The destruction of the British State based upon sea power has been a favorite theme of European conquerors. The generation born in Great Britain during the latter years of the eighteenth century grew up with the threat of invasion hanging continually over their heads. For 14 years, from 1797 to 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte threatened to pass over into England. From 1914 to the end of 1918 the German military aim was, by naval combats and relying especially on the mine and submarine, to wear down the Royal Navy to a point such that a fleet action could be brought on under conditions favorable to success. Once the barrier of the Royal Navy had been removed, the downfall of the British Empire would follow. Hostilities ended in such a way that the Treaty of Versailles ushered in, not a peace, but a truce. The campaign reopened in 1939. All the resources of modern war are to be concentrated this time to overthrow the British Empire.
This is the German aim as it was the French aim over a century ago. The question is, in how far do changes in war techniques affect this aim? The influence of mechanical devices upon the factors of time and space is so great that by some people they are given almost the attributes of magic, or the power to set aside the laws of Nature. Certainly, the conditions under which warfare is waged have vastly changed. A century ago armed forces on land moved only by muscle power of men and animals. On the sea armed forces went or stood still at the caprice of the winds of heaven. Today armed forces move, not only on the surface of the earth whether by land or sea, but also through the air. They are sped by tireless engines nourished on rations of oil. Armies which were formerly limited to movements of a score of miles a day now sweep over ten times that distance in a day. Naval forces now course at will upon the seas regardless of weather conditions, and at greatly increased rates of speed. A century ago fleets approached one another slowly and when they engaged it was ship-to-ship and the combat raged for hours. Today they may converge at the speed of an express train, open fire before they are in sight above the horizon, and the decisive action may be ended in a quarter of an hour. And now both land and sea forces are supplemented and supported by forces in the air which range the skies at rates of speed so great that they cover in an hour distances which surface forces can hardly compass in a day.
But as great as these changes are, they are no more than changes in the conditions under which men wage their wars. They may modify the manner in which the human factor operates, but they cannot change it, for in a sense it is unalterable. Character, personality, physical and moral courage hold their old pre-eminence in war. The nerveless and obedient engines of war in themselves are not and cannot be decisive. Now, as in the past, it is intelligence and skill and resolution in the use of weapons whatever they may be that is the decisive factor. As of old, character and courage, whether in leadership or systematically organized in the armed forces as discipline, and not the engines of war, hold the magic. Therefore it is that, bearing in mind the effects of new implements of war upon the factors of time and space, and not forgetting the unalterable human factors, it may be instructive to examine the plans of Napoleon Bonaparte to pass over into England.
Because the question has been debated whether or not Bonaparte ever intended to invade England, it is necessary first to dispose of this doubt. Apart from the contemporary historian Jomini, who had his ambitions to serve, the doubt has been raised mainly by academic historians with no sound knowledge of war. It is not a doubt in the minds of competent military and naval historians. Holland Rose in summing up the evidence has hit upon the essential points: that Napoleon’s plans for an invasion of England served several different purposes, and that Napoleon provided himself with variant plans. But what Mr. Rose fails to make clear is that this is the way in which Napoleon Bonaparte learned to make war. In the realm of making war plans he was a student of Pierre de Bourcet who advocated what he called “a plan of several branches,” which is to say a plan so devised as to provide for alternative courses of action, in case conditions should change, and to confuse the enemy as to the real intentions, and so make surprise possible. Napoleon generally followed this practice (as in preparation for his second Italian campaign), and his concentrations for a possible invasion of England formed no exception.
Toward the end of 1797 the situation in Europe resembled that which existed in the summer of 1940. As the Treaty of Campo Formio in October, 1797, left Great Britain alone to carry on the war against France, so the capitulation of Belgium on May 28 and of France on June 22, 1940, left Great Britain alone to continue the war against Germany and Italy. The aim of France in 1797 and the aims of Germany and Italy in 1940 were exactly the same: the destruction of the British State in order to consolidate dominion over the Continent of Europe. The very day after the Treaty of Campo Formio was signed, General Bonaparte wrote (on October 18, 1797) to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs: “Our government must destroy the English monarchy. . . . Let us concentrate all our naval activity to destroy England. Once this is done, Europe is at our feet.” Immediately thereafter, on October 26, the Army of England was formed and the command of it was given to General Bonaparte.
In a long letter to the government dated February 23, 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte disclosed the alternative branches of his plan for the destruction of England. The first alternative to an invasion of England was a plan to seize the provinces of the British Crown in Germany—Hanover, whence the reigning family had come. The second was to strike at British commerce with the East by means of an expedition to Egypt. In the event that neither of these alternatives could be undertaken, or that they failed, the final alternative was to make peace—which is to say, a truce in order to begin afresh.
The expedition to Egypt was no expedient to hide embarrassment over failure to invade England. It had been proposed by the French consul at Cairo in 1795. From Egypt, France might vex the British in India, as Dupleix had done during the Seven Years’ War. In 1797 Tipu Sultan was making trouble there. On August 16, 1797, General Bonaparte wrote the Directory that, to destroy England, France must conquer Egypt. Talleyrand mentioned the same project on August 23; and General Bonaparte replied: “With the Isle of Sainte-Pierre, Malta, Corfu, etc., we are masters of the Mediterranean. . . . We must seize Egypt.” Orders to General Kilmaine regarding the formation of the Army of England contained instructions for the garrisoning of Corfu. Later, Bonaparte called the Army of Egypt “One of the wings of the Army of England.”
The plans for the invasion of England and for the invasion of Egypt complemented one another. The invasion of England was preferable because it alone could bring complete and final victory. It was also the less hazardous enterprise. From her central position, France could threaten simultaneously two vital points distant from one another, and it took a long time for British ships to move from the one to the other. Napoleon’s plans were sound as long as British naval strategy was faulty; which it was at the time Bonaparte was maturing his plans. In December, 1797, and in 1798 he planned to join the fleet at Toulon with that at Brest, a total of 57 ships. A combined Franco-Spanish fleet would be almost equal in numbers to the British Fleet. Bonaparte demanded ships from Spain, and 15 from the Batavian Republic. At one time Great Britain had only 34 ships in home waters against 35 French at Brest and 11 Dutch in the Texel. But French resources and preparations could not keep pace with General Bonaparte’s strong will; and on February 23, 1798, he told the Directory that:
To make a passage into England without control of the seas is a very bold and difficult operation.
If it is possible, it must be done by making the passage by surprise, whether by evading the squadron blockading Brest or the Texel or by landing by night from small craft after a voyage of seven or eight hours at points in the counties of Kent or Sussex.
For this operation, long nights are needed, and hence winter. From April on it is impossible to do anything. (Italics added.)
Accordingly, April found Bonaparte planning operations for September; and on April 21 he wrote to the Directory that a successful invasion would not be possible for another year, and perhaps the opportunity had passed forever. He recommended the alternative expedition to Egypt.
The fate of that expedition was determined by sea power—by the Battle of the Nile (August 1, 1798), and by the amphibious prowess of Sidney Smith who kept crossing Bonaparte’s path as persistently as Nemesis. Before General Bonaparte sailed for France he gave his instructions to his successor, General Kléber, on August 22, 1799; and those instructions show that already the alternative of a general peace or truce was in his mind. The Hanover experiment was no good alone. Bonaparte needed time to consolidate his authority over a secure base, to draw up a fresh set of alternative plans, and to perfect preparations. Hopes of help from the Danish Fleet were shattered by Nelson and his blind eye at Copenhagen (April 2, 1801), much as Hitler’s hope of help from the French Fleet was blasted on July 3, 1940.
By that time Napoleon was already in effect dictator. The “Peace” of Amiens was signed March 27, 1802. It was a shrewd business. At that time the British government had little experience with the duplicity and mendacity of dictators. Upon the signing of the terms of peace it began to disarm, as it did in 1918-19. By October, 1802, the Royal Navy was reduced to 39 ships of the line, 120 frigates, and 13 smaller craft. The “Peace” of Amiens was worth a naval victory to France.
By 1803 Napoleon Bonaparte had become the political heir of Louis XIV and the French Republic, as Hitler today is the heir of the House of Hohenzollern, and both usurped their power. In France there were disaffections and conspiracies against the usurper, whose position had to be consolidated. A vast enterprise of a nature to change the course of history might be expected to act as a stimulus to unity between the government and nation and within the armed forces. The usurper must destroy England’s power or his own must go. England was the ancient enemy of France. Jealousy of England’s sea power was widespread. Jomini, the Swiss historian of the Wars of the French Revolution, wrote that:
It is in the interest and for the honor of the world, for the equal distribution of commercial advantages and the freedom of the seas, that the preponderant naval power should belong to a continental power, so that, if she might be tempted to abuse it, a general league of land powers might force her to return to a system of moderation, of justice, and of true balance. As long as maritime supremacy belongs to an insular power one can only expect a monopoly and an outrageous tyranny.
Neither in theory nor in the history of maritime preponderance is there much support for this view. The supremacy of England upon the seas has always excited the jealousy of continental powers, especially of those bent upon conquest. But each continental power, if it cannot itself be supreme at sea, has preferred that this supremacy should be exercised by an insular power. Naval power alone cannot make conquests. A continental sea power must be a strong land power also; and the combination in the same hands is dangerous to the independence of other powers. It is no excess of virtue nor any deficiency in ambition that has made Great Britain a champion of small nations. If Great Britain has used her power at sea with moderation, it was because this was to her advantage. No one easily forgives even the illusion of superior virtue; and the habitual practice of it makes it real in time. As Mahan says, “The function of force is to give moral ideas time to take root.” The moral pretensions and practices of the British government made it intolerable, especially to the ambitious. Bonaparte had to destroy the power of England lest his own be destroyed.
The very threat of an invasion by a warlike people might intimidate the British government. At the least, it would serve to keep large English forces at home. It would enable the warrior chief of state to keep the initiative in his own hands. On March 13, 1803, in a calculated fit of rage, the First Consul publicly insulted Lord Whitworth the British Ambassador; and in the following May hostilities began again.
Once more Bonaparte’s plans were based on alternative courses. Hanover took the place of Egypt. Talleyrand and General Bonaparte had discussed this project as early as August 19, 1797. Before hostilities began, the First Consul dispatched his aide-de-camp Lacuée to the Low Countries to inspect and report on troops, naval resources, and preparations for “our expedition,” and to reconnoiter the frontiers of Hanover. On April 25 he sent another aide- de-camp, Lauriston, to report on the state of preparations for an invasion of England in the Channel ports. On May 13 and June 6 he issued warning orders, and on August 14 he gave General Mortier his final instructions for the expedition to Hanover. The army was to be subsisted at the expense of the British Crown, and only a part of it was earmarked for the expedition to England. Meanwhile Bonaparte continued his preparations for an invasion in 1804.
He relied upon the dispersion of British naval strength on distant enterprises. The troubles of the British government in India and Ireland suggested that he might accomplish a temporary naval superiority and effect a surprise. In 1796 an attempt was made to exploit disaffection in Ireland. Five expeditions to Ireland were planned in 1798. Only one landed, to give General Cornwallis his first opportunity to be on the receiving end of a surrender. Bonaparte continued to plan expeditions to Ireland, in 1803, 1804, and 1805. No more came of them than of German plans in 1914-18. It is hazardous to count on resources which cannot be directly controlled; and nobody has yet been able to control the Irish.
Napoleon meant business. He formed six great camps, from Holland to Bayonne. Troops were quartered close to their barges and were exercised in embarking and disembarking. Semipermanent barracks were built, as the troops might have to remain through the winter, and beds were stripped from inland barracks for their greater comfort. Guide-interpreters were organized and a special uniform was prescribed for them. An “Irish Legion,” composed of 16 soldiers amply commanded by 48 officers, and they all quarreling among themselves, gathered at Brest. A medal was ordered with the inscription “Invasion of England: Struck in London, 1804,” of which all copies were later destroyed. English spies found in the camps were ordered to be shot out of hand. Those who think that Napoleon Bonaparte did not intend to cross into England think so because, after he failed, he meant that people should think so. The man who took an army across the Mediterranean Sea in the face of British maritime supremacy was not the man to blink at the lesser task of crossing a narrow channel. Kitchener in 1914 thought a German invasion of England feasible, and said that he would try it if in command of the German armed forces.
In December, 1803, Pitt estimated the strength of the French flotillas at double their actual numbers. All England sprang to arms. Napoleon pressed Spain to join him so that he might have naval reinforcements. Spain waited only for her treasure ships to arrive from South America to enter the war. The Admiralty sent Captain Graham Moore (brother of Sir John) to “Copenhagen” them and bring them in. They offered fight. One was sunk. The others were taken to Spithead. In April, 1804 (21 and 28) Napoleon wrote to Admiral Deerès: “We must have a navy.” By a navy he meant 100 ships. He wanted 26 more by 1807.
Later on he said that his plan was to dupe the British Admiralty. But the Admiralty was not duped. They hoped that the “upstart” would try invasion— just once; which is what they say again today. Not even all landlubbers were taken in. On August 27, 1804, Sir John Moore wrote:
We understand that the Government have positive information that we are to be invaded, and I am told that Mr. Pitt believes it. The experience of the past twelve months has taught me to place little confidence in the information and belief of officers, and as the undertaking seems to me to be arduous, and offering little prospect of success, I cannot persuade myself that Bonaparte would be mad enough to undertake it. He will continue to threaten, by which means alone he can do us harm. The invasion would, I am confident, end in our glory and in his disgrace.
The next year Napoleon (March 14, 1805) instructed that roads and bridges be built and repaired. He gave first priority to works from Paris to Channel ports, second to roads which would affect operations in Italy, and third to those that would affect operations in Germany; and he stressed the importance of these priorities. From the camp at Boulogne he wrote to his Minister of Foreign Affairs:
My squadron left Ferrol the 26th Thermidor (August 14) with 34 ships. ... If it follows instructions, joins the Brest squadron, and enters the Manche, there is still time: I am master of England. If on the contrary, my admirals . . . miss their aim, I shall have no course left but to wait for winter to invade by means of the flotilla. That is a hazardous operation; and it will be the more so if, pressed by time, political events force me to leave here during the month of April.
Napoleon went on to say that in this case he would leave his depot battalions at Boulogne and use the first line troops in Germany or Italy. He said further, “I inform you of my plans so that you may direct your department accordingly.”
On March 30 Admiral Villeneuve had stolen away to the West Indies, to create a diversion on a grand scale with a view to an ultimate junction with Admiral Ganteaume at Brest or the Spanish ships at Ferrol, in a final bid for mastery of the narrow seas. Trafalgar, the death of Lord Nelson, and the classical passage of Mahan on those storm-tossed ships upon which the Grand Army never looked, which stood between it and the dominion of the world, are too well known to require repeating. On a pillar surrounded by lions, Nelson’s statue stands; and it is said that shelterless Cockneys stand there in the rain and sing: “What is good enough for Nelson, is good enough for me.” For at least they have freedom; and they owe it to Nelson.
U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings
In January, 1804, Napoleon said that “Eight hours of night favorable to us would decide the fate of the world.” On August 4, 1805, he said that “If we are masters of the Straits for twelve hours, England is no more.” He had “raised the ante” 50 per cent. He had been learning meanwhile that it would take from four to six tides to clear his craft from their harbors. Yet in 1803 he planned to move 160,000 troops into England. He had learned the lesson learned by Xerxes at the Hellespont and by King Canute in England, that the tides would not obey his orders—not even his written orders. And so, secure behind her “wooden walls,” like the Athenians of old behind theirs, England continued to goad the conqueror to madness with amphibious operations, until in Spain “the Spanish ulcer” destroyed him.
The pattern of the war of 1914-40 has followed and is following that of over a century ago, telescoped in time but enlarged in space. Again there is a power in Europe intent upon dominating it and the world through supremacy on land (and now in the air also), but lacking it on great waters. Again an invasion of England has been planned, this time from bases extending from the Arctic Circle to Spain. There are new powers in the Far East also; and new maritime powers have grown up in the Pacific Ocean. There are today honest statesmen in Ireland, and in India a Ghandi in place of a Tipu, and not likely to heed the blandishments of the author of Mein Kampf. The attack on Egypt has nothing of the grandeur of the Napoleonic conception, and is carried on by an un- warlike vassal state in a cautious and uninspired manner. Spain, again weak, is being wooed but not won. British naval supremacy is more marked than ever, and while of necessity widely dispersed, is not being wasted on “side shows.” On May 30, 1938, the Italian Chief of State told his Senate that the Italian Navy even though inferior in strength, on the outbreak of war would take the offensive. On November 13, 1940, its ships were attacked at anchor. Even little Greece has attacked Italian forces in Albania from the sea.
The weapon of air power, designed to break naval blockades and strike at the very sources of war energy, is not achieving its aim. It has not yet shown itself able to destroy the manufacturing and commercial bases upon which land, sea, and air forces rely for their material support in war; and much less has it been able to destroy the national will to resist which is the mainstay of victory. It has proved itself rather a strong auxiliary aid to both land and sea power. The combination of planes with armored divisions has shown great striking power on land under favorable conditions; but it cannot operate across the narrow waters, and despite it, the mountains are still the home of freedom. On the sea as yet mines, submarines, and speed boats have not appreciably abated the power of surface ships except in enclosed waters. With air power as an effective aid they can close the entrance to the Baltic Sea and preclude another Copenhagen. Artillery of increased range can reach across the English Channel today; but it cannot command it without first securing control over both shores. Once this is done, using all other weapons in conjunction, an invasion is possible. The difficulty lies in getting control of both shores.
That is to say, the human factor is still supreme. The kind of people, the kind of government, the kind of policies, mean as much as ever before. Character and courage are as important as ever, as the conduct of Captain Fogarty Fegen and the crew of the Jervis Bay proved on November 5. Serious thinkers on war in all times have agreed that in the end a just cause will make itself felt, provided leadership is not selfish or stupid. “It is an ill battle where the devil carries the colors.” A just cause creates courage and resolution, and “In a false quarrel there is no true valor.”
The theories of the Axis Powers are bold attempts to avoid the dilemma against which Machiavelli warned when he said that wars of aggression are dangerous. Jomini held that nature herself set fixed limits to the advantages of wars of conquest, which, if overstepped, led to irreparable disasters. For it is only in the operation of time that the better cause gradually undermines the worse. The war of aggression and conquest must be swiftly decisive or it cannot win at all. In the Axis Powers financial and economic considerations especially demand a quick decision. Detailed preparations and plans during the period preceding the outbreak of hostilities gave them an initial advantage. Their control over the means of communication gave them an initial advantage. Nowadays the radio spreads information broadcast. Opinions now grow and die very quickly. In free lands in which information is freely given, falsehood is quickly detected, and time fights for a free people. In despotic governments in which lies are told, the repercussions in time must be terrible. Britain today must be smitten down swiftly or not at all.
There are truths unalterable; and the only way in which modern inventions modify them is in time. It must be indeed a great truth upon which the Irish and the English are in agreement. The Irish say that “There has not been found, nor will there be found, a juster judge than the field of battle.” An English student of war has said that “A war is the day of judgment in which men and nations find themselves alone and naked in the presence of God.” New devices may come and go; but men and the eternal verities remain. And among the eternal verities is the truth that “God guards the Right.”
To undertake, with some probability of success, the English expedition, there would be required: (1) good naval officers; (2) a large number of well led troops in order to be able to threaten several points and to re-inforce the landing party; (3) an intelligent and vigorous admiral. — Napoleon, November 5, 1797, writing from Milan to the Directory.
 Correspondance militaire de Napoléon Ier (10 vols.) Paris: E. Plon, 1876. No. 539, August 23, 1805. These views must be accepted as genuine. No one knew better than Napoleon the relations which should exist between statecraft and generalship. It was to his interest to co-ordinate, not to confuse them. Napoleon was too clever not to appreciate that he could not pull the wool over the eyes of the astute Talleyrand. This letter proves that Napoleon intended to invade England.