THE ELEMENTS OF NAVAL STRATEGY.
*A second and revised edition of Lieut. Daveluy's Étude sur la Stratégie Navale has just appeared as the first volume of a work entitled L'Esprit de la Guerre Navale, of which the second volume will be a revised edition of the author's Étude sur le Combat Naval, and the third volume a new work on the organization of naval forces. The translation appearing in the PROCEEDINGS will follow the new edition, and the portion published in the September number will be changed to correspond to the new edition before the entire translation is issued in book form.
OFFENSIVE AND DEFENSIVE.
After having passed in review the methods that strategy has at its disposal, we have to consider what the elements are that strengthen or weaken its action. These elements are of a very variable nature, and first among them are found the offensive and the defensive.
The offensive, it is said, is the weapon of the strong; the defensive, that of the weak. This is true on land: armies, in proportion as they separate themselves from their bases to penetrate into the hostile country, distribute along the route a part of their forces to keep guard over the safety of their communications. It is natural, consequently, that the weaker side should prefer to remain in its own territory in order to have the whole of its forces available. Its numerical inferiority is further compensated by the defensive works that it will have been wise enough to accumulate in the path of invasion. With the aid of these obstacles, it will arrest the enemy's progress long enough to ascertain the situation and to mass its troops at the desired point with the help of its interior network of railroads.
This system of operations is justifiable if it leads to battle. If the contest turns to the advantage of the weaker, he destroys the cohesion of his adversary; demoralizes him, takes from him prisoners, who are pledges. He can thus restore the balance of numbers and in his turn assume the offensive.
The naval defensive is quite a different affair. A fleet can scarcely, at the present time, make up for its numerical inferiority by supporting itself with fixed defenses. It only secures the assistance of coast batteries in the interior of roadsteads or in the channels that give access to them; but roadsteads and channels are not fields of battle that can be highly regarded in a naval war. Moreover, defense in this sense falls within the scope of tactics, and it is not apparent how strategy can force the enemy to accept combat under such conditions.32
32Fixed defences have often furnished material assistance to fleets of sailing ships. When these ships found themselves compelled to fight near a coast, they anchored near the shore or ran themselves aground, and disembarked a part of their artillery to defend the two ends of the line. A squadron thus supported was considered to hold a very strong position, and the enemy rarely risked attacking it (see the maneuver of Barrington and of Parker at St. Lucia, and that of Linois at Algeciras). Suffren did not share this opinion. Considering the short range of artillery at that time, it is probable that the effect of such improvised batteries was of a purely moral order. At Aboukir, as is well known, Brueys supported the head of his line with a battery of two mortars and four 12-pounder guns, whose shot did not reach the English ships that doubled the line.
On the sea the defensive is rather a question of words than one of fact. This is the consequence of the rather peculiar character of naval forces.
The army to which we were alluding has to assure the safety of its territory and to impose upon the enemy the law of the stronger; it has attained its double object when it has invaded the territory of its adversary, taking from him thus every means of continuing the contest.
The navy, for its part, cannot take possession of the land; it has been created to guard maritime interests, whether those that pass to and fro over the seas or those that have gathered in ports. When a war breaks out, the role of the navy becomes very complex. It always retains the mission of protecting wealth that is afloat, a mission so much the more imperative as this wealth forms a greater part of the national capital; but besides this, it must keep guard over the seas to prevent every attempt at invasion of the home country or her colonies. This latter is the defensive part of its task. But not all of it: the struggle having been entered upon, it is necessary to strive to get the upper hand, and this leads to attacking in the adversary's country the interests that one protects in his own. This is the offensive side. The navy thus has very diverse problems to solve; it is pulled about by multiple necessities. Not being able to make headway everywhere at once, it is obliged to choose between the protection of its own interests and the attack upon those of its adversary, and, according as it has more to lose or to gain, it adopts the defensive or the offensive. Considering things from this very broad point of view, it may be concluded that it is the weaker power which attacks and the stronger which defends itself, since naval power is proportional to the magnitude of maritime interests. This is just what happened in our struggles with England: she only assumed the offensive against our colonies, which were all she coveted, after she had defended herself victoriously.33
But when we inquire how this theoretical defensive has been put into effect, we learn that it has led directly to the offensive against the hostile squadrons, the sole means of taking away from the adversary the possibility of doing harm. This sort of defensive is, therefore, of political rather than military order.
Of what then does consist the defensive properly so called, that which furnishes to those who practise it a compensation for their numerical inferiority?
Does it consist of shutting oneself up in harbors, according to a system that has had numerous partisans in recent years?
Such a method of procedure has no connection with any defensive system—it leads simply to inaction. It is only justifiable if it procures advantages for those who make use of it. But what are those advantages?
The force that immobilizes itself inside of a harbor is inevitably blockaded; if the relative situations of blockader and blockaded are examined, it is easy to see that the former has all the advantage. He secures freedom of the seas behind him: according to the English saying, he carries the frontier of his country to the shores of the enemy, and, within this frontier, security is absolute. Therefore, the blockader reaps a positive reward.
The blockaded does no harm to the enemy, and he does not prevent the latter from doing harm; he assures his own existence without safeguarding the interests which he is charged to defend. It is true that he immobilizes forces equal or superior to his own, but what is the good of that when he derives no benefit from it? Therefore, he secures from his inaction only a negative result. Moreover, many will think that it is better not to build the costly and complicated machines called warships, if they are not to be utilized.
33This characteristic of our naval wars is very marked: in the war of the League of Augsburg, the attacks upon our colonies only become serious after the battle of La Hogue; under Louis XV, the taking of Canada and of our East Indian possessions follow the disaster of Quiberon; under the Revolution and Empire, the loss of our last colonies is subsequent to Trafalgar.
We do not speak of the war of the Spanish Succession, because that was one of those in which politics constantly directed operations, and in which the movements of fleets were subordinated to those of armies.
Doubtless there are circumstances under which a naval force is obliged to shut itself up in port to escape from certain destruction; but then it obeys an imperious necessity. In such a case we cannot consider that it has gained the advantages that it should properly derive from a true defensive system. Those who advocate withdrawal within harbors forget that it was forced upon us despite ourselves from 1793 to 1814 and that it never led to anything advantageous except for the enemy; England was anxious only when one of our squadrons became active again by getting out.34
Does the defensive consist in the act of devoting oneself exclusively to protecting the coast? Without at present discussing the amount of money and the naval forces that would be necessary to assure directly the defense of the coast, it may be perceived that colonial nations would get only losses from a policy which made that the sole objective of naval warfare. Its immediate consequence would be the abandonment of the high seas to the enemy's enterprises and the stoppage of all maritime commerce. Moreover, admitting the colonies to be strongly enough garrisoned to resist attack (which would require a deployment of forces comporting ill with a defensive system), communications with the mother country would be interrupted and far distant possessions left to their own resources. A situation of this sort could not last long without bringing about disturbances in the economic life of the mother country. But what would put an end to it? The enemy would suffer no damage either in his constituted forces or in his interests; the war would not be a serious burden for him, and he would have every advantage in prolonging it. Moreover, one cannot enter upon a contest wthout possessing any means of putting an end to it by the injury done to one's adversary. Protection of the coast does not furnish this means.
34What advantage did the Russians gain by shutting themselves up in Port Arthur? That of delaying the moment when they were obliged to destroy their own ships; but the Japanese availed themselves of it to land in Manchuria.
Finally a third defensive system can be envisaged consisting of awaiting the enemy at home in order to utilize all one's resources of whatever nature. If the two belligerents are separated from one another by a wide extent of sea, this kind of defensive is advantageous for the weaker side. It can bring to bear the totality of its means of action, while its adversary in going to attack it must deprive himself of all his ships of small radius of action.
Unfortunately, these favorable circumstances never occur in practice. It may happen that two nations separated by wide stretches of sea make war upon one another, but between them are found disputed interests whose possession usually is the object of the strife. Thenceforth, one is no longer free to adopt a defensive attitude; it is necessary to carry the war wherever the enemy carries it; for to defend oneself is not to let oneself be beaten without doing anything.
The Spanish-American war affords us an example of this kind. If Spain had not possessed Cuba and Porto Rico in the neighborhood of the American coast, there would not have been any conflict.35 When it broke forth, the Spaniards would have had all the more advantage in awaiting the enemy at home, because the American Navy was burdened with coast-defense ships that could not cross the Atlantic; but they were not free to choose their theater of operations, nor to adopt the kind of warfare that suited them. The force of events led them to the other side of the Atlantic. Thus it was the weaker side that had to deprive itself of a part of its forces.36
When the two adversaries have common sea frontiers, the weaker no longer has an interest in waiting near his own coast for the enemy, since he no longer can prevent almost the whole of the hostile forces from coming to fight him there. We shall even see, by studying operations in detail, that taking station along the coast, far from compensating for a numerical inferiority, only aggravates it.
In short, the naval defensive, under whatever form it presents itself, offers only disadvantages; one may be obliged to submit to it, but should never seek it. On the one hand as on the other, we are led to assume the offensive, that is, to seek the enemy to fight him. But the two sides do not carry out this purpose in the same way.
35Just as our difficulties with China began after the taking of Cochin China and were kept up by the occupation of Tonkin.
36Which proves that one ought not to have several kinds of fighting ships, since it is not known what sort of war one will be obliged to enter upon.
The stronger will always rush to meet the different squadrons of the adversary to destroy them as soon as Possible, before they have had time to do harm. The weaker will seek first to make the adversary lose touch with him in order to rearrange his forces and create an unexpected situation; then he will seek to draw his adversary onto a favorable field of battle where his weaker units can be brought into action. So long as this contest lasts, and so long as a decisive battle has not inclined the balance one way or the the other, both sides will abandon the aspirations that brought on the struggle; for it is upon the field of battle that their fate will be decided.
Who will be the victor? The most active, the most skilful, the most tenacious, the one who has the material best suited to the needs of the war.
The offensive will secure decisive results particularly at the beginning of the war. If, by impetuosity of attack, the projects of the adversary are anticipated, a fixed direction is given to the operations; a menace is created which upsets all the enemy's previsions, which paralyzes him so long as he does not succeed in disentangling himself by a victory. But the single fact of having placed him in an unexpected situation puts him in a state of inferiority and prevents him from recovering when, on the contrary, his adversary has himself been able to use his forces to the best advantage.
The characteristic of the offensive is to impose the attack, instead of submitting to it; it has manifested itself in history by the fact that almost all victories have been won on the enemy's coast.
Geographical conditions have weighed upon operations in all wars, and, unhappily, they have not been favorable to France.
It is often said that our country, placed astride of two seas, occupies a privileged position. This assertion is correct as far as our economic development is concerned: France has owed to her coast of Provence the predominance she has long exercised in the Mediterranean as well as her African domain, while her ocean shores furnish her with outlets for trade with the two Americas. This cause of prosperity becomes a source of weakness during war: it determines the splitting up of our naval forces into two great bodies, far removed one from the other, and which are unable to unite without passing under the Caudine Forks of Gibraltar.37
So long as England had no permanent fleet in the Mediterranean, France was obliged to go to fight her in the Atlantic and the Channel. Every war, therefore, began by the despatch of the forces of Toulon to the north, and geographic conditions constantly interfered with this movement; the distance caused delays or gave the enemy an easy means of opposing the junction.
When the Toulon detachment was slow to arrive, operations had to be begun without it, if circumstances demanded. Thus it was that the Dutch had to fight the Four Days’ Battle before the arrival of the Duke of Beaufort, and that Tourville began the battle of La Hogue before he had been reinforced by d'Estrées.
To oppose the junction of our forces, the English proceeded in two different ways: either, profiting by the temporary weakness of our Brest squadron, they took station off Ouessant to await the detachment from Toulon; or they sent superior forces to Gibraltar to intercept it on the way.38
37The nation which, from the geographic point of view, enjoyed the same advantages as France, without suffering from the inconveniences, was Spain. This was the origin of her greatness.
38This second solution is open to criticism: England would have found more advantage in leaving at Gibraltar only frigates to watch the passage, and in concentrating all her forces in the north; she would thus have been more favorably situated whatever happened.
Tourville succeeded once in taking eighteen ships into Brest in sight of the English fleet, and Château-Renault, the following year, escaped Killigrew, who pursued him after his exit from the strait.39
39During the war of the Spanish Succession, the English even placed all of their forces at Cape St. Vincent to oppose the contrary operation, the passage of the Count of Toulouse from the north to the south.
The danger that these two admirals incurred shows the difficulties of the enterprise, and proves that the operation is of those that logically ought not to be attempted. In fact, Tourville and Château-Renault were the only ones who succeeded and all the other attempts failed; among them that of M. de la Clue, which brought on the disaster of Lagos and had its after-effect at Quiberon.
It must be recognized that the method employed, under Louis XIV and Louis XV, was not of a nature to lessen the disadvantages of an unfavorable geographical situation. The vessels that were sent from Toulon to the north approached the center of English power and ran into danger. It would have been more reasonable to perform the opposite maneuver, and to bring about the junction as far as possible from the principal hostile fleet. This would have required the Brest squadron (the stronger) to start for the south at the period when that of Toulon was accustomed to set forth (that is, a little before the beginning of the compaign, in March or April). It would have passed the straits, joined the Toulon ships, and at once gone north again. The worst that could have happened would have been the English fleet's following it; but it is better to flee from danger than to go to meet it.
During the war that Louis XIV and Charles II sustained against Holland, in 1672, the junction of the French and English squadrons was accomplished in accordance with these principles. The bulk of the English forces was at Chatham with the Duke of York; d'Estrées' thirty ships armed at Brest. The point of concentration was fixed at Saint Helens. Ruyter, who commanded the Dutch, planned to separate the allies by stationing himself in the Strait of Dover. As soon as the Duke of York learned that the Dutch squadron was directing its course from the Texel towards the strait, he hastened to leave the Thames, leaving behind the vessels that had not completed arming, and succeeded thus in getting ahead of Ruyter. The junction was then accomplished without hindrance at the designated place; then the allied fleet, returning to the east, took on the way the ships that had remained in the Thames. The situation would have been entirely different if the Duke of York had remained where he was, waiting for the French contingent.40
40This maneuver is not mentioned in naval histories; it appears in the report of the Count d'Estrées.
During the war of American Independence, each time that the combined fleet cruised in the Channel, the junction was previously accomplished in Spain, sometimes at Ferrol, sometimes at Cadiz, that is to say, far from the enemy's coasts. It is probable that the French government, in adopting this line of conduct, obeyed considerations of a political rather than a strategical order. Whatever the causes were, the result was none the less favorable to the concentration.
The Mediterranean, through the construction of the Suez Canal, came to cut the route of commerce between England, on the one hand, and India and the Far East on the other. Geography would then have turned to our side if, by his foresight, our rival had not known how to reserve to himself the possession of Malta and Gibraltar. The Mediterranean, in fact, was never a favorable field of battle to the English fleets until the day when they could make use of the Ports of Italy, Sardinia and Sicily. Until then, they were too far separated from their base to maintain themselves there permanently; and though England could keep Gibraltar, which is self-defensive, she twice lost Minorca.
In the Anglo-Dutch wars, geography was still favorable to England. All the shores of Holland were watched by a part of those of England, and not a Dutch merchant ship could reach port without traversing the theater of operations. On the other hand, the greater part of the English coast was completely outside of the zone of action of the fleets, and ships could take refuge there while awaiting a favorable opportunity to enter the Thames. The result was that Holland had to interdict all transit while hostilities lasted, and little by little she ruined herself without having had a marked inferiority at sea.
It seems useless to point out the preponderant part that geography played in the Spanish-American conflict. It is sufficient to look at a map to become aware of it.
In the Russo-Japanese war, geography was doubly against the Russians: 1st, their forces were at the two extremities of the earth when the war broke out; 2d, in the theater of operations, Japan occupied, in relation to Russia's two bases (Port Arthur and Vladivostok), a central position that was favorable to her. This situation enabled the Japanese always to have numerical superiority on the battlefield.
When geography is in one's favor, advantage must be taken of it, but too much must not be made of it. There is, in fact, a tendency to be led astray by the advantages that a geographic position can eventually procure, and thus to come to attribute more importance to this position than to the hostile forces. In a conception of this sort there is a vicious circle. The objective is always the enemy afloat; geographic positions, therefore, have no value in themselves; they have value only in so far as they favor the action of naval forces against the enemy.
To fix our ideas, let us take for example the Strait of Dover, truly the most perfect type of the geographic position. We have, then, stationed at Dunkirk, a powerful flotilla with the avowed object of commanding the passage. But what part can this flotilla play? It will perhaps be less brilliant than one would be tempted to believe.
The operations will have a different character, according as the English coast is hostile or neutral.
In the former case, our flotilla which is based upon Dunkirk and Calais will find itself opposed to a hostile fleet based upon Dover and the mouth of the Thames; and as numbers will not be on our side, it is not very apparent what we could undertake with success. If our torpedo-boats remain cautious and avoid engaging, they will in effect leave the enemy master of the strait. It seems preferable, therefore, to employ them in another region, and they are out of place in the Strait of Dover. It would only be worth while for them to appear there when they had a chance of driving off the hostile flotilla.
In the second case, that is if the English coast is neutral, nothing will prevent France from commanding the passage, and this time at least it might be thought that the presence of a flotilla at Dunkirk was justifiable. But it is not at all so. If the flotilla includes a considerable number of submarines, it will doubtless be a sufficient menace to take away from the enemy the desire of risking himself in the strait; but that does not constitute a positive result. The enemy will be embarrassed in his movements, but he will not suffer any diminution of strength. On the other hand, we shall have immobilized a numerous flotilla with no resulting gain. It cannot be too often repeated that naval forces are made to play an active part. To condemn them to stand stock still, waiting for events that may never happen, is equivalent to giving the enemy a force equal to the one thus withdrawn from the theater of operations. The day when a hostile fleet is seen appearing in the Atlantic, after having passed to the westward of England, it will be recognized that the position of the Strait of Dover has not an absolute value.
None the less geographical positions have an indisputable strategic importance that has been clearly brought out in the Russo-Japanese war; and yet the Japanese never thought of permanently immobilizing forces in Pescadores Channel and the Korean Strait,41 nor in the Straits of Tsugar and la Pérouse, since these forces would have been wanting in the Yellow Sea. They profited by the advantages that certain of these positions procured under determined circumstances; but they did not seek to make them yield more than they could give.
The preceding considerations do not apply to straits alone; they are true for whole regions. It is evident, for example, that the Channel would be an excellent field of action for our flotillas, which are composed in greater part of units of small size. But we must not let ourselves be so attracted by this advantage as to assign the Channel in advance to our torpedo-boats as a theater of operations; for so long as the enemy did not present himself there they would have nothing to do there.
41Some torpedo-boats had Takechiki for base, but they were few in number and could not, on account of their small size, take part in the operations in the Yellow Sea. Their presence in the Korean Strait, moreover, seems to be attributable much less to anxiety to guard the passage (which they were incapable of doing) than to the purpose of aiding the passage of transports through the channel.
In the same order of ideas, the public ought to become convinced that our squadrons are by no means intended to operate in one region rather than in another, in spite of the official designations that seem to assign them specially to the guard of fixed regions. They have been created, at great expense, to destroy the enemy, whatever be the place where he is to be found. If he does not come to them, they must go to him. Besides, where there is no enemy our interests are not threatened, and we do not have to protect them.
SECRECY OF OPERATIONS.
If there had never been anything unforeseen in the composition and movements of forces, the brilliant combinations that we admire would have been reduced to nothingness, and the great leaders would have been deprived of one of their most powerful means of action.
There do not seem, however, to have been many mysteries in naval wars; and although previsions were often found faulty as a consequence of fortuitous circumstances, we generally knew the English armaments, and the English knew ours. Doubtless it did not enter into the manners of the time to conceal from officers their destination, so that the enemy was informed, not only of the preparations that were made, but also of their object. It is perhaps for this reason that, on all seas, the forces always tended to reach a state of balance so far as the means at the disposal of each side allowed.
Napoleon, on the contrary, always took care to envelop his naval operations in uncertainty. It is known that the secret of the expedition to Egypt was well kept, and that it resulted in the success of his landing. Further on we shall see in what manner the Emperor turned aside the attention of the English government in his great strategic undertaking. The efficacy of the dispositions adopted is proven, since Missiessy was not followed to the Antilles and Nelson lost a month before hastening in pursuit of Villeneuve.
It is almost impossible to conceal the warlike preparations that go on in ports; the enemy will even often have enough perspicacity not to accept without reservation all the rumors which circulate in respect to them, nor to take seriously all the preparations that seem to confirm them. Nevertheless, he will not be able to scorn them and to neglect to take account of them; for his not taking the measures called for by the avowed projects of the enemy would suffice to render their accomplishment possible.
Secrecy of operations gives birth to doubt; and there is no worse counsellor for those who have the responsibility of directing the movements of fleets than doubt. It often leads to the adoption of a mistaken course and to an ill-advised division of forces. We have already seen examples of this, and the Americans have quite recently furnished a new proof of it: when the Spanish squadron left the Cape de Verde Islands, uncertainty as to its objective led the Navy Department to divide its forces into two groups, neither of which, theoretically, had a marked superiority over the Spanish cruisers. A junction was only effected after it was learned in what region the enemy was to be found.
One's projects, therefore, must never be made known, even those which seem to be a necessity; it is astonishing to see, in reading history, how much the enemy is disposed always to believe in the most complicated solution when he is obliged to divine the objective of an armament.
With the means of communication now available, it seems difficult to deceive the enemy long as to one's movements. Nevertheless, the Japanese, by means of a strict censorship, succeeded in keeping their adversaries in almost absolute ignorance of their movements. It would be premature, therefore, to consider that, on account of the development of telegraphy—with or without wires—secrecy of operations must be renounced.
INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATIONS.
The object of the service of information is to penetrate the designs of the enemy in spite of the precautions that he takes to conceal them. A thorough knowledge of the adversary in itself furnishes precious indications; history shows what his aspirations are, and the means that he has employed in previous wars to realize them. By combining these data with the economic situation of the country and the ideas that are current there, we bring together a certain number of presumptions which give an impression as to the trend that he will give to operations.
War declared, it is above all important to know the number, composition and movements of the adverse forces.
To this end all governments maintain agents, who keep them informed regarding the warlike preparations of the ports and the rumors that circulate; but all these informations should only be tentatively accepted, since those who furnish them are often not to be depended upon and rarely have an exact understanding of the business. In any event, as agents are actuated by an interested motive, they are much more concerned to furnish information than to see that it is exact, and, to earn their pay, they have a tendency always to exaggerate.
Searching.—When the hostile squadrons put to sea, their destination can be known and their projects opposed only by getting touch of them. The service of information then devolves upon fast vessels; in its modern form it is known under the name of “searching.”
Seaching consists of finding the enemy without other datum than his point of departure. The inventors of the process advocate, for the solution of this problem, the use of so-called strategical curves. On paper, these curves give rise to amusing recreations; carried into the field of action, executed by real ships, they give nothing, because, in order to use them, it is necessary to base the strategic problems upon false or conventional data.42 So that it may well be asked whether strategical curves were brought forth by anxiety to find the enemy, or whether they were not applied to that purpose in order to find a use for them. However this may be, whenever it has become a question of practice, one has inevitably been led to sweeping with a line of cruisers the segments of the sea in which it is supposed that the enemy ought to be found.
42The difference assumed between the speed of the chaser and that of the chased is too great; the points of departure are nearer together than they would be in reality in order to. permit solving the problem during the period of daylight; finally the enemy is prohibited from changing course, which seems rather too much.
For a number of years the application of the principle of searching furnished the theme of all our exercises, without giving very conclusive results. As we contented ourselves with seeking to discover the enemy, without bringing in the data that, in time of war, will limit the uncertainty as to his position, and without taking account of the reaction of the development of cruisers upon the force of the line of battle, everybody said that our squadrons hadn't enough cruisers. And it could not be otherwise, for we aimed at giving an absolute solution to a problem which, in itself, does not admit of one, except in special cases.
Moreover, the importance attributed to this scouting cavalry led to the supposition that the enemy would use the same means, and that before being able to reach the main body of his forces, to ascertain their number and position, it would be necessary to drive back the opposing forces. It is then no longer a light cavalry that should precede squadrons, but a heavy cavalry, armored cruisers; the light ships are no longer good for anything but connecting the scouting line with the command by an uninterrupted service of expresses.
It would only be advantageous to endow our squadrons with a cloud of cruisers, if the consequence of so doing was not to diminish correspondingly the line of battle. Certainly lines of cruisers will furnish means of getting information as to the force of the enemy in time to escape in case of being inferior; this inferiority, however, must not be due to an exaggerated development of auxiliary ships. But, in certain maneuvers, the total tonnage of these latter reached 50 per cent of the tonnage of all the armored ships, and, now that cruisers of 12,500 tons and more have come into service, the total displacement of our so-called light vessels approaches that of the armored ships.
Whither does this end?—since, in fact, such a diminution of our effective fighting ships can only be admitted on condition that the elements that weaken them are indispensable. But the design of ships devoted to searching is open to criticism as well as searching itself.
The object of the vessels that attend the squadrons is not to fight; it is to furnish information. The combats that they may have to sustain in the accomplishment of their mission are only accidents; if they are stronger than the enemy, they drive him back; if they are weaker, they withdraw. But it is the idea of making our cruisers fight that has determined the increase of their displacement, with the solicitude always to do better than other nations. The cruiser must thus inevitably approximate more and more to the battleship; which is contrary to reason. Actually our new cruisers are as large as our armored cruisers and their speed is but little greater. It is no doubt difficult to allow that we should have a type of light vessel inferior to that of the enemy; but, on the other hand, the theory of lines of cruisers does not rest on any experimental datum, and nothing proves that, in reality, things will happen according to prediction. It may very well be, on the contrary, that from the beginning of a war, the whole system will crumble, since it has not received the sanction of experience.
Henceforth, in fact, we may expect many disappointments in this quarter. In the exercises of our squadrons, the problem has never been attacked very closely; the greater part of the themes are conceived with a view to assuring a successful conclusion, so as not to risk expending fuel for nothing. In spite of that, the conclusions that can be drawn from our maneuvers are scarcely consoling: the first part of the program, that which consists of discovering the enemy, succeeds sometimes, thanks to rigorous conventions which war will refuse to admit; in revenge, the maintenance of contact and the service of information have always functioned pretty badly. These results are of a nature to awaken our suspicions as to the efficacy of scouting lines.
The services that are demanded of them, moreover, are not obligatory to the same degree upon both sides: The stronger, after having assured itself of numerical superiority, can think of increasing the number of auxiliaries accompanying squadrons in order to enhance its chances of meeting the enemy. The weaker, on the contrary, will never have any trouble in provoking an encounter; but, in order to risk one, will try to bring about its reinforcement with other units; and, to assemble them, it has nothing to gain by extending the area it covers; it will concentrate, on the contrary, so as to occupy the least space possible.43
The number and kind of vessels intended to maintain the service of information and communications ought not to be fixed in an abstract fashion; the way in which the development of auxiliary ships may react upon the general conditions of the war should be taken into account.44 Give to a chief of squadron the task of seeking another squadron in the midst of the seas, as a needle is looked for in a truss of hay. This admiral, seeing only his immediate objective, will find that he is always lacking in light vessels; double, triple their number, and he will not complain of it. Suppose now that this same chief of squadron commands in time of war, and that upon the result of his encounter with the enemy depend the destinies of the country. At this critical moment his solicitude will not be for light vessels, but for fighting ships. It is those that he will insistently demand. And, if he could be left free to dispose as he saw fit of the tonnage represented by the whole of the so-called light vessels, there are nine chances out of ten that he would change the greater part of them into solid battleships, because there is never too much force to insure victory. This admiral will without doubt consider that, before thinking of meeting the enemy, it is first necessary to be able to contend with him, and that there is no instance of adversaries not having ended by meeting.45
43If, during the maneuvers of 1901, Squadron B had not deployed its cruisers, it would have had a better chance of slipping through.
44”If my heart were opened," wrote Nelson when he was searching for Brueys' squadron, "there would be found written on it 'more frigates.'" Without doubt he was right. But if the Admiralty had replaced ships by frigates, there could have been read in Nelson's heart "more fighting ships."
45Let us inquire what have really been the determining causes of naval battles. They can be arranged in two classes. The first comprises all actions where the adversaries have deliberately gone to meet one another to decide to which the empire of the sea shall belong. In this category belong the battles known under the following names: Lowestoft, the Four Days' Battle, North Foreland, Solebay, Schoneveldt, Beachy Head, Malaga, Ouessant.* The second category comprises battles that were the consequence of operations undertaken by one of the belligerents and which the other attempted to obstruct: Stromboli, Agosta and Palermo are connected with the French occupation of Sicily; Bantry was the result of a landing in Ireland; La Hogue of a threat to invade England; Mahon of the siege of that city; Quiberon is merely a repetition of La Hogue.
Almost all the encounters of the war of American Independence in the West Indies and on the American coast had their origin in land operations; the same is true of part of Suffren's battles; finally Trafalgar is the last act of the attempt to land in England.
Steam does not alter the character of encounters; Lissa, the Yalu and Santiago have a certain likeness to Bantry.
As for accidental meetings, they are in a very small minority, and should be put down to the account of the profit and loss of war.
*This is the French name for Keppel's action off Brest in 1778.—P. R. A.
He will, therefore, keep only the indispensable number of scouts, and these, representing but a small part of the tonnage of the whole squadron, will not materially diminish his strength. In a word, he will adopt the solution that will give him the best return.46
We are thus led to consider how information was obtained at the period when the seas were not raked with cruisers.
At the very start we are struck by the quantity of news furnished by neutral vessels47 and by prizes taken from the enemy.
46The increase of the size and armament of cruisers will lead to their being regarded as ships of the line. Thus we shall have poor fighting ships that we shall not even be sure of bringing into action, for they may very well be at a great distance from the main body at the moment of encountering the enemy.
47Examples.—A neutral vessel informs the Spaniards of the departure of Derby with a convoy for Gibraltar (1781); Derby himself is advised by a neutral of the capture by La Motte-Picquet of the convoy from St. Eustatius and detaches eight ships to try to retake it (1781). Madeira fishermen inform Suffren of the passage of Johnstone; the latter was steering for the Cape of Good Hope when he learned from a neutral of the preparations that made his expedition useless (1781). A merchant ship informs Suffren of the whereabouts of the East Indian English squadron (1782). Lord Howe meets neutrals, who inform him of Villaret-Joyeuse's position (1794). During the voyage of the expedition to Egypt, a brig meets Nelson's squadron at sea and carries the news to Toulon, whence two despatch vessels are hastened to Brueys (1798). On June 22, the English speak a vessel that had passed through the midst of Brueys' fleet (1798). Bridport learns from several merchant ships that Brueys' fleet, set out from Brest, is proceeding to the southwest (1799). A Ragusan vessel informs Villeneuve that Nelson is to the southward of Sardinia (1805). The latter learns, in his turn, that Villeneuve was south of Cape Gata on March 7, etc.
The squadron that gets news communicates it, if it is necessary, to other squadrons and to the seat of government. The latter, for its part, sends to the squadrons all the information that is of a nature to interest them. Thus there is established between the squadrons and the shore, and between the squadrons themselves, a permanent exchange of communications by means of light vessels.48 All the news that reaches the chiefs of squadrons only furnishes them with indications from which they judge what is probable. Then they send scouts in fixed directions to see if their conclusions are well-founded.
48Examples.—D'Estaing sends the Flore to the Spanish coast to keep the minister informed regarding his position (1778). The frigate Concorde learns at Martinique the news of the declaration of war (1778). The corvette Diligente carries to France the news of the taking of Grenada and the battle of July 6 (1779). De Ternay sends a vessel to France to ask for reinforcements (1780). De Grasse asks Barras to send him despatch vessels with Rochambeau's despatches (1781). The Fine carries to Mauritius and the Cape the plans of the government (1781). The Consolante goes to the Cape to give Suffren the order to return to Mauritius (1781). Suffren sends a ship to France to announce the battle of Praya (1781). The Argus goes to Europe to carry the news of the departure of the Count d'Orves (1781). Hotham is warned by an express from Genoa of the sortie of Admiral Martin (1795). The Curieux, sent by Nelson to Europe, meets Villeneuve's fleet (1805). The Aréthuse meets two French divisions at sea; she sends a despatch boat to Cornwallis, a corvette to Ferrol and to Cadiz to warn the English fleets (1805). Admiral Duckworth sends a frigate to England to carry information to the Admiralty as to the strength and course of a French squadron he has met (1805).
This system of communications was not created outright, as ours is. It was the result of the experience of centuries, and nothing proves that the needs to which it responded are not as exacting to-day as they used to be. It is not practised during maneuvers and exercises because the very statement of the theme takes its place; but in time of war it is very possible that we shall be obliged to re-establish it suddenly. We shall then find ourselves stripped of light vessels because, on the one hand, the practice of searching has given the auxiliary divisions a composition not at all suited to this kind of service, and, on the other hand, there is no sign of a provision of scouts distributed in all ports for the use of the central government. In the old navy, the dispatch-boats were little vessels (frigates, corvettes, brigs), whose small cost permitted an increase of number without diminishing too much the effective force of ships of the line. These vessels were distributed in all the ports so as to be always sure of being able to send one of them from a region not watched by the enemy; if the news to be communicated was very important, two or three were sent at the same time from different places. The messengers coming from the squadrons, for their part, took care not to make the land in quarters where the enemy was cruising, and they entered by preference commercial ports.
If the modern navy has to undertake the same service, it will have only big cruisers to do it with; it would need a swarm of scouts of 900 to 1000 tons, which will have the advantage of being numerous without costing much, and under very many circumstances simple torpedo-boat destroyers will suffice for this task by virtue of their great speed.
If, moreover, we refer back to the three last naval wars—the Chinese-Japanese, the Spanish-American and the Russo-Japanese wars—we find no evidence that they could have furnished occasion for the employment of searching. In the first, the Japanese had no need whatever to play with search rakes in order to obtain knowledge of the enemy's force and position. In the second, scouting lines would have proved themselves manifestly powerless to discover in the midst of the Atlantic the Spanish division, set out from the Cape de Verde Islands with an unknown destination. Had the Americans transformed their entire fleet into scouts, to the extent of having not one fighting ship to oppose to Admiral Cervera, their search rake would have covered an insignificant part of the surface of the sea. It must be admitted that there are occasions, on land as well as on the sea, when, to know where the enemy is, it is necessary to wait for him to show himself, which usually is not long delayed. Above all, it is necessary to avoid losing precious time and dispersing without any gain at all no less precious ships, for the pleasure of doing kinematics. Finally, in the third war, we know very well the use that was made or could have been made of light vessels; but it surely was not in the conventional shape that we have created.
Is this to say that it will never be necessary to have recourse to scouting lines? Not at all; but, instead of using them regularly, as we now do, they will only be used in special cases, and during short intervals of time, when operations are undertaken in very narrow seas such as make them perfectly efficient. But it will not be necessary to depend upon vessels specially built for this service; it will be enough to collect for the occasion all the light vessels available in the region and to suspend, while the operations last, communications with the shore and between squadrons.
As to encounter between cruisers thrown out ahead by each side—as to this encounter the contingency of which has given us armored cruisers—it has not yet taken place, despite three successive wars. From which we may be permitted without presumption to infer that a general conclusion has been lightly drawn from what will never be anything but an exceptional case.
It may be asked what influence the nets of telegraph wires that cover the earth will have upon the service of information. Judging from the Spanish-American war, the advantages of instantaneous communications have been tempered by some drawbacks. Cruisers have derived an evident benefit from them by going to the end of a cable, instead of traversing great distances; on the other hand, the American government was overwhelmed with the most contradictory news.
In any event, the cutting of cables must be anticipated and its consequences prepared for.
Scouting.—It is not considered sufficient to send out cruisers ahead of squadrons to discover the enemy; it is also proposed that naval forces should have in their immediate vicinity a screen of sentinels to preserve them from any surprise. At first, scouting in cross was tried, which is still the regulation method; then it was agreed that polygonal scouting was preferable, which assures an equal protection in all directions if the fighting body is allowed to fall back to the rear of the center of figure in relation to the direction of advance.
Without wishing to undervalue the merits of tactical scouting, even were it hexagonal, it may be said that it derives from an idea that is more seductive than practical.
Supposing the main force to be 12 miles from the furthest scout (which is a maximum) and a velocity of approach of 24 knots (which is a minimum speed of 12 knots), the safety interval is increased by half an hour.
Five or six scouts cannot be immobilized for this scant benefit. It would be dangerous to substitute battle-ships for them; they might not have time to concentrate, if they were surprised by an enemy breaking through at full speed. Only convoys remain, therefore, to which to apply close scouting, and their ships do not possess sufficient means of communication to perform this service.
Usually, it will be known when the enemy is near and there is a chance of meeting him. Then a more sustained watchfulness will take the place of scouting.
Chasing.Since cruisers entered into the composition of squadrons, problems of chasing have developed so that, with searching, they seem to be the embodiment of naval war. Here we have a new proof of the exaggerated importance attributed to the accessory in derogation of the principal.
Certainly chasing will render real service; but it will perhaps not be in the form that is given to it. Much ingenuity has been exercised to find in it an excuse for solving triangles; in order to give it this trigonometrical form, it has been necessary to attribute absolute values to unknown quantities, such as the course, the speed and sometimes even the position of the chased. These precautions being still insufficient, there has been added, for the chased, the obligation of conforming to strict rules which it is his most elementary duty not to follow.
The day when these peaceful distractions are changed to operations of war, sines and cosines will be obliged to give way to clear-sightedness and resolution. Would it not be better to develop these qualities in times of peace, instead of substituting geometrical constructions for them?
When a conflict shall have brutally brought us to the true concept of naval war, there will be good cause for astonishment that we have been able thus to substitute fictions for reality.
The different methods studied for the solution of problems of chasing find their application in the stationing of scouts among themselves or with respect to the squadron; all the data are then known and furnish an exact point of departure. But strategy is not concerned with this, nor even is tactics; these methods are simply useful in cruising, just as the determination of the position is; they ought, therefore, to form part of the general instruction of young officers.
BASES OF OPERATIONS.
It is useless to define a base of operations: the necessity is self-evident of having sheltered places in which to prepare forces before they are sent out to fight, to repair and resupply them after battle. But the number, position and utilization of these bases give rise to differences of opinion.
The first condition that advanced bases ought to fulfil is to suffice to themselves, that is not to require the assistance of mobile forces. If base of operations are made to protect ships, ships cannot have the protection of bases of operations for their objective. The English have always regarded them in this light, and events have proved that they are right: the Admiralty was never solicitous about the attacks upon Gibraltar after that place had once been put in a state of defense; they abandoned the garrison to itself, contenting themselves with revictualing it from time to time. The Russians adopted exactly the opposite solution at Port Arthur; and what it cost them to sacrifice the armament of their fleet to the defense of Port Arthur is well known.
The more advanced bases a country puts at the disposition of its fleets, the greater the development that strategy can attain. Therefore, there would be advantage in multiplying them, if the financial sacrifices that they necessitate (as much for their creation as for the normal functioning of their services) did not diminish correspondingly the power of the active forces for which they are created. Their number is, therefore, limited.49
49Still there must be some. It is not easy to see how the ships on our foreign stations can carry on war so long as they do not have, on each station, at least one port where they can find safety.
There is general agreement in locating bases only in positions that have a strategic value, but there is more difficulty in arriving at a common understanding as to what constitutes the strategic value of a given point. Certain minds readily allow themselves to be attracted by the facilities that some places offer for the establishment of a great naval arsenal, and they are inclined to believe that this fact alone gives to such ports strategical importance. Then it is desired to transform the lake of Berre into a second Bizerta; and radicals even go so far as to wish to utilize the sea of Bou-Grara. The sole advantage of these two lakes resides in the enclosed sheet of water, "which would suffice to give shelter to all the fleets of the world." This phrase, which we have all heard applied to Brest, Rio de Janeiro, Bizerta and Diégo-Suarez, has the gift of producing a profound impression on the public.
The excessive dimensions of a roadstead are, nevertheless, an inconvenience rather than an advantage, and it is absolutely useless to be able to shelter a thousand ships in a place where the necessities of war will never bring more than fifty. If the roadstead of Brest were less vast, the inner defense would have been easier to organize, and the need of a breakwater would not have been felt at all; it is the extent of the lake of Bizerta similarly that has necessitated the construction of a small harbor inside the big one. The importance of these roadsteads, therefore, consists much less in the extent of their liquid surface than in the distance that separates them from the sea, a distance which places their establishments out of reach of shot.
The strategical value of advanced bases really depends only upon their geographic position.
The utilization of bases of operations is a complex problem that presents itself in a different light in each region, according to the conditions peculiar to each of them. It will be sufficient for us to seek out the part that some of them have played in the past, and that which they can have in the future, to show that the services they render are not all of the same order.
Brest and Cherbourg threaten directly the shores of England, and Toulon was built to command the Mediterranean. It seems, therefore, that the first two ports would serve as points of concentration for forces intended to operate in the Channel, and that the squadrons that are to act in the Mediterranean would be drawn from Toulon. Yet we have seen that the immense fleet which, under Villeneuve's orders, imperiled English supremacy in the Channel, was drawn entirely from Toulon, Cadiz and Ferrol, while the Brest squadron played no part in it. On the other hand, when Bruix found himself in the Mediterranean at the head of forces double those of the English, it was Brest that had furnished the greater part of his force. Later, the First Consul, wishing to send help to Egypt, had the forces destined for this expedition set out from Brest (Ganteaume's cruise).
These anomalies are easily explained. The menace constituted by the presence of naval forces in Brest was too evident for the English not to take acount of it by stationing in their neighborhood equal or superior forces; and the proximity of her coast gave her every facility in this respect, for, if Brest commands the English coast, Portsmouth commands the French coast. To secure superiority, therefore, it was necessary to draw from out-of-the-way regions supplementary forces, which, from their remoteness, might have other objectives and consequently not inspire the same apprehensions in the enemy.
Toulon was not, like Brest, paralyzed by a hostile port, and would perhaps have sufficed to the Mediterranean forces with its own resources if our rivals had not had the foresight to secure provisional advanced bases that compensated, in a certain measure, for the distance of their great military ports.
So long as a battle does not intervene, the absolute benefit of bases that command a coast or a region is acquired only by the stronger side which in advance concentrates there the forces that it judges necessary. But it is only after a victory that, on one side as well as on the other, the strategical importance of such bases makes itself specially felt. The victor, master of the sea, establishes himself there permanently and finds, in the resources that they afford, means of resupplying his squadrons without separating himself from his field of action. The importance of a point must, therefore, not be deduced from the number of ships that are there at the beginning of hostilities, but from the forces that the progress of operations may bring there; for, soon or late, the interest of the war will concentrate itself in regions that may be called centers of attraction.
Rochefort and Lorient.—The advantages of these ports during our naval wars arose from a double cause: the importance of Brest, where the principal armaments took place, drew from them the attention of the English; at the same time their distance from the enemy's coasts made their surveillance more difficult. That is why it was always endeavored to make the reliefs destined for the colonies and, in general, small expeditions intended to operate in the Atlantic start from these ports. It is to be observed that the divisions of Missiessy, of Allemand and of Savary, which were almost the only ones able to go and come without hindrance, had Rochefort for base. And their success must be attributed to the difficulty the enemy had in watching that port.
Secondary bases, therefore, advantageously supplement the principal bases, without taking away from the latter their importance, and without making them lose anything of their own proper value.
The suppression of secondary bases simplifies the task of the enemy by permitting him to watch with a single force the different fractions that are not called upon to act together.
However, it is evident that from the moment that our military ports of the second class have become unequal to receiving existing squadrons, whose units are of not less than 12,500 tons displacement, they cease to constitute bases and no longer render any service. This, unhappily, is the case with Rochefort and Lorient.
Gibraltar has not always had the importance that is now given to it. Its true efficaciousness only dates from the wars of the Revolution, that is from the period when the English maintained permanent squadrons in the Mediterranean. Even then the rock was only a post for news, coupled with a rather poor anchorage; ships did not even find water there, but had to go to Tetuan or Lagos for it. The immense works undertaken in later years have been necessary to make Gibraltar a real base of operations.
Before 1793 the Mediterranean only formed part of the theater of war intermittently, and, in the interludes, the fortress was sometimes a heavy burden; it no longer rendered any service, and it was none the less necessary to revictual it by passing through the Spanish forces stationed at Cadiz.
Malta is, for the English, the key of the Mediterranean. The entrance to this sea is closed by Gibraltar, but we are already inside. Without Malta, Egypt and Cyprus are in danger, the mouth of the Suez Canal is at our mercy; and, if an action were to take Place east of Bizerta, we would be able to bring to it all our forces, while the English, if they had only Gibraltar, would be deprived of their torpedo-boats.
Bizerta.—The creation of Bizerta was necessary for France on several accounts.
First of all, a look at the chart will make it unnecessary to dwell upon the advantage that could be derived from this arsenal after a victory in the Mediterranean.
In the second place, the need of Bizerta arises from the great extent of coast that we possess in Africa. From Cape Bon to Nemours our shores border upon the route between Gibraltar and Malta; war must, therefore, inevitably lead us into these regions.
We had no means of revictualing there because all the ports of Algeria are directly on the coast; Bizerta fills this want.
Finally, the possession of but one arsenal in so vast a sea as the Mediterranean placed our forces in a difficult position; since, as one of our admirals said, it is almost impossible to imagine strategical operations when there is only a single base at one's disposition.
There are three kinds of bases of operations:
1st. Arsenals, which are ports of construction, arming and repair.
2d. Advanced bases, where ships find fuel and supplies and where they can make slight repairs.
3d. Stations for torpedo-boats.
Whichever they may be, these different bases are too intimately connected with the utilization of our active forces not to be rendered inviolable, and this condition will be the easier to fulfill if they are at the end of long narrow passages.
Nevertheless, it is not needful to consider the situation of Cherbourg desperate. That port is directly on the coast, it is true; but in consequence of this it has been defended. It is customary to consider that the enemy can easily bombard it. But will the three hundred heavy guns of the water batteries remain silent? Will not the torpedo-boats and submarines issue forth?
The protection of torpedo-boat stations cannot be developed to the same extent as that of the fleet's grand bases. Their best defense will consist of placing them in ports extending well into the land, difficult of access and inaccessible to vessels of greater draft than torpedo-boats. Boom defenses, defended by light artillery, will suffice to preserve them from the enemy's enterprises.
It has rarely happened that ships have dared to attack directly the defenses of a naval arsenal. Still, in the sixteenth century, the English succeeded in reaching a Spanish fleet inside the roadstead of Cadiz, and the Dutch, in the following century, burned some disarmed English ships at Chatham. The only conclusion that can be drawn from these isolated facts is that the defense of the places named was insufficient; for no attempt has ever been made to pass through the narrow entrance of Brest. If the imprudence is committed of stationing ships in bases before they are supplied with sufficient means of defense, the bases become points of weakness.
THE RADIUS OF ACTION.
If circles are drawn with the bases of operations as centers and half the steaming distance of the ships as radius, the sectors of sea contained in the circles will represent the maximum field of action of the mobile forces starting from each port.
When the radius of action is very small, these various sectors will cover but an insignificant part of the surface of the sea; they are isolated from each other and even may not touch the territorial waters of the enemy. There is no strategy then; the ships are riveted to their base by a chain which fetters their movements, and, outside of their zone, the sea is free; the war does not reach it. If the enemy, better equipped, has given his ships a sufficient radius of action, he has full leisure to assemble his forces and to attack a single sector, sure of having nothing to fear from the others. Thus the side which has the least mobility is inevitably condemned to inferiority on the field of battle, even if it has absolute superiority.
Now let the radius of action be increased. The sectors will extend to the neighboring bases, and immediately the situation is bettered. A squadron, starting from one base, can end at another, or separated squadrons can unite. The number of combinations increases and also the possibility of surprises. The enemy is no longer so free from anxiety; if he makes a given force his objective, he is in danger of being taken in the rear and, to protect himself, he divides his forces.
Finally, if we assume a very great radius of action, strategy attains its full development; the enemy is everywhere accessible and all the movements of forces that the circumstances demand can be put into effect.
The first supposition that we have made is not an imaginary one. It corresponds still to-day to a reality as far as a part of our naval forces are concerned.
We have coast-defense vessels which cannot go from Toulon to Brest, even at moderate speed, without renewing their coal supply. If the interest of the war is transferred far from their base, we shall have to do without their aid. But, it will be said, they have been put there to remain there. There are necessities from which there is no escape; did not Admiral Nebogatof's coast-defense ships, which were built for the Baltic, go to the shores of Japan to be sunk?
Let us now inquire what the situation of our foreign possessions is. Actually, the ships stationed in them can find support only in their single base. Unless they shut themselves up in it (in which case they are of no use) they will be destroyed sooner or later. The enemy, knowing their number and isolation, will oppose to them superior forces and will always succeed in meeting them, because they will only be able to move in a restricted zone and because, for this reason, their objectives will be limited; the enemy will know, besides, that through unavoidable necessity these ships must return to their point of departure, and he will await them in its vicinity.
If these same ships had a sufficient radius of action to be able, from their central station, easily to reach the neighboring stations and to go, for example, from Dakar to Martinique and to Diégo-Suarez, or from Diégo-Suarez to Saigon and to Dakar, the military value of our foreign stations would cease to be a negligible quantity. The forces of two or three stations could unite at a single one, find themselves thus momentarily superior to the hostile forces and crush them. Instead of shutting themselves up in a trap, which amounts to moral defeat, they could assume the offensive and play the only part that becomes fighting ships: wage war. It will doubtless be pointed out that hundreds and thousands of miles will have to be covered in pursuit of an uncertain result; but war is not a child's game and nothing is won without cost. It is possible that fruitless raids will be made; yet perseverance has always been compensated, and a good victory quickly effaces the memory of past trials. Calculate from the chart the number of leagues traversed by Nelson before coming up to Brueys at Aboukir and Villeneuve at Trafalgar, and take account of the effort he must have made to reach the enemy; and if Nelson had survived his last victory, perhaps he would have felt that he had not bought it too dearly by paying for it seven months of pursuit.
The small importance that for a long time has been attached to the radius of action was the consequence of the transformation of naval material. The appearance of steam completely changed the strategical conditions of naval warfare; and, while giving the ship freedom of movement, imprisoned it in a narrow circle. Military operations were then seen under a new aspect, and in the presence of the facts, the value of the distance that could be traversed was lost sight of little by little. Thus for a long time no advantage was taken of improvements in the economy of engines; the old ways were followed, because mental conceptions are always behind material progress. It is only in these latter years that more correct ideas have led to increasing the radius of action of our ships, but the error committed brought us a fleet of coast-defense vessels that are unsuitable for carrying on war. Yet there were numerous examples of enterprises that had to be interrupted or failed on account of the necessity of returning to port.50
50One of those which best bring clearly out the consequences that disregard of this strategic factor may entail is the campaign that the combined fleets of France and Spain made on the coast of England, during the summer of 1779, under d'Orvillier's command, and which failed miserably because the ships could remain at sea no longer.
As to the advantages secured by a greater radius of action than the enemy's, they were particularly evident during the wars of the Revolution and Empire. At this period, the English had to a considerable degree increased the independence of their squadrons by introducing the use of iron water tanks on board ship and bettering the health of the crews by measures of cleanliness unknown till then. At the same time, the constant training given to the sailors had diminished the damages that so often obliged ships to return to port; so that Nelson could say that his ships were less tried by bad weather in a year than ours were in a day. It was due to these improvements and this training that the English were able to keep up a continuous blockade of our coasts, which had never before been attempted, and to make those gigantic raids which would have been impossible in the previous wars.51 They thus secured an absolute advantage. But to-day the elements of the radius of action are altered; they no longer depend on the sanitary condition on board ship, but on the quantity of coal that can be burned; they thus have a direct effect upon displacements, which constantly increase, and an indirect effect upon the number of units, which diminishes proportionally as displacement increases. Still, it can be said that the radius of action, facilitating the utilization of all available forces, compensates to a certain degree for the reduction of numbers that its development entails.
51The radius of action of sailing ships was not as great as is thought, even though it was independent of a motor. In going to the East Indies, the English put in at Brazil, at the Cape of Good Hope (or at St. Helena before the seizure of the Cape) and in the Portuguese possessions in the Indian Ocean. To-day the Powerful can go from England to Mauritius without coaling. Squadrons of steamers, therefore, can cover a greater distance than could the old fleets of sailing ships to which an "infinite" radius of action is often ascribed.
The limit that the development of the radius of action ought to attain is quite difficult to determine precisely. Some officers think that it is fixed by the distance that separates the different bases of operations. War, however, does not consist of going from one point to another by the shortest road. It is necessary to go wherever the enemy is, to expend coal in goings and comings, in a word to use that continuity of action that characterizes successful enterprises. It must not be necessary to stop to take coal at the moment when the objective is reached. The radius of action ought not to he calculated too nicely; it can only be deduced from the general lines of the plan of campaign that it is proposed to adopt.
The influence of the radius of action on the progression of displacements has developed in the French Navy a current opinion opposed to expansion of the steaming distance. Fuel being a renewable element, it has been thought that it could be taken on board in smaller quantity on condition of more often filling the empty bunkers. It is not the same thing, however, to traverse a given distance at one stretch and in several successive ones. In the latter case, there results a great loss of time, and perhaps also the necessity of going out of one's way.
In naval operations, the steaming distance represents the factor "movement." Movement is the soul of strategy, that which gives it life. Without the faculty of moving about, all is arranged in advance, events follow their natural course, the stronger is the victor, the weaker is vanquished. With the aid of movements of forces, on the contrary, the parts may be reversed; the material afloat is made to give the maximum return, it is multiplied. Whether the field of battle be accepted or imposed, it is first of all important to bring the greatest possible number of ships there: movement. Finally, the most direct benefit that victory procures is to permit abandoning an adversary reduced to impotency in order to go to another field: movement.
A tactical unit, however powerful, will never render any but feeble services if it is not capable of moving about freely. The enemy will be satisfied to keep out of its way. Without going back to coast-defense vessels, regard mobile defenses: if our squadrons were sure of having always with them a swarm of torpedo-boats, their force would be sensibly increased; but this certitude is lacking because those boats have very little endurance, are frequently incapacitated by bad weather, and finally because it cannot be foreseen where and when the enemy will be encountered.52 If some day we are astonished at the small results obtained from torpedo-boats, we shall have to attribute it in great part to their want of mobility. This shows that tactics and strategy are indissolubly connected: one is good for nothing without the other.
A naval force, devoid of radius of action, is exclusively defensive. It may thwart the enemy's plans, but it will never endanger him. It contributes nothing, therefore, towards the ends of the war; it has a negative efficiency. It may be redoubtable, but its power is fettered: it is a lion enclosed in a cage. Interdicting access to such or such a point does not better one's situation; what is needed is to prevent the enemy from being safe wherever he may be. The defensive is passive; the offensive is active. But the latter is inconceivable without movement.
Evidently nations that build ships without steaming endurance have good hopes of being able to make use of them; they suppose that war will take a form appropriate to their employment. They thus prepare for themselves many disappointments, for, with this plan, it is necessary to reckon with the enemy, who will always find means of being superior in force and in number if he has only passive forces to fear. War does not divide itself up into a series of particular cases; it comprises only one general case which is to go wherever there is need of being.
After the example that Spain, the United States and Russia have just given us, mobility cannot be thought lightly of. Neither of these three nations was capable of making the whole of its forces take part in operations, because part of them was incapable of changing its place.
Fuel is not the only constituent of the radius of action. That is what is generally referred to; but there is another factor which cannot be neglected: that is the supply of munitions.
52Sea-going qualities have a place among the factors of the radius of action of torpedo-boats.
A naval force whose coal bunkers are full while its ammunition rooms are empty is none the less powerless.53
In estimates of a ship's radius of action, the supply of ammunition is the necessary condition, and the quantity of coal is the sufficient condition, because the object of the second factor is to enhance the first.
53When the Japanese squadron abandoned the battlefield of the Yalu, in want of ammunition, it lacked radius of action. It was the same with the American division that fought the battle of Cavite: the destruction of the Spanish fleet was succeeded by a long period of inaction occasioned by lack of shell. If the Spaniards had had other forces in the Philippines, the Americans would have been obliged to leave the islands.
The advantages secured by speed, in the old navy, stand out clearly in the following report of Suffren, in which he asks that our ships be copper-bottomed so as to be able to cope with those of the English:
"Since the English have coppered a number of their ships and continue to do so with such activity that they will all be copper-sheathed in a short time, the operation of sheathing ours ought not to be regarded merely as advantageous; it is an absolute necessity. Otherwise, when they are the stronger, they will be sure of coming up with us, and when they are the weaker, avoiding us. . . . .
“In Admiral Rodney's reports may be seen with what confidence he sends three ships into the Mediterranean, with what temerity he has them cruise off Port Royal, where we had twenty-five. But for the sheathed ships, in view of the approach of night and bad weather, Langara might have escaped; if the Prothée had been sheathed, she would not have been taken. These reflections, which a seaman cannot avoid making, have deeply affected me, seeing escape the escort of the convoy just taken by the combined fleet. If the Zélé had been sheathed, she would have come up with the Ramillies and attacked her. In a previous cruise, I would have taken five privateers that I had chased, and a very rich convoy going from London to Lisbon, which I missed because of having chased for sixteen hours a privateer, which separated me twenty-five leagues from the cruising ground that I had established from Cape La Roque to the Scilly Islands. Finally, the boldness with which Commodore Johnstone cruises with a fifty-gun ship and some frigates, encompassed by fifty ships of war, is a very strong proof of what I have just stated.”
All these considerations are still true. The advantages of speed can be summed up as follows:
Inferiority of speed in relation to the enemy compromises all operations; it renders the offensive almost impossible, without profiting the defensive.
Superiority of speed diminishes the dead time that separates conception from execution; it favors surprises.
The influence of speed manifests itself likewise in that it gives to the commander greater freedom of mind and of movement, on account of diminution of the danger that results from the neighborhood of a superior force.
Every effort will, therefore, be made to be faster than the enemy, but just here comes in the difficulty. No one power possesses the secret of building ships faster than those of its neighbor; and, for this reason, among the great maritime nations, the speeds of each class of ships are sensibly equal. If a navy aims at superiority, its lead lasts but a short time and affects only so limited a number of ships that it is not worth being concerned about.54
54According to official figures, the English destroyers are faster than ours; but accidents have shown that their excess of speed was only obtained by the sacrifice of qualities essential in vessels; it would, therefore, be an embarrassment rather than an advantage.
Moreover, supernatural virtues must not be ascribed to speed. Its admirers draw up for us an attractive list of its qualities: "If we are faster than the enemy, we can force him to fight when and where we wish." Things do not come to pass so simply. Doubtless it is possible to draw the enemy to oneself by occupying a region where he has interests to safeguard; but when he is there the encounter will take place when and where it can, and not when and where one would like it to be. Speed will certainly be useful; but what good purpose will it have served if, in order to arrive first upon the battlefield, we have had to throw overboard part of the artillery to increase our headway. Yet this is the result arrived at by seeking superiority of speed at any cost. To be convinced of it, it is sufficient to compare the armaments of two ships of the same displacement and of different speeds.
There is nothing left to do then but to escape, and the natural conclusion is that it would have been better not to come. Flight is not a solution; it is an avoidance.
When speed is at the service of weakness, it merely facilitates desertion. During the Russo-Japanese war, the Russian cruisers furnished us, on three different occasions, with valuable indications: let us take care not to forget them.
It will not be easy even to play the part of the Wandering Jew on the sea. We are preparing for ourselves a terrible awakening when we figure that a superiority of two or three knots will permit escaping. It may be supposed that a ship which constantly keeps all fires lighted and all boilers under pressure will be able to escape every attack, thanks to her speed, if she has nothing else to do but take to her heels as soon as smoke is seen on the horizon. But all this is pure theory. In practice no warship is capable of keeping, through the whole duration of a cruise, her boilers at 17 atmospheres' pressure; and before taking flight it is needful first to recognize with whom one has to deal. Thus it will be necessary to let oneself be approached, and when it is decided to run away, the situation will already be critical. To escape from it, the ship will have to undergo one of those tests that are so often interrupted by breakdowns during official trials. Mere statistics will show the danger of trusting to speed under these excessive conditions.
Doubtless the chaser may also suffer the same injuries, but for him they will not have the same consequences; they will not entail his loss. The situation is not the same, therefore.
If, instead of considering the case of a single ship, we take that of a group of vessels, we arrive at still more pessimistic conclusions. Homogeneity of speed is most difficult to obtain; ships have a speed depending upon their age, the cleanness of their hulls, the amount of scale in their boilers, etc. At the present time, when the speed of battle-ships closely presses that of cruisers, a squadron of battle-ships has units faster than the poor sailers of a division of cruisers. Thenceforth, the latter can no longer escape without abandoning to the enemy some of its ships; the laggards will be quickly caught by the fast battle-ships; and to succor them it will be necessary to make a stand.
All this proves that the advantages of speed are much more sensible for the stronger side, which derives an absolute benefit from it, than for the weaker side, which will make use of it, but which only has an interest in seeking after it if not thereby weakened. But, until a new invention permits getting greater power on a less weight, speed will only be increased by increasing the power of the engines and the number of boilers to the detriment of armament. In this way we fall again into the error committed at the time when battery power was increased by making monster guns, and the protection of ships by giving them armor of greater thickness. In the first case, the armament was reduced to one or two big guns; in the second, the armor sheltered but a slender battery.
The result, therefore, is that the weakest navy is reduced to not letting itself be left behind, and to seeking preferably endurance, which, with theoretically equal speeds, gives in fact superiority. This necessity is all the more imperative because speed is so excessively costly; not only will a fast ship be less armed on an equal displacement, but she will likewise cost more, since battleships cost about 2200 francs a ton, while light vessels without any protection come to about 3000 francs a ton. Speed, therefore, weakens in two ways: it diminishes the armament of ships as well as their number. Nevertheless, to-day, one can no longer discuss speed under its different aspects without being accused of the crime of lack of patriotism. By dint of exalting it, we have come to deify it. It is no longer considered in its relationship to other elements; it is made a thing apart, intangible, which has value in itself. Let us not fear, on the contrary, to cry aloud (at the risk of being regarded as retrogressives) that speed is not a force, but a means of giving value to force, and that one has no right to sacrifice a single gun to it. That is the truth.
The speed corresponding to the most rapid pace that can be kept up indefinitely is called the "strategical speed." We seamen have no concern with those trial speeds that are reached by forcing a ship over the measured base like a race horse in the home stretch. Such feats require an expenditure of energy and a supplementary personnel that cannot be furnished in regular service. What we need is to keep up without failure a sustained rate of speed, that is to have engines that are not liable to break down.
High speed demands the presence in engine and fire rooms of the whole force of mechanicians. It is, therefore, only a tactical element that permits, at a given moment, giving a leap forward when in contact with the enemy.55
55On war-ships, where the weight and space allotted to the machinery are limited, high speeds have been attained by means of an expedient; thanks to very elastic boilers that can burn up to 200 kilograms of coal per square meter of grate surface, there is obtained by forced draft an overproduction of steam that is used in giving an excessive number of revolutions to the engines. For cruising speed it is necessary to reduce the power of the engines to the normal. When this result is attained, the weight per horsepower is almost as great as on merchant steamers.
Radius of action, together with speed, gives the ship mobility. But the relative importance of these two factors is not the same. Speed is a prodigal that spends without counting and quickly uses up its resources. Radius of action is distinguished by perseverance and tenacity. One is a brilliant quality; the other a solid quality.
However weak a naval force may be, there will never be any difficulty about utilizing it, if it has mobility; it will always be possible to find for it a field of action where it will not be confronted wth the cruel necessity of yielding with honor.
The object of homogeneity is to secure the maximum return from speed and radius of action.56 It is the factor that above all others gives economy of forces. Lack of homogeneousness in a fleet constitutes a useless squandering of force and money. It is evident, in fact, that the speed of a squadron is regulated by that of the slowest ship and that the extent of operations is limited by the resources of the ship which has the least of them.57 It may be necessary, therefore, on account of a single ship, not to utilize the qualities of a whole body of ships.
56We are here speaking only of strategical homegeneity; further on we shall consider the character of tactical homogeneity.
57Extract from one of d'Estaing's cruising reports: "The Languedoc and the César are the fastest. The Tonnant is the third sailer of the squadron; after that vessel come the Hector and the Zélé. The Protecteur, Fantasque and Sagittaire are what is called three companion ships. The Marseillais and the Provence sail fairly; as for the Guerrier and the Vaillant, they are the two worst sailers of the squadron. . . . . You may get an idea of the slowness to which we are condemned by the Guerrier and the Vaillant from the fact that of all the merchant ships that have joined us none have separated from the squadron except when they wished. These two ships labor and risk theirs spars, keeping always under full sail, while we roll and the sea devours us, because it is constantly necessary to shorten sail to wait for them.”
Since heterogeneousness is a source of weakness, the weakest navy ought logically to strive with the most tenacity for similarity of types.
Unhappily, France has never done so. Never has she taken pains to give her squadrons a reasonable composition. Matters have even gone so far that it seems as if there had sometimes been an endeavor to compose a mixture of unlike ships so that there might be some for every taste. It was doubtless thought that the superior qualities of some would compensate the deficiencies of others, and that all lumped together would have an average value.
Some attempts have been made to follow a more reasonable course; they were partly abandoned and moreover were but imperfectly carried out. How reach a logical solution when, in our navy, each unit has its special character? It is enough to cite the Redoutable, Dévastation and Courbet to show that ships can have very different capabilities in spite of a certain similarity of lines. Our latest squadron itself is not homogeneous as regards armaments.
One would like to know the role intended to be assigned to a division such as our Far-Eastern squadron was quite recently (Bayard, Vauban, Isly, Pascal, Éclaireur). These ships embarrassed each other, without being able to mutually support one another. It would have been at least logical to give to the less armed ships the greatest speed; yet the Kersaint, which replaced the Éclaireur, was built for 16 knots, while the Pascal steams 19.
At all periods the English have cared more than we for homogeneity. It is known with what care the squadrons that had the mission, always delicate, of revictualing Gibraltar in the presence of the enemy were composed. The cohesion that was the advantage of homogeneity was not unconnected with the success of this operation. In our times, the English fleet has this same characteristic that is so wholly wanting to ours, because in England ships are built in groups and improvements are introduced in a whole group.
It would be vain to seek in the past for instances of lack of homogeneousness procuring advantage, while its disadvantages are revealed to us on every page of history. What fatality then weighs upon the French Navy that it persists in not seeing this?
Beyond doubt, a great effort was made to try—without, however, succeeding—to have at least one homogeneous squadron of battle-ships; but this laudable intention did not extend to armored cruisers, which continue to be samples. The Léon-Gambetta, Ernest-Renan and Waldeck-Rousseau have different batteries.
There is no situation, in naval warfare, where lack of homogeneity is a greater handicap than in the case of a naval force obliged to take to flight. At the end of a short time the ships are trailed out in the order of their speed and fall successively into the enemy's ranks.58 A uniform speed, however small, would compel making a stand and the battle would have a less unfavorable aspect.
58This was the cause of the Quiberon disaster and the origin of the loss of de la Clue's ships.
Homogeneousness of squadrons has not the same value as that of the ships of each squadron by itself.
There is no advantage in having several squadrons of the same characteristics. Naval material is always being improved upon, and, if it were wished to have all our squadrons similar, we would be distanced by rival navies, or would be deprived of the assistance of ships already old, but not destitute of military value. The different fractions of our forces will have to fulfil different duties that do not require them all to have the same qualities to the same degree; if they have to unite, they will not all have the same road to follow. It will be sufficient, therefore, to give the hardest task to the squadron that has the most means.
In any one squadron, it is the homogeneity of the fighting line alone that is important. The light vessels that spread in all directions will frequently be employed singly. On the different services that are given them, they will have to display all their qualities, and the more these qualities are developed the better; but the older vessels, and consequently less well equipped, will not be the less useful in default of others; they will render services of less value, but still valuable. Moreover, the employment of light vessels is of so various a nature that it even requires sometimes different types.59 The relative homogeneity given them will, therefore, result from considerations of economy rather than of strategy, because variety is a source of expense.
59Scouts of small draft may be needed, and others of great radius of action.
THE ATTACK AND DEFENSE OF COASTS.
In our time coast defense has assumed such a preponderance in the thoughts of the naval world that it seems, by itself alone, to embody naval war. According to some, we have built a navy at great expense only to secure "the inviolability of our shores"—such is the consecrated expression. Others, seeking to discover the unknown of future struggles in the naval operations of the last century, have observed that they almost all took place along the coast and were summed up in attacks upon fortified works, combined with landings; thence they have concluded that naval warfare in the course of its evolution has taken a new form, of which the type is furnished by the American Civil War, and the Crimean expedition.
Before imposing this system of warfare upon France, with all the consequences that it entails in respect to material, the causes which gave birth to it should first have been determined; it would then have been found that, during the American Civil War, the Confederates had an improvised navy, absolutely unfit for carrying on a war, and that, during the Crimean expedition, the Russians sunk their ships. In both cases, therefore, the aggressor found himself, at the very outset, in a position as advantageous as if he had previously destroyed the offensive forces of the adversary, and these examples do not furnish us with any indication as to the influence that naval forces will exercise upon the protection of the coast.
The public always looks with favor upon coast defense; without responsibility for the conduct of war, it sees above all the evils that war engenders, and is frightened at the idea of suffering its consequences. The ready-made opinions of those facile writers who flatter the instinct of self-preservation innate in man are, therefore, freely accepted. Under this influence, each village, each city, each region craves its share of protection; the spectre of the Augusta ravaging our shores in 1870 is evoked, and batteries, torpedo-boats, coast-defense ships and even squadrons are demanded.
Whither do such exaggerations lead? For, after all, the always-cited Augusta captured but two steamers and a navy-yard auxiliary; and we have not built two hundred torpedo-boats and spent hundreds of millions on battleships in order to arm ourselves against such a danger as that. It will be impossible to carry on war if all our resources are devoted to repelling imaginary dangers.
War, we cannot too often repeat, can have no other object than imposing upon the enemy the law of the stronger. We have no right, therefore, to regard the defense of the coast as an independent question, which leads to becoming absorbed in the accessory to the detriment of the principal. It can only be taken into account, in the employment of our resources, from the point of view of its relations with the public wealth that nourishes the war. The share that goes to it ought to represent only an insurance premium proportional to the capital guaranteed. If the premium is greater than the insured capital, it is an absurdity.
The first thing to do, therefore, is to take account of the danger incurred from expeditions against the coast and the chances of their taking place. We shall then try to determine if it be not possible to secure an efficient protection of the coast without impeding the offensive action that alone can bring the enemy to terms.
It is curious that those who profess to see in attack upon our shores the supreme calamity have confined themselves to recording facts without weighing their import. Yet the study of causes and effects is the best basis of estimation that we have: we will begin with it.
ATTACKS AGAINST THE COAST IN THE REIGN OF LOUIS XIII.60
In 1627, France has no navy. The enemy can insult our shores without fear of being taken in the rear; if he attempts a landing, the sea gives him a line of retreat and secure communications.
60For the attacks that took place upon the Atlantic coast during the period comprising the reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XIV, we have followed the account of Mr. Georges Toudouze, who has published an excellent work, with full references, upon the organization of the defense of the coasts in the seventeenth century. We quote verbatim such passages as are of special interest.
England takes advantage of this to endeavor to get a foothold in the midst of the rebellious Protestant communities, and to acquire a base of operations with a view to reconquering the ancient kingdom of Aquitaine.
On July 20, Buckingham appears before the island of Réwith 120 ships carrying 8000 soldiers.
On the 26th, the landing is completed; the 27th, the little French garrison, forced to retreat, shuts itself up in the citadel of Saint Martin, where it is immediately besieged. The siege lasted five months.
In spite of a reinforcement of 4000 men, Buckingham could not overcome the heroic resistance of Toiras; and, on November 27, he re-embarked, taking back to England only 2000 men.
The failure was complete.
ATTACKS AGAINST THE COAST IN THE REIGN OF LOUIS XIV.
War breaks out, in 1672, between Holland on one side and France and England on the other.
The first two years pass in conflicts of squadrons against squadrons; they are signalized by the battles of Southwood, Walcheren and the Texel; but in 1674, Holland, having made peace with England, takes advantage of the transfer of all our forces from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean to attempt systematically to ravage our sea coast.
Tromp, with a fleet of 36 ships and 34 transports, carrying 8000 men, first cruises off the Normandy coast, seeking a landing place; but he found the shore so well guarded everywhere that he dared not risk his troops.
At the end of June, the Dutch fleet appears at the entrance of the Iroise; a storm drives it out to sea. It then proceeded to Belle-Isle where it anchored on June 27.
Count Horn, who commanded the troops, summoned the place to surrender. The governor of the island having refused to yield, the Dutch general did not dare to force a landing and employed a classic method.
During the night fifty men were put on shore at the little village of Locmaria, and set fire to the houses. Thanks to this diversion, Which attracted the defenders of the island, the troops were able to land in the harbor of Grand-Sable without opposition.
The garrison of the island took refuge in the citadel, expecting to support a siege; after a fruitless assault, the Dutch were content to ravage the island, and on July 4 they got under way and steered for Noirmoutiers.
The hostile fleet remained off this island three weeks, while the disembarked forces levied contributions upon the inhabitants, destroyed the fortifications and laid hands on private properties. After having loaded his ships with the spoils, Tromp got under way and proceeded to make a peaceful demonstration in the Straits of Oléron; then he finally left the Atlantic and went to join the Spaniards in the Mediterranean.
"Nobody in France at all understood this strange expedition which journeyed along the coast and whose greatest exploit was the pillage of Noirmoutiers.61
Our shores were troubled no further until the Peace of Nimeguen: the fleets of both sides operate in the Mediterranean, where they have neither the time nor the means of doing harm of a purely material nature.
We come now to the war of the League of Augsburg.
The first four years pass without attacks upon the coast: it is the period when our naval power is at its apogee and enables us to hold in check the united forces of England and Holland. Three years in succession, Tourville paralyzes the efforts of the allied fleets, and even inflicts defeat upon them at Beachy Head. But, in 1692, he is beaten at La Hogue, and with the following year the enemy reappears off our coasts.62
61Georges Toudouze, La Défence des côtes de Dunkerque à Bayonne au dix-septième siècle.
62The battle of La Hogue was fought at the end of May. The allies, therefore, had time to profit by their victory, campaigns not ending until the autumn; in fact they had planned a combined attack upon Saint Malo, but the season slipped away before the naval and military authorities were able to agree upon the plan of operations (see Colomb, Naval Warfare).
Louis XIV, in fact, yielding to Pontchartrain's solicitations, renounces the struggle of fleets in the Atlantic and sends Tourville into the Mediterranean.63 The following year this admiral goes again to the Levant, where his squadron remains until the end of the war very nearly without occupation.64 The Atlantic, therefore, remains undefended.
63He set sail from Brest, on May 26, with seventy-one ships, almost the entire naval force of France. It was during this voyage that he met, off Lagos, a convoy of four hundred sail escorted by twenty-six ships, part of which he captured.
64He left Brest on April 24.
It was Saint Malo that sustained the first onset.
On November 27, a fleet composed of "twelve ships, twelve bomb-ketches, twelve brigantines and several gunboats," under the orders of Captain Benbow, arrayed itself in the roadstead.
For five days the town was bombarded. Although the defenses were far from complete, the inhabitants, seconded by the troops, put a good face on the matter and replied energetically.
It was on this occasion that the English made trial of those infernal machines* that they were to make frequent use of in this war and that never yielded anything but disappointments. The Vésuve was blown up, but destroyed only her own crew.
The enemy reckoned upon destroying a nest of privateers when he appeared off Saint Malo; he only succeeded in breaking windows and slates. "It is no joke, says a contemporary account, to say that with the exception of a soldier who disappeared from the Bidouane tower where he was on sentry duty, and of the poor devil of a gunner before mentioned, our only loss was an unfortunate cat killed in a gutter."65
After this exploit, the fleet went to its home ports to winter.
In order to restore their prestige, the allies prepared, for the next campaign, an attack upon Brest. The plan consisted of landing a small army on the peninsulas of Kelern in order to destroy all the defenses on the south side of the narrow entrance and so to permit the ships to go through the passes and reach the arsenal.
On June 17, 1694, the Dutch-English fleet, commanded by Lord Berkeley, entered the Iroise and moored at the entrance of the passage, between Bertheaume and Camaret. It was composed of 22 English ships, 19 Dutch, 12 bomb-ketches and a great number of transports.66 General Tollemache was in command of the landing force of troops, 6000 in number.
*"Machines" or "infernals" were fire ships arranged to explode.— P. R. A.
65Quoted by Georges Toudouze.
66Colomb, Naval Warfare. We have given preference to the figures of English historians as regards the composition of squadrons and the number of troops; on the contrary, we have adopted the French version of the results of each operation, because the enemy never made an exact return of the damages he did.
That very evening a frigate went to reconnoiter the beach at Trez-Rouz, on the Camaret side, where the landing was to take place; but scarcely had she approached the shore when the fire of the batteries forced her to withdraw. It was a disappointment: Lord Berkeley was not expecting any resistance and, since the French were on their guard, the situation took on quite another aspect.
In a council of war, the admiral was in favor of giving up the expedition; but General Tollemache's opinion prevailed, and the landing was agreed upon for the following day.
In the night, Vauban, who commanded the defense, sent reinforcements onto the peninsulas of Kelern; everyone got ready to receive the enemy.
On the 18th, as soon as the fog lifted, seven frigates got under way, with Rear-Admiral Carmarthen in command, to protect the landing.
"Carmarthen made preparations to direct his whole fire against the fort (of Camaret); but scarcely had the seven frigates cleared the reef that terminates Convent Point when the entire circuit of the shore burst into flame, and a terrific fire, from batteries whose existence was unknown to the allies, was poured upon the seven ships. For a moment they were thrown into a disorder and confusion that only the impetuous valor of Carmarthen saved from being fatal to them. While he established order in the action so brusquely begun, and recovered his men from their surprise, Berkeley made a last effort to induce Tollemache to withdraw from his enterprise in view of such a superiority of the defense. But the lieutenant-general would pay no heed and took the leadership of a hundred boats containing the first troops of the landing force.
"Very gallantly, meanwhile, three frigates brought their broadsides to bear at half-range from the batteries of Convent Point; three others attacked the little fort of Camaret, and the seventh stood for the beach of Trez-Rouz to be ready for the arrival of the boats. The latter, in their turn, entered the circle of fire formed by the French batteries, which sunk a number of them; the rest, nevertheless, put ashore under the most frightful fire from artillery and small arms that can be imagined, and the troops, already harassed, began to land among the breakers. But, taken from one side by a battery, shot at from the front by marines and coast-defense militia sheltered behind breastworks overlooking the beach, the Dutch-English deployed in a disorderly manner on the wet sands and their decimated lines wavered. Too numerous to be all sheltered behind an enormous rock that occupies the center of the beach, they were not sufficiently numerous to attempt to assault intrenchments ; the murderous fire that they endured delayed the arrival of other boats, already hindered by the ebb tide, while the supporting frigates with great difficulty made head against the French batteries
"In this critical situation, a very visible hesitation showed itself in the ranks of the disembarked soldiers: seizing with the greatest good fortune upon this instant of indecision, MM. de Benoise and de la Cousse rushed sword in hand onto the beach and, at the head of a hundred men from the volunteer companies, ran straight at the 1200 or 1300 Dutch-English drawn up along the sands. Following at once this bold example, 1600 to 1800 coast-defense militia, who were occupying the ridges bordering the beach and many of whom were armed only with sticks and scythes with handles reversed, rushed in a body upon the enemy with savage cries. A furious but brief hand-to-hand conflict ensued. At the very beginning Tollemache fell, mortally wounded; he was immediately borne to his boat, which escaped under oars and sail, as did also all the boats that had not yet been beached. It was the beginning of a complete rout; the disembarked troops wished to flee, but the falling tide had left their boats aground and the overloaded craft remained stranded. The supporting frigate gave way in her turn and stood off, three-quarters dismantled and powerless to help. On the beach, in spite of a very fine resistance, 800 soldiers lay dead, and the 400 to 500 survivors laid down their arms to a squadron of Du Plessis-Praslin's regiment, arrived post-haste to save these unfortunates to whom the coast-guards, drunk with fury, refused any quarter.
"In a few moments all was over and shouts of victory rang about the circuit of the bay, while the batteries, still keeping up a rapid fire, hailed projectiles upon the retreating boats and the frigates already so harassed. The Monck, Carmarthen's ship, after having in vain sought to force the Camaret entrance, her yards carried away, her sails in tatters, her hull pierced with shot holes, had to call for a tow. The two frigates that had attacked the little fort of Camaret retreated in their turn, after having knocked down the bell of the chapel of Notre Dame of Roc-Amadour, situated on the jetty, beside the fort, and on the walls of which the marks of their shot are still to be seen. But of the three ships that struggled painfully with the batteries of Convent Point, only two could regain the fleet. The third, a Dutch 34-gun ship named the Wesep, was too near the shore; she touched bottom on the shoal known under the name of Coréjou, could not lighten herself and remained stranded with 12 feet of water in her hold, under a terrible fire: she finally surrendered to M. de La Gondinière, whose musketeers were shooting the crew from the top of the neighboring cliff; forty dead were found on her and 60 prisoners. Just prior to this, a boat loaded with infantry had been sunk outright in the middle of the bay by a shell from the battery of two mortars established on Convent Point.
“Little by little, the remnants of the expedition rejoined the main body of the squadron, over which reigned profound discouragement; the losses, in fact, were out of all proportion with the duration of the fight. On the beach of Trez-Rouz, 800 men had perished; 500 were prisoners; 400 to 500 soldiers and sailors had been killed on the ships and in the boats; 2 vessels and 48 boats were lost. It was a veritable disaster, and English historians have vainly sought to conceal its full extent. Tollemache, enraged at having been beaten by peasants, wished to attempt savage reprisals; he demanded that Berkeley force the entrance of the harbor at any cost and destroy the town of Camaret with hot shot from the entire squadron, to avenge upon the inhabitants his bloody repulse. This proposal on the part of the lieutenant-general was rejected by the members of the council of war, who were little anxious to engage in a new action; and Berkeley, whose too well-founded apprehensions had been justified by the event, ordered sail made. The allied squadron, lifting anchor, started back for England, but its misfortunes were not over; in doubling Ouessant, it had to abandon to sink in those waters two ships that had suffered much in the battle of the 18th, and it was then assailed for five days by a violent storm from the southeast. It only reached Portsmouth at the end of the month, much crippled."67
Made ridiculous at Saint Malo, beaten at Camaret, the allies sought a revenge that could repay them without making them run any risk.
They fixed their choice upon Dieppe, a town almost without defense.
In the middle of July, the town was bombarded. The houses, built of wood, were soon set on fire by the action of shells; two-thirds of the town was consumed by the flames. The inhabitants, moreover, did nothing to arrest the conflagration.
After this easy success, the Dutch-English went to Havre to recommence the same operation. But there arrangements had been made to combat the fire, which was the only serious danger from such bombardments. The damage done was unimportant; moreover, the place made a good defense: twice the batteries forced the hostile fleet to change its anchorage and blew up a bomb-ketch.
After having remained five days before Havre, the allies proceeded to Dunkirk: "but there they had to deal with a veritable stronghold and they were awaited resolutely; the forts were well armed and supplied, and Jean Bart in person had accepted the command of six long-boats and eleven chaloupes intended to give a warm reception to bomb-ketches that came near the harbor.
"The enemy appeared on September 20, and the advance guard of frigates that came to sound the roadstead gave way under the fire from the Risban and the citadel. The 22d, thirty-six ships, frigates and fire-ships came to attack the forts at the head of the jetties, but the guns of these forts blew up the two infernal machines brought by the fleet, before they were able to secure them to the framework of the jetty; and after this check the enemy withdrew out of range of the artillery.
"They only got up anchor on the 26th, to throw some bombs, without result, into Calais; from Calais they went to cruise off Cherbourg and finally returned to England."68
The campaign of 1694 was over. According to custom, the fleets took up their winter quarters and only rearmed in the spring.
In 1695, the objective of the allies has not changed: they wish at any cost to utterly destroy the haunts where our privateers took refuge. The towns of Saint Malo and Dunkirk, therefore, will sustain their principal attack. But, doubtless attributing their repulses in the preceding year to the insufficiency of their means, they increase their forces. It is a fleet of seventy ships that comes to anchor off Saint Malo on July 14.
The 15th, the enemy endeavored, without any success, to destroy the Conché fort; they fired 1500 to 1600 shells, only 900 of which fell in the town, and the appraisement that was made on the following 30th of July gives as the sum total of damages 103,532 francs, and as the number of victims 20 to 25 persons, besides four soldiers of the Oléron regiment. As for the allies, their losses, which can scarcely be estimated accurately, must have been great, for the English historian Smollet says that the English bomb vessels suffered more harm than they caused. What is certain is that one of them ran aground at Césambre and another was burned and then abandoned by her crew; besides which three double chaloupes were sunk.69
The enemy perceived that they were uselessly expending their time and money, and on the 17th they withdrew. But while the main body of the fleet proceeded to England, a newly arrived detachment delayed to throw 500 shells into Granville, “without doing much damage, although the English boasted of having left that town in flames.”70
After having revictualed, the allies appear before Dunkirk in August.
It is probable that the commanders of the fleet understood very well that they would be no more successful than at Saint Malo, but their governments still had a right to preserve their illusions; since, judging by the English accounts, the admirals, not daring to avow their repulses themselves, aided to deceive them by exaggerating the results. If what they said had been true, it would not have been necessary to attack the same places after such short intervals.
This time, the number of bomb-ketches had been increased to twenty.71 It was all to no effect, or rather it had this effect—never again did the English attack Dunkirk.
71At this epoch, bomb-ketches, invented by the French engineer Petit-Renau, played the principal part in bombardments. The movable sight not existing (it did not appear till the middle of the 19th century), gun fire was very uncertain, and the ketches, owing to their small size, offered a target very difficult to hit. Advantage was taken of this to bring them as near as possible to the shore, whence they launched shells against the town, while the ships kept at the extreme range of the batteries. This explains why the latter suffered so little in this class of operations.
"Finding themselves in this sorry plight, being obliged either to endure the fire of the batteries or to risk being lost on the Brack shoal, the enemy preferred, according to Clément's phrase, 'to wipe away their grief upon Calais,' which they did, however, to a very moderate degree, since, although they did some damage, they could not, in spite of all their efforts, burn or destroy the wooden pier that sheltered Calais on the side of the sea."72
In 1696 the allies become more cautious; in May they bombard Calais in a spiritless way, make a demonstration before Brest, and come to anchor in Quiberon bay.
Landings were made on the two small islands of Houat and Hoëdic, as well as at Groix ; these islands, in view of their unimportance, were absolutely without defenses.
“The English historians have represented these islands as of great extent, populous, with large towns and innumerable villages; they say that twenty villages were burned on Hoëdic, where there were scarcely that many cottages, and declare that six hundred cattle were taken away or killed on that island, which could not have fed half as many; as for the town of Houat, it has never existed except in the imagination of historians eager to conceal the insignificance of these expeditions: thus Father François-Marie Galen, who was an eye-witness, continually heaps sarcasms upon them in this connection."73
After these exploits, Admiral Rooke, who commanded the allied fleet, attempted a landing at Belle-Isle with 8000 men.
But there there was an energetic governor and a garrison, small it is true, but which sufficed for the population to gather around; in a word there was an organized defense. Thus, when the troops wished to land, they were so badly received that they did not insist. The memory of Camaret seems to be still present in the minds of the allies, for the fleet remains eleven days before Belle-Isle without daring to do anything. During this time, a detachment goes to throw a few shells at Sables-d'Olonne and into Saint Martin-de-Ré, in order not to return to England without anything to tell of.
Peace was signed in the following year.
Thus for three successive years the English immobilized enormous forces to bombard our whole coast, and all these armaments served only to reduce to ashes one small town. The English historian Burchett recognized that when everything was taken into account the result was disproportionate to the expense.
The enemies recognized the fruitlessness of bombardments, and, during the war of the Spanish Succession, we shall see them give up ploughing our fields with shot and devote themselves exclusively to landings. But they will act with such circumspection that their troops will only once succeed in setting foot upon French soil.
As in the latter years of the preceding war, France abandoned the Atlantic. She made over part of her western forces to privateers to prey upon commerce; the rest were sent to Toulon or employed in protecting convoys.
The English took advantage of this to attempt to surprise Cadiz with 14,000 men, which was unsuccessful, and to destroy at Vigo the Spanish galleons and Château-Renault's ships which were convoying them.
In 1703, the same fleet made a useless cruise along our coasts. Yet it had put to sea with magnificent projects: nothing less was proposed than to destroy all the defenses that protected the straits, then to ruin Rochefort and to end by a landing at Brest.
Admiral Rooke, who commanded the fleet, brought with him a landing force of 7000 men; he had even had the foresight to have vessels laden with stones made ready to obstruct the passes.
But it is far from conception to execution: the start is made with fine resolutions; then, on arriving at the spot, it is perceived—though rather late—that to land a handful of men in a country like France is very dangerous; then prudence is seen to be the better part of valor.
As a matter of fact, Sir George Rooke first steered towards the shores of Saintonge, and then all at once went to the north. It has been said that he received notice of the presence of a French squadron of twenty-six ships, and that he wished first to get rid of them; but this squadron did not exist.74 At the beginning of June the hostile fleet anchored off Belle-Isle.
74It is probable that it was a convoy of merchant ships escorted by a few war vessels.
Had the English admiral come there bacause there was nothing else to do, or did he really intend to make a landing? The fact is that he remained a fortnight off Le Palais without doing anything. On the other hand, the active preparations going on on shore showed clearly that, if the enemy landed, they would find a warm reception. In 1696, Rooke had had a taste of what the governor could do, and perhaps this memory had something to do with the resolution to withdraw that he arrived at.75
Dissatisfaction with oneself often leads to the venting of one's rage upon inoffensive people. The English, before returning to England, sought an expiatory victim and fixed upon the island of Groix, which this same Admiral Rooke had twice devastated in 1696.
"This island, which was without troops and without fortifications, would certainly have seen repeated the disaster from which it suffered in 1696 but for the parish priest, who saved it. ‘Thanks to a strategem conceived by the priest, the English believed that they were confronted by a considerable number of regular troops, and so did not land. The priest made the women and girls put on red caps and ordered them to stand in line with all the men on the highest part of the island, which slopes down towards the sea. The population, mounted upon horses, asses, cows and oxen, so deluded the English admiral that he did not dare to go any further . . . . ' The priest received from minister Pontchartrain some most curious letters, in which the latter presented him with a draft for 500 livres on the bishop of Agen, for the services he had rendered, and named him commandant of the militia and coast-guards, in case of the absence of officers."76
75“When the hostile fleet appeared before Belle-Isle, the governor, Hervé de la Ferrière (the same as in 1696) was hunting on the mainland. A vessel was sent to look for him and brought him back through the fleet."—Georges Toudouze.
76Cabart-Danneville (report to the Senate) and Georges Toudouze.
After 1704, the English government's attention is drawn towards the south. The same fleet that operated in Spain in 1702, and in France in 1703, escorts as far as Lisbon an army corps intended to support the claims of the Archduke Charles; then it takes Gibraltar by surprise and is kept in the Mediterranean by the squadron of the Count of Toulouse, with which it has an encounter at Malaga. After the disarming of our ships, it takes part in the military operations before Barcelona; then it winters at Lisbon and in English ports.
The following year (1706) the appearance of the Count of Toulouse before Barcelona draws the allies into the Mediterranean; they force our squadron to retire to Toulon.
Thus, for three years, our shores enjoy complete tranquillity. But in 1707 the Duke of Savoy and Prince Eugene besiege Toulon by land, and Shovel, who commanded the hostile naval forces, thinks the moment favorable to disembarrass himself of our ships, which, in spite of their disarmament, are a permanent menace.
It was only an alarm. The hostile army having raised the siege at the end of ten days, the fleet lost all hope of penetrating into the harbor, and it withdrew after having emptied its magazines to no effect.
The following year a hostile fleet reappeared in the north.
Admiral Byng anchors, on August 20, 1708, off Vaast-la- Hougue, with sixty ships.
As soon as the presence of the hostile fleet was signaled, the Marshal of Matignon hastened with three regiments to the assistance of the little garrison of the place.
On the 23d an attempt at landing fails; the boats do not even reach the beach.
The fleet then gets under way and goes to show itself before Cherbourg; then, suddenly, it comes back to its former anchorage. But the defense has not fallen into the snare, and from all directions troops flow in.
On the 28th the boats once more approach the shore, and, as on the first occasion, they have to regain their ships without having been able to disembark the troops.
The enemy doubtless hesitated to go away baffled, since, for a month, they remained on the Cotentin coast, and it was not until the end of September that they definitely withdrew.
This repulse took from the English for the remainder of the war the desire of attacking anew our western shores; they thought they would be more fortunate on our Mediterranean coast, which, not having as yet felt such invasions, might be less prepared to repel them.
Actually, 700 men were easily able to land in the neighborhood of Cette, on July 19, 1710; the following day they took possession of the town, while the ships exchanged broadsides with the forts.
The object of the English was to offer help to the Protestant peasants of the Cévennes, who were then in full revolt, and to carry aid to them in the shape of men and money by taking the town of Cette as a base of operations; but the English government must have been very ill-informed as to the importance of these risings to expect to maintain itself in French territory with such a ridiculous force.
On the 21st, the town and bridge of Agde were taken; then the enemy stopped, not daring to adventure further. On the 27th, the heads of column of the French troops were signaled at Mèze. Threatened with being cut off, General Seissan requested the English admiral to send armed boats into the lagoon of Thau to prevent the French from fording it;77 but, at the same time, information was received that considerable forces were marching on Agde. Retreat was necessary. The English withdrew upon Cette; hard-pressed, they could only pass through the town to gain their boats, and they only embarked at the sacrifice of their rear-guard.
This attack was the last of the war, which was ended on April II, 1713, by the treaty of Utrecht.
77The towns of Cette and Agde are separated by a long dyke which is washed on one side by the sea and on the other by the lagoon of Thau. Meze is on the edge of the lagoon near its middle.
ATTACKS AGAINST THE COAST IN THE REIGN OF LOUIS XV.
During the naval wars of the reign of Louis XV, attacks upon the coast continue, but they take on a new character.
Objectives remain the same; methods are different. The English systematically refrain from bombardments; they endeavor to take our maritime towns from the rear by landing bodies of troops numbering as much as 14,000 men; but, taught by experience, they avoid, as far as possible, forcible landings, and, in order to find undefended beaches, they are obliged to disembark far from their objectives; whenever the defense does not lose its head, this separation is fatal to them.
The war of the Austrian Succession was marked by but a single attack upon the coasts. After the battle of Toulon, which determined the official declaration of war78 France prepared an expedition to attempt once again the restoration of the Stuarts. The active surveillance of the English squadrons ruined these projects, and the French squadron that had been armed was broken up: a part went into the Mediterranean, other ships went to Lorient and Rochefort.
78Hostilities had already begun, according to the English.
But the English government still had causes for anxiety; Charles-Edward, son of the Pretender, had landed in the north of Scotland and had raised the country. For nearly two years he held in check the troops launched in his pursuit.
So long as this heroic frolic lasted, the enemy's squadrons cruised off our coast, from Dunkirk to Rochefort, to intercept any aid sent to the prince. When Charles-Edward, having no more soldiers, was reduced to wandering as a fugitive in the Scottish mountains, the British government breathed again; and then only did it think of attempting to surprise Lorient in order to ruin the establishments of the East Indian Company.
Admiral Lestock anchored on October I, 1746, in the bay of Pouldu with 16 ships, 8 frigates and 2 bomb-vessels; he escorted a convoy carrying 5800 troops commanded by General Sinclair.
A landing was effected the same day; on the 2d, the English seized Guidel and Plimur, and established their camp between the two places. Thence General Sinclair sent to summon the town to surrender.
The inhabitants were not high-spirited: although Lorient had walls armed with cannon, it could not be considered a stronghold. The authorities signed a truce and entered upon deliberations as to the course that should be taken.
While the people of Lorient discussed the matter, the English general conferred with his admiral; for, if the French did not think their situation a good one, the English found theirs worse: at any moment they might be cut off from their ships.
At the end of several days the inhabitants, intimidated by a few cannon shot, decided to surrender; a flag of truce left the town to agree upon the terms of capitulation. But precisely at this moment, the English had reached the conclusion to retire; and they had struck their camp so hastily that they left behind four cannon, a mortar and a quantity of stores. Sinclair had received notice of the assembling of troops, and, not knowing whether he would have to deal with a company of 100 men or an army of 20,000 soldiers, he had preferred to retreat. Actually, thirteen battalions and fourteen squadrons were advancing under the orders of MM. de Saint-Pern and de Coëtlogon, but they were still several days' march away.79
79These troops had been detached from the army of Marshal Saxe.
On Oct. 9, the fleet got under way. Lestock, not daring to return immediately to England, cruised for a fortnight off the coast, made a landing at Houat and at Hoëdic, and finally went away on October 23.
Was it the failure of this expedition that kept the English away from our coasts during the rest of the war? It would seem so, for the few ships that we had kept armed could not have interfered with them.
The Seven Years War began with a setback for the enemy: France seized Minorca before the English had had time to send forces into the Mediterranean.
The loss of Minorca was deeply felt in England and public opinion loudly demanded reprisals. The occasion was favorable: after a first effort crowned with success, the French navy seemed for three years to be non-existent; it was then directed by Berryer, who had set his heart on ruining it.
England had a fine chance and took advantage of it.
A fleet composed of seventeen ships of the line, under the orders of Admiral Hawke, set sail from Portsmouth on September 7, 1757; it escorted a convoy carrying 10,000 men. On the 20th it was made out by the lookouts on the island of Ré beating to windward to approach the land; on the 22d it anchored in the Basque Roads. There was no doubt but that it had designs against our Rochefort arsenal.
On the day following, the island of Aix, which was defended by only 16 cannon and had a garrison of only 230 men, fell into the hands of the enemy. The English made as if to land at Châtelaillon, where there were a few hundred coast-guards; they were prevented, it is said, by the state of the sea. They likewise made a demonstration before Fouras, where Lieutenant-General de Langeron had gone; on September 30 they retired, abandoning the island of Aix.
During all this time the most extreme confusion continued to reign at Rochefort, where there was much more thought of seeking safety than of putting up a defense. Here again there was as much fear on one side as on the other; M. de Langeron, with a few companies of regulars and coast-guards, saved the situation by his energetic attitude.
The following year Admiral Hawke reappeared off the island of Aix; but this time the land was not his objective. He brought with him only seven ships and three frigates, and had in view only the destruction of an important convoy bound for the colonies. We shall, therefore, merely mention this operation, which does not belong to the class of attacks on the coast;80 but, some time after, the invasions recommence, and it is again Saint Malo that attracts the English.
80The enterprise did not fail completely: the vessels, which had been obliged to lighten themselves in order to ascend the river, lost a great part of their stores, and the departure of the convoy was delayed. It consisted of five ships, some frigates and forty transports.
An immense effort was made: a hundred transports carried 16,000 men under the orders of the Duke of Marlborough.
On June 5, 1758, the fleet, commanded by Lord Howe, anchored in Cancale bay. A landing was effected without difficulty, and Marlborough, after establishing an intrenched camp to protect his embarkation in case of a reverse, began to march towards Saint Malo. On the way he delayed to ravage the country, and when he arrived under the walls of the place the Marquis de la Châtre had had time to shut himself up in it with 2000 men and to put it in a state of defense.
Unable to penetrate into the town, and not anxious to make an assault, the English burned all the vessels that were in the harbor of Saint-Servan. Meanwhile the Duke d'Aiguillon, governor of the province, directed a movement of all the troops of Brittany towards the coast, and he had already collected several thousand men at Dinan, where he had gone in person.
Fearing to be cut off from his line of retreat, Marlborough decided to raise the siege; the forces at the disposition of the Duke d'Aiguillon were not yet sufficient to disturb him, and he was able to re-embark without loss on June 11. The fleet got under way on the 17th and returned to England.
What was the purpose of the English in going to Saint Malo?
A thousand horses and twenty-five pieces of artillery were not joined with the infantry in order to burn eight vessels, most of which were only boats.
A week's expedition does not require the mobilizing of 16,000 men and the chartering of a hundred merchant ships.
They intended, therefore, to take the place, and it is not easy to see why they neither tried to open a breach nor to make an assault; or rather it must be supposed that they perceived then that they had put themselves in a false position.
Marlborough's conduct was no doubt severely judged in England, for he was replaced by General Bligh ; and, at the end of July, the fleet proceeded to Cherbourg, carrying with it only 6000 men for landing.
In this sad affair of Cherbourg, there are occurrences so extraordinary that it is interesting to give a detailed account of it.
"At the end of July, 1758, it is learned that several divisions of the English fleet are 18 leagues off and that there are some ships beating to windward along the coast off Cherbourg.
"On August 5, the English fleet makes all sail to double Cape la Hague. The commandant of Cherbourg, Baron de Coppley, is informed of this at 9 o'clock in the evening of the same day.
"On August 6, the English fleet directs its course for the roadstead. M. de Coppley informs Count Raymond, major-general, commanding the troops of Cotintin under the orders of Lieutenant-General d'Harcourt, who is living at Caen.
"The same day there are assembled at Caen, the Orion regiment, the Clark regiment, 1200 armed citizens, 20 bombardiers, 72 citizen cannoniers, 6 battalions of coast-guards and the Languedoc regiment of dragoons.
"This made up an effective force of more than 6500 men. And, let us add, the Guyenne regiment and two battalions of militia who are at La Hogue receive orders to remain there, for some unknown reason.
"On August 7, the English fire some shell which, however, do no harm.
"Some of the coast batteries begin to fire: the Tourlaville battery shatters the quarter of a frigate and kills or wounds forty-five men, among others almost all the officers of the ship.
"Ten shots were all that were fired.
"The commandant of Cherbourg orders the firing to cease. It is impossible to find a plausible explanation of this strange fact; moreover, this is only the first of many errors committed by the commandant. General Baron Raymond perhaps wished to await the English in Sainte Anne's Bay, where formidable preparations had been made to drive them back into the sea. There happened what always will happen, namely that the English carefully refrained from landing where their reception had been so well prepared for, and went to Urville Bay, which had been judged impracticable. The landing was effected with much good fortune and skill under the eyes of our troops, who, restrained by the ships' artillery, offered no resistance. The landing force had a strength of about 5000 men. General Raymond then gives orders to retreat; the English form and occupy the dominant positions.
“‘Thus,' says the eye-witness from whom we take this account, 'thus astonishingly was carried out an invasion for which we had been preparing two months with all sorts of fortifications in the places most susceptible of attack.’
“It certainly is not the first time (nor will it be the last) that fortifications have caused the loss of wits of a leader ill prepared to make use of them.
“And it must not be supposed that the available troops were not well-disposed to fight.
“‘The troops, the citizens, even the residents of the country,' says our author, 'had no fear of an attack on the part of the English. On the contrary, they wished that there might be some attempts against our coast, satisfied that they would be repented of.’
“Not till half an hour after noon on August 8 does General Raymond leave Cherbourg and go on horseback to reconnoiter the enemy; but he does not go even as far as the advance guards of the French troops, and he re-enters the city, leaving for all the troops the strange order to go to rejoin him at Mount Épinguet, 10 kilometers from Cherbourg. In the evening the English entered the city, which no longer had any soldiers. August 9, the fleet lands 1800 more men, and the English occupy Mount Roule, which we have abandoned. August 10, they send a patrol of cavalry to reconnoiter upon the road to Valognes. It gets a hot reception from a small French troop and beats a retreat.
"That day there arrive in the French camp Lieutenant-Generals Harcourt, Count Coëtlogon and Roth, as well as a battalion from Avranches. August 12, there come likewise to the French camp the Escav cavalry regiment, two battalions from Poitou and four battalions of coast-guards from Caen. August 13, come two battalions of the Saint-Kamans regiment and the Bourbon-Prince cavalry regiment. August 14, the Marshal of Luxemburg arrives.
"The English occupy their time in pillaging the inhabitants, ransoming the city, destroying the jetties, smashing or carrying off the abandoned cannon, sinking or burning the vessels in the harbor, etc. They are not disturbed by any incident during the whole time that they are carrying on the execution of the country. On August 16 they re-embark. On the 17th, at 3 in the afternoon, the generals and French troops re-enter Cherbourg."81
81Des Operations maritimes contre les côtes et des débarquements, by M. D. B. G.
Emboldened by this success, the causes of which they do not seem to have discerned, the English wish to redeem their failure before Saint Malo in June; but this time they are to learn that nothing but lack of energy on the part of the defenders can permit such incursions.
Their fleet appeared abreast Cape Fréhel on September 3; on the 4th it anchored off the island of Agot ; the 5th the troops disembark in the harbor of Saint-Briac, without meeting any resistance.
If General Bligh's choice of a landing place on the side of the left bank of the Rance was to enable him to disembark unhindered, his calculation was correct; but this advantage was largely balanced by the difficulty of having to cross the Rance to reach Saint Malo. Moreover, the entrance to the river was defended by a line of frigates and privateers; it would have been necessary to penetrate into the interior of the country to turn it. Bligh did not dare to venture so far, and to justify his enterprise he began to ravage the country.
As soon as he had learned of the presence of the English, the Duke d'Aiguillon had gone to establish himself at Lamballe, directing the convergence of all the troops of the region on that point.
Bligh then decided to beat a retreat, and proceeded towards Saint-Cast, where his ships had gone to await him; but he was still far off and he had to traverse Arguenon. For two days the English were harried by our troops; finally they stopped on the plateau of Matignon to concentrate.
"In this position, they were impregnable; but they would have to descend from it, whether to procure food or to re-embark. It was this moment that the Duke d'Aiguillon waited for. He had divided his little army into three bodies; himself, with the central one, was to follow the English step by step, and the two others were to skirt the edge of the sea and attack them in flank whenever they should re-embark. A re-embarkation is always a difficult operation, because there is a moment when one-half the troops is aboard and the other on shore, and the latter need a great deal of coolness and courage to stand their ground. On this occasion there was still another difficulty: the road descending from Matignon to the sea was a steep and sandy slope; it had to be traversed under pressure from all the French forces. On the morning of the 10th, General Bligh began his movement; Admiral Howe's boats were on the shore and the frigates with broadsides bearing. When nearly half the English troops had embarked, the French attacked as arranged, on three sides at once. At first the English stood firm; but quite a large number of them, frightened, having thrown themselves into the water to reach the boats, two of the latter overloaded, went to the bottom; those in others, to avoid a similar mishap, then slashed with their sabers the hands of the unfortunates who were clinging to the sides. At this spectacle, the troops still on the shore, thinking themselves deserted, uttered cries of distress and broke ranks. The disorder was at its height. The frigates, which had not yet opened for fear of hitting their own army corps, began to fire wildly into the confused melee of friends and enemies. The Duke d'Aiguillon then had the presence of mind to withdraw his soldiers and force the English alone, in a mass, onto the beach. The frigates perceived this and ceased firing, and the unhappy English soldiers, victims of their grape and cannister, had no other recourse than to surrender, to the number of 3500.82The same evening the fleet got under way."83
82This number is exaggerated. The Chevalier de Mirabeau, who was on the spot, wrote to his brother: "A thousand to twelve hundred killed, seven to eight hundred prisoners." See Lacour-Gayet, La Marine millitaire de la France sous le règne de Louis XV.
83Henri Rivière. La Marine française sous le règne de Louis XV.
Meanwhile the Duke de Choiseul had come into power. An ardent patriot, he asked himself if the policy of abstention was suitable for France and if the navy ought to attend impotently upon the ruin of our colonies and the outrage of our shores. Then it was that he conceived the project of an invasion of England which, striking to the enemy's heart, should lay him low with a single blow. Unfortunately the navy no longer had enough ships to successfully conduct such an enterprise, and this attempt led to the loss of our squadrons at Lagos and Quiberon. But the threat of an invasion has always had the quality of disquieting England; and ,this time, as in 1745, she suspended her operations in order to watch over the preparation that were being made in France.
When all danger was averted, she thought once more of appearing off our shores. But experience had shown her the danger of invasions of the mainland, and she turns her attention to Belle-Isle, which for the fourth time in less than a century saw the enemy.
On April 7, 1761, the fleet of Admiral Keppel, of twenty-five ships, appeared; it escorted a convoy of 100 transports carrying 10,000 men.
We have seen that Tromp succeeded in landing at Belle-Isle by means of a diversion; Rooke failed to make a landing by force in 1696, and in 1703 did not dare even to attempt it. So Keppel will first be repulsed in a direct attack, and then by using the scheme of a false attack will succeed thus in getting a foothold on the island.
On the 8th the boats of the squadron disembark troops at Point Andro. The governor, M. de Sainte-Croix, receives them in such fashion that they hastily regain their ships, leaving 400 men behind.
This repulse seems to discourage Keppel; for a fortnight he does nothing. Perhaps he was waiting for the six ships that brought him a reinforcement of 2400 men. As soon as he had received them, the 22d, he bombards Le Palais with his ships, while the boats go to land 4000 men in the harbor of Locmaria.84 M. de Sainte-Croix arrived too late to oppose the landing; he had to shut himself up in the town. After an energetic resistance, he capitulated on June 7.85
84Probably at daylight.
85For the capture of Belle-Isle see: Lacour-Gayet, La Marine militaire de la France sous le règne de Louis XV.
Soon after the preliminaries of peace were opened, and Mahon was exchanged for Belle-Isle. It even seems that the taking of this island was for no other object than to use it as an exchange; for the English could only keep it by immobilizing a squadron to guard the channel that separates it from the mainland, and if hostilities had continued, it would have been a burden upon them.
ATTACKS UPON THE COAST IN THE REIGN OF LOUIS XVI.
During the five years that the war of American Independence lasted, our shores were absolutely unmolested. That is because we had a navy that kept the sea and did not allow the English to devote themselves to games whose fruits were often bitter.
It is fair to say that operations in America did not leave England sufficient resources to undertake expeditions that sometimes required 16,000 men; but she could have recommenced, if she had thought it profitable, such a series of bombardments as distinguished the war of the League of Augsburg. For it is worthy of note that our squadrons never, from 1778 to 1783, sought to protect directly our coasts; they passed, on several occasions, whole months on the coasts of Spain and in the Mediterranean, abandoning thus the entire Atlantic coast and Channel to the enemy's enterprises; but the mere existence of these fleets was a sufficient menace to England to make her more anxious to watch them than to attack the coast.
ATTACKS UPON THE COAST DURING THE REVOLUTION AND EMPIRE.
With the wars of the Revolution and Empire we enter upon the darkest period of our naval history. The bad state of material, the incapacity of commanders and the lack of discipline of crews made our forces so distinctly inferior that we seem to have sent our squadrons out only to deliver them over to the enemy. Yet during twenty years of war we count only five expeditions against our coasts.86 First comes the capture of Toulon; but an affair of this sort should not be counted, since the city was handed over by its own inhabitants, whose treason is a unique occurrence in history. The place, moreover, was soon retaken; though the English occupation had a direct influence on naval operations by causing us to lose an entire squadron.
86We do not refer to unimportant surprises.
In 1794 Corsica was occupied by the English, thanks to Paoli's assistance, and evacuated in 1796.
In 1795 and 1800 two fruitless landings took place in Quiberon Bay.
The first has an aspect peculiar to itself: its object was to establish a body of emigrants on the shores of Brittany, and it is doubtful if England would have attempted this venture with her own troops, since the only justification for it was the hope of raising the whole of Brittany.
A French squadron of twelve ships, commanded by Villaret-Joyeuse, was then in the neighborhood of Belle-Isle.
The English squadron under Lord Bridport met it on June 22 off Groix and forced it to take refuge in Lorient, after having taken from it three ships. The convoy, composed of fifty transports and escorted by three ships under Commodore Warren, then proceeded to anchor in the bay of Quiberon, and the landing was effected without difficulty on the beach of Carnac on June 25.
The land defense was in the hands of an energetic leader; so events follow their natural course.
The emigrants, reinforced by several thousand Chouans, advance a few leagues into the interior; Hoche assembles his troops.
On July 16 there is a battle: the emigrants, beaten, take refuge on the peninsula of Quiberon.
On July 21 Hoche takes possession of Fort Penthièvre and penetrates into the peninsula; the emigrants flee towards the beach and are obliged to yield. Bad weather then comes on to further complicate the situation: the boats cannot come close in and so pick up very few people.
On September II a convoy of eighty sail entered Quiberon Bay and anchored between Houat and Hoëdic: it brought the Count d'Artois.
The situation in Brittany appearing desperate, the Prince is conducted to the island of Yeu, where he remains till November 7, without daring to set foot in France; on this date the English fleet departs and returns to its own ports.
The attempt of 1800 scarcely took definite shape.
Sir Edward Pellew anchors on June 2 in Quiberon Bay with 7 ships, 5 frigates, 1 corvette and 5 large transports; 5000 soldiers, commanded by General Maitland, were on board.
The English occupy the islands of Houat and Hoëdic and make them their base of operations. From June to September they turn aside upon Quiberon and Port-Navallo; but they do not dare to advance into the interior. In September the convoy sets sail for the Mediterranean; the expeditionary corps has to take part in the expedition to Egypt.
For nine years England refrains from attacking our shores; but in 1809 she hopes to be able to seize Antwerp while the whole French Army is still in Austria. In the hands of the French, this port took on a considerable development; the shipyards there were busily occupied, and the English feared lest this arsenal should become a dangerous base of operations against Great Britain.
The Antwerp expedition was perhaps the most important attempt every made to land by force in a hostile country. "The expeditionary fleet comprised 39 ships, 25 frigates, 31 corvettes, 5 bomb vessels, 23 gunboats, 59 small vessels and 82 armed launches. The number of transports was from 400 to 500, carrying 50,000 men, several thousand horses, artillery, ammunition, material and supplies. The fleet was placed under the orders of Sir John Strachan ; Lord Chatham, the elder brother of the celebrated minister, was commander-in-chief of the land and sea forces.
The fleet appeared off the mouths of the Scheldt on July 29, 1809; on the 31st 15,000 men were put on shore on the island of Walcheren: it was important to secure possession of Flushing before marching on Antwerp. Middleburg, the capital of the island, was easily occupied; then Flushing was invested by land and sea. After a three-day bombardment, the place capitulated on August 16.
A fortnight had already elapsed.
There remained nothing more to do but to transfer the 40,000 men to the mainland and march upon Antwerp, but Lord Chatham could not make up his mind to do it: it seems that the hazards of all such enterprises only become apparent on the spot.
The troops re-embarked; the expedition returned to England, leaving a garrison of 12,000 men in Flushing.
In the month of December the island of Walcheren itself was abandoned.
This venture cost England the small sum of 625,000,000 francs; she lost in it 4000 men, and 10,000 others returned sick.
The coast of France was decidedly too well guarded: thereafter, to give her army a part in operations against France, England will land them in a friendly country.
To sum up, during the wars of the Revolution and Empire, attacks against the coasts were never systematic; the enemy only took advantage of opportunities that seemed to him favorable, such as the treason of the Toulonese, Paoli's insurrection in Corsica, the royalist disturbances in Brittany, or, finally, the Austrian campaign; he preferred to devote himself more particularly, when he had secured command of the sea, to the conquest of our colonies, which did not present the same elements of resistance.
All these details are not without use: what actually happened alone can give us knowledge of the enemy's aspirations, furnish us with an exact idea of the dangers that France has incurred, and reveal to us the best methods of attack and defense.
For two centuries England has essayed against our coasts everything that the passions of war can suggest to an unscrupulous people. We have a right, therefore, to assume that a nation which wished to recommence the same system of war would be naturally led to employ the same methods.
From another point of view, it is striking to see the same names always reappearing; it is observed that the enemy, after having failed on the mainland, is irresistibly drawn to islands, or rather to a particular one: Belle-Isle;87 and from this aggregate of facts we can draw very precise conclusions.
87Let us hope that this indication will not be lost sight of.
It would have been possible to find other examples elsewhere than in our history; but they would not have offered the same interest, because the situation appears in a different light in each country, according to its military organization, the development of its means of communication and the geographic conditions.
We shall now examine the question of the attack and defense of coasts under three successive aspects.
We shall first seek to ascertain the degree of resistance offered by coasts left to themselves; then we shall study the effect exercised by naval forces upon their protection, setting aside their own means of defense; and last we shall deduce the method by which the action of shore defenses ought to be combined with that of mobile defenses in order to secure the best system of protection.
We have been able to note that the enterprises directed against our shores consisted at first almost exclusively of landings (1627-1694); then came the era of bombardments, which lasted scarcely three years (1694-1696) and was followed by a renewal of landings. They retain this last form.
LANDINGS.88—In two centuries our shores had to endure more than twenty invasions. Each of these expeditions required a considerable display of military forces; the number of troops varied from 5000 to 11,000 men (it was even greater on some occasions), necessitating a great many transports.
88In this chapter we treat only of such landings on the coast as imply the possession by the enemy of limited forces. In another chapter we shall speak of expeditions whose object is the conquest of territories.
What was the result of these immense armaments? Whenever the enemies find a resolute man facing them, they suffer a repulse or even a veritable disaster. Usually they re-embark without even attempting to contend with our troops; an inconceivable incapacity on the part of the authorities is necessary in order that they may accomplish some depredations without being molested.
The English (aside from the Antwerp expedition) seem never to have thought of seizing a foothold on the mainland: in all cases, save one (Cherbourg, 1758), they fail to accomplish the object of the expedition and content themselves with pillaging villages, trampling crops under foot and carrying off a slender booty. What is such a gain in comparison with the risks run and the expenses incurred by each expedition? Yet France, engaged in continental wars, could only oppose raw levies to England's regulars!
The sterility of all these attempts arises less from faulty organization or poor leadership than from the very nature of the operation.
An enemy who disembarks in a territory having such vast resources as those of France finds himself from the beginning in a difficult situation. The aim of the expedition is usually one of the centers of activity of our navy: Brest, Saint Malo, Lorient, Rochefort. These towns are more or less fortified, and landing under the guns of the place is an almost impossible operation: it has never been attempted. To put on shore and assemble in safety small army corps comprising infantry, artillery and sometimes even cavalry, there is needed a landing place devoid of all means of defense. The further the disembarkation from the objective point, the easier will such a place be found.
When the troops are on shore, an intrenched camp is established to protect the reembarkation in case of repulse.
All this takes valuable time which the defense takes advantage of to throw forces into the place and organize resistance. Thenceforth the object of the expedition is spoiled: from the moment that the assailant has failed to effect a surprise, he must renounce the hope of entering the town without striking a blow; he cannot undertake a siege, for he will be obliged to raise it after a few days to make head against troops coming from the interior.
As soon as the small army penetrates into the country, it is exposed to an encounter during its march with hostile forces whose numbers it is ignorant of: it marches towards the unknown. Each day that elapses, each stage of the journey that separates it from its landing place, renders its situation more critical; it does not know that its line of retreat may not suddenly find itself threatened.
These ideas weigh upon the mind of the commander and influence his decisions; evidence of the anxieties to which they give rise are found in all such enterprises, and some have had no other cause of failure.
Fearful of being cut off from the sea, growing weaker in proportion as he advances on account of the necessity of guarding his lines of communication, the enemy only marches with extreme caution. As soon as he learns of the gathering of troops, he regains his boats as quickly as possible, fortunate if he is not obliged to sacrifice his rear guard. On his return home, the poor villages that have been pillaged are transformed into great towns, and honor is safe. But if the result obtained is compared with the expeditionary expenses, the balance is uneven.
When the enemy, thanks to the foolishness of incapable leaders, enters a town, as in the case of Cherbourg, he does not even think of maintaining himself there. He knows that at the end of a short time he will be attacked and he has not the necessary means at his disposal to put himself in a state of defense.
Looking at past events from a present standpoint, with exact knowledge of local resources, taking into account the improvised defense, we are tempted to judge severely the precipitate resolutions adopted by certain English generals: but let us not forget that if the latter sometimes beat a retreat before imaginary perils, those perils would have become real at the end of a few days; and by persisting they would have had the same fortune as Tollemache and Bligh. Even then France offered too much resistance for a handful of men to be able to put her in danger.
To-day an attempt at landing would have still fewer chances of success than in former times: the maritime towns are better defended; our military organization is out of all comparison with what it used to be; the railroads enable great bodies of troops to be poured into a single place in a few hours; the commanders of sections are no longer merely gentlemen, usually very brave, but little versed in the art of war; finally, our soldiers are greatly superior, in number and in value, to peasants armed with scythes, to militia and coast-guards.
The enemy who should attempt a landing, even with great forces, would be rushing upon certain failure,89 especially if France were not engaged in a continental war and had the free disposal of her army.
89Naturally we assume that we shall oppose the enemy and not be content to escape from him. We are here studying operations of war; it is, evident we cannot prevent the enemy from attaining his object if we permit him to do so.
In this latter case, far from fearing such operations, we ought earnestly to wish for them: the undiscerning terror inspired in many people by the contemplation of 40,000 English landing on Cotentin is hard to explain. After all, the principal, almost the sole solicitude, in wartime, is to find a favorable field of battle where the enemy can be crushed by numbers. The English, by landing on our territory, offer us on land lists that we vainly seek at sea, and yet we tremble at the idea! And some talk of conquering the whole United Kingdom with 150,000 men. If we hope to be able to be victors on English soil with limited forces, we shall be very much more so on our own soil with unlimited forces.
There is no occasion, therefore, to be afraid of a landing on the mainland; but we shall make some qualifications respecting the islands that border upon our shores.
The situation then is no longer the same: resistance is limited to the local resources, and the enemy may have quite an exact knowledge concerning them; the assailant is no longer pursued by the nightmare of an attack from the rear; finally, the fleet is always near at hand and furnishes a more efficient protection to troops which operate near the shore.90
Nevertheless, save for one exception, none of our islands have remained in the enemy's hands.
90In operations against coasts, the fleet never goes away until the affair is over. It is only in the conquest of territory over seas, which is accomplished with force sufficient to subjugate a whole country, that ships can abandon troops to their fate, and they only do so when the army advances into the interior.
The reason of this is as follows:
It is always difficult to effect a landing by force. The ships have not boats enough to throw on shore the whole expeditionary force with a single movement. The portion which sets out first is reached by the enemy's fire even before it has put foot ashore; when it lands it has to assemble and form for battle: there is a critical time during which the defense has all the advantages on its side in spite of the weakness of its available forces. The operation is not impossible, but it is always dangerous. It is evident, too, that on an island of small extent, where the landing places are few in number, an active watch can usually prevent a surprise. This circumstance has several times saved our islands. Yet landings have been made on them, and they will be made still more easily with fast vessels that can facilitate diversions; it must not be forgotten either that, with calm weather, infantry can land anywhere and so take in reverse the fortifications constructed by the defense in the vicinity of beaches to locate its artillery and shelter its sharpshooters.
If a landing has been effected in this manner, there remains for the garrison nothing to do but to shut itself up in a fort and stand a siege.
The island will not yet be taken: if resistance is prolonged, the enemy will tire of immobilizing troops and ships, the need of which elsewhere will make itself felt, and will withdraw.
Sometimes, moreover, the only object of the attack is to produce a moral effect by the ravages accomplished, without any idea of conquest. Groix, Houat, Hoëdic, Noirmoutiers, have thus seen their soil violated by hordes that passed over them without stopping.
It is not enough to take islands: it is necessary to retain them.
But ours are so near the mainland that they cannot be left in charge of a mere garrison without risking their loss; therefore they have to be guarded by naval forces. And then it is seen that the consequences of such an obligation are that the land depends upon the fleet for support, whereas the possession of the islands is only really advantageous if the ships can be supported by them. Of course squadrons will be enabled to anchor there, just as they might in a great many other places on our coast which are not defended; but they will never find there anything but alien and unsafe roadsteads.91
91It will be observed that Corsica was evacuated the moment the English fleet was recalled into the Atlantic; the English frequently sojourn at Houat and Hoëdic, but they abandon them whenever their ships go away.
These considerations are not sufficient to justify leaving our sea-coast islands without defense; quite to the contrary, they should be given sufficient power of resistance for the enemy to say to himself that the effort required to seize them would be out of proportion to the advantages that he would derive from them.
But when one of our islands is invaded and its garrison besieged, all that will not prevent its finally succumbing if the navy does not intervene in time to put a stop to it.
Colonies may be likened to our coast islands in the sense that they also have but limited resources, but their distance from the mother country places them in a still more unfavorable situation. If the enemy commands the sea, they will fall into his hands whenever he is able to assemble forces sufficient to overcome all resistance: it is only a question of time and means. Once taken, they will never more be recaptured, since the communications will be cut.
Evidently, they can be safeguarded by making sufficient sacrifices to put them out of reach of any attack, but such sacrifices have a limit.
Here again the intervention of the navy is necessary; we shall see further on what its nature must be.
BOMBARDMENTS.—There can be no question here of bombarding undefended towns. It is evident that the material damages will depend solely upon the number of shell that the enemy expends in useless slaughter.92 It may be observed, nevertheless, that it is not customary to throw the burden of war on defenseless centers for the reason that, such centers being unimportant, their destruction is of no interest as regards the settlement of the conflict. War is not made, especially naval war, to trouble the repose of peaceable citizens; a more lucrative result is sought, and, even were this result only moral effect, it can only be attained by attacking an important center, which is always provided with defenses. It was unpardonable negligence to have left Dieppe, where in the 17th century privateers fitted out, exposed to bombardment, without furnishing it with means of defending itself.
92Yet the entire contents of the magazines of a squadron of ordinary composition would not suffice to destroy a city. See on this subject an extract from the Mémorial de l'Artillerie de Marine appearing under the title: Des Opérations maritime contre les côtes et des débarquements, by M. D. B. G.
Bombardments have generally been occasioned by the fits of rage of a nation that wished to avenge the losses inflicted upon its commerce by privateers. Thus we have seen the English fall furiously upon Dunkirk, Dieppe and Saint Malo; thus France vainly tried, for two centuries, to burn the nest of Barbary corsairs at Algiers.
Sometimes the result has been insignificant; most often it has been nil.
Will it be otherwise nowadays?
Certain writers seems to take a malign pleasure in terrifying the sea-coast population by exalting the destructive power of modern explosives. Let us come to an understanding about this. When ships appear before a port, before sending into the town those great-capacity shell that are to reduce it to ashes, they must first engage in a regular contest with the shore batteries; they will turn all their fire upon the latter, for there is no example of ships receiving cannon shot and not turning against those who send them. Not until after the defensive works have been silenced can the task of destruction be undertaken—provided there remain shell in the magazines.
We will seek, therefore, in the most recent wars for indications as to the efficacy of a contest of ships against coast batteries.
During the war between China and Japan, the Japanese ships contended in a spiritless manner and at long range with the works at Port Arthur and Wei-hai-wei. The Japanese had, nevertheless, in both cases, a deep interest in destroying the sea-front defenses, because they were seeking to get into the interior of the harbors to second the operations of their army.
They secured no result.
The Americans were no more fortunate: at Matanzas, Cabañas, San Juan and Santiago, the coast batteries endured, almost without replying, the fire of the ships and were none the worse for it.
It is probable that if the Japanese and Americans had really wished to destroy the works, they would have succeeded, because the armament of the shore batteries was composed only of old-fashioned guns and their gunners fired as badly as the enemy could desire; but in that case it would have been necessary to engage seriously and to enter upon a combat at point-blank distance;93 but, if the expression may be pardoned, the game was not worth the candle. The Japanese, as well as the Americans, had need of their ships and their ammunition; they did not at all favor exposing the former and using up the latter for a problematic result. Their prudence would have been still greater if the batteries had been armed with modern guns and served by real artillerymen.
93Shore batteries offer only a very small target; and to dismantle them it is necessary to hit each separate piece. In order to avoid receiving hard knocks, the ships are led to oppose to each battery a crushing superiority of fire in order to prevent it from firing, and to fight at short range. But when they have affair with the works of an important place, whose lines of fire cross, the contest becomes dangerous, and the attack prefers to get around the difficulty by taking the batteries from the rear by means of a landing. That is how the Federals usually acted in the American Civil War, the Japanese at Wei-hai-wei and Port Arthur, and the Americans at Santiago.
The Americans certainly cannot be accused of having shown excessive sensitiveness during their last war. Yet it has not been sufficiently remarked that Secretary of the Navy Long enjoined upon Admiral Sampson, who had charge of the blockade of Cuba, never to engage coast batteries armed with heavy guns, and only to attack others for the purpose of getting at vessels that they were protecting.94 If we may judge from one of the American admiral's letters, he would not have been sorry to give voice to his guns to break the monotony of the blockade; but his government thought, with good reason, that there were only hard knocks to receive, and no benefits to gain, from a contest with even badly served and poorly armed batteries; and that it is useless to squander valuable ammunition so long as there remains hope of using it against the enemy afloat. This calculation was rigorously exact: after the destruction of Cervera's squadron, peace had to be made.
94Why then was the useless bombardment of Porto Rico ordered? Do we not see there again a yielding to public opinion?
By a singular contradiction, while the American authorities adopted so wise a measure, the sea-coast population of the United States was obsessed with the idea that the Spanish squadron might appear off their shores. Yet what harm could the entire contents of the magazines of four cruisers do to the fortunes of the United States?
Finally, the part played by bombardments in the Russo-Japanese war is still more insignificant than in previous wars. Admiral Togo had better to do than to expend his ammunition against the batteries of Port Arthur, and he contented himself, with an exchange of a few shots at long range.
It seems that the point of view adopted by the American and Japanese governments will likewise force itself upon every naval power solicitous of obtaining the best return from its forces. Ships will not be risked against batteries before the hostile fleet has been completely destroyed; and when this result has been attained it will be preferred to take the forts from the rear, by landing troops, rather than to attack them with ships from the front. This consideration affords us a just measure of the dangers run by sea-coast towns; and we are seized with pity when we learn from Cervera's correspondence that this admiral, placed at the head of his country's principal naval force, saw no better use to make of it than devoting it to the defense of the Canaries, while his minister leaned rather to Porto Rico.
At the present time bombardments are good only to intimidate half-civilized peoples. A great moral effect can then be discounted with a small material result; but this method will only be employed against nations that have no navy, because it will often be the only way of reaching them. Moreover, every one knows that the ammunition supply of modern artillery is excessively costly, and yet scanty: squandering ammunition in operations that do not advance at all the settlement of the conflict will, therefore, be avoided.
We would certainly have less apprehension of bombardments if, instead of always reckoning up the harm that an enemy could do us by attacking our coasts, we turned the problem around. We would then ask ourselves what one of our naval forces could do if it were given the mission of "insulting" the enemy's shores. Whoever was charged with this thankless task would not fail to represent the danger of such an operation and the small benefit that it would procure. These considerations would bring the importance of bombardments down to its true value.
Let us, therefore, provide our great naval centers with coast batteries; let us keep light vessels out of the docks by booms protected by rapid-fire guns; let us even plant lines of torpedoes at the harbor entrances: then if the enemy appears he will know what the cost will be.
THE INFLUENCE OF NAVAL FORCES ON COAST DEFENSE.—In all that precedes we have supposed the coast to be left to take care of itself. We will now inquire how naval forces can contribute to the protection of a coast without land defenses.
The influence of naval forces is very clearly shown by the history already set forth: it can be summed up in two words:
So long as the squadrons keep the sea, so long as they show themselves, the coast enjoys absolute tranquillity.
As soon as the squadrons disappear, whether because they have been destroyed, or because they operate in another, far-distant region, the coast is attacked.
In the colonies this characteristic has been less clearly defined, because the intermingling of English and French possessions permitted landing troops on the islands unexpectedly; but it subsists in a general way.95
95See in the Second Part, in the paragraph on "The Offensive and the Defensive," the character of our naval wars.
The mere fact that "war is being carried on" is, therefore, sufficient to create a powerful enough diversion to turn aside the enemy's attention from the coast, because he is urged seaward by more powerful interests; but since the introduction of steam this guarantee has seemed insufficient, and it has been demanded of the navy to devote itself more directly to securing the safety of the coasts. From this period date the creation of a special material and the birth of new conceptions as to the employment of naval forces.
If we may judge from the nature and distribution of part of our ships, from the majority of naval writings and from the themes of our grand maneuvers, protection of the coast can be assured at the present time:
1st. By torpedo-boats.
2d. By coast-defense vessels, either distributed singly in the ports, or grouped in divisions.
3d. By squadrons assigned to the protection of a fixed stretch of coast.
We will examine successively each of these systems, which may be employed together or separately, and deduce from this examination their efficiency.
PROTECTION OF THE COAST BY TORPEDO-BOATS.—It is easy to prove that, with the speed of modern vessels and the rapidity of fire of their guns, a squadron can appear by day off a port, empty its magazines and put to sea again without having anything to fear from the torpedo-boats of the local defense.96
96The Japanese squadron furnished proof of this for ten successive months.
Protection of a port by torpedo-boats is more difficult to realize than is supposed. During the grand maneuvers cruising grounds are established in the approaches to the central station of the mobile defenses: but this is a solution that can only be used for a few days: it will become impracticable as soon as hostilities have a duration of several months; in our opinion, it is a bad utilization of the torpedo-boats. Little by little this continued effort will use up the boats, and when there is need of them they will not be available. Even disregarding the unfitness of coast-defense torpedo-boats to keep the sea continuously, it is not reasonable to put mobile forces on permanent guard duty in anticipation of an event that may never happen; on the one hand, attention ends by tiring and they let themselves be surprised; on the other, the return is too insignificant. When the presence of the enemy is signaled, all the torpedo-boats should be sent out and go to seek the enemy. While waiting, the boats should be kept in practice and exercised without undue strain in order to have them all in readiness.
But it is probable that the enemy will surround his intentions with a cloud of doubt, and that his appearance will be unexpected; he will thus have a very good chance of not meeting torpedo-boats on his route.
However, to conform to the established rules, we will suppose that there are always torpedo-boats at sea, and even that, by a happy chance, they are all outside on the night that precedes the attack.
Their scouting zone will necessarily be quite close to the point to be defended; for, as they increase their distance from it, the space to be covered increases rapidly and quickly becomes so extended that the guard is inefficient. In all probability the torpedo-boats will not be more than 10 miles off shore: to make every allowance, let us put it at 20 miles.
It will be sufficient, therefore, for the enemy to appear before the port less than two hours after sunrise in order to preserve himself from a night attack.97
97This will even be an excess of precaution, since the torpedo-boats always return to their port at daylight so as not to be caught at sea.
Two hours later he will have emptied his magazines and will put to sea again.
His speed will perhaps then be reduced on account of injuries to his ships; but he will be careful not to depart before stationing his destroyers on guard so as to prevent the torpedo-boats from coming out at least until night-fall. If the latter succeed in then escaping, the enemy will have had such a start that he will long have been out of reach.
This is not all.
Operations against the coast, of the kind that we are considering, are never of an urgent nature, since it is sure that the land will not move away. Therefore, favorable conditions will be waited for: if it is known that the torpedo-boats come out regularly at night, an attempt will first be made to cut them off from their refuge by means of light vessels: the destruction of all of them doubtless will not be attained to, but those that escape will become more cautious and will no longer dare to separate themselves from the immediate vicinity of the entrances; this accomplished, there will be chosen for the attack preferably short nights, of full moon, and finally weather ill suited to small boats.
It will only be necessary for part of these conditions to exist in order to remove all apprehensions on the part of the battleships.
There would be danger for them from torpedo-boats that, setting out from ports very far off, and therefore not under watch, might come to wait for them on their return passage; but our mobile-defense torpedo-boats have neither endurance nor radius of action enough to undertake raids of this sort.
As a matter of fact, in the numerous exercises of coast attack that have been carried on in recent years, torpedo-boats have played but a small part.
I am not at all seeking here to depreciate the value of torpedo-boats; I believe, on the contrary, that, if employed judiciously, they can to a certain extent make up for the inferiority of our squadrons: I am merely finding fault with the defensive part to which they have been condemned. In order that they may do justice to the torpedo, the enemy ought not know their number, their customs, or where they are to be found: on the contrary, they should attack without premeditated plan, which amounts to having offensive torpedo-boats capable of going to look for the enemy wherever he may be.98
98The movements of sea-going torpedo-boats ought to be combined with those of squadrons, because, as soon as a torpedo-boat puts to sea, it needs to be supported in day time by a force that prevents its being captured by the hostile cavalry, that is by cruisers.
Under the pressure of public opinion we have built two hundred coast-defense torpedo-boats, and we have distributed them from Dunkirk to Villefranche, from Oran to Bizerta, seeking thus to assign to each place a part proportional to its importance, so as to content everybody. Even this does not suffice; for, once entered upon this way, there is no reason to stop; thus we have read newspaper articles demanding torpedo-boats as far as in Boû-Grara sea.
The consequences of this singular strategy will not be long in making themselves felt.
The war will not have the same intensity everywhere: it will be localized in certain regions, because the number of squadrons is limited and the enemy is not interested in attacking the coast at all points at once—if he even attacks it at all.
Admitting that torpedo-boats have in the direct protection of the coast an efficiency which we do not deny to them, it will only be those in the immediate vicinity of the point attacked that can be utilized. All the rest will remain inactive and will be mere spectators of the events that occur far from them: when the war is over, the greater number of them will not have fired a single torpedo.
And then the same men who, during peace, were the first to preach the distribution of our torpedo-boats, influenced by unreasoning fear, will cast stones at us and accuse us of not having known how to make use of our forces
And this time they will be right; for our first duty is to utilize our vessels.
PROTECTION OF SEA-COAST TOWNS BY COAST-DEFENSE VESSELS AND ARMORED GUNBOATS.—The French Navy has the good fortune to possess an important number of coast-defense vessels and armored gunboats. It has been proposed to utilize them by making then assist in the defense of places. This proposition has even had a beginning of execution, since we find the Fusée, Mitraille and Phlégéton at Bizerta, the Styx and Achéron at Saigon; but yesterday the Flamme was at Dunkirk, and it is pretended that in time of war nothing better than that could be done.
These vessels have only one or two heavy guns; they are, therefore, only floating gun carriages of enormous cost, expensive to maintain, and of much greater vulnerability than a sea-coast cannon, since it is only necessary to damage the vessel to put out of action the gun it carries.
If all the guns that defend a great maritime place are enumerated, it will at once be seen that the battery of a coast-defense vessel will be but an insignificant addition to the defense and will not compel the enemy to modify sensibly the composition of his forces. It is, therefore, the mobility of this floating gun carriage that is counted upon to justify the presence of a naval unit in the midst of shore batteries.
The advantages given by ability to move about are not evident in the actual case. If the coast-defense vessel wishes to go out from the narrows, it separates itself from the land defenses and concentrates upon itself alone the fire of all the ships; therefore, it cannot venture out to sea without exposing itself to being wrecked, and its propeller serves to take it into port rather than for anything else.
The assignment of coast-defense vessels or armored gunboats to the protection of harbors amounts to turning naval funds over to the war department. The land defense does not get from this lavishness a benefit proportional to the millions such vessels represent; with the same sum it could have obtained much more important results. On the other hand, the navy's loss is a total one: its offensive strength is diminished by an equivalent quantity.99
99Evidently the commander of the section will not reason in this way. Each one, in his sphere, sees only the immediate interests of which he has charge, and as regards the defensive one always thinks himself not sufficiently safe: but that is not the question.
Since these vessels will bring to the defense of places only a trifling aid, let us inquire what better disposition can be made of them.
Concentrate them in a single body. Place this body in the neighborhood of a strait frequented by the enemy, since their lack of radius of action and of nautical qualities does not permit giving them an extended field of action. We will thus have at our disposition a very considerable force. The enemy must hold it in check by opposing to it an equal or superior force; and we shall thus have immobilized a certain number of vessels and so will not find them confronting us on another field of battle or before our ports. The situation will not even then be brilliant, but it will be better than it was. This concentration will contribute more efficiently to the protection of the shore than would distribution in several ports.
If, in place of this squadron of limited steaming capacity, we had offensive ships capable of being utilized under all circumstances, we would immediately perceive a series of new combinations made possible by this additional force. We could thus more easily drive the enemy from our coasts. Moreover, we would have increased our offensive power without at all diminishing our defensive power.
It was reserved for America, the inventor of the coast-defense vessel, to be the first to make proof of its inefficiency.
The needs of the war with Spain revealed to the United States that it is dangerous to construct a special material adapted for a particular form of war, because operations cannot at will be given a fixed character. Actually, America only succeeded in having superiority over the Spanish by taking a number of monitors away from their original application in order to reinforce her squadron. Then it was perceived that they were troublesome and might become dangerous. Their unfitness to meet the conditions of war was such that Mahan wrote in regard to them:
"In the recent hostilities we had 26,000 tons tied up in monitors of comparatively recent construction, in the Atlantic and Pacific. From the beginning to the end, I venture to say that there was not an hour when we would not willingly have exchanged them all six for two battleships of moderate displacement."100
100It is known that the coast-defense vessels had to be towed in order to go to Porto Rico and that their replenishment was a constant source of anxiety.
To-day we no longer need to fear seeing our fleet increased by new samples of this sort; but doubts subsist as to the best use that can be made of those we have. Whatever there may be attempted to get from them, we may boldly assert that their distribution among several ports is the method by which they will yield the least return.
We also have a lesson to take to heart from the presence of these bastards in the list of our war ships. It is clear that we only undertook the construction of our coast-defense vessels in imitation of America and Germany, and that not until after having built them did we inquire what use could be made of them. Is the French Navy so ignorant of the needs of war as to be reduced to seeking direction from her younger sisters? If our neighbors make an error, that is not a reason for imitating them. It is necessary to know what one is doing and why one does it; without that one is exposed to entering upon a war without having the means of waging it.
DEFENSE OF THE COAST BY SHIPS GROUPED IN DIVISIONS.—This system, which we find advocated in Les Guerres navales de demain, is the most perfect application of the fatal method of doing things piecemeal. We refer to it, although it is already a thing of the past, to show clearly to what aberrations absence of a sound doctrine can lead. This is the use made of it by the author:
He stations at Toulon, Marseilles, Cette, Bizerta, Bône, Philippeville, Algiers and 'Oran, 'divisions composed of battleships and cruisers;101 and that accomplished, the author thinks he has assured France's preponderance in the Mediterranean.
101At Toulon: Trident, Océan, d'Estriés.
At Marseilles: Richelieu, Friedland, Colbert, Dupetit-Thouars, Papin, Linois.
At Cette: Achéron, Mitraille, Fusée (3 guns in all).
At Bizerta : Courbct, Redoutable, Dévastation, Sfax, Forbin, Davout.
At Bône: Terrible, Dragonne.
At Algiers: Baudin, Formidable, Troudc, Bombe, Dague.
At Oran: Caïman, Milan.
If we go back to the period when this original plan was conceived, we observe with pain that its materials were furnished, as far as armored ships are concerned, by all the naval forces of France except three new battleships and three station ships.
Let us now note the consequences of this plan.
England cannot imagine a distribution of forces that would be more favorable for herself: this scattering of our forces is such as would result from a battle lost, followed by a rout. No one of these divisions is a source of annoyance to a squadron that remains concentrated; not one has sufficient strength to constitute by itself alone a serious danger. The English squadron, therefore, is mistress of the Mediterranean. That is something; it is even all that is asked. Nevertheless, it cannot quit its field of action, for, if it went away, English interests would be compromised.
Not finding himself confronted by any immediate adversary, the enemy would seek to utilize this inactive force, and, as has happened whenever a condition of this sort has existed, he will be drawn towards the coasts. We will then suppose (though it is far from incontestable) that the disposition of our forces has an absolute efficiency and forbids any attack upon the cities where our divisions are.102 The enemy, moreover, has something better to do than empty his magazines upon our shores.
102It is very difficult, from the tactical point of view, to combine the action of ships with that of batteries; in practice, the first will be led to move in line close to the port with broadsides bearing; and, as they have only been placed there to make up for an insufficient land defense, they will support the principal effort and receive the fire of a double or triple force without being able to profit by the advantages given by mobility.
He finds himself opposed to a very extended line of defense. Naturally he will not divide his forces to attack everywhere at once; he will take the weak points. Well, at one of the extremities lies Tunis. It constitutes a guarantee worth taking and even keeping; and it does not dispose of the same means of resistance as France, or even Algeria.
A day will be enough to take 12,000 men at Malta and land them safely on one of the numerous deserted beaches that are available to the invader, or even at a port like Sousse. The sole precaution needed will consist of paralyzing the divisions at Bizerta and Bône by means of detachments of superior force.
When the enemy has put foot on the soil of Tunis, perhaps then it will be recognized that the best means of saving our colony is to cut off his retreat by destroying his squadron. Then the reunion of all our scattered forces will be thought of—that is, we will end where we should have begun; but the concentration will present insurmountable difficulties, the enemy holding interior lines; and it will suffice for one or two divisions to be crushed in detail for all hope of fighting him to advantage to be lost.
Thus this initial dislocation, whose object is to protect the coast, will attract the enemy there for the very reason that, not being solicited in another direction, he will have nothing better to do.
PROTECTION OF THE COAST BY SQUADRONS.—We come now to the favorite theme of grand maneuvers: the assignment of squadrons to the guard of a fixed stretch of coast. Enough experiments of this kind have been made to enable us to draw precise conclusions from them.
This is what takes place:
As soon as hostilities are declared—I mean from the very beginning of the maneuvers—the defense squadron gets under way and promenades along the coast like a sentinel along a wall. The enemy, who comes from seaward, has it watched by his scouts, and, when it reaches one of the extremities of its zone of surveillance, attacks the other. His presence is at once signaled to the defense, which turns about—and arrives too late.
It arrives too late because it has a great extent of coast to guard, and it cannot be everywhere at once.
The day after, the enemy appears at another point; and this game of hide-and-seek lasts as long as the maneuvers last.
Sometimes the defense, tired of playing this part of dupe, divides its forces; it commits then a serious error that only the make-believe of the maneuvers excuses; for, if the enemy has remained concentrated, each fraction is endangered.
In an exercise of this kind the coast-defense squadron will never succeed, and never can succeed. The navy must not be asked to perform the impossible.
The result would perhaps be completely different if the data of the problem were more general.
Instead of making it the objective to prevent the enemy from approaching the coast, the aim should be limited to destroying him if he appears.
The coast-defense squadron would then maneuver in another fashion.
As soon as it learned of the enemy's approach, it would put to sea and having taken position on his line of retreat would wait for the attack to define itself.
Warned at once by scouts left in the ports, it would endeavor to cut the enemy off and bring him to a stand between itself and the coast.
If the enemy waits to bombard a port, he contributes to his own defeat; the time that he loses gives the defense time to come up and force him to an encounter that his expenditure of ammunition and his injuries would make disastrous. But, to succeed, the defense needs, just as much as the attack, speed and steaming radius; while it is always assumed—I know not why—that on the defensive side these two factors can be sacrificed.
It is unnecessary to conceal the fact that this discussion has only a platonic interest. It is always supposed, in the grand maneuvers, that the defense is stronger than the attack: it is a quite conventional supposition. On the one hand, the enemy, if he knows he will meet superior forces, will take care not to come to throw himself into the wolf's jaws; on the other hand, when one is the superior, the idea will not occur to him to immobilize his ships to await an enemy whose every interest is not to come. On each side, therefore, there will be agreement to adopt another solution.
The reality—the sad reality—is that a squadron assigned to the protection of a fixed extent of coast and constituted, as is generally supposed, of ships few in number, ill armed, and having but little speed and a small radius of action, is condemned in advance to inferiority, and consequently to destruction. It, therefore, defends nothing. The attack, in truth, may adopt two procedures: either it will make two parts of its forces, of which one will act against the shore, while the other will combat the coast-defense vessels; or better, it will remain concentrated and will first get rid of the ships; after which it will turn against the land. In the first case the attack on the coast accompanies the destruction of the floating defense; in the second, it follows it; in neither case is it prevented.
How is the unfortunate coast-defense squadron to escape from the fate that threatens it? Its separation from its base of operations will be waited for, to crush it; and as armored ships, even coast-defense vessels, cannot enter the majority of commercial ports, their want of speed will force them passively to receive attack.
There remains the resource of shutting themselves up in a port. This is not a solution: the navy has not expended hundreds of millions in building ships to shut them up in the strong-box of a naval arsenal; it requires dividends from them. Moreover, public opinion would at once force our squadrons to sea when the enemy, by a feint, has made an appearance that masks his real strength. Our squadrons will be uselessly sacrificed.
THE UNFITNESS OF SHIPS TO GIVE DIRECT PROTECTION.—It will doubtless be judged that ships give proof of singular ineffectiveness. Fortunately nothing of the sort is true.
It is not the ships that are ineffective: it is the proposed method of using them that is defective.
It is proposed to condemn them to give direct protection by placing them between the coast and the enemy. We find ourselves then faced with a new application of the defensive that is worth no more than the rest. One kind of vessel only would be fit to make it effective: that is the submarine. And this for two reasons: first, because it is invulnerable; second, because it cannot be combatted with elements of the same nature. But considerations that we shall presently examine into will show us that only a moderate use of submarines is necessary for the protection of the coast.
The defensive upon the sea is the exact opposite of the defensive on land.
The army is concentrated within the frontiers to await the enemy; the navy is obliged to crumble its forces outside the sea frontiers. The defensive on land occupies, so to speak, the center of a circle whose circumference the naval defensive would occupy. One acts by interior lines; the other by exterior lines.
This comparison reveals to us the dangers and difficulties of direct protection.
The disposition along the coast lets the enemy know with almost perfect accuracy the number and composition of the forces he will find in each center of defense; there is, therefore, no longer anything unexpected for him. Free to keep off, he will only attack when he has brought together destroyers and ships in sufficient numbers to have an overwhelming superiority.103
103It has been concluded from this situation that England, in spite of her formidable navy, will never succeed in effectively protecting her coasts. There is no reason to suppose that she will adopt a procedure so manifestly ineffective as that of dividing her squadrons: that would be contrary to all her traditions. It would be imprudent to found hopes upon an error that, in a French-English duel, we alone have wished to commit.
In a word, to have superiority, it would be necessary everywhere to offer resistance with forces at least equal to those that the enemy can collect at a single point: which is impossible. A squadron taking with it twenty destroyers will have enough elements to provide against our two hundred coast-defense torpedo-boats, since it will only have to do with one single mobile defense at a time.
In practice, only limited means are available in each region. If they are scattered, the protection is very weak and becomes ineffective; if they are concentrated, the greater part of the territory is exposed and the protection is unreal. It is turning in a vicious circle.
The complete organization of direct protection for the coasts of France and her colonies would require, to be efficacious, expenditures that are in contradiction of the defensive idea. The English naval budget would not be enough for it. That is why submarines should only be used for coast defense to a moderate extent; so long as we have hopes of letting them loose against the enemy, we ought to employ them without any thought of the defensive.
Direct protection can only be practised by elements whose value does not depend, to the same degree as that of ships, upon numbers, and whose moderate cost does not task too heavily our budget: such elements are constituted by fixed defenses.
PROTECTION OF THE COAST BY THE OFFENSIVE.—As far as naval forces are concerned, they can only furnish the coast with indirect protection by turning aside the enemy's attention, that is by taking the offensive.104 This method has succeeded in the past; there is no reason why it should not do so in the future.
104What constitutes the defensive strength of a fortified place is that the garrison is sheltered behind breastworks or in forts. If it was attempted to defend a city by stationing the garrison outside the walls, so as to interpose between the enemy and the point to be defended, nothing at all would be protected, since it would suffice to assemble a force more numerous than the garrison to drive the latter away. To pretend to defend the coast by interposing ships between the coast and the enemy is equivalent to defending a place by making its garrison go out into the open country.
And, by reflecting upon the matter, it will be seen that this system of protection must be efficacious. In order that it should be otherwise, the enemy must seek to deceive the vigilance of the forces that are watching him, to make a dash at the coast. What will then be his situation?
If a landing is contemplated, the ships and the troops they carry are bound together; so long as the expeditionary corps operates on shore, the ships are obliged to remain in its neighborhood to support it, furnish it with reinforcements, watch over the safety of the transports, and in case of need protect the re-embarkation. What sort of a squadron is it then that will expose itself to attack under such unfavorable conditions? Yet it is this with which it is threatened. It is engaged in an operation of uncertain duration; it, therefore, risks giving the enemy time to come up, even from a great distance, and to surprise its ships in an undefended anchorage, stripped of part of their forces; or to be met on their return voyage, encumbered with troops and embarrassed by a convoy. During the grand maneuvers, this chance can be taken, because then the duration of the operation can be abridged at pleasure, and above all because there is certainty of not being destroyed; but in time of war, it will not be attempted without a great deal of reflection.
If a bombardment is contemplated, the aggressor finds himself in a position none the better.
The operation in itself can be rapidly carried out, and it may be hoped to finish it without hindrance. But afterwards? It will be necessary to turn back with magazines empty, with ships damaged; here again it would be madness to contemplate an encounter. In both cases, a very powerful motive would be necessary to justify risking one's squadrons in such a venture; but there is no such motive: attacking the coast does not lead directly to the ends of war.
Fleets, like armies, are the only instruments that have hitherto been able to decide the disputes that divide nations. From the day when ships ceased to play the part of a bridge by which to cross arms of the sea, and became deadly weapons, the whole interest of war became fixed upon them; they became a menace that can only be escaped by destroying them. That is why they attract to themselves the hostile forces. The struggle between elements afloat is, therefore, a necessity from the first. So long as this quarrel is not settled, the coast will remain in peace, and we have no right to compromise the issue by detaching a part of our fleet to stand guard over our shore; all the ships ought to participate in the operations. It will always be time to bring them down to the coast afterwards if fortune betrays us; but it is to be feared that they will then be unable to raise our prestige and that our loss will be irremediable.
It is a grave error to believe that the offensive has not a direct and immediate effect upon the defensive, to imagine that one can with impunity disregard what is going on on the sea to use all his exertions on shore. This error has led to looking upon naval warfare as merely a succession of disconnected operations, to devoting part of one's forces to offense and part to defense, without its being perceived that in this way the former is endangered without the latter being made safe. As if the best way of defending oneself has not always been to attack.
This policy has given us what may be called the fleet of "the public folly": eighteen coast-defense vessels and two hundred mobile-defense torpedo-boats that are tied to the shore by lack of steaming radius and sea-going qualities. It must be confessed that so large a share has been given the defensive that any offensive becomes impossible.
There are not, therefore—or rather there ought not to be—two distinct fleets, one fleet for attack and another fleet for defense. There is but one of them, whose objective is the enemy afloat, and which puts in action all the resources of strategy to beat him, without looking back to see what is happening to the coast.
To continue the comparison between land and sea operations, we will say that on the sea the offensive contributes to the protection of the coasts to the same degree that the offensive on land contributes to the protection of the frontiers. As soon as the army penetrates into the hostile territory, it secures efficiently the protection of its own territory, and renders useless all the defenses of fortified places; the latter no longer have to guard themselves except against surprise attacks.
The foregoing is what we wrote in the first edition of this study, before the Russo-Japanese war. To-day, after a recent experience, we have nothing to change in it. The offensive played the same preventive part during this war as in the past; and it could not be otherwise, for the influence of naval forces derives from the very nature of war.
INDIRECT PROTECTION.—Indirect protection is, therefore, the only kind that is suitable to sea forces; it is also the only logical kind, because it leaves to the navy its freedom of action in carrying on the war. It forms neither a barrier nor an obstacle, and for that reason its efficiency is not clearly apparent unless pains are taken to disengage it from the teachings of history. It does not oppose the enemy's undertakings: it threatens to interrupt them or to make him pay dearly for them. It inspires a fear like that of the policeman, who does not prevent robberies, but arrests the robbers. Just as civil society has found no better means of guaranteeing property than by inspiring a salutary fear in those who wish to assail it, so military society can only guarantee itself against certain eventualities by making the enemy run risks greater than the damages he can cause.
This solution is not absolute—who can flatter himself to have given such to any problem of warfare?—bue any other would be less good.
Evidently, the anxiety to find a favorable field of battle may force us to abandon completely certain regions. An Augusta may profit by it to appear on our coast, but that will no more compromise the issue of the war than a cavalry raid compromises the issue of a campaign. It may even happen that a more important force will come to threaten us, though this is much less probable, since, when the enemy is kept on the alert, he has neither desire nor leisure to attack the coast. But, against such incursions, the coasts will not be stripped bare; they will have, to defend them, batteries, booms, lines of torpedoes and, if the war is exclusively naval, the whole French Army. With similar means France has for two centuries repulsed—not unsuccessfully—attacks more dangerous than those with which a maritime nation can threaten us; for at that epoch the defense of most of our sea-coast towns was only in embryo, and our army was always occupied elsewhere.
And if these means did not suffice, if a few houses were destroyed, some villages burned, some harvests trodden under foot, it would not be necessary to cry abomination of desolation: war is not made without receiving blows, the whole thing is to give more of them than one receives, and above all to strike home. Well, if we strip a part of our coast to carry the theater of war onto a distant field, it is because usually—not to say always—we anticipate elsewhere a superiority that will assure us victory. The enemy, in taking advantage of the momentary freedom of the sea to attack our shores, therefore plays our game; in exchange for material damages, he renounces a decisive result or gets himself beaten. What do bombardments and invasions amount to then? The dead are replaced, the losses are made up; one thing alone is irreparable: the ruin of the fatherland.
And we will conclude: the best way to protect the coast is still to combine the direct action of fixed defenses with the indirect action of squadrons.
PROTECTION AT A DISTANCE.—When possession of a territory is of capital importance, either temporarily or with a view to the future, and this territory is not in condition to defend itself, it becomes necessary to protect it with ships. In truth cases of this sort are extremely rare: it is generally better to restrict oneself to bringing the adversary to an agreement rather than to expend one's forces in piecemeal attacks. When the time of settlement arrives, demands are limited only by the degree of helplessness to which the enemy is reduced. But after all the event can happen, and the best example of it is certainly the defense of Gibraltar by the English. Let us see how they went to work to preserve their new conquest, without suffering the dangers of direct protection.
The Spaniards, having committed the error of leaving a garrison of only 150 men in Gibraltar, Admiral Rooke had seized it by surprise. The English government recognized the importance of the position and resolved to retain it at any cost. But to put the place in a state of defense required extensive works and in the interval until they were executed, although the rock could be put out of reach of a surprise, the fleet alone could preserve it from a prolonged attack.
The English squadron, commanded by Leake, took Lisbon for a base of operations. It is probable that this port was only chosen in the absence of a nearer one; but events proved that in spite of its distance, or rather on account of it, the protection was effective.105
105Colomb. Naval Warfare.
In fact, so long as Leake's forces were not put out of action, the capture of Gibraltar by sea was impossible. The garrison, knowing that it would receive assistance in the course of time, would hold out until the fleet arrived; and the latter, finding the besiegers engaged in combined operations, could inflict defeat upon them, even if inferior in numbers. It was necessary to station off Lisbon a covering squadron at least equal in force to that of Leake, which required a deployment of forces that France was incapable of accomplishing; or to destroy the English squadron first and then attack Gibraltar. But how could ships inside an inaccessible roadstead be reached?
The English fleet, established at Lisbon, therefore really protected Gibraltar; it did not accomplish indirect protection, but protection at a distance.106
106A naval force compelled by circumstances to take station off a port which it cannot use as a base is, a priori, in a delicate position; it is never complete, on account of the need to revictual its ships and to maintain distant lookout vessels. The position taken by the English squadron had the curious result of making the attack defend itself and the defense attack.
The French government did not appreciate this situation. Relying upon the absence of Leake's fleet, it paid no attention to it and sent Squadron Commander de Pointis to Gibraltar to aid with his ships the land operations directed by Marshal Tessé.
Did Pointis comprehend the danger he was going to run? It may be doubted, since he accepted the mission. Things are often not seen in their true light until after arrival on the spot. However this may be, when he reached Gibraltar he perceived the difficulties of his task and wrote of them to Paris. At the same time he withdrew to Cadiz, leaving his light vessels off the place to blockade it. This light squadron was captured by Leake, who had hastened from Lisbon on news of its appearance; then the English fleet, after having supplied the rock, returned to its post of observation.
The blindness of the French government having forced Pointis to lend more effective co-operation to the troops, the latter invested Gibraltar by sea and was surprised by Leake, who arrived from Lisbon for the third time. Eight of his ships were then off to leeward; the five that remained with him were captured.
This result might have been foreseen. We may well ask through what blindness the Versailles Cabinet assumed to undertake an operation of long duration in the presence of a naval force specially intended to oppose it. If the English squadron could have been destroyed, the besieged would perhaps have surrendered, because, seeing no longer any possibility of being aided, they would have judged it useless to prolong a hopeless struggle; but the assurance that the fleet would appear gave them strength to resist until all means of resistance were exhausted.
And, since we are speaking of Gibraltar, let us observe that the English have never believed, either on that occasion or on any other, that a bombardment could reduce the place, because they knew that the batteries would defend themselves and would end by having the best of it. These expectations have been realized.