China on the Offensive
How the Ukraine War Has Changed Beijing’s Strategy
THE TRIUMPH OF UNARMED FORCES. BY REAR ADMIRAL M. W. W. P. CONSETT. New York: Brentano's, 1923.
NAVAL OPERATIONS. Vol. III and Plans. BY SIR JULIAN S. CORBETT. New York: Longmans, 1923.
THE WORLD CRISIS, 1915. BY WINSTON S. CHURCHILL. New York: Scribner's, 1923.
IT WAS obvious to all observers in August, 1914, that if the Central Powers failed to get a quick decision, not only would they never get a decision in their favor at all, but it was heavy odds on their ultimate defeat. It was universally perceived, that is to say, that the ultimate resources of Great Britain, France, and Russia were far greater than those of Austria and Germany. To make those resources tell, time was one essential; and the maintenance of the sea service, which Great Britain alone possessed, was another. Provided the British command of the sea was maintained, the superior resources thus brought to bear should make victory inevitable. After the war was over, it was again a commonplace that the fact that British sea power did endure throughout the war constituted the condition without which there would have been no Allied victory. Without it neither the manufactures, nor the raw material, nor the food, nor ultimately the armed men of the United States, could have turned the balance, as in fact they did. And if the event was foreseen--and, after its occurrence, recognized--it was also common knowledge (the large and effective help given by France and Italy and particularly by the United States, notwithstanding) that it was the British sea service, kept in being by British sea power, that was in fact the effective agent of victory. The actual contribution of the British navy to the war was both indispensable and effective.
In the face of this statement it seems both ungracious and paradoxical to go on to a third commonplace. Though British sea power was a condition of ultimate victory, it was not itself victorious. For an agonizing five months the British navy was failing altogether to protect the sea transportation necessary to the Allies, so that their cause was perilously near collapse. On the only occasion when the fleets met, the British battle-fleet not only failed to defeat the German; it failed even to bring it into action. In the most striking and dramatic initiative undertaken by the British navy, viz., the attempt to break through the Dardanelles and open up communication with Russia, it not only did not force a passage, but its failure involved a loss in men, time and prestige far greater even than the mere naval failure would have involved had it stood alone. And finally, though the British navy had the sea communications of the enemy in its grip from the very start of hostilities, yet, until America came into the war, the capacity to blockade Germany was simply not used. So against a final success that cannot be questioned there must be set four tragic disappointments,--two of them, alas! irremediable, one which terminated when America became belligerent, and one which ended only when a reluctant Admiralty was driven to adopt the well tried principle of convoy. The want of resolution first to starve Germany, and then to fight her fleet; the want of understanding that by imbecile tactics made the achievement of a great strategic objective impossible--may well be called tragic. An effective blockade; a naval victory; a linking up with Russia through the Straits in 1915--any one of these would have ended the war in our favor before the summer of 1917.
The last, in point of time, of these four unhappy misadventures has been brought before us by only one book written by an individual responsible for it. Lord Jellicoe's second volume, published, if I remember aright, either at the end of 1919 or early in 1920, gives his version and defense of the policy followed by the Admiralty after Germany's final declaration of ruthless war against Allied shipping. Admiral Sims, also, has thrown some light on the period by his admirable book. But nothing like an impartial, or even accurate, history of those momentous days has yet appeared. It seems very unlikely that any such will appear. Nor is it very important that it should. The elements of the problem were always exceedingly simple. There was never anything to be explained--except the inexplicable reluctance of the Admiralty to adopt a remedy that had always had in its favor not only the prescription of history but the enormous experience accumulated in 1914, 1915, and 1916 by the transport of troops from England to France, and indeed from all parts of the Empire to the theatre of war. And as the deciding will in standing out for so long against convoy was Lord Jellicoe's, there is, so long as the fact is recognized, no reason for asking any further account of the matter than that which he himself has given.
But on the other three matters there have just appeared three works, each of capital importance. Rear Admiral Consett, who was British Naval Attaché to the Scandinavian countries for some time before 1914, has within the last few months told the world for the first time the singular and indeed almost incredible story of our diplomatic dealings with Denmark, Sweden, and Norway up to America's declaration of war. Sir Julian Corbett's third volume details the history of the Jutland engagements in the light afforded by the latest German information, and, what is more important, does so with such a complete set of authentic plans as to make it reasonable to suppose that there is very little more still to be learnt, and certainly nothing more that is of critical importance. Finally, Mr. Winston Churchill's second volume deals exhaustively, and I think candidly, with the initiation of the Dardanelles venture, its woeful beginning and its final disaster. In these three volumes, then, we have the explanation of the paradox set before my readers in my opening sentences. We now know why though no German shipping was afloat within a few days after the declaration of war, and though every neutral ship able to supply Germany, directly or indirectly, went under our hands and in addition brought with it information making it perfectly plain what was the destination of its cargo,--so that in effect the Blockade, as a naval operation, was perhaps the most skilfully carried out of all our naval operations, the transport of the armies alone excepted--yet, in spite of this perfect efficiency, the Germans got quantities of food and metal which meant, on the one hand, three years' rations for a million men, and on the other, the supply of raw material necessary for the 1917 and 1918 submarine campaign. We know now, too, why a purely military operation, to wit, the seizure of a defile and the task of making it available for the transport of armed men in ships was attempted by purely naval force. And, finally, we have set out with a completeness that leaves nothing to be desired, the doctrine of war which decided the commander of a fleet sixty percent more powerful than his adversary in number and one hundred percent more powerful in gun fire twice to decline action when action was offered to him, and once to decline even looking for his enemy, when the place and the hour of his whereabouts had been communicated to him hours in advance.
The three books, then, show us three several ways of misusing sea power. Given the limitations voluntarily imposed by the Declaration of Paris, and by the adoption of the abortive Declaration of London, the actual throttling of enemy trade was complete. Admiral Consett tells how the work of the navy was deliberately thrown away by diplomacy. Here sea power was rightly used and its fruit abandoned. At the Dardanelles the fleet was put to the wrong purpose, because its technical chiefs did not know the technical limits of its weapons. At Jutland the fleet as an instrument of war was not used at all. Its commander declined to use it because he had made an arbitrary rule to himself that there was a certain kind of risk, distinct from all other risks, and that this kind of risk must in no circumstances be faced. It is true it was a risk which everyone had for twenty years known to be a risk inseparable from sea fighting. Its altered dimensions had been analyzed and canvassed incessantly since the invention of the hot air torpedo had given the underwater weapon a new scope and flexibility. But in the eyes of the Commander of the Grand Fleet in 1916 it remained one that it was not his business to minimize or thwart, but, in all circumstances, simply to avoid. Since it was certain that it was a risk any resolute enemy would make him face, it almost seems as if Lord Jellicoe had, from the first, never intended to go into action at all. He would fight only if some extraordinary situation should arise in which the risk would seem to be non-existent. However this may be, Jutland shows us that sea power failed, because the only condition of using it on that day was not recognized to be a universal condition. From these general principles let us pass on to examples that the three several authors give us.
Admiral Consett's "The Triumph of Unarmed Forces" makes short work of the theory with which some of us comforted our readers in the early years of the war. This theory, it may be remembered, was to the effect that no real blockade of Germany was possible so long as the United States put obstacles in the way of our using our sea power in the manner we could have used it were American opposition removed. No doubt there were moments of friction, and indeed of heated friction, between Whitehall and Washington. But these lawyers' arguments did not deal with the realities of the situation. The disillusioning truth is this. In pre-war days Germany used to get about 250,000 tons of food a year from Scandinavia; Great Britain's share at the same period was about 100,000 tons a year larger. But in 1915-17 the Germans nearly doubled their pre-war imports and Great Britain's imports fell to about half. Instead of getting some 1,400,000 tons Great Britain got 600,000 tons, and instead of getting 750,000 tons the Germans got 1,500,000 tons. Our enemies further got 13,500,000 tons of iron ore. The argument was that unless Great Britain were friendly and nice to Denmark and Sweden and Norway, our own supplies would be cut off. So we allowed the Germans to double their former rations and we put up with one-half of ours. But this of course is far from the complete history. We were not merely complacent onlookers. These priceless cargoes were sent into our enemy's territory only by our direct help. Danish farming and the Swedish ore trade were both entirely dependent upon what we either supplied or let through. In Denmark the farming industry is carried on as a manufacturing business. That country imports fodder and fertilizers and produces eggs, butter, milk, cream cheese, and all forms of pork. The railways, the shipping, the manufacturers and the public services of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are entirely dependent upon British coal. If, then, we are to see the real origin of the food and ore sent to Germany we are to find it not in the inefficiency of our blockade, nor in the tantalizing opposition of a greedy but powerful neutral, but in the fact that Great Britain supplied the Scandinavian countries with over 19,000,000 tons of coal and 3,500,000 tons of fodder,--the raw material of the food and ore that Germany received. It is unnecessary to go into lesser details.
What is the explanation of this singular story? It appears to be simply that the British Foreign Office was fooled. The Foreign Office started with the assumption that Denmark and Sweden were friendly and neutral. It overlooked the fact that Denmark had mined the Little Belt against us and Sweden the only channel by which we could use the Great Belt. Denmark and Sweden, and not Germany, had closed the Baltic against us. How any public department with the faintest conception of the meaning of war could have accepted such acts as matters of course, as acts that left the character of the nations responsible for them unaffected, is a mystery. Our subsequent dealings with the two countries were on a par with the opening moves. By a pact of the three kings, Scandinavia decided at the very outbreak of hostilities to publish no trade returns of imports and exports while the war lasted. As all the imports came from over-seas, and as without them there could be no exports overland, this decision might have seemed as little friendly as mining us out of the Baltic. But it only made the Foreign Office more pathetically anxious not to offend. When we mildly objected to Germany being supplied with a lavishness we did not share, the answer always came back that Denmark and Sweden were under threat of German invasion. Unless we helped them to remain neutral, it was said, they would have no choice but to yield to their overwhelming and quite unscrupulous neighbor. They would become, that is, open enemies. It never seems to have occurred to Sir Edward Grey or to his advisers that if Germany invaded and seized Denmark and terrorized Sweden into an alliance, either it would fall to Germany to supply the fodder and coal that Denmark and Sweden needed, or she would have two more starving and useless countries on her hands, instead of two rich sources of supply. Neither Denmark nor Sweden would have added to Germany's man power; indeed, it is certain that their frank and open partnership would have been a tax upon it.
The subject, however, had never been a matter of debate or consideration in times of peace. Admiral Consett does not suggest that even during the war it ever came before the Committee of Imperial Defense. It is obvious enough now that the Foreign Office never had--probably it never sought--the guidance of military principle. Once America had come in the thing became simple enough, not because American supplies did not reach Scandinavia, but because British supplies were stopped.
The moral to be drawn from Admiral Consett's book is clear enough. War is not merely a state of things under which ordinary principles of government and normal peaceful intercourse between peoples come to an end. It is a state of things created by the importation into national and international life of new factors altogether. The use of naval and military force demands a science of dynamics, the principles of which are just as inexorable as those of any other applied mathematic. If a nation has to conduct its affairs under the influence of these laws it certainly will not use force to the best effect unless its whole policy, internal and external, is rigorously squared with the new dynamics at work.
In Mr. Churchill's volume we have a classic account of a classic inability to realize what is meant by sea force and land force, or to distinguish a military from a naval operation. The origin of the Dardanelles expedition is in a sense even more extraordinary than its development. In the autumn of 1914 we were all wondering what could be done towards establishing a southern front against the Central Powers. Between the British and the Russians in the Black Sea there interposed the Sultanate of Turkey. Serbia, fighting single handed against Austria, was cut off from succor by neutral Bulgaria and neutral Greece. The problem was, by force or diplomacy, to bring Greece, Bulgaria and Rumania to the Allied side, or at least out of the Allied way. If England and France joined hands with Russia the whole strategic position would be revolutionized. The situation was of course complicated by the certainty that Turkey would have to be defeated. How far the escape of the Goeben in the first week of the war was decisive in making Turkey an ally of Germany and Austria has already become apparent from the works previously published. The defeat of Turkey, therefore, and the defeat of Turkey before Bulgaria had decided to join the Central Powers, was a necessary preliminary to the desired result. There had been negotiations with Greece and negotiations with Rumania. At one time it looked as though, with the promise of reasonable compensation out of the Turkish Empire, the Greeks would be willing to send sufficient well-equipped divisions to Gallipoli to make,--with such added help as England and France were willing to give,--the seizure of that peninsula a comparatively simple thing. While this project was still in the air Lord Fisher drew up a flamboyant memorandum, an item of which was that simultaneously with these military operations a British Admiral was to force the Dardanelles with a fleet of pre-dreadnought battleships.
According to Mr. Churchill the coöperation of Greece was declined by Russia. Whether Great Britain and France brought any pressure to get the Tsar's Government to reverse this curious decision is not stated. With Greece out of the picture the whole plan was, of course, abortive. But the fourth item of Lord Fisher's program struck Mr. Churchill's vivid, but wholly uninstructed, imagination. If, as part of a military operation, Admiral Sturdee could force the Dardanelles, why could not battleships force them without a military operation at all? Quite early in the war Mr. Churchill had told the Archduke Nicholas--though apparently without technical authority--that the British fleet could enter the Baltic when it liked. Now he telegraphed to ask if the Grand Duke's southern forces might not be assisted by the British fleet in the Sea of Marmora. The Grand Duke welcomed the proposal with enthusiasm, and the Admiral commanding in the Mediterranean had a question put to him to which only one answer was possible and only one answer was expected. The question was "Do you consider the forcing of the Dardanelles by ships alone a practicable proposition?"
The question of ships engaging forts had given rise to a naval literature of its own and the verdict of history was against the probability of success. But in August, 1914, the French, second to none as masters of military science, discovered abruptly and to their horror that the forts on which they, no less than their Belgian neighbors, had relied with some confidence, did not delay an army supplied with modern artillery by more than a few days. Liège, Antwerp, Namur went up as fast as the Skoda batteries were brought against them. What special study the British navy had given to the question since the Japanese had tried their strength against Port Arthur, I do not know. It is exceedingly unlikely that Admiral Carden had ever given the matter a thought, and it is still less likely that amongst his officers there was one equipped by staff training to give an opinion of value. Had the war staff created by Mr. Churchill in January, 1912, ever considered this problem or drawn up any plan for dealing with it? I imagine that it had not, and for the simple reason that when Admiral Carden guardedly replied that he thought it could be done by gradually subduing one fort after the other, this crude plan, according to Mr. Churchill, produced a great impression upon everyone. It was, he tells us, "an entirely new proposition," and he goes on to say "that no one at any time threw the slightest doubt upon its technical soundness."
There can only be one explanation of this helpless surrender to the Carden plan. It must have been assumed that the naval guns would treat the Dardanelles forts as the Austrian howitzers had dealt with the monuments of Brialmont's misguided genius. Not otherwise could the teachings of all history stand so summarily ignored. For up to this date a naval bombardment on land forts had proved the feeblest and most futile thing in the world, and it had proved so for a very obvious and simple reason. The great desideratum of the naval gun is a flat trajectory. The naval gun is built to give the highest possible velocity. Its shell needs high penetrating power. The pace of the projectile facilitates hitting, and, against a ship, secures the most damaging hit. But the French and Belgian forts had yielded to quite a different kind of artillery. Between the howitzer and the naval gun there is exactly the difference there is between the niblick and the driver. The howitzer throws a shell to the greatest possible height so as to make its fall as nearly perpendicular as possible. With the howitzer you do not aim at the enemy's gun, you aim so that your shots will fall on the other side of the bunker which the enemy has interposed between the gun and you. You want your shell to drop into and burst inside the fort. In bursting it will kill the gunners and in all probability dismount the guns. But however accurate the fire of your naval gun, so long as it hits the fort only it can do no harm at all. Either it does not penetrate the front parapet, or if it clears the parapet it expends itself harmlessly in the rear. Unless the fire is accurate enough to make a direct hit it can go on for hours and days; it will make the fort untenable and the guns unusable while it continues, but once it is over the guns probably will be still intact and as ready for use as before. Like Landor's enchanting maiden, they are "up again as blithe as ever."
In other words, to ask naval guns to destroy forts is to put them to a test of accuracy that no other gun is ever put to, nor the naval gun itself in normal naval usage. And these elementary considerations should have made it obvious to anyone familiar with the rudiments that there was only one condition, which, if it existed, would make for the success of the modern ship where its predecessors had failed. That condition was the attainment of a decree of accuracy at some great range that had never yet been attained at short ranges.
The attempt, as we know, failed, and Mr. Churchill in his eleventh chapter summarizes the causes of failure with perfect lucidity. It was not possible for the ships to go through the narrows without passing over two Turkish mine fields. Those mine fields could not be swept until the batteries of light guns protecting the mine fields from the sweepers had been destroyed by the big artillery of the ships. But these batteries could not themselves be seen at any great distance, as they were small marks. To destroy them, therefore, the ships had to close to what are today considered quite short ranges. And the ships could not close so long as the enemy's big artillery in the forts could operate. So it was a necessary preliminary, not to silence the forts only, but to dismantle their guns. This, as we have seen, called for a meticulous accuracy of aiming that under any conditions would have taxed both the fire control parties and the gun layers to the utmost. It was an operation which with the instruments in use could be carried out, if at all, only when the ship was moored and stationary. But the ships got no chance of staying moored. The Turks had several batteries of mobile howitzers, which, while useless against a moving target, could find the exact range of one stationary in five or six minutes at the most. Consequently no sooner had a ship got to work on any given fort than its position became untenable owing to howitzer fire.
All of this could of course have been foreseen, and should have been. But even had it been foreseen, it is doubtful if, in 1915, there was a soul on the war staff or in the gunnery branch at Whitehall who even knew that the problem of keeping the range under helm had actually been solved. But whether known or not known, no effort was made to equip the ships for this necessary facility--with the results we know. Thus, the Dardanelles Expedition failed for reasons inherent in the means supplied for the use of the weapons to be employed.
The failure unfortunately did not end with itself. It warned the Turks--and made the military effort fail too. The tragedy of this has long been made familiar to us from Sir Ian Hamilton's diaries and other publications. Thus, the misuse of sea power involved not only a humiliating naval failure but a long drawn out agony of fruitless military endeavor that cost Britain far more heavily in men than it cost the Turks, and brought down the prestige both of our land and sea forces at a time when prestige was vital.
But it is only fair to Mr. Churchill to say that he must be acquitted of having overborne his naval advisers. Lord Fisher, Sir Arthur Wilson, Sir Henry Jackson--any of them could have stopped the thing by declaring it impracticable. But none of them knew the rudiments of gunnery. Mr. Churchill had surrounded himself with the oldest and therefore the least experienced of councillors. The nation paid the price.
Sir Julian Corbett narrates the events that led up to the engagements off the Jutland Coast in 1916, and the story, admirably told, need not be summarized. Suffice to say that on May 30, 1916, both the British and the German fleets set out to sea, each thinking that a section of the enemy's forces might be met, the British hoping to meet the whole of Germany's, the Germans ready for the emergency if they met the whole of the British force.
The history of the first part of the engagement was known in all its essentials before Lord Jellicoe's book on the Grand Fleet, 1914-16, appeared. But this volume gave us our first authentic information as to the actual movements of the Grand Fleet and the principles that dictated them. Till then, while ignorant of the details, we knew no more than what Lord Jellicoe's despatch and apology had told us. The despatches said briefly that the Germans had repeatedly "increased the range under cover of torpedo attacks." Lord Jellicoe's book took the matter further; but it was, necessarily, incomplete. No track chart of the action was given, no German information was available.
The interest of Sir Julian Corbett's third volume naturally lies in the light thrown on the points left obscure by Lord Jellicoe. The text throughout must be studied with the plans. For Sir Julian is a frank apologist. He was commissioned to write a history of the naval war quite soon after August, 1914. He had been for nearly ten years a lecturer at the War College, not only on naval history, but on the science of naval strategy. He was a follower of Mahan, and his theory of naval strategy was that adopted by the British Admiralty and instilled into our commanders during the whole period of the domination of the Fisher school, that is between 1904 and 1914. The theory is well stated in Admiral Consett's book. It runs somewhat as follows: "The fleet has an offensive and a defensive purpose to fulfil. Its offensive purpose, direct and immediate, is to destroy the enemy fleet. But this is only a means to an end. The real end is to attack the enemy's commerce and to protect our own. If then the enemy's fleet can be confined and our fleet preserved, the enemy's fleet is as useless as if it had been destroyed." "Thus," continues Admiral Consett, "having gained its objective, the victorious fleet is in a position to reap the fruits of victory."
By this he means that if one fleet is confined, and the other keeps the sea free for its own commerce and denies the sea to that of the enemy, then that latter fleet is "victorious." It will be seen that it follows logically from this theory that if a fleet is so large and well protected that it is unlikely to be attacked and cannot be defeated, then its function in war is undistinguishable from that of a fleet which has in fact fought and destroyed the enemy's force in battle. How is it possible to exaggerate the heretical character of a doctrine that teaches that victory is not in itself the end, but only one of the means by which the true purpose of armed force can be attained? There are passages in the earlier works of Mahan that encourage the view that this theory is correct. That Sir Julian Corbett consciously or unconsciously held it can hardly be doubted. It is apparent in the opening chapters of his first volume. It is the whole justification of his third. His story therefore of the conduct of the Grand Fleet on May 31 and June 1 is a frank justification of the Commander-in-Chief's tactics.
But if he cajoles his readers into accepting his views, they have only themselves to thank. For in Sir Julian Corbett we find a dual personality. He is at once the wholehearted advocate of the "safety first" doctrine, and the historian, rigidly loyal to a true statement of the facts. Of course to get the historian you go to the plans, and to get the advocate you read the text. Needless to add, in the conflict between the two it is the advocate that goes to the wall.
Indeed so obvious is this that I am almost surprised to find that the Lords of the Admiralty have found it necessary to add a prefatory note. It runs as follows: "The Lords Commissioners have given the author access to official documents in the preparation of this work, but they are in no way responsible for its production or for the accuracy of its statements. Their Lordships find that some of the principles advocated in the book, especially the tendency to minimize the importance of seeking battle and of forcing it to a conclusion, are directly in conflict with their views."
Was this warning really required? I should have thought that the discussions of the last five years, no less than the obvious and deplorable results of the escape of the German fleet, would have rendered any such reservation unnecessary, especially as Sir Julian's advocacy is, one cannot help thinking, almost its own confutation. It is too enthusiastic; one wonders if the whole defense is not a masterpiece of irony.
In examining his account it is possible to omit reference to the opening phases. The real story begins when the Battle of Jutland ought to have begun, but did not. The opening shots were fired shortly before 4 P. M. on May 31; two hours later the battle cruisers, assisted by the four "Queen Elizabeth" battleships under Evan Thomas, made contact with the scouting cruisers of the Grand Fleet. At 5:54 Beatty could see the leading battleships of the Grand Fleet four miles due north of him. He was heavily engaged, and at once altered course from north to east so as to keep ahead of the Grand Fleet, which he confidently expected to deploy promptly into action astern of him. For five minutes he was crossing Lord Jellicoe's front, fighting with all his guns, and his three surviving battle consorts following him in close order. But the battle fleet, instead of deploying, came on in its old formation at right angles to the battle cruiser course.
The first problem that presents itself is, what could Lord Jellicoe have done? The information he had up to then had made him expect the battle cruisers and the German fleet straight ahead. In fact he met them some miles off on his starboard bow. His fleet was formed into three parallel columns with eight ships in each column. It was a formation that lent itself to the most rapid forming into single line to port (left) or to starboard (right) as circumstances might require. He had expected the enemy to be in front of him or to his left. He met them on his right. Both the Lion and the Iron Duke were out of their reckoning. It is luck that the error was not larger. Lord Jellicoe could not see the enemy; he could only see the battle cruisers in action. His first instinct, Sir Julian tells us, was to deploy on the starboard wing. This would mean that the leading ships of his right-hand column would go ahead and follow the battle cruisers. The battle cruisers, as we have seen, were passing the Grand Fleet at right angles. It would have committed all the battleships to a considerable turn. The alternative was to lead the fleet himself from the center column, the squadrons on his right and left following in behind, as they could. Either maneuver would have brought the fleet at once into action. He could have adopted either; but he could not make up his mind at 6:02; nor yet at 6:08; and at 6:14 enemy shells seemed to be falling between his right and center columns.
If he deployed to starboard now the turn would have to be greater than if he had deployed at 6:02. He suspected the enemy's battleships to be within 15,000 yards. He knew that his ships could neither find nor keep the range when under helm. A starboard deployment, therefore, would mean that the squadrons first going into action would, for several minutes before they could reply, be passive targets for the enemy's fire. Nor was this by any means all, nor the worst. For if the range was no greater than he expected, the turning point on his right might be made the focus of torpedo attack as well. To deploy from the center was a maneuver the British fleet had apparently never practised. Lord Jellicoe thought it too complicated a one to experiment with under fire. He accordingly ordered a deployment to port.
The effect of this was to take the Battle Fleet not into action, but out of it. In less than a quarter of an hour there was not a single British battleship within range of a single German. Beatty, who had been joined by Hood's three battle cruisers, in an effort to hold the Germans to their position had closed down on to the head of the German line and lost the Invincible. But his was a fruitless sacrifice, for the Grand Fleet was already out of sight.
In the present writer's "British Navy in Battle" the episode of the Grand Fleet's deployment was dealt with in complete ignorance of the tactics adopted by Admiral Scheer. It was said there that had Lord Jellicoe deployed on Beatty, the German Admiral could have had no alternative but to turn his fleet together and break off action. For sixteen battleships aided by five battered cruisers in the van and six obsolete pre-dreadnoughts in the rear, to engage twenty-eight battleships and seven battle cruisers in an artillery duel under equal conditions could of course spell nothing but annihilation, especially when it is borne in mind that two-thirds of the British ships were armed with heavier guns than any of the German ships and some six or seven fired shells of more than three times the weight of those used by nearly half the German fleet. It was further stated that had such a turn been made the relief could only have been momentary. The reply to it must have been as crushing as the situation from which escape had been sought.
Sir Julian Corbett tells us that this maneuver of turning the fleet together was one that the Germans had studied and practised with the utmost assiduity. That they would do this, he further tells us, was perfectly well known to us. If this is true, it is singular that Lord Jellicoe neither alludes to this knowledge in his own account of the action, nor (though Scheer adopted the maneuver twice) anywhere says that it was expected or detected by him on either occasion. It is singular, too, that no counter stroke had been devised. The effect of Scheer's turn and Jellicoe's surprise at 6:30 was to leave the whole British fleet up in the air. The Grand Fleet had deployed away from the enemy; the battle cruisers had closed on the enemy; thus the two divisions of the British forces were out of sight of each other. As Scheer had turned his fleet sixteen points away to the west, both divisions of the British fleet were now out of sight of the enemy too.
Up to this point, it will be perceived, there had been no battle at all. But, as the historian reminds us, there was still an hour to sunset and in this high latitude the twilight should be a long one. There was still time to reform the fleet, still time to look for an evasive enemy. Lord Jellicoe accordingly--and quite correctly--turned his fleet to the south by divisions and proceeded to interpose himself between Scheer and his base. But Scheer had not the slightest intention of leaving the initiative to his opponent. He knew that in any fight on equal terms his fleet would be crushed. He had to save his fleet, and he decided to save by attacking. There followed one of the finest instances of the offensive defensive known in naval history.
All our military writers seem agreed that the retreat of the British from Mons to the suburbs of Paris in the last days of August, 1914, was a feat of arms equal to anything ever achieved by the British army in the past. The candid historian cannot be less eulogistic in dealing with the leading of the German fleet between 6 and 7:30 o'clock on May 31, 1916. It adds a new classic to the records of a lesser force shaking off a greater, not by flight, but by fighting. Scheer has given his own account of his tactics, and though Sir Julian Corbett treats the story as a bluff, it is difficult to distinguish between the Admiral's statement of his intentions and Sir Julian's account of his performance. Like all great conceptions it was exceptionally simple. Scheer believed that he had penetrated his opponent's mind. If he was to escape at all he must disorganize his enemy, even if he had to risk a considerable part of his force to do it. Having turned sixteen points to avoid him at 6:30, he turned a like amount back again shortly afterwards. His first turn had been made under cover of torpedo attack; the destroyers that were at the head of the line at 6:30 were now at the rear. When he reversed his course again they were again in the lead. Suddenly, shortly after 7 o'clock, the whole of the Grand Fleet came into his view. The fleet was in divisions of four ships in echelon formation. To the Germans it must have looked like a solid semi-circle of ships straight ahead of them. By 7:08 half of the Grand Fleet had opened fire. Four minutes later the destroyers were sent in to attack, and in support of the destroyers the battle cruisers were ordered not only to attack with their guns, but "to charge and ram regardless of consequences." Sir Julian Corbett tells us it was an axiom with the British leader that such an attack should be avoided. Had Scheer, remembering Admiral Moore's escape from court-martial in January, 1915, concluded this was so? Lord Jellicoe estimated, and estimated correctly, that the torpedoes would reach the British lines shortly after 7:20 and he accordingly made a general order to the fleet that it should turn away to port to avoid them. Whether Scheer counted on this or not, his order to his own fleet to turn once more was given before the British turn was actually made. So between 7:23 and 7:30 this singular spectacle was witnessed. The German fleet was going full speed in the direction of Scotland, the Grand Fleet was heading straight for Norway. They never saw each other again. Thus the Battle of Jutland, which should have been begun at 6 o'clock, and could have, but was not opened at 7:20, did not take place on May 31 at all.
Sir Julian Corbett has, of course, a defense for Lord Jellicoe at every step of the proceedings, and if the theory of war on which Lord Jellicoe acted is the right theory, then his defense is a valid defense. What Lord Jellicoe's theory was the Admiralty had known at the very beginning of hostilities. He was perfectly willing to fight the Germans to a standstill if he met them with exact knowledge of their position, speed and course, and could deploy his own fleet into a formation parallel to them, at a range which would make interference by the destroyers impossible. As to the destroyer menace he had but one answer, and that was to avoid the torpedoes by turning away from them. It meant, in other words, that if the Germans kept their destroyers ahead of their battle fleet he would never engage at all.
The alternative of forming his fleet in half or quarter divisions in line ahead and closing the torpedoes directly on their course never seems to have been considered. Was it ever suggested that in no circumstances could torpedo attack threaten the whole line, so that on the assumption that the turn away was obligatory, only that part actually menaced need have been taken out of action ?
Whatever the answer, the final application of the rule was on the morning of June 1. That the German fleet would return by the Horn Reefs was known to the British Admiralty long before midnight. The information was wirelessed to the Commanderin-Chief, but as such a return had been fully expected, and to some extent provided for by laying a mine field on the Danish coast, Lord Jellicoe hardly needed a reminder. In the night, however, he lost contact with his destroyers. As daylight approached, instead of crossing to the Horn Reefs to look for the enemy he took his fleet on a northerly course looking for his own destroyers. The last chance of meeting and defeating the enemy was gone. At 4:15 in the morning he learnt that what the Admiralty had warned him of on the night before had actually taken place.
For once Corbett allows himself two comments, as sound as they are human: "The Commander-in-Chief saw too plainly the bitter truth that there was now no possibility of recovering the lost chance of the vital hour when he had first caught his skilful adversary unawares, and the latter, aided by misty conditions, had effected his escape." Scheer had in fact passed the Horn Reefs at 3:30. Again it is hard to better Sir Julian's comment: "That after being surprised by the concentrated Grand Fleet he had so carefully drawn his head out of the noose, and with so much success to his credit, was enough to enroll his name high upon the list of fleet leaders."
It is useless now to speculate on what must inevitably have happened had the German fleet been annihilated. Admiral Consett, with the natural loyalty of a British sea officer, early in his book asks anyone who doubts that the British won the Battle of Jutland to consider what would have happened had the Germans won it. It is a sufficient answer to say that as there was no Battle of Jutland, there was no victory to either side. But had there been a victory something would have happened. General Ludendorff gives at least one result which must have followed. "Had England," said the General, "won such a victory, she would have made it impossible for us to import iron ore from Sweden and the submarine warfare could never have assumed the proportions so dangerous to herself."
If we look back at these three volumes, it is impossible, I think, to resist certain conclusions. It will be noticed that no one in January, February, and March, 1915, was aware of the limitations imposed on the ships by the kind of fire control which they possessed, so that no one realized that the task they had been set in the Dardanelles was completely beyond the power of the fleet. Yet the whole of Lord Jellicoe's Jutland tactics are based upon a haunting fear of the very disability which the Admiralty did not recognize eighteen months before. He was willing to fight at 15,000 yards, and at 15,000 yards only, because in the fleet battle-practices at this range a reasonably good artillery technique had been developed. But it was a development efficient only against a slowly moving target unable to maneuver and when no maneuvers were imposed on the firing ship. At any shorter range than 15,000 yards the enemy torpedo would at any moment make maneuver obligatory. At 6:14 Lord Jellicoe could not deploy his fleet into action because it would mean deploying on a turn. His artillery would be out of action. No doubt the real reason why the turn towards instead of the turn away from the torpedoes was never considered was that it, like the turn away, would make the artillery useless. Now why had this not been foreseen? Why, when the means for making gunnery helm free were available, were they not adopted ? The answer is simple. If only the fleet were large and strong enough there was no danger of its defeat. If an undefeatable fleet, strong enough to frighten its opponent into inactivity, was undistinguishable from a fleet that had destroyed its opponents in battle, there was no need to face the painful business of fighting at all, nor to think out what was implied in being ready for it. Mr. Churchill's candid story of the attack on the Dardanelles and Sir Julian's no less candid story of the engagement of Jutland show that the British navy went into war and conducted the war for two and a half years under the inspiration of wholly false doctrines and under the handicap of the kind of administration which false doctrines breed.