The Hollow Order
Rebuilding an International System That Works
AS Chairman of the Naval Committee of the French Senate I am highly gratified at this opportunity to submit to impartial American judgment the naval situation, past and future, of my country, and to emphasize the fact that French naval policy, as far removed from imperialism as is Greenland from Cape Horn, holds exclusively in view the protection of French liberties and the coöperation of all peoples for world peace.
To be sure, one might compile from French newspapers a list of articles inspired by the rankest imperialism. What nation is without its chauvinists and super-patriots? France is a country of free discussion with a free press. But one swallow, as we say, does not make a spring. Though Commander Castex is a naval officer he does not speak for the French navy and much less for the French nation.
Foreigners who visit France usually confine themselves to Paris, a city without restraints, without surveillance, where people flock from all parts of the world to indulge in gaieties which the French themselves could not afford even if they had a taste for them. Most often the tourist goes away without perceiving that he has learned nothing whatever about the real France, the France which in the industrious seclusion of her towns and villages is jealously guarding her national traditions, her national virtues, her national idea -- everything, in short, which her past has achieved and on which her future will depend.
To understand the real feelings of the French people one must take into account the last fifty years of our history. The Republic which was set up on the fall of Napoleon III was an expression of popular enthusiasm, and it encountered serious difficulties in establishing its authority on more solid foundations. But once the French peasants had grasped its full significance, in terms of hope, of peace, of liberty, of justice, they gave the Republic an unshakeable stability.
At once the French Republic began covering its territory with a multitude of schools in which citizens of all classes were taught that France was greater and more glorious through the achievements of her thinkers than through the prowess of her generals, and that, as an heir of the French Revolution, she had a sublime mission in the world -- the mission of peace and human brotherhood. The Republic, moreover, was successful in imparting this lesson. One may say with literal truth that all the plain people of France were reared in that conviction as in a religious faith.
The Great War came with all its trials and sufferings. During the five years it lasted, and during the five following years, the French masses lost touch with public affairs. Then came the elections of May, 1924, which placed M. Herriot in power and once more revealed to the family of nations the true features of France. Henceforth cabinets may rise and fall according to the vicissitudes of political life -- as varied and changeable as the surface of a troubled sea. One can never predict what developments the morrow will bring. But on one thing the prophet may rely without fear of going wrong: that no Government, whatever its complexion, can enlist the support of enough French citizens to follow a policy of foreign conquest. France used to live in dread of war. Those Frenchmen who have endured the last conflict have come to hate the very idea of war. Our country has only one ambition -- that her frontiers be secure from invasion, that the provinces she has repurchased with some of her finest blood be safe from new attack.
Until her frontiers have been fully and permanently guaranteed, France must undoubtedly remain in a position to marshal her resources from overseas; and for that purpose she must be sure of unimpeded transit for her convoys. In a word, her naval policy may be reduced to a formula: "Protection of frontiers by land and sea, and security of communications."
I hope these prefatory remarks have made it reasonably clear that France must be far from satisfied with the present outlook.
THE FRENCH NAVY IN 1914
On January 1, 1914, the French navy showed a gross tonnage of 803,000 tons. However, our naval program was in process of development.
The Naval Bill of March 30, 1912, had provided for ninety-two additional units to be added during a period of seven years, on the following scheme:
16 battleships, of 23,000 tons, with 12-inch and 13.6-inch guns, or larger.
The execution of this program would have given us the following strength in 1920:
28 battleships, with guns of unit calibre.
Between 1911 and 1914, the following units had actually been commissioned:
4 battleships of the "Courbet" type, with twelve 12-inch guns.
3 battleships of the "Lorraine" type, with ten 13.6-inch guns.
Our shipyards had also laid down:
5 battleships of the "Flandre" type, to carry twelve 13.6-inch guns.
This naval strength had been conceived for the following purposes:
1. To provide protection for an overseas domain which, between 1870 and 1914, had increased from 230,000 square miles of territory to 4,250,000 square miles; with populations which had increased from 7,000,000 souls to 50,000,000 souls; and with an annual commerce which had increased from $120,000,000 to $600,000,000.
2. To assure safe convoy to France of colonial troops and supplies, and of raw materials unavailable at home but necessary for the manufacture of munitions in case of war. In this last category are included: coal or coke, coal tar, petroleum products, timber, cereals, sugar, phosphates, sulphur, wool, cotton, and a number of metals and minerals which must be sought either in the French colonies or in countries accessible to France only by sea.
3. To defend the home coasts.
Some idea of the obligations devolving upon the French navy, within the limits of these purposes, may be gathered from the following data:
We must protect 1,425 miles of domestic seaboard, and 8,110 miles of colonial seaboard. Our lines of communication total 34,484 miles in length.
A comparison of seaboards shows that France, with 9,535 miles, stands third among the Powers, following Great Britain with 32,835 miles, and the United States with 13,830 miles. Her task is much greater than that of Japan or of Italy, which have but 5,570 and 4,630 miles respectively.
As for lines of communication, France stands second, with her 34,484 miles. Great Britain has 66,046; the United States, 16,507; Japan, 4,822; and Italy, 3,889.
THE FRENCH NAVY DURING THE WAR
The war of 1914 brought our naval development to a full stop. Over a period of eight years, between August, 1914, and January, 1922, not a single ship (save, of course, the submarine chasers built for the war) was laid down in French yards. Moreover, not only was work on the five battleships of the "Flandre" type suspended; but, as early as 1916, as spokesman for the Chamber Committee on Naval Appropriations, and again in the same capacity in 1919, and still again in a Report on the Naval Program made in December, 1920, the writer recommended the permanent abandonment of work on the five battleships, a recommendation which was accepted by both Chamber and Senate in 1922, with the declaration that France refused to enter on a program of competition in naval armaments, that we had designs of aggression upon no one, and that we intended to give up fleets of heavy ships to concentrate on a strictly defensive program.
From 1914 on, the French navy progressively deteriorated as regards both the number and the power of her units, while other countries were increasing the number and the efficiency of their war vessels.
WORLD NAVIES SINCE THE WAR
The two following tables show the development in the naval tonnage and in the naval appropriations of the different Powers between the years 1914 and 1925, as well as the respective percentages of increase or reduction.
GROSS TONNAGE, 1914-1925
|Great Britain||U. S.||Japan||France||Italy|
|Jan. 1, 1914||2,189,000||864,000||570,000||803,000||405,000|
|Jan. 1, 1919||2,476,000||1,007,000||610,000||580,000||333,000|
|Jan. 1, 1925||1,259,000||1,105,000||686,000||408,000||285,000|
It will be noted that the greatest proportionate reduction in tonnage has been suffered by France.
CURRENT NAVAL EXPENDITURES AND APPROPRIATIONS FOR BUILDING
(in millions of dollars)
|Great Britain||United States||Japan||France||Italy|
Here again, in current expenses and in appropriations for building, France has made the greatest reductions; for if in 1925 Italy seems to lead in the curtailment of her building program, it must be remembered that in the years just preceding she built several ships whereas France did not lay down a single keel.
But the preceding figures, referring only to gross tonnage, fail to give an exact picture of the deterioration of the French navy since 1914. If we turn to the ships themselves, we find, as regards units actually in commission in the different navies on Jan. 1, 1926 (disregarding the superannuated battleships and cruisers of the United States, of France, and of Italy), the following situation:
SHIPS IN SERVICE, JAN. 1, 1926
Even this prospectus overstates the position of France, for the figures are not all of equal value. They put on the same plane old units that have no appreciable efficiency and new ships which represent the very latest developments in technical progress. To describe the situation more exactly, we should omit from the reckoning old French battleships of the "Danton" type, and old Italian battleships of the "Napoli" type, as well as light ships built before 1914, which have long since been outclassed. Thus revised, the table would read;
SHIPS IN SERVICE, JAN. 1, 1926
(Including only Battleships with 12-inch Guns, or larger, and Light Craft built later than 1914.)
Let us add to the preceding table the figures for ships now building. Making the same exceptions as before, we get:
SHIPS IN SERVICE OR BUILDING, JAN. 1, 1926
Here, finally, is a comparative table of the guns and torpedo tubes on the ships in service or building in the different navies:
ARMAMENTS OF SHIPS IN SERVICE OR BUILDING, JAN. 1, 1926
|13-inch guns or||8-inch to||4-inch to||Torpedo-|
ANALYSIS OF FRENCH NAVAL STRENGTH IN 1926
So much for a comparison of the French navy with those of other powers. If now we examine the French fleet in itself, we find the following situation:
3 of the "Bretagne" class:
designed in 1913; armament, ten 13.6-inch guns, and eighteen 5.5-inch guns, delivering a broadside of 12,570 pounds. (The American "Colorados" carry eight 16-inch guns of much longer range, with a broadside of 17,700 pounds)
3 of the "Jean Bart" class:
designed in 1911; armament, ten 12-inch guns, and twenty-two 5.5-icnh guns, broadside: 10,000 pounds.
3 of the "Diderot" class:
these we mention only to keep the figures complete; for they carry only four 12-inch guns and twelve 9.8-inch guns, with a broadside of 6,600 pounds.
Not one of these nine battleships can carry a torpedo. They may be considered worthless as compared with any of the capital ships of the United States, England or Japan. They are somewhat closer to the Italian battleships, four of which carry thirteen 13-inch guns, with a broadside of 12,800 pounds, while another has twelve 12-inch guns delivering a broadside of 11,700 pounds.
4 ex-German ships:
the "Metz", the "Strasbourg", and the "Mulhouse", carrying six and seven 6-inch guns, and the "Thionville", carrying nine 4-inch guns. All superannuated, except the "Metz", which was launched in 1915. Armaments of old type, low speed.
1 ex-German ship:
The "Admiral Sénes", carrying four 6-inch guns.
41 old fashioned craft, much the worse from wear during the war:
of these 13 are French, antedating the war. 9 are ex-Germans; 12, ex-Japanese, dating from 1917 (tonnage too light, 700 tons); 3 French, built since 1914, but of doubtful value; 4 ex-Argentines, slow.
39 boats, of which twelve, at the most, are serviceable.
8 are ex-German, of hasty construction. 31 are French, but built on designs prior to 1914. All are outclassed by the similar craft in other navies.
We must take account, however, of the ships at present building in French yards, and to which reference was made in the tables given above:
SHIPS AUTHORIZED BY THE BILL OF APRIL 18, 1922
3 cruisers, of 8000 tons, carrying eight 6-inch guns.
These units are without real value. They were hastily designed and their armament is already outclassed by cruisers of the "Washington" type (U. S. Navy).
6 destroyers, 2,400 tons, with five 5-inch guns.
12 torpedo-boats, 1,500 tons, with four 5-inch guns.
6 submarines, 1,150 tons.
6 submarines, 600 tons.
1 aeroplane-carrier, 22,000 tons.
[An experimental craft, rebuilt from the battleship "Bearn"].
SHIPS AUTHORIZED BY THE BILL OF APRIL 12, 1924
2 cruisers, of the "Washington" type, 10,000 tons, carrying eight 8-inch guns.
6 torpedo-boats, 1,500 tons, like those mentioned above.
2 submarines, 1,500 tons.
SHIPS AUTHORIZED BY THE BILL OF JULY 13, 1925
1 cruiser, "Washington" type, 10,000 tons.
3 destroyers, 2,400 tons, like those above.
7 submarines, like those authorized April 12, 1924.
2 mine-laying submarines, 750 tons.
What can we say when we compare the ninety-four old-fashioned and superannuated units of our fleet with the 364 vessels of the British navy, equipped with all the improvements suggested by experience during the recent war in every branch of technical science?
THE MEDITERRANEAN SITUATION
But supposing we pass over the general world situation and confine ourselves specifically to the Mediterranean. How are we placed there?
DISTRIBUTION OF NAVAL FORCES IN THE MEDITERRANEAN
|Battleships||8, modern, with||5, useless||4, useless|
|13.6-inch and 15-inch|
|Carriers||1, the "Eagle," 26,||none||none|
|000 tons, 24 knots|
|and Destroyers||9, up-to-date||10, old||2, old|
|Torpedo-boats||36, up-to-date||32 up-to-date||13, serviceable,|
|Submarines||6, up-to-date||41, up-to-date||24, serviceable|
|Totals||60, up-to-date||88, of which 73||43, of which only|
|are up-to-date||a dozen of fighting|
Let us assume that in case of an attack upon France, England remains neutral. The forty-three French units, listed above, would be confronted by eighty-eight Italian vessels of more recent design and of better armaments, not to mention twenty-two Spanish ships, also of recent build (2 battleships, 4 cruisers, 6 destroyers and 10 submarines). Furthermore, France would also have to face in the north a German navy which, though much reduced, is still far from being a negligible quantity: thirty-six units, which Germany will be sure to improve as opportunity offers.
In any event, there can be no doubt that if, for one reason or another, Italy should see fit to oppose the movement of French convoys to and from Algeria and Tunis, not a regiment of troops, not a cargo of supplies, would ever reach France. If our four battleships more or less balance the five Italian battleships, what could our two old-fashioned, ex-German cruisers do against the ten Italians? How would our thirteen pre-war torpedo-boats fare with the thirty-two new torpedo-boats and destroyers they would be called upon to meet? How could we defend ourselves against Italy's forty-one submarines, all built since 1914, without counting her flotillas of small torpedo boats and scouts, for which we have no equivalent in the French navy? How, especially, could our old and out-worn vessels enter battle on anything approaching even terms if, as was said above, France did not build a ship between 1914 and 1922, while Italy, for her part, was making the great effort in naval construction to which her fleets now owe six light cruisers, twenty-two torpedo boats and forty submarines (to which nothing in the French navy corresponds)?
All of this, we imagine, shows how foreign to warlike intent must be the naval policy of France at present. The writer has defined that policy many times in speeches before the French Chamber and the French Senate. France will not consider foreign conquests under any conditions, upon any pretexts. She is interested only in security toward the East. Facing as she does in that direction a population which outnumbers hers by more than a third, she needs a decisive supplement of colonial troops. And this situation begets a naval policy providing, first, for the protection of her coasts; and, second, for the safe transport of men and supplies to an extent necessary for the preservation of her territorial integrity. These objectives have been made concrete in a formula: the abandonment of fleets for offensive purposes (that is to say, of heavy ships capable of fighting overseas); and the maintenance of defensive fleets for the protection of our coasts and our convoys.
We are well aware that England is constantly urging us not to worry about the defence of our coasts nor about the provisioning of our armies -- she will attend to that, in case of conflict. An extremely attractive offer! But need we repeat our objection to it? To accept it would be to place France under the complete domination of England, to surrender all autonomy in our diplomacy, to make the French army an instrument of British continental policy, to reduce France, in short, to a position of vassalage toward England. Is there a people on earth that could accept such a humiliating and insecure position?
France insists on retaining freedom to determine her own destinies; that is to say, to follow her own diplomacy, which is a diplomacy of peace and brotherhood between the nations. No people welcomed the idea of general disarmament more enthusiastically than the French. There is not a home in all France where that idea is not deeply loved. All our mothers who have lost sons on our battlefields, all our widows, all our orphans, find in that idea a consoling faith that their dead shall not all have died in vain.
The French have suffered many disappointments. Henceforth they prefer to see where they are going. They regarded the Washington Conference as the event of the century, because they thought it was to end in general disarmament. They were profoundly hurt on discovering that disarmament was to apply only to certain nations, and on being forced to realize that, as far as the Old World was concerned, the Conference had resulted only in placing Europe under the tutelage of England.
The reader need only be reminded of the conditions under which we were admitted to that Conference. No precise understanding had been made, no program clearly outlined. As Mr. Hughes had said (see the French "Yellow Book"), we were to talk things over and come to an agreement as among friends. Nothing could have been more to our liking. As a matter of fact, an arrangement, in which we were not considered, had already been worked out before our arrival; and we found, not the atmosphere of straightforward and peace-seeking discussion which we had hoped to find, but conflicts and adjustments of special interests.
From November 12 to December 15, -- for more than a month, that is, -- our Delegation was held aloof from the negotiations in progress between the representatives of the United States, Great Britain, and Japan. Then we were informed, with no opportunity for discussion, of arrangements which gave a character of permanence to the deterioration of our navy, brought upon us by four years of war, during which we had sacrificed the maintenance of our naval establishment to the common objectives of our allies on land.
We realize that mistakes were made in Washington by the French Delegation. Its technical advisor was a General Officer who had evinced pronounced imperialistic views during the war and who had been, in consequence, relieved of his post as Chief of the General Staff. The same gentleman advertised his scorn for the will of Parliament and came home demanding 350,000 tons in battleships at a time when Parliament had expressly voted that it wanted none at all.
However, the writer's intervention, through a speech in the Senate on December 26 and 27, 1921, attempted to put matters right again. In that speech the writer defined his attitude toward purely defensive instruments of warfare, affirming an intent to use them only against war-vessels, and specifying that France would never employ her submarines in ways which had been so justly condemned in the case of the Germans.
The submarine, said the writer at that time, is the only weapon left to a poor or to an impoverished country. If small nations and ruined nations are denied any weapon of defence against heavy battle-fleets, what becomes of the liberty of nations? How is it more cruel for a submarine to sink a battleship which is attacking a coast, than it is for the battleship to bombard shores inhabited by women, children, invalids, and noncombatants? To ask the question is to answer it. On the other hand, let the surface killers disappear, and the weak will be at once in duty bound to suppress their submarine defense.
Subsequent facts have borne out this contention. For the small powers may now be seen basing the protection of their coasts on submarines, which are constantly increasing in number. The small navies had thirty-one submarines in 1914. They now have ninety -- Holland alone twenty-four. One can hardly accuse nations such as Holland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway of imperialistic notions.
THE ATTITUDE OF THE FRENCH PARLIAMENT
However, we may leave the discussion to an official document, which defines in the clearest possible terms the writer's attitude toward French naval policy. Debated and unanimously adopted by the Senate Navy Committee, it was read to the Senate on April 3, 1925, and received the unanimous applause of that assembly. It accurately expresses the sentiments of the French Parliament, and of the French nation, on this question of our navy:
"As early as 1916, while the war was still in progress, we outlined before the Chamber of Deputies the naval policy that France would probably be called upon to follow. We expressed the conviction that France should abandon fleets of heavy ships for offensives overseas, and confine herself to defensive fleets, designed to protect her coasts, her colonies, and her lines of communication.
"Later on, in 1919, as spokesman for the Committee on Naval Appropriations before the Chamber of Deputies, we embodied those views in an official report which was approved not only by the Committee on Finance, but by the Chamber itself.
"We took the initiative also in bringing about the suspension of work on the battleships of the 'Flandre' class, the most modern then under construction in our yards.
"Three years ago the Senate likewise went on record in favor of these views, solemnly declaring that the Parliament, sole spokesman for the country, would not vote credits for fleets of offense, since the policy of our country was a defensive policy, and that the watchword of French naval policy should be 'The Freedom of the Seas'.
"England, on the contrary, during this time continued building not only submarines, but heavy ships as well, launching them with such rapidity that the naval review off Spithead offered to the world a spectacle of the most formidable armada ever assembled in the history of mankind.
"During the Washington Conference the strength of our navy in capital ships was so fixed and limited that no circumstance could arise whereby we should become a menace to British power. We saw no difficulty in such limitation, provided no impediments were offered to our means of defence. To omit such a proviso would be tantamount to recognizing English hegemony over the Continent of Europe and our own political vassalage. No Frenchman could think of accepting such a situation.
"Our country would like, in case of war in Europe, to be in a position to defend its independence and safeguard its lines of communication.
"England, on the contrary, would like to be mistress of all the seas about us and thus control, and perhaps determine, all European policy. England's intent was well defined in a speech delivered by Lord Rosedale before the House of Lords on the first of April last. Said Lord Rosedale: 'I should like to inquire as to what rights exactly are reserved by Great Britain for the future use of her naval power. I believe that the only way to establish a durable peace in Europe is to leave England an overwhelming superiority, and to state clearly to other nations the principles which we intend to uphold on the sea in the event of war.'
"Two doctrines therefore confront each other, -- the English doctrine of 'British Supremacy', and the French doctrine of 'Freedom of the Seas.'
"The French Parliament will gladly allow the Government to participate in a new Conference on Disarmament, provided disarmament be for all alike -- even total and complete; and, in any case, provided disarmament be not designed to entrust the freedom of small nations to the will of those which harbor dreams of world empire.
"Washington? Yes! . . . But a real Washington, where we shall know in advance what problems are to be raised, what points are to be discussed, what proposals are to be made.
"The French Republic, perennial champion of Liberty, would probably incline toward a formula of complete disarmament which would guarantee security to the weak and freedom to all through the constitution of an international police force which would not be an instrument of domination in the hands of any Power.
"In any event, it would be on the basis of the Freedom of the Seas and equal freedom for all, that the Parliament could approve of participation by the Government in a new Conference, in which it would be happy to see the source of greater security, greater freedom, more perfect justice."
Were these not the views expressed at Geneva a year ago by M. Herriot, and more recently at Locarno by M. Briand? Were they not the views of President Wilson himself when he formulated his Fourteen Points?
In concluding this article we can only repeat that France is in favor of complete and total disarmament; that France is in favor of placing the naval police power in the hands of a group of nations which will assure the freedom of the seas; that France will favor the adoption of any formula which will prevent any nation in the world from gaining hegemony over any continent and supremacy over any sea. France aims at peace with the whole world -- with her enemies of yesterday, as well as with her former allies.