy’s means seemed ample, not only for the killing of
everyone engaged, but for the immediate frustration of every object
that they had in view, and so made most of the astounding gallantry
and daring of all concerned. For over four years now we have had a
constant recurrence of such feats of courage, and repetition does not
lessen their power to intoxicate us with an overwhelming admiration of
those who are the heroes of these great adventures. But we should be
misconceiving the significance of these events if we were to measure
their importance either by the ordered daring of those engaged, or by
their successful execution, or by their immediate military results,
great and far-reaching as these were.

The thing was more important as affording conclusive evidence that
the British Navy, as inspired and directed from headquarters, had now
abandoned the purely defensive rôle assigned to it by ten years of
pre-war, and three and a half years of war, administration. It meant
that the Fleet had escaped from those counsels of timorous--because
unimaginative and ignorant--caution, which had checked its ardour
and limited its activities since August, 1914. The effect may be
incalculable. The doctrine that every operation which involved the risk
of losing men or ships must necessarily be too hazardous to undertake,
was thus shown to be no longer the loadstone of Whitehall’s policy. The
Navy was at last set free to act on an older and a better tradition.

It is indeed on this tradition that on almost every occasion the Navy
has, in fact, acted when it got a chance. When _Swift_ and _Broke_
tackled three times their number of enemy last year, and _Botha_ and
_Morris_ six times their number this year, the gallant captains of
these gallant vessels did not wait to ask if the position of their
ships was “critical” or otherwise; but, with an insight into the true
defensive value of attack--which, seemingly, it is the privilege only
of the most valorous to possess--went straight for their enemies,
fought overwhelming odds at close quarters, and came out as victorious
as a rightly reasoned calculation would have shown to be probable.

Similarly, on May 31, 1916, Sir David Beatty, when his force of
battle-cruisers, by the loss of _Indefatigable_ and _Queen Mary_,
had been reduced below that of the enemy, persisted in his attack
upon Von Hipper and, by demoralizing the enemy’s fire, provided most
effectively for the safety of his own ships. Losses did not make him
retreat then, nor, when Scheer came upon the scene with the whole High
Seas Fleet, did he withdraw from the action--his speed would have made
this easy--though the odds were heavy against him. He kept, on the
contrary, the whole German Fleet in play, drawing them dexterously to
the north, where contact with the Grand Fleet would be inevitable. And,
when the contact was made, his last effort to break up the German line
was to close from the 14,000 yards, a range he had prudently maintained
during the previous two hours, to 8,000, where his guns would be more
certainly effective, realizing perfectly that no loss of ships in his
own squadron would signify, if only the entire destruction of the
German Fleet were made possible by such a sacrifice. It would not be
difficult to give scores of incidents in which individual admirals and
captains have shown the old spirit under new conditions.

But, save only for the crazy attack on the Dardanelles forts--and
this is hardly a precedent we should rejoice to see followed--we
have looked in vain for any sign of naval initiative from Whitehall.
The explanation lies in the fact that we had no staff for planning
operations, nor the right men in power for judging whether any
proposed undertaking was based on a right calculation of the value of
the available means of offence and defence. The events, therefore of
the night of the 22nd and the early hours of the 23rd were of quite
extraordinary importance, for they marked an undertaking needing long
and elaborate preparation, and one which could not have been brought
to a successful issue had it not enjoyed from its first inception the
enthusiastic support of the Admiralty. But this is not all. Not only
was this an Admiralty-supported undertaking, it was one that, unlike
the Gallipoli adventure, was carried through on right staff principles.
There was a definite, well-thought-out plan--careful preparation for
every step in the right selection of men and means for its execution.

I think it is right to put this forward as the most important aspect
of a significant, stirring, and successful enterprise. It is the most
important because the news meant so very much more than that Zeebrügge
was blocked, that Ostend was crippled, and that an expedition--at first
sight perilous beyond conception--had been carried through with losses
altogether disproportionate, either to its dangers or to the results
achieved. The news meant that a new direction either had been, or
certainly can, and therefore must, now be given to our naval policy. In
the spring of 1917 sceptics were asking if the Army could win the war
before the Navy lost it. Why, they said, if our land forces can force a
way through what we were told were impregnable fortifications, should
the greatest sea force in the world be impotent against an enemy who
slinks behind his forts with his surface craft, while devastating our
sea communications with his submarines? Is naval ingenuity, they asked,
so crippled that we can neither protect our trade against the submarine
at sea, nor block the enemy’s ports so that the submarine can never
get to sea? The critics replied that all was well with the Navy, but
that all was sadly wrong with its official chiefs. The reorganization
of the Admiralty was immediately followed by the adoption of the
convoy principle--and submarine losses were reduced to half. This
long-advocated measure, the recently inaugurated barrage at Dover, and
now the events of the morning of April 23, have justified the critics
and the changes in method and men which they urged. Zeebrügge had been
in the enemy’s hands since September, 1914, and it took us three and
a half years, not to discover a man capable of attacking it, but in
developing an Admiralty capable of picking the man and giving him the
right support before the attack could be made. If a similar spirit had
actuated a properly constituted Admiralty all these years, what might
not the Navy have accomplished?

In the previous year the emancipation of the Navy had gone forward
apace. And not the least significant of the stages in the process
were first the appointment of Admiral Sir Roger Keyes to be head of
the Planning Division at the Admiralty, next his removal from the
Admiralty to Dover, next the inauguration of the Channel barrage, and
finally his surprising and masterly stroke at the Flemish ports. The
enumeration of these stages is worth making, for they mark the genesis
of the plan we have seen achieved. It was, if I am correctly informed,
quite understood when Admiral Keyes went to Dover that his mission was
temporary. If he was sent to do the things which he has done, and now
that he has done them is taken back to Whitehall, then it might seem
as if we might look forward to an aggressive policy at sea more worthy
of the superb force which we possess, and more consonant with its
glorious heritage than anything which we have witnessed in the past.
And if Sir Roger cannot be spared from his new command, so auspiciously
inaugurated, then we must trust that some other of equal brains
and spirit has already taken or will take his place. Zeebrügge and
Ostend, then, will figure in naval history, not only as the names of
achievements unique and splendid in themselves, but more famous as the
harbingers of still greater things to come.


END



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  THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS
  GARDEN CITY, N. Y.



Transcriber’s Notes


Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not
changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; occasional unbalanced
quotation marks retained.

Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained.

Text within some diagrams has been enlarged to improve readability.

Empty space in some diagrams has been removed to allow those diagrams
to be enlarged for improved readability.

Page 163: Closing quotation mark added at the end of “voice pipes in
the beginning.’”

Page 262: Opening quotation mark removed at “Mr. Churchill’s speech”.





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