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without seeming to trench on the sanctity of a cardinal military principle; I mean the principle of concentrating
I the utmost possible force against the main strength of the enemy. So valuable and even sacred is this article of faith that even to seem to question its applicability to all possible conditions of war is to raise at once a cry of heresy. But here lies encouragement to proceed. A charge of heresy connotes the existence of dogma; and, of all diseases from which strategical thought can suffer, dogma is the most fatal. When dogma steals in at the door, reason flies out of the window. Principle always has a tendency to ossify into dogma; and, at the first symptom of such degradation being on foot, the application of a little historical massage may safely be prescribed.
On this occasion I would begin the treatment by quoting two dicta,
mediæval with an almost devotional note, the other modern, practical and coldly scientific. The first is from The Libel of English Policy' written in 1436–
Kepe well the sea that is the wall of England,
And then is England kept by Goddes hand.' The second is from Colonel Henderson, than whom, as a writer on war, I believe no higher authority exists in this country. In his Science of War' he lays down what he calls the great maxim that the naval strength of the enemy should be the first objective of the forces of a maritime Power, both by land and sea.' If now, without accepting this maxim as gospel, we apply it as a working hypothesis to the apparently confused conduct of the war, we find British policy assuming a very different aspect. We have at once a thread which binds the sporadic incidents into a consistent whole; and, in place of haphazard adventures, we get the impression of a concentration of effort in what proved to be at least one of the decisive theatres of the war.
To this view I can well imagine quick objection taken. Why, it may be asked, devote our slender army to assisting the navy to secure the command of the sea when we had already won it at Trafalgar? The objection is natural enough. So brilliant was the triumph in which the greatest Admiral of all time came to his end,
that the dramatic sense of the historian almost compels him to ring down the curtain there and then. Even Mahan, for all his philosophic outlook, could not resist the temptation. It is on his works that intelligent appreciation of our sea-story mainly rests; and he stopped short at Trafalgar, as though it had finally shattered Napoleon's sea-power.
But did it? This was certainly not Napoleon's view. The Franco-Spanish fleet of Villeneuve, though stricken to impotency, was not destroyed. It was materially capable of regeneration. Napoleon had other fleets and squadrons undefeated. Other of his Allies, besides Spain, had ships, and certain weak neutrals had more. soon at work on schemes to restore his naval power out of these scattered elements; and we still have his minute calculations, culminating in that of 1808, which showed over 130 sail of the line within his reach for the
That the pictures he formed year by year were sanguine is not to be denied. But we ourselves, to judge at least by our building programmes, were scarcely less sensitive to the possibilities which Trafalgar had left open.
In 1806 we had building or ordered 26 ships of the line. In 1807 the figure rose to 36. In the two following years it was as high as 48 and 47. Then it slowly fell, but it was not till 1812 that it was down again to 30. The cruiser programme was no less significant.
For Napoleon his dream was undoubtedly a real possibility. Nothing indeed gives a stronger impression of the abounding resource and energy of the man than to follow in his correspondence the little-known story of his untiring efforts to restore his navy As from year to year the struggle grew more bitter, every port over which he had any influence, from Venice round to the Texel, was set to work on new construction and incessantly spurred to increased activity. Millions were lavished on building new dockyards, extending old ones, and increasing their defences. All Europe was ransacked for materials, labour, and crews. Performance always lagged behind his hopes; and yet enough was done to force us to counter with the fullest strain that our own yards and man-power would bear. I need hardly remind you that it was our desperate straits to find crews that was the immediate cause of bringing America into the war against us. Once, it is true, Napoleon had his doubts. In the exhausting winter of 1806 he ordered Decrès, his Minister of Marine, to form a number of battalions from his seamen and dockyardhands, telling him, “I mean to reconquer my colonies on land.' But his determination to revive his navy soon returned, and the might of his personality was such that anything he thought possible we could not ignore. And so it was that, for years after Trafalgar, our navy and our army were absorbed in action to prevent Napoleon's dream being realised.
Together they did prevent it, but the curious thing is that there is scarcely one of the operations of that long struggle which either Service cares to dwell upon. Copenhagen, Walcheren, the Basque Roads, the Portugal expedition which ended in the Convention of Cintra-we regard them all as failures or something to be ashamed of. Similarly, too, the other class of combined expeditions—those against the colonies of France and her subject Allies. Judged by strict military dogma, they involved an heretical dispersal of strength away from the main forces of the enemy. But, judged as a means of securing our sea-power, they fall into place with the European enterprises as part of the great concentration of effort. When, within a year of Trafalgar, Napoleon's raiding squadrons were driven from the sea, there still remained the privateers acting from oversea bases; and, for all our cruisers could do, they remained a thorn in the side of our trade till the bases from which they worked were in our hands. Over and above this necessity for the vitality of our sea-power was the need for new markets and new sources of supply, in place of those of which Napoleon was depriving us.
To express the whole situation diagrammatically, we may say that Napoleon's policy, after he found it impossible to strike us a decisive blow by invasion, was to exhaust us by shutting out our trade from Europe ; and by forcing on us simultaneously heavy naval expenditure by the menace of reviving his fleets. Our reply was to capture new markets, and to destroy the elements of his new navy in its ports by combined operations. It is at least possible to argue that our
policy of using the army in this way was correct. That your utmost military strength should be concentrated upon the decisive military theatre is a principle not to be gainsaid, provided always your utmost strength is great enough to give hope of a decision. But no theatre can be called a decisive theatre if a decision in it is beyond your strength. And what at this time was our utmost strength compared with the vast hosts which our enemy could marshal against it? For us there was no decisive theatre anywhere within reach of the enemy's main forces, except the sea.
This was the first factor in the problem that Ministers had to solve. The second was that, so long as we maintained our dominant position at sea, Napoleon could not strike a decisive blow against us. The outlook, then, which they had to face was a war of exhaustion, at all events until future developments gave our diplomacy the means of reviving the Coalition. But when, after Austerlitz, Pitt rolled up the map of Europe, that was & remote, almost hopeless prospect. In any case the war must be long, and the side that could endure the longest would be the side to win. How, then, could our small army have been more profitably used than working hand-in-hand with the navy to prevent Napoleon from ever being able to strike the decisive blow, and by protecting and fostering our trade to give us the means of endurance ?
Now, so far as time permits, I would ask your attention to points where the current view of the joint enterprises seems to need revision, and particularly to those which were aimed at keeping the country out of danger of a decisive blow. To visualise the problem more clearly, one cardinal fact in Napoleon's naval policy must be kept always in view. His chief hopes of restoring his navy lay in the North Sea. Brest, which had been the main dockyard of his predecessors, was so far removed from the sources of ship-building material, and its
communications were so bad, that he quickly realised it could not be relied on. His sagacious grip of realities turned his mind to the north. The resources of Scandinavia and Northern Germany were essential to his purpose. Within reach of them must be his dock yard ; and so he quickly set about creating in the Scheld a substitute for Brest. On Antwerp and Flushing he began at once to spend the bulk of his energy as a cradle for his new fleet; and Denmark and Sweden were marked down to provide the ships which he could not hope to build himself. This dominant fact the British Government, always acutely sensitive to naval developments north of the Dover defile, was of course quick to grasp; and in it lies the justification, or at least the explanation, of the policy which it promptly inaugurated.
The first round of the new contest was the Copenhagen expedition of 1807, but this was not actually the first instance of using the army for a definite naval object. That had been done in 1805, when Sir James Craig's little expedition was sent to the Mediterranean. Its object was to prevent Napoleon's occupation of Italy spreading to Sicily; for, with Sicily in the enemy's hands, we could not at that time maintain our hold on the Mediterranean, and, if that hold was lost, not only would our vital Levant trade go with it, but Napoleon would be free to develop his fondest ambitions in the East. Slender as was the force employed, it succeeded. To quote Colonel Henderson again : 'An army supported by an invincible navy possesses a strength which is out of all proportion to its size . . . if intelligently directed.' It was a truth Napoleon was slow to recognise. He could not understand why the tide of his conquests was held up at the Straits of Messina. Again and again he angrily urged his brother to make an end of the puny obstruction. But Joseph could not even take Reggio on the Italian side. The Emperor lost his temper. That
· damned rock,' he wrote, is thwarting all my plans.' But it was not the rock. It was something else, which his genius could not or would not grasp. When the rock fell the barrier still stood firm.
It was in the initial phase, with this success to their credit, that Ministers resolved to use our disposal force,' as it was called—that is, the force they were organising out of the surplus not thought necessary for home defence-to save the Coalition from utter collapse after Jena. The idea was that it should operate from the Baltic against Napoleon's line of communications to stop his alarming advance against Russia, and encourage the